To Smoothie or Not To Smoothie, That is the Question

As recently as March 1, 2016 Canada’s Senate Committee on Obesity declared "Canada’s dated food guide is no longer effective in providing nutritional guidance to Canadians. Fruit juice, for instance, is presented as a healthy item when it is little more than a soft drink without the bubbles." 

For me, this statement is an incredible victory for the science of fructose, the sugar found in fruit. Since 2009, when Dr. Robert Lustig’s YouTube video, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, went viral, the word fructose has conjured up much debate. Why? Because we now know through his research and others that fructose is metabolized only in the liver, and it is metabolized into fat when ingested in large quantities. 

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Minimalist Cooking Teaches Simple Real Food Preparation

One solution to our current food crisis put forth by the IRN is: “Inspire, encourage, enable, and involve consumers to make better choices, demonstrating that [real] food can be affordable, convenient, and delicious every day.”  How can this be achieved? I, the Minimalist Cook, am on a mission to help.

Several decades after processed foods were introduced and heavily marketed as modern and convenient, we are now dealing with the consequences. There are many well-known issues with processed foods . So why do we still eat them?

Well, there are psychological, economic, sociological, and practical factors at play. Some factors present such a challenge that people need help overcoming them.  Basic cooking skills, for example, have gotten lost, and when looking to learn how to cook, people often find that conventional cooking classes are designed for people who, ironically, can already cook.

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What If There Was A Way To Reverse Diet Related Disease?

What if there was a way to reverse diet related disease? What if this solution didn’t involve a pill, special diet plan, buying a book, following a guru, or installing a medical device? What if the answer didn’t involve any dogma, but simply some applied science, fun, and community – and, get this, what if it was pretty much free? What if this solution already existed? Well, headline news folks, it does!

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Health Without Harm

As a pediatric gastroenterologist, many of the patients I treat suffer from medical illnesses amenable to dietary therapy.  While this may seem safer than using drugs to treat an illness, I am constantly reminded that even nutritional therapy can be fraught with risk, if not understood properly. 

Above all else, physicians are taught to do no harm.  Most of us relate this to an acute situation, but in the case of dietary advice, we also need to consider the long-term risks. 

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Let's Help Let's Move

As a founder of Let’s Help Let’s Move Public Charity (LHLM), I help children in Mercer County, New Jersey develop healthy food preferences and increase physical activity to avoid obesity, heart problems, diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening conditions. Since working in Capital Health Systems, I have witness the suffering that patients endure from living unhealthy lifestyles, and I eagerly supported Michelle Obama’s 2010 Let’s Move campaign that encouraged healthier food in schools, better food labeling and more physical activity for children.

At some point, I realized that Let's Move doesn’t take into consideration that children form food habits before kindergarten and are resistant to change. Psychological studies confirm this reluctance, so I decided to take a different approach. In 2014, I founded Let's Help Let's Move to encourage children to develop healthy food preferences and make better lifestyle choices at a younger age through educational entertainment and behavior modification. I was convinced this was the missing link to Let’s Move.

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Interview with Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray


Bettina Elias Siegel started out as a concerned parent and became an inadvertent advocate for childhood food issues. She now writes The Lunch Tray blog and has become a respected voice on food policy relating to children, including school food reform. She has appeared on ABC World News Tonight, the Today ShowNBC Nightly NewsAnderson, The DoctorsFox News affiliates, and various Houston news broadcasts.  She has also been featured or quoted in the New York Times, Washington PostChicago Tribune, the Associated Press, Texas MonthlyThe Dish, the Atlantic Wire, the Houston Chronicle and many other outlets. We interview her here.

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Rethink Your Resolution

By the time you read this blog, your New Year’s resolution may already be out the window. You may be feeling discouraged or even depressed that in such a short period of time what you thought was resolute for this year is already not happening.

Let’s be honest. New Year’s resolutions are an industry. Yes, an industry, especially centered around diets. There I said it—that four-letter word which should be banned from our vocabulary. 

Your diet is not going to be successful. How do I know? If diets worked, there wouldn’t be a 60 billion dollar a year weight loss industry!

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Chain of Fools

You got me where you want me
I ain't nothin' but your fool
Ya treated me mean
Oh you treated me cruel

-Aretha Franklin "Chain of Fools"

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My sweet tooth started when I was young, but this is how I curbed my cravings

About two years ago I began a journey to understand why I was craving sugar. This curiosity and the need to know how to overcome my seemingly innate sugar habit led me on a Nancy Drew-like investigation; I began researching all I could about our relationship to the sweet stuff, and started documenting my “sugar cleanse” via sugardetox.me, which later led to an easy-to-follow, empowering program to help others do the same.

Let’s backtrack though: Even though I considered myself a healthy eater in general, it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to eat half a box of cookies in one sitting if they were just lying around. Luckily I wouldn’t frequently purchase sweets in the store—nor make them at home, but when I did—they wouldn’t last long!

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Getting Hospitals to Set Good Examples

When I treat kids who have a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the first thing I tell them is that the fat in their liver comes from the added sugar in their diet.  After I go on to explain how fructose gets metabolized into fat and stored in the liver, we review possible sources of added fructose in these kids’ diets.  First and foremost, I make sure they eliminate all juice and sugar-sweetened beverages.  And I explain how even 100% juice has a lot of free fructose in it, explaining what Dr. Lustig’s research has shown on the interaction between fiber and fructose.  I remind kids that it’s perfectly fine to eat fruit, but that “drinking fruit” is not healthy.  

Sometimes, these kids with NAFLD need to have a liver biopsy, most often done while the child is sedated using anesthesia.  This requires the child to come into the hospital, of course.  One day, the mother of one of my patients who had just had a liver biopsy, remarked that she found it strange when the first thing a nurse offered him, shortly after he had awoken from anesthesia, was a glass of apple juice.  Mom questioned why the child was routinely offered juice in the health care setting, when the family had been advised to avoid it completely at home.

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Let Food Be Thy Medicine: The Experience of a Pediatric Gastroenterologist

As a pediatric gastroenterologist, I am a specialist often asked to help children with metabolic syndrome (hypertension, high blood sugar, dyslipidemia and increased abdominal fat).  For years, I accepted the conventional wisdom that the only way to treat this was with “diet and exercise”, combining calorie (primarily fat) restriction with increased physical activity.  Yet for years, I rarely saw a child improve, even when they followed my advice for months.  Nothing was more disheartening.

It got to a point in my clinical practice where I started to seriously doubt the efficacy of these recommendations, yet since all leading medical experts continued to expound that “diet and exercise” should work, it’s what I continued to advise.  Needless to say, I began to lose enthusiasm and motivation for treating these patients.

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Just Nine Days to Metabolic Health

As a pediatric gastroenterologist who treats children with metabolic syndrome, I found the results of Dr. Robert Lustig’s recently published study extremely compelling.  For those who haven’t had a chance to read it, I’ll begin by summarizing the paper.

Forty-three children suffering from obesity and metabolic syndrome had baseline medical measurements such as blood pressure, blood glucose and body-composition (bone, fat, and fat-free mass) performed on Day 1 of the study.  Based on what what each child reported as a typical daily diet, replacement meals were carefully crafted (maintaining each individual child’s baseline total number of calories, as well as percentage of calories coming from carbohydrate, fat, protein and fiber) and delivered, serving as the kids’ sole source of caloric intake for 9 intervention days.  Only one ingredient was replaced: fructose. Instead of calories from added sugar, which is 50% fructose, starches were added, so as to maintain the percentage of calories from carbohydrate.  Careful attention was paid daily to ensure kids weren’t losing weight, and extra calories added in, if necessary. 

On the 10th day, medical measurements were repeated.  All measures of metabolic health (liver fat, blood glucose, insulin levels, blood pressure, etc) were noted to significantly improve.  The study basically showed that as we’ve been hearing from Dr. Lustig all along, “a calorie isn’t a calorie” and that keeping all other variables constant, solely reducing fructose intake can greatly improve one's metabolic health. 

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Putting Love and Community Back Into the Food System

California produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables, and leads the nation in many areas related to the food system. I was blessed to spend much of life in such an abundant state and to found my career in food system work here. In 1979, I was hired to start the first Certified Farmers’ Markets in California, and have been involved in the food movement ever since (urban agriculture, garden based learning, horticulture therapy, community nutrition, etc.).  Throughout my career, I have learned that gardens, farms, and other community based food solutions are powerful elements in addressing much of what ails society.

Children on the Farm

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Eat Like Pope Francis

What does the Pope snack on during his travels?  If you guessed Power Bars and Fiji Water, think again.  The New York Times reported that during his recent U.S. visit Pope Francis asked that bananas and tap water be available to him between meals. 

It’s no surprise that with his message of humility, concern for the environment, and calls to curb rampant consumerism, that Pope Francis would live by example, eating simple, healthy foods with little or no packaging.

Here are 8 Ways the Pope’s message of compassion, humility, and well-being might inspire us to eat healthier and more sustainably:

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The Power of a Simple Nudge

While grocery shopping, sometimes I find that it’s really hard to contain myself from buying chocolate, candies, or other junk foods, especially while waiting in the checkout lane. Even though I know that such foods are detrimental for my health, they look so appealing that I usually end up buying some. I am not rational, and the present satisfaction takes over the potential future health spillovers.

In this regard, I am, what is defined by Thaler and Sunstein, a Human, as opposed to an Econ, who makes his/her decisions optimally based on rational and unbiased factors. My choices and behaviors are biased and subject to the influence of environmental factors, even small details (like the chocolate next to the checkout). As a Human, my decisions are influenced by choice architects (grocery retailers, cafeteria managers, etc.) who decide the layout of our food environment. 

So what if the environment could be shaped in a way that would make healthful foods more appealing, and would help Humans like me make better decisions for their health without restricting the freedom to choose? It can be, and to achieve this goal, Thaler and Sunstein suggest the use of simple nudges. 

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Noncaloric Sweeteners: What's the Rub?

It is well known and undisputed that the increased consumption of sugar, in all its variations, has contributed to the ever-growing prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome over the past fifty-plus years. Once the exception, metabolic dysregulation and its related symptoms have now etched themselves as the rule in our global health picture. As a result, the industries involved in treating, rectifying, and capitalizing on this problem and its associated costs are estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars. 

Weight loss programs, pharmaceuticals, exercise techniques, surgical procedures, nutritional supplements, and diet products targeted to consumers and physicians permeate the media, literature, and our everyday vernacular. Rife among these countless products and initiatives designed as quick-fix remedies to lower blood sugar, boost weight loss, increase insulin sensitivity (and the like) are noncaloric artificial sweeteners (NAS). 

NAS are commonly deemed as a safe and beneficial solution for weight loss, given their low caloric content, stunted insulin response, and reduced costs for use in commercial products. Yet, their surge in promotion, production, and consumption over the past twenty to thirty years has not done the average American’s waistline any favors. In fact, the opposite has occurred. So, what’s the rub?

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How to Use Reverse Psychology Against the Food Industry

As a food psychologist, one of the questions I am most commonly asked is how we can protect ourselves from deceptive food labels, marketing and advertising.  Food companies use very sophisticated tactics to sell more of their product and arming yourself against these is really hard!  I’m someone who knows a lot about nutrition and even I feel like a trip to the grocery store is an exercise in decoding propaganda.  Here are four ways you can use “reverse psychology” to protect yourself.

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My Journey to Real Food

When my wife asked me to share my real food journey, I hesitated to share such a private experience. But she made a good point that made me want to write about it: The process was not a rosy 1-2-3 go experience like so many blogs or media seem to depict it. Others could benefit from what I learned during the past six months of change. 

First, I want you to know that when I started this journey I was not obese, but maybe just a bit overweight. I gained about 15 pounds around my middle in my forties, but my BMI was within the normal range. My cholesterol levels were considered normal although my LDL was a bit high and my HDL was a bit low. At my last exam, my family doctor said I was in great shape and to come back in a year. I was happy. My wife on the other hand was not impressed.

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Sugar Coated: What Can We Do About It?

On November 6, I was privileged to attend IRN’s screening of the eye-opening documentary Sugar Coated by filmmaker Michele Hozer. Following the screening, there was a lively discussion about the degree to which the sugar industry has tampered with science, how consumers could have been exposed to better science about sugar decades ago, and whether people would even care if they had reliable information about how toxic sugar really is.

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Why We Should Be Eating Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is a guilty pleasure--or is it? If you have or wish to prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or pre-diabetes then chocolate is a medicine you may want to take every day. 

So often the news is full of more things to add to the Don’t Eat list, especially when you are diabetic. How about some good news for a change?

What you eat is the most powerful medicine there is for your health, and chocolate is a food brimming with compounds that help your body stay healthy. Eating dark chocolate is linked to better blood flow, lower blood pressure, reduced LDL cholesterol, and improved insulin sensitivity.

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