Monday, February 24, 2014

Eating too much...kale?!

If you know anything about eating healthy, then you definitely know about kale.  It's the quintessential "health food," boasting high levels of calcium, vitamin C, and iron, and providing lots of fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants.  As far as most people are concerned, it can do no wrong.  Or can it?
Kale has a dirty little secret...
I read an article recently about how eating too much kale can actually be bad for you, and I thought it was an excellent example of how too much of anything-- even kale, the holy grail of health foods!-- can be detrimental to your health.  The problem with kale, and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy, is that it is goitrogenic, which basically means that consuming too much of it can lead to an enlarged thyroid, or goiter.  When eating normal amounts of these vegetables, especially when cooked, one is not likely to have any problems.  The issues arise when people regularly consume large amounts of these vegetables raw, such as when they are blended or juiced, which is becoming increasingly popular among well-meaning health junkies.

You may be thinking, "if kale isn't safe, then what the heck am I supposed to eat?!"  It sure does seem like every other day we're being told that something that was once touted as "good" for us is suddenly "bad!"  So, what to do?  The simple answer is variety.  Eating too much of anything-- whether it's cake or kale-- isn't a great idea.  If you pin all your hopes on one type of food making you healthy and base your entire diet on it, there's a decent chance you'll find out at some point that that food may not be as healthy as once thought-- maybe it'll be some trace chemical or pesticide they discover in it, or they'll link it to cancer or heart disease, who knows!-- but if you've only eaten moderate amounts of it, you'll likely be fine.  If you've been basing your entire diet on it, however, you may not be.  The better approach is to hedge your bets and eat moderate amounts of all kinds of foods (yes, even cake and cookies!).  Besides covering all your nutritional bases and providing more satisfaction in your eating, variety means that you're not eating massive amounts of any one food, and therefore don't have to worry about any detrimental effects associated with one type of food that may surface in the future.

And, just so you don't think I'm "anti-kale" or anything, I wanted to share one of my favorite kale recipes that has made it into the rotation here in my house.  It's fast and simple enough to make on a weeknight, and half the time I have most if not all of the ingredients already in my cupboard.  I usually serve myself a large portion and eat it as a main dish, but it can also be enjoyed as a side.  I hope you like it as much as I do!

One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf
Adapted from recipe found at Food52
Serves 2-4
I forgot to take a photo, so I stole this one from the Food52 site. Oops!

2 cups salted water
1 cup quinoa
1 bunch lacinato kale, washed and chopped into 1" lengths
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 scallions (I have also used regular onions as a substitute)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (how to toast pine nuts)
1/4-1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (depending on how cheesy/creamy you like it)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring the water to a boil in a covered pot.  Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat until it is just enough to maintain a simmer.  Let simmer for 10 minutes, then top with the kale and re-cover.  Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to steam for 5 more minutes.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, take a large serving bowl and combine half of the lemon juice (reserving the other half), all of the lemon zest, scallions, and olive oil, pine nuts, and goat cheese.

3. Check the quinoa and kale when cooking time has completed-- the water should have absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender but firm, and the kale tender and bright green.  If the quinoa still had a hard white center, you can steam a bit longer (adding more water if needed).  When the quinoa and kale are done, fluff the pilaf, and tip it into the waiting bowl with the remaining ingredients.  As the hot quinoa hits the scallions and lemon it should smell lovely.  Toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper, and the remaining lemon juice if needed. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Putting weight loss on the back burner

Many people start intuitive eating counseling at a time when they're uncomfortable with their current body shape.  Sure, they're pretty much convinced that diets don't work in the long term (since they've likely experienced this first hand), but they still really really want to lose weight.  So it can be discouraging to hear that the focus of intuitive eating isn't on weight...that they need to put weight loss on the back burner.  You might end up losing weight, especially if you've been eating in a way in which you are not honoring your hunger and satiety cues, or eating emotionally on a regular basis, but focussing on weight loss will distract from the process of becoming an intuitive eater, and ultimately sabotage you.

A recent study actually demonstrated this phenomenon.  In the study, a group of college-aged women read an article about how being overweight could affect their chances of employment, while another control group read an article about smoking and getting a job.  After reading the articles, and participating in a discussion, they were taken to a room for a break, and given access to candy and crackers.  Those women who were overweight and had read the article about weight and employment consumed significantly more calories than those who had read the article about smoking.  The researcher argues that these results "suggest that public-health messages need to emphasize the importance of health and exercise, and not focus on weight."  This is exactly what we do with intuitive eating, and I believe it's why we see improved health and psychological well-being, and, yes, even weight loss, in many of those who follow the philosophy.  It may seem counterintuitive that taking your focus off of your weight can result in weight loss, but it really does happen!  

The article also brings up the fact that in order to lose weight, you need to first stop blaming yourself for your weight problem, as this affects self-esteem.  Sure, you might not love the body you're currently in, but it's important to be gentle with yourself, and stop beating yourself up for having gained weight.  If you got where you are because of years of yo-yo dieting, recognize that you were doing what you thought was best for you and for your health, and now that you know that diets don't work, you're moving on and trying something different.  And if you're at your current weight because of emotional eating, give yourself credit that you've manage to make it through all the difficulties you've encountered in your life using perhaps the only coping mechanism you had available to you at the time.  Lots of super smart, extremely accomplished people come in larger bodies, so being something other than a so-called "ideal weight" doesn't indicate anything negative about you as a person.

So, try to be patient.  Eating intuitively isn't a quick fix like many diets, although unlike a diet, you will reap the benefits of following this philosophy for a lifetime.  When you focus on satisfaction, and eat based on hunger and satiety, your body will eventually normalize and you'll find yourself at your set point weight which, as I said earlier, may very well be lower than your current weight.  All of this takes time, though, so hang in there and focus on treating yourself and your body with the respect and love it deserves.