Oldways’ African Heritage Diet

Calling all nutrition educators, health professionals, teachers, families, church groups, and other interested parties!  I am here to show you the new African Heritage Diet Pyramid created by Oldways, the non-profit organization that promotes healthy eating based on cultural food pyramids. It is meant to reconnect all African-descendants to their healthy heritage foods and eating style.

Oldways’ website has great information about the African Diaspora, the term used to describe the mass dispersion of peoples from Africa during the Atlantic Slave Trades. The Diaspora took millions of people from Western and Central Africa to different parts of the Caribbean and North, South and Central America where the African diet was blended with local foods to shape a unique new cuisine. But, like all traditional diets, the framework remains the same: fresh plant foods, especially fruit and leafy greens; tubers; beans and nuts, including peanuts; rice, flatbreads and whole grains; oils; fish, eggs and poultry; yogurt; sauces of herbs and spices; and minimal consumption of meats and sweets. (Processed food and fast food are not on the list.)

In a great webinar from Oldways, Jessica Harris, the African Heritage culinary scholar, discusses African diet. She said, in Africa, it is common to eat spicy stews served over starch. I remember that was the case with the patients from Liberia I saw at the HMO where I worked in the late 1980s. The Liberians described a big pot of veggies (greens, sweet potatoes, plantain, cabbage, eggplant, okra, etc.) with beans and a bit of shredded meat or fish, served over rice, and fufu, a fermented cassava dumpling. The food was both nutritious and balanced, but always a variation on the same theme. They also had a communal kitchen and shared meals, to the point of sharing one big bowl. My guess is that those two practices, repetition and sharing, made overeating less attractive. And I believe the women took turns cooking for a month. Their system just keeps sounding better.

And so, when I think about it, African heritage food awareness is the starting point, but the key to success may rest in sharing all aspects of the meal. Really, since we’re cooking, we might as well cook for a crowd. It’s less expensive and more fun. It’s the old way.

Your thoughts: Will you broadcast the Oldways African Heritage Food Pyramid? Who else thinks sharing meals is a good idea?

Orthorexia Nervosa, Cleaner Than Need Be

One of the hardest parts about wanting to clean up your diet is learning where to draw the line. At one end of the spectrum is a careless diet of non-nutritive, highly processed foods and at the other end is ‘clean eating’ to the point of malnutrition and social isolation. Some people have orthorexia nervosa, an extreme obsession with eating healthy food.  Their righteous eating patterns are mixed up with low self-esteem, OCD tendencies and other anxiety disorders.

I wrote about the unofficial eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa, for Calorie Count. See  my article, Orthorexia: Obsessed with Healthy Food. What I like most about that article is the 7-item (non-validated) tool from the book, Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating, by Steven Bratman, MD.  Here are the questions; if you answer “yes” to two or three, then you’d better loosen your grip on food – and get some help from a psychotherapist and registered dietitian who specialize in  eating disorders.

1.    Are you spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food?
2.    Do you always skip foods you once enjoyed in order to only eat the “right” food?
3.    Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?
4.    Do you look down on others who don’t eat your way?
5.    Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
6.    When you eat the way you’re supposed to, do you feel in total control?
7.    Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
8.    Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
9.    Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?

Your thoughts: Do you know someone who might have orthorexia nervosa?  What makes you think so?

Less Than a Sound Bite, School Lunch

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was …. ~David Byrne

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this week’s soundbite, “Pizza is a Vegetable.”  It’s the news stations’ parody of the final version of a bill that would have made school lunches healthier – but didn’t get passed by Congress because they sold out to the interests of Big Food. I shook down the issue for my article at Diets In Review titled, Congress Denies All Changes to School Lunch Throwing Children’s Health Under the Bus.  It was a fun write.

And so school lunch will be the same as it ever was, and lest we forget, visit the website, American Lunchroom.  The site posts photos of what our kids are being served at school.  Send them a photo of what school lunch looks like in lunchroom near you.

Your thoughts: How much does school lunch impact the diets of American kids?

My New Gig with Diets in Review

Tada! I have a new cool gig with Diets in Review. I cannot reveal trade secrets just yet but suffice it to say I’ll be doing more videos. I had the pleasure of working with DIR while at Calorie Count. Here are my DIR articles and, to see my one DIR video (so far), scroll to the end of my Media page.

And – as I tell my best video critics at home – you have to gimme a break because it’s REALLY hard to speak fluidly and naturally on a scientific topic while reading from a teleprompter, not to mention trying to look pleasant (when I don’t come from a smiley family) and young (when I’m not) and to speak like a generic American instead of a Rhode Islander, and not to flub the words because Diets in Review has the studio and cameraman by the hour. OMG!  BUT practice makes perfect and I am confident about the nutrition information. I appreciate DIR’s faith in me.  Now, wind me up and forget about the teleprompter.

Fun Facts

And so now, at Diets In Review, my bio and ‘Fun Facts About Mary’ are up on the wall.

Here are two Fun Facts:
I Never Leave Home Without:  My NYC Metro Card
Shows I have to DVR:  Downtown Abbey

For more fun, please visit DIR’s site. And, please, overlook this shameless self-promotion. Thank you.

What are some Fun Facts About YOU?  Do tell! 

ARE foods addictive?

I just took part in a discussion on LinkedIn’s group for Intuitive Eating Professionals, centered around this question:  “ ARE foods addictive? And if there is some validity to this, how do we reconcile this with Intuitive Eating?”

I responded:  “
I wrote a little blog about a study done by Professor Bart Hoebel, the world’s leading researcher on sugar addiction. He worked with mouse models for more than 50 years.  He found that sugar is indeed addicting to rats, and about humans he said, ‘Rat studies cannot be applied to humans,’ and ‘food addiction is much milder than drug addiction.’ Humans are are subject to complex psychological and socio-economic factors, alongside the physical. If you want to read the blog, it is Addicted to Sugar at Calorie Count.”  It is one of my favorite blogs. I remember feeling inspired to write it. I love Bart Hoebel. I love the little mouse.

Also, I want to add that the original question for the Intuitive Eating Professionals group was prompted by this Bloomberg News article, Fatty Foods Addictive as Cocaine in Growing Body of Science. On that, I say the writer is mixing his fats and sugars (because they come that way.) And the mind is a powerful thing, as previously noted.

Your thoughts: Is food addictive to you?

Newspaper Ad Mocks Obese Women

This is one of those vulgar things that you see only in the big city. When I saw a similar ad last week, I expected it to quietly die, but now that it’s back again, I’ll take it as an opportunity  to call it as I see it.

This full page ad ran today on the back of Metro New York, a free daily newspaper available throughout the city near commuter trains. The company behind the ad, AshleyMadison.com, is an online dating service for cheaters – espoused adulterers – you read it right. I first saw this ad’s companion that showed the fat lady by herself on the day after Halloween. The caption said, “Did your wife scare you last night?”  But, honestly, I couldn’t figure it out.  Was the fat lady supposed to be the wife or the tart?  I mean wives rarely wear Fredrick’s of Hollywood lingerie, and so she must be the tart, and then I know guys (and girls) who prefer lots of soft flesh. Their moms were usually very loving and very fat too.

But, the creators of these ads should thank their lucky stars that they were not born fat. They don’t realize that very fat people may be impaired, like anyone with a genetic condition. They don’t know that genes contribute to obesity and to body weight in general, and that scientists have identified 20+ gene sites associated with obesity and fat distribution. Stankard’s 1980s studies of identical twins – reared apart and together – showed that height, weight and BMI are so closely correlated across time, that their path suggests a co-variation that has everything to do with genetics and very little relation to childhood environment.

Individuals vary greatly in the way they store and burn body fat, and weight changes lead to metabolic adaptations designed to promote maintenance.  When very fat people lose weight, their metabolic rates drops severely in order to promote the return of unwanted pounds, but in studies where normal weight people intentionally gained weight, their bodies fought it by revving up metabolism to the point where the new weight couldn’t be maintained. I’m not talking about middle age spread that comes from overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. I’m talking about people who have to try very hard just to keep from getting even bigger. God forbid that Ashley Madison or Metro NY would have to walk a mile in their shoes.

Your thoughts: What should we do about these despicable ads?

Farming Is Charming at Stone Barns

“It’s nice to see the animals roaming free, not sad.”
“Oh, like in Food, Inc?”

If and when I get a pile of money, I’m moving to a gentleman’s farm. (No fancy-pants Hamptons for me.)  I’ll get a place like Stone Barns Farm, where I went today. The Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture is an idyllic working farm and educational center dedicated to sustainable agriculture, located 50 miles north of New York City in Pocantico Hills next to Tarrytown.

Over one hundred years ago, Stone Barns was a dairy farm owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr.  This, that, the other, and nothing much happened until 2004, when David Rockefeller, John D’s grandson, turned the 80 acre farm – backed by his 30 million dollars – into an environmental education center dedicated to showing urban dwellers the source of their food. Bless his heart. Martha Stewart’s favorite restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, is a part of the center. Both the fancy restaurant and the café, where I ate, serve dishes made of local ingredients, preferably from the farm. I ate in the sunny courtyard.

Besides the animals, the greenhouse, and the trails, the Farmer’s Market was open. It’s almost wintertime on the farm, and so the market sold mostly carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, celery root, “rouge chicken”, baked goods, yarn, and a very nice raspberry leaf tea that is soothing to the reproductive systems of women and men alike.

I hope you enjoy my pictures from the farm. I’m psyched to return. Meanwhile, I plan to start reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens as soon as the library opens tomorrow.  You know, you just can’t start raising chickens overnight!  I have to get to studying now.


This is Not a Food Blog, Mostly

Eliza (Liza) drinking tea.

Mary:    “Come see my new blog.”
Eliza:    Where are the pictures of food?”
Mary:    “This is not a food blog.  Here, look at my Twitter page. I talk about nutrition, obesity, aberrant eating, and medical matters.” (All interpreted in the broadest way….)

But, of course, all of nutrition and life depends on food.

This is not a food blog in so far as it doesn’t focus on cooking, recipes and pictures of food.  I have my favorite recipes that I like to share and Tweet. But, as far as I recall, I have never taken a photo of my food.

My daughter, Eliza Hartley, does take pictures of food.  She is 28 and a better cook than I.  In high school, she wore a pin that said, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” (~St. Augustine.) And you can see it in the way she minces the onions and dices the potatoes. Her seasonings are always just right. She reads and practices. (I am lazier than that; too busy Tweeting and blogging.)

I read the blogs that mommies write about how to raise healthy eaters. I did that without much trying, and so did my dietitian and hippie pals.  Compared to the masses, we seem to have a different sensibility about food. We like fresh food and lots of vegetables. We are proud Flexitarians!

For instance, last week, when Eliza heard a storm was coming, she ran to the Farmer’s Market to buy up the vegetables before they froze.  She came home and whipped up a big sauce of tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, and eggplant (actually, ratatouille, light on the eggplant), beautifully seasoned with garlic, a little red pepper, fresh basil, and dried oregano. She puréed half and added it back to the pot, and then she served some on fettuccini with Parmesan cheese, and froze the rest for later.

Eliza lives five blocks away from me in Brooklyn, and we often share our food.  I am a truly blessed (and she is too!)

October Snow in Prospect Park

I’ve been told many times, “I could never live in New York City always being surrounded by people.”  They don’t believe it’s possible to enjoy nature in (relative) seclusion here. But, to prove it, I took pictures in Prospect Park yesterday after the snow storm. My route was Grand Army Plaza to Long Meadow, the Ravine, and then across and out by the Bandshell at 9th Street and Prospect Park West. The leaves on the trees survived well and the air smelled so sweet. (I took the photos with an iPhone 3G, I say with some embarrassment. Oh well, I’m not a material girl.)