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"Let Food Be Thy Medicine"
July 2017
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Jean Varney
Jeannie Varney
 Nutrition Consultant


I hope you're enjoying your summer. I love this time of year! The longer days and warmer temperatures make me feel so alive. Typically I spend July and August on the coast of New Hampshire. This year, however, is different. As many of you know, I've stepped back from my practice to spearhead my mother's treatment and care for my parents. My Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March; my father with Amyloidosis in 2015. Neither can be cured but I'm confident that healthy eating, exercise, a positive attitude and daily gratitude will slow the progression of their diseases and allow them to maintain their quality of life for years to come. So far things are working ...  For the past three months, I have shopped, cooked and prepared their food, kept them active, introduced mindfulness, and encouraged writing in a gratitude journal. Throughout this period Mom has endured grueling chemo treatments with few side effects - slight fatigue and hair loss her only complaints. Dad was given double thumbs up last month from his heart specialist. For the first time since his diagnosis, tests showed no progression of his disease. What changed? Mostly their diet as they've always been active, positive and grateful. Gone is all, okay most, added sugar, processed foods, red meat and dining out. All meals and snacks are whole, real food consisting mostly of plants - fruits, veggies, whole intact grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, complemented by wild fish and seafood, eggs, some pastured-raised organic poultry and organic dairy. Despite their illnesses, they are amazed at just how good they feel since changing what they're eating. Converts finally, after all my years of preaching (and begging.)

All joking aside, this clearly is a difficult and painful time in our lives. I was blindsided by their diagnoses and prognosis. I wasn't ready to address their mortality. But, as daunting and scary as their health issues are, there is a silver lining. I am spending countless hours with them - caring for them and simply "being" with them. What a gift this time is. I am so grateful to be able to focus on their well-being - to give them back a small fraction of the love and care they have given me for half a century. We laugh. We cry. We reminisce. We comfort. We share stories and appreciate each other more than ever. We're even planning future travel together, as in years past, refusing to allow cancer or heart disease to rob us of living. In such a strange way, we have found beauty in sickness. There's a lesson here and so as the old adage goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. We're making it by the gallons, trust me; just not drinking it. Lemonade, like most sweetened beverages, isn't good for us despite being considered a healthy alternative to soda. Which brings me to the substance of this newsletter - seemingly healthy foods that just aren't! If you're trying to lose weight, reverse a chronic condition, or simply improve your diet in hopes of aging better, avoid the following foods. They're not doing your heart, arteries or waistline any favors. They also wreak havoc on your mood, energy, hunger and cravings.   

Avoid These "Healthy" Foods
Below are 14 foods that often come packaged plastered with health claims despite lacking in nutrients.

Juice: Yes, fresh juice contains some nutrients but for the most part it is simply water and natural sugar, minus the beneficial fiber of the fruit or vegetable from which it is extracted. Consider it nature's soda and consume sparingly, if all at. I recommend no more than 4oz a couple times a week, fresh squeezed and green varieties, included. For example, a 15oz bottle of Bolthouse Green Goodness Juice contains the equivalent of 13 tsp. of sugar.  16oz of Original Tropicana OJ, no sugar added, contains the equivalent of 11 teaspoons. Eat your fruit and veggies; don't drink them.

Sports Drinks/Lemonade/Flavored Coconut Water: We all know soda is horrible for us and contributes to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. However, most sweetened beverages are no better. 12oz of lemonade has as much sugar as a can of Coke, roughly 10.5 teaspoons. Drink 12oz of pineapple coconut water and you're consuming the equivalent of 4 tsp. of the white stuff. Even Gatorade and other sport drinks that we often drink during or following a workout contain 9 teaspoons of sugar per 20oz bottle. Unless you're working out intensely for 90 minutes or more, water will do. The electrolytes that sport drinks contain are easily restored with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Sweetened Teas and Coffees: Yes, coffee and tea are incredibly good for us. They contain a host of antioxidants that protect us against chronic disease. But, sweetened varieties of these morning favorites negate the health benefits of our morning ritual. If you start your day off with a grande vanilla Frappuccino you're drinking 17 tsp. of sugar, a grande mocha gives you 9 tsp. and if your preference is a grande chai latte you're consuming 10.5 teaspoons. Drink your teas and coffee unsweetened. If you need to sweeten them slightly, add a tsp. of sugar and a splash of milk or cream. (I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners, see below - if you use them, stick to stevia and use it sparingly.)

Milk Alternatives: Almond, Soy, Coconut or other non-dairy alternatives are all the rage these days. However, a serving of these sweetened beverages can contain an entire day's worth of sugar. If you're lactose intolerant or simply prefer these dairy alternatives, choose unsweetened, calcium-fortified varieties. Vegan and vegetarians that don't eat meat or other animal products should look for brands that also contain B12.

Flavored Yogurt: Plain, unsweetened yogurt can be exceedingly healthy for us but most yogurt, Greek or otherwise, is not. Flavored varieties often contain artificial colors and preservatives as well as artificial sweeteners (sucralose) or loads of sugars. Many don't even contain live cultures that make yogurt so good for us. Take for example, a small container of Fage Honey Greek Yogurt.  It contains the equivalent of 7 tsps. of sugar - similar to a candy bar or Dunkin Donuts jelly donut. Ditto for  Starbucks blueberry and honey parfait. Starting your day off with this popular breakfast food will cause insatiable hunger and cravings not to mention mood swings, fatigue and weight gain. Instead, enjoy plain, Greek yogurt topped with nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit. You can even add whole grains to the mix to make a balanced meal. My favorite is quinoa or Bob's Red Mill Muesli. If plain yogurt simply won't cut it, try Siggi's brand flavored varieties. They contain only 1.5 tsp. of added sugar per container. Finally, if you're feeding your kids Yoplait's Go-Gurt, please reconsider. Each small tube contains 2 tsp. of sugar, preservatives and only 2 grams of protein. A cheese stick is a much better alternative.

Sweetened Nut spreads: Sorry, choosey moms don't choose Jif or Nutella. Many nut butters and nut spreads contain sweeteners and unhealthy oils - for example, the first two ingredients of Nutella is sugar and unhealthy palm oil not hazelnuts as their label might suggest. Read ingredient lists and eat freely, brands of peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower or soy butter that contain just the nut or seed and a little salt. Avoid spreads that contain honey-roasted nuts, palm oils, partially hydrogenated oils, chocolate or jams.

Energy or Protein Bars: Despite lofty health claims, most energy and protein bars are simply glorified candy bars filled with sugar or artificial sweeteners and highly processed forms of protein. Choose a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit instead or if you need a bar to rely on in a pinch, try RX bars. They're made from simple, whole, ingredients like dates, nuts and egg whites.

Sweetened Instant Oatmeal: Single serving packets or store bought flavored oatmeal is loaded with sugar. Avoid it. It's not doing your waistline or your arteries any favors. For example, McDonald's maple and apple oatmeal contains the equivalent of 6.5 tsp. of sugar; Quaker instant maple and brown sugar packets contain 3 tsp. per serving not to mention artificial flavors and preservatives. Instead choose unsweetened, rolled oats or better yet steel cut varieties. Flavor it yourself with fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices.

Cold cuts and processed meats: Leftover turkey or chicken makes a great sandwich or topping for a salad but store bought, sliced meats are loaded with sodium, preservatives, nitrates and often sugar. Most bacon, hot dogs, salami pastrami, jerky, sausage, pepperoni, ham, roast or honey baked turkey and chicken are carcinogenic and should be avoided. Instead stick to low or no sodium, nitrate free varieties of turkey, organic preferred. My favorite deli meat is Whole Foods in-house roast turkey. It's simply a turkey breast roasted with a little sodium and herbs.

Dried Fruit: While dried fruit contains healthy nutrients and fiber, most also contain preservatives and added sugar making it more like candy than fruit. Craisins and dried pineapple are the worst culprits. Sweeten your oatmeal, salads, and yogurt with fresh fruit instead.

Pretzels, Veggie Chips, Rice Cakes and Pita Chips: Often times we think veggie chips (most of which don't contain veggies just veggie powders), no-fat pretzels, pita chips and rice cakes/crackers are healthy snack foods. In fact, these foods are no better for you than corn or potato chips. All are made from processed rice, wheat or corn flours and/or potato starch, which negatively affect our cholesterol, moods, energy, hunger and waistline. Instead choose popcorn (not movie or kettle varieties), Beanitos, Triscuits or 100% whole-wheat pretzels. Better yet, get in the habit of eating veggies and hummus, low-fat string cheese and fruit, or Triscuits and cottage cheese for a snack instead.

Multi grain products: Pasta, cracker, bread, and cereal manufacturers often advertise that their products are made with multi-grains. Many of us assume that this is a good thing. Unfortunately, all this means is that the product contains several types of grains all of which can be processed - a disaster for our waist, heart and overall health. Instead look for products whose first ingredient is a whole grain. Steel cut oats, unsweetened Bob's Red Mill muesli, Triscuits, Dave's Powerseed bread (red label only) and whole-wheat pasta are some of my favorites.

Gluten-Free Snacks: Please do not think gluten-free processed carbs are inherently healthier for you than their wheat containing counterparts. In fact, often times it's just the opposite. The flours used to make GF pretzels, breads, cakes, muffins, cookies and crackers usually contain more processed carbs and less fiber or other nutrients. Unless you have celiac disease or you're highly sensitive to gluten, stick to 100% whole wheat varieties of the above mentioned goodies.

Artificial Sweeteners: Sugar substitutes may be calorie-free, but that doesn't make them good for you. Research continues to suggest that artificial sweeteners can increase your risk for type II diabetes, obesity and heart disease. They also make you crave sugary and processed foods contributing to an intake of excess calories. If you use these sweeteners, slowly cut back on your consumption. For example, instead of putting 2 packets in your coffee, try 1.5 packets for a couple of weeks and so on. Soon enough, as your taste buds adjust, you'll be enjoying your java unsweetened.

What to do?

Eat real, whole food in the form or as close to the form that it exists in nature: for example, black rice not rice cakes, wheat berries not wheat flour, zucchini not zucchini bread and turkey not turkey bacon.
Severely limit, if not avoid, foods made with added sugar or any kind or processed flours such as enriched white or wheat, corn or rice.
Continue to make lemonade ... just don't drink it.

This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice.
About Jean Varney 
Jean Varney is the founder and president of Eat Right, Be Fit, Live Well LLC, a health and nutrition consulting firm committed to empowering men and women to improve their health through sustainable changes to their diet and lifestyle.  Based in the Washington DC metropolitan area, Jean coaches clients nationwide by phone and in person.  She focuses on helping individuals make smart choices about the foods they eat in order to maintain high energy levels, avoid unwanted weight gain and decrease their risk of heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes and other chronic illnesses.  Jean received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.  To learn more about her practice, please visit her website at: