Category Archive: Nutrition

The Facts About Weight Loss Pills

I wish I wrote this article.  In a nutshell, it lists many of the currently available “miracle diet pills and potions”, why they don’t work and, in many cases, why they’re harmful to your body.  This is a must read.

Click here for full article.

Eat Fat To Get Fit

The Myth Busted

 

It always amazes me how many people think they’ll get fat if they eat fat. I don’t know why this amazes me so much, though; after all, doesn’t it make sense? If you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat fat, right? Wrong, and here’s why:

 

You see, it’s the terminology that confuses people. The fat you eat is not necessarily the fat that ends up around your waist or hips, but people throw these different ‘fats’ into the same catchall “fat” category – hence, the misunderstanding.

 

What is dietary fat?

 

First, a little chemistry. Fat molecules are constructed of a carboxylic acid with 1 to 3 glyceride “tails”. The most common fats are triglycerides with, you’ve guess it, three tails. These tails have varying numbers of hydrogen atoms attached to them – they can either be totally crammed packed with hydrogen atoms (i.e., saturated fat) or only partially full of hydrogen atoms (i.e., polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats). 

 

Fats, as opposed to oils, are solid at room temperature and usually contain a high proportion of saturated tails; oils are liquid at room temperature and typically (there are notable exceptions) contain a high proportion of unsaturated tails.

 

What are fats used for in the body?

 

Now, a little biology. As discussed in previous articles, fats are one of the six nutrients that we all need to consume as part of a healthy balanced diet (the other necessary nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water).

 

Fat is a source of energy, and, at 9 calories per gram, provides more than twice the energy of a comparable amount of carbohydrate or protein. This can be good if you’re starving, but if you’re not, it means it doesn’t take a lot of fat to tip you over your daily caloric requirement. Fat also carries essential nutrients (such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K) into and around the body; gives food flavor; and, because it takes longer to digest, stays in the stomach longer than other energy-providing nutrients, making us feel fuller for longer. Fat in and on your body also provides insulation from extreme temperatures, and cushions against concussive forces such as a fall.

 

Polyunsaturated fats have a tendency to lower blood cholesterol levels, and monounsaturated fats, in addition to also having a tendency to lower blood cholesterol levels, maintain high-density lipoprotein (”good”) cholesterol. So try and get your dietary fat from these healthier monounsaturated sources.

 

Saturated fats are, supposedly, the “bad” fats that tend to increase serum cholesterol; I write “supposedly” because new research is casting doubt on that claim. For the time being, though, until a strong scientific consensus has been reached, try to not overdo your consumption of saturated fats.

 

What foods should I eat that contain “healthy” fat?

 

The healthiest sources of fat include nuts, avocado, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and canola oil. Other healthy sources include fatty fish such as salmon. Meat and dairy products (unless reduced in fat) tend to contain a higher percentage of saturated fats and should therefore be eaten in moderation.

 

How much fat should I eat?

 

Fats should provide between 20% and 35% of your total daily caloric intake. Having said that, however, it doesn’t take a lot to consume more fat than you need. For example, an ounce of almonds (a small handful, or around 24 nuts) packs a punch of 164 calories; a mere 12 nuts more (or a slightly larger handful, around 1.5 ounces) will add another 82 calories – that could equate to as much as 4-5% of your daily caloric requirement for most women (less for most men). So be warned; go easy on the peanut butter and salad dressing.

 

So if eating fat is so good for me, what’s all this excess baggage hanging around my stomach/hips?

 

Put simply, when you consume more calories than you burn, the body has to do something with that extra energy, and so it converts it to an easily stored form of power – fat. Think of the excess fat around your body as a battery, there to be used in the future should you ever run out of food. The problem, of course, is that in our affluent society, running out of food is seldom a problem, and so the fat doesn’t go anywhere.

 

How do I get rid of this excess fat?

 

If you’re hoping I can tell you the secrets of fat loss in a sentence or two, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Using more energy than you consume sounds easy enough… so why is it so difficult to shed the pounds? That…will have to wait for a future article.

 

Is it all bad?

 

Before you panic that you’re slowly turning into a giant Duracell battery, please know that having some fat on your body is a good thing; it’s how Hashem created you, and it needs to be there for you to be healthy. The problems arise when having too much fat becomes detrimental to your health; when your quality of life deteriorates. At that point, it’s time to take charge and make some healthier decisions. 

 

In summary

 

To sum this all up, if you eat a balanced diet, perform regular exercise, and don’t eat more than your body needs, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about putting on excessive weight. While it’s true that I’ve simplified a lot of very complicated processes in this article, and that sometimes it’s not always that straightforward, as is true for most things in life, it all comes down to control and discipline; being able to say ‘no’ to that extra portion of dessert, and making wise choices that care for your body. If you respect your body, your body will respect you, allowing you to serve Hashem with all the potential with which you’ve been blessed.

Why Not All Protein Is Created Equal

Beans Just Don’t Cut It

 

For all you vegans out there, be warned, this article won’t be pretty. Continuing my previous three articles regarding the six nutrients we all need to consume as part of a healthy balanced diet – i.e., proteins, fats, carbohydrates (“carbs”), vitamins, minerals, and water – this article focuses on protein.

 

So what exactly is protein? Why should you eat it? And what are the best sources to get it?

 

Proteins are complex compounds that are made of different connected amino acids, which uniquely contain nitrogen. Or, as I was explaining to my 5 year old boy recently, protein is the Lego that builds your body. Put simply, protein comprises small molecules called amino acids that link together to help build and maintain tissue in your body, from skin to muscle, from head to toe.  There are between 50 and 75 trillion cells in the human body, some of which are replaced in as short a cycle as three or four days; you literally are what you eat.

 

Additionally, as well as building and maintaining tissue, one needs protein to help transport nutrients around your body; as an energy source (in addition to carbs and fats); to produce hormones; to maintain normal fluid and acid-base balances; and to produce enzymes and other necessary compounds. All in all, it’s a pretty important nutrient – aren’t they all? – that you should know something about.

 

Sources of protein include eggs, milk, meat, fish, legumes, cereal grains, and nuts. In fact, short of candy and fruit, you’d be hard pressed to find a food without some protein in it. However – and here’s the part I warned you vegans about – not all protein sources are created equal…

 

You see, there are a total of 20 amino acids including 11 that can be produced by the body itself and don’t have to be obtained from food – these are called non-essential amino acids; and 9 that cannot be generated by the body itself and must be provided from dietary sources in order to be available for use by the body – these are called… you’ve guessed it… essential amino acids.

 

A complete protein source (also known as high quality protein) contains all 9 essential amino acids, and includes eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, and chicken; this means that you don’t need anything else other than one of these foods to give you all the building blocks you need to keep your body well stocked and ready for construction.

 

Incomplete protein sources (also known as lower quality proteins) are generally plant-based, such as legumes (e.g., beans and peas) and cereal grains (e.g., rice, wheat, and oats), and don’t contain all the essential amino acids. What this means is that if you relied on any one of these foods for your protein source, you’d only be getting a portion of the Lego set; and, if you’ve ever lost even a single piece of Lego after you’ve spent an hour putting the whole set together while your kids play in the other room “helping you” build it, you know that not being able to finish the set is definitely NOT cool.

 

So what happens if, for whatever reason, you can’t or don’t want to eat any high quality proteins? Fear not, all you vegans and vegetarians out there, all is not lost. Although you are clearly more at risk for an inadequate protein intake, with some wise dietary planning, eating a varied and balanced diet will ensure you consume enough low quality proteins from different sources to give you the complete Lego set (and, thankfully, no progeny meltdowns).

 

Eating enough protein (at least 15% of your daily caloric intake) and enough of the right type of protein is vital as part of a healthy well-balanced diet. We, as Jews, know this well, of course; for generations we’ve celebrated Shabbat with only the best sources of protein – basar v’dagim, meat and fish. Throw in a decent chulent with beans, meat, and lentils, and you’re good to go.

 

Build your body well, and it’ll look after you.

How To Survive The Pesach Carb-Overload

Ideas To Weather The Carbohydrate Storm

 

For those of us trying to reduce the amount of carbohydrates (“carbs”) we’re consuming with the intention of losing some weight, without doubt, Pesach is one of the most difficult eight days of the year. Take the sedarim, for instance, epitomized by the simple equation “matzo + wine + large meal + late at night = perfect storm for weight gain”.

 

When it comes to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen, Pesach and Succot are always a tough time, with at least five days of big meals squeezed into an 8-day period. Pesach is particularly challenging, though, with the added bonus of just about every course in every meal likely filled with matzo, matzo meal, and/or potatoes; total carb overload.

 

The festival celebrating our redemption and freedom is such a special time with so many opportunities to draw closer to Hashem. Is there a way to perform the mitzvot with both a joyful heart and a guilt-free conscious?

 

Of course there is. Here are seven ideas to weather the carbohydrate storm that is Pesach:

 

1)    Substitute matzo and matzo meal made with processed white flour with their whole wheat equivalents. As I discussed in my previous post, whole grain products don’t spike your insulin levels as much as processed grains do, and are less likely to be converted to fat; they’ll also keep you sated longer. You can even get handmade whole wheat shmura matzo which, believe it or not, tastes pretty good.

2)    Substitute heavy side dishes with lighter salads. Make sure there’s at least one green salad on the table at every meal. Feel free to load it up with tasty accoutrements such as chopped almonds or walnuts, craisins, citrus fruit slices, strawberries, mango, avocado, or different colored peppers. If you fill up on salad, you’re less likely to exceed your daily caloric requirement over the course of the day.

3)    Substitute heavy starchy foods such as potatoes and matzo with lower Glycemic Index foods. Try grilled vegetables such as peppers, onions, winter squashes and zucchini. If the weather permits, use the barbeque to grill the vegetables; the taste is divine.

4)    Substitute cake and cookies with fruit for dessert. While it’s true that Pesach cake has come a long way in recent years, it hasn’t come so far as to be calorie-free. In as many meals as possible, try to minimize the starchy desserts.

5)    Choose protein over carbs. If points 1 through 4 are still not doing it for you, and you’re still hungry, better to choose protein over carbs; protein contains the same number of calories per gram as carbohydrates, but you’re less likely to go overboard with meat and chicken than you might be with starchy side dishes, and desserts loaded with fat and sugar.

6)    Make your Shulchan Orech less “orech. The Pesach seder calls for a meal late at night. Typically, this meal is pretty large (even though every year we always tell ourselves “it’ll be a small affair this year”) and by the time it rolls around – after spending what is sometimes hours reciting from the haggadah – everyone is always ravenous and ends up eating more than they probably should. That being said, I suggest pacing yourself during the meal. Eat slowly and purposefully. Minimize your portions sizes too, and remember that just as the Jews left Mitzrayim, so should you be able to leave the yom tov table… without having to push the chair too far back or loosen your belt.

7)    Get the blood pumping. Avoiding leaven over the eight-day period doesn’t mean avoiding exercise too. Try and get as much exercise as possible over the chag. A 20-30 minute walk after heavy yom tov meals does wonders for digestion, and can burn off at least some of those carbs. During chol hamoed, exercises that include calisthenics, cardio and resistance training, and stretching are all recommended.

 

I think we can all agree that Pesach is “challenging”. It’s challenging for parents who clean, for kids who like their cereal, and for health nuts who like their routine. I was once told that Hashem gave us Pesach as a gift to the people who love to complain. Yes, we can focus on these challenges; but, instead, we must view them as opportunities. Opportunities to get closer to our families, closer to Hashem, and closer to the reason we were freed in the first place.

 

 

Are ‘Carbs’ Bad For You?

The Truth Behind The Hype

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few decades, you must have heard about the “evil” that is carbohydrates (aka “carbs”). Made popular by, among others, Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1960’s, and the “South Beach Diet” in the early 2000’s, the basic premise of this “nutritional truth” is that the consumption of carbs promotes weight gain, and that, if one wants to lose weight, all one needs to do is eliminate carbs from one’s diet. But does a no/low-carb diet really work, and is it healthy for you?

 

As we discussed in the last issue, carbohydrates are molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, otherwise known as “sugars”, and comprise three types including simple sugars (such as fruits), starches or complex (such as potatoes and bread), and celluloses or fibrous (such as broccoli – yes, vegetables are carbs). Carbs are the preferred fuel for the body; i.e., they’re the premium gasoline to power your engine. What that means is that, by consuming carbs, one spares the breakdown of the other two macronutrients, i.e., protein and fat. So, the logic goes, if one eliminates carbs from one’s diet, the body has no choice but to burn protein and fat for fuel and voila… one will lose weight. Magic!

 

Or is it?

 

Generally speaking, reducing the amount of carbohydrates you consume would indeed likely result in you losing weight, but that’s probably more due to the fact that you’d be eating fewer calories too; and losing weight doesn’t always mean losing fat either. Increasing your protein consumption to compensate for the reduction in carbs is therefore recommended, and will probably better assure that your weight loss is more from a reduction of fat than from muscle. But is it healthy? 

 

If eating fewer carbs means that your body will extract its energy from your fat reserves, surely eating NO carbs at all would be even better, right? Wrong. This is another one of those times when that all-American maxim “if a little is good, a lot must be better” doesn’t apply.

 

It’s been said that “fats burn in a carbohydrate flame”; that is, to burn fats efficiently and completely, some carbohydrates are needed – this is called fat oxidation. Additionally, although much of your body can use different macronutrients for fuel (i.e., carbs, protein, or fat), your brain can only use carbs for energy, so it’s very typical for those on a low-carb diet to experience a decrease in general cognitive ability. Other fun side effects include reduced athletic performance and overall weakness; irritability; nausea; dizziness; constipation; gas; and bad breath. Not to mention the fact that your liver is exposed to extra stress as it’s forced to assist with manufacturing glucose from fats and proteins (instead of easier-to-use carbs); and potentially toxic amounts of ammonia are produced as proteins (instead of carbs) are converted into glucose. Finally, it should be noted that some of the lost weight will be “water weight”, and will likely come right back on as soon as you start eating a more balanced diet again.

 

All of this, of course, brings me back to my previous article. That is, it’s a really bad idea to totally eliminate a nutrient from your diet. While one can certainly experiment with reducing the amount of carbs from your diet for a short period, in general, a healthy diet requires the consumption of all six nutrients – proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and water – in adequate and healthy amounts.

 

No. Rather than setting all your hopes on the latest and greatest “super diet” touted by the all-knowing media, a better plan of attack to reduce fat (and to keep it off) is to maintain both a healthy balanced diet and an effective exercise regimen that is suited for your body. There is no other way. There is no magic bullet, no easy fix, and no short cuts. In this microwave generation – where instant gratification with minimal effort is the typical expectation – we sometimes need to be reminded that, for anything worth having, there is no substitution for hard work, dedication, and patience. 

 

Finally, while it’s true that not all carbs are created equal and that some are healthier for you than others (as will be discussed in my next article), for now, suffice it to say that carbs are generally not the big bad wolf the media would sometimes have you believe. We all need carbs to survive; it’s how Hashem designed us.

Why Not All Carbs Are Created Equal

Choose Your Carbs Wisely

 

In my previous two articles I discussed the six nutrients that we all need to consume as part of a healthy balanced diet – i.e., proteins, fats, carbohydrates (“carbs”), vitamins, minerals, and water – with the last article focusing specifically on carbs, and how, contrary to popular belief, they are not the “source of all evil” when it comes to weight gain.

 

However, while it’s true that carbs are the preferred fuel for our body, and that we should all eat them as part of our healthy diet, not all carbs are created equal. Now stick with me through the science bits, it’ll be worth it…

 

As previously discussed, there are three types of carbs: simple sugars (such as fruits), and polysaccharides which include starches or complex carbs (such as potatoes and bread) and celluloses or fibrous carbs (such as broccoli). At the end of the day, though, all our energy sources (no matter what they are) are broken down or converted into small sugar (glucose) molecules which are absorbed into the bloodstream (a.k.a., blood sugar), and, with the help of a hormone called insulin, are shuttled into the cells of the body where they can be used for energy. However, if you eat a lot of sugar when your body doesn’t need it, your insulin and blood sugar levels will spike and, instead of the sugar being used effectively in the body, it’ll be stored for later use, i.e., converted to fat.

 

Whoa! Does that mean you shouldn’t have anything that contains sugar ever again? For us sweet-toothed individuals, that pretty much covers anything that tastes good, right? What to do? 

 

There is good news. Of the three types of carbs, only simple sugars will spike your insulin levels because they provide the body with a surge of small sugar molecules that easily enter your bloodstream; and there are certainly times when you need that surge, such as before, during or immediately following a workout. Complex and fibrous carbs, however, contain long/complex sugar molecules that take a while to be broken down in the body and only enter your bloodstream slowly over time. This is one of the reasons why even a small amount of bread or potatoes will satiate your hunger and keep you going for hours afterwards better than a plate of candy would.

 

Complex and fibrous carbs (and even fruit to a degree) also provide fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients that candy typically doesn’t. Fiber is important because it helps you feel full and keeps your digestive system working properly (it can also help to slow the body’s absorption of sugar when eaten together with the sugar-containing food).

 

There is a handy measure of how quickly sugars from foods are absorbed into the bloodstream, and it’s called the Glycemic Index (GI). Be warned though – the index only tells you how quickly individual foods are absorbed; if a high GI food (i.e., a food with quickly-absorbed sugars) is eaten together with a low GI food (i.e., a food with slowly-absorbed sugars), the low GI food will slow down the absorption of the sugars in the high GI food.

 

In summary, then, unless you require a surge of blood sugar, such as before or after you exercise, your best bet is to minimize the amount of simple sugars you eat (such as candy and fruit) and obtain your energy primarily from slow-digesting carbs. Choose whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole grain oats instead of processed cereal; generally speaking, the more processed a food is, the less healthy it is for you (ironically enough, processed white bread is viewed by the Talmud as “food for the affluent”, while whole wheat bread was only consumed by the poorer masses).

 

You can even incorporate whole grain flour into cakes, cookies and challah. My wife makes amazing whole wheat challahs using 50% white whole wheat flour, as well as whole wheat cakes, cookies and muffins (believe me – food tastes better when it’s healthier for you). For other healthy recipes and to contribute your own, please visit www.FrumandFit.com.

 

Make no mistake – small healthier choices add up over time. Each bracha means so much more, and each bite feels more like a mitzva when it’s healthier for you. Eat intelligently. Eat meaningfully. Eat well.

 

Why Eating A Variety of Foods Can Help You Appreciate Your Neighbor

We All Need Each Other

“Why doesn’t he think like me?”; “How can she not see that she’s wrong?”; “How can they be happy living like that?” I’m sure you or someone you know may have had thoughts like these at one time or another. I’m sure it’s only natural. After all, we must all believe in our own actions if we are to be content within our own skin, but if our actions are the “right” actions, shouldn’t everyone think and act similarly, or, at the very least, understand your point of view? 

 

Closer to home, in our own communities, sentiments such as “they’ve totally misrepresented what Judaism is all about” or “we can’t associate with them because they’re [not frum enough/too stringent]” are, unfortunately, not unheard of. In my opinion, this mindset is an inbred disease that affects most Jewish communities around the world, to a lesser or greater degree. I also believe that this mentality, if left unchecked, will ultimately destroy us, tearing our religion apart from the inside out.

 

But enough of that. Let’s get back to talking about one of my favorite topics – food – and the title of this article. How on earth can your neighbor have anything to do with the food you eat? Perhaps more than you think…

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the terms bandied around – “carbs”, “fats”, “protein” – and the multitude of arguments and discussions regarding which ones you should consume more of and which ones you should try and reduce. But what exactly are they, and is “going low carb” or eating “reduced fat” foods really as healthy for you as the media and food companies might have you believe?

 

Some background. There are six classes of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.

 

CARBOHYDRATES (aka “carbs”) comprise molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, i.e., “sugars”. Specifically, there are three types of carbohydrates: simple sugars (such as fruits), starches (such as potatoes and bread), and celluloses or fibrous (such as lettuce – yes, vegetables are carbs). Carbs are the preferred fuel for the body.

 

PROTEINS are complex compounds that are made of different amino acids, which uniquely contain nitrogen, and are the building blocks of our body.

 

FATS, comprising molecules called triglycerides, are solid at room temperature (fats that are liquid at room temperature are called oils), and provide insulation from extreme temperatures, as well as carry nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins around the body (see below).

 

Carbs, proteins and fats are known as “macronutrients” because they comprise the classes of chemical compounds humans consume in the largest quantities and which provide bulk energy.  There are also “micronutrients” including VITAMINS (substances that help essential body reactions take place, and include water-soluble and fat-soluble varieties) and MINERALS (inorganic substances that are involved in water balance, nerve impulse stimulation, acid-base balance, and energy reactions).

 

Finally, WATER carries nutrients to cells and carries waste products away from cells. It also serves as a body lubricant and, through sweat (or “perspiration” if you’re more genteel), helps maintain body temperature.

 

Of course, these six nutrients do far more than the above brief outline, and each will be discussed more thoroughly in future articles, but the important concept to internalize here is that we all need each of these nutrients to survive; no one nutrient is more important than the other. Indeed, too much or too little of any single nutrient increases the risk of health and/or performance complications.

 

In short, any extreme is a bad extreme, and one should never totally eliminate any nutrient from your diet. The best strategy for maintaining a healthy nutrient balance is to eat a wide variety of foods, regularly consume fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid a monotonous intake of the same few foods day after day; this will ensure optimal nutrient exposure, and avoid potential nutrient toxicities that may result from an excess consumption of vitamins and/or minerals. Although a little of something may be good for you, it does not necessarily mean that more is better. No single food has all the nutrients a person needs to stay healthy, so consuming a plethora of foods covers all departments.

 

I think you can see where I’m going with this. Hashem could have just as easily created a single food that would supply us with all the nutrients we need, rather than have us scavenge around looking for many different types of food. Of course, while we were a fledgling nation in the desert, He did exactly that, in the form of manna. Alas, we all must leave the nest at some point in our development, as did the Bnei Yisrael. We all must come to realize that life is not about the singular answer, but about appreciating the amazing variety that Hashem has graciously provided us. This is true of both the foods we eat, and the people we meet. Every person, by mere virtue of their presence in this world, fulfils Hashem’s desire in some way, whether that reason is known to you or not. Perhaps, instead of denigrating these “others”, we should make a more concerted effort to try and understand them, and, conceivably, come to realize their importance in the world too.

 

Just as we should try and eat a variety of foods in moderation, eat with respect and consideration, and always eat with appreciation; so too should we treat our fellow human beings, prizing each of our differences instead of quelling them.

 

Food is so much more than something that merely sustains us, and society is so much more than something that merely retains us. Be a “light unto the nations” – illuminate them as well as ourselves. 

Making Eating Meaningful

Appreciating Each Bite

 

I love eating cake. I love eating cookies. I love pizza and sweet potato fries too. Lest you be concerned that this personal trainer has totally lost his mind, I’ll also admit that I love eating apples and strawberries, grilled chicken, fresh salad, and guacamole. Why do I list some of the many foods I enjoy? Two reasons: 1) to simply make the point that being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean restricting what you eat, including those foods you love to eat but that you may view as “bad” for you; and 2) now you know my preferences if ever you were to extend me a Shabbat lunch invitation.

 

In truth, there is another reason why I’m talking about food. Last issue we discussed the importance of making exercise meaningful. We don’t just “go through the motions” of getting a decent sweat on; we value our health for what it is – a continual gift from Hashem that allows us to serve Him with all the potential with which we’ve been blessed. The other side of the health coin, of course, is adequate nutrition. If we understand that keeping fit strengthens the body that houses our precious neshama, so too should we similarly value and contemplate what goes into our mouths.

 

However, I don’t want to talk about what we should eat, when we should eat, or how much we should eat; these subjects will be examined in future articles. Today I’d like to discuss HOW we should eat.

 

“Wait a minute, Chemmie, I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one… something about putting the food into my mouth, right?” Yes, that’s true, but that’s only a superficial view of the big picture. As frum Jews, if exercise is so much more than repetitive movements with weights, or moving around until you keel over in a puddle of your own perspiration, then eating must also denote far more than simply shoving food into your mouth.

 

Of course, we recite a bracha before we consume anything, but what goes through your mind at that moment? Perhaps you focus on the words of the blessing? Perhaps you imagine how good the food will taste? Perhaps you consider how expensive the food was to purchase, or the last time you ate such a food? As you eat the food, though, can you truly admit that the experience is meaningful to you spiritually?

 

I suggest deliberating upon the following questions next time you put anything in your mouth:

 

1)    Where on the planet does this food/drink come from? How many steps in the production process did it take for the food/drink to get from where it originated to where it now sits in front of you? In this age of worldwide connectedness, walking into your local grocery can be quite a globetrotting experience. In addition to home-grown produce, you’re just as likely to find foods from numerous countries throughout the world. Wandering around Pathmark recently I noted honeydew melons from Honduras, pineapples from Costa Rica, tomatoes from Mexico, peaches from Chile, mangoes from Peru, and bananas from Guatemala, and that was just in the fruit and vegetable section! Take a moment to ponder what it took for that produce to end up in your shopping basket; envision the country of origin, the climate, the people, the language, the amazing biodiversity of this remarkable planet. Someone had to grow it, someone had to pick it, someone had to package it, transport it, unpack it, and display it. Quality control, administrative assistants, mechanics, drivers… the list goes on and on, all so you can enjoy that food for mere pennies. Even growing your own fruit or vegetables from your backyard makes you appreciate where our food comes from. Here in the States, as in many affluent countries throughout the developed world, we are truly blessed beyond our imagination.

 

2)    How many ingredients are included in this food? Not that I necessarily condone factory-produced foods, but one has to marvel at the scientific wizardry that goes into extended shelf lives and synthetic flavor explosions. Perhaps more appropriately, even foods prepared at home can be constructed with both finesse and creativity. Each individual component of a dish is truly a miracle; but, when orchestrated as one, they can cumulatively be awe-inspiring.

 

3)    How was the food prepared? How many separate steps went into the preparation of that meal you’re joyfully eating? Did the onions have to be sautéed first? Did the vegetables have to be sliced a certain way? Did the blended ingredients have to reach just the right consistency for the chemistry to work? Did the pasta need to be cooked for just the right amount of time at just the right temperature to be neither too hard nor too soft? Cooking is both an art and a science; one variable out of place, and the recipe might disintegrate.

 

4)    How long did it take to prepare the food and who prepared it? One might ask whether the food was prepared with a pan or a wok, a grater or a knife, an oven or a broiler. But perhaps a more meaningful question might be whether the food was prepared with love. Who prepared the food for you? Was she tired after having looked after the kids since they came home from school, and yet still somehow found the time and energy to rustle you up a nutritious home-cooked meal? Did he go to the store to pick up those ingredients for you, even though he was tired after working all day in the office and then learning for an hour or two at night? Never forget your chef. Never forget your delivery service.

 

5)    What physical coordination is required to navigate that food into your mouth? How many bodily processes need to occur to process that food correctly and give your body what it needs to survive? What bodily processes occur that allow you to gain pleasure from eating the food? One would need a library of books to adequately give the human body its due. Rambam commented how, to truly know the Artist, you must study His creations. This is true for every discipline of science. Each of us is a world unto ourselves. Each a breathtakingly complex organism, capable of feeding ourselves and separating the nutrients from the waste. We know when we’re hungry, we know when we’re full – some of us are even in control of our nourishment urges. If that wasn’t enough, Hashem beneficently gives us the ability to enjoy our food; we experience it with so many senses, our eyes and nose first, then our lips, our tongue, teeth, throat, and stomach. Each sense, a blessing; each facet of the food – its color, its flavor, its texture, and its aroma, all remarkable gifts.

 

Perhaps this explains how the righteous eats to satisfy his soul (Proverbs 13:25). Every bite should bring you closer towards Hashem. Every meal, every bracha, every ingredient that touches your tongue should fill your essence with a love for Hashem. True, we shouldn’t live to eat… but nor should we eat to live. Instead, we should eat to love; to love our own bodies, and to love a generous and merciful God who gives us the ability to worship Him in such a tasty and nutritious way on a daily basis.

 

Chanukah! Thanksgiving! The Calories Are Coming, The Calories Are Coming! Run For Your Lives!

Don’t Panic!

 

After discussing how to survive the constant barrage of unhealthy high-calorie foods that seem to incessantly invade our environment, we’re now faced with a double whammy: eight days of Chanukah AND Thanksgiving, all rolled into one! Classic! I think this would be a good opportunity, therefore, to discuss how best to handle the upcoming holidays vis-à-vis the expected caloric overload.

 

Let’s start with what will happen.  You are going to treat yourself to a donut (doughnut?) or latka, and perhaps even two; and you are going to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with friends and/or family. These are good things; this is how it should be. What you shouldn’t do is a) think that eating 2,000 or even 3,000 calories in a single sitting won’t affect you; b) think that you can work off the surplus calories the day after by running a marathon; or c) worry about overindulging to the point where your enjoyment of the festivities is compromised.

 

So, what to do, what do to? How to reconcile the inevitable onslaught?

 

I don’t believe it’s realistic to avoid or deny such temptations, nor do I think it’s healthy to do so. However, enjoying yourself doesn’t necessarily mean opening the floodgates either. Instead, it means ‘preparation beforehand’; ‘discipline, thought and enjoyment during’; and ‘control and appreciation afterwards’:

 

PREPARATION BEFOREHAND: Don’t come home from work to light the Chanukah candles, ravenous and willing to eat every donut or latka within arms’ reach the moment you finish singing Maoz Tzur. Instead, make sure you eat a snack in the late afternoon to ‘take the edge off’ before you come home. Feel free to have a Chanukah treat, but only after eating a healthy supper loaded with stomach-filling vegetables; you’ll eat less unhealthy food afterwards. Similarly, don’t start the Thanksgiving dinner on a totally empty stomach. I know its counter intuitive (why would you eat before you eat in order to eat less?), but even drinking a large glass of water before a meal will help keep your hunger at bay long enough for you to eat more mindfully. Which brings me to…

 

DISCIPLINE, THOUGHT AND ENJOYMENT DURING: Always eat mindfully. Know why you’re eating the food you’re eating, and have a sense of how much food you need. Eat for fuel, not for fun. Eat slowly, purposefully, and with kavanah. Make a bracha like you mean it, and appreciate every bite. If you’ve ever watched a small child enjoy a cookie, you’ll know what I mean; they don’t eat the cookie, they experience the cookie. Appreciate every mouthful in the moment, and stop thinking of the next bite before you’ve even finished chewing the last.

 

CONTROL AND APPRECIATION AFTERWARDS: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have dessert, but know that you’re eating dessert for enjoyment, not because you’re hungry; if you’re hungry, eat food that’s nutritious. Feel free to eat anything you like, but always in moderation. Finally, know when to say ‘enough’; animals don’t overeat in their natural environment, and nor should you. Gluttony is a sin, pure and simple.

 

 

Try 20-45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise (cardio intervals are excellent) within an hour before the big meal; this will increase your metabolism, minimizing the caloric surplus, and shuttle the nutrients in the food to where they’re needed, not to your waistline. You can also exercise after the meal, waiting 30-90 minutes to allow for digestion.

 

Finally, if you do find you’ve eaten more than you should have, try to eat less and exercise more the remainder of the day. If you accidently dropped your phone on the ground, you wouldn’t think of jumping up and down on it just because you slipped up once – we all make bad decisions from time to time, don’t throw good money after bad, don’t pick at the wound…dress it, and move on with your life.

 

Prepare beforehand; enjoy in moderation and with appreciation; and always thank Hashem for the amazing gifts of good food and good health. What better time to do so then now, during Chanukah and Thanksgiving?

 

No More Excuses – Part II: Surrounded By Nosh

More Reasons Not To Give Up

 

Last post I discussed that having a lack of time and a lack of support can be two reasons why it’s sometimes difficult to reach our health and fitness goals. This week, I’d like to examine another common excuse, and see if we can’t, instead, use it as a tool to help us achieve our objectives.

 

SURROUNDED BY NOSH AT HOME/WORK: Pizza day at work? Your co-worker decides to treat the whole office to the leftovers from their weekend birthday party? Your spouse believes that always keeping packets of cookies on hand in the house is vital, just in case there’s a blackout? Here in the affluent west, we’re all surrounded by a continual barrage of alluring unhealthy indulgences. It’s so easy to make unwise choices, especially when everyone around us makes those same poor choices. So how can we fight the tide? How can we muster the self-control and discipline to “choose life”?

 

First of all, once you’ve made the healthy decision to make healthier decisions, and have stocked up on more nutritious alternatives, make a clean sweep of your kitchen and pantry (and anywhere else you may have a ‘stash’). All you need to do after that is stop walking down the cookie aisle in the supermarket. Does that mean you’ll never eat another cookie or piece of cake again? No, of course not, nor should it be, and we’ll discuss more about that in a subsequent issue, but for now, simply know that it’s far more challenging to make better food choices when familiar temptations continue to be so readily available.

 

One of the biggest excuses I hear regarding people’s ‘questionable’ food choices is “there was nothing else to eat”, especially if you’re in unfamiliar surroundings; well that’s easy enough to change: Think ahead. Always think ahead, always have healthful foods with you, or at the very least, healthier alternatives to the more deleterious enticements we’re all inevitably faced with from time to time. Don’t wait until you’re hungry before wondering what there is to eat; inevitably, the only foods that are easily obtainable in those pivotal instances are not ideal, to say the least. Instead, plan ahead and prevent the ‘surprise’ of ‘having’ to have an unhealthy snack. I suggest preparing your meals in advance, several at a time in separate containers that you can grab from the fridge whenever you need them. Before you go out, even if you’re not hungry at that moment, grab an apple or a handful of nuts for later, just in case there aren’t any healthy alternatives at your destination. 

 

Finally, learn to say ‘no’; don’t give in to social or familial pressure. Admittedly, we’re all affected by foods differently; so ultimately, you must make the right choices for your own body. For some people, though, sugar and fat can feel just as addictive as drugs; a fact that is sometimes difficult to comprehend by those people who don’t share those same intense cravings.

 

At the end of the day, then, only you can control what goes into your mouth; it is only your own reflection with which you must contend. You are stronger than that piece of cake.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

This is a good article that explains why not all calories are created equal.  How can two foods with the same number of calories affect your body so differently?  Read this. 

http://www.ou.org/life/food/a-calorie-is-a-calorie-is-a-calorie-or-is-it/#.UfcE5uDenGl

Obesity in the Frum World, and of our Children in Particular

Excellent article about obesity in the frum world, and of our children in particular.  Well worth the read.  Includes many good health tips.

http://www.ou.org/jewish_action/03/2013/pediatric_obesity_a_challenge_for_the_orthodox_jewish_community/

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