Sugar: “The Sweet Lie”

I’m not sure how chocolate and candy hearts became the symbol for Valentine’s Day, but I do know that the latest research continues to show us that sugar can be significantly detrimental to our health. Here are just a few of the most noted harmful effects of sugar:

Sugar causes inflammation. This is particularly harmful to those suffering from joint pain, arthritis and migraines.

Sugar suppresses the immune system. If you are suffering from a cold, the flu, bronchitis, or cancer, avoid sugar to give your body’s immune system the best opportunity at healing.

Sugar feeds every cell in our body – including cancer cells. Several recent studies indicate that sugar may increase the growth of cancer cells; other research shows that it is the weight gain from sugar that increases our risk of cancer; especially harmful is increased fat around our heart and organs. Either way, reducing sugar may reduce our risk of cancer.

Sugar is a main culprit in the growing epidemic of obesity and adult-onset diabetes in the U.S. According to health scientists at MD Anderson, the average American eats 260 cups of sugar a year! This isn’t just from sweets, it’s also from hidden sources, such as tomato sauce, salad dressing, “healthy” cereals, and more.

Finally, sugar is addictive. When we eat sugar (and chocolate) our body releases the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These are the same chemicals that addicts crave. So while you think having one or two pieces of heart-shaped chocolates won’t be too bad, your brain is thinking “I want more!” That’s why so many of us find it hard to resist sweet temptations.

Healthy ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day

What does a candy-free February look like?
Try some of these non-food nourishing gift ideas:

The American Heart Association suggests a gift from the heart, such as a poem or love letter. Choose a favorite poem or write what you feel. Write or type it on beautiful paper (check out some options on Etsy.) In between relationships? Write yourself a loving, “non-negotiable” list – all the things you will never put up with in a relationship ever again. Or write a friend or loved one who has been an inspiration or support in your life.

Savor the moments in pictures. Do you have a ton of pictures on your phone but rarely print them out? Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to remember your loved ones with the thoughtful gift of photos. I love the app Groovebook – for $2.99 a month you can upload up to 100 pictures and Groovebook automatically sends you a photo album each month! Or go for a year of love with a photo calendar – apps like Shutterfly make it easy!

Spend a night with no electronics or digital distractions! Make a fire, bundle up and go for a walk, or have a few friends over and serve the heart-healthy treats below with sparkling water and raspberries.

Instead of reaching for something sweet, chocolaty or gooey this Valentine’s Day, try some of these ideas for indulging the ones you love. (And that includes YOU!)

My Thanksgiving Meal Plan

Just In Time: My Two-Step Thanksgiving Game Plan

Step 1: Be Aware of Holiday Eating Triggers

In order to prepare for what’s ahead, it’s helpful to consider what might trigger you to overeat during the Thanksgiving holiday. According to health researchers, several factors can contribute to holiday weight gain:

Stress. We love our family, but sometimes close quarters (or just an extended meal) with our relatives can make us a little stressed. Add to that the pressure of kids on vacation and a change in schedules, and you’ve got what’s known as “food drivers” – eating to feel better. In addition, this kind of anxiety may cause your body to increase the production of cortisol (the stress hormone). An increase in cortisol can cause weight gain regardless of the amount of food you eat.

Travel and Sleep Deprivation. Whether vacationing or visiting relatives, traveling disrupts our everyday schedule and can be exhausting. We tend to dine out more and exercise less. In addition, we may not sleep as well in a “foreign” bed or we get less sleep as we try to pack more into each day. Research shows that our appetites increase 25% when we’re tired! Plus, we crave sugar, caffeine and carbs to give us quick energy.

More of everything. If everyone around us is indulging … and if everywhere we turn we see a platter of treats … our resistance wears down. “The proximity and visibility of a food can consistently increase an adult’s consumption,” says Brian Wansink, professor of marketing and human behavior at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating. “Even for people with the greatest resolve, every time they look at a candy dish they say, ‘Do I want that Hershey’s Kiss, or don’t I?’ Gradually our resolve is worn down.”

Binge Now, Resolve Later. Millions of people make New Year’s resolutions to eat better and lose weight. However, according to a study cited by Dr. Suzanne Koven of Massachusetts General Hospital, people often take an “all or nothing” attitude between Thanksgiving and January 1st – binge eating now before they begin their resolution.

Step 2: Be Prepared With Proven Tips

So how do you prepare to face the odds against you this time of year? Plan ahead and follow my Healthy Thanksgiving Game Plan:

Set a clear intention for the Thanksgiving weekend. What is your GOAL for surviving the holiday? Write it down, including the “why.” For example: I would like to MAINTAIN my current weight because I don’t want my clothes to feel tight. I would like to AVOID OVEREATING because I don’t want to have an upset stomach when my family is visiting over the holiday.

Don’t have it in the house. You CAN control what’s in your fridge and pantry! Don’t stock up on candy, cakes and sugary drinks and you won’t be tempted to eat them. If your family wants a holiday treat, suggest a dessert place they can patronize and ask them not to bring home “leftovers.” You can also create a healthy dessert alternative (see Thanksgiving Recipe Makeovers below). Let your friends and family know about your health goals and ask for their support.

Eat before you eat. Don’t attend the Thanksgiving meal on an empty stomach. (Many people think that skipping meals on the big day will help them save calories, but studies show the opposite is true.) Instead, start your day with a healthy, high-fiber breakfast such as oatmeal and blueberries. Then, have a midday protein shake that includes a handful of spinach, half a green apple, a frozen banana, unsweetened almond milk, and chia seeds. This has plenty of fiber to keep you satiated so you don’t overeat at the table.

Eat small portions of just your favorites. Use a tablespoon – not a serving spoon – to place a small portion of your favorite foods on your plate. Skip any foods that you don’t absolutely love. This way you’ll be able to taste all of your favorites without overeating any of them. Eat slowly and try to be mindful as you eat; if you chat all the way through your meal you’ll feel less satisfied and will be tempted to eat more or snack later.

Don’t linger. Once you’ve finished your meal, offer to help clean dishes; take the kids (or the family dog) for a walk; or start a game of catch outside. You can also grab one of your favorite relatives and sit in another room to catch up, or pull out some old family movies or DVDs and gather everyone together to watch.

Don’t come empty-handed. When you are invited to a holiday meal, offer to bring a dish – and then make it a healthy one. Bring hummus with carrots and cucumbers; salsa with Mary’s Gone Crackers (my favorite healthy brand!); a tray of mixed natural nuts and roasted chickpeas; a bowl of roasted red and green peppers with a variety of olives. Now you will have something healthy to eat! (You can use this tip when you are the host, too!)

Drink up! Fill a glass with sparkling water and lime and sip on it throughout the meal. It’s a great alternative to sugar-laden alcoholic drinks or wine. Sipping water throughout the day will also help you refrain from mindless eating and drinking!

Be generous. Don’t be tempted by leftover pies, potatoes, sauces, and stuffing. A few days before Thanksgiving, stock up on disposable storage containers so you can send your guests home with all the leftovers. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it!

Get back on track fast. Even if you do eat more than usual at your Thanksgiving meal, don’t throw in the towel for the rest of the weekend! Wake up at your regular time the next day and have a glass of warm water with lemon within an hour of waking. Lemon acts as a natural detoxifier to help you eliminate sugar and other toxins. Eat a banana and head to the gym; or go for a walk or bike ride. Have a high-fiber lunch such as vegetarian chili or soup. And continue to drink plenty of water throughout the day (aim for half your weight in ounces of water each day.) The faster you get back on track, the less chance you’ll have of gaining weight or feeling uncomfortable symptoms.

Be good to yourself. While it may feel good in the moment to indulge in that pumpkin pie or stuffing, Thanksgiving meal foods often make us feel bad. They typically contain loads of sugar, salt, processed ingredients, and saturated fat. If you notice you feel bloated, congested, headache-y or itchy, chances are you’re having food-related symptoms. For example, wine contains histamines, which can cause congestion and/or sinus headaches. Carbs and sugary foods wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, and we feel tired, moody or depressed after the “sugar high.” Be good to yourself by choosing foods that help you feel energized, in control, confident, and symptom-free!

Stay Healthy This Summer Inside and Out


Sun Protection

Are you confused about sun protection and the often conflicting reports? We’re told to use sunscreen to protect against sun damage and prevent skin cancer, but we’re also told that the chemicals in sunscreen could be harmful. What should we do? Well, we are right to be concerned about sun damage. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 2 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, and the occurrences are actually increasing. However, many sunscreens could be causing harm; according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 97 percent of Americans are contaminated with a widely-used chemical in sunscreens — oxybenzone – which can cause allergic reactions, hormone disruption and cell damage.
In addition, not all sunscreens provide the protection they claim. To find a sunscreen that offers protection AND uses safe ingredients, check outEnvironmental Working Group (EWG). EWG rates sunscreens based on this combined criteria, and provides a list of the top 100 that made the cut. Overall, EWG likes today’s zinc- and titanium-based mineral sunscreens because they offer excellent UV protection but do not penetrate the skin. According to EWG, “half of the U.S. sunscreens that meet the United State’s FDA rules would not make it to store shelves in Europe,” which has stricter standards.

What else can you do to protect yourself from skin damage and the threat of melanoma?

• Eat raw vegetables; they are packed with skin-protecting antioxidants/phytonutrients.

• Reduce or eliminate your consumption of processed foods and sugars, which can suppress your immune system and increase inflammation.

• Wear clothing that provides protection against UVA and UVB rays; check out products from Coolibar and Solumbra, or dozens of others available online. When in the water (or biking, hiking and running outdoors), wear a swim shirt – today’s versions are good-looking and breathable, and you don’t have to worry about chemicals or the sunscreen washing off. (Do make sure you use sunscreen on the parts of your face and body that are not protected by clothing.)

• Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, and wear sunglasses whenever you are outside, including when you are driving. Eyewear protects the sensitive skin around your eyes and can reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Make sure your sunglasses provide both VA/UVB protection.

• Avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, 12N to 4PM.

• Avoid burning! Sunburns significantly increase your chances of developing melanoma, according to

• Do not use tanning booths – these are NOT safer than the sun! People who use tanning beds are two to five times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, according to

• Remember to examine your body for signs of skin damage, and get a yearly skin check from a board-certified dermatologist.

It’s Not Your Fault!

If you have a weight problem, you likely feel that it is all your fault. You feel wholly responsible for your predicament. You are gluttonous, inactive and lack willpower.  That would mean that you and half of the country (who is unfortunately overweight) all share these serious shortcomings.  Really?  In this newsletter, I dare to turn that notion on its head.  It’s not your fault!  Before making my case, here are the facts:

  • More than half of Americans are overweight and one third of Americans are obese.
  • More than 9 million adolescents are overweight, with 60,000 cases of Type 2 Diabetes.
  • In 2 decades 95% of Americans will be overweight or obese (if current trends continue).
  • This is the first generation whose children have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. 

For the past 30 years, conventional wisdom and the media have been telling us that we are the masters of our own destiny where our health is concerned.  With a little restraint, by enrolling in a gym membership, by partaking in the latest diet fad and by buying diet food X, supplement Y or special smoothie Z we can lick this problem. Really?  Gym memberships have doubled since 1980; more diet foods, books, plans and programs have been manufactured, promulgated to the public and infused in our culture. Yet we keep getting fatter and are eating ourselves to death.  Since we’ve been told that all calories are equal and it’s merely an equation of intake versus output, we can direct ourselves to eat less and move more. Sounds elementary, right?  Wrong!  If only the solution was that simple.  We are in fact NOT the masters of our own fate.  Rather this health crisis is a result of the promotion by the food industry to the American public, particularly its children, to consume processed foods – in other words – huge amounts of SUGAR.  So how has the food industry targeted our kids?

A few more facts:

  • 2 billion dollars per year is spent by the food industry marketing to kids.  
  • Children watch 4000 food related commercials per year.  Food placement in the media and in stores is everywhere!  TV, print, every kind of store, everywhere you look!  
  • Even with current improvements, 97% of foods directed to kids at top chain restaurants are unhealthy.  With cartoon characters on cereal boxes and toys in happy meals, kids’ perceptions of food are so corrupted that they don’t even know the difference between an apple and Apple Jacks!  
  • The other determining factor is the poor quality of food in our schools.  Dr. Mark Hyman has recently stated that 80% of child obesity could be eliminated by cleaning up our school cafeterias and vending machines of junk food and instead serving only whole, healthful foods to our school children.

Margo Wootan, a food policy expert maintains that the only way to stop this insanity and start to correct the problem is to change public policy.  How?  STOP MARKETING TO CHILDREN!  Some European companies and Quebec, Canada have made some changes.  17 American major food corporations and some media companies have made some improvements, but the majority have not.

I hope you have found my argument that being overweight is not your fault, interesting, if not provocative. Check back for more details on this blog in the days to come.