National Nutrition Month 2016 - Savor the Flavor of Eating Right

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National Nutrition Month® - 2016

“National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.  “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” is the theme this year – encouraging everyone to take the time to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences food can add to our lives.  How, when, why and where we eat are just as important as what we eat.  Develop a mindful eating pattern that includes nutritious and flavorful foods – that’s the best way to savor the flavor of eating right!

Savor - /sāvər/ taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it completely. 

When was the last time you actually savored your food?  And I’m not talking about the last time you went to a really fancy restaurant.  I mean when did you really enjoy your meal completely?  Too many times stress becomes involved when there is food involved.  Think about dinner time – it’s a rush to get home from work/school, figure out what you’ll eat, and then there’s h.w. for the kids, and the rush to get them down for bed – that’s stressful.  So how can you savor your food?  The goal is to gain awareness with our food and aim to be more mindful.  Too many times we are not only stressed about the food itself but also our weight or our health, and eating in turn becomes a source of stress versus a source of life.

Stress shuts down blood flow to the digestive tract in order to preserve more blood flow for the muscles during the “flight or fight” response.  In turn, many good nutrients are not absorbed under stress, and some hormones necessary for transporting and using food may not be produced.  So what’s the solution to all this stress?  Mindful eating.  Mindfulness means being aware of your body and your environment and what is happening NOW.  Simply put it’s being present.  How does that translate to meal time?  It means slowing down and tuning in to the first few bites of whatever you’re eating.  How many times do we eat in front of our work computers or with the TV on?  We all are guilty of doing this.  The real missing ingredient is attention; not more food.  The goal is to have mindful awareness of every aspect of the food itself. 

Mindful Eating:  Savor – Turn your senses on!  Enjoy the taste, smell, texture, and look of each bite.  Too many times we are not tuned in to our food and being mindful allows you to tune in to your food, not the computer and not the TV.

Feelings – How does your stomach feel?  Are you energized or sluggish?  Are you full?  Body awareness will keep you from overeating while adding to adding to the relaxed state you are trying to cultivate.  Watching TV, sitting at your computer, perusing social media – they all take your attention away from your food and your body.  It’s the exact opposite of mindfulness.  Don’t be tempted.  The devices can wait.

Attitude of Gratitude – Take time before eating to give thanks.  By giving thanks it turns your attention to the meal.  Our bodies make a switch from the sympathetic [stressed] to the parasympathetic [healing] nervous system, which allows for better digestion. 

Focus – Try not to talk and not to look around.  It really is all about the food.  I’m not saying not to talk to those around you, but do realize you are there to eat and enjoy the food that is nourishing your body.

Slow Down – It takes at least 30 minutes to make dinner (or more) and just 5 minutes to scarf it down.  Am I right?  Well that’s what it feels like anyway.  A study in Japan showed that the faster people ate, the more likely they were to have metabolic syndrome:  elevated blood pressure, blood sugar and weight.  Yes we’re pressed for time but make time to eat.  When you do take your time you’ll notice you start to feel full sooner.  You’re giving your body time to register the message (sent to your brain) that you truly are full and the food might even be giving you more pleasure.  Sloooow doooown.

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If your mind is always racing it might be hard to suddenly become mindful at mealtime.  I am always encouraging my patients to practice meditation.  Meditation will help you be mindful when eating.  There isn’t any big trick to meditation.  You simply sit and focus on your breathing (object or a single thought).  When distracting thoughts come, which they will, gently let them go and come back to your breathing.  Mindfulness promotes balance, choice, wisdom, and acceptance of what is. 

Mindful eating helps you digest and absorb your food better.  You’ll begin to enjoy your food more and feel less tension.  It might not be easy at first, but practice and see what happens.  Begin to truly understand what it means to savor your food.

Flavor -  What brings flavor to your food?  Salt is a flavor enhancer, but too much salt is not always a good thing.  So what other spices can we use to bring flavor to our food?  Common herbs and spices may also help to protect against certain chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.    Herbs are from plant and plant parts.  While spices often come from the seeds, berries, or roots of the plants.  Using herbs and spices expands your palette and allows one to cut back on salt, sugar, and fat without sacrificing flavor.  What are some of the spices you should try if you aren’t already?

Serrano Chili/Chili Powder – These peppers are known for their bold, spicy heat.  You can find them smoked and then ground into a fragrant powder.  It will add a rich, smoky flavor with just a little heat -  A little will go a long way, so add gradually.  The compound found in chili peppers, dihydrocapsiate, has been shown in studies to boost fat-burning capacity (when people ate it three times/day).  The other benefit?  Capsaicin, the ingredient in chili peppers that adds the heat, has been shown to lower blood pressure in lab animals.  Add chopped pepper to chili, burgers, soups, stews, salsa, and egg dishes.

Turmeric – is the root stalk of a tropical plant in the ginger family.  It adds a bright golden color and a pungent flavor.   Curcumin is the main component in turmeric and this is where the attention should be focused.  Curcumin is responsible for the medicinal properties that’s it’s been shown to have:  prevention of various cancers, improving IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), improve liver function, CVD benefits, the list goes on. Turmeric is loaded with antioxidants, nutrients, anti-inflammatory compounds, and phytonutrients, all of which lead to its powerful medicinal properties.  *Side note* Turmeric may have an interaction with anticoagulants/antiplatelet drugs, i.e. Plavix, Coumadin), which may increase the risk of bleeding for some.  Speak with your physician if you think this may impact your lifestyle and especially if you plan to eat loads of it!  You can add turmeric to Southeast Asian recipes, including curries, soups, rice dishes; and vegetable, chicken, or lentil dishes. 

Cinnamon – Is prized for its sweet and spicy taste and aroma.  Some research shows that cinnamon may lower blood sugar levels, may lower cholesterol levels, and has been shown to reduce inflammation and fight bacteria.  It’s still unclear what the implications are for people.  But what is known?  It’s something easy to add to your coffee, your oatmeal, or your yogurt and incorporate into your daily life.  

Coriander – This herb’s seeds have a mild, toasty, slightly lemony flavor.  Researchers are investigating whether coriander may lower cholesterol.  You can use ground coriander in soups, stews, and casseroles.  The crushed seeds are also delicious when added to marinades or dressings.  

Garlic – New studies are showing that garlic has been linked in reducing the risk of heart disease – not only to slow the development of atherosclerosis but also in reducing blood pressure.  The compound in garlic, allicin, is the active ingredient and what gives garlic its distinctive odor.  There are many ways to add garlic into your daily cooking – sauté in stir-fries, soups – it’s the base to add with onion to almost any dish! 

Ginger – seems to aid digestion and saliva flow.  It has also been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting (easing an upset stomach).  There’s also strong evidence that ginger may ease osteoarthritis pain.  No optimal dose has been set for ginger (or the other spices for that matter).  Ginger can be added to your teas, marinades, dressings – it’ll definitely spice up your meals. 

There are SO many more herbs and spices that are still being studied – cardamom, cumin, oregano, garam masala, smoked paprika, coriander…and MORE.  So, if you want to spice up your life and enhance your health, add some root, bark and plant derivatives to your diet.  Herbs and spices add some pep to your meal and along the way may come with proven health benefits. 

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Eating Right – I think this sounds easy enough to understand, but are we really eating right?  I see many patients day in and day out that think they’re eating right only to come into a nutrition session with me and leave with many ideas of what they need to adjust/change. 

Michael Pollan has 7 food rules that he teaches people(and I use to teach people)  to follow and I think this will help people to start “eating right”:

Eat REAL food – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and yes, fish and meat.  AVOID “edible food-like substances”.  In Michael Pollan’s words, here’s how:

  1.  Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.  That box of processed food you’re picking up.  You know the one.  The one that has more than 15 ingredients, some of which you can’t name.  Yeah, don’t buy it.  Obviously I tell people to buy as much fresh food as possible.  If buying something in the package aim for it to have as minimal an amount of ingredients as possible.

  2.   Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce – similar to the above rule.  Again, we’re in a day and age now where the food industry keeps making new products.  If you buy it they’ll keep making them.  They’re putting ingredients in our food that have been linked in studies to be addictive – fat, sugar, and salt people.  Be aware.  Convenience is a critical point when people are shopping and it’s understandable to buy a few items to make short-cuts when cooking.  But when your whole shopping cart is full of processed food, we’ve got a problem.

  3.   Stay out of the middle of the supermarketshop on the perimeter of the store.  The middle is where all the packaged, processed food is at.  Real food is on the perimeter – think your produce department – that’s where you should be spending more of your time and filling up your cart!

  4.   Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.  Just today I went to toast a slice of bread.  Mold.  I couldn’t be mad at the bread for going bad.  That’s what it’s supposed to do.  I have to admit I was surprised though.  I haven’t seen mold on bread in a while now (I am trying to make more of my food homemade, but bread has been my nemesis.  Eventually I will be making my own homemade bread!) As Pollan says, “things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food.”

  5.   It is not just what you eat but how you eat.  See mindful eating above.  Take time to enjoy your food, your family – those around you, and focus on the food in front of you.  It’s important to be present at meal time.  TV, computers, and social media should be turned off.  Rather tune in to the food – it might just even taste better.

  6.   Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times.  It’s a good tradition and one that’s fallen to the wayside – whether it’s the kids’ baseball games during the week or parents who are working late.  Aim to have dinner with the people you love. 

  7.   Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline.  In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.  We are a nation that is always on the go.  Meal planning/prep is now a thing on the weekends (via social media) and it’s important to plan your meals for the week to avoid things like this from happening:  eating on the go and eating what’s available (for some the only option might be a gas station). 

I often summarize at the end of my nutrition consult with a few more of Michael Pollan’s words – “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” These are words to live by and are the true essence of what it means to “eat right”. 

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So during this National Nutrition Month I challenge you to really “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” – whether your goal is to practice more mindfulness while you eat, or whether you try to really flavor your food with new herbs/spices, or even if you start to simply reflect on how you can start to “eat right”. Remember that it’s how, when, why, and where that we eat that is just as important as what we eat.  Happy National Nutrition Month!