Summer Reading Guide

I know, summer is practically over. But if by any chance you’re looking for a captivating and educating health read (besides my newsletters, of course…*ahem*), try any of the books listed below – you’re sure to be both entertained and edified.  The links will take you to the book’s listing on Amazon.com.

The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller.  Miller, a California MD, decided that the best way to help her chronically unhealthy patients would be to put them on the whole-foods based, traditional diets that their ancestors ate. However, in order to do so, she first had to research those diets. Due to the diverse ethnicities of her patients, she ended up traveling to countries as far-flung as Mexico, Greece and Iceland to learn about these traditional diets in regions where they were still being practiced.  The book contains, in conjunction with anecdotes about how her patients adopted these diets and got healthy, eating plans and recipes for the various traditions she studied.

Food Rules by Michael Pollan.  This one’s short – and memorable. It consists of 64 (usually) one-sentence rules about what kind of food we should eat. The rules are geared towards eating more whole foods, and fewer processed foods – examples include “Avoid foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup,” “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead,” “Eat your colors,”  “Don’t buy food where you buy gasoline,” etc. You might not agree with every single rule, but they’re certainly thought-provoking and creative.

Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David. This short book, while confirming that eating good quality whole foods is very important, addresses the other factors that go into determining our health, such as our emotional and spiritual nourishment, as well as the importance of “how” we eat: e.g., are we enjoying our food slowly while sitting at a table with friends and family, or gulping it down while driving to work? Some of us need this type of practical wisdom far more than we do more advice on what foods are good and what are bad.

The Self-Healing Cookbook by Kristina Turner. As the title indicates, this is a cookbook as much as it is a health book. Turner writes from a macrobiotic perspective, which means that the recipes center on adding whole grains, beans, vegetables and sea vegetables to your diet. However, Turner also details how different foods can affect your mood and emotions, and gears her recipes towards helping you to establish a balanced physical and emotional state. The exercises in the book also help to figure out what particular foods are best for you and why.

The Energy Balance Diet by Joshua Rosenthal. If any of you out there are determined to find a specific diet plan to follow, I can’t recommend any more highly than this one, written by the founder and director of Integrative Nutrition, where I received my health counseling education. Rosenthal shows how to develop a balanced diet of whole foods that will help you to achieve your correct weight, establish steady energy levels, and understand and address your food cravings. Like all the other books on this list, it’s well-written, easy to follow, and entertaining without being shallow or extreme. Happy reading!

Eating Right on Vacation

Whenever summer rolls around, I inevitably hear from my clients during this week or that that they didn’t eat well because they were on vacation. In fact, eating right is extremely difficult on vacation. It’s not just that whole, natural foods are hard to find when traveling; we can also get into a celebratory mode in which we decide to eat and drink what we want and worry about the consequences later, because we’re supposed to be having fun. To a certain extent, that’s a good attitude to have; if we’re constantly worrying about whether we’re eating right, we’ll make ourselves sick . But if we eat too poorly, we can easily come down with digestive problems, headaches, low energy, weak immunity, etc., both during and after our vacations.  Naturally, we don’t want to be sick during this time; we want to be refreshed. So what can be done? Here are a few tips that can help make your vacation this year or next a little more enjoyable:

1. Make meals in advance. The best way to ensure that you feel good during vacation is to bring some of your own food. However, you may not want to spend all your time cooking. If you’re staying somewhere that has a kitchen or kitchenette, I recommend making balanced meals in advance, freezing them, and then thawing them out while you’re vacationing. In the weeks leading up to vacation, just make a double portion of a meal that you’d like to have while vacationing, and freeze the leftovers. This year, for our vacation, my wife and I are bringing with us homemade frozen red lentil sauce with chicken, chili with ground beef, shepherd’s pie, and Bolognese sauce. Since we have access to a kitchen, we’ll also be able to bring and make brown rice, greens, and other simple supplementary foods, but it won’t involve a lot of cooking time. The net result is that, since we’ll be nourished by these balanced meals, we’ll have plenty of energy for the things we want to do, and we’ll still feel good when we get home!

2. Bring your own healthy snacks. Vacationers tend to eat lots of snack foods. I recommend that you make it a priority, if possible, to eat three balanced meals a day. But part of the joy of vacation is snacking. Fortunately, there are many healthy snacks out there that can be a good supplement to your diet (and if you are very physically active during vacation, you may need them in addition to regular meals). Examples include fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, trail mix, popcorn, yogurt with honey, homemade ice cream, lemonade, or sorbet, smoothies, dark chocolate, corn chips with guacamole or salsa, cheese, olives and pickles.

3. When eating out, choose what’s easy to digest. Eating out is another pleasure of vacationing, and sometimes it’s nice to get a comfort food even though it may not be so good for you. But if you’re eating out because you have no other choice and you simply want to avoid feeling gross, stay away from foods that are deep-fried, made with white flour or sugar, or contain dairy products. Instead, choose meat, fish, or poultry, and vegetables. If the restaurant has brown rice or whole wheat bread, then you can go with that as well. If you follow this advice, you’ll be more likely to maintain your energy and digestive health in the hours and days that follow.

 

What Vegetables Do I Need?

Everyone says to eat more vegetables, but what does that look like in practice? While all vegetables are nutritious, they don’t all provide the exact same nutrients. Some are better eaten in the winter, some are better in the summer; some are better roasted, while others are better steamed, boiled, or raw. But the most important distinction to draw among vegetables is what individual health benefits they provide. Vegetables can in fact be broken up into different families, each one providing a unique general health benefit. The best way to be nourished by vegetables is to get some from each family on a regular basis. The following chart provides a basic outline:

 

Roots Greens Gourds Nightshades Bulbs Sea vegetables
Carrots Cabbage Yellow squash Tomatoes Celery Arame
Radishes (Daikon, Red) Spinach Zucchini Peppers Leeks Hijiki
Beets Broccoli Cucumber Eggplants

 

Scallions Nori
Parsnips Collards Acorn squash Potatoes Onions Kombu/Kelp
Turnips Kale Butternut squash   Garlic Dulse
Rutabagas Swiss Chard Pumpkin   Asparagus Wakame
Yam Mustard Greens Kabocha squash   Rhubarb  
Sweet potato Arugula     Shallots  
  Bok Choy     Kohlrabi  
  Salad greens        

 

Roots. These vegetables contain sweet, complex carbohydrates that are filling and satisfying, reducing the need to snack on carbs in the form of potato chips, cookies or crackers. They also contain many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Roots and greens together create a powerful 1-2 punch of nutrition that keeps your body stabilized and healthy, whatever else you eat.

Greens. These vegetables are the best for balancing blood sugar and restoring nutrients to the body. Some people need time to get used to the bitter flavor. Try starting with mild or sweet greens such as bok choy, cabbage, or napa cabbage. I recommend having a serving of greens at least once a day, with lunch or dinner. Your body will begin to crave them after you begin eating them regularly.

Gourds. In the summer, this means summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers, and in the winter, pumpkins, acorn squash, and other winter squashes. Mildly sweet, these vegetables are very soothing to the digestive system. Cucumbers are good raw or pickled, summer squash combines well with nightshades in dishes like ratatouille, and winter squash is a great ingredient in desserts (pumpkin bread or pie) or savory dishes (chunks of butternut squash boiled and then roasted on pizza).

Nightshades. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are among the most-often consumed vegetables, but they are not necessarily the best. All of them are in fact tropical vegetables, originating in South America and North Africa, and while they are nutritious, they should not be consumed in greater quantities than the other vegetable groups, particularly because they contain small quantities of alkaloids, chemical compounds that can cause joint inflammation and minor nervous system disorders.

Bulbs. Usually spicy when raw but mild when cooked, these vegetables are best at killing bad bacteria and dissolving excess fat. They’re very good for dealing with colds and congestion and support the immune system, and combine well with roots and with greens (in fact, onions and garlic go with just about anything).

Sea vegetables. The most mineral rich of all vegetables, sea vegetables are important but can be eaten in moderation. Sea vegetables like kombu and wakame are good in miso soup, and are excellent at restoring health to someone who has experienced mineral loss as a result of too much sugar in junk food and soda.

If you are working on adding more vegetables to your diet and/or your kids’ diets, include some vegetables from each of the groups listed above. Choose what’s in season, emphasize the different colors, shapes, sizes and tastes of the vegetables, and don’t hesitate to combine them with salt, herbs and spices, and some healthy fat to create a balance of flavors. Not only will your health improve from greater variety and more frequent servings of vegetables, but your meals will become tastier as well.