Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category


As a health editor, I really do try to practice what I preach. I walk up escalators. I don’t smoke. I get off the subway a few stops early to get more exercise in each morning. And I try not to drink my calories (unless it’s a glass of wine — that’s healthy, right?).

I thought that was enough. But over the past year, I’ve learned that Diet Coke, my calorie-free drink of choice, may be doing more harm than I thought. A study last summer presented at an American Diabetes Association meeting suggested an association between diet soda and a wider waist. A second, unrelated study found that aspartame — the artificial sweetener found in most diet soft drinks — raises blood sugar in mice prone to diabetes, with possible implications for humans as well. And just yesterday, we heard word that a diet soda a day is linked with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack (findings that were also presented last year at the International Stroke Conference).

“They may be free of calories but not of consequences,” Helen P. Hazuda, Ph.D., an author on the first study and a professor and chief of clinical epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio’s School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Uh oh — my “light” choice has turned into a vice.

While I’ve long suspected that a bottle full of chemicals is likely not as healthy as a glass of pure H20 (the ingredient list, including aspartame, caramel coloring and phosphoric acid, was a tip off), I’ve never considered it to be a real risk.

The truth is that Diet Coke and I have a long history. Cans of the stuff got me through late-night study sessions in college and grad school. When I lived abroad, the more economical two-liter bottle became a taste of home. And the individual-serving plastic bottles became the mainstay of my working life: a bottle with my salad at lunch and the occasional second bottle when the day got stressful. We have free vending machines at work (thank you, AOL Huffington Post Media Group), and the ritual of getting up and taking a walk over right before lunch became a habit. Always the health editor, I drank with a straw to avoid staining my teeth.

But, as with any great love story, there were tough times, as well. Through the years, I became a caffeine addict to varying degrees. If I went too long on the weekend without a Diet Coke (no free vending machines at home), I’d get a headache. And while I’d long acknowledged that artificial sweeteners trigger migraine headaches for me, I was in denial that Diet Coke counted. I swore the caffeine content counteracted any adverse affects.

Things could have gone on like that, but when I started reading more and more about a possible association between diet soda and serious health problems, I knew I had to do something. If I had already cut back on processed foods and started opting for organic produce with fewer pesticides over the past few years, how could I just ignore this research?

While compelling, studies linking diet soda to health problems are hardly definitive at this point. “It’s hard to translate one observational study into public health messages,” Hannah Gardener, lead author on the most recent diet soda study and assistant scientist at the clinical research division of the University of Miami’s department of neurology, told me over the phone on Tuesday. “For people who take a precautionary approach and change their habits on one study, they certainly wouldn’t be missing out on any important nutrients.”

In other words, it couldn’t hurt to make some serious changes and for me, these few studies were convincing enough. And so I drank my last Diet Coke on New Year’s Eve 2011 — I went out and bought a single-serve bottle at the grocery store so I wouldn’t have any temptation left at home. As my New Year’s Resolution, I made the decision to go one month diet soda free, and then to reintroduce it as an occasional special treat, not a daily lunch-salad pairing.

Coinciding with the latest health findings on diet soda, there’s been some speculation about whether or not it’s addictive. Last November, for instance, a U.K. man announced he was a diet soda addict who downed 18 cans of Diet Coke a day.

Our partner, Health.com reported:

Although diet soda clearly isn’t as addictive as a drug like nicotine, experts say the rituals that surround diet soda and the artificial sweeteners it contains can make some people psychologically — and even physically — dependent on it in ways that mimic more serious addictions. And unlike sugared soda, which will make you gain weight if you drink too much of it, zero-calorie soda doesn’t seem to have an immediate downside that prevents people from overindulging.”You think, ‘Oh, I can drink another one because I’m not getting more calories,'” says Harold C. Urschel, MD, an addiction psychiatrist in Dallas and the author of Healing the Addicted Brain. “Psychologically you’re giving yourself permission.”

Read the rest of their report here.

While I’m no chain drinker, for sure, there was something incredibly hard about avoiding the Diet Coke, even when I knew it could possibly be linked to health problems. My lunch didn’t feel nearly as satisfying without that aspartame-sweetened beverage to wash it down and my mid-afternoon slumps were much more pronounced. I became a little moodier and I often had to take a nap after work for those first two weeks. To be honest, the strong reaction concerned me and spurred me on in my commitment, but it didn’t make the month-long ban, which officially ended yesterday, any easier. So I asked HuffPost blogger Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of The Flexitarian Diet, to offer her best advice on how to make kicking the habit as painless as possible:

1. Replace the fizz. “What I have found is that my patients who are diet soda drinkers are in love with two things: with caffeine and with carbonation,” Blatner told me. So you’ll need a swap that addresses both. Get your fizz fix by taking a shot glass (1.5 oz) worth of 100 percent juice, such as pomegranate, blueberry or sour cherry, and mixing it in with sparkling water, she suggests. I switched to a Schweppes black cherry seltzer water, courtesy of the work vending machines.

2. Get a caffeine substitute. Even if you get your carbonation, cutting out caffeine abruptly can make you feel like you’re dragging. Blatner suggests swapping for either iced or hot green tea, which is loaded with health benefits and has a specific compound, L-theanine, that makes it a gentler source of caffeine. If you want to cut caffeine altogether, do it slowly, cutting down the amount a little bit every three days. I went cold turkey, which ended with headaches and irritability.

3. Replace the ritual. “Human beings love pattern, we love habituation, we love routine,” Blatner says. For me, there was something about getting up around 2 p.m., walking over to the vending machine and grabbing my drink. For others, it may be the one time you get to stretch your legs, or even the experience of sipping out of a can. Once you identify the habit, find a way to replace it. I kept up with the vending machine walks and just swapped in the seltzer water. Others may want to find their replacement drink in a similar container or take a walk with a co-worker and skip the vending machine altogether.

4. Keep downing the water. People forget that one of the main components of diet soda is water. So make sure you replace it with water — staying well hydrated has a host of other health benefits, as well.

Blatner says that with the right tools, most people can kick this habit in about two weeks. For me, it took the whole month of January — it wasn’t until the end that I finally stopped craving my mid-day fix. Now, as planned, I’m hoping to reintroduce it as an infrequent treat — as Blatner put it, if you finish a bad day with a zero-calorie drink instead of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, then that’s not so bad.

And I’ll be honest. Yesterday was February 1 and I broke the Diet Coke fast with my first can. And yep, it was amazing. But then something funny happened: around 4:00, I started craving that black cherry seltzer. And I bet I will again today.


Good luck, healthy girl!

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A FRUIT-and-vegetable-based cleansing product Marie Lebair O’Brient uses about every three months makes her feel like she’s getting her eating habits back on track.

After following the vegan, gluten-free Kaeng Raeng cleanse program for three days, her taste for salty foods diminishes. She feels more “regular” and is motivated to eat more healthfully. The regimen replaces all meals with a shake and all snacks with raw fruits and vegetables. It’s worth the $60 investment each time, she says, to detox and lose a little bit of weight.

“It’s a regimen of a few days where I am eating things that are really good for me,” the Moraga resident says. “I am amazed at how good I feel afterward.”

In the past couple of years, cleanse programs — everything from the do-it-yourself lemon juice and maple syrup Master Cleanse to designer cleanses such as Kaeng Raeng developed by a Stanford grad — have become the rage for people who want to lose weight, eliminate toxins from their bodies and gain some oft-needed eating discipline. Hollywood elites such as Beyoncé Knowles and Ryan Seacrest say they’ve lost weight using them, and Gwyneth Paltrow says a 21-day regimen she regularly follows helps give her “mental clarity.”

Depending on the program — and there are hundreds if not thousands on the market — anecdotal reviews are generally shining. But health professionals warn that people are wasting their money on cleanses and, at worst, they are risking their health.

Unlike some cleanses that promise dramatic weight loss in mere days with the help of starvation fasts or added stimulants, there’s nothing sneaky or nefarious about Lindsay Reinsmith’s Kaeng Raeng cleanse or the CAN CAN Cleanse developed by San Francisco’s Teresa Piro.

Reinsmith’s Kaeng Raeng follows the principles of a raw vegan diet. A cleanser uses her powders — which contain more than a full serving of fruit and fiber, lean protein, probiotic cultures, amino acids and vitamins — in shakes, and supplements those shakes with raw fruits and vegetables for three to six days. And that’s it. No coffee, no alcohol, no cupcakes or french fries. A healthy dose of water is also prescribed.

“What Kaeng Raeng does is help people get on the right track for long-term health,” Reinsmith says. “It gives people the chance to experience plant-based living. When you’re going on a detox, when you’re abstaining from meat, you get a glimpse of how your body feels in that lifestyle.”

Reinsmith says most people turn to Kaeng Raeng when they’ve “jumped off the wagon,” meaning they’ve found themselves consuming too much fast food, too much salt or sugar and not enough fruits and vegetables.

Piro says her $175 CAN CAN Cleanse — a three-day liquid cleanse program that includes organic fresh fruit and vegetable juices, soups and teas — is a tool to reset the mind and body.

Prompting change

“People tend to make some realistic and healthy changes to improve their diets after the cleanse,” she says.

And although Piro says the cleanse is not a weight-loss solution, “this is a great way to jump-start (a weight loss program).”

People report their cleanses have made them feel lighter. Users notice changes in their hair and skin. Sugar and salt cravings subside, and energy levels increase.

Providers of cleansing products, including Kaeng Raeng and CAN CAN Cleanse, say the process eliminates toxins from the body. And some cleansing proponents can be pretty convincing.

“We’re starting to understand the impact that toxins are having on our bodies and their contribution to almost every type of illness that we’re seeing, especially obesity and diabetes and cancers and neurological diseases,” says Cory Reddish, a Mill Valley-based licensed naturopathic physician who offers a two-week personalized cleanse for $395. “When I say toxins, we’re talking not only about chemicals, pesticides and PCBs but also things we are eating.”

Toxins abound

Add the chemicals found in the air and water with chemicals used in home cleaning products, for example, and additives and preservatives in our food, Reddish says, and you’ll find your body is full of toxins. Cleanses, she says, help remove some of those toxins. The people who participate in her Essential Cleanse, which includes classes, herbal supplements and a detox diet, lose weight and feel much better, she says.

“People start thinking more clearly, their energy is better, their mood is better after a cleanse,” she says. “It’s a result of decreasing the total toxic load in the body.”

But is it necessary?

Thomas Hargrave, a doctor with Alta Bates Summit Medical Center who specializes in the gastrointestinal tract, is clear about claims of toxin elimination by cleanse proponents.

“It’s ridiculous voodoo. All the people who are pushing this stuff have no medical training, and they are basing their claims in these phony ads where they show toxic stuff building up in colons,” he says. “There are no toxins in colons. There is no health benefit and no cleansing benefit.”

Although she says that eating a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is great for you, Keri Gans, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, agrees that cleanses cannot deliver on all the promises their proprietors make.

“Anything will feel better after a couple days of not eating pure junk,” she says. “And I claim that people who feel better do so because of what they’re not eating, and they are not eating food very high in fats and very high in sugar.”

Toxins, she says, are naturally eliminated by bodily functions.

“Our bodies are normally cleansing every day. That’s why we have livers. I encourage people who feel like they need to clean out their system to eat fiber. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains every day,” says Gans, author of “The Small Change Diet” (Gallery, $15).

As for permanent weight loss, Gans has doubts.

Do it yourself

“Quick weight loss usually means you haven’t changed any of your behaviors,” she says. “You will gain all that weight back and then some because you haven’t learned anything from your actions.”

Save your money and make your own fresh fruit juices and smoothies says Joan Frank, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at San Francisco State University.

She warns that cleanses should not be used by children or diabetics, and even healthy people should contact their doctors before they use them.

Frank adds it’s best to avoid toxins rather than relying on a cleanse to flush them out. Buy meat with no antibiotics or hormones added. Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program (www.montereybayaquarium.org) to find out which types of seafood have high levels of mercury and other toxins. Eat organic fruits and veggies or visit the Environmental Working Group (www.foodnews.org) to find out which produce has the most and least amount of pesticides used in production.

“The other thing to avoid is processed foods,” Frank says. “There are so many benefits to just eating whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean meats and poultry. It’s nothing dramatic, but it really works.”

  • To learn more about the Kaeng Raeng Cleanse, call 650-646-5474 or visit www.kaengraeng.com.
  • To learn more about the CAN CAN Cleanse, call 415-439-0035 or visit www.cancancleanse.com
  • Homeopathic doctor Cory Reddish can be reached at 415-383-3716. Her website is www.drcory.com
  • American Dietetic Association spokesman and nutrition expert Keri Gans’ book, “The Small Change Diet,” retails at $15 and can be found at most major bookstores or online.
    Visit the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org for information on nutrition and healthy weight loss. The website can also help you find a local nutritionist.

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If you can’t convince them, confuse them.
–Harry Truman

The current media debate about the benefits (or lack of harm) of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our diet misses the obvious. The average American increased their consumption of HFCS (mostly from sugar sweetened drinks and processed food) from zero to more than 60 pounds per person per year. During that time period, obesity rates have more than tripled and diabetes incidence has increased more than seven-fold. Not perhaps the only cause, but a fact that cannot be ignored.

Doubt and confusion are the currency of deception, and they sow the seeds of complacency. These are used skillfully through massive print and television advertising campaigns by the Corn Refiners Association’s attempt to dispel the “myth” that HFCS is harmful and assert through the opinion of “medical and nutrition experts” that it is no different than cane sugar. It is a “natural” product that is a healthy part of our diet when used in moderation.

Except for one problem. When used in moderation, it is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure, tooth decay and more.

The Lengths the Corn Industry Will Go To

The goal of the corn industry is to call into question any claim of harm from consuming high fructose corn syrup, and to confuse and deflect by calling their product natural “corn sugar.” That’s like calling tobacco in cigarettes natural herbal medicine. Watch the slick ad where a caring father walks hand in hand with his four-year-old daughter through a big question mark carved in an idyllic cornfield.

In the ad, the father tells us:

Like any parent, I have questions about the food my daughter eats — like high fructose corn syrup. So I started looking for answers from medical and nutrition experts, and what I discovered whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar. Knowing that makes me feel better about what she eats and that’s one less thing to worry about.

Physicians are also targeted directly. I received a 12-page color glossy monograph from the Corn Refiners Association reviewing the “science” that HFCS was safe and no different than cane sugar. I assume the other 700,000 physicians in America received the same information, at who knows what cost.

In addition to this, I received a special “personal” letter from the Corn Refiner’s Association outlining every mention of the problems with HCFS in our diet — whether in print, blogs, books, radio or television. They warned me of the errors of my ways and put me on “notice.” For what I am not sure. To think they are tracking this (and me) that closely gives me an Orwellian chill.

New websites like www.sweetsurprise.com and www.cornsugar.com help “set us straight” about HFCS with quotes from professors of nutrition and medicine and thought leaders from Harvard and other stellar institutions.

Why is the corn industry spending millions on misinformation campaigns to convince consumers and health care professionals of the safety of their product? Could it be that the food industry comprises 17 percent of our economy?

But are these twisted sweet lies or a sweet surprise, as the Corn Refiners Association websites claim?

What the Science Says about HFCS

Let’s examine the science and insert some common sense into the conversation. These facts may indeed come as a sweet surprise. The ads suggest getting your nutrition advice from your doctor. Having studied this for more than a decade, and having read, interviewed or personally talked with most of the medical and nutrition experts used to bolster the claim that “corn sugar” and cane sugar are essentially the same, quite a different picture emerges and the role of HCFS in promoting obesity, disease and death across the globe becomes clear.

Last week over lunch with Dr. Bruce Ames, one of the foremost nutritional scientists in the world and Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a nutritional biochemist, a student of Linus Pauling and I reviewed the existing science, and Dr. Ames shared shocking new evidence from his research center on how HFCS can trigger body-wide inflammation and obesity.

Here are 5 reasons you should stay way from any product containing high fructose corn syrup.

1. Sugar in any form causes obesity and disease when consumed in pharmacologic doses.

Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are indeed both harmful when consumed in pharmacologic doses of 140 pounds per person per year. When one 20-ounce HFCS sweetened soda, sports drink or tea has 17 teaspoons of sugar (and the average teenager often consumes two drinks a day), we are conducting a largely uncontrolled experiment on the human species. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed the equivalent of 20 teaspoons per year, not per day. In this sense, I would agree with the corn industry that sugar is sugar. Quantity matters. But there are some important differences.

2. HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed the same way by the body.

High fructose corn syrup is an industrial food product and far from “natural” or a naturally occurring substance. It is extracted from corn stalks through a process so secret that Archer Daniels Midland and Carghill would reportedly not allow the investigative journalist Michael Pollan to observe it for his book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” The sugars are extracted through a chemical enzymatic process resulting in a chemically and biologically novel compound called HFCS.

Some basic biochemistry will help you understand this. Regular cane sugar (sucrose) is made of two-sugar molecules bound tightly together — glucose and fructose in equal amounts. The enzymes in your digestive tract must break down the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are then absorbed into the body.

HFCS also consists of glucose and fructose, not in a 50-50 ratio, but a 55-45 fructose to glucose ratio in an unbound form. Fructose is sweeter than glucose. And HFCS is cheaper than sugar because of the government farm bill corn subsidies. Products with HFCS are sweeter and cheaper than products made with cane sugar. This allowed for the average soda size to balloon from eight ounces to 20 ounces with little financial costs to manufacturers, but great human costs of increased obesity, diabetes and chronic disease.

Now back to biochemistry. Since there is there is no chemical bond between them, no digestion is required, so they are more rapidly absorbed into your blood stream. Fructose goes right to the liver and triggers lipogenesis (the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol) This is why it is the major cause of liver damage in this country and causes a condition called “fatty liver,” which affects 70 million people. The rapidly absorbed glucose triggers big spikes in insulin — our body’s major fat storage hormone. Both of these features of HFCS lead to increased metabolic disturbances that drive increases in appetite, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and more.

But there was one more thing I learned during lunch with Dr. Bruce Ames. Research done by his group at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute found that free fructose from HFCS requires more energy to be absorbed by the gut and soaks up two phosphorous molecules from ATP (our body’s energy source). This depletes the energy fuel source or ATP in our gut required to maintain the integrity of our intestinal lining. Little “tight junctions” cement each intestinal cell together preventing food and bacteria from “leaking” across the intestinal membrane and triggering an immune reaction and body wide inflammation.

High doses of free fructose have been proven to literally punch holes in the intestinal lining, allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter your blood stream and trigger the inflammation that we know is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and accelerated aging. Naturally occurring fructose in fruit is part of a complex of nutrients and fiber that doesn’t exhibit the same biological effects as the free high fructose doses found in “corn sugar.’

The takeaway: Cane sugar and the industrially produced, euphemistically named “corn sugar” are not biochemically or physiologically the same.

3. HFCS contains contaminants including mercury that are not regulated or measured by the FDA.

An FDA researcher asked corn producers to ship a barrel of high fructose corn syrup in order to test for contaminants. Her repeated requests were refused until she claimed she represented a newly created soft drink company. She was then promptly shipped a big vat of HFCS that was used as part of the study that showed that HFCS often contains toxic levels of mercury because of chlor-alkali products used in its manufacturing.(i) Poisoned sugar is certainly not “natural.”

When HFCS is run through a chemical analyzer or a chromatograph, strange chemical peaks show up that are not glucose or fructose. What are they? Who knows? This certainly calls into question the purity of this processed form of super sugar. The exact nature, effects and toxicity of these funny compounds have not been fully explained, but shouldn’t we be protected from the presence of untested chemical compounds in our food supply, especially when the contaminated food product comprises up to 15 to 20 percent of the average American’s daily calorie intake?

4. Many independent medical and nutrition experts DO NOT support the use of HFCS in our diet, despite the assertions of the corn industry.

The corn industry’s happy looking websites www.cornsugar.com and www.sweetsurprise.com bolster their position that cane sugar and corn sugar are the same by quoting experts, or should we say mis-quoting …

Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has published widely on the dangers of sugar-sweetened drinks and their contribution to the obesity epidemic. In a review of HFCS in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,(ii) he explains the mechanism by which the free fructose may contribute to obesity. He states that:

“The digestion, absorption and metabolism of fructose differ from those of glucose. Hepatic metabolism of fructose favors de novo lipogenesis [production of fat in the liver]. In addition, unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight [to control appetite], this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain. Furthermore, calorically sweetened beverages may enhance caloric overconsumption.”

He states that HFCS is absorbed more rapidly than regular sugar, and that it doesn’t stimulate insulin or leptin production. This prevents you from triggering the body’s signals for being full and may lead to overconsumption of total calories.

He concludes by saying that:

“… the increase in consumption of HFCS has a temporal relation to the epidemic of obesity, and the overconsumption of HFCS in calorically sweetened beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.”

The corn industry takes his comments out of context to support their position. “All sugar you eat is the same.”

True, pharmacologic doses of any kind of sugar are harmful, but the biochemistry of different kinds of sugar and their respective effects on absorption, appetite and metabolism are different.

David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, and a personal friend has published extensively on the dangers and the obesogenic properties of sugar-sweetened beverages. He was quoted as saying that “high fructose corn syrup is one of the most misunderstood products in the food industry.” When I asked him why he supported the corn industry, he told me he didn’t and that his comments were taken totally out of context.

Misrepresenting science is one thing, misrepresenting scientists who have been at the forefront of the fight against obesity and high fructose sugar sweetened beverages is quite another.

5. HCFS is almost always a marker of poor-quality, nutrient-poor disease creating industrial food products or “food-like substances.”

The last reason to avoid products that contain HFCS is that they are a marker for poor-quality, nutritionally depleted, processed industrial food full of empty calories and artificial ingredients. If you find “high fructose corn syrup” on the label, you can be sure it is not a whole, real, fresh food full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Stay away if you want to stay healthy. We still must reduce our overall consumption of sugar, but with this one simple dietary change you can radically reduce your health risks and improve your health.

While debate may rage about the biochemistry and physiology of cane sugar vs. corn sugar, this is, in fact, beside the point (despite the finer points of my scientific analysis above). The conversation has been diverted to a simple assertion that cane sugar and corn sugar are not different.

The real issues are only two.

1. We are consuming HFCS and sugar in pharmacologic quantities never before experienced in human history — 140 pounds a year vs. 20 teaspoons a year 10,000 years ago.

2. High fructose corn syrup is almost always found in very poor quality foods that are nutritionally vacuous and filled with all sorts of other disease-promoting compounds, fats, salt, chemicals and even mercury.

These critical ideas should be the heart of the national conversation, not the meaningless confusing ads and statements by the corn industry in the media and online that attempt to assure the public that the biochemistry of real sugar and industrially produced sugar from corn are the same.

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First off, let me tell you that I’m a friendly vegan! I’m not judgmental, and I truly believe that it’s not my business to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t eat. I grew up in the South, greatly enjoying chicken-fried steak and barbecued ribs, and every kind of cheesy thing I could get my hands on. I loved meat; never thought about it. Until I thought about it. After a few years of transitioning, I’ve been vegan for seven years. And it seems I’m not alone.

I went out to dinner last night with friends and came home fairly hungry. If you don’t count the bread I tried not to eat too much of and the olives from my martini, or the little side dish of steamed vegetables, there wasn’t much I could call a meal. I scanned the menu for anything that I could eat, but all I saw was lobster, lamb, fish, steak, chicken, veal, pork, and pastas that had any combination of the aforementioned meats with cheese or cream. Nothing for me but the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Plate.

I would SO love a hearty dish with a center of the plate protein, with some TLC from the chef — i.e. sauces and garnishes — to make it just as fulfilling as the meat and dairy dishes. I would pay good money for it! And I know a lot of other people would too — and not just vegan people.

Eating vegan(ish) or vegetarian is mainstream now, and growing ever more so. Oprah, Ellen and Martha each devoted shows to eating vegan. “Good Morning America,” “Extra” and “Dr. Oz” have also dedicated segments to the growing popularity of eating less meat and more plant-based food, and you will find in just about every major magazine or newspaper, there are features about the ever increasing vegan trend. Natalie Portman, Tobey McGuire, Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Larry Page, Biz Stone, Ricky Williams and Tony Gonzales are all vegan (or veganish!); these folks are the trendsetters — actors, athletes, business and thought leaders.

I realize that vegan is not how the majority of people eat, and restaurants are in the business of giving their customers what they want, but the trend is quite assuredly moving toward reducing and replacing meat. In fact, I’ve noticed that when I can finagle something interesting from the chef (assuming the waiter bothers to approach him with the request) that is both hearty and healthy, nine out of ten times most of the people at the table will say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Whether it’s because someone wants a break from animal protein three meals a day every day, or they are concerned with their health or weight, or they want to be conscious eaters for the environment, a vegan option is extremely appealing when presented well.

The problem is, restaurants are generally not presenting them well. A plate of vegetables situated next to a baked potato is okay in a pinch, but I wouldn’t want to pay a lot for it, nor would I return to that restaurant for it. I would choose another place that everyone would be happy, where my husband could get fish and I could get something plant-based (and not just pasta with tomato sauce … too many carbs, and boring).

A meal that looks like what everyone else is enjoying would be so, so gratifying and appreciated! And there are so many ways to make a meal with a vegetarian protein using Gardein (looks and tastes like different meats, high protein, low fat and is available through distributors like Sysco and US Foods ), seitan (wheat protein … made into cutlets or strips), lentils, beans, tofu, chickpeas, tempeh or other high-protein meat alternatives. And on a business note, the profit margin is greater as plant-based protein is cheaper than animal protein, and is how many other cultures get protein.

Check out these stunning statistics on the where the food trend is going:

Number of Vegetarians/Vegans and Trends in Vegetarian/Vegan Eating

– In a 2010 study from marketing firm Context Marketing that included 600 respondents, they found that 21 percent said “vegetarian” is important or very important to them. Fourteen percent said “vegan” is important or very important to them.
– The average American ate 14 pounds less meat (including poultry) per year in 2009 (208 pounds per person) than in 2006 (222 pounds per person).
– In feedback surveys among college students at campuses that Bon Appétit Management Co. (which manages more than 4,000 corporate, college and university accounts)
oversees, in 2005-2006 an average of 8 percent said that they were vegetarian. The 2009-2010 survey, however, had very different results: 12 percent identified themselves as vegetarian.

Vegetarian/Vegan Trends in Dining Out

– According to a January 2011 USA Today article on marketing trends for 2011, 47 percent of Americans are trying to reduce their meat consumption.
– A 2009 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News suggested adding vegetarian/vegan options to the menu as one of its top strategies for improving business. The publication noted that vegetarian food is generally less expensive for restaurants to procure, and mentioned the “veto vote,” the tendency for families with one or more vegetarians to bypass any restaurant that serves no meat-free fare.

Let me just leave you with this: I often dine out in Santa Barbara, and my favorite restaurant is Lucky’s Steakhouse. They make a mean martini and have a fantastic wine list, and the ambiance is festive and fun. They now feature a tofu dish, right alongside the steak, chicken and fish on the menu. A few friends and I had requested something other than the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Plate for so long, they finally relented. Not happily, at first, but they did it. They took one of their fish dishes and simply swapped out the fish for tofu, grilled it over braised spinach and a sweet miso sauce.

I usually start with a chopped salad of three kinds of lettuce, chickpeas, onions and avocado. We get a side of sweet potato fries to share. I asked the manager how the dish was doing, and he said, “I’m shocked, but it’s flying out the door!” His customers are not vegan. Not even vegetarian or pescetarian. But everyone these days, it seems, wants to lighten up on meat a bit. And so they come to the steakhouse for the ambience and a good drink, and they enjoy a hearty protein-centered, plant-based meal, and everyone wins! The other restaurants, we simply don’t consider anymore because we want everyone — veg or carnivore — to be happy!

Here’s a little starter guide:

– Instead of milk or cream, use almond, soy or cashew cream
– Instead of butter, use Earth Balance (you would not know the difference)
– Instead of chicken broth, use vegetable broth
– Instead of chicken, use Gardein, seitan or tofu
– Instead of ground beef, use Smart Ground meatless crumbles or lentils
– Instead of cheese, use Daiya or Teese non-dairy cheese

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From CNN Health

(CNN) — If you’re trying to lose weight, close your eyes for a minute and imagine the moments that make you fat.

Think through your day, and you’ll see them, as big and obvious as a hot fudge sundae sitting right in front of you. You’ve been good all day, and wham, your friends suggest you go to a buffet for dinner; or you’ve diligently worked out and wham, you end up at a cocktail party with an array of the most killer desserts ever.

Don’t rely on your willpower to get you through these tough times, advises James Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado.

“Willpower is not inexhaustible,” he says. “You only have a certain amount of it, and it’s gone.”

The key is to accept the fact that your willpower will run out at some point, and plan strategies to get you through fattening situations. Here are the top five moments that make you fat, and what you can do to outwit them.

On vacation

The problem: You’re on vacation and you want to kick back, relax, and enjoy the local cuisine — but you don’t want to come home with pounds to shed.

The solution: “Go for it,” advises Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian and senior food and nutrition editor at Health magazine. But share with others. If you’re in Paris, for example, don’t skip a visit to the bakery — that would be tres triste — but share the goodies with friends.

After a break-up

The problem: You want to bury your sorrows in a pint of ice cream.

The solution: “Instead of meeting your friend for a drink to dish about your ex, meet up for a power walk or run,” Largeman-Roth advises. Also, sign up for a team that is training for a 5K or some other race to distract your self and meet new people.

A party with fabulous food

The problem: You’re at a party and everything looks delicious. It’s free, it’s in front of you, and no one’s stopping you.

The solution: Don’t arrive famished, says Dr. Melina Jampolis, CNNHealth’s diet and fitness expert. Eat a small protein snack before the party, such as a few slices of turkey, a half a cup of low-fat cottage cheese, or half a protein bar.

Also, limit your alcohol, and not just because it’s caloric, but because if it’s hard to control yourself while you’re sober, imagine how much harder it is while tipsy.

Watching TV

The problem: You want to plop in front of the television with a high-fat snack.

The solution: Use a small bowl, Largeman-Roth says, or snack on frozen grapes or veggies with a yogurt-based dip.

At a buffet, or a restaurant with enormous portions

The problem: Buffets offer limitless amounts of food, and much of it has tons of calories. Restaurants with big portions of delicious foods make it hard to push the plate away.

The solution: Simply don’t go to buffet restaurants, Hill advises. But if you really have to, sit at a table where you can face away from the buffet — Jampolis says studies show people who face away tend to eat less — and load up initially on fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins so (at least hopefully) you won’t have enough room for the bad stuff. At the end of the meal, she suggests having everyone at the table get just one dessert and share, so you get a little taste of lots of things.

As for big portion restaurants, the trick is to get the doggy bag at the front end, not the back end. Hill suggests when you order your meal, ask for half of your dinner to be brought to you on a plate, and the other half in a to-go box.

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Have you noticed the abundance of gluten-free foods available at grocery stores or on menus these days? The proliferation of gluten-free products, along with the marketing of them, might lead you to believe that they are the new panacea to better health or weight loss.

So, what’s the real story? Will going on a gluten-free diet improve your health or help you lose weight? The answer is that it depends. Limiting your intake of gluten means you are cutting out many starchy, refined carbohydrates, and that in itself can help your weight and health. Eating gluten-free, however, is a must for those with celiac disease, who face real risks from ingesting gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye products. Most cereals and breads contain gluten. Examples of gluten-free grains include brown or wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth.

What is not widely known about gluten-free products is that they still contain the same number of carbohydrates as their gluten-containing counterparts. In this regard, there is no health benefit to choosing the gluten-free versions.

For example, a typical slice of gluten-free bread contains 15 grams of total carbohydrate — the same amount as a regular slice of bread. A snack of gluten-free crackers can contain 30 grams of carbohydrate per serving, the same as regular crackers.

The seriousness of celiac disease

So why avoid gluten in the first place? For those with celiac disease, their health demands it. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease resulting in a true intolerance to gluten. If someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, it causes the villi, or little hair-like projections that move food through the gut, to atrophy. This atrophy can cause bleeding, malabsorption of nutrients and other health complications.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than two million (or one in 133) people have celiac disease. However, only about 1 percent of the population has actually been diagnosed. To get an accurate diagnosis, you need a blood test and/or small bowel biopsy to determine if there is atrophy in your gut.

Gluten sensitivity — difficult to diagnose

Research shows that another 39 percent of the population may be susceptible to having celiac or gluten intolerance/sensitivity. Some experts believe gluten sensitivity exists, but no research or tests to date are available for diagnosis. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are diffuse, and can include headaches, fatigue or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In addition, there is a small amount of research showing that gluten is associated with some forms of inflammation in the body for those with auto-immune diseases such as diabetes or Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Your body knows best

Many who go on a gluten-free diet may lose weight and feel better, but it has nothing to do with avoiding gluten. Just cutting out starchy, processed forms of carbohydrate or limiting carbohydrate intake helps with lowering insulin resistance, which leads to weight loss and improved energy.

If you have celiac disease, eating gluten-free is your only option. If you believe you have gluten sensitivity, going on a gluten-free diet is worth exploring. For the rest of us, there’s no need to follow the trends of what is currently in vogue with food manufacturers. Eating simple, unprocessed foods according to what your body can tolerate is the best way of eating.

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