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5 Substitutes for Pasta | Healthy Recipes

5 Substitutes for PastaThe primary crux of my practice as a nutritionist is transitioning people away from processed foods. Like most people, I grew up on a staple of casseroles, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and the like. Pasta is by far one of the more processed foods, predominantly made from the starch of a grain. Even when you buy‘whole wheat’ pasta, it wouldn’t hold together without a significant ratio of that fine, white starch.

Nobody wants to give up flavor … and old habits are hard to break, but here are five delicious alternatives that will not only increase the nutritional value of your meal, but help make eating gluten-free cheaper!


One of my favorite recipes using cauliflower as a substitute for pasta is my Smoked Mac-n-Cheese. Using chopped cauliflower (steamed and well drained) and about half as much white rice for ‘mouth feel’, I create a base for an American favorite that even the kid’s love. I happen to love smoked cheeses, but you can get creative here (– just try to refrain from the Velveeta please!). Mix up a batch of cheese sauce and pour it over your cauliflower mixture. Place it all in a casserole dish and garnish. (I use green onions and bacon for my garnish) Heat at 350 until it bubbles. Don’t worry, there won’t be any leftovers.

Mung Bean Sprouts

In my house, soup is a huge staple and we occasionally fall back on some old standards like “Chicken and Noodle” and the likes. In this case, I use mung bean sprouts as a replacement for the egg noodles. It never fails and I am always so thrilled with how amazingly the sprouts complement my soup. This one is just way too easy.

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is like the string cheese of squash. When it is cooked, you can pull it out of its shell in strands that look a little like orange angel-hair pasta. The biggest difference between squash and pasta – aside from the nutritional value – is how light and fresh it feels in your dish. You can even crisp it back up if you place the strands in a bowl of cold water directly after removing the strands from the skin.

You can use spaghetti squash as a bed for just about anything: stir-fry, pasta sauce, 101 Asian dishes… you get the picture.


My first exposure to using zucchini as a replacement for noodles was in zucchini lasagna. Here, you take your zucchinis and slice them thin length-wise. You have to dry them out by laying them on a towel (or paper towel) and sprinkle with salt to draw the water out. Then just use them exactly the way you would use the lasagna noodles. This too adds a beautiful flavor to a traditional dish that won’t disappoint. It will also leave you feeling much less heavy than the traditional version.

You can also prepare zucchini in long thin strips for a different texture in salads and main dishes.

Brown Rice

I should really say “whole grain rice” here because there are about 90 varieties of rice and not all of them are ‘brown’. I strongly encourage you to explore the wonderful world of rice, but don’t get too dependent. Diversity and moderation is key.

Rice makes great casseroles and works well as a bed upon which to layer your favorite sauces, vegetables, and meats. You also can mix it up a little by mixing some of the other alternatives into your rice … kind of like a ‘dirty’ rice. This helps keep the portion of rice down just a bit.

Rolled Oats (Bonus!)

Rolled oats are still a whole grain in most cases. You can get oats rolled like what you are used to in the traditional Quaker box; quick oats – which are just really fine flakes of rolled oats; and, thick rolled oats. Just like pasta, the density of the oat affects the texture of the dish.

I use rolled oats as a substitute in my ‘Tuna-noodle Casserole”. You’ll be amazed at how tasty this is for sure. Growing up, we made this with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. I don’t use that anymore either.

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Diet and Exercise… Will Never Cure the Obesity Epidemic

After years of proclaiming that “diet is 85% of the game”, this title might leave you thinking that I have just fallen off the turnip truck. But if you sit with me for a few minutes, I will explain why I believe that the current protocol for addressing obesity is doomed to failure.

Diet and exercise: there are two distinct problems in this equation. The first one comes from the inherent limitations of language and misunderstandings around the word ‘Diet’. Secondly, we have adopted a view of physical fitness that does not reach the vast majority of the population. Throw both of those into a solution for combating obesity related degenerative diseases, and the byproduct is a catastrophic fiasco. Does that mean that you should just resign yourself to ‘genetics’ and a future predetermined by forces out of your control? Of course not! Let’s break it all down for a better understanding of what-fails-where, and then we can look at a better solution.

The dictionary definition of the word ‘diet’ does not vary much. Merriam-Webster describes diet as:
a. food and drink regularly provided or consumed
b. habitual nourishment
c. the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason, and
d. a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight.

In our current culture, D-I-E-T is a four-letter word in every sense. Nobody likes being on a diet. When people talk about diets today, it is almost always in reference to that last definition. Being on a diet is all about denial, limitations, bland foods, and becoming a bit of a social outcast. Dieting has become synonymous with a collection of aberrant prescriptions outlining good and bad foods. Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and a host of other diets over the decades claim to be the ideal solution for health and weight maintenance.

The real problem is that nobody eats this way as a natural course, so diets are always temporary. That means that eventually, you are going to be back in the same predicament debating which ‘diet’ to put yourself on next to help you lose the extra weight. And, that extra weight will return given that scientific studies show that when individuals diet to lose weight, they rebound by gaining all of the weight lost plus additional weight when they return to a ‘normal’ diet. This is a direct response to the traditional calorie restricted diet.

Focusing solely on calories, or calorie restriction, also affects the thousands of micro and phytonutrients in our food chain. Weight gain after dieting is the byproduct of nutrient depletion and the body’s need to replenish those nutrient stores. In addition to your immediate needs, you necessarily have to consume in excess to create stores — hence, the yo-yo effect.

Now lets talk about exercise.

From the perspective of language, “exercise” has a lengthy history as well. I used to say that before all of the big-box gyms started popping into our culture, exercise was called “work”. That is true to a point, but in fact, exercise goes back at least as far as soldiers have been preparing for battle.

Another angle on exercise is the concept of “play”. Children inherently use play to develop strength, muscle coordination, and strategy … as is true throughout the animal kingdom as well. The problem with play is that we inherently grow out of it. This is in part due to adult responsibilities such as work, and in other part due to the increased risk of injury. So if we look at the statistics for our youth, we can use this data as an upper limit for physical activity among US adults.

Diet and Exercise… Will Never Cure the Obesity EpidemicThe Physical Activity Council (PAC) has published their participation statistics among US youth ages 6 and above in sports, fitness, and recreation.# They track 119 sports and physical activities. People considered inactive are those who do not engage in one or more of those 119 activities. Substantiating our earlier assumption, the following inactivity rate graph published by PAC displays inactivity trends related to age groups.

The University of Chicago Divinity School published similar data utilizing participation rates among US individuals ages 18 and above.# Their analysis of survey data from 2003-2005 showed that approximately 25% of American adults participated in any sport, exercise, or recreational activity on a random day. Referring back to the PAC study, we also know that inactivity rates among adults have increased over the last three years by nearly 8%.

Summing it all up, we see that our contemporary definition of a diet necessitates a vicious cycle of malnourishment if not outright failure. Roughly 45 million Americans spend 33 billion dollars on weight loss products, yet nearly 70% of the US population is at least overweight. Additionally, on any given day of the week roughly 75% of the American population is not motivated to engage in any type of sport, exercise, or recreational activity. As people gain excess weight, the likelihood of inspiring physical activity of any sort declines. I think it is overwhelmingly safe to say that the “Diet and Exercise” message has missed its target market outside of sponsoring a thriving diet industry.


Lets go back to the beginning and look at a simple breakdown.

We started by pinpointing a problem with the popular definition of the word diet. Shifting our focus from definition ‘d’ to definition ‘b: habitual nourishment” is the first step towards setting the right equation. Habitual Nourishment implies nothing about punishment, drudgery, tasteless, or unnatural protocols. Now the concept of a diet is about lifestyle. Developing habitual behaviors around eating sets the stage for consistent outcomes. It is also easier to make small changes that result in sustainable outcomes. Dieting is now about a dynamic relationship between foods, your health, and you.

  1. http://www.physicalactivitycouncil.com/PDFs/2012PacReport.pdf
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19211953

The culture of physical activity is presently wrapped too tightly around athletics. Honestly, not everyone wants to spend precious hours in a gym watching television from a treadmill. It is also true that a significant percentage of the population does not get into team sports. Our message over the last few decades has been that in order to be fit, one needs to become an athlete. Changing our perception around exercise towards ‘physical activity’ allows for the separation. Physical activity encompasses household chores, family outings, leisure activities, and a wide array of other possibilities. Just getting people to park the car and walk in for their coffee is a significant improvement over the drive-thru. There is so much more to physical activity than high-intensity training. The first step is to allow the largest possible population to engage in ways that compliment their interests and needs. Although this does not in any way negate the activities of athletes and weekend warriors, the goal is health rather than marathons.

Diet and Exercise as we view it today will never produce results different that what we are already seeing. This article presents a strong argument around culture and the implications of language. Our relationship with food and physical activity IS THE KEY to reversing the obesity epidemic.

“Diet is king, exercise is queen, but put them together and they make a Kingdom.”
Jack LaLane

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Sporting events, Sports Heroes, Cheating…is it All About Winning?

Sporting events, sports heroes and cheating is in the news all the lately because of the Lance Armstrong and Penn State controversy. Not only that look at the NFL story about the Saints and the coach being suspended.

Have we lost our way in sports … life, is wrong the new right?

Sporting events, Sports Heroes, Cheating…is it All About Winning? This article started out a commentary about cheating and sports but the more thinking and research I did the more I thought about how all of this goes deeper. It’s not just the fall of Lance Armstrong or the fact that the beloved Joe Paterno and most of his Penn State staff failed to stop something they all knew was wrong. My question is what the motivating factor is for making those choices that they knew were wrong. Choices they knew at some point would most likely have fallout. Their choices caused harm to either themselves or others.

Sports are important to us, not just Americans but all countries love their sports heroes. In February of this year 79 people were killed in a soccer riot in Egypt. What’s even worse is sporting events are the leading cause of riots … really? Why? Aren’t they supposed to be fun relaxing events? How did fun and relaxing become deadly? What is it about sports and sporting events that cause normal humans to behave like they are fighting for their lives? I have a few thoughts.

First of all there is tribalism. We are fundamentally social creatures, and in a time of social turmoil, humans take great comfort in the support of that. Anyone that has spent any time on a team or in a group of human beings can see how we bond as a group and will even do battle with other groups that threaten our group. This happens even if we barely know the people in our group. I saw this happen on the Inca Trail in Peru. At one of the ruin sites another group yelled at one of our group members for accidentally walking through their meditation group. Every person in our group was ready to rumble to protect our group mate. The funny thing is most of us didn’t know each other well. Yet 2 days on the Inca Trail made us a tribe willing to fight for one another.

In his book The Social Conquest of Earth, legendary sociobiologist E.O. Wilson argues that it is mankind’s predilection for forming altruistic groups that has allowed our species to wipe out all the other upright-walking apes and dominate the planet. While this once helped our ancestors form effective groups of hunters and warriors, today it plays out in our passionate and utterly arbitrary devotion to sports teams. Sports and sports heroes speak to us about strength, speed and endurance we will never have. Perhaps they even speak at a deeper level of survival, a safe showing of epic battles that our comfortable lives will never touch. Perhaps the willingness to let things slide and do things that are wrong are all about that primal urge to survive at all costs. Or…maybe it’s just about simply winning.

Bad behavior in our culture extends beyond sports. Let’s take for example the fascination with Toddlers and Tiara’s Alana Thompson also known as Honey Boo Boo. She first came to my attention when the media posted that her mother gave her 6 year old a combination of Red Bull and Mountain Dew, a combination she called Go Go Juice. The thought that a mother could so compromise her child’s future health with such a toxic concoction of kiddie speed just floors me. Her mother does this so she could give a hopped up stage performance. Is this really cheating? No, but is it in the best interest of the child, I don’t think so. Is it about winning or even better getting that ever valuable 15 minutes of fame? Maybe it’s not about winning but just getting famous.

I have to admit my guilty pleasure does include a little bit of reality TV. I have watched Survivor from the first show. Unfortunately Survivor has opened the door to a genre of TV that promotes insanity over talent. I am still mystified that I even know who the Kardashians are. They should be no more famous than the fact that Robert Kardashian was one of the defense attorneys in one of the best crash and burns of a sports hero of all time. Shall we talk about OJ?

Corporate Wellness Programs
Corporate Wellness Programs FREE EvaluationResearching Corporate Wellness Programs?

The FitNuts are in the field RIGHT NOW helping companies develop and increase participation in their corporate wellness programs.

Using a comprehensive planning formula, we make sure that your employees have effective options for exercise, eating and mindset! If you would like to find out more, check out our FREE 2 Hour Corporate Wellness Evaluation offer!
Corporate Wellness Programs

The Role of Corporate Wellness in Health Care Reform Uncertainty

Regardless of where you stand on the topic of presidential candidates; how you may feel about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) – otherwise known as ‘Obamacare’ – the undeniable reality is that things are changing. In fact, things could change a lot.

The Role of Corporate Wellness in Health Care Reform UncertaintyOur current administration has determined that the number of uninsured Americans is a significant variable in the battle against rising health care costs. In order to curb the numbers of uninsured people, the states are tasked with creating Health Exchanges (HE).

Although these changes feel like a different health care ‘system’, the providers are familiar insurance carriers we have seen in the old system. The federal government is helping with funding needed to create these exchanges and the online tools required to house the HE program.

But beyond that, the way things are going to play out is up for debate. Officials in Washington D.C. recently voted – and unanimously approved – closure of the private insurance marketplace for both individuals and small businesses. These individuals and small businesses would be required to purchase insurance through the DC Health Exchange as of 2014. This ruling would also affect neighboring states, such as Maryland and Virginia.

Here in Colorado, the HE will be a government run entity expected to be in place no later than January 1, 2014. Individuals, families and businesses with fewer than 100 employees can buy insurance through the state based exchanges. The Affordable Care Act hopes to lower health care costs for Colorado families and small businesses, potentially reducing the cost of family health insurance premiums by $1,510 – $2,160.

If you were to look into coverage under the HE, you would be able to compare policies from all the major insurance carriers you are familiar with today. Anthem, United Health One, Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, PacifiCare, Assurant Health, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, and Humana are presently among the providers serving the Colorado population under the HE program.

So even though the face of health care isn’t changing in ways we might think of a government run health care system, big changes are on the horizon. Health care costs are continuing to rise. Businesses are faced with offloading more of that increased cost onto the employee, and insurance providers are raising rates through premium ‘incentives’ and price trends, which are steady at around 7 – 7.5% per year for the last few years.

Some businesses are even considering getting out of the insurance benefits all together. The bottom line for both business and the individual consumer is that the trends are unsustainable. We will quickly reach a point where providing health benefits to employees as a large or small business will kill the company, and likewise, the amount of take-home pay for the average middle-class employee will become insufficient to cover the cost of premiums in lieu of all the other living expenses. If predictions hold, a family of four will spend around $64,000 annually on health care in the next seven to nine years.

We cannot look to the health care system as we know it to fix these trends in rising health care costs. From a business perspective alone, the health care industry is labeled as a ‘High Growth Industry’ by the US Department of Labor. It is a system built on ‘sick care’ and in the long run, these costs will bury American business and the American employee.

“No company will be successful in the global marketplace without healthy and productive people. If we don’t do it, someone else in the world will and our competitive advantage and our way of life will be lost.”
- Dr. Dee Edington

Employers are taking different approaches to managing escalating health care costs:

  • Switch providers
  • Eliminate benefits
  • Formally limit employee benefits
  • Shift costs of benefits to employees
  • Create incentives to voluntarily limit employee health spending through HSA’s, etc
  • Become part of a purchasing coalition
  • Provide disease management services
  • Expand benefit coverage to include preventive services
  • Establish a comprehensive wellness program

“Switching providers is like reorganizing the deck chairs on the Titanic” 
– Dr. David Hunnicut, president of WELCOA

Corporate Wellness programs are sustainable and effective in combating the costs of unhealthy employee populations.

Chronic disease is the most costly and the most preventable health care expense. What we know to be true in all cases is that an increase in the number of health risks directly translates to higher medical care expenses. We also know that a well-designed worksite wellness program typically pays for itself in the savings generated in reduced chronic ‘sick care’, and often generates a surplus beyond the cost of a wellness program.

Additionally, the primary difference between ‘sick-care’ and wellness behavior change is the simple fact that we are addressing the root of the problem instead of making the symptoms of the disease more comfortable to live with.

Let’s look at a simple example of how it might work:

The Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) did a study showing the difference in projected medical expenses for individuals classified as “high-risk” compared to those classified as “low-risk” as they relate to specific chronic diseases.

Comprehensive Wellness Programs Risk

If we look at the high-risk population alone, we can calculate a return on investment (ROI) by identifying the prevalence at baseline and either target (forecasting) or measure change as part of program implementation. The sample below is from a large employee population where prevalence denotes the number of employees diagnosed with the specific chronic condition. ‘# Change’ is the number of those employees who went from a high-risk classification to low-risk. We restate the risk difference calculated in Figure 1, followed by the savings as a simple multiple of the risk difference.

Corporate Wellness Programs Risk Assessment

So you have to be asking, “What qualifies as a comprehensive wellness program?”

This is where the soup gets a little murky. Comprehensive wellness programs defined in theory are:

“…those that provide ongoing, integrated programs of health promotion and disease management that integrates specific components into a coherent, ongoing program, which is consistent with corporate objectives and includes program evaluation of clinical and/or cost outcomes.” – Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, MD

WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks of a comprehensive wellness program offer more clarity as we develop any new or renewing wellness plan. These seven benchmarks are by far the absolute must-haves for any wellness program targeting health outcomes.

  1. Capture Senior Level Support
  2. Create Cohesive Teams
  3. Collect Data
  4. Craft an Operating Plan
  5. Choose Appropriate Interventions
  6. Create Supportive Environments
  7. Carefully Evaluate Outcomes

Our experience at FitNut concurs with the WELCOA formula. The absence of any one of these benchmarks can derail even the best wellness program design. Wellness programs are the best solution to combat our health care crisis, but it takes genuine effort, planning, and design. You cannot expect to throw the food pyramid and a couple of fitness classes at your employees and expect change. A comprehensive program addresses worksite culture, leadership, dedicated vision, and measurability. We cannot expect to continue doing things the same and expect different results. The medical industry is not going to save the American business industry.

Change is coming. Get in front of the movement or you might just get run over.

Corporate Wellness Programs
Corporate Wellness Programs FREE EvaluationResearching Corporate Wellness Programs?

The FitNuts are in the field RIGHT NOW helping companies develop and increase participation in their corporate wellness programs.

Using a comprehensive planning formula, we make sure that your employees have effective options for exercise, eating and mindset! If you would like to find out more, check out our FREE 2 Hour Corporate Wellness Evaluation offer!

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Gave Up Your Wild Party Habits, But Still Killing All The Brain Cells?

Think you are beyond your wild party days? Not if you are still drinking diet sodas such as Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Snapple, and Sugar-Free Kool Aid (or any of the thousands of other products that contain aspartame).

Gave up Your Wild Party Habits, but Still Killing all the Brain Cells? | aspartameAspartame is a known excitotoxin. Excitoxins (glutamate, aspartate, cysteine) kill brain cells through a mechanism which causes the cells to fire repeatedly until they self destruct.

Aspartame is best known by the brand names NutraSweet, Equal, Sweet One and Spoonful. Aspartame is a synthetic chemical combination which is comprised of approximately 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methanol. Aspartame is found in thousands of foods, drinks, candy, gum, vitamins, health supplements and even pharmaceuticals.

Each of the three ingredients in Aspartame poses its own dangers and each is well documented as causing a long list of side effects and dangerous health conditions. Watch for the ingredient Acesulfame Potassium, which is just another name for Aspartame.

Phenylalanine: Even a single use of Aspartame raises the blood phenylalanine levels. High blood phenylalanine can be concentrated in parts of the brain and is especially dangerous for infants and fetuses. Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain cause serotonin levels to decrease, leading to emotional disorders like depression.

Aspartic Acid: Aspartic acid is considered an excito-toxin, which means it over stimulates certain neurons in the body until they die. Much like nitrates and MSG, aspartic acid can cause amino acid imbalances in the body and result in the interruption of normal neurotransmitter metabolism of the brain.

Methanol becomes Formaldehyde (Embalming fluid): The most prominent danger of Aspartame is that when ingested, the methanol (wood alcohol) is distributed throughout the body, including the brain, muscle, fat and nervous tissues, and is then metabolized to form formaldehyde, which enters cells and binds to proteins and genetic material (DNA). Methanol is a dangerous neurotoxin and a known carcinogen, which causes retinal damage in the eye, interferes with DNA processes, and can cause birth defects.

The EPA’s recommended limit of consumption of Methanol is 7.8 milligrams per day, but a one liter bottle of an Aspartame-sweetened beverage contains over 50 mg of methanol. Heavy users of Aspartame-containing products consume as much as 250 mg of methanol daily, which is over 30 times the EPA limit.

So the short story here is that you were probably better off living the life of a party animal! Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/034320_aspartame_sweetener_side_effects.html#ixzz26N4zdjFk

Corporate Wellness Programs
Corporate Wellness Programs FREE EvaluationResearching Corporate Wellness Programs?

The FitNuts are in the field RIGHT NOW helping companies develop and increase participation in their corporate wellness programs.

Using a comprehensive planning formula, we make sure that your employees have effective options for exercise, eating and mindset! If you would like to find out more, check out our FREE 2 Hour Corporate Wellness Evaluation offer!

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Food Addiction – Why Food Addiction Is Like Drug Addiction!

Food addiction has clear parallels to drug addiction. You need to know about it in order to deal with food addiction properly.

Food AddictionHave you ever wondered why food that is ‘bad’ for you tastes so good, and food that is ‘good’ for you tastes like … well, cardboard? It has to do with the ingredients used to create processed and convenience foods, and the inherent addictive nature of those ‘nutrients’.

Let’s examine the research and the similarities between high-sugar, energy-dense, fatty and salty processed and junk food and cocaine, heroin, and nicotine. We’ll start by reviewing the diagnostic criteria for substance dependence or addiction found in the bible of psychiatric diagnosis—the DSM-IV and look at how that relates to food addiction.*

  • Substance is taken in larger amount and for longer period than—a classic symptom in people who habitually overeat.
  • Persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit—consider the repeated attempts at diet so many overweight people go through
  • Much time/activity is spent to obtain, use, or recover—those repeated attempts to lose weight take time
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced—I see this in many patients who are overweight or obese
  • Use continues despite knowledge of adverse consequences (e.g., failure to fulfill role obligation, use when physically hazardous)—anyone who is sick and fat wants to lose weight, but without help few are capable of making the dietary changes that would lead to this outcome
  • Tolerance (marked increase in amount; marked decrease in effect)—in other words you have to keep eating more and more just to feel “normal” or not experience withdrawal
  • Characteristic withdrawal symptoms; substance taken to relieve withdrawal—many people undergo a “healing crisis” that has many of the same symptoms as withdrawal when removing certain foods from their diet

If you examine your own behavior and relationship to sugar, in particular, you will likely find that your behavior around sugar and the biological effects of over-consumption of sugar match up perfectly. Compound the effects of concentrated sugars like High Fructose Corn Syrup and synthetics like trans fats, and we are left with foods that behave like ‘super drugs’. Hence, food addiction!

The food industry is a master at getting you hooked on their products much in the same way that the tobacco industry got people addicted to cigarettes. It is not the tobacco that is addictive!

If 67% of the American population were addicted to heroine – much like 67% of the American population is obese or overweight – we would probably have to do something about getting heroine off the streets, right? That’s not going to happen here with the way the food industry operates. It is up to you.

*Dr. Mark Hyman, “Food Addiction: Could it Explain Why 70 Percent of America is Fat?” February 14, 2011
Corporate Wellness Programs
Corporate Wellness Programs FREE EvaluationResearching Corporate Wellness Programs?

The FitNuts are in the field RIGHT NOW helping companies develop and increase participation in their corporate wellness programs.

Using a comprehensive planning formula, we make sure that your employees have effective options for exercise, eating and mindset! If you would like to find out more, check out our FREE 2 Hour Corporate Wellness Evaluation offer!

Can You Win the Tour de France without Cheating?

The Tour de France and doping was a big topic on our Fitnut Fitness Facebook page not too long ago. The big news in cycling is Lance Armstrong’s choice to stop fighting the USADA’s case against him. On his website, Lancearmstrong.com, Lance responded with a well written, well thought out response. In simple terms he was tired of fighting and felt it was a fight he couldn’t win, it was a witch hunt that would ultimately end with a guilty verdict. For a while I almost felt bad for him.

ALMOST, I’ll admit it I am not a Lance fan. I think he is arrogant and he treats people badly and uses his fame and foundation to justify it. I have known a handful of world class athletes that were genuine down to earth people that were truly dedicated to helping other people.

Can You Win the Tour de France without Cheating?My opinions on Lance aside, the real question is can an athlete who is committed to not doping win the Tour De France?

To answer this question let me give you a Tour De France history lesson. For as long as the Tour has existed, its participants have been doping themselves. The strongest drug in the early Tour de France was strychnine. Other than that, riders would take anything to survive the tedium, the pain and the exhaustion of stages that could last more than 300 km. Help that included alcohol, ether and cocaine. There are photographs of riders holding ether-soaked handkerchiefs to their mouths, or leaving them knotted under the chin so the fumes would deaden the pain in their legs.

In the early years of the Tour, many felt it was only possible because there was doping. For 60 years this was allowed. It wasn’t until 1966 that the first anti doping tests occurred. During that year over a third of the cyclists tested positive for amphetamines due to the pain, tedium of the stages etc. In the 1970s, cycling moved into the steroid era. During that time steroids were not used to build muscle bulk, but rather to improve recovery and thereby let competitors train harder and longer and with less rest. There is also a secondary stimulant effect. When other drugs became detectable the 90’s introduced EPO, a drug to increase red-cell production in anemia sufferers. EPO’s problem for testers was that like testosterone and, before that, cortisone, they couldn’t distinguish it from what the body produced naturally. For a while EPO was widely used without being detectable. Once a test was developed for EPO, the practice changed, almost overnight, to blood doping, which was also very difficult to detect. It was only with the introduction of the biological passport that it became possible to detect mostly because they were looking for the effect of the drug rather than the drug itself.

Stress Free Corporate Wellness ProgramsDespite the fact that doping is illegal for the last 20 years, professional cycling has had a very ugly record when it comes to doping. In 2006 9 riders including the winner of the Tour in 2007,2009 and 2012 Alberto Contador and the winner from 2000, 2001 and 2003 Tour winner Jan Ullrich were banned from competing in the Tour. That was the same year that Floyd Landis lost his jersey for testing positive for testosterone.

Since 1999 only three tour winners have not tested positive for a banned substance. They are this year’s winner Bradley Wiggins, last year’s winner Cadel Evans and 2007 winner Carlos Sastre.

The Tour is a brutal race no doubt. Over the last 109 years have shown that is a hard race made easier by drugs. That being said, cycling has also made vast technical improvements over that last 109 years. Bikes are lighter and more responsive, what we know about training, nutrition and hydration have vastly improved performance and recovery. Three riders have won the tour without drugs in the last 10 years, against riders with a history of performance enhancing drugs. So it is possible. Hopefully as bad and painful it is to both Lance and his supporters maybe his fall proves something. The bigger they are the harder they fall and cheaters never win. Maybe the fall of an icon will finally clean up the sport. Only time will tell.

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The Pursuit of Health and Happiness

The pursuit of health and happiness go hand in hand with fitness and nutrion. While many talk about wanting to be healthy and happy, what are you willing to do to actually achieve this state?

Some things I have discovered:

When I was just a math geek, ‘socially popular’ status was about as much of a reality for me as runway ‘super model’. That changed when I got my certification in nutrition. I have some of the most interesting conversations with strangers and have had the opportunity to learn an awful lot about health from my clients – far more so than from the books.

The Pursuit of Health and HappinessThe pursuit of health and happiness go hand in hand. When someone comes to me about the health piece, more often than not, the resolution doesn’t stop with finding the right ‘diet’. That reality has been the most difficult for me to embrace, and the absolute most challenging for me to council others through.

The bottom line is that people have a dependence on food ideas much deeper than energy and hunger pangs, and the majority of people I see value their freedom of choice over their health.

People have a complex psychological network of beliefs that they have a right to ‘be normal’ and eat whatever everyone else is eating. They think that sacrificing foods that are making them sick violates their rightful autonomy as independent adults. They have a ‘right’ to convenience and convenience foods. They have a right to draw the line on just how many foods they will sacrifice regardless of the outcome. (This is a big one among my gluten intolerant folks).

Then again, I can get someone to commit to a short-term trial — have it succeed – and watch them turn around and go back to their old ways. It is so much easier to accept illness over a life without … Chocolate!, or Cheese!, or Coffee!, or .. .whatever.

The pursuit of health and happiness is more complex than you might think. Will you be happy if you don’t have your health? Is it worth it not to sacrifice some foods that make you ill? You have to decide just what your happiness is and what degree of health you want.

So ask yourself, “What do I want?” And then more importantly, “What am I willing to change to make that happen?” More often than not, your willingness to allow change and sacrifice will dictate being able to live that “want”. Otherwise, you live the life that comes with less health and ultimately less happiness as a result.

Corporate Wellness Programs
Corporate Wellness Programs FREE EvaluationResearching Corporate Wellness Programs?

The FitNuts are in the field RIGHT NOW helping companies develop and increase participation in their corporate wellness programs.

Using a comprehensive planning formula, we make sure that your employees have effective options for exercise, eating and mindset! If you would like to find out more, check out our 2 Hour Corporate Wellness Evaluation offer!

Does Organic Food REALLY Cost That Much More Than Processed Foods?

One question arises often over here, does Organic food REALLY cost that much more than some of the highly processed foods on the grocery shelves today?

We certainly cannot talk about the cost of healthy food without some mention of organic food and its costs. Without going into the debate, the following information extracted from a recent study performed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers some good food for thought.

The USDA estimates that organically produced food can cost anywhere from 10 to 30 percent more than conventionally mass-produced food. For the sake of clarity, lets review the definition of organic.

The USDA has established three basic organic standards:

  • 100 Percent Organic (made using all organic materials and practices)
  • USDA Organic (made with 95 percent organic materials)
  • Made with Organic Ingredients (products in this last category contain 70 percent organic ingredients or more, and although they can claim organic status, goods carrying this designation cannot display the official organic seal)

Typically, the products that are listed as 100% organic are higher in price, and those “Made with Organic Ingredients” are lower.

Does Organic Food REALLY Cost That Much More Than Processed Foods?This photograph depicts a chart of research conducted by Rutgers University (Dr. Firman E. Bear) published in the Natural Gardener’s Catalog. This research argues that organic food contains an average of TWELVE TIMES more nutrient density across all of the listed minerals.

In this case/scenario, an argument can be made that – based on nutrient content alone – although you pay roughly 1/3 the cost for processed foods, you effectively would need to pay approximately FOUR TIMES MORE for all the food required to make up the nutritional difference.

Unfortunately, when we look at all the studies around organic vs. conventional foods, the data is inconclusive. There are just as many findings to debunk the value of organic as there are to support it. This presents a strong suggestion that when it comes to the nutritional quality of food, we are asking the wrong questions.

Mineral depletion is strongly tied to the health and balance of the soil. Overall, mineral composition is affected by geography, climate, and fertilizing practices. There are many environmental and cultural factors that influence the nutritional composition of produce, and these may ultimately play a greater role in food quality than simple organic versus conventional logic. (… and we’re not even beginning to address the concept of picking fruits and vegetables before they are ripe for the purposes of global distribution.)

“The alarming fact is that foods — fruits and vegetables and grains — now being raised on million acres of land that no longer contains enough of certain needed minerals, are starving us, no matter how much of them we eat.”

While it is common knowledge that soil microorganisms influence plant nutrition by virtue of their role in decomposition and mineralization of organic matter, the view that microorganisms stimulate plant metabolism and enhance plant nutrition is certainly more holistic in nature than the quantitative-mechanical view that soil microbes merely breakdown organic matter and release mineral ions into the soil solution.

Since the industry is not regulating soil quality in this way, it is really difficult to target higher quality foods in either camp.


The fewer nutrients found in food necessitates larger quantities of food to meet all the metabolic requirements to support life. This is pretty simple math. Whether you pick organic foods or conventional, it is safe to say that we do receive the most nutrient content in less processed foods. Processing includes everything from baking, broiling, and boiling, to extrusion, homogenization, pasteurization, and isolation … just to name a few.

The real solution comes in a different understanding of food, and not in the arduously overwhelming burden of these ridiculous shopping excursions with a calculator. Nutrition is so much more complex than grams of sodium.

Check out tlc.com/frugal for their short videos, “Saving Big on Groceries: Part 1” and “Saving Big on Groceries: Part 2” for some simple tips on thrifty shopping.

Want less hype and more common sense, check out our post, Adding Complexity is Not the Solution: Basic Economics of a Healthy Diet to find out more!

Corporate Wellness Programs
Corporate Wellness Programs FREE EvaluationResearching Corporate Wellness Programs?

The FitNuts are in the field RIGHT NOW helping companies develop and increase participation in their corporate wellness programs.

Using a comprehensive planning formula, we make sure that your employees have effective options for exercise, eating and mindset! If you would like to find out more, check out our FREE 2 Hour Corporate Wellness Evaluation offer!
Corporate Wellness Programs

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Adding Complexity is Not the Solution: Basic Economics of a Healthy Diet

The economics of eating healthy is a topic that has been around for a very long time. Back in the 1970’s, my mother was a budget-master when it came to feeding a family of four.

Sales, coupons, and planning out our menu a month at a time made it possible for her to stretch the food dollar in exceptional ways. Both of my parents were wage earners, and we grew up on processed foods.

In today’s tough economic times, the cost of food remains on the hot plate. Yet at the same time, the relationship between the foods we eat and the epidemic of degenerative disease creates a whole new climate of complexity riddled with opinions and opportunity. The last thing we need is more complexity. Eating is one of the most basic functions in life: it should be pretty simple.

On March 5, 2012, The Denver Post published an article in the “$mart” section titled, “How to stretch your food budget while boosting nutrition”. The focus of this economic ‘tip’ revolves around calculating the overall value of nutrition contained within any given food item using food labels and a calculator. Shopping counselors within a local non-profit organization, teach low-income adults how to find the best nutrition for the best price by comparing ingredients between brands and weighing that information against the cost. *Ufff*

When folks are budgeting money, chances are pretty good that time is also in short supply. I also believe that you almost need a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in food industry science in order to truly understand food labels. Putting together the right equation that will provide a nutrition-to-cost ratio you can rely on is a lot more complicated than comparing sodium. If you compare two, three, or four of the listed ingredients on any one box or can, your equation quickly gets out of control. OMG, grocery shopping just became “Rocket Science”!

Lets look at this situation another way.

Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods

Although this can get complicated, we are going to keep it as simple as possible. We define whole foods as follows:

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as sugar, salt, or fat.

That might clear up some confusion, but we go a little farther here with examples.

Of course, all raw fruits and vegetables are whole foods. Since most of us are not following a raw-foods diet, lets look as some other common foods.

Take potatoes for starters. A baked potato is closer to its original form as it was uprooted on the farm than a potato chip. A kettle chip is simply sliced and dropped into a deep fat fryer, and possibly coated with various flavors. A baked potato would be considered a whole food: a potato chip would not.

Things can get a little gray from here, as many of the foods that we do not consider as junk foods may still not be considered as whole foods. Milk is a perfect example. Pasteurization and homogenization strip milk of nutrients and enzymes that are normally contained in raw milk. Add to that the practice of reducing fats, fortifying with vitamins and mineral, and in some cases, adding artificial flavors such as strawberry and it becomes more clear that the milk you get in the grocery (unless you live in California) is no longer a whole food. It does not matter if you use that milk to make fermented foods such as yogurt or kefir – it is no longer a whole food. Raw milk cheese would be a different story.

When we start looking at a cost-to-nutrient ratio, the interesting story comes from evaluating processed foods against whole foods. The bad news here is there isn’t going to be a handy label on your apple that you can conveniently compare to the label on the gallon of apple juice. This is where education comes in handy.

A ripe apple still sitting in its skin is known to have 500 nutrients. When we convert that apple into juice, nutrients are either stripped or destroyed in the process of making it last longer on the shelves, safer from bacteria and contaminants, and otherwise marketable as juice. Consequently, we have considerably fewer than 500 nutrients. Although it is virtually impossible to know how many natural nutrients are resident in all the different foods in your diet, and concurrently understand ‘how much’ of ‘what’ is destroyed through all the different processing methods, rest assured that whole foods will always have more nutrition than a processed food.

Adding Complexity is Not the Solution: Basic Economics of a Healthy Diet      The second stage comes from understanding what goes into making your favorite entrees and menu items.

Let’s consider macaroni and cheese. If I were to make it from scratch, I would need cheese, milk, and egg noodles of some sort.

Cheese is little more than a variety of milk – typically cows milk – and enzymes. Egg noodles are mostly made from white flour, eggs, and water. You can speculate that your baked macaroni and cheese will have a composite nutrient content of the nutrition in each of the three ingredients.

Now consider that box of Velveeta (or any other processed Mac-n-Cheese). The cheese is a squeeze pouch or a powdered composite of dairy, colors, artificial and natural flavors, noodles are relatively similar to your homemade variety, and you add your own milk and butter in the powdered case. There is a handy nutrition label that identifies a bunch of ingredients and additives necessary to create and preserve a macaroni-and-cheese-like flavor. These ingredients are not always qualified as nutrients and can sometimes be noted as toxins or anti-nutrients, depending on whom you are talking to. Nonetheless, we can see that it is no longer the same nutrient equation.

This leads us into the next trick in weighing the economy of healthy food.

Long Lists of Ingredients

This is an easy target for picking the best food. The longer the list of ingredients, the less desirable it is for nutrition. We just gave an example with macaroni and cheese, but the rule applies to everything you buy ‘ready made’. Bread, crackers, ice cream, sauces, and so many other foods on the grocery shelves present examples of better or worse choices.

Adding Complexity is Not the Solution: Basic Economics of a Healthy Diet      Rather than becoming a chemistry genius, all you have to do is look at the length of the list! Although, we can argue that the more chemicals and additives we have in a food product, the cheaper it tends to be, the above example is a counter-example. Finding staple food items like the rolled oats can be a key tactic in keeping food bills at bay. The addition of nuts, raisins and other oatmeal favorites does add cost to the bowl of cereal, but it is easy to understand the nutritional benefits of those compared to high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors!

Stay tuned for next week’s post for the rest of the story…How organics really effect the cost of food!