- Gluten-Free Foods – For some crazy reason, people are slightly confused. If you have a gluten-free diet, this can be a great thing for your health, particularly if you suffer from exposure to gluten. However, if you consume lots of gluten-free foods, this is not particularly healthy. Gluten-free foods are filled with refined and processed ingredients, such as rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and more. These ingredients are not only highly glycemic, but also, highly refined — that is they have none of the original fiber and lack many important nutrients. I often recommend a gluten-free diet for patients, but my guidance includes recommendations for lots of fruits and veggies, protein, and good fats. The use of gluten-free products is helpful as a substitution for patients who are missing a particular food and to ease the transition, especially for kids, but the hope is that eventually patients will not come to rely so heavily on these foods.
- Roasted Nuts – Nuts are in fact a healthy snack loaded with protein and good fats, but once they are roasted, the fat in the nuts can potentially become rancid. These rancid fats produce free radicals and oxidative damage in tissues; so it is a little like one step forward and two steps back. Choose raw nuts, and it’s okay to have some salt on them, unless you struggle with hypertension.
- Cooking with Olive Oil – Did you know that at relatively low cooking temperatures olive oil becomes an oxidized fat? Oxidation of anything turns it into a free radical, which causes oxidative damage to cells– that is, these compounds can damage DNA, trigger inflammation, and more. Olive oil is best used uncooked drizzled over salads, rice dishes, and breads. Ideally, olive oil should not be heated. Instead, choose other healthy oils that are safe at high temperatures, such as butter, ghee, avocado oil, sesame oil, almond oil, and coconut oil.
- Bars – In fact, most bars are loaded with sugar and can even rival a candy bar in terms of the sugar and carbohydrate content. It is so easy in our grab-and-go culture to be falsely led into thinking that just because you buy these bars at Whole Foods or some other ‘health food store’ that they are good additions to our diets. Avoid the temptation to grab something just to take the edge off of your hunger because in the end you will likely still be looking for something to eat. My recommendation to patients is to carry food with you. My purse often resembles a fruit bowl. I carry apples because they can take abuse in the bag and still be edible compared to a banana or peach. Chopped organic red peppers and carrots will get you through to your next meal, and a bag of nuts in the glove box will help you make a better decision at the meal table because your blood sugar will not be too low.
- Agave – I am often the last one on the bus. I mean, the agave craze hit, and I wondered “why is everyone so excited about agave?” It started showing up in coffee shops right next to sugar and honey. It is highly refined, and recent information about how it is processed reveals that there are high levels of mercury in agave. Because of its refined nature and its high glycemic index (i.e., how quickly it gets into your blood stream), I see little benefit of agave over straight up sugar. In fact, it’s worse on the glycemic index than sugar due to the extremely high fructose content. It contains higher fructose than high fructose corn syrup! Not only that, why would you trade agave for honey? Honey is made by bees, requires NO processing, and has no additives. It’s nature’s perfect sweetener. Additionally, honey often benefits your immune response to local plants and trees, if you are allergic, by quieting the hyper immune response when exposed. One could argue that our bees are in trouble and that they can’t possibly make enough honey to keep up with the demand, but to me, adding something far inferior to our diet is not ideal either.
- Fat-Free Foods – There are still many people who have leftover attachment to the ‘FAT-FREE’ craze of the late 80’s and early 90’s. It still takes some un-doing in an appointment with a patient who doesn’t quite believe me that fat does not make you fat. I usually have to swear up and down that they will not get fat if they add a handful of nuts as a snack in their diet. In fact, fat is essential for making you feel satiated, keeping your blood sugar stable, and for the enjoyable palatable experience of eating food. Why would we not want that!? I will agree that if you eat a wheel of brie cheese every day you might put a few pounds on. But, the addition of healthy fats to your diet in moderation will help you lose weight because you will not be looking for carbs to fill up on when your blood sugar tanks. I promise.
I’m always on a quest to help patients make better choices in their daily lives. It takes some concerted effort to change behaviors, but with a little planning and preparation, you can make it through your day having made excellent dietary choices. The result? Feeling better all day long.