Trick or Treat?

Halloween really feels to me like the kickoff to the holiday season. Let’s get right to the point and call it what it really is: The Holiday Season of All Things Sweet and Tempting. There is good news; you can still be healthy and enjoy some holiday treats. There are many things I have learned and here is an important one: You don’t have to enjoy every single holiday treat that comes your way. Pick and choose the stuff that is worth it! Let’s just focus on the upcoming celebration of Halloween.

candyThe truth is, most manufacturers are only out to make money. Unfortunately, when it comes to food products, this hurts more than just your pocket book. They don’t care about quality or your health; they care about how inexpensively they can make a product and how much they can still sell it to you for. Over the years, most ingredients have changed. More sugar, in many different forms, has been added, cheap fillers have been popping up and the things that are sold and fed to us are becoming less and less like food and more and more like a chemistry experiment. Let’s take a look at one of my old favorites: Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

Straight off of the Hersheys website:

REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups INGREDIENTS:

MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR; COCOA BUTTER; CHOCOLATE; NONFAT MILK; MILK FAT; LACTOSE; SOY LECITHIN; PGPR, EMULSIFIER); PEANUTS; SUGAR; DEXTROSE; SALT; TBHQ (PRESERVATIVE)

reesepbsmaller0504This doesn’t look too bad at first. Honestly, it is not even as bad as I had expected. The one good thing this candy has going is that there is at least no high fructose corn syrup in it. But what happens when we break down what’s in it?

MILK CHOCOLATE: (SUGAR (1st ingredient in milk chocolate? What happened to chocolate?); COCOA BUTTER (getting closer…this is the fat separated from a cocoa bean); CHOCOLATE (here it is! Thank goodness…); NONFAT MILK; (dairy-stripped of the fat-which leaves the sugars and proteins that are harder to digest without the fat) MILK FAT (added back in because the nonfat milk was nasty without it); LACTOSE; (a milk sugar-aka more dairy and yet more sugar.) SOY LECITHIN; (an emulsifier. Soy- one of the most genetically modified crops in existence. Soy Lecithin – literally a waste product made after crude soy oil goes through a “degumming” process.  It contains the solvents and pesticides from the soy crop and ranges in color from dirty tan to reddish brown. But wait! Let’s not waste it, lets bleach it and put it in food! *note sarcasm) PGPR, EMULSIFIER (Short for polyglycerol polyricinoleate…this is a goopy yellowish liquid made from castor beans, used in place of cocoa butter so your chocolate is creamier. One of the aforementioned fillers that cuts costs and increases profits. I even ran across some sources that said “The FDA deemed PGPR safe for humans as long as you restrict your intake to 7.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.  Otherwise you’d be open to reversible liver enlargement at higher intakes, as shown in animal studies) PEANUTS (here is some actual food at least); SUGAR (because we all need more of that); DEXTROSE (ok, maybe just a bit more sugar); SALT; TBHQ (PRESERVATIVE) (TBHQ (also known as E319) stands for Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, which is an antioxidant which keeps the peanut butter from becoming rancid. A quick Wikipedia search says: Both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have evaluated TBHQ and determined that it is safe to consume at the concentration allowed in foods. The FDA sets an upper limit of 0.02% of the oil or fat content in foods. At higher doses, it has some negative health effects on lab animals, such as producing precursors to stomach tumors and damage to DNA. My question: What happens if someone eats a lot of Reeses? Cancer does seem to always be on the rise these days…)

Granted, a lot of this is inconclusive and when you see sentences that include “open to” and “linked with” it means that the verdict really is still out on this stuff. There are many reasons for this…such as how most of these food-like substances are still new; making long-term effects undetermined. You also have to think about how many things there are in this world that are linked to something like cancer. To pinpoint one cause of cancer would be nearly impossible. As far as food is concerned, what we eat is supposed to nourish us; it is supposed to make us feel good. It is supposed to come from nature, which means food is supposed to spoil. It is a living thing that feeds our living bodies, to helps us to live better. All of these preservatives that are added to make food last longer on a shelf? Well, when I start having to break down the alphabet in my food, I become hesitant to put it into my body. There are so many questionable things in this world that are out of our control, but we CAN control what we put into our mouths and the mouths of our children.

Halloween-Pumpkins_2560x1600_1192Now I swear I am not out to ruin Halloween. I have no plans to be the mom who will never let my kid trick-or-treat or eat candy. One night here and there is not a big deal. My personal opinion is that the poison really is in the dose. It is when these things become part of routine, or even a regular reward that the problems begin. I have a strong passion and firm belief that the answer to correcting the healthcare crisis is in our children. In order to change our broken system and help turn the health of America around, we have to start teaching our children the correct path. We have to change the reward system! Am I saying to hand out apples this Halloween? Of course not. Nothing screams “Please TP my house” like an apple on Halloween. I usually spend about $25 on Glo-Stix and Silly Putty and most kids get really excited about this. It’s fun, and it doesn’t break the bank. Stick with just Glo-Stix and you can get away from the dollar store for super cheap. Plus, kids get enough candy, so something different stands out a bit.

I am also not going to say I am never going to eat a Reese’s again. Saying something like “Never Again” is negative and sets you up for failure. Plus, I love them too much! (Especially at Easter when they have the eggs with like, double the peanut butter…OMG…) However, if I do decided to eat a peanut butter cup, I am probably going to at least consider one that is organic. (Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups perhaps?) Or better yet, make it myself, with real food and almond butter. The last point I want to stress on this matter is that if you DO decide to have a treat, ENJOY it and MOVE ON! (Please see recent blog post titled On “Cheating” for more on this topic.)

real foodTo conclude here today, I want to step away from the treat topic and focus for a minute on the children. I mentioned above how I think we need to change the reward system. This is something I strongly believe in and want to elaborate on. Just getting kids to eat their vegetables is not enough anymore. We live in a generation where for the first time in history parents have a longer life expectancy than their children. It does not have to be this way, and we have the power to change it!

Birthday parties today don’t just mean cake. The last kids birthday party I went to included cake, ice cream, bowls of several different candies and then a goodie bag full of candy that they sent home with the guests. Sugar, topped with sugar and then some more to take home for later?!? And we wonder why kids have trouble focusing in school… I promise, if you put a birthday cake on a table and surround it with fruit and veggie trays, maybe some snack sized meatballs or a meatza, (meat pizza = best invention ever) NO ONE will miss the bowl of M&Ms or the goodie bag of candy. Why? Real food tastes good! Plus most kids have more fun with balloons and playing together anyways.

So what can we as parents do to encourage healthy eating in our children? Here are some of my own ideas and things I plan to do as my little girl grows up:

  1. Help children learn where their food comes from, who grows it, and why it’s vegetable gardenimportant to share meals with friends and family. This leads right into growing your own food. I am writing this from the Midwest and suspect many of my readers are from the same area. The soil here is awesome. I barely have to pay attention to my garden.
  2. Create your own reward system. I plan to treat Charlie to things she enjoys doing. Good grades may mean a day trip to a water park or a mani/pedi. Kids don’t need a treat, they need time with you. Create an experience with them!
  3. Keep yourself educated. There are TONS of books/podcasts/blogs out there with GREAT information and thanks to the World Wide Web, it is available with a few quick key strokes.
  4. Play games. More and more computer and video games are incorporating food, like DooF (the word ‘food’ backwards), a combination of computer games, videos, and a website where kids can read and learn about food-related topics. DooF takes a comprehensive approach to food, exploring not only the food itself, but also the culture, science, and history behind it. Kids can play “Planet DooF,” geared toward teaching children the origin of healthy food, such as fruits and vegetables.
  5. Encourage kids to try something new, all of the time. If they don’t like something one week, try again. They are still growing, their taste buds are changing every day! Preparing it differently helps too. Plain steamed cauliflower doesn’t even smell good. If you steam it with some garlic, throw it in a food processor with some butter and salt to make a mash…then you have a whole different thing going on.
  6. Include kids in meal planning. I bet if a child picks out a pretty red bell pepper at the store, they will be more inclined to eat it when they get home. Create shopping lists together, take trips to the grocery store and the farmer’s market…this will help them understand the process of where food comes from and what goes into getting a meal together.
  7. Establish family meal times. This is something I REALLY want to get better at in my own home. I had some wonderful memories of everyone taking their place at the table when I was growing up. My mom used to make us share one good thing about our day over dinner. I was always annoyed about it at the time and now I miss it!

This is just a start…just the opinions of one person. The possibilities are endless! As always, I hope this helps. And if you have hung with me this far, I hope that means you foundIMG_3827 something that you can try for you and your family. I have a strong passion for nutrition and nothing but a desire to give this face —->  the best possible start to her life!

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On “cheating”

Buddha-Quotes-Health-is-the-greatest-gift-contentment-the-greatest-wealth-faithfulness-the-best-relationship.I ate a cookie yesterday. A big one. I ate the whole thing. In one sitting.

I was grocery shopping and when I passed the amazing thumbprint cookies in the bakery at the Co-op and I decided I wanted a treat. It was delicious and, for the most part, worth every bite. I felt a little sluggish for the rest of the day, a typical reaction for me if I eat too much sugar. I did manage to stick to my gluten-free rule, mostly because wheat really upsets my stomach. Here is what I didn’t do: Beat myself up about falling off some proverbial wagon. Binge for the rest of the day. Run more, workout more or do anything extra to “make up for the calories.” I didn’t decide it was all over and give up on other healthy choices just because I “cheated”.

I hate that term, especially when applied to food. Cheat. Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

: to break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something

: to take something from (someone) by lying or breaking a rule

: to prevent (someone) from having something that he or she deserves or was expecting to get

None of these definitions even sound good, I almost feel guilty just reading them. Guilt really just means that you innately know that whatever you are doing is wrong. In the context of food: food is fuel for our body, food should bring us energy and life, it should make us feel good after we eat it! And when the opportunity for a treat presents itself, you should be able to indulge if you want, then move on. Make the conscious decision to just enjoy a treat, versus thinking of it as a cheat. It really does kind of come down to a perspective shift. I have personally set some of my own rules. Most of the time, when I do have a treat, I prefer it to be made from real, whole-food ingredients; and often try to make it myself. These rules are the reason that a sheet cake from, say Wal-Mart, does not even appeal to me. (On the flip side, if I am at a wedding and grandma made the cake from her secret double chocolate recipe…well then I may decide I need some cake!)

I recently read Jason Seib’s book, The Paleo Coach. He makes a lot of good points in there and there were a couple on this topic that stood out to me. The first went something along these lines (with my own two-sense thrown in):

You take a bath every day, you eat every day. What you eat every day is simply called your diet. Now say you don’t shower for a day. Are you “cheating”? Do you decide that since you didn’t shower today that you are just not going to shower at all anymore? That maybe since you missed your shower on Wednesday then to heck with it this week,  “I’ll just start over again on Monday.”

10612632_557212754406163_2693953602703583206_nThe second thing he talked about was that how out of all 5 senses, taste was the only one that we (often knowingly) sacrifice our health for. If someone told you that you could never see, smell or touch a rose again because it would encourage the growth of cancer cells…I bet you would not have a hard time steering clear of the offending flower.

When you start to think about certain foods from this different perspective, it puts a whole new spin on “everything in moderation.” (Another cliche I am not fond of…) It hopefully also make you think about the addictive properties of certain foods. Think about what you would call a comfort food…I had a hell of a time letting go of macaroni and cheese, and it horrified me to think I may never eat cheesecake again. But I bet you would have a hard time finding someone who called steak or brussels sprouts their comfort food…

We all have to honor where we are at in our own journey. For many of us, this is what moving towards health is – a journey. Hopefully one that is leading you towards a more fulfilled life worth with living, versus a life you are just surviving. All I can do is offer my opinions and thoughts, and share with you the tricks I have learned along my own journey. So here I will offer you my personal rules/tips for treats or indulgences!

  • First, set rules for yourself, then honor them! It helps, and will help you say “no” to the crap-filled donuts in the office.
  • Find a plan that works for you. I like to let treats come to me. I used to try to plan for a Sunday Funday, but would often find myself going for that extra drink on Friday night or making some paleo pancakes on Saturday morning. It became easier to just kind of work with how I felt.
  • Get the treats out of your regular routine! You don’t “deserve a treat” at the end of every day because you were “really gnon-gmo-foodsood all day.” You deserve the healthiest body possible and that means filling with with the healthy stuff!
  • Change your reward system. Don’t “reward” yourself or your children with junk food that ultimately damages your health and their growing bodies. I plan to have little toys for Charlie and hopefully she will enjoy a good pedicure as much as I do!
  • Make it yourself or make sure it is made from REAL FOOD! Red dye #40, carageenan, maltodextrin, MSG, partially hydrogenated ANYTHING, canola oil and much much more are all things that have no place in the human body. Read your labels! (Here is a handy link for some GMO Free brands!)

I really hope that this helps even just one person! Please note that the things I have marked off in “parenthesis” are all things I have said to myself at one point or another and are things I have had to work really hard to stop saying/thinking. They are not good, they can be downright destructive and create a perspective set for failure. It now helps me to think of them in an extremely sarcastic tone, so those of you who know me should re-read this with my voice in your head… 🙂

~Until next time dear readers! Namaste