My Work

Revolutionary Act 30: Approach AND Dietary Guidelines With a Healthy Dose of Doubt

posted by Pilar Gerasimo March 23, 2017 0 comments

Remember the organization formerly known as the American Dietetic Association (ADA)? Well, since 2012 it’s been going by a different, equally official-sounding name: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).

Yep, after operating for nearly a century under its old moniker, the country’s largest nutritional professional society — the one to which more than 100,000 credentialed practitioners belong — decided it was time for a facelift.

The purpose of the switch, according to the organization’s website, was “to complement the focus of the organization to improve the nutritional well-being of the public, while communicating the academic expertise of Academy members and supporting the organization’s history as a food and science-based profession.”

I can’t help but think it might also have had a little something to do with its desire to avoid being endlessly confused with the American Diabetes Association (also known by the same ADA acronym).

But whatever the case, if a primary goal of the former American Dietetic Association was to convey a more high-minded, science-based sense of mission, that didn’t work out so well. Because in January of 2013, not long after the name change was announced, a well-researched, widely publicized report stripped the organization of whatever science-based luster it had hoped to gain by donning its shiny new “Academy” robes.

The 50-page report, titled And Now a Word From Our Sponsors: Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?, was authored by Michele Simon, JD, MPH, a public-health attorney and author who specializes in food-industry ethical and legal issues. It documents the extent of the Academy’s increasingly entrenched food-industry funding and ties, and it raises serious questions about its institutional ethics, objectivity, and credibility.

It also reignited long-standing concerns about the increasingly powerful role that big food, beverage, and agricultural companies had been playing in shaping AND’s guidelines, policies, and professional nutrition-education platform.

Simon’s report was damning, not just because it revealed the extent to which the nation’s leading professional nutrition organization was funded by corporate contributions from candy, soda, and junk-food giants like Mars, Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, Kraft, and McDonald’s (as well as the beef and dairy industries), but also because it presented disturbing evidence of how directly AND’s educational messaging and materials were being affected by those industry ties.

Unfortunately, aside from causing many scandalized AND members to complain vigorously about their organization’s practices and policies, the report didn’t seem to have much immediate effect on the Academy’s willingness to put its own credibility ahead of its corporate partners’ agendas.

It certainly didn’t prevent the great Kraft Singles dustup of 2015, in which AND approved (in exchange for an undisclosed sum) the placement of its “Kids Eat Right” logo on packages of Kraft American Singles — a plastic-sleeved “pasteurized prepared cheese product” that cannot legally be called “cheese.”

Perceived by virtually everyone (including Kraft) to be a de facto seal of approval, the logo-emblazoning sparked outrage on the part of many registered dietitians (RDs).

It also made national headlines and even got a shout-out on The Daily Show, where Jon Stewart quipped that the corporate-funded Academy was “as much an academy as [Kraft Singles] is cheese.”

Frustration with the Academy’s questionable practices even sparked some concerned RDs to create their own watchdog group, Dietitians for Professional Integrity (DFPI).

The DFPI’s three core beliefs, as listed on its site, IntegrityDietitians.org, would read like no-brainers to most:

Sponsorship affects public perception of dietitians. [Yes, duh!]

The public deserves nutrition information that is not tainted by food industry interests. [Indeed!]

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics should prioritize public health instead of enabling and empowering multinational food companies. [Gee, ya think?]

But these are evidently not view-points that AND has been willing to get behind. One glance at a Monsanto-sponsored, propaganda-laden “bio-technology quiz” (offered to RDs in exchange for a chance to win a Coach handbag at a recent continuing-education conference) tells you everything you need to know about how industry-underwritten “education” works at AND, and it’s not pretty.

Meanwhile, the DFPI’s strategic director, Andy Bellatti, MS, RD, has written a series of illuminating articles for the Civil Eats website — including one (“Why the Makers of Animal Growth Hormones Shouldn’t Control the Hunger Debate”) that highlights the relationship between the Academy and a relatively new sponsor, Elanco.

Elanco is an Eli Lilly subsidiary that manufactures livestock pharmaceuticals like recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH. The purpose of Elanco’s grant to AND (amount undisclosed) was ostensibly to educate our nation’s dietitians on friendly topics like “Farming 101.”

But internal documents suggest a more nuanced and activist goal: “to arm Academy members with resources to educate themselves and the public about issues relating to [sustainable farming, global food insecurity, and nutritional and safe feeding of a growing world population.]”

In other words, the central thrust of AND’s Elanco-funded “Future of Food” initiative seems to be fueling a highly controversial, agribusiness-driven biotechnology agenda. And Bellatti posits that beyond simply securing a one-way public propaganda machine, Elanco may also be “looking for an easy way to keep tabs on criticism or concerns about its practices and quickly engage in damage control, if needed.”

Looking at Bellatti’s insider writings, at Simon’s 2013 report, and at AND’s own educational and marketing materials, it’s clear why the DFPI feels decisive action is called for. It’s also abundantly clear they’ve got their work cut out for them.

The AND website still hawks corporate advertising as “a great way for organizations to target . . . members who are the world’s acknowledged leaders in providing food and nutrition-related health information and services.” And its media kit entices corporate sponsors to take advantage of “direct access to a select group of engaged Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics members by conducting online surveys using the eatright Market Research Panel.”

It’s no wonder that a growing number of RDs are concerned that people might regard their AND-associated credentials with mistrust — not because the title suggests a lack of professional education, but rather because it now connotes a surfeit of industry-influenced miseducation.

Combine that with AND’s outdated emphasis on calorie counting, its excessive enthusiasm for low-fat dairy and grain-based products, its slowness to integrate new research findings on dietary cholesterol and healthy whole-food saturated fats, its early opposition to trans-fats labeling efforts, its apparent unwillingness to acknowledge non-celiac gluten intolerance, and its all-around out-of-touchness with contemporary science, and, well, you’ve got an Academy that — in a lot of experts’ view— has no business educating anybody but itself.

My Favorite Phyto Smoothie

posted by Pilar Gerasimo February 14, 2017 0 comments

Want to dramatically increase your intake of non-starchy vegetables? Make a point of getting in several servings before breakfast by drinking your veggies in the form of this hardcore-healthy Phyto Smoothie.

I know, green smoothie are a big thing right now. And if you’ve already discovered them, that’s lovely. But I would advise you against chugging down those sweet concoctions made primarily of fruits and fruit juice (I’ve seen some green smoothie recipes that call for two cups of fruit).

Why? Because imbibing that much sugar works against a lot of Healthy-Deviant eating goals (it can mess with your blood sugar and hormones, trigger unhealthy carb-and-sugar cravings later in the day, perpetuate the Great American Sweet Tooth, and so on).

Instead, start with this basic Phyto Smoothie recipe (my whole-food take of a green-juice favorite I learned from my brilliant friend Kris Carr, author of Crazy Sexy Juice, a book with dozens more yummy juice, smoothie and nut-milk options). Then adjust based on your tastes and what you have on hand. Just strive to keep the sugar content low and the vegetable content high.

Phyto Smoothie Recipe

In a high speed blender (like a Vitamix or NutriBullet) combine:

½ cup of organic unsweetened apple cider (alternatively, or for variety, you can use ½ to ¾ cup of a low-glycemic fruit (e.g., apple, pear, cherries, berries, pomegranate seeds or unsweetened cranberries) and adjust to taste)

1 cup cold water

1 medium organic cucumber, washed, not peeled (unless conventional) and sliced into 2-4 chunks (whatever your blender can handle)

2 stalks organic celery (trim off roots, but use remainder of stalk and leaves, cutting them into pieces that fit in blender)

2 medium size leaves of kale or a large handful of spinach, arugula or other dark leafy greens (chard always tastes salty to me, but whatever you dig is fine)

¼ to ½ organic lemon, skin on — adjust to taste (it feels weird to toss a lemon in with the skin on, but trust me, as long as your blender can liquify it, it’s good)

¼ to ½ inch slice of fresh ginger root (optional — just adds a little heat and bite and a fun aroma)

a sprig to a handful of aromatic green herb, like mint, cilantro or basil (again this is optional — adjust to taste) and/or a little chunk of jalapeno pepper for kick (also optional, but great for giving your drink some zip)

Put all your ingredients into the blender and blend until you like the consistency. Adjust flavors and textures until you have something you pronounce drinkable.

Pour half the contents of the blender into a tall glass to enjoy now, and half into a travel container or Mason jar you’ll take with you to enjoy on your Conscious Commute or on one of your Ultradian Rhythm breaks later in the day (more about those in my forthcoming book, The Healthy Deviant).

Sip your first glass of green goodness while you make breakfast or while you get yourself ready for the day.

Flavor Tips

Keep in mind: This is not supposed to be a sweet drink. You are developing your Healthy Deviant palate here, not concocting a dessert. If you find you absolutely need it sweeter, add a little more juice, half of a date, a half cup of low-glycemic fruit or a half banana.

Alternately, you can add a half teaspoon or so of honey or real maple syrup (the less the better), or stick with milder, less bitter greens for now (spinach and mixed greens are usually pretty tame). But then strive to keep gradually reducing the sugar content and increasing the greens-factor as your taste buds adjust to the good-bitter flavors inherent in the mix.

Remember that you don’t have to faint with sensory pleasure to enjoy drinking this. And that one of the goals of this drink is to retrain your hijacked American taste buds to once again appreciate the taste of unadulterated, fresh phytonutrient-rich produce.

To me, this really tastes good — refreshing, bracing, enlivening — and I enjoy knowing it is nourishing my body, countering inflammation, supporting detoxification and elimination (one constipated pal of mine swears this drink cured her of her poo problems) and more. It’s something I look forward to drinking, particularly in the summer.

But is it a milkshake? No. It’s a kick-ass self-nourishing strategy. There’s a difference.

Smoothie Savvy

A few ways to make the most of your Phyto Smoothie experience:

Embrace the smoothie (vs. juice) experience, and the presence of all that healthy fiber. Strive to “chew” each mouthful a bit before swallowing. This will quick-start digestion (thanks, saliva enzymes!), and will also leave you feeling like you’ve consumed something substantial (which nutritionally, you have) — a good thing for your satiety.

Consider drinking at least a little of your smoothie before you pour yourself any coffee or eat your whole-food breakfast. It will provide a nice protective coating for your stomach lining, take the edge off your hunger, and leave you feeling far less desperate for gobs of caffeine.

Drink at least a half cup of Phyto Smoothie directly after blending even if you’re not “craving it.” Many people find that getting fresh vegetable flavors into their mouths first thing in the morning nudges their palates to be more veggie-receptive later in the day. Plus, as noted, getting all that slow-digesting fiber into your system will make you less likely to crave sweets, and help support a regular elimination cycle, and nurture a healthy microbiome, and give you clear skin, bright eyes, and … the list goes on.

Have you drunk some yet? Way to go.

Final tip: Rinse your mouth with a little water or do a quick mirror check before you leave the house. Or be prepared to flash a big, sexy phyto-flecked smile at someone.

Revolutionary Act 29: Beware the USDA Food Guidelines

posted by Pilar Gerasimo January 4, 2017 0 comments

Years ago, when my nephew was in high school, he was saddled with a health-class assignment that involved tracking and analyzing his food intake via the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov.

This online nutrition-guidance tool was introduced in 2011 as the modern-day replacement for the USDA’s vertically striped MyPyramid (2005), and before that, the blocky Food Guide Pyramid (1992).

Both pyramids were themselves ambitious updates from previous Basic Seven and Basic Four food-group guides, which had been in use since the 1940s and 1950s, respectively.

Prior to the USDA’s advice, the American people were apparently deemed capable of deciding for themselves, without interference from large government organizations, what to eat.

And frankly, they were probably a whole lot better off following their own instincts and appetites. Because back then, most of the foods available to them were whole, cooked-from-scratch foods anyway, and (hmmm, coincidence?) obesity and lifestyle-related chronic illness were relatively rare concerns.

Which brings me back to my nephew’s health-class assignment, with which he struggled mightily. When I tried to help him through it, I quickly understood why.

The MyPlate SuperTracker food database is dominated by brand-name processed products, making basic whole foods surprisingly difficult to find. The user experience, meanwhile, was both mystifying and maddening to me.

Let’s say you had one or more eggs for breakfast, so you type “egg” into the appropriate tracker-tool field. You are then presented with a scrollable drop-down menu and required to select from the following options:

1. Egg, hardboiled, no salt added

2. Egg, hardboiled with salt added

3. Egg, poached

4. Egg, fried in oil

5. Egg, fried in butter

6. Egg, fried in margarine

7. Egg, fried in animal fat

8. Egg, fried with nonstick spray

9. Egg, baked, no fat added

10. Egg, baked, with vegetable oil

11. Egg, baked, with butter

12. Egg, baked, with margarine

13. Egg, creamed

14. Egg, deviled

15. Egg, pickled

16. Egg, cheese, and bacon on bagel . . .

The list then just keeps scrolling on, comprising several hundred more results, including various options for “eggs” (nondescript plural) prepared in much the same fashions as above, plus a great variety of Egg McMuffin–type products, followed by “eggplant, raw,” followed shortly by “waffles, multibran, Eggo Nutrigrain,” followed by more than a dozen more screen pages of ostensibly egg-related-items with no apparent nutritional logic.

I got only as far as item No. 161 (which brought me back around to “eggs with bacon cooked in animal fat”) before hunger took over and I went to make myself a decidedly untrackable breakfast.

But by this time, I felt great pity for my poor nephew and his classmates, whom I felt had zero chance of completing this assignment with even marginal success.

From what I could see, tracking one’s foods in this way — much like trying to adhere to the USDA Dietary Guidelines themselves — was a life-wasting exercise in futility.

The process of locating one’s real-life foods within this massive set of incredibly confusing, overwhelmingly complex (yet still weirdly incomplete) variables, pinpointing serving sizes, and making sense of the alternately vague and overly specific options is enough to drive a sane person loopy.

But worse, following the USDA’s dietary advice is, it seems to me, an almost certain recipe for disaster.

Why? Because for as long as the government has been involved in making dietary recommendations, the agriculture and food industries have been aggressively meddling with them, rendering both the scientific validity and practicality of those recommendations questionable at best.

Here’s my very short list (the long one could fill volumes) of top complaints about the current USDA nutrition guidelines:

1. Misleading MyPlate graphic. While admittedly better than its even-more-confusing pyramidal predecessors (both of which implied we should make breads and cereals the basis of our diet), the MyPlate graphic still suggests that, by volume, only a quarter of what we eat should be vegetables. And although that section is colored green, it doesn’t differentiate kale from French fries. The graphic also creates a vaunted, special place for dairy at every meal, a recommendation that has scant scientific support. (The guidelines also specify low-fat or no-fat dairy, an outdated recommendation that has zero scientific support.)

2. Quantity vs. quality focus. The guidelines have long been driven by calorie counts. But our ability to accurately track our caloric intake is notoriously bad, and the calorie counts listed on most nutrition labels and menus are notoriously inaccurate. Current scientific evidence suggests that the glycemic load, hormonal impact, nutritional density, and inflammatory influences of our food are much more important factors than total calories for both weight regulation and health.

3. Excessive emphasis on grains. For a person eating 2,000 calories a day, the Dietary Guidelines suggest six daily servings of grains. For a 3,000-calorie diet, the recommendation is 10 servings. That’s roughly the equivalent of a loaf of bread a day — enough to drive insulin resistance and weight gain in many, and enough to crowd healthier food sources right off one’s plate.

The guidelines recommend that half of one’s grain intake be composed of “whole grains,” but within that category, they promote products containing (even in part) whole-grain flours. The MyPlate site also suggests snacking on “ready-to-eat, whole grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal” and whole-grain crackers. This counsel could easily lead a person to consume several cups of at least partially refined flour (plus the sugars and industrial oils that come embedded in most processed-grain-based products) on a daily basis. Given that all flours quickly turn to sugars in the body, and that our country is in the midst of a type 2 diabetes epidemic, this strikes me as singularly bad advice.

4. Outdated view of fats. Although the latest guidelines include an important update on dietary cholesterol (stating that it is “not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption”), they don’t include a positively nuanced update on whole-food saturated fats, which many experts (like David Ludwig, MD, PhD) see as long overdue. They also don’t address the dangers of industrial vegetable oils at all; trans fats are equated with saturated fats and cautions about them are brief; and the importance of omega-3 fats is all but glossed over.

I could go on, but I’m running out of room, so I’ll sum it up this way: The USDA is not a source I’d look to for nutritional guidance, ever. If you want a more detailed explanation of why, I recommend Denise Minger’s excellent book: Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Ruined Your Health . . . and How to Reclaim It. 

Want to warm up with some lighter reading? Check out “Revolutionary Resources,” below.

Meanwhile, keep in mind: No one nutritional recommendation (save, perhaps, “eat mostly whole foods most of the time”) is right for everyone. And the more you learn about what works for your body, the less you’ll have to rely on dicey, generalized dietary recommendations of any kind.

Revolutionary Act 28: Watch Your Reactions

posted by Pilar Gerasimo December 23, 2016 0 comments

It took a long time for me to identify that I had a problem with gluten — because for a long time I didn’t have one. Or, at least, I didn’t think I did.

Looking back now, it seems so obvious. My dad had a gluten intolerance back in the 1960s, before anybody had heard of such a thing.

A few years ago, genetic testing revealed that Dad carried (and passed along) a celiac gene called HLA-DQ2 — one of two genes known to predispose people to gluten-related problems.

Those who have these genes and don’t avoid gluten-containing foods are dramatically more likely to develop celiac disease, as well as a host of other health problems.

I now know that I carry this gene. But throughout my childhood, it lay dormant. I grew up eating my mom’s homemade wheat bread, pasta, and other glutenous foods with impunity.

My genetic switch got flipped in early adulthood, just after college, when I was living in France on a Fulbright scholarship. Residing in Paris on a half-time salary without any social support left me stressed to the max, and I relied on cheap baguettes for a lot of my daily sustenance.

Without realizing it, I had created the perfect inflammatory storm: elevated stress plus elevated exposure to an irritant — in this case, gluten. This triggered a latent genetic predisposition, opened holes in my intestinal lining, and sent my body into a tizzy.

At the time, though, all I knew was that my skin was suddenly breaking out in cystic acne; my back hurt; my digestive system was off; my face was puffy; I felt depressed, brain-fogged, inflamed; and I was putting on weight.

It wasn’t until more than a year after I got home, wound up in a car accident, and went to see a chiropractor that I had an inkling that any of my physical problems might be related to what I was eating.

On my first visit, noting the assortment of health concerns I’d listed on my intake questionnaire, and evaluating the state of inflammation along my spinal column, my chiropractor asked me, “Do you have gluten sensitivities?”

Having never previously heard the word “gluten” uttered by anyone other than my father (this was the early 1990s), I was taken aback. “Um, no,” I said. “But it’s weird you should ask, because my father has always had trouble with gluten.”

“Aha,” she said. “Then I suggest you stay off it for a few weeks and see how you feel.” She handed me instructions on how to do an elimination diet and sent me to the store for groceries.

Long story short, within three days, I was feeling like a new person. My skin was clearing, my face was noticeably less puffy, my digestion was improved, and my brain fog had lifted. And that was when gluten and I parted ways for good.

I am fortunate. More than two decades later, genetic testing confirmed the inheritance my chiropractor had guessed at. But had I not been avoiding gluten in the interim, it’s likely I would have developed a number of inflammatory conditions by now, quite possibly including celiac or some other autoimmune disease.

Today, public awareness of food intolerances has entered the mainstream, and research on the topic is advancing rapidly, particularly in the area of gluten sensitivity.

Thanks to research by Alessio Fasano, MD, and others, we now understand at least some of the mechanisms by which gluten triggers intestinal permeability, and, by extension, a host of secondary inflammatory and immune responses (see Revolutionary Resources, below).

We now know that gluten can negatively affect folks without known celiac genes or disease. We also know that intolerances to commonly eaten ingredients like gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs can cause an astonishing array of symptoms.

In one person, eating an intolerance-triggering food may set the stage for allergies and asthma; in another, it might give rise to rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, multiple sclerosis, neurological problems, depression, or psoriasis.

This is a big deal. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects 7.5 million Americans, and according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 25 percent of them show evidence of gluten intolerance. A 2009 study published in the Brazilian Annals of Dermatology showed that among psoriasis patients with gluten sensitivity, adhering to a gluten-free diet improved their symptoms.

Although we’ve learned much in recent years, there’s still a lot of confusion and consternation on the topic of food intolerances. So here I will share with you what I wish more people (especially those with complex chronic diseases and conditions) knew.

Food intolerances are different from food allergies. If you ask your doctor to test you for food allergies, you’ll probably get tested for “IgE-mediated” immune reactions — the kind that cause acute symptoms like sneezing, itching, hives, and anaphylaxis.

Such tests might be helpful, but they won’t tell you anything about delayed, nonallergy intolerances — the kind that trigger digestive distress, dark circles, headaches, and fatigue, as well as skin, joint, and digestive complaints. These are the food intolerances that can both cause leaky gut and result from it; they’re the kind that can give rise to increasingly serious diseases, including autoimmune disorders, over time.

The most common diagnostic labs for non-IgE food reactions are known by the acronyms ELISA, IgG, and IgA. Evidence of food intolerances can also be seen in some fecal and breath tests, and in tests for C-reactive protein (CRP). But more often, they are identified by means of an elimination diet. This involves removing one or more high-potential irritants from your diet for a period of a few weeks, then gradually reintroducing them to see which (if any) trigger a negative reaction in your system.

Food intolerances are common. As with the food allergies (which increased about 50 percent in children between 1997 and 2011), the incidence of food intolerances appears to be rising. Potential causes include changes in agriculture, food production, and processing; changes in our diet, microbiome, and environment; chronic-stress levels; and more.

Whatever the reasons, a surprising swath of the population — based on current research, some experts put the number as high as 40 percent — shows some level of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Geneticists say that the majority of the world’s population (an estimated 70 percent) lacks the enzyme required to properly digest dairy. Many other people are sensitive to soy, eggs, corn, food additives, or food components like FODMAPs, histamines, and salicylates.

Statistically speaking, that means you are more likely to experience a food intolerance than to be spared one. So, if you are suffering from one or more chronic health complaints, or have been diagnosed with an auto-immune condition, embarking on a simple elimination diet to assess your own level of sensitivity to common food triggers makes sense.

The good news: Your intolerances may not be permanent, particularly if intestinal permeability is to blame. Once you’ve healed your gut, you may be able to go back to enjoying (at least on occasion) some or all of the foods you thought you couldn’t.

There’s only one way to find out.

Revolutionary Act 27: Have Breakfast

posted by Pilar Gerasimo November 25, 2016 0 comments

Ah, breakfast. It is perhaps the most loved and loathed of all meals.

Even many of those who publicly proclaim breakfast’s status as “the most important meal of the day” privately confess that they don’t always eat it themselves.

And from what I can tell, many who do regularly eat breakfast settle for fare so nutritionally and hormonally counterproductive they might be better off eating nothing at all.

Not that I’m suggesting you skip breakfast. Hardly! But I think it’s important to acknowledge that the whole point of breakfast — literally, the breaking of your nighttime fast — is to provide enough nutrition, energy, mental focus, appetite management, and eating pleasure to get you through the first part of your day without wanting to gnaw your arm off (or worse, being tempted to bite somebody else’s head off).

And this, alas, is where most American breakfasts fail miserably, including many of the supposedly virtuous “heart healthy” options plastered all over menus.

Whole-grain bagels, bran muffins, instant oatmeal with Craisins and brown sugar, fruit plates, and juice-based smoothies — these are not ideal breakfasts for most people.

Why? Because they are low on nutrition and satisfaction, and high on glycemic load. They are unlikely to keep you sated for long, and they’re way too likely to leave you with late-morning cravings and brain fog.

Many such choices were designed around outdated nutrition guidelines that focused on reducing total fat, calories, and dietary cholesterol. Those are guidelines that many experts, including Harvard’s David Ludwig, MD, are now calling out as manipulated and scientifically misguided. They are guidelines that recent large-scale meta-analyses suggest have never had much merit, guidelines that have put some of the worst-possible breakfast foods squarely in the middle of most Americans’ breakfast plates.

Frankly, the much-reviled combination of eggs and bacon or sausage — if you can find eggs and meats that have been raised responsibly and processed intelligently, and if you can get them prepared with a side of dark leafy greens, a sweet potato, broccoli, or some other colorful vegetable, and if you don’t have an intolerance to any of those foods — are probably among the better things you can eat for breakfast.

Even so, I wouldn’t recommend that you eat that breakfast every single day. There are a few reasons for this, none of which has anything to do with calories, dietary cholesterol, or saturated fat:

  • Eating the same things every single day drastically limits the diversity of nutrients in your diet.
  • Our bodies tend to become intolerant of foods we overconsume or consume too regularly. (Eggs are among the top eight allergenic foods.)
  • You’ll eventually get sick of most anything you eat every day, and if you don’t have some other favorites to swap in when that happens, you’ll probably be tempted to skip breakfast altogether. Which, as noted, I don’t recommend.

Here are five basic breakfasts I recommend, ones I tend to rotate through based on my mood, my energy needs, and the season.

1) The egg-and-veggie breakfast. This is just one to three eggs (depending on my energy needs and appetite) cooked any which way, combined with some sautéed or roasted veggies (typically leafy or cruciferous), and sometimes accompanied by an additional root vegetable, squash, or sweet potato for additional substance. You can cook these things up simply, combine them into a frittata, or enjoy them however you like. I mostly just sauté them all in a cast-iron pan with butter and call it good.

2) The meat-and-veggie breakfast. This is the same idea as above, but with a nice helping of responsibly raised sausage or bacon, or a leftover meat in place of the eggs. (If I’m really hungry, or I know I’m not going to be able to eat again for a while, I might also add an egg or two for good measure.)

3) Quick-Trick Snack Stack. I invented this breakfast for busy mornings when I had no time or inclination to cook, but then I liked it (and its effects) so much that I started enjoying it as an anytime-snack option. It’s basically a half cup of seasonal, low-glycemic fruit (berries or chopped apple are my faves), a generous handful each of nuts and flaked coconut, a tablespoon or two of seeds, and an optional teaspoon or so of currants (or another dried fruit chopped up very small). To this you add some whole-fat unsweetened milk (I like hemp, coconut, or flax) or whole-fat organic yogurt. Then you eat it with a spoon, like cereal. For instructions, a how-to video, and recipes, see “Revolutionary Resources,” below.

4) Substantial smoothie. The base of this is almost always whole foods — some berries, some nuts or seeds, some vegetables (I like cucumber, celery, zucchini, and leafy greens), and water. To that I might add some whole-fat yogurt and some protein or collagen powder. I often also add a scoop of supergreens and a tablespoon of omega-3 oil blend. I go easy on the fruit and fruit juice, and I strive to get in as much protein and healthy fat as I can to keep the glycemic load low and the energy long-lasting.

5) Loaded oatmeal or gluten-free hot cereal. I eat this rarely, and only in winter when I’m craving it. The key is to choose slower-cooking, whole-kernel or rough-ground grains, and then add a really significant quantity of nuts, seeds, and butter, cream, or coconut oil to the mix — plus some berries or a chopped apple — to keep fiber and phytonutrients up and glycemic load down. Adding fat and nuts also really helps with appetite and energy management. If I choose to eat this kind of grain-rich breakfast, I make sure to eat a side of sausage, a couple of eggs, or some leftover meat as a side; otherwise, the protein content tends to be too low to keep up my energy.

If none of these options appeals to you, try my basic suggestions for coming up with your own healthy breakfasts:

Focus on the fab four. Build your breakfast primarily from protein, fat, phytonutrients, and fiber. That takes the most common American breakfasts (cereal and pastries) out of the game.

Ditch instant oatmeal. It is powdered to such a fine dust that your body digests and turns it into sugar very quickly. This gives you the -dreaded blood-sugar spike and crash, which leads to excessive insulin release and the inflammatory and fat-storage effects that come with it. If you like oatmeal, have steel-cut oats or long-cooking oats (which digest more slowly), and see my hot-cereal suggestions (No. 5) for minimizing glycemic load and upgrading nutrition.

Don’t count on just coffee. I get the whole “Bulletproof” thing, and I know it spares people the sugar and gluten to which so many are sensitive, while also giving them a nice dose of healthy brain-feeding fats. But I think a lot of folks have gone a little nuts with their coffee-plus-oil combos, relying on them as a primary source of fuel for hours at a time and eschewing food until way too late in the day. If you like to start your day with coffee, go for it, but then get some real food into your system, too.

Revolutionary Act 26: Learn to Cook

posted by Pilar Gerasimo October 27, 2016 0 comments

Before I knew how to make my own simple meals and snacks from healthy, whole-food ingredients, I did a lot of standing in front of the open refrigerator wishing that I did.

I also did a lot of hungry wandering in the prepared-food sections of supermarkets, cruising through drive-throughs, patronizing takeout and delivery services, and so forth.

It just seemed like too much work and too much time to do anything else. I was attracted to the colorful vegetables in the produce section, but I’d look at a bunch of kale and think: “You are attractive, but you are a mystery to me.”

I’d pick up a head of cauliflower or cabbage or broccoli and think: “You seem inherently good, but I can’t imagine what I would do with you once I got you home.”

Much the same thing would happen in the meat and seafood departments, except that, because those sections smelled a bit stinky and everything in the cases looked either pale or bloody to me, I often felt a wave of revulsion even entering them.

I’d try to picture a raw chicken thigh or piece of hangar steak in some nicely cooked, appealing form, and I’d think: “On some level, I both need and want you. But right now, frankly, you are just freaking me out.”

The boxed, frozen, canned, and bagged sections just seemed so much simpler, so much “cleaner,” and so much less daunting.

Even when I did get good, whole-food ingredients home with me, I rarely produced anything satisfying with them. I just didn’t know how. Half the time, the fresh food in my fridge wound up going bad well before I got it cooked and eaten.

For a long time, the goal of learning to cook remained on my very long list of virtuous things I “should” learn to do (a list that also included a couple of foreign languages, a few stringed instruments, and calligraphy).

It wasn’t until I put my nascent cooking ambitions in a broader context that I was able to approach them with any real seriousness of purpose.

As I’ve written about in some of my previous Revolutionary Acts columns, I eventually got clear that my most important goal — the one that would make the single biggest difference in my life — was becoming a healthier person. And I had to admit that my lack of cooking skill (unlike my lack of calligraphy skill) was presenting a clear and direct impediment to that larger aim.

Somehow, reframing cooking as a critical step toward inhabiting my healthiest, happiest, most fully expressed self made it easier to elevate to a top priority.

From there, it was a matter of baby steps. Like most people, I started with recipes. My goal was to try a new one each week. I would find a recipe that appealed to me, and step by step (even if it meant I had to separately research how to “devein the shrimp,” “deglaze the pan,” or “reduce the liquid by half”), I learned to prepare it for myself.

Today, based on my experience of the past 25 years or so, I would take a somewhat different approach. I would focus on learning a few super-simple ways of dealing with various categories of healthy, whole-food ingredients, and reserve advanced “recipes” for when I had more basic skills under my belt.

I say this because what I eventually discovered is that cooking is all about transferable techniques and flavor combinations. And you can make those techniques and combinations as simple or as complicated as you wish.

Once you learn to sauté chard, you also know how to sauté spinach, collards, and a bunch of other greens. One you know how to sear a chicken thigh, you kind of know how to sear most any chunk of meat. Once you know how to roast cauliflower, you kind of also know how to roast Brussels sprouts, sweet potato slices, and a bunch of other vegetables.

Recipes can obscure that reality by making you think that every dish you eat is the product of some very specific set of steps involving some very specific (and often long) list of ingredients prepared just so.

That level of complexity and specificity can deliver lovely results, but it also presents obstacles for many beginning cooks — from not having all the ingredients on hand (and not being confident about which can be omitted or replaced), to not knowing what “blanch” or “julienne” or “whip to soft peaks” means, to not having the pictured equipment or the 45 minutes of required prep time — all of which can leave one feeling at sea before one has even set sail.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love and appreciate the value of recipes. I just don’t think they are the only way to learn to cook. So if I had to do it all over again, here’s what else I’d do.

Watch Web-based cooking videos. When I started out learning to cook in the early 1990s, this wasn’t an option because these things simply didn’t exist. Now, there are gobs of quick, informative videos that can show you how to do virtually anything, from soft-boiling an egg to steaming an artichoke.

Do you want to know how to cook kale, or even just separate the kale leaves from their tough stems? Google those terms plus the word “video.” Click on the results that look most appealing. Once you’ve watched two or three videos, you’ll have the gist.

I say watch two or three, because in my experience, every video has its great and less-great points. One kale video will tell you to cut the leaves off the stems with a knife, which is a time-consuming chore compared with the grab-stem-in-one-hand-and-strip-the-leaf-off-with-the-other method. You’ll develop your own methodological preferences over time, but it helps to have at least some small range of options right from the start.

Experience Life did a nice set of videos on how to sear, braise, and sauté (see “Revolutionary Resources” below) that will give you a sense of how much you can learn (and how ready you’ll be to try it yourself) in as little as a few minutes.

Claim your basics. I have tons of cookbooks, but I rarely use them. Instead, I tend to make certain simple “standards” over and over again, with simple variations. Take my massaged-kale salad. Almost always, there is olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper involved. But sometimes I add a sprinkle of Parmesan, sometimes a smear of chèvre. Sometimes I smash an avocado in there. Sometimes I sprinkle toasted pine nuts or currants on top. Sometimes I drizzle on some hot-chili sesame oil. It just depends on what I’ve got on hand, and what I’m in the mood for. Same thing goes for frittata, salmon, soup, braised greens, roasted veggies, and dozens of other go-to dishes I work into my rotation on a weekly basis. By keeping the base ingredients and techniques simple, I can create tasty variety without needing a formal “recipe” of any kind.

Learn from friends. I got some of my favorite basics (including the massaged-kale salad — thanks, Courtney!) from watching friends make them.

If you have friends who cook, ask them if you can be their sous chef the next time they make dinner. Or just ask them to show you how they make one favorite dish.

Cooking is a great way to spend time with people. In part because it generally leads to eating together, too.

Whatever you do, don’t let “not knowing how to cook” prevent you from learning to cook — or from pursuing your own healthy-living goals.

A Better Way to Roll Your Yoga Mat

posted by Pilar Gerasimo October 26, 2016 0 comments

At the end of their yoga practice, people typically roll their mats by starting at one end and rolling to the other. This can create some annoying issues:

  • Rolling the floor-facing surface directly against the upward-facing practice surface deposits grit and grime directly where you least want it.
  • The initial horizontal crease in the foam gets tightly compressed in the middle of the rolled mat, causing that end to curl and spring back when unrolled, and preventing the mat from lying flat.
  • Wrestling a long mat through a dozen or more small rotations to roll it up fully is tedious — not an ideal way to wind up your peaceful practice.

Ready to try a more mindful and rewarding approach?

 

A Better Way to Roll a Yoga Mat

posted by Pilar Gerasimo October 4, 2016 3 Comments

Look, I’m not a total germaphobe, but I don’t like getting gross, dirty stuff on me if I can avoid it.

And that’s just one reason that the conventional way of rolling a yoga mat  always bothered me: As you’re rolling, you wind up getting the surface that’s in contact with the floor rolled directly against your practice surface — which then gets all that dirt on you, and well, that’s just kind of nasty.

I mean, who knows who’s filthy feet, dripping sweat, sneezed-out boogers, and yeast-ridden skin flakes have been all over that floor?

Okay, maybe I am something of a germaphobe. But there are plenty of other reasons I felt compelled to come up with a better mat-rolling method …

For one thing, the normal way of rolling a mat — from one end to the other — takes a long time. It’s slow and it’s fussy.

You get through half dozen arduous rotations only to go: “Darn, this mat is getting all off-course and rolling at an angle. Hmmph. Better start over …”

That’s kind of a bummer, and it is not the way I want to wind up a blissful yoga practice.

Nor do I enjoy starting my next yoga practice with a foam yoga mat that unrolls partially — only to bounce back into a stubborn curl that refuses to lie flat.

I mean really, who wants to practice yoga on a mat shaped like a nordic sled?

So, one day, many years ago, I spontaneously developed an alternative mat-rolling approach I liked better.

I later shared it with some yoga-loving friends and they were delighted! “Wow,” they said, “this is so much easier!” And indeed, it is.

I later discovered that a bunch of other folks had figured out this method on their own, too. But not nearly as many as you might think! And thus, alas, millions are still rolling their mats the old (slow, dirty, curly) way.

So, while I cannot claim to be the only one who “invented” this fold-then-roll approach (which frankly, is so simple, it’s silly), I am nonetheless here to share it with the world.

My dream is that someday, we’ll hit that “hundredth monkey” moment when the entire human species will spontaneously adopt this method as “the” way of rolling a yoga mat, and life as we know it will be forever changed.

One fun little thing I noticed (a thing that I don’t believe anybody else has yet, or if they have, they haven’t bothered talking about it): If you roll your yoga mat this way, you wind up with a nice little yin-yang symbol at the end.

For me, gazing upon this ancient symbol (which that represents balance, duality, harmony, the natural order of things) has become a mini-practice in and of itself.

Taking a moment to notice and appreciate it has become a ritual of sorts for me: It’s a moment that marks the completion of my yoga and my rentry into regular life, a moment where I can choose to carry forward the mental and physical equanimity I’ve gained by during my practice.

This micro-meditation on the yin-yang helps me to wind up with an affirmation of my own wholeness and wellbeing. Much nicer than contemplating an off-kilter rolling job.

Anyway, whether you adopt this alternative mat-rolling approach to avoid filth, to save time and hassle, or to avail yourself of a harmonic convergence of conscious, yin-yang mindfulness, it’s all good. Whatever your reason, I heartily recommend you watch the video and give it a try.

 

Revolutionary Act 25: Don’t Fall for Fakery

posted by Pilar Gerasimo September 27, 2016 0 comments

It took me a long time to draw the line. But one day, I drew it — somewhat arbitrarily — at the butter-flavored spray I had been spritzing onto my air-popped popcorn.

That stuff was disgusting. And frankly, I had expected it to be a little disgusting. But what I hadn’t expected was the sadness I felt as it landed with a faint hiss and a too-bright yellow hue across the surface of my bowl.

“Yuck,” I thought. “Why the heck am I eating this stuff?”

I wasn’t proud of the answer.

I was eating it because I thought this fake-butter spray would somehow make me slimmer. I was eating it because some advertisement had made it sound like a good idea. I was eating it because what I really wanted was butter — glorious butter — but I’d heard that real butter was somehow bad for me, bad for “my waistline,” and that this crazy aerosol concoction must be a better, more virtuous choice.

At the core, I was eating it because I had bought into the idea that some Fortune 500 food scientists knew a lot of fancy, calorie-disappearing, flavor-boosting tricks I didn’t, and because I believed I had something to gain by turning responsibility for fulfilling my cravings and appetites over to them.

Ultimately, I was eating it for the same reason I ate dozens of heavily processed things that were labeled “healthy,” “wholesome,” “lite,” “cholesterol-free,” and “diet smart”: because I wanted to believe.

I wanted to believe that I didn’t need to make my own food or know where my food came from. That I could get away with eating junk as long as it was “lite” junk. That the difference in flavor and satisfaction didn’t matter that much. That my body and brain could — and probably should — be outwitted.

I think the self-betrayal and self-abandonment implicit in that belief is a lot of what made me feel sad.

I had eaten most of this junk for years without complaining. But oh, the sadness I felt as that popcorn spray landed. Because on some level, I knew this was wrong. Spray-painting my popcorn with fake flavors and colors was senseless, unnecessary, and unsatisfying. It symbolized a whole way of thinking and choosing that I no longer wanted to own. And I knew I had to draw the line right then, or pretty soon I’d be eating artificially flavored packing peanuts.

I was also sad because I realized that I could easily have drawn that line long before then — at the sugar-free candies, or the reduced-fat chips, or the diet soda, or the low-cal mayonnaise, or the dairy-free cheese, or the “chocolatey” meal-replacement shakes, or the fruit-flavored beverage crystals, or any one of the other hundred fake-food products I’d been turning to for much of my young adult life in an effort to comply with what I’d been told was good for me.

But like I said, for whatever reason, it took me a long time to get there. Once that line was drawn, though — once I made the commitment to eating mostly whole foods most of the time, and to eating for both real pleasure and real nutrition — there was no going back.

For one thing, I started researching where fake food products come from and how they are made. As I’ve noted in previous columns, the vast majority are composed of the same basic slurry of cheap, government-subsidized commodities combined with an incredible array of chemical additives (like the ones that gave my popcorn spray its arresting yellow hue and cloying “butter-ish” aroma).

I also learned that no studies definitively link artificial sweeteners to weight loss, but a growing number (including some interesting new microbiome research) do link them to weight gain.

The other thing I started noticing: my own body — my senses, my appetite, my gut. I started paying attention to how I felt when I ate, or didn’t eat, one thing or another. And I felt so much better when I ate real food and avoided the fake stuff that there really was no contest.

If you haven’t already embraced whole foods as the basis for your eating, I get it. There are a thousand convincing messages persuading you (as they long did me) that to do so would be far too much effort, take far too much time, incline you to gain far too much weight, and be no fun at all.

And yet, I’m guessing there’s another part of you that wonders how your body would look and feel when freed from the toxic burdens of fake, processed, imitation foods and empowered by the enlivening nutrients and flavors of whole, live, real ones.

Here are a few ways to find out:

Run an experiment. You can go big (discover the dramatic impact of a steady, monthlong diet of whole foods at Whole30.com), or you can go small (try a single day, a single meal, or just swap out diet soda for water). But until you’ve had some firsthand experience with what ditching fake foods and chemical additives can do for your body, mind, and life, all of this will be theory and hearsay. You deserve to find out for yourself, and that experience is available to you now. Why not give it a try?

Read backward. You probably know that the ingredients on food labels are listed in order by volume. This means, in principle, that the most significant ingredients are listed first. Typically, the top-listed ingredients include flour, sugar, oil, water, salt, etc. And that can lull you into a sense of complacency, because none of it sounds that bad. But some of the most troubling ingredients may be hiding at the very end of the list. By volume, they represent a small percentage, but that’s because they are industrial compounds (whether preservatives, flavor additives, or colors) intense enough for a small amount to have a powerful effect. It takes only a little bit of them to spell trouble.

Beware “natural” hype. I recently saw a “100 percent natural” version of that soul-sucking popcorn spray, featuring “natural butter flavor.” But what is that, really? It’s a chemically extracted, laboratory-derived flavor additive from some once-upon-a-time-natural dairy-food component. So sorry, no, not natural. In fact, a single “natural flavor” can con­tain a hundred ingredients, including synthetic solvents and preservatives, that are never listed on the label.

Also worth noting: This spray lists three kinds of vegetable oil as its first ingredients, but shows zero calories and zero grams of fat on the nutrition label. How is that possible, you ask? The serving size is a single spray that lasts one-third of a second. Good luck with that. And by the way, if you somehow manage to spray a fine mist of melted butter onto your popcorn for one-third of a second, you’ll get the same caloric effect (and probably about as much flavor). Why not just properly kettle-cook and butter your popcorn and enjoy it?

Find your happy place. The point here is not to be an absolute purist at the expense of your sanity. I know very few people who never, ever let anything the least bit processed pass their lips. As a dairy-sensitive person, I am grateful for organic soy creamer in my coffee. Having been diagnosed with gluten troubles, I’m also grateful for gluten-free goodies now and then.

None of that stuff is 100 percent real or whole. But because I’m picky about the ingredients in such products, and because I enjoy them as only a tiny fraction of my mostly whole-food diet, I am pretty happy with my choices. You have to be happy with yours. So where you draw your own fake-food line is entirely up to you.

Revolutionary Act 24: Eat More Plants

posted by Pilar Gerasimo August 29, 2016 0 comments

It seems like everyone is pretty wild about plant-based diets these days. I’m a bit more reserved in my enthusiasm.

Why? Because when I hear “plant-based diet,” I can’t help but picture what a lot of plant-based dieters primarily consume — namely, industrially processed bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, crackers, refined vegetable oils, fake “veggie” meats, fake “veggie” cheeses, “veggie” chips, refined sugars, and all manner of not-terribly-good-for-you, ostensibly plant-derived ingredients.

You know the stuff I’m talking about: All those “technically-made-from-some-part-of-a-plant-but-I-can’t-really-say-which-or-how” ingredients, like hydrolyzed soy protein, modified starch, enriched flour, fractionated palm oil, and high-fructose corn syrup.

Occasionally eating and enjoying those things isn’t necessarily going to kill you, but it’s not the kind of “plant-based” eating that’s most likely to transform and sustain your health for the better, either.

So what is a good basis for a plant-based diet? Glad you asked, because the answer is simple: plants.

Plants with leaves, stems, and vines, and also the lovely orbs, pods, nubs, blooms, and seeds that grow from them. Eaten just like that. Or, OK, maybe rinsed off and sliced up and cooked a bit if you like.

I’m talking about plants that still reflect some semblance of their original color, shape, or texture. Plants that are recognizable as plants or plant bits. Plants that haven’t had all the beautiful life and rich nutritional properties processed right out of them.

As I shared in my last column (“Revolutionary Act 23: Eat Fresh”), there’s huge value in food that has its structural integrity and biochemical oomph still intact, and there are real liabilities in consuming an excess of foods from which that integrity and oomph have been largely extracted. Unfortunately, the most convenient, popular, and highly promoted “plant-based” options in our food -supply fall into the second category.

Many of these food products are rendered palatable and attractive by virtue of their considerable processing and packaging, and they are craftily designed to make us want to eat more of them. Always more. Until we’ve eaten so much we feel sick, tired, logy, bloated, dull, clogged up, remorseful, or simply mystified about why we just ate everything we did — and why still, a few moments later, we might be inclined to eat just a little bit more.

Happily, there’s a cure for this syndrome. But it involves some mental recategorization and physical adjustment. It also involves a reprior-itization of the foods you eat on a daily basis, and some savvy about how to circumvent the ubiquity of so-called plant-based foods that may do your body more harm than good.

Here are the three best strategies I know for managing that:

Start seeing (and seeking) phytonutrients. “Phyto” means plant, and it originates from the Greek word phyton, which translates literally as “that which has grown.” A nutrient is basically any substance that helps an organism survive, grow, and flourish. But what you really need to know about phytonutrients (which many people don’t) is that they aren’t just raw macronutrient fuel or basic vitamin-and-mineral matter.

On the contrary, they carry powerful and complex biochemical information. They transmit important signals and ingenious operating instructions that your body responds to and begins acting on almost immediately.

Phytonutrients are a big part of what gives brightly hued produce its beautiful colors (purple in blueberries, green in kale, and so on), and each of those different colors tends to signal different health-promoting properties.

Almost all brightly colored vegetables (and a few white ones, like cauliflower) tend to reduce inflammatory, oxidative, and premature-aging responses. They discourage cancer-triggering and cancer-growing responses. They encourage healing, detoxification, and repair responses. And thus, they tend to make you look and feel a whole lot better.

For all their artistry and intelligence, phytonutrients are also delicate little things, and they perish easily. They abound in most fresh plant foods (and also in herbs, spices, seeds, legumes, and whole-kernel grains), but confronted with the ugliness of most modern food-processing methods (think heat, pressure, pulverization, chemical intervention, and extended shelf storage), they quickly keel over and die.

The other thing to know about phytonutrients is that they can impart an incredible array of complex, nuanced flavors and aromas — from intense bitterness, twang, spice, and sulfur to delicate floral and herbal notes.

So if you are interested in flavor complexities, and you know how to bring out the best in veggies (meaning you don’t always resort to super-blah steaming), you’re probably going to enjoy them much more.

If your palate is more accustomed to breakfast cereal and hamburger buns, or you have no culinary skill whatsoever, you may need a gradual ramp-up strategy to move from iceberg lettuce to spinach to arugula to dandelion greens. Start experimenting. Allow your palate to evolve.

Reverse your ratios. Most of us have been socially programmed to see as “normal” a plate dominated by starchy carbs and animal proteins, and lightly dotted with a little actual-plant produce. In most conventional restaurants, vegetables are still presented as “sides” and “accompaniments,” or mere garnishes.

The problem is, our bodies prefer to have the ratios reversed — a whole lotta nonstarchy plant food with a satisfying side of other stuff. But translating that happy-body ratio to our everyday plates can be challenging.

My preferred approach: Start by assembling a full or near-full base layer of colorful, nonstarchy vegetables, then place moderate-size servings of animal or plant proteins (and whatever starchy bits and condiments you’re excited about) on top of that.

Use your fork and knife to assemble bites that contain delightful little combinations of those items, and pay attention to how much more quickly your hunger gets satisfied when you are eating this way.

More restaurants are now offering these sorts of veggie-centric “bowls” and salad-based entrées as options to their standard fare, and you can always ask to have one prepared from available ingredients listed in other dishes.

Spark your plant appetite. A lot of people say they don’t crave vegetables as much as they wish they did. The trouble is, the fewer of them we eat, the fewer of them we tend to crave.

Flirting with aromas often helps stimulate my fresh-food appetite (cut open a cucumber, or bruise a basil leaf and take a whiff). So does starting the day with a veggie smoothie, or perusing veggie-centric cookbooks and learning to prepare even dull basics in appetizing ways (I find sautéed-to-golden zucchini slices vastly more appealing than pale, raw spears).

Ethnic restaurants are great places to explore a wider and yummier variety of vegetables, in part because most non-U.S. cultures have a long history of making them a more central and creative part of their menus.

But for me, the best healthy-appetite sparker of all has been embracing my responsibility to my healthy body, and realizing that I can learn to love (or at least actively appreciate) anything and everything it needs to thrive.