When it comes to nutrition there is a LOT of information out there, and not all of it is accurate or health promoting. In the spirit (pun intended) of Halloween, we're going to debunk some common nutrition myths that "trick" people, and I'll share one of my favorite treat recipes.
Trick: Weight management is simply a matter of calories in and calories out.
It's a common misconception that the key to a healthy weight is ensuring that the amount of calories consumed are equivalent or less than the amount of calories burned. Just ask anyone who has ever tried and failed to lose weight through a calorie-restricted diet. In reality it's not the amount of calories that matter as much as the quality and the nutrient content.
The standard American diet (or "SAD"— and indeed it is!) is deficient in nutritious whole foods, and instead is heavy in processed foods containing preservatives, artificial food dyes, artificial sweeteners, highly refined vegetable oils and genetically modified ingredients. These ingredients are not suitable fuel for our bodies and are associated with weight gain and a host of chronic health issues. For example, half of an avocado is roughly 160 calories and is loaded with nutrients; while a package of Hostess Twinkie Bites is only 100 calories, contains little nutritious value, and has over 40 highly processed ingredients.
Instead of restricting calories, start avoiding heavily processed foods, and try increasing the colors you eat. I encourage my clients to "eat the rainbow" by getting as many vibrant colors on a plate as they can. For example, picture a delicious grilled wild-caught salmon fillet over greens with cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, sliced avocado, and a baked sweet potato with grass-fed butter. Now picture your standard pre-packaged frozen meal that's labeled as "low-calorie" and "low-fat". There aren't many colors, and these meals are loaded with preservatives and artificial flavors designed to imitate the taste of real food. While this meal might be significantly lower in calories than the salmon meal, it is far less nutrient dense, not likely to keep you full for long, and is not conducive to a sustainable healthy weight. Don't be tricked into counting calories—treat your body to real food!
Trick: Low-fat diets will help you lose weight.
Now this is a scary one! While the low-fat fad that gained popularity in the 90's has largely been rejected by the scientific community, many people still have difficulty letting go of the idea that eating fat is going to make them fat. The data shows that rates of obesity and diabetes among Americans only increased during the low-fat craze, so clearly it didn't work for us.
The truth is that dietary fat is crucial for overall health as well as for weight management. Fat makes us feel satiated because it makes food taste good, takes longer to digest, and serves as slow-burning fuel for sustained energy. If you've ever tried a low-fat diet you probably remember feeling frequently hungry and unsatisfied. The other problem is that when fat is lacking in the diet, we tend to run more on sugar and refined carbohydrates, which only causes the body to hold onto fat while leading to blood sugar dysregulation, energy crashes, and cravings. Fat is also crucial for a healthy gallbladder, hormone balance, and detoxification. Some good sources of quality fat to treat yourself to are coconut oil, olive oil, pastured eggs (always eat the yolks!), nuts and seeds, avocados, grass-fed butter, full-fat organic dairy, pastured meats and wild-caught fish.
Treat: My Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies!
I truly believe that food is meant to be enjoyed, and treats are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. However, in order to "treat" your body rather than "trick" it with highly processed foods that will only leave you feeling sick I recommend being selective about what you indulge in, and making treats yourself is the best way to do that. These cookies are gluten-free, grain-free, and can be modified to be dairy-free. But do they taste good? All I can say is that I've never had trouble getting rid of a batch, or seen anyone stop at just one cookie! While not sugar free, this recipe uses minimally-processed whole food ingredients that include healthy fats and fiber.
Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes approximately one dozen
2 medium sized bananas
1/2 cup cashew butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup coconut flour
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips
Mash the bananas until liquified with a fork or food processor, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well until combined. Roll into balls and place onto a greased cookie sheet, then use a spatula to push them flat, as they will not expand at all—they will come out exactly the same size and shape as they go in. Sprinkle additional sea salt on top of the cookies, then cook 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees. Be sure not to overcook! They will still seem doughy when the timer goes off, but you don’t want to cook them beyond the slightest hint of browning around the edges.
These cookies will remain soft and store very well for days. This recipe can easily be modified to be dairy-free by omitting the butter and adding an additional 1/4 cup of cashew butter, and by using dairy free chocolate chips.
By Kristy M. Malone, MS, NTP
Editors: Dr. Nikodemas McNulty, ND and Verena Eckstein