Saturday, December 6, 2014

Quick Tips: Tangerine Season

It's citrus season - the time of year when the juiciest oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins, pomelos, grapefruits and tangerines can be found. The season generally runs through late fall until spring. In addition to having the tastiest citrus fruit this time of year, it is also the cheapest part of the year to buy.

Just-picked Tangerines

Budget tip: buying seasonally usually means you're getting produce at the time of year that it's least expensive.

If your only exposure to fruits and vegetables is a traditional American supermarket, it's difficult to tell what is and is not in season. The best gauge in that situation is to look at prices regularly. As prices on certain items start to dip, that's a good indication that there's a surplus on the market...or the store just needs to get rid of that item. 

At least once a season, I suggest looking online in your area to get a sense of what is truly in-season. In the late spring, summer and early fall, you can also go to farmer's markets to see for yourself and support your local farmers. Another great seasonal way to eat and support local farms is to buy a farm share or sign up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture). The basic idea behind these are to pay money ahead to a farmer, so that they have a sense of what monetary resources they can depend on for the season, and then the farmer gives you a weekly allotment of fresh-from-the ground fruits and vegetables. To learn more about farm shares and CSA, check out the post My First Foray into CSA

Nutrition: 1 large tangerine has about 60 calories, 12 grams of naturally-occurring sugars, 2 grams fiber, 1/2 your daily vitamin C requirement, as well as a small amount of calcium, folate, B vitamins, vitamin A and potassium. 

Radish Enoki Avocado Tangerine Salad - YUM!
Find this gorgeous picture (credit Yunhee Kim) and recipe from the book, Feast, at Serious Eats

Chef tips: These are the easiest to peel citrus fruit! Look for fruit that is slightly heavy for its size with pebbly skin and no deep grooves (i.e. the one in the center of the picture above has deep grooves and if purchasing, you should avoid that one) and no signs of soft spots or mold. Tangerines taste best eaten at room temperature and will last about a week sitting out in a bowl. Refrigerate if you plan to keep them longer, but let them warm to room temperature before eating for the tastiest fruit. 

Tangerines are great for a quick snack or to slice and put in green or fruit salads. Use segments as a garnish. The juice is fantastic in custard desserts, sorbets, cocktails, marinades and quick breads. The zest is also great in quick breads (muffins, scones, pancakes, breads). The peel can be boiled in sugar syrup to candy it. This can be eaten as is or dipped in dark or white chocolate for a decadent treat. Whole tangerine peel is also used in marmalade and in Szechuan cuisine.

*To learn how to zest citrus fruit, check out the end of this post .

Health Research: Tangerines and other citrus fruits contain many anti-oxidants and phytonutrients that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Studies in the last few years have looked at a flavonoid called nobiletin which has been shown in mice to reduce atherosclerosis (plaque and blockages in blood vessels), fatty liver, prevent weight gain and keep blood sugar in the normal range (reduce insulin resistance) compared to mice who where given the same diet and living conditions but no nobiletin. More research is needed in people, but preliminary studies suggest that this compound could play a role in prevention and treatment of breast cancer and liver cancer as well as treatment of depression. Further studies are being conducted on all of the above as well as in Alzheimer's disease.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Vegan-Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu: update with stock recipe

What's on your Thanksgiving menu?

Growing up, I always knew exactly what would be on the table. Everyone was assigned to bring their "usual." There were always hits and misses, both with the food and the level of drama, but everyone ate their fill and was, overall, thankful for spending another year together.

As an adult, traditions and dietary needs have changed. It seems that there's always a vegetarian at the table now and many people want to lighten up the classics. In this spirit, I am reposting last year's Vegan-Vegetarian Holiday Menu which gives some vegetarian main-course options - from stuffed acorn squash to info on widely available faux turkey products - as well as a new take on some of the classics but without the heavy cream sauces, marshmallows and grease. There's also a different recipe for Acorn Squash Stuffed with White Beans and Kale in another post earlier in the month. The sides from the Vegan-Vegetarian Holiday Menu are guaranteed delicious! For your omnivores, now is probably not the time to sub out the turkey or turkey gravy (there will be real and faux turkey at our house this Thanksgiving), but everything else can can be made plant-based and no one will feel like anything is less delicious or decadent than the "usuals."

This year, I will be making some of these items and experimenting with some new recipes...check back after Thanksgiving for the results of those experiments!

In my busy preparation, I decided to try out a new, intriguing vegetable stock recipe. In all honesty, it has been years since I took the time to make vegetable stock. After doing so last night, I am kicking myself for wasted years! The result is a super easy, delicious broth that would be great alone and will definitely elevate the taste of my stuffing, gravy and other dishes needing stock this Thanksgiving. I also made plenty of extra to use in soups and stews throughout the cold months as well.

Pros of homemade stock (versus store-bought):
  • Sodium-free
  • Taste is SO good - no store-bought comparison is available!
  • Less food waste (see below)
  • Can be made for nearly free!
Cons of homemade stock (versus store-bought):
  • Takes planning
  • Requires freezer space for storage

The reason that homemade stock can both reduce food waste and be nearly free is that you can keep a container in your freezer where you put all of your carrot, celery, onion, mushroom, garlic, parsley, thyme, eggplant, sweet pepper, tomato, green and green bean scraps into the container. Once you have enough to make stock you can just dump the contents into a pan, cover with water to 1-inch above the ingredients, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes. To make a good stock great, add some or all of the aromatics shown in the recipe below to your vegetable scraps. Strain out the vegetable scraps, and use the stock in a recipe or portion the stock into containers and freeze for later use. That's it!

Warning: do NOT put broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, starchy vegetables, brussels sprouts, beets, artichokes, asparagus, turnips, rutabagas or corn in stock. These vegetable will either give a strong, "off" taste to the stock or make it very cloudy.

If you want to try a specific recipe for my favorite stock, here you go:

Vegetable Stock

Vegetable Ingredients:
1 medium onion, quartered (no need to remove the skin)
1 large carrot, chopped roughly into 1-inch pieces
The leafy end of a bunch of celery (approximately the top 1/4 of the bunch), roughly chopped
Greens of 3 leeks, washed well (the white parts are used in most recipes, use them for something fancier than stock)
3 cloves garlic, smashed (no need to remove the peel)
3/4-1 ounce mixed dried mushrooms (I used a $1.99 package from Trader Joe's) or 3-4 ounces shiitake mushroom stems (the inedible parts of the mushroom) or other fresh mushroom scraps
1 (4-inch) piece of kombu or kelp, optional (gives body to the stock)

Aromatic Ingredients:
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
1 small handful of parsley stems (or 6 springs of parsely)
1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds or greens from 1 small bulb of fennel (aka. anise)
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

1. Put all ingredients in a large stock pot (at least 1-1/2 gallons). Add water to cover by 1 to 1-1/2 inches.
2. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Turn heat down until stock is at barely a simmer and cooking for 40 minutes.
3. Strain out vegetables and either use stock or portion into containers and freeze for later use.

Yield: 3+ quarts.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A New Project - My Everyday Meals

I was reflecting on this blog/website's content the other day and realized that I wanted to add a parallel project that has a similar flavor, but a slightly different focus.

The Vegan Breakfast Sandwich - want some bagel with those veggies?'s content is meant to teach, in a detailed and easy-to-understand way, about how to cook and eat delicious, healthy food that won't take forever or break the bank and doesn't require a lot of special skills. Another goal is to help people to better understand what a healthy diet is and to dispel nutrition myths. The time that it takes to create each post - cooking, documenting, photographing and/or recording video, writing and editing - is substantial. Best case scenario, I get a post published every week or two.

When it comes to mealtimes, my husband always asks, "are you going to put this on your website?" Generally, because of the time limitation, the answer is no. We both agree that it is a shame that people can't see the delicious plant-based dishes that we eat on a regular basis!

Vietnamese Rice Noodles, Herbs & Vegetables with Spicy Lime Dressing

You see, people frequently ask us, "what can you eat?" This is because I am vegan and my husband is a flexitarian (vegan most meals, fish thrown in a couple times per week, but won't pass up a delicious steak if it's put in front of him) - and we're from the Midwest, raised on meat, potatoes and more cheese than anyone should ever eat. A vegan diet is one in which someone eats no animal products - no milk/dairy products, eggs, meat, fish or poultry. Most people are confused by my food choices knowing how I grew up, that I went to French culinary school and taught traditional cooking methods for years (including some butchery!). They think that I now deprive myself of all of that deliciousness - something they never could/would do.

While, I do occasionally think about the amazing tastes of some of those French classics, I can honestly say that I don't feel the least bit deprived being vegan. To non-vegans, this sounds unbelievable - I know, I've been in your shoes. This is why, I decided to succumb to Instagram and start sharing some of our weeknight meals.

Follow my everyday meals at:

Stir-fried Asian Vegetables with Basil-Lemon Sauce & Fried Cashews

To make sure that I am able to keep this up, I'm just posting the picture and a brief description. No editing, no recipes, no fuss. I am excited to see how it goes! Of course, if you're dying for a recipe, let me know and I'll try to tell you what it is - very little of what I'll post will be from a recipe since I rarely cook by recipes. The recipes that I share on the blog are made by me carefully documenting what I do in the kitchen so I can share with you later (again, lots of time required).

Spicy Yellow Curry with Lemongrass Tofu & Brown Rice

Elephant in the "room": no, I do not expect that everyone will become vegan nor do I proselytize about this to people on the street. I recognize that this is a personal choice that I've made for a variety of reasons - including that vegan is a healthy diet that is very low (compared with most others) in terms of it's stress on the environment and resources required to produce food, it's cholesterol-free and those that eat vegan have the lowest rate of obesity. It has also been shown to be an effective treatment for heart disease and diabetes and lengthens telomeres (aging is associated with shortening of telomeres). When done right, it also provides plenty of all the nutrients you need to stay healthy. If people are interested in learning more about a vegan diet, by all means, let me know and I'll write future posts on the topic!

However, I recognize that these reasons are not important to everyone. What should be important to everyone, though, is being the healthiest, happiest version of yourself you can be. Who doesn't want to add life to their years? Part of this includes eating right. Part of eating right is increasing the number of plant-based foods in your diet - vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes/beans and healthy oils. The goal of this website is to help you do that regardless of your dietary framework. Look for an upcoming post on "What is a healthy diet." This will highlight what a healthy diet is for those with a variety of preferences and restrictions - including omnivore, flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.

Whole Wheat Linguine with Marinara and Basil Flowers, Sautéed Chinese Broccoli with Red Peppers & Toasted Artisan Bread with Garlic Oil

Finally, whether it is about this new project or the website, I would love your feedback (good or bad - I can take it)!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Knife Skills #3: Pomegranates

Pomegranates are one of the superfoods of the moment. This is mainly due to their powerful antioxidant effects.

Pomegranates are being studied for their effects on many conditions including:

- prostate cancer
- nerve damage and lung damage due to chemotherapy
- increasing sperm counts
- preventing infections
- preventing diabetes
- preventing gingivitis
- lowering blood pressure
- sports recovery after a hard workout

...I could go on.

Of course, many of these studies are in animals and use concentrated extracts. Others show real promise in humans by drinking the juice or eating the arils (the little red seeds) alone. More studies are definitely needed before I can give any solid recommendation to use pomegranates for the conditions above. One thing is for sure, though - you've got nothing to lose by adding them to your diet.

Next question: how do you get the edible arils out without squirting red juice everywhere or wrestling  with the fruit in an attempt to peel it?

Check out the video Knife Skills #3: Pomegranates

Try pomegranate arils:
- eat just as they are!
- as a garnish on a salad
- dipped in chocolate to make a bark
- in a smoothie
- on ice cream or frozen yogurt
- on cereal
- on pancakes
- make homemade fruit salsa

Try these ingredients made with pomegranate:
pomegranate molasses: a very tart-sweet syrup, made from concentrated pomegranate juice. It's used most often in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean cuisine.
           - in salad dressing or drizzled over a salad
           - drizzled over soups, grain dishes, hummus/dips, or grilled vegetables and meat
           - great in marinades

pomegranate juice: Pom brand pomegranate juice is ubiquitous in grocery stores now. Beware, though, juice is a concentrated, (natural) sugary beverage that is most healthy used as an ingredient, flavoring in food, sports recovery drink or a rare treat. As a rule, it's generally better to drink water and eat fruit rather than drink fruit juice regularly.
             - in vinaigrette salad dressings
             - in marinades
             - in smoothies or cocktails

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thanksgiving: Acorn Squash Stuffed with White Beans & Kale

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. Focused on family, friends and being thankful - it eschews the commercial focus of so many other holidays. As a chef, of course, I also love that it involves cooking with the bounty of the harvest.

There are definitely a few standbys on my holiday table, but at least half are up for experimentation each year.

(Successful) Experiment #1: Squash sans butter and brown sugar. This recipe is a hearty, savory take on acorn squash that could serve as a main dish for any vegetarians at your table - or a delicious side for everyone else.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with White Beans & Kale

Acorn Squash Stuffed with White Beans & Kale

2 medium acorn squash
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small or medium onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons water*
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes or 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 large bunch of kale or chard, washed and roughly chopped
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
1/2 cup coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs (see Note)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425F.

2. If using, add sundried tomatoes to a small bowl and add just enough boiling water to cover (~1/2 cup). Let rest for 10 minutes or until reconstituted, then finely slice. Keep liquid, you’ll use it later. Alternatively, you can use sundried tomatoes packed in oil. If you do, do not soak them in boiling water, just slice thinly.

3. Cut squash in half (from stem to slightly pointed end). Scoop seeds out with a tablespoon. Cut a small slice off the rounded, green (uncut) sides, to make a base that sits flat when you put them on a pan.

4. Place squash, flesh side up, on a microwave safe dish (generally, only 2 halves at a time will fit in the microwave). Brush exposed yellow-orange flesh with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave 5 minutes. Repeat with other two squash halves. This is just to shorten cooking time. If you prefer, you can cook entirely in the oven, but this will take 1-1/2 hours rather than the 20-30 minutes written below.

5. Transfer partially-cooked squash to baking sheet, flesh side up, and put into oven for 20-30 minutes while you cook the filling. Check to see if they are done with a fork, there should be very little resistance when the flesh is pierced. If there is a lot of resistance, return to oven for 10-15 more minutes and test again.

6. Heat large sauté pan, over medium high heat. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. When warmed, reduce heat to medium and add onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions start to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.

7. If using tomato paste, add now and cook stirring constantly 1 minute. Add kale and tomato soaking liquid, if you have it, or 2 tablespoons water. Season well with salt and pepper. Cook covered, stirring every minute for 3-5 minutes or until kale is tender. Add beans and sundried tomatoes, if using. Stir to combine. Add additional water, 1 tablespoon at at time, if things start to stick to the pan. Cook until beans are heated through (1-2 minutes).

8. In a small bowl, add bread crumbs, 1 Tablespoon of oil and a couple pinches of salt; stir well. Set aside.

9. Fill squash halves will kale mixture. Top with bread crumb mixture.

10. Turn broiler to low. Place baking sheet with stuffed squash under broiler (with ~3-4 inches space from top of squash to broiler) and broil until crumbs start to brown. Watch closely as they can burn quickly.
Finished, just out of the broiler - This is what the crumbs should look like after being toasted.

Serves: 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side.

*If using tomato paste, you will need additional water. You may need a couple of extra tablespoons of water regardless.

Note: I used 2 slices Good Seed bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and pulsed in the food processor until the size of crumbs you see in the picture above. This made a bit more than called for in  the recipe.

A giant bite waiting to be eaten

Nutrition facts for main dish serving (1/2 squash with filling). Calories 430, Fat 12g, Carbs 72g (Fiber 15g, Sugars 3g), Protein 15g, Vit A 429%, Vit C 316%, Calcium 32%, Iron 39%. Sodium depends on the amount of salt you add.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Simple Vegetarian Chili

November. It's undeniably fall, and the weather has turned decidedly chilly. Suddenly, my summer soup hiatus has vanished and nothing sounds better than a thick, hearty stew.

While it seems that most people know how to make chili, following recipes found on the internet often yields mixed results. Many of the recipes are awash with time consuming, complicated steps or have dozens of ingredients. Granted, some of those recipes likely result in an amazing chili, but how often do you have time for hours of preparation?

Simple Vegetarian Chili

The recipe below is a pared down, healthy chili that is quick, cheap and easy to make. If you make it exactly as is, the 1-1/2 gallon recipe (16 servings) will cost $19 (or $1.19/serving). However, using dry beans saves you at least $3 and you save another $4 if you leave out the crimini mushrooms ($2 if you substitute white button mushrooms). That brings this down to a total of $12 (or $0.75/serving).

A note on chili powder: like most of my spices, I get this at Penzey's . The last batch I made was with their medium chili powder, but it was quite spicy (and I love spicy food), so you may want to go with a mild chili powder and serve some sliced jalapeños on the side for those who want to spice it up.

Serving and cooking notes: 

  • The chili pictured above is served with avocado and cilantro. 
  • I also like to top with a few corn chips to add some crunch or serve with a piece of cornbread. 
  • This is a very chunky chili. If you prefer a less chunky chili, cut the squash, onions, mushrooms and peppers smaller. This will also take less time to cook. 
  • If you are in a hurry, you can dump all of the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. This way you have instant, hot dinner when you get home in the evening.
  • You can prepare chili in advance. It tastes better the next day and keeps in the refrigerator for a week. 
  • Portion into individual serving containers that are microwavable for a quick lunch or into family-sized containers for a heat-and-eat dinner.

Simple Vegetarian Chili

¼ cup olive oil
1-1/2 large yellow onions, diced in 1-inch cubes
2 green bell peppers, diced in 1-inch cubes
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 pounds butternut squash or sweet potatoes, diced in 1-inch cubes
8 ounce package crimini mushrooms, diced in 1-inch cubes
4 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-28 ounce can tomato puree
1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans small red beans, drained and rinsed
½-1 can filled with water
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a 2 gallon pot over medium high heat. Add onions, peppers and garlic, cook covered, stirring regularly for 3 minutes.

2. Add squash and mushrooms and season with ½ teaspoon of salt (if using) and freshly ground black pepper. Cover pot and cook, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes.

3. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir to coat vegetables. Add both cans of tomatoes, all of the beans and enough water to make chili the thickness you like.

4. Stirring frequently, bring chili to a simmer over medium heat. Then, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until squash is fork tender.

5. Serve.

Makes 1-1/2 gallons (16 1.5 cups servings)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Radio Interview WSRQ, Part 2 - Tips for making healthy lifestyle changes

Recently, I was interviewed about how to make healthy lifestyle changes on Health Check with Heidi Godman.

Check out the post from October, 19, 2014 for Part 1 of the interview, or jump right in by clicking here to listen to Part 2. 

Courtesy of Harvard School of Public Health's Nutrition Source:

Heidi: Welcome back to health check, I’m Heidi Godman. If you’re just tuning in my guest is Dr. Michelle Hauser who is an internist at Stanford University focusing on heart disease prevention and she also went to culinary school, so she has a great perspective on this we’ve been talking about the importance of a healthy diet on your health.

Listen to learn more about:

- Difference between a diet and a lifestyle change
- Tips on successfully making lifestyle changes
- Tips to make healthy changes when you don’t have a lot of money
- How much exercise should you be getting?
- What is the healthiest diet?
- Simple changes you make to make your diet healthier
- How much alcohol can you have and still be healthy?
- Will I be hungry all the time if I eat healthy?
- Tips to control portion sizes

- Tips to make snacks healthier

(Note: there is no transcript for this part, follow the link about to listen to the audio)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Radio Interview on WSRQ, Part 1 - Sugar, salt, fat and weight control

Recently, I was interviewed about risk factors for heart disease and diabetes on Health Check with Heidi Godman.

Here is a link is to Part 1 of the interview - Click to here to Listen or Read Transcript below.

Oil, Salt, Sugar*

10/8/2014 -- Transcript:

Heidi: Welcome to Health Check, I’m Heidi Godman. You know doctors are always telling us to eat a healthy diet and that sounds fine until you’re trying to figure out how to make your dinner taste great, too. But, we have some help for you today. Dr. Michelle Hauser is an internist who also went to culinary school and she joins us now from Stanford University.

Michelle: Hi, Heidi. How are you?

Heidi: I'm great! I'm glad you're here. I interviewed you when you were at Harvard University and we did a number of nutrition stories together when you were at the medical school. Oh wait, it was your residency, right, when you were at Harvard Medical School?

Michelle: Yes, that's right we first met when I was in residency.

Heidi: Okay, so you just going to Stanford. Tell us what you're doing.

Michelle: Okay, so now that I'm done with my internal medicine residency, and I'm feeling like a real doctor with a license and whatnot…

Heidi: Yes, congratulations.

Michelle: Thank you. I'm doing a postdoctoral research fellowship where I am basically studying the effects of healthy lifestyle change on disease prevention like diabetes and heart disease.

Heidi: Well, that's very interesting. So, what is it that you are hoping to do with the rest of your career?

Michelle: For the rest of my career, I'm hoping to have a mix of doing the sort of research that I just mentioned, seeing patients in an academic medical center where I'm able to teach med students and residents, and hopefully take what I've learned from research and help change public-policy to help make it easier to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Heidi: Fantastic, and I know you also have that policy background. Tell us about that.

Michelle: Oh, so while I was in the middle of med school, quite a few years ago now, I went to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and got a degree which focused on public policy and public administration.

Heidi: Fantastic. You are so well-rounded and you have this wonderful approach -also made even more wonderful because you went to culinary school. In fact, you went there long before you went to medical school, right?

Michelle: Yes, definitely.

Heidi: Tell us about that. Why did you go to culinary school?

Michelle: That was about 15 years ago, now. Oh my gosh. And, I went there because I - it's a longer story than we have time for today, but the gist of it is that I grew up in a pretty poor family and no one had a lot of faith that I would really end up being a doctor. I was trying to find my second passion to focus on so I ended up going to culinary school because I thought that would be what I would do with my life. Now, I guess I'm still doing something with it. But, I decided I would try out the medicine and that’s working out okay.

Heidi: Yeah, I think you've done very, very well. Congratulations on all of your success so far. So this nutrition approach, I know gives you a really great perspective on treating all kinds of diseases - especially heart disease which is what you're focusing on now. Tell us about that perspective.

Michelle: So, that perspective really stems initially from some personal changes that I made. That is, when I was growing up I had some extra weight and was doing all the unhealthy things that we talk about. I was drinking a lot of soda, eating a lot of fried and fast foods. When I made the changes in my life, when I learned what they were and figured out ways to do them, I just feel like a totally new person. So, while I was in my premed classes, I was also teaching at a culinary school. At that time, I started researching nutrition on my own. My students at the culinary school would ask a lot of questions about what they could do to make something healthier.  After awhile, their family members started telling me stories about how they didn't have to be on a blood pressure medicine or that they were off insulin - or they cut down their insulin - for their diabetes, or were off anti-depressants. I think I was really hooked for the long term at that point on. When I really realized I could make a big difference if I focus on healthy lifestyle changes.

Heidi: Incredible. Well, what about the mistakes that people have been making that you've noticed. Have you been able to help them change their diet, change what they’re eating? But what is it that they were doing that wasn't right?

Michelle: There are quite a few things, and I mean we really pay people a disservice by focusing on people not having enough "willpower.” But, it's really over the years as we've grown more obese and overweight as a nation that the food environment has really changed. The things that are easiest to eat and easiest to make are the things that tend to be the least healthy for us. They also tend to be less expensive because of the way we subsidize our food in this country. So, you know, things like sugar sweetened beverages – which are sodas and juices - fast food, fried food and basically anything that's really far away from how it started out when it grew from the ground. Things like cookies and things that come in boxes and packages in the store.

Heidi: Things that are very processed.

Michelle: Very processed, yes.

Heidi: Well, I do want to talk about some of the consequences of eating this food because we know, generally speaking, it's bad for us. But, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. So, you mentioned sugar sweetened beverages. The statistics on how much added sugar people are eating everyday are very disturbing. So, let's talk about sugar and what it can do to our bodies. Why is too much sugar not a good thing?

Michelle: So, the biggest risk of too much sugar - and I think you made a good point that the sugar were talking about is added sugar. So, I'm not telling anyone they should be cutting out fruit or sugars that are naturally occurring. That's a separate issue. Added sugars, we don't actually need any to survive and they do present an increased risk of diabetes and weight gain. And the weight gain plays into the risk of diabetes and also into heart disease and other risk factors that go along with that like high blood pressure.

Heidi: What is it about sugar when it gets into the bloodstream? I know it's making high blood sugar, and what else is it doing physiologically to us?

Michelle: So, when we eat added sugars what happens is that an organ, kind of right where you would point to your “stomach” if you said, “oh, you know, I'm really hungry,” is an organ called the pancreas which makes our natural insulin. When we have a bunch of sugar, it will spit out a bunch of insulin - usually more than you would really need to digest and use that sugar. What happens then is that after your blood sugar goes up really high, that extra insulin makes it go down really low, really fast. What that does is it makes you hungry right away, as soon as your blood sugar gets low, even though you didn't do enough work for burn off enough calories to take care of whatever it was you just ate. It's a vicious cycle.

Heidi: Sure.

Michelle: You don't have enough willpower to fight that. It’s a thing that’s been there as long as we've been humans. We can't really fight it.

Heidi: And sugar is also linked to inflammation and diabetes and heart disease and there was a big study that just talked about the link between added sugar and heart disease. So yeah, added sugar - you definitely want to avoid that. What about the consequences of fat? Fat, I think, it's a very confusing topic. Some fat, the unsaturated fats, are good for us in a limited amount. Of the saturated fat, the trans fat, what are the problems with those?

Michelle: Right. As you said, fats are a complicated thing. There are a lot of experts who are very well respected who will say low-fat diets, or higher fat - as long as they are good fats - are fine. So where everyone agrees, I think, is that we should be cutting out trans fat as much as possible. The government says that we should get less than 1 g per day. But, really, if you get none, that would be best. That's because trans fats cause our bad cholesterol to go up and our good cholesterol to go down. It has the worst effect of any type of fat on our cholesterol. That means, I think that one of the statistics was, 200,000 heart attacks and deaths could be avoided, at the peak of our trans fat consumption, if we cut trans fat out of our diets. It really  leads to a lot of cholesterol problems. Where you get trans fat in your diet is mainly hydrogenated vegetable oils. There's a little bit naturally-occurring in beef and red meat and dairy fats. But I think the jury is out for little bit on whether or not those are quite as bad as the ones that are artificially made with the vegetable oils.

Heidi: Right, right, and what about the saturated fat? Because, because you're mentioning beef and things like that which, of course, are full of saturated fat.

Michelle: So, saturated fat. So, we know saturated fat, it's found in things like meat and dairy products, like butter and cheese, and fast foods and desserts, that puts us at increased risk of things like heart disease, bad cholesterol going up, and what not. But, it's not as bad for you as trans fat, and, I think, the studies really give a complicated picture. The way that I read through them is that it's good to cut out saturated fat - if you replace it with how the fat with fruits and vegetables. But, if you just replace the saturated fat with things like added sugars and a lot of processed food, it actually makes you less healthy. So, you really have to be careful when you cut out saturated fat, what you're putting your diet to replace it.

Heidi: Excellent point. And I think a lot of people don't think about that. They just think, “oh, I'm getting rid of this one thing and now I can fill it with all this other stuff.” So, very good to bring that up. Then we should also mention salt, sodium. So many foods have it - restaurant food and so many different things – but salt is also a risk for high blood pressure and our heart. Tell us about that.

Michelle: The thing is with salt is that we eat about 1 1/2 to 2 times twice as much as we should per day. And, that is, when we say how much we should eat, it's actually a maximum of what we should eat. So, we actually need a very, very tiny portion of what we take in to actually survive, because we need a little. I don't think there's anyone out there that has to be concerned about getting enough salt - unless you're a marathon runner or some sort of really elite athlete. The main problem with salt is that it raises blood pressure, and for some people it raises blood pressure a lot and for some people it doesn't have quite as much of an affect. The tricky part is just that testing it out on yourself you don't really know whether or not you're one of those people that it affects a lot or little. So, anyone that has high blood pressure would really benefit from trying to cut out - even if it's for a short time, as much as they can and really get the level down low to see if their blood pressure improves. If it doesn't improve that much, they should still stick to the recommended amount, but, you know, maybe they need to look elsewhere, like weight loss and exercise and what not to get at lifestyle factors that affect their blood pressure.

Heidi: Yes and weight-loss and weight control, at least, we should say has a huge impact on good health. Tell us about that.

Michelle: Yes, weight control is one the most important things we can do, because a lot of the risk factors that we talked about before really are tied to, and you can't separate them from, weight control. Because a lot of bad habits and things that we do to ourselves travel together. Many of them lead to increased weight, so if you're gaining weight, or you're quite overweight or obese, then you're a much higher risk of not only heart disease and stroke, but diabetes, cancer, worsening arthritis for sure, infertility - which a lot of people don't think about - and a lot of problems with sleep, like sleep apnea. Then, when you don't get enough sleep, or enough good sleep, it actually makes you hungrier and you eat more and that's also a vicious cycle. So, it's very important.

Heidi: Alright, well these are all excellent points, and now we want to find out what to do about it, but we need to take a quick break. So, everybody don't go away. More with Dr. Michelle Hauser from Stanford in just a minute. You're listening to Health Check with Heidi Godman on WSRQ.

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