"Super Foods" - A Scam?

I get so many emails about "super foods" that I thought I'd explore the topic here on the blog. Before I say anything else, though, let me say that I think all plant foods are pretty super and that I should eat them, and eat them as much as I can!

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Now, do I think some plant foods are healthier than others? I guess that would depend on the context. I don't know how I could say an apple was healthier than an orange, or that a cucumber is healthier to an eggplant. I suppose it would be possible if we were talking specifically about a certain nutrient (i.e. who has more folic acid?) but even then it get's complicated.

Still, you just can't escape all the "super foods" marketing and buzz -- it's everywhere.

The questions I receive generally go as follows: "I was wondering if you ever eat hemp hearts/chia seeds/monkey eye balls [insert latest superfood here]. I read how beneficial they were. Do you eat them? How can I include them in my diet?"

My response is always the same: I generally don't buy into any of the "super food" marketing. I'm not discounting the benefits of certain foods but I think all plant foods offer remarkable benefits and that's what we should focus on. We should focus on eating plant foods in general. It's not about one or two 'magical' plant foods. It's about eating a diet filled with plant foods because *they are all super foods.*

Recently I came across this post, and Dr. Roa offers a great insight about "super foods." He writes, "Pomegranate, blueberries, acai, noni, mangosteen- what other fruits have millions of marketing dollars behind them? The truth is that as soon as you put almost any colorful fruit or vegetable under the microscope there is a treasure trove of complex biochemistry and phytochemicals with innumerable health benefits. Researchers, after spending millions to research the humble pomegranate, realized that there is a huge consumer market and then create a product with the research to back it."

There is no secret to good health. We all know what is healthy in our hearts. No one has to convince you an apple is healthy and a nutritional superstar, do they? ;) You don't see expensive advertisements in magazines for peas, do you?

Dr. Rao then goes on, "My dear mother-in-law Hasmik just asked me about asparagus and cancer. The article she forwarded had tons of research and testimonials from people who ate 4 tablespoons of pureed asparagus a day which cured their cancer. Yes asparagus contains a very high amount of glutathione, one of the strongest antioxidants in the body. There are several vegetables like this which do contain specific phytochemicals which are useful for specific conditions (the Brassicaceae plant family and its cancer fighting isothiocyanates found in broccoli and cabbage)."

The takeaway is, yes asparagus is great, but so are broccoli and cabbage, they just didn't get the marketing.

So don't be fooled by the hype or marketing -- remember that advertisements and commercials are still ADVERTISEMENTS.

Keep in mind that ALL fruits and vegetables are good for you!

"We are surrounded by super-foods, we just don’t realize thats what they are called. Ice to Eskimos." - Dr. Rao

On the meal plans we keep it simple -- whole plant foods, varied and in abundance!

Lastly, back in July, GMP reposted Jeff Novick, MS RD's Top 10 "Superfoods" List. Here they are: fruits, vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, starchy vegetables/roots/tubers, intact whole grains, beans/peas/lentils, and nuts/seeds/avocado (in limited amounts). It really is that simple!

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How Important is Breakfast?

Last week someone asked me how important is it to eat breakfast, pointing to a study that said those who ate breakfast weighed less and that eating breakfast within 30 minutes was critical for weight-loss.

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Before I continue, let me preface that I do think it's important to eat, and eat well, which is why we lay out a breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule (plus snacks and desserts!) on the meal plans. Still, I'm not sure I buy into the notion that specific times are better (or worse) for everyone unanimously.

I've worked with enough clients over the years to have clear examples of people who eat after 7pm, or 9pm, or that skip breakfast, or lunch, etc. and yet they still lost weight or maintained a healthy weight.

For example, I had one client who, despite her best efforts, could not eat first thing in the morning without feeling queasy. We spent months trying different foods, at different times, but nothing worked. She couldn't do anything but sip tea for the first few hours she was up. Was her goal to lose weight hopeless? Absolutely not! She still lost 34lbs and she still doesn't eat breakfast. She has larger meals than most of us for lunch and dinner, but her total food for the day is comparable.

Here's the real problem with skipping meals (i.e. breakfast): Most people who skip a meal are so hungry by the time the next meal comes that they'll eat anything in sight, often picking the food that will come to them the quickest rather than picking whatever is healthiest. Skipping meals also makes it more likely that you will overeat. For example, every time I've missed a meal and found myself starving, I ordered way too much food, ate the food feverishly with abandon to quell the hunger pains, and then felt uncomfortably stuffed afterward. Happens every time.

It's not so much about the time, as the practice.

Same with midnight or late night snacking. It's usually not the time you're eating that's the problem -- it's what. Most people aren't getting up for celery sticks, they're getting up for cookies and ice cream. That's the problem, not the time of day.

Over the years I've found every body seems to have it's own food time preferences. For example, I can't eat first thing in the morning if I plan to exercise. I have to exercise on an empty stomach (or several hours after I've eaten) or I'll want to puke. My husband, meanwhile, has to eat as soon as he rolls out of bed, especially if he plans to exercise.

Remember, 98% of the time it's about the food you're choosing and whether you are setting yourself up for success or failure by skipping a meal or snacking.

Having a plan in place (and prepared healthy food) helps you make better choices and avoid these traps.

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How to "Eat Out" Healthfully

A user emailed, "What should I do when I am not able to eat off the meal plan such as going out to eat or on a vacation?

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(This is a vegetable stir-fry I ordered "dry" at Denny's (yes! Denny's!) so it was oil-free and as heathy as a meal plan meal).

First, look at the menu for dishes that sound like they could be low fat (oil-free) and healthy, which means skipping past anything that's fried. I specifically look for things that can be steamed or are not cooked (i.e. fresh spring rolls in a Thai restaurant). I'll also inquire whether my meal can be made without oil. Most often it can, if not, I'll ask if there is another dish that could. If I end up with a salad (or that's just what I want) I skip the dressing, and ask for salsa (if they have it) or vinegar.

I'm also not embarrassed about getting creative with the menu -- blending items from different dishes to create my own dish. I did this once and the waitress and chef liked my "creation" so much that they decided to add it to the menu. I have also never encountered a waiter or waitress that wasn't happy to help. I think with so many dietary restrictions these days, it's not "weird" to inquire or ask for adaptions. Plus, as my husband says, we're paying to have our meal cooked to order. (Note: we always tip generously and leave positive reviews online when places accomodate us).

Next, I consider what meals might be the healthiest choice for me in the circumstances I'm in. This distinction is important. You have to consider your circumstances, not utopia.

For example, if I'm at home, and I'm making an Asian dish, I always use brown rice. However, if I'm at a restaurant, and only white rice is available, I'm not going to stress about it. I tell myself to do the best that I can. After all, white rice and steamed vegetables is still a whole lot better for me than deep fried spring rolls :)

In the end, we all have to find our own balance, but I try not to live to eat. I'd love to only eat in, but that's not realistic with my lifestyle and work (which requires constant travel) or social situations... so I shoot for 100% perfection and land somewhere closer to 85-90% and that's fine by me. I always eat vegan (plant-based) though - that's never an exception.

Use your intuition. You know what's healthy and what isn't. Make the healthiest choice possible and if you end up making a less-than-great-choice, don't beat yourself up. It happened the best you can do is step forward and make your next choice a great one!

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Healthy Pumpkin Recipes for Halloween

Halloween isn't about candy or dressing up -- it's about pumpkin in our food, let's be honest about that ;)

Here are some of my favorite (healthy!) pumpkin recipes. Any are sure to please on Halloween!

1. Single-Serving Pumpkin Muffin (add chocolate chips!)

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2. Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

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3. Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies!

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Getting Fit & Weight-Loss Tips from a Vegan Body Builder (part 2)

Vegan model and fitness superstar Noel is back (read part 1 here) sharing his tips for losing weight (I bet you've never heard these ones before!), bulking up (this might surprise you!) and getting fit.

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GMP: For a vegan hoping to lose weight, other than managing their diet with healthy, whole foods like we use on the meal plans, do you have any other tips or advice?

If someone who is vegan and is having trouble losing weight I recommend following intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting its not a diet you just changing your eating time, and you also follow this everyday. For beginners you make your eating time from 12pm to 7pm. During 12pm and 7pm you eat your 3 or four meals. Then after 7pm you have nothing but water. You will start eating again the next day at 12pm. Before 12pm you just drink water. Intermittent fasting gives your body more time to burn fat. Combining plant-based nutrition and intermittent fasting and training hard will help you burn fat quickly. So cardio on empty stomach just water 4 or 5 times a week.

GMP: For a vegan hoping to bulk up or improve their muscular performance and physique, what advice do you have?

If you want to bulk up its simple just increase your calories.

GMP: So you don't take any special supplements like protein powder?

I don't take any post workout shakes or preworkout shakes or any kind of protein powders. I just eat healthy plant-based food.

GMP: Any other advice for someone looking to get more fit on a vegan diet?

My advice for anyone looking to get more fit is to watch less t.v. And throw away all the fitness magazines. Don't buy anymore. If you really want to get in shape take actions. Talk less and do more. If you go to a gym do the basic exercises: bench press, military press, squats. If you are like me and prefer using mainly your bodyweight do: pull ups, chin ups, push ups, knee raises, lunges, push ups. For cardio running up a hill, or walking in nature everyday. Also climbing up and down the stairs.

GMP: Finally, do you follow any special diet? My friend that's a trainer, for example, only eats carbs before a certain time of the day. Can you tell us about your daily diet?

I don't really follow a diet I just eat healthy plant-based food. I don't follow a schedule but if anyone is interested in what kind if meals I eat I post them on my blog or on my instagram @ VeganLight.

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Thanks so much for interviewing Noel and keep rockin' those abs!

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Getting Fit & Weight-Loss Tips from a Vegan Body Builder (part 1)

I'm very excited to introduce Noel - a vegan model and fitness guru! I met Noel on Facebook several months ago and was impressed by his fresh, whole foods perspective. While many body builders push supplements, Noel doesn't. He eat real food and gets real results!

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GMP: So Noel, tell us: What made you adopt a plant-based (vegan) diet and how long have you been plant-based?

Noel: I was raised in a society where obesity keeps growing, diabetes keeps growing, and kids are being fed junk food from a young age. I went through that but I am happy and glad to have been awakened. Now my eyes are opened to see things clearly. Like a quote I once heard about the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.): "The one thing an animal diet does best. is kill people". I look at my family and see almost all are over weight or being affected by diseases. I tell myself this only proves to me that the vegan diet is the way we are designed to eat.

If meat is so healthy, why do they keep getting sick? Why do they workout and can't lose weight?

We must first take care of our body through the inside. We need to feed it the right way so it can perform the correct way. But then again the meat eaters say “We are all going to die anyway so might as well enjoy food.” They forget that before we die we suffer. We suffer either from cancer, obesity, cholesterol, diabetes. We don’t just die, NO WAY! There is a great deal of suffering on the way to dying. And that suffering is caused by the meat diet. We suffer and then we die. So I follow a vegan diet to perform at my highest level at all times. I want to be able to move, play sports, and take care of myself. I am a man on a mission. I show people that you can still build muscles on a vegan diet. You can still stay strong and you can become healthier. It is one thing looking good from the outside and being unhealthy on the inside. That doesn't work for me. I don't want that. I want to be both healthy on the inside and on the outside.

GMP: There are so many myths about protein. The most common question any vegan or vegetarian gets is "where do you get your protein?" but this must be especially true for a fitness star like you. What do you tell people?

Since I have so many fitness videos on my youtube page and mostly when people see me working out and see the strength I have, they know I am doing something right. So mainly people ask me for some great recipes for them to try and ask for my help. I have helped many people transition into a vegan diet and they all have achieved great results. It isn't about how much protein you take, it is about how much hard work you put into your workouts. So when they ask me that question i just share this quote with them:

"All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy." - Scott Alexander

GMP: As a fitness star and model, you have to keep your body in perfect shape. Do you find that's easier as a vegan? How has this diet helped you?

I find it easy to stay healthy and lean in a vegan diet. Fruits and veggies and daily exercising does your body good. When you stop eating all the other toxins that causes you to become fat and slow everything else falls into place so nicely.

GMP: Many of our meal plan users exercise before or after work, where a meal (i.e. lunch or dinner) is in the near future, but it's just far enough away they'd like a snack to hold them over. What are some of your favorite post-workout and energizing foods?

After my long workouts I eat anything since I train for a long period of time. But bananas are great for recovery and also two bananas provide you enough energy for a 90 min workout.

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Check back on Friday for part 2 where Noel gives tips for losing weight (I bet you've never heard these ones before), bulking up (this might surprise you!) and getting fit.

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