Beverages, holidays, nutrition

Our founding fathers' favorite drink (& why we still love it almost 300 years later)

Although January felt like a decade in its own right, we’re over half-way through February in the blink of an eye and I really can’t handle it. 2020’s practically over already!

You may have noticed that I’m no longer doing a weekly blog post. Fortunately, I’m doing more client work so I have less time to dedicate to this little labor of love. I’ll be dropping back for the time being to one captivating, well-written, exquisitely researched blog post per month. 😉 Good problems!

So for the month of February, I want to tell y’all about the preferred beverage of our forefathers, the founders of this country. No, it wasn’t tea, and – shockingly, I know – it wasn’t even booze!

It was…

Hot chocolate.

In a 1785 letter penned to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Chocolate. this article when ready made, and also the Cacao becomes so soon rancid, and the difficulties of getting it fresh have been so great in America that it’s use has spread but little. the way to increase it’s consumption would be to permit it to be brought to us immediately from the country of it’s growth. by getting it good in quality, and cheap in price, the superiority of the article both for health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea & coffee in America which it has in Spain where they can get it by a single voiage, & of course while it is sweet. the use of the sugars, coffee, & cotton of Brazil would also be much extended by a similar indulgence.

Source

Our former president Thomas Jefferson had high hopes for chocolate, predicting that it would soon overtake coffee and tea as America’s hot beverage of choice if we could only find a cheaper and faster way to import it. He makes this claim not only based on the purported health benefits of the chocolate, but also for its taste when sweetened.

And let’s be real here, the man was NOT wrong. America loves chocolate, to the tune of $27.5 million in chocolate candy sales in 2019 and an estimated 13 pounds of it consumed per year, per person.

Yet, although it’s ubiquitous, it’s not popular in quite the way our former president Thomas Jefferson predicted.

In this post I’m going to walk y’all through our colonial ancestors’ love affair with chocolate, how chocolate transformed into the sweet and smooth candy we know today, some of the health benefits of chocolate, and how to experience these benefits without all of the added sugar.

Chocolate in Colonial America (the 1700s)

In the 1700s, hot chocolate was the breakfast drink of choice for the rich. It had to be imported from the Caribbean or South America, so it was quite expensive. Very few people who lived at this time even got to taste chocolate.

However, for those who could afford it, it was a whole big to-do. They had specially-designed chocolate pots, which looked similar to tea and coffee pots, but had a hole in the top so that the beverage could be easily stirred to keep the chocolate from settling at the bottom.

This problem of hot chocolate settling has been an enduring one, that we still struggle with today every time we finish a mug of Swiss Miss only to realize all the good stuff is stuck to the bottom of the cup. Doesn’t it make you feel connected to the past??

George and Martha Washington, our first president and the very first first lady, were both big fans of chocolate. While George preferred a heartier breakfast drink called a “chocolate cream,” which is pretty close to the hot chocolate we know today, Martha liked cacao tea.

Cacao tea was made simply by brewing cacao shells in hot water, like tea. Others really enjoyed the tea as well, like the Washingtons’ niece Frances Ball. In a letter to George, her husband Burges Ball wrote “it agrees with her more than any other Breakfast.”

Want to try our closest approximation to authentic, Colonial-era chocolate? Check out the offerings from American Heritage Chocolate, which takes the recipes and flavor combinations popular in the 1700s and combines them with modern chocolate-making techniques.

A Booming Chocolate Industry (the 1800s and beyond)

So… how did chocolate go from expensive breakfast drink for the wealthy and well-connected, to a cheap sugary treat that anyone could afford?

Well, the 1800s were a BIG century for chocolate production.

It started in the early 1800s with the invention of cocoa powder, which was shelf stable – making it much easier to transport. With this invention, the price of chocolate began to decrease.

The first chocolate bar was invented in the mid-1800s, although it was probably nothing like the chocolate bars we’re used to today. It was made with sugar, chocolate liqueur, and cocoa butter.

However, we truly have the Swiss to thank for today’s smooth, creamy chocolate.

In the 1870s, Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter created milk chocolate (with the help of Henri Nestle, whose name you may be familiar with) by adding powdered milk to his chocolate.

Around the same time, Swiss chocolatier Rodolphe Lindt developed a new process known as conching, which transformed the texture of chocolate from hard and crumbly to smooth and meltable, and helped remove some of the bitter taste.

Now that chocolate was both cheap and delicious, its popularity boomed – especially in the early 1900s. As an inexpensive, calorie-dense food, chocolate candy bars were included in rations for American soldiers in World War II.

By the mid-1900s, chocolate was firmly cemented in American food culture. And based on sales numbers (which are in the billions and steadily growing year-over-year), it’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Thomas Jefferson was (mostly) right. Chocolate, beloved worldwide, is an American institution.

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Unfortunately, President Jefferson probably never would have guessed that chocolate – a drink he considered healthier than coffee and tea – would be junk food today.

In his day, chocolate was a health food, and as late as the late 1800s was still being used as medicine.

Unprocessed chocolate – without all the extras we’re used to, particularly sugar – is actually pretty good for you. And you can even argue that modern chocolate, as a rare treat, is good for the soul. To this, I would agree.

In fact, one recent study found that mindfully eating chocolate was a mood booster.

Here are just a handful of the other health benefits of chocolate:

Rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants are powerful compounds that can prevent and reverse damage to your cells caused by unstable free radicals.

They may benefit your health in a variety of ways, from giving you glowing skin to improving your immune health to decreasing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Chocolate contains several different antioxidants, but is particularly high in resveratrol – the same anti-inflammatory, potentially anti-aging antioxidant that’s found in red wine.

High in healthy fats

Cocoa is an excellent source of healthy fats, particularly oleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acid.

Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid, the same type that is predominant in olive oil. It’s highly anti-inflammatory and heart healthy.

Stearic acid and palmitic acid, on the other hand, are saturated fats. Nothing to fear, though! They don’t deserve their bad reputation.

Contains fiber

Unprocessed cocoa is also a great way to boost your fiber intake. About a third of the carbs in cocoa powder come from fiber.

Eating enough fiber can help improve your digestive health by serving as a food source for your healthy gut bacteria and keeping you nice and regular.

In addition to these benefits, cocoa also contains a wide variety of minerals, like iron, magnesium, and potassium.

This dietitian’s conclusion? Cocoa’s totally a health food. 😉

Making Chocolate a Healthy Part of Your Diet

I’m gonna say it just in case this essay isn’t proof enough: I love chocolate.

Unfortunately, most of it is just too high in sugar for me to make it a part of my diet regularly.

Over the years, I’ve developed a taste for super-dark chocolate (like 85% cocoa or more), which is low in sugar and naturally contains fiber and healthy fat. One or two squares always satisfies a chocolate craving for me.

However, when I’ve really got a taste for the sweet stuff, I reach for Lily’s baking chips. They are sweetened with stevia and erythritol, and their milk chocolate flavored ones taste just like a Hershey’s bar.

To use chocolate in something other than a dessert, try making Mexican mole sauce for enchiladas, or use unsweetened cocoa powder in chili.

And finally: there’s nothing wrong with having the full sugar stuff as a treat. I’ve got my sugar-free and low-sugar alternatives that I love, but if you want a slice of chocolate cake at a birthday party, some of your grandma’s chocolate chip cookies at Christmas, or “Death by Chocolate” at a nice restaurant for a special occasion, GO FOR IT.

In summary,

Happy Valentine’s Day and (early) President’s Day, friends! Enjoy some chocolate on both days… it’s downright patriotic!

Beverages, nutrition

6 Healthy Drinks (Other Than Water)

What you drink can have a HUGE impact on your health. I mean, think about it: how much fluid do you drink per day? It adds up pretty quickly, so if you’re drink choices are less than ideal… well, that can add up quickly too!

Luckily, there are plenty of healthy options other than plain ol’ water (although I think you should get your body used to the taste of plain ol’ water, also)!

What makes a drink healthy?

Before we start our list of healthy drinks, we first have to figure out what exactly makes a drink “healthy.” If you’ve read my nutrition philosophy, you know that I follow a low-carb lifestyle (most of the time, haha), and so my definition of healthy may be different from some other folks’ definitions, although I think there are some universal things we can all agree on.

Here are my criteria for a healthy beverage:

  • Contains no artificial sweeteners or added sugars
  • Is not a less nutrient dense form of another food (bye-bye, fruit juice!)
  • Does not contain food dyes, additives, or artificial flavors
  • Is not a reduced-fat version (reduced fat = more sugar)
  • Conditional: low in calories (ex, I’m trying to lose some weight so I’m leaning towards low- or no-calorie beverages; however, my hyperactive 4-year-old has more wiggle room)

So, let’s get into our list!

1. Coffee

Coffee is magic, and we all know it. Something about that first sip in the morning is just… perfection.

Luckily, coffee is actually pretty great for you too, as long as you’re not mainlining it or adding tons of sugar or coffee creamer.

Along with the caffeine – which can actually have some beneficial effects in small doses, like perking you up and slightly boosting your metabolism – coffee contains polyphenols (plant antioxidants), which can help neutralize unstable compounds in your body and decrease your risk of certain chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The sweet spot seems to be about 3-4 cups per day, as one large study found that those who drank 3-4 cups of coffee per day had the largest reduction in risk of heart attack, heart-related death, and death from any cause. However, this research was mostly based on observational data, so you have to take it with a grain of salt.

I typically drink two (admittedly large) cups a day and start to feel gross if I have any more than that, but the takeaway here is that your morning brew is good for you!

2. Tea

Tea is another super-healthy drink. There are three main types here in the States, but the varieties are literally endless. Here are the 3 types:

  • Green: Green tea is made from fresh tea leaves (no further processing beyond drying) and has a light, floral flavor
  • Black: Black tea is made from tea leaves that have been oxidized, resulting in a darker color and stronger flavor
  • Herbal: Herbal teas are made from things other than tea leaves, such as herbs, spices, and fruits

Like coffee, all of these teas are generally great for you if you’re not adding a bunch of extras. Bubble tea and chai lattes and matcha frappes are great and all, but they are LOADED with sugar. There’s no pretending they’re healthy.

Tea, green tea in particular, contains compounds called catechins which are highly anti-inflammatory. A quick PubMed search shows me that they’re being studied for cancer prevention, infectious diseases, infertility, and anti-aging.

In addition, black tea (like my favorite hot teas, Constant Comment and Earl Grey, as well as the quintessential iced tea here in the South) contains antioxidants called theaflavins and thearubigins and has exhibited strong anti-cancer effects in non-human trials.

Herbal teas can also have a variety of health benefits, depending on the ingredients they’re made with. I recently wrote an article for Healthline Nutrition about the benefits of sage tea.

My recommendation for a dreary day: a homemade London Fog, which is a strong-brewed cup of Earl Grey with milk or cream, along with a little bit of sweetener (I recommend stevia or monk fruit) and vanilla.

3. Kombucha

Kombucha has gotten really popular over the past several years. It is made from green or black tea, but I felt that it deserved its own category because it is fermented.

Fermented foods and drinks really don’t get enough love, but they are so great for you. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t incorporate enough fermented foods into my diet.

Kombucha is a great way to get them in though! Kombucha contains a very small amount of alcohol (a result of the fermentation) and sugar, which serves as the food source for the bacteria and mold that ferment the tea. This bacteria is known as a SCOBY: symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Sounds appetizing, huh?

Luckily, the fermentation process also provides some natural carbonation. And many people actually really enjoy the taste of kombucha. There are PLENTY of options on the market in a million different flavors too, so you’re sure to find one that you like.

Kombucha is rich in probiotics, or healthy bacteria that can colonize in your gut. Little research has been done on the effects of kombucha in humans, but animal trials have found numerous anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

4. Full-fat and fermented dairy

Yes, unless you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, FULL-FAT dairy is good for you.

An observational study in over 9,000 people found that full-fat dairy intake was associated with a 12% lower risk of metabolic syndrome (a precursor to type 2 diabetes and heart disease), while low-fat dairy intake didn’t decrease a person’s risk of developing metabolic syndrome at all.

Now we’ve discussed the drawbacks of observational studies before, so we have to approach these findings with some healthy skepticism. However, other studies have found similar results. Full-fat dairy appears to be healthier than low-fat dairy.

But let’s be real, we don’t need studies to confirm common sense: milk is naturally high in fat, and removing the fat (along with a good chunk of the nutrients) does not improve its health profile. In fact, low-fat milks are higher in sugar, which can cause an larger insulin response – potentially leading to weight gain!

Fermented dairy products like kefir (which is a drink you can now buy at most grocery stores) and Greek yogurt can also help improve your gut health because – like kombucha – they contain healthy bacteria. Be careful here: choose the full-fat version and avoid the sugary ones! Shockingly, most of the yogurt you can get at the grocery store is an absolute sugar-bomb (and better suited for the ice cream case than the yogurt section)!

If you’re trying to lose weight you may want to take it easy on the dairy, as it is very calorie-dense. Additionally, research points to a link between dairy intake and acne, so you may want to limit it if you’re trying to clear up your skin.

5. Plant milks

Soy, coconut, almond, macadamia, flax, oat… the plant milk options are becoming endless.

I personally like plant milks, except a lot of them are – again – loaded with sugar and less-than-ideal ingredients. I would also recommend everyone – low-carb, vegan, normal (;D), or none of the above – avoid soy milk because it is full of hormone-disrupting phytoestrogens.

My favorite is unsweetened almond milk. Macadamia nut milk is fantastic, but also really expensive! Luckily, these nut milks are also low in carbs and calories – making them the perfect substitute to a glass of milk for those of us who are trying to lose some weight.

Caveat: You may have recently read that almond milk production is killing bees. This is making me rethink my love affair with almond milk, because bees are awesome and important. I am still mulling this over and will definitely keep you updated. Luckily there are several “bee-friendly” brands on the rise!

6. Sparkling water

My last recommendation for a healthy drink other than water is, technically, still water. But it’s got BUBBLES! There are SO many sparkling waters on the market today, it’s really easy to find one that is either completely unsweetened or one that is sweetened with natural sweeteners rather than the artificial stuff.

I definitely recommend sparkling water if you’re trying to kick a soda habit too. Gotta get those bubbles somehow!

Key message

Plain water is great, and by far the healthiest drink you can choose. BUT there are plenty of other healthy drink options too!

Be sure to avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners, as they can do more harm than good. In the case of dairy, you don’t have to fear the full-fat versions either.

What’s your favorite healthy drink? (Mine’s coffee… no question.) Do you have any other suggestions for healthy drinks besides water?

keto, nutrition

Not Hungry on Keto? Here are 3 Reasons Why

Photo of a steak with vegetables, captioned "Less Hungry on Keto? Here are 3 Reasons WHy!"

Have you noticed that you’re feeling less hungry on keto? There are several reasons for that. Read on to find out more!

I used to be one hangry witch.

The day my now-husband proposed to me, Thanksgiving 2013, he almost postponed the proposal because… even though I had a huge Thanksgiving lunch just a few hours earlier, that night I was irritated, short, impatient, and bratty… all cause I needed a snack.

Thankfully my husband, the long-suffering man that he is, got me a gas station taquito and told me to get over it, then proceeded to ask my spoiled butt to marry him.

We celebrated our engagement at the mall, with midnight food court Greek food and Black Friday people watching.

Such good memories, forever marred by my hangryness.

And for the longest time, I didn’t understand how I could be so hungry after having such a large meal not too long before.

Fast forward a few years, I went to visit my parents after lunch one day and didn’t get back home until 8:30 that night. It was when I got home that I realized I hadn’t eaten for almost nine hours… and I wasn’t hungry at all.

The difference? I was in ketosis. I was shocked, considering my body has never let me go that long without eating before, without some serious protesting.

But as I continued to study the science behind ketogenic diets, I realized that there are 3 key reasons your appetite decreases while on keto. Here they are:

1. Protein and fat are more filling than carbs

Let’s think for a moment about which is more filling: 1 cup of corn flakes with 1/2 cup skim milk (170 calories, 6 grams protein, 0 grams fat, 40 grams carb) or 2 eggs cooked in 1 tsp butter (190 calories, 12 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 1 gram carb).

What’s your guess? Clearly, it’s the eggs cooked in butter, which would sustain you MUCH longer than corn flakes and skim milk, despite being only 20 more calories. This tells us something: the composition of our food affects our hunger.

With little-to-no protein and absolutely NO fat, your body processes the cereal made from finely ground grain and fluid skim milk extremely quickly. Alternatively, the protein and fat are digested much more slowly – resulting in lasting fullness.

2. Keto stabilizes your blood sugar levels

Let’s continue working with our milk and cereal example from above. Pretend you’ve eaten this meal, providing 40 grams of carb with absolutely no fat and only 6 grams of protein.

These rapidly-broken-down carbs are going to cause your blood sugar to rise quickly because there’s little protein or fat to slow down digestion.

With a spike in blood sugar, your body is going to release a large amount of insulin to cover that sugar. Insulin shuttles excess blood sugar out of your blood stream and into short-term storage (muscle, liver) or long-term storage (fat cells). And your body really doesn’t have much capacity for short-term sugar storage, so it’s very likely that a lot of that sugar that just hit your bloodstream all at once will be converted to fat.

In addition, if you’re overweight or obese you are likely insulin resistant to some degree, which means your body doesn’t “listen” to insulin as well as it should. In response, your body actually secretes even MORE insulin to get the job done. This can cause a lot of problems, one being that your body is forever trapped in “fat storage” mode and you struggle to lose weight.

So once insulin does its thing, that sugar is gone, locked away in long-term storage and far away from your bloodstream. You’ve swung from a rapid high in blood sugar to what seems to like a low – signaling to your body that you need to eat NOW. And if you choose another high-carb meal, then you get stuck in this vicious cycle of extreme hunger every few hours that is often accompanied by a bad mood (AKA being hangry).

However, if you were to eat eggs with butter, providing only one gram of carb, the effect on your blood sugar is going to be minimal if it happens at all. Therefore, there is little to no insulin released, and your blood sugar levels stay more even – resulting in less hangryness, even when you do (eventually) get hungry.

3. Keto resets your hunger hormones

Being in ketosis can actually affect your hunger and satiety hormones, as well.

Insulin, of course, is a key hunger-regulating hormone. And we already know that a keto diet can help bring down those insulin levels. But there’s one other major player I want to discuss today: leptin. (There are many other hormones that affect hunger, but if I went through all of them this would be a book and not a blog post. Just an FYI!)

Leptin is often referred to as the satiety hormone because it tells your brain that you’re full and ready to stop eating. However, like with insulin, people who are overweight or obese are often leptin resistant to some extent. This means their brain isn’t getting those satiety signals the way they should be, resulting in a powerful appetite that is hard to satisfy. These people often have high leptin levels, but are still hungry.

Luckily, ketogenic diets can help increase leptin sensitivity, so your brain is able to better process the signals that you have eaten enough and it’s time to stop.

Should I still eat if I’m not hungry on keto?

Honestly, it’s up to you. There are many benefits of intermittent fasting while on keto, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.

I recommend eating at least one large meal per day (preferably two) to make sure you’re giving your body the protein and nutrients it needs.

However, some fasting advocates have protocols that involve several days of fasting, especially if you have a lot of weight to lose or if you are a type 2 diabetic. If you plan to fast for more than 24 hours, I implore you to work very closely with a doctor who is familiar with fasting. Dr. Jason Fung (the fasting guru) accepts virtual clients through his The Fasting Method program.

If you’re underweight, highly active, or young and still growing… don’t fast!

And if you’re hungry, eat! Once you’re in ketosis, it is easier to trust your body’s hunger signals because they have not been hijacked by the sugar-insulin-hangry cycle we discussed above.

How long until I’m not hungry on keto?

When you initially start the keto diet, you will probably be MORE hungry than usual.

This is because there is a huge metabolic shift taking place in your body. You are shifting from burning sugar to burning fat, and your body is crying out for the fuel that it’s used to: sugar.

However, eventually that switch will flip and your body will start burning fat, and this is when most people begin to experience remarkable decreases in their hunger. This process takes about a week, but can take less or more time depending on a number of factors.

My tips for staying faithful to the diet while making this adjustment are:

  • Don’t count calories. Eat keto-friendly foods to satiety to get through the initial hunger.
  • Drink plenty of water. You are going to drop a lot of water weight at first, which can leave you feeling really bad (and more likely to give in and eat some carbs) if you’re not replenishing your fluid stores.
  • Supplement with electrolytes. On keto, your body needs more salt, potassium, and magnesium. You will feel TERRIBLE if you do not get enough of these as you are transitioning into ketosis. Read in detail about the supplements you need here.
  • Keep breath mints nearby. Dragon breath is a sure sign that your body has made the switch, and though it may be cause for excitement for you… the people around you will not share your enthusiasm. Trust me on this one.

If you stick to it, you will reach a point when your hunger becomes SO much more manageable. And if you’ve always struggled with your hunger, that is going to be such a great moment for you. It definitely was for me!

nutrition

6 reasons to ditch diet soda in 2020 (and 1 tasty alternative!)

Me and Diet Coke go way back.

Probably high school? There was a time when I was younger that I drank regular Coke and LOVED Fruitopia (does anyone remember Fruitopia??), but at some point I switched over to Diet Coke “for my figure” and it quickly became a fixture in my life.

I remember in college walking half a mile each way from my apartment to the c-store on campus, just to grab a 20-ounce Diet Coke. Granted, the walking wasn’t so bad, but the fact that I would do it just for a Diet Coke… yikes.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been one of those people who could just have one every once in a while. I crave it too badly, and I can only control my cravings if I’ve absolutely cold-turkey stopped drinking it.

I’m about a week strong right now, and one of my goals for 2020 is to break the addiction once and for all. Because it’s looking like diet sodas – even though they’re calorie-free – are not that great for you. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Diet sodas are linked to an increased risk of certain diseases

Several studies show that drinking diet sodas is associated with an increased risk of certain conditions, such as kidney failure, type 2 diabetes, and heart attack or stroke.

To be clear though, the research is NOT definitive on this. Many of these long-term studies measure food and beverage intake based on food frequency questionnaires, which are surveys that assess how much a person eats per week or per month of different foods. For example, it make ask how many eggs you eat or how many cups of soda you drink in one week.

As you can imagine, these questionnaires are notoriously unreliable, as people can and do lie about what they eat (especially to researchers). Not to mention, it’s hard to remember and estimate how much of a certain food you eat within a specified time period.

In addition, it’s hard to tell if these study participants drank diet soda from the very start or may have switched to diet soda at some point in their lives prior to the study.

SO, there’s a correlation there. This does not mean that diet soda causes these diseases, but I did want to share the research with you guys.

2. They may actually promote weight gain

Diet sodas don’t really help you lose weight either.

Some studies show that people who drink diet soda are more likely to be overweight or obese. However, this might be because overweight or obese people are more likely to drink diet soda in an attempt to lose weight.

Of course, when you replace sugar-sweetened beverages with diet soda then you will lose weight. The question is, does this last?

One 9-year-long study found a strong dose-response relationship between diet soda and weight gain. Translated: the more diet soda these study participants drank, the more weight they gained.

Additionally, some studies show that long-term use of artificial sweeteners may actually cause you to eat more calories. There are a variety of reasons for this. Such as…

3. They cause an insulin response

Although non-caloric sweeteners – like those in diet sodas – don’t affect your blood sugar, they can actually cause an insulin response.

Insulin is the hormone that your body releases after it senses sugar, in order to help shuttle any excess sugar from your blood stream and maintain your blood sugar levels. In the presence of excess sugar, insulin takes what can’t immediately be used for energy and signals your body to store it as fat.

One interesting study found that diet soda and artificially-sweetened water both increased insulin levels. It’s hypothesized that the sweet taste primes your body to release insulin because it expects sugar.

So, what is the significance of this?

Many people who are overweight or obese have some degree of insulin resistance. Their body is kind of numb to insulin, so it doesn’t work as well as it should. In these instances, your body will actually secrete even more insulin to get the job done.

This is the start of a vicious cycle. Chronically high insulin levels translate to more stored body fat, then more hunger to make sure that your blood sugar levels stay regular because your body can’t access that stored fat, then your body secretes too much insulin in response to the food you just ate so some of that sugar will be stored as body fat, and then you get hungry again… and so on and so on.

If your goal is to lose weight, you really want to lower your insulin levels so you’re not stuck in “fat storage” mode. So, it’s looking like diet sodas are not very helpful in that regard.

4. The artificial sweeteners may disrupt your gut bacteria

If you’re a pretty healthy person, your trillions of gut bacteria are all working together to keep you that way. Not only does gut health affect digestion, it also affects immunity, energy production and metabolism, and even brain function. Keeping your gut bacteria healthy is SO important for your health.

Artificial sweeteners, however, can disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, potentially wreaking havoc on your health.

According to current research, the use of artificial sweeteners promotes changes in the gut which lead to impaired glucose (sugar) tolerance, insulin resistance, and – you guessed it – weight gain.

5. The phosphorus may weaken your bones

Dark sodas like Diet Coke contain a lot of phosphorus.

At my full-time job (in a dialysis unit), phosphorus is a HUGE deal. In people with kidney disease who can’t excrete excess phosphorus in their urine, it builds up in the blood – signaling the body to pull calcium from the bones… which then has to land somewhere. In essence, it softens their bones and hardens their blood vessels. NOT GOOD!

Although it’s a natural mineral and we do need it, phosphorus is a ubiquitous food additive and it’s in so many foods that now most people are getting way too much of it.

Adults in the U.S. consume about twice as much phosphorus as they need, much of it coming from food additives that are nearly 100% bioavailable (read: absorbed by the body), compared to natural phosphorus which is typically only 30-60% bioavailable.

And unfortunately, it’s starting to look like even people with healthy kidneys may have weaker bones because of this phosphorus overload.

Here are two easy ways to consume fewer phosphorus additives: ditch dark sodas, and eat less processed food.

6. They’re addictive

Diet sodas are addictive. Maybe not for everyone, in the same way that not everyone who smokes a cigarette becomes addicted. And definitely not as addictive as – let’s say – meth, but they are addictive nonetheless.

Regular use of artificial sweeteners may actually condition your body to want more sweetness, causing food cravings and potentially strengthening your sweet tooth.

Anecdotally, I can confirm this. When I drink diet soda, my sugar cravings are nearly unmanageable, but when avoid it, my sweet tooth is much easier to manage.

In addition, the caffeine found in many diet sodas is a known addictive substance. Although I can manage without Diet Coke, I certainly can’t manage without my coffee. But that’s another story for another day.

So what should you drink?

If you can drink a diet soda every once in while without craving them and slowly sneaking more and more and more into your daily life, more power to you. Keep doing what you’re doing, as long as it’s working for you.

Additionally, if you need to lose weight and you drink regular soda, switching to diet soda will help you drop some weight (at least, at first).

However, if you’re like me, and drinking any diet soda at all becomes a slippery slope to drinking way too much, you should consider cutting it from your diet.

However, I don’t recommend replacing it with regular sugar-sweetened soda. Sugar has plenty of problems on its own.

My go-to’s are coffee, unsweet tea, and good ol’ water. But if you’re looking for something a little different…

Spritz Tea: a tasty new alternative

Last November I had the chance to try a new drink called Spritz Tea before it launched. It is a sparkling tea (yes, tea!) made with really great ingredients, so you know I am all about it.

It comes in two flavors – hibiscus and green tea (they’re both delicious). AND it’s lightly carbonated and sweetened with natural, plant-based sweeteners – making it an perfect alternative if you’re trying to drop your diet soda habit, like me.

It’s got the bubbles, the refreshing flavors, and the hint of sweetness to satisfy a diet soda craving without the phosphorus additives or artificial sweeteners.

Along with making a really tasty beverage, the Spritz team donates 1% of their profit to nonprofits and business initiatives for women.

If you happen to be in the Columbus, Ohio area, you can purchase Spritz Tea at some local retailers. The rest of us though, we’ll have to order online (for now)!

I’m also teaming up with Spritz for a fun New Year’s giveaway! Find all the details on my Facebook. If your New Year’s resolution is to ditch diet soda, Spritz Tea can make achieving that goal A LOT easier!

Cooking, nutrition

3 Low-Carb Holiday (or Anytime!) Baking Essentials

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Christmas is upon us, and you know what that means!

Sugar! And it’s everywhere!!

I’ve eaten more cookies than I care to admit, and we just keep getting more sweets in the house. It’s like they’re just materializing directly on my kitchen counters, waiting for me to sneak in after my 4-year-old goes to bed and tear ’em up.

So, I haven’t been a very good low-carb eater these days, but I’m finally back to eating well and I fully intend to stay that way into the new year.

That is why today I’d like to share with y’all some of my favorite low-carb swaps so you can enjoy versions of all your favorite holiday treats that will have minimal effects on your blood sugar and insulin levels, and help you stay in ketosis.

Keep in mind that although these products are typically very low in net carbs, they contain lots of fiber and/or sugar alcohols. So if you overdo it, you may be spending a lot of time on the toilet.

However, it’s truly amazing what great low-carb alternatives are available that weren’t around just 5 or 6 years ago!

Here are some of my favorite holiday (or anytime!) baking ingredients:

Lily’s Baking Chips

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Lily’s baking chips are phenomenal. I love the milk chocolate ones because they taste just like a Hershey’s bar, but only have 2 net carbs per serving.

They melt extremely well and are perfect for dipping candies, baking chocolate chip cookies, or eating by the handful when you just need a little something sweet.

In fact, there are about 5 days out of every month when I go really hard on these things. Just being honest.

I buy mine at Wal-Mart, but if they’re not available near you they can be ordered on Amazon.

Natural Mate Monkfruit Sweetener

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I’ve tried several different zero-net-carb sweeteners, and Natural Mate Monkfruit Sweetener is by far my favorite.

Stevia has a strong bitter aftertaste, and erythritol has that “cooling” effect in your mouth that can be kind of strange. My first attempt at low-carb baking was a king cake made with erythritol, and the sensation was just far too much. I’m also making a concerted effort to avoid artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame when possible because they may damage your gut microbiota and decrease your glucose (sugar) tolerance.

The Natural Mate Monkfruit happened to be on sale when I needed to order some sweetener, so I gave it a shot. I was so pleasantly surprised! The taste and texture is indistinguishable from sugar, but it is twice as sweet so you only need half as much. It does contain some erythritol, but absolutely no cooling effect unless you’re eating it by the spoonful (which I don’t recommend).

I’ve made so many really tasty low-carb treats using monkfruit, like marshmallows (for s’mores) and pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.

I buy my Natural Mate sweetener on Amazon. Buy in bulk to save some money, and Natural Mate almost always send you a fun sample of one of their other products!

Psyllium Husk Powder

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My final recommendation is one that I only just started using, but it’s definitely become a baking essential for me. Psyllium husk is 99% fiber, and it’s normally used as a supplement to help ya poop.

HOWEVER, it adds this perfectly bready, soft, glutinous texture to low-carb breads that really makes them more… carb-like, I guess. This is because it turns to a gel in the presence of liquid, which (TMI) is the same reason it can help relieve constipation!

You really need to try it in fathead dough, because it takes the dough from “bread-like” to straight-up bread.

It’s also awesome in 90-second bread, which I make often for a quick meal of avocado toast (I’m a millennial, after all) or cheese toast. Before I started using psyllium husk powder in the recipe, the bread was edible but extremely dry and didn’t have the right texture. However, I found a recipe (linked above) using psyllium husk and it makes the bread perfectly soft, chewy, and wonderful.

I use NOW Foods Psyllium Husk Powder that I order on Amazon. I’ve heard some reports that psyllium husk powder can turn your food purple (ha!), but I haven’t had that experience myself.

Bonus: Parchment Paper and Silicon Baking Mats

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Since you can’t use flour to dust everything and keep your doughs from sticking to cookie sheets, your hands, the annoyingly hard to clean ridges on the edge of your counters, etc, it’s important to keep some parchment paper on hand for low-carb baking too. This makes it a breeze to roll out sheets of dough for cookies, pizza crust, or cinnamon rolls.

I also recommend silicon mats for your baking sheets. When I worked at Subway in college, I loved these things! They were the perfect nonstick surface for bread and cookies. I finally got some of my own and I’m totally in love. I use them almost daily. Here are the ones I bought. Considering I only paid about $25 for the set of 3 cookie sheets and 3 mats, I’ve been really impressed with the quality.

I understand it’s a little late to share this for Christmas baking, seeing as Christmas is in 2 days. If you’re anything like me you couldn’t get paid enough to go to Wal-Mart or a grocery store right now.

BUT, I think low-carb baking is a really fun hobby. It’s so satisfying to make treats that I can enjoy without getting kicked out of ketosis, and it’s even better when it’s something my family likes too!

So whether you are staying “on plan” over the next few days, or enjoying all the foods that only come around once per year, remember: don’t stress out about it, enjoy yourself, and enjoy the time with your family.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

nutrition

My Nutrition Philosophy

I think every dietitian has a nutrition philosophy that is shaped by their own experiences, relationship with food, and – of course – their education (which, for the record, is very thorough… new dietitians are now required to have a Master of Science degree, and many of us older dietitians got one just for kicks).

As someone who pursued a job in nutrition as a result of my own life-long struggles with my weight, I have thought and thought and thought about my own nutrition philosophy, and now I’m ready to share it.

basil leaves and avocado on sliced bread on white ceramic plate
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

If I had to write a Michael Pollan style food mantra, mine would be: “Eat real food. Not too much. And don’t stress out about it.”

As someone who was born over 10 pounds and who has pretty much been fat ever since, I have tried so many diets. I had some fleeting success with Weight Watchers back in high school, but gained all that weight back and then some in the years that followed. Calorie counting, paleo, vegetarian… all failures for me in the realm where it really mattered to me, my weight. It just seemed like I couldn’t trick my brain into being satisfied with a reasonable amount of “healthy” food… ever.

However, the one dietary framework that really seems to work for me is low-carb/keto, along with intermittent fasting. When I stick to it, the weight falls off, my skin clears up, my stomach flattens, and I have so much more energy. Of course, the hard part is sticking to it faithfully in a world that is filled with sugar.

BUT, I’m not so much of a zealot that I think everyone should be on keto. I understand, accept, and embrace the fact that different things work for different people. However, I think there are some low-carb concepts that would work wonders in improving the overall health of most people:

  • Eat fewer carbs. Most carbs are crap, and people are eating way too many of them.
  • Avoid seed oils. Vegetable oil is nasty, inflammatory, and just plain terrible for you. Stick to butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and other natural fats.
  • Drink more water. And definitely don’t drink your calories (because, let’s face it, drinking calories should more accurately be called drinking sugar).
  • Eat more produce. Veggies are delicious. Eat more of them. And fruit too, if your blood sugar is well-controlled.
  • Don’t fear the fat. Fat is good for you. Saturated fat is NOT bad for you. More calories per gram does not equal less healthy.
  • Stop salt-shaming. Your body needs salt. Salt sensitivity is a real thing, but affects a minority of people. There are many other factors that have a bigger effect on your blood pressure.
  • Limit snacks. Snacks don’t cure hangryness. They cause it.

In addition to the diet aspect, though, I have to discuss what I consider some of the biggest keys to wellness. These are just as important as diet… if not more so, in some instances.

  • Get enough sleep. 7-9 hours per night for adults. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
  • Decrease the amount of stress in your life. Work stress, family stress, relationship stress, financial stress, commute stress… all of it. Find ways to decrease the stress in your life. It’s terrible for you. This includes stressing out about your diet and/or weight.
  • Exercise. Focus on resistance training over steady-state cardio. Try to make it enjoyable. (This is my eternal struggle right here.)
  • Connect with others. We need each other.
  • Have fun. And sometimes you just need to drop everything and play with your kids for a little bit, or watch some Netflix, or even on rare occasion eat carbs. (Scandalous, I know).

So those are my basic thoughts on diet, nutrition, health, and wellness. I know they may not jive with everyone, and that’s okay.

I realize they might make me sound like some kind of wellness saint, but I am far from it. I still have weight to lose, I struggle with my sweet tooth, I hate exercise, and I love to stay up late when I know I have an early morning the next day.

But I believe I have found a set of food ideals that I can live with for the rest of my life, that focus on healthy foods without being authoritarian, along with focusing on the other huge lifestyle factors that play a key role in health.

How about you? What’s your nutrition philosophy?

Do you need help expressing it in an elegant, organized, and succinct way for your website, so your potential clients can get to know you better? I can help with that! Click here to contact me.