Do Genes Matter?

You can’t see them or touch them but your genes are literally who you are. So they matter. The real question is, how much?

I had my DNA tested to find out. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I was really surprised. In a series of posts I’m going to share with you what I learned about myself so you can consider what your DNA might mean to you. Continue reading

Quick and Nutritious Breakfast for the Busy Mom

Mom, is getting breakfast for children (and yourself) the biggest test of your day? Whew! Does the challenge result in quick bowls of box cereal (or pop tarts) because, forget it, nobody has time to scramble eggs? The bummer is that quick bowls of box cereal (and the pop tarts) are simply instant sugar with essentially no nutritional value, lasting about an hour before hunger sets in once again. Mom, here is the answer to your prayers.

I spent literally days online looking at recipes for overnight oats. There seem to be a thousand experts out there. I found cool recipes that took too much time and/or included a lot of expensive ingredients.  I found special recipes designed for vegans, people who just had to have organic ingredients, or some folks who tried to make overnight “oats” without actually using oats (the ingredient list is looooong and oh so expensive).

My goal was to find the easiest, quickest, least expensive recipe that would still be nutritious and tasty while warding off hunger. I ended up blending the best ideas together into one recipe for you to try.

Overnight Oats

Basic ingredients (per serving)

  • ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup of water
  • A pinch of salt

Put the oats in a container whenever you have time. Pint mason jars or leftover peanut butter jars work well for individual servings. Add the pinch of salt and then the water. Stir it up, put on the lid, and tuck it away in the refrigerator overnight. By morning the oats will have absorbed all the liquid.

You may make a week’s worth of servings at one time.

Toppings:

Prepare the toppings you want to add to the oats before serving. These might include:

    • 1 tsp of honey (optional)
    • Fresh or frozen fruit, like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, orange slices, or pears
    • Unsweetened applesauce, pumpkin or sweet potato puree,
    • Flavorings like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, etc.
    • Chopped nuts, like pecans.

Come morning, add the honey (if you choose) and stir the oat mix briskly. Add whole milk or plain, full fat yogurt until the consistency of the oats suits you (or your children). Add fruit on top and then the chopped nuts. Pass out the spoons.

Additional Thoughts:

Containers: The mason jars look kinda special, are handy, and may be entertaining for kids. But you could use Tupperware containers or even bowls. You can make a big batch at one time but then you add time to dole out the servings and another container to wash..

Oats:  Why rolled oats?  Rolled oats contain complex sugar in the form of starch. Instead of becoming instant sugar, the starch breaks down slowly, providing an ongoing supply of energy. Refined grains (as ground up in breakfast cereal or instant oatmeal) digest immediately. A child who eats this recipe may well last until lunch without being overcome with hunger.

Do not use instant oats. They are instant sugar just like the box cereal and will simply turn to watery mush. If you want to try steel cut oats, go for it. But they will be mighty crunchy and they cost more.

Water: Using water allows you to make several days’ worth of oats at the same time. If you use milk instead of water, you will be limited to making servings for one or two days.

Salt: Salt may not sound important but it is really is.  A pinch is a pinch.

Honey:  For me the natural sugar in the fruit is all that is needed. Suggest you try that first and see how it goes over. If necessary, stir the honey into the oat mixture before adding the fruit.

Fruit:  Of course there are lots of fruit options, some of which are significantly more expensive than others. If fresh fruit is not available or affordable, then go for frozen because frozen fruit can be stored in the freezer for a good long time.

Flavorings: If you are a baker in a less busy life, you probably know the flavorings best fitted to certain fruit.  Go for them.

Nuts:  Any nuts (peanuts are the least good choice) can be chopped but remember this. It only takes a few nuts to add crunch.

Hot or Cold:  Most people eat these oats cold, especially in the summer. But if you or your children find warm oats more appealing, pop the oatmeal mix into the microwave for a few seconds, as many as you find achieves the best heat level. Then stir in the milk/yogurt and top with the fruit.

Full fat milk or plain yogurt: One of the goals of this recipe is to ward off hunger. Hunger is caused by rapidly digesting sugar but fat also matters. Beyond the vitamins in the fat (this is the nutrition part), the fat is also filling and a hunger suppressor. If you are determined to only have low/no fat milk in your house, then consider getting some plain, full fat yogurt and use it just for this recipe. And if you use plain Greek yogurt, it will have much less natural sugar in it. Another benefit of yogurt is the probiotic value which is not present in milk.

Probiotics are good bacteria that help get your gut healthy. That’s another story.

Don’t be tricked into using flavored yogurt. Sugar including artificial sweeteners is added and thus actually contributes to hunger. Plain, full fat yogurt. Let the fruit provide the flavor.

Digestibility:  Some people, including children, will have digestion problems with grains due to the complex protective structure of the grain and the absence of the enzyme phytase necessary to break that structure down. (See more below under Overall Nutrition and Nutritional Deficiencies). Digestive problems are easy to identify – things like stomach ache, gas, bloating, etc.

Overall Nutrition and Nutritional Deficiencies

Anybody who has read It’s All about the Food knows that chapter 13 is about phytic acid. Phytic acid locks away some portion of valuable minerals (calcium, iron, and magnesium as examples) contained in the grain and makes the grain difficult for most people to digest. But there are actually other proteins in grains (glutens, lectins, etc.) that can make the digestion thing even more difficult.

Phytic acid isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It serves an important purpose by absorbing excess and toxic minerals in your body. Therefore, the issue is more about volume, personal digestibility, and nutrient deficiency.

Oats are not alone in this phytic acid, mineral “lock up” thing. All whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds are equally limited – although grain generally has the most. Look at it this way. These are all seeds for new plants, seeds that Mother Nature meant for reproduction and not necessarily as food for animals. It is possible to make them edible without penalty but it takes some work.

When it comes to beans (legumes) it isn’t hard to free up the minerals and improve digestibility. Chapter 13 explains how to do that. Grain, on the other hand, is much tougher. So it is troublesome that grain is the largest component of most children’s diets these days.

If digestion is not the issue, then you can compensate for any mineral “shortfall” in the oatmeal by augmenting the meal with extra nutrition. So the rolled oats, the milk/yogurt, and the fruit are all important parts of this breakfast. Despite any mineral shortfall, oats are still the winner in comparison to refined boxed cereal which has essentially no nutrition at all.

One meal a day nutritionally limited by phytic acid is usually not a big deal. On the other hand, if every meal is nutritionally limited by the perpetual presence of grain in the diet, then trouble may be brewing.

Refined grains as in white bread, pie crust, cake and cookie mixes, pasta, grits, taco chips, tortillas, etc. don’t have a problem with phytic acid. This is not cause for celebration, however. The minerals locked up in phytic acid reside in the most nutritious layers of the grain (the bran and germ). The bran and the germ are ground off in refining, leaving essentially only the sugar. Repeat after me – HUNGRY.

If digestion IS a problem there are two options. One option is to simply remove grain from the diet. But another possibility is to introduce supplemental enzymes containing phytase with each meal containing grain. Hogs have digestive systems similar to ours and do not make the enzyme phytase. Commercial hog farms who feed their hogs grain supplement their food with the enzyme phytase. You can do the same.

A pharmacy, health food store, on-line, and sometimes even a large grocery store will have enzyme supplements. Read the list of enzymes and assure that phytase is on the list. Consider limiting the number of meals containing grain to minimize the expense of this alternative.

 

Diet or Exercise, Which is It?

“Listen,” a friend whispered to me, “the fitness guy at my gym once told me that exercise has nothing to do with weight loss. Like he said, you can’t overcome a bad diet with exercise. Is that right?”

Yep, he’s right!.

In a recent newspaper article and post, I explained how the combination of carbohydrates (sugar) and fat in your diet is responsible for excess fat hanging around on your body. But some people just don’t want to hear that. Surely there must be another way!

So instead some think (hope) all they have to do to lose weight is to exercise, jog a few miles a day or walk 10,000 steps. Go to the gym and lift heavy weights. Too many people watching the Biggest Loser think exercise is the big deal and it has to be extreme. Willing to do an extraordinary amount of work to avoid fixing their diet.

Other people aren’t quite so willing to do hard work and are overwhelmed with “extreme.” So they just abandon the idea of losing weight. No hope!

Fact is, for the average person like you and me, exercising isn’t likely to have a big impact on losing weight one way or another. But that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t important.

Moving your body is critical to your health. Without exercise your muscles become flabby and weak. Your balance suffers, making you susceptible to falls. Your heart and lungs don’t function efficiently. Joints get stiff and are easily injured. Endurance suffers. You are stressed, not sleeping well, don’t have energy or feel good..  You are aging much more quickly.

I personally don’t find those conditions attractive and doubt that you do either.  So my message to you is this — get off the couch and start moving. Just do it for the right reasons because weight loss isn’t one of them.

The question is, how much “moving.”?  And the answer is, more than you are moving now.

If you just struggled (is that a real word?) your way up off the couch, “more” might mean walking around the house, around the block, to the mail box a few times a day. In Mount Ida or other communities with an agricultural extension service, “more” might be attending the Extension Get Fit classes 3 days a week. Join with friendly people and learn to add light weights to your regular “exercise” routine. In Mount Ida, the extension service office number is 870-867-2311.

Use your imagination. The goal is to move.

As you grow stronger extend that walk to a mile or even more, start carrying your own groceries, climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, dance to your favorite oldie in your own home. Exercising for the couch potato or the handicapped is an evolution, not a revolution. If you know anyone who has been to rehab after an injury, you have watched them build strength slowly over time.

I have been there. After a serious illness and coma, I couldn’t walk, get out of bed, or even sit up on my own. After rehab those abilities were restored, slowly and not over night. But they came back. This can work for you as well.

The next question, is your weight as measured by your bathroom scale the most important?  Nope, that’s not right.

Technically, muscle is heavier than body fat BUT the same weight in body fat takes up more space. The space consumed by your fat determines the size clothes you wear. And you have to confess, it’s really how you look in your clothes that matters to you.

This is an inches thing, not a weight thing. This is the amount of space your body is taking up in this world.  It is possible to lose inches and clothes sizes with only a small amount of actual “weight loss” as measured by your scales. Fix your diet, drag out the tape measure, get off your duff and move around.

The thing that reduces body fat and prevents adding more body fat is a good diet every day as a matter of course. The thing that builds and tones muscles, reduces stress, slows the aging process, and generally improves your whole outlook on life is some exercise every day as a matter of course.

“Every day” means ongoing. If you go on a “diet”, lose 10 lbs, celebrate and go off the “diet” that ten pounds will come back with a few extra bonus pounds. if you get off  the couch for a few weeks and then sit back down, the strength gained simply fades away.

Fix your diet, drag out the tape measure, get off your duff and move around.

Questions may be directed to patsmith2@live.com, Find Pat and her book, It’s All About the Food, on Facebook and Amazon.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR: president of Ouachita Village, Inc .board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry):  chairman of the Tasty Acre project: and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

It’s the combination of dietary sugar and fat.

First of all, this is not a discussion of meat. Meat is rarely a contributor to weight problems. The blame for your excess body fat can be placed squarely on the combination of dietary sugar and fat. Not just sugar alone. Not just fat alone. Both together!.

Body fat is storage of excess energy. The two sources of energy for the human body, the stuff that keeps your brain going, lets you walk down the street, etc.are sugar and fat. Too little of both and you will lack energy. Too much of both and you will eventually be fatter.

Sugar

Sugar actually comes in four (4) versions In the American diet. All four versions originate in plants growing in the ground. Everything that grows in the ground is chock full of sugar, called carbohydrates, along with varying levels of vitamins, minerals, fats, etc.

Version one includes the simple vegetables like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, avocado, etc. These are vegetables that can be eaten raw or cooked and the best sources of fiber. Generally speaking these are very low carb (sugar) vegetables that digest very quickly.

Version two includes starches like potatoes, beans, and various grains which require cooking to be edible. Starches have lots of sugar in complex form and, when eaten whole, take longer to digest.

That’s it for natural, whole plant food. Now we swoop down on the other two versions.

Version three is the commercially processed version of the starches (usually grain) in Version two. The processing consists of extracting certain parts, grinding the food up; applying high heat, chemical treatments/additions; thus creating a whole new product that has lost the initial value. Vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in food are very sensitive to heat and the nutrients tend to be lost. These food products would primarily be the wheat and corn products contained in almost every sack and box at your grocery store. Extractions of grain and sometimes potato starch are also found in various jars, cans, and bottles – stuff like soups, soy sauce, etc. The stuff is everywhere.

One advantage of Version two starches is longer digestion time which prevents the automatic hunger that occurs with rapidly digesting sugar. That advantage is lost in Version three. Thus we have a lot of carb (sugar) digesting very quickly with little nutritional value.

Version four is refined sugar, usually but not always extracted from beets. No redeeming value whatsoever in refined sugar but lots of it gets added to the processed products in Version three as well as the stuff you bake at home. Think sweets..

Fats

Think about it. Fat is always needed to make sugar Versions two/three/four really tasty, 

Add cream/milk/eggs/etc. to flour, it rises beautifully, fluffy and light. Then you ADD more fat. Do you put butter on bread? Have you ever cooked pasta and eaten it straight up?  Even your favorite marinara sauce will have oil in it. Macaroni isn’t much punk unless it has cheese. Thicken fat with flour or corn (starch) and you get gravy. Do you eat grits, rice, or potatoes (all starches) without fat of some kind?  Unlikely.

Comfort Foods

Bottom line is that the real danger to a slim/trim body is the COMBINATION of starch and fat — because these are the true southern comfort foods.

The government and American Diabetes Association (ADA) say the way to lose weight is to cut calories, eat lots of carbs and low-fat. That approach will work for many people, at least for a while. Sugar and fat are the essential calorie (energy) sources in food and fat has more calories per gram than sugar. So on the surface that seems to make sense.

But I assure you that high carb and low-fat isn’t comfort food. And high carb digesting quickly will keep you hungry. When you are hungry what do you do?  You eat, even if there is plenty of spare energy wrapped around your waist. And the comfort value in the low-fat food you might eat is minimal..This explains why most people won’t stick to it forever. The fat is just too important. So eventually you are back to high carb and high fat.

So if high carb/low-fat isn’t very satisfying, leaves you hungry, and tends to fail long-term, what is the answer? The answer is the reverse – low carb and higher fat. What that really means is eating mostly Version one simple vegetables with a smattering of Version two and enough healthy fat to make the food tasty. This is easier than you might think.

Cheesy cauliflower (or practically any other vegetable)  casserole. Mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes. Smaller portions of red potatoes. Oven roasted vegetables tossed in olive oil. Spaghetti squash instead of pasta. These can all be seasoned your favorite way, just as you would the “real thing”.

Does this mean that birthday cakes are out?  Not necessarily so long as you realize that these are useless high carb/high fat calories with essentially no nutritional value. As long you just have cake on a birthday (in small portion) and not daily or even weekly. This would be an occasional “treat”. How many birthdays do you have per year?

Does that mean that cereal and honey buns are out?  Yes it does. Because those will inevitably become daily staples.

Healthy Fats?

Commercially processed fats, primarily those extracted from grain and legumes such as corn, soybean, canola, peanut, etc. are unhealthy. They fit into the category of “processed” at high heat including application of toxic chemicals. They are unstable and very susceptible to oxidation.  And there are other good reasons not to use them. If you want to know more about this, please read my book, It’s All about the Food.

The healthy fats are extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil – preferably extracted without heat. Avocado oil has a high smoke point and is best for cooking above medium (350 degrees) temperature. .

Will this be a Hard Diet Change?

Anything different takes some effort. Any particular difficulty will depend on whether you are carb “addicted”, susceptible to feelings of withdrawal. If this is you, you probably get a knot in your throat even thinking about not eating bread. Thing is, your weight is tied to your diet and you have to change that.

Alcoholics are addicted. They would like all the problems associated with alcoholism to go away without giving up alcohol.  Won’t work for them and won’t work for you. Give me a holler if you need suggestions.

Questions may be directed to patsmith2@live.com, Find Pat and her book on Facebook and her website,.allaboutthefood.org.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR: president of Ouachita Village, Inc .board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry):  chairman of the Tasty Acre project: and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

My personal story with autoimmune disease

I am not a doctor and thank my lucky stars that I am not. The pressure must be intense. Instead I am among a much smaller group of scientists, doctors, and laymen who care more about preventing illness than treating it. None the less, some of us reach a point  when doctors get full credit for saving our lives. We reach a point where prevention is no longer an option.

Here is my story, some of which was garnered in conversation with doctors, family, and friends. Because I was in la-la land. Continue reading

What to do about pain RIGHT NOW?

DO YOUR FRIENDS A FAVOR AND SEND THEM THIS POST.

Surprise! I’m not going to talk about food, at least not directly.

My book, It’s All about the Food, is about how the right foods can make you healthy and how the wrong foods “don’t”. But sometimes, just sometimes, what makes us healthy (not sick) is less important than what to do about pain RIGHT NOW. Continue reading

An Ounce of Prevention

An Ounce of Prevention

I learned this week that another friend has cancer, reminding me once again that cancer is ugly and devious. Treating active cancer is a battle.

Gardeners, this is very much like the battle of the squash beetles in your vegetable garden. If you catch them at the very first sign you can save your crop pretty easily. But once they run rampant there may be no effective treatment and your plants will eventually die. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure both in gardening and cancer. Continue reading