Perhaps you've heard that the World Health Organization released a statement. Or maybe you've seen the headlines comparing bacon to smoking or telling you your hamburger is going to give you cancer.
Just in case you missed it, I'll bring you up to speed. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement on Monday classifying processed meats as carcinogenic and red meats as probably carcinogenic. Sounds pretty scary. (You can read the statement yourself here).
So, let's look at this a little more closely. The WHO did not perform any new research into red meat and processed meat. Their panel of experts examined over 800 studies that had already been done on the topic of processed and/or red meat and cancer. They made their statement based on what the general consensus seemed to be from those studies. That's my way of telling you, this is not a nutritional breakthrough we're talking about here.
Research has suggested that processed meats (especially those with nitrates) and red meat (especially when grilled or "char-broiled") may cause people who consume them regularly to have an increased risk of cancer, especially colon cancer.
Processed meats are things like bacon, sausage, ham, deli meats, hot dogs, bratwurst, Spam, etc. Red meats are things like beef, pork, lamb, mutton, veal, goat, and horse. Both categories of meat are ones that nutrition experts generally recommend you to enjoy in moderation (ie not daily, not even weekly usually).
The WHO group found in their evaluation of the studies that a serving of processed meat a day can increase your risk of colon cancer by about 18%. This is an increased risk factor of 1.1 to 1.2 for each serving of processed meat. In comparison, smoking causes an increased risk factor of 20 for developing lung cancer. That's a comparison of 30,000 deaths being caused by processed meats versus roughly a million deaths being caused by smoking.
In my opinion, the best way to think about the WHO statement is as another example that things like bacon and hamburgers are not staples of a healthy diet. The more you can fill your diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins (like chicken, fish, or soy) the healthier your diet will be. That doesn't mean you can't indulge in a burger or BLT every so often, but do so infrequently.
The WHO statement is not inconsequential to the medical community or the cancer research community, but don't let your local news station scare you. The USDA's dietary guidelines have reflected all of those studies findings for a number of years. Cancer is a very complex set of diseases, but studies have continually shown that the best way to decrease your risk of cancer is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, stay active, and stop (or don't start) smoking.
Hopefully everyone is staying healthy! But just in case, last week while I was sick I experimented in the kitchen to create a delicious comfort food recipe. It's full of veggies to keep your immune system strong and has just a kick of spice to help clear your sinuses.
When I'm sick I crave starchy comfort food. Last week I couldn't stop thinking about the spicy jambalaya I had in New Orleans earlier this year. So when I saw that I had a can of tomato paste I'd only used a tablespoon of and some leftover rice from earlier in the week, I decided to see what I could come up with. This recipe uses chicken sausage (I used Aidelle's Italian style chicken sausage) but would work just as well with veggie sausage, regular chicken, tofu, or even chickpeas. The sausage I buy is precooked so it doesn't have to cook in the skillet long, if you're using raw meat I would suggesting cooking it longer or separately and then adding it already cooked to the dish.
The cayenne in this recipe is totally optional. Add as much or as little (or none) as you want.
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1 small zucchini, chopped
2 large yellow bell peppers, chopped
2 chicken sausages, chopped
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic and herb powder
Cayenne pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked brown rice
2-4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese
Cook the sweet potato and onion in a skillet over medium heat. (I sprinkled the potato with cayenne just to make things exciting.) Cook for about 5 minutes until that potato cubes start to soften. Add the zucchini and peppers and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add the sausage and cook for 8-10 minutes until sausage is browned.
While the sausage and veggies are cooking, mix the tomato paste with the water until you get a thick sauce consistency. Mix in the spices.
Add the rice and tomato sauce to the veggies and sausage. Mix well. Serve with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese on top.
I've been sick for this past week. I hate being sick. It always feels like my body is betraying me. Maybe I shouldn't take it so personally though.
Unfortunately being sick is something that happens to us all. It's just as important to nourish our bodies with good food before we're sick as it is when we're sick. Consistently maintaining a healthy diet makes sure we're providing our immune system with everything it needs to fight off infections when they happen. That means making sure you're taking in enough Vitamin C daily, not just going crazy with Vitamin C supplements when you start to get that tickle in the back of your throat. The only thing overloading yourself with Vitamin C when your sick does is make your pee a lot more expensive!
One of the things I struggle with when I'm sick is making sure I eat enough. Generally, being sick makes me lose my appetite. So if I don't monitor my intake carefully, I end up not eating as much as I normally do. I've worked with a number of patients who insist they don't need to eat as much when they're sick because they're not as active. You may think you're just lying in bed all day long, but your body is fighting a battle on the inside, and it's important you provide it with the energy it needs to do that. I've talked before about how many calories your body requires just to keep you alive. When you're sick there are additional calorie needs to keep your immune system strong, so it's important to try and eat about as much as you do when you're healthy.
For people who are training regularly, getting sick can feel like a huge setback. You've probably heard the general rule of thumb that if your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, body aches, nausea, vomiting, etc.) you need to stay home from the gym until you're better; but above the neck (runny nose, scratchy throat, headache, sinus congestion) you're good to go.
However, this doesn't mean you go all out. When you're sick is not the time to be setting PRs. If you're going to lift; lift lighter than you normally do. If you're going to run or swim; keep it at a moderate pace. It's so important to listen to your body. If you have above the neck symptoms but you're feeling really tired, then take that hour you were going to spend at the gym and take a nap. I promise, a week or two off for illness will not negate all the progress you've made. But training, or over training, when you shouldn't has the potential to cause long term damage.
Alright, I'm going to go have some tea with honey. The rest of you stay healthy! Wash your hands, eat your fruits and vegetables, and get enough sleep!
When I think of fall, the first three things that come to mind are apples, pumpkins, and baking. There's something about fall that make fall baking far superior to baking at all other times of year. Maybe it's the produce available. Maybe it's that mythical chill in the air (chill? What's that?).
Regardless, I have soldiered on through this 100 degree weather we have here in SoCal and turned my oven on to do my kitchen experiments in muffin form. You're welcome.
These muffins are only 110 calories per muffin, which make them a great snack or addition to your breakfast. They're low in fat and added sugars, but not low in carbohydrates because, well, they're muffins. At 23g of carbohydrates per muffin they're about 1.5 carbs for anyone with diabetes using the carb counting method.
The great thing about fall produce like pumpkins and apples is that they pair so well with flavorful spices. When you add spices like cinnamon and nutmeg you can get away with using less sugar because the flavor of the spice is what takes over.
If you're looking for something to pair a muffin with for breakfast, try some oven warmed pears or apples with cinnamon and plain non-fat greek yogurt.
Just a quick side note: because of the whole wheat flour and pumpkin these muffins will be dense when compared to a typical muffin. But that also makes them a bit more filling.
Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins
1 cup + 3 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin tin, or line with muffin papers. Mix all the ingredients except the cranberries together. Fold in cranberries. Fill greased muffin tin 3/4 cup full for each muffin. Bake for about 20 minutes until toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
The recipe I have for you today has two of my favorite things: a delicious fall food and quinoa. I have often extolled the virtues of quinoa. I've also talked about the wonder that is fall foods. Today's fall food is butternut squash, the deliciously nutty cousin of pumpkin.
If that bright orange color didn't give it away already, butternut squash is a fantastic source of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for our eyesight, as well as our immune system. Butternut squash is also a good source of fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C. All while being fairly low in calories (82 calories per cup of cubed squash).
You only need 1 cup of cubed squash for this recipe. I cut up and cooked a whole squash though (which gave me about 3 cups), and saved the rest of the squash for later in the week.
You can serve this quinoa pilaf all on it's own for a vegetarian dish. Or you can bake a couple of chicken breasts to go with it. I served it with chicken breasts basted with a mix of 2 tablespoons canola oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon maple syrup. That baste was more than enough to cover the 3 chicken breasts I was cooking.
Fall Quinoa Pilaf
1/3 cup dry quinoa
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup cubed butternut squash
2 loose cups chopped kale
Coriander to taste
Cook 1/3 cup of quinoa in 2/3 cup of water. Bring water and quinoa to a boil, then lower to simmer until all water is gone. Fluff quinoa with fork and put aside.
Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash and sprinkle with coriander. Cook until squash starts to soften, about 3-5 minutes. Add kale and mix until kale cooks down. Add quinoa and mix.
Serve with chicken or as a main dish.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Whenever there's a discussion about different types of cancers antioxidants usually come up. But what are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are compounds in food (and created by our body) that bind to free radicals. Free radicals are not inherently bad. They're a normal part of oxidation in our body. The problem is when we have too many free radicals. Exposure to pollution, smoke, or excessive sunshine can lead to too many free radicals. Too many free radicals can cause a number of problems from premature aging to cancer (among many other diseases). That's when we need antioxidants to step in and control the free radicals.
You've probably heard that fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants, which is true. A lot of the nutrients that provide the color of the different fruits and vegetables provide health benefits to us, although they are not vitamins or minerals. (We call all those other nutrients phytonutrients.) Whole grains, eggs, and even meat also provide us with antioxidants.
Antioxidants and other phytonutrients are one of the reasons nutrition experts push real, whole foods over pills, juices,and fortified packaged foods. The more we find out about the science of nutrition the more we realize how little we know. For example, some pills supplementing vitamins or minerals aren't as well absorbed by our bodies as when that vitamin or mineral is found in food. Researchers believe that there's something in the food that helps us absorb the vitamin or mineral we need.
Supplement pills, juices, and fortified food all have their place in our diet. But the more we can eat from whole foods, the more health benefits we'll get from the food we eat. It doesn't always have to be fresh food, I know as winter approaches that can be more challenging. Dried, canned, and frozen foods are all good options (frozen being choice number one, but canned and dried not falling too far behind). If you are taking supplements make sure you talk to a doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist about what supplements and how often.
Have a delicious, healthy weekend!
It has officially been fall for two weeks. Those of us in southern California would probably disagree with that (it's going to be 100 degrees this weekend! Ugh), but it's true. Fall is my favorite season. There's so much to love about it: cooler weather (supposedly), fun holidays, and so many delicious seasonal foods.
I mean, honestly, can you name a fall food that's not amazing? Pumpkins, apples, cranberries, butternut squash, persimmons, beets, pears, spaghetti squash. The list goes on and on; each one more delicious than the next.
At the farmer's market this last weekend I picked up some persimmons. I was only introduced to this fruit last fall, but I'm already a huge fan. If you've never tried them, pick up some at your local market this week and try the recipe below.
Persimmons, like most fruits, are fairly low in calories, and are a great source of vitamin C (110% of your daily Vitamin C needs in one persimmon!). They also provide iron and calcium, which is somewhat unusual for a fruit. One persimmon provides about 14% of your daily iron needs and 3% of your daily calcium.
For this recipe I made brown rice with cranberries to serve it over. Make the rice per the box directions and add in 1/2 cup of dried cranberries when it starts boiling. I also roasted two sliced beets and served them on the side.
Roasted Pork & Persimmons
6 oz pork loin
2 persimmons, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp garlic
pinch of cayenne (optional)
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place persimmons and pork loin in baking dish. Coat top of pork with tomato paste. Sprinkle spices over pork and persimmons. Pour water into baking dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until pork reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees F. Serve over rice.
One question I get asked a lot is "how much protein do I need to eat to get buff?" My response is always "how much weight are you lifting?"
Unfortunately, eating protein alone will not build the bulging biceps and glutes of steel we all desire (but wouldn't it be nice if it did? Bring on the steak!). In order to build muscle you have to include weight-bearing exercises in your weekly training routine. Weight-bearing exercise isn't just important to get those rippling muscles, it also helps strengthen your bones, and can help you burn more fat.
Once you start weight-bearing exercises your protein needs do increase slightly from before. However, most Americans get about double the amount of recommended protein, so your diet probably doesn't need to change all that much. As a general rule, make sure you get a serving a protein at every meal, and make sure it's high quality protein (which are those complete proteins I've talked about before) like meat, milk, eggs, chicken, fish, soy, or quinoa.
Carbohydrates are just as important as protein when it comes to building muscles. That's because before your body can worry about building and repairing your muscles it first has to make sure it takes care of everything else. That means you need to provide your body with enough calories (from anything - carbs, fat, or protein) to keep you alive before those calories will be used for anything else. To calculate a rough estimate of how much that is take your weight in pounds and multiple by 10. Example - I weigh 130#; my body needs 1300 calories for general functioning.
That number is probably more than you were thinking it was. That's how many calories your body needs just to keep you alive every day. Then you need to add additional calories for your daily activity and fuel during your training sessions. Once all of those calorie needs are met, your body can start building and repairing the muscle your building.
If you try to meet your calorie needs by eating mostly protein and fat you're not going to be able to do it. Both protein and fat are digested more slowly by the body and make us feel fuller than carbohydrates (not to mention carbohydrates are the body's main source of fuel, pretty important when it comes to training). So, while low carbohydrate diets aren't something I recommend in general, I really discourage them for people who are training and trying to build muscle.
If you aren't seeing the results you want from your training, you may need to fine tune your diet. To get the best diet for you and your individualized needs, I recommend making an appointment with a dietitian that specializes in sports nutrition.
Quinoa is one of the staples in my kitchen. I love how versatile it is. You can add it to salads, substitute it for rice or pasta, make energy bites with it, or even eat it like a hot cereal in the morning. It can act as both a starch and a protein at a meal, which can make meals quick and easy (especially because it doesn't take more that 20 minutes to make).
As I've mentioned before, quinoa is a great non-meat source of protein, it provides about 8 grams of protein per cup of cooked quinoa. It's also a great plant source of iron, as well as phosphorous and magnesium. It's a good source of fiber too (a little over 5 g per cup). It's no wonder some people consider it a super food.
Because quinoa is so easy to make, it's a great make ahead food to use later in the week. For this recipe I used 1 cup of uncooked quinoa, which makes about 3 cups of cooked quinoa. I only used half of the quinoa I made, which means I have enough for a whole new meal. (If you want a recipe idea for what to do with that leftover quinoa make sure to sign up for my email list, I'll be sending a great recipe out with the weekly email!)
Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers
5 large bell peppers
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/3 cup yellow onion, diced
2 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon shredded cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the tops off of your bell peppers and take out the centers and seeds. I like to chop up the bell pepper top around the stem to add to the stuffing. Place the peppers in a baking dish so all of them can stand up without being squished.
Heat canola oil on a skillet and then add the onion (and peppers, if desired). Let simmer for 2-3 minutes until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes and stir. Sprinkle coriander and let simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in quinoa, allowing the quinoa to sop up the juice from the tomatoes, then add 1/4 cup of cheese.
Use a spoon to scoop the stuffing mixture into each pepper. Fill to the top of the pepper, then sprinkle some of the remaining cheese on each pepper.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and pepper is soft.
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.