Saturday, August 28, 2010

My New Love: A CSA

I have to admit that I have a little bit of a love affair going on right now and I can't hold it in anymore: I love my CSA.  No, I don't have some strange infatuation with a new governmental agency.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  If you have never heard of a CSA let me explain the basics.  Simply put, a CSA allows you to purchase a set amount of local produce on a weekly or monthly basis.  When you join a CSA, you agree to pay a subscription fee for fresh, local produce that you can either have delivered to your door or pick up from a designated location.  The fee you pay goes directly to support the farm(s) you buy from, so essentially you are investing in your own food.

Because I get to work with other dietitians, I learned about CSAs from them.  Since I don't live in the same area as my co-workers, I couldn't subscribe to their CSA so they pointed me to Local Harvest.  They have a simple search tool to find a CSA that was convenient for me and I found Abundant Harvest Organics.  I signed up and for the past few months I have been picking up my box every Saturday morning.  I pay for a small box of locally grown, organic vegetables and fruits and it is enough to last my family of four a whole week. You can see one of my most recent box contents on the right.  The great thing about Abundant Harvest is that they also have a ton of add-ons.  Which means I can pay a little extra but along with my regular box I can also buy grass-fed beef, pasture raised chickens, organic nuts and even coffee just to name a few of the products. 

Here's the beauty of a CSA:
  • I know that I am supporting a group of small, local farmers who are committed to providing fresh, organic foods. 
  • I take my 2 1/2 year old twins with me every Saturday morning while my wife stays at home to relax.  We get to spend some quality time together and they love opening up the box and saying, "Surprise!" and they try little bites of all the produce we get.
  • We cook more at home and include more vegetables in everything we make.
CSAs are gaining popularity.  It seems everyone I tell about my CSA says they have heard of other friends getting one.  Someone recently pointed me to Farm Fresh to You.  They are a CSA that delivers your box directly to your house.  Pretty convenient eh?  I also read this week about CSAs being delivered via food trucks to areas that would not normally have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  Get the whole story here.

There are also some CSAs that provide their members with other benefits aside from fresh produce.  Hazon is a Jewish CSA whose goal is to promote sustainable living and agriculture to the American Jewish community. 

Joining a CSA has been a great experience.  I feel better about where my food comes from and my family has enjoyed trying new recipes to make use of each week's bounty.  My wife and kids will always be my main loves but my CSA has helped develop my love for fresh, locally grown, organic foods.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

So Long to Salt

I wrote about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines last month and I thought it would be a good idea to dive a little deeper into one new guideline: "the goal [for sodium] should be 1,500 mg per day."  Sounds like a simple goal but given that our country loves salt, this is a very difficult thing to accomplish.

Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride.  The most concerning element is the sodium.  We need sodium in our diet but the problem is we get way too much.   Diets high in sodium are associated with increased risks for high blood pressure which then lead to chronic kidney disease, stroke, heart disease and congestive heart failure.  The Mayo Clinic has a great article for more background. 

Almost all of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods.  There are some foods that naturally contain sodium, but for the most part, anytime we shop for food in the market or go out to eat we are eating sodium.  In an article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) about how to reduce sodium, the physician they interviewed said, 
"...75 to 80 percent of the sodium we consume is added to food before we open a package or walk into a restaurant. So unless you make everything—including breads, crackers, cereals, soup, pizza, spaghetti sauce, salad dressing—from scratch, you can’t easily avoid the salt."
The reality is that we are hardly cooking anything from scratch.  What most people do at home is not generally cooking, we're heating.  We need to learn to cook again.  I wrote about cooking at home earlier but another great resource is from this blog Inspired RD.  She has great recipes that will truly inspire you.

Until we learn to cook we need to do two things:
  1. We need to read the food labels when we shop.  When you pick up a food label, start by looking at the serving size of a product.  Next move down to see how many milligrams (mg) of sodium a product has.  Try to find foods that have 300 mg of sodium or less per serving.  
  2. We need the government's help to pressure the food industry to use less salt.  Marion Nestle wrote a great piece on this very topic you should read.  In addition to this, read the Institute of Medicine's report on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States. One of the key recommendations is to have the FDA change and regulate how much sodium can be safely added to foods.
By choosing lower sodium foods and food companies reducing the amount of salt in processed foods, we can start to make a difference.  To quote the movie Food Inc. "You vote with your fork three times a day."  Make each vote count and you'll be surprised about how well you can do if you just make a little effort.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Updates to Recent Posts


Last week I wrote a post about cleanses.  Just days later First Lady Michelle Obama (who I praised here) was interviewed by Ladies' Home Journal.  In the interview she admits that occasionally she  does her own "cleanse" every now and then.  In the article she says,
The cleanses are good for a short period of time. I can't live my life on a cleanse. But they help me clean out my palate. Because when you start adding things like sugars into your diet, you start craving them. And the more you eat, the more you crave. . . . So maybe I'll do a cleanse for two days. It isn't a way of life, because I like food too much. But it is good to break your mind-set.
I was a little shocked by the First Lady's comments about her cleanse mostly because she's been doing such a great job of promoting healthy eating habits.  I recently found a great blog that recapped some opinions about Mrs. Obama's comments.  You can read the whole post here but to summarize I think the article  does a great job of presenting arguments from Marion Nestle and Jeff Stier, associate director for the American Council on Science and Health discussing the First Lady's cleanse as well as her press release for clarification.

While I agree with eating less sugar, a better way to break that cycle is not by going on a cleanse.  Cleanses are temporary solutions to a long-term problem.  If you continually eat a lot of high sugar foods what is more important is helping change the behavior that is driving you to choose these foods. 

At least the First Lady is not doing a cleanse to lose weight.  With all the talk of cleanses, I was so pleased to read this story about John Goodman.  He's lost 100 lbs. by doing something amazing: eating right and exercising!  Bravo, Mr. Goodman.

I've written about extreme eating already here and here.  Well there's a new extreme food to talk about.  Denny's jumped into the fray with their Fried Cheese Melt.  It's a grilled cheese filled with fried mozzarella sticks.  A lovely mix of appetizer and and entree to clog your arteries and expand your waist.  The estimated nutrition information from this CBS article: 845 calories and 34 grams of fat. Oy vey!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another Celebrity Cleanse

Detox and cleanses are all the rage these days.  In our constant craving for the quick fix, many turn to a cleanse or detox for that instant gratification to shed some quick pounds or remove those "harmful toxins" from our body.  I was not surprised to hear that yet another celebrity was promoting their latest detox/cleanse plan.  This time it was Demi Moore via The Huffington Post who was defending her new regime The Clean Program.  I guess her and her husband were on the Master Cleanse for some time but then switched to the Clean Program.  Naturally this article caught my attention and I felt it needed further explanation.

So what's the theory behind cleanses?  Basically they are selling you the idea that our bodies build up toxins from an unhealthy lifestyle.  You start a cleanse by fasting and/or taking a laxative to help you "eliminate" waste.  Depending on the program, you slowly add some food back but continue to restrict most foods while on the program.  The theory is by taking a 21 or 14 day cleanse, we are helping clean out our systems and promoting better health.   This article and this blog post will offer you some good background on detox/cleanses as well as highlight some of the potential dangers.

So after reading the article previously mentioned, I headed over to The Clean Program to see what it this detox/cleanse was all about.  According to the site:
The Clean Program is a 21 day detox program that is specifically designed for the person on the move. Unlike traditional cleanses, you need not stay at home while you detox on the Clean Program. This cleanse is designed for those who want to live their life and still get Clean
The program (which costs $350!) consists of two detox shakes and supplements taken twice a day plus one regular meal (they suggest lunch)  from their "elimination" diet plus more supplements.  I was pleased that they provided some scientific research to support their program.  When I read their articles though I was not surprised they they were simply analysis of other research and not randomized, double-blind placebo controlled studies.  Neither article really showed their program as effective but instead were general articles about the role of detoxes related to chronic diseases.  The Clean Program is just another in a series of very slick marketed products to try to help you be healthy.  That $350 could probably be better spent on a couple months worth of fresh fruits and vegetables.

So what is the bottom line?  A cleanse is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.  You might lose weight from a detox but that will likely be water weight and possibly a loss of muscle mass and more importantly as soon as you are off your detox/cleanse you'll probably just gain all that weight back.  Want to hear the easiest way to keep your system clean?  A diet rich in fiber.  How about eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, less meat, exercise and drink plenty of water?  But what of these pesky toxins in our body?  Well we have organs (the liver and kidneys) in our bodies whose function is to remove toxins from our body. 

With all due respect to Ms. Moore and all future celebrities and sales people trying to promote a detox,  don't believe the hype.  There is no quick fix to good health.  Focus on a healthy lifestyle and live a life of balance, variety and moderation.