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Climate Change and How we Eat

The double whammy of Nor’easters this week should convince almost anyone of the perils of climate change.  My favorite beach clam shack will be demolished after 60 plus years because this latest storm eroded away 40 feet of the protective due, virtually cantilevering the building over the beach.  Now I am not hear to argue about climate change, but I can tell you that how you eat has a profound effect on the environment and thus the climate.

Here is a simple statistic almost anyone can understand.

How much water to we need to grow:

1lb of Most Vegetables: 20-40 gallons

1lb Grains: 200-400 gallons

1lb Meat: 1300-1500 gallons.

But it doesn’t end there.  Animal production in the Agricultural industry has surpassed transportation as the greatest source of Greenhouse gases, primarily methane.  This is caused by a double whammy of more cows being raised for a meat hungry culture and forests being clear cut to create pasture land.  As a result we have less trees that are nature’s way of capturing excess greenhouse gases.  So what does all this mean.

It is simple we need to eat more vegetables and fruits, which put much less strain on the environment, and are certainly better for our health than meat.  I would encourage anyone reading this to try and shift towards a vegan diet as much as possible, but as a realist I know a complete vegan diet for most is not going to happen. Aim for a vegan meal per day or be a vegan just a few days a week.  Visit the Optimal for vegan recipes that will help you embrace a plant based life style.  Your body and the planet will thank you for it!

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

Even those of us who work in the alternative health field can  fall victim to  to our own health issues.  For busy moms like myself, I think it is all too common for us to ignore warning signs our bodies might be giving us and just keep plugging along .  I mean who has time to take care of themselves when you are taking care of everyone else.  Well this January my annual physical was a wake up call that indeed, I need to start taking care of myself and putting my own personal needs a bit higher on my list.

In the late 1990’s I had Graves Disease and after a terrible reaction to medications I decided to have my Thyroid removed, via a nuclear cocktail.  As a result I have to take a rather high dose of synthetic thyroid hormone everyday, or at least I am supposed to.  I make sure my 13 year old takes her daily medication religiously, I give the dog her meds everyday, never missing a dose and my husband never has to worry about running out of his vitamins or prescriptions because I make sure he always has them, but what about my Thyroid  Meds?

Well after having my  GP read my metabolic lab reports I was shocked.  My thyroid was so out of whack, the numbers indicate I should not even be functioning, yet somehow I still was.  Some of you might not realize that a slow thyroid or lack of medication results in dramatically increased cholesterol levels and other poor metabolic outcomes but these functions are inter-related.  So my cholesterol was high for the first time in my life, but more importantly I realized that the lethargy I had been feeling, both mental and physical had a medical reason.  Once I knew how out of whack my endocrine system was functioning,  I began to realize how crappy I actually had been feeling.  It is amazing how easy it can be to  ignore symptoms when we are busy. After my appointment I went home to realize that I probably had only been taking my pills 20% of the time.

Let my experience be a wake up call to you.  No matter how busy you are taking care of others, remember if you don’t take care of yourself it all falls apart.

Hearth & Home

There is something about the holiday season that makes me wax a bit nostalgic.  Perhaps because we remember the holidays from our childhoods, but there is something in the air that brings me back to a simpler time.  And whoa, the older I get, the more I realize how simple the times were and I am talking the 1980’s!

My love of food started way back  when I had the privilege to be born and live on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, home to some of the world’s best foods.  Our family traditions were pretty much the same for the 20 some years we lived there.  For our Christmas Eve party my mom would travel 20 blocks north for all her meats from the Madison Avenue butcher, her favorite having lived in the neighborhood in the early 70’s.  She got all the fish she need just next door at the fishmonger.  Canapes and spreads came from William Poll over on Lexington Avenue in the mid 70’s, much closer to home on 72nd.  Produce  and of course the Christmas morning Panettone hailed from Grace’s Marketplace, the uptown location of Balducci’s which opened in the mid 80’s saving us from trekking down to Greenwich village to shop at the original. Last but not least, the smoked salmon and Stollen came from the  Danish specialty store Fraser Morris on 74th and Madison.

What I am getting at is, the Holidays, of which food is such and important piece, used to mean traveling all over the city to find the best  and freshest of whatever you were seeking out, made by a skilled food artisan who delighted in offering you the very best product for your holiday feast.  I loved going with my mom to these unique small shops and exchanging holiday cheer with shopkeepers and seeing all the amazing foods and smelling the incredible pungent smells of the season, even at the fishmongers!

Today since I live out in rural Cape Cod, much of which is shut down for the season, things are a bit different.  I will still head to my local fishmonger, so grateful to still have one, I think scallops might be on the menu this year and the local butcher for the filet, which I won’t eat but will be a favorite of my daughter’s on the Christmas Dinner menu.  Lucky for me my mom was in Manhattan this week and will be bringing up the Stollen and Panettone and my connections with local farmers will ensure I get the best local produce available, lucky I love those winter greens and squashes. And as far as Christmas treats, the girls and I have been baking cookies every year for as long as I can remember and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, except this year we will be adding my new Sea Salt and Caramel Pecan Bars to our baking menu!

Food is one of the best ways to steep yourself in tradition and help you and your family connect in unique ways.  Honor your family roots with traditional dishes and try going out on a limb and incorporating something new.  Food is what brings us together, lets give it the respect it deserves.


Staying Healthy Through the Holidays: EAT THOSE VEGGIES

So you have survived Halloween and the sugar fueled candy fest  and we have made it through the eating frenzy of Thanksgiving.  Now we just have to contend with the month of December and the constant onslaught of cookies, cakes, drinks and a whole host of decadent treats to derail our healthy lifestyle.  The good thing is there is still 5 weeks before the Christmas and New Years holiday so we can use this time to prepare.

I don’t know about you ,but I am still paying the price for Thanksgiving, even though I never seem to eat that much at the Holiday meal, I spent the days after having a bite of stuffing  here a smidge of pie there. It isn’t the weight I worry about as much as the fact that I don’t feel great when I eat like that and it lasts for days after.  For my teenage daughter I was pretty stunned how badly she broke out after the dairy laden meal, dairy is her nemesis when it comes to teenage hormonal break-outs and I shouldn’t be surprised.

So as a practitioner that focuses on prevention it is time to start now.  We have several weeks to strengthen our immune systems, lose a bit of bloat and excess weight and get ourselves feeling fit and energized, and ready to tackle the craziness of the holiday season.  I could give you a list of daily shifts in your diet or exercise regimen to tackle these challenges but I am giving you one simple tip that if followed will help ensure you stay healthy through the holidays.  EAT YOUR VEGETABLES! Yes that is it and I can’t say it enough.  If you consume your 9 fist size servings of fresh vegetables, 3 can be a fruit, I promise you will be filling yourself with the fuel you body needs to thrive and prevent yourself from overeating unhealthy foods.  All the vitamins, minerals and fiber are guaranteed to keep that immune system strong and energy levels high. So go ahead and eat that rainbow and remember the brown that is chocolate isn’t part of it!


Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Here is a staggering statistic that I love to remind people of at Thanksgiving time, at the average Thanksgiving meal each person consumes 2 sticks of butter!  That is 1/2 pound per person of pure dairy fat!   That butter hides in pie crust, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing just to name a few.   Now this does not mean you should not indulge and enjoy the holiday but here are a few simple suggestions to make one of our favorite holiday meals just a bit better for our  health and waistlines.

  1. Use chicken or vegetable broth to add moisture to stuffing and potatoes to drastically reduce the amount of butter needed
  2. use lots of fresh herbs such as Rosemary, Sage, Parsley and Thyme to add flavor, and always remember that fresh herbs are also dark green leafy vegetables which adds loads of vitamins and minerals to your favorite dishes
  3. use gravy sparingly, a good gravy should have a rich enough flavor that you don’t need you meal to be smothered
  4. skip the crust, unless it is truly your favorite part, eat the filling of the pie and leave the butter and refined flour crust on the plate to avoid lots of extra calories
  5. Don’t starve yourself all day before you eat, be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before eating to help control your appetite, think Hummus and veggies as a snack during football

This is a start and won’t make huge changes to your mealtime.  Remember it is all about balance so aim to eat loads of fresh veggies early that week and that weekend to help your body recover from the onslaught that is the Thanksgiving meal,

Sugar: The. Bad and the Ugly

So I am sure no one wants to talk sugar the day before Halloween, but since tomorrow is quite possibly the day Americans consume the most sugar of any day I though it rather timely.   Sugar comes in all sorts of forms and types, white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, and loads of scientific names all of which end in OSE.  This is important to remember , anytime you see a word such as maltose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, fructose it means sugar, sometimes a single bond, sometimes a double it doesn’t really matter because WE ALL EAT TOO MUCH SUGAR.

If you have ever participated in an Optimal Kitchen cooking class you know that I blame much of our over consumption of sugar on the fat phobic trends of the 1980’s and 90’s.  There is simply too much sugar sugar lurking in processed and packaged foods and don’t get me started on the beverages.  Many will argue that they only eat natural sugar, sugar cane is natural and large amounts of honey and maple syrup are  damaging to our system as well though not as badly and at least these 2 bring some additional health benefits.  We know that sugar causes diabetes and metabolic syndrome by overtaxing  the pancreas, but it is also damaging to many other bodily systems.  Sugar feeds malignant cells causing those cells to proliferate.  Sugar weakens our immune systems making us vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections and sugar consumption leads to weight gain which has its own set of health problems.

I could go into details about what exactly those sugar molecules do tour system and talk about double versus single bonded sugar molecules and how they affect us but  I don’t view that information helpful to the lay person just trying to feed them selves better.  What is important to know about sugars is that the simpler or more refined form we consume the sugar in the more quickly it hits our systems requiring an immediate output of insulin to cope with the surge.  This is why the sugar in whole fruits, though  abundant, hits us differently with all the natural fiber and water to help slow down the process.




3) MAKE A PLAN FOR WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH ALL THAT CANDY, the amount your kids come home with might be enough candy for the whole year  so decide ahead of time how you will handle this



Understanding Hypertension

Recently I have been approached by a wide variety of friends  that have been grappling with unhealthy blood pressure levels for a myriad of reasons.  Whether it is my friend who recently gave birth a month early due to preeclampsia or another who simply has a genetic predisposition to hypertension, the treatment is virtually the same , but first I want to explain a bit about high blood pressure.

As complicated as this chronic disease may seem it is really very simply, sodium and potassium work together to create the proper tensile strength in our arteries for ideal blood flow. Skew towards more sodium in your diet and they tighten and tense up resulting in too high blood pressure, much less likely but with profound health problems as well too much potassium in the diet and pressure gets to low. So here we see another  need to find proper balance in our lives, this time in the amount of sodium and potassium in our diet. But how do we achieve this?

It is actually fairly simple.  We often don’t recognize the sodium levels in packaged and processed foods because it is sweet foods such as cereals and packaged baked goods that have absurdly high sodium levels, foods that don’t taste remotely salty.  In fact most cereals have sodium levels greater than pretzels and chips where we taste the salt!  But The Optimal Kitchen is always more about what we should eat and not simply what to avoid so let’s focus on increasing those potassium levels, how do we do this?

It is actually quite simply FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES, lots of them!!!! If you follow the Optimal Kitchen at all you have heard this many times and pretty much is the go to solution for holistically controlling any cardiovascular or metabolic issue.  All fruits and vegetables are naturally high in potassium, not just bananas which are pretty high in sugar.  Another reason to get those 9, YES 9, daily servings of fruits and vegetables everyday.  Keep your fruit whole and raw and be sure to eat the rainbow since every color of vegetable has a different purpose in promoting Optimal health.  So before you decide to go on any hypertensive medication, try shifting to an all vegetable, whole food diet for a week and see the amazing results


Stay on Track all Week with The Optimal Kitchen

For those of you who are still not familiar with what we do at the Optimal Kitchen this is for you.  Every Wednesday I am at the Wellfleet Farmer’s Market and on Saturday,  I am at the Orleans Farmer’s Market.  At each market we sell a variety of healthy prepared foods.  If your  excuse for not eating well is that it takes to much effort to cook or is too expensive, the Optimal Kitchen takes away all those barriers.  Each market we have a stock of healthy salads, soups, salsas and snacks.  Almost all items are vegan, many are gluten free and there are even several paleo options as well.  

Our favorite new item is our TOK samplers.  These samplers let you try 4 different items from the Optimal Kitchen, making it a perfect way to sample all we have to offer. Each market features a salad sampler as well as a gluten free option.  These are perfect lunches and keeping a stock of them on hand will go a long way towards helping you stay on track with healthy eating all week long.  The food from the Optimal Kitchen is always extremely fresh so items will stay good in your fridge for the week.

So get rid of those excuses, healthy eating can be easy and affordable thanks to the Optimal Kitchen so come down and see us  and learn how we can help.


A Dose of Reality Nutrition

Perhaps it is because I just returned from vacation, where I had  some free time to read up on recent Nutrition news, that I am sitting here cringing from much of the information out there on the web.  What strikes me as fundamentally screwy is that almost every nutrition blog I read connects to some e-commerce site where they try and sell you some magical potion or powder to improve whatever ailment you may be suffering from.  I am not here to sell you anything, but I am here to tell you that good nutrition is key to lifelong health and wellness. 

What we eat profoundly affects our bodies, and no amount of exercise can make up for a poor dietconsisting of sugar and fat laden processed foods.  In fact 80% of weight loss comes from dietary changes, not exercise, so as much as I support being active everyday, what we eat is far more critical to our bodies ability to function optimally.

First I want to address the issue of supplements which is what I see pandered most on the internet.  I am going to be bold enough to go out there and say “how is it humankind managed to survive hundreds of thousand of years without supplements, which have only been popular for the last half century.”  The answer is easy, we ate a variety of whole foods, primarily plants, vegetables, grains and fruits, with a bit of meat, eggs, and either some butter or lard to make it all taste good.  We have had access to some sweet foods for a few hundred years, but history books make it quite clear that these were luxuries that only a few could afford and only occasionally.  Can you imagine?  We managed to get the nutrients we needed to not only to survive but to thrive as a species from the simple foods we ate.  Ok, I will concede that herbs and spices have always been a vital part of health and nutrition and even though Tumeric may be sold in capsule form today, I do not consider any culinary or medicinal herbs that grow on this planet to be supplements.

My issue with supplements is simply the fact that manufactured forms of vitamins and minerals are never as readily absorbed and used by our bodies as when they are consumed in foods in which they naturally occur. Here is an example, for many years consumers bought and used Calcium Carbonate as a supplement to prevent bone loss which could lead to osteoporosis.  However after decades on the market, we  realized that without the presence of Vitamin C the body did not absorb the calcium so the money spent on all those calcium carbonate supplements quite literally was flushed down the toilet.  Now companies pander Calcium Citrate which contains Vitamin C to aid absorption, but keep in mind every food that is rich in Calcium, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and many types of seafood have copious amounts of vitamin C present already.  Mother nature makes sure to create foods that match our bodies actual needs.  This same rule applies to Iron, so when you wonder why if you are prescribed an iron supplement and your doctor tells you to take it with orange juice, this is the reason.  But again if you ate copious amounts of greens and some red beans you probably would not need an iron supplement.

Another example is the explosion of probiotics on the market.  Did you know that most probiotics are found in healthy soil?  Our current system of farming which depletes the soil of these organisms is the reason so many of us lack the proper intestinal flora living in our gut.  Refrigeration has also eliminated the need for fermenting foods which was the other way humans have insured they had enough probiotics in their system for centuries.  Purchasing organic or even better biodynamic produce from your local farmer is a great way to get a wide variety of probiotics into your system.

It is always best to get the nutrients you need from the abundance of healthy foods available to us, they are designed especially for human consumption with nutrients that simply are not understood.  I encourage clients to shift some of the money they spend on these pricey supplements and instead improve the quality of the foods they purchase and eat.  However there are those suffering from illness and malnutrition that may need an extra boost of particular Vitamins and Minerals and for those  people supplements may be the best way to go, in addition to improving their overall diet to include massive amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits. But these people are more unique than mainstream.

Our addiction to these expensive and untested supplements proves an unwillingness to make the difficult changes to our diet to ensure our good health.  So many of us would rather eat a burger or pizza and take a handful of pills than eat a nutrient rich vegetable stew or a bowl of fruit salad.  History proves to us that feeding ourselves has always been challenging and it consumes a significant amount of our energy and resources.  How we face and address those challenges today is very different from our past and the state of disease in this country should be a warning bell that we may not be making the best decisions for our bodies.




What’s New at The Optimal KItchen

Thai Noodle Salad 

Each week The Optimal Kitchen offers a variety of selections to customers most of which are vegan, many are gluten free and there are even vegan paleo options.  After years of educating and empowering the residents of Cape Cod to make healthy food part of their everyday lifestyle, I realized for many, they did not have the time or desire to prepare healthy foods for themselves.  In response to this community need and after years of searching for a commercial kitchen space, The Optimal Kitchen has been able to move to the next level.

Morrocan Farro Salad

Not only are the foods offered at The Optimal Kitchen designed to help you achieve your individual health goals, they are an economical solution for the single person or even couples to incorporate healthy foods into their everyday diet.  Many of the dishes offered by the Optimal Kitchen use exotic and expensive ingredients, but by cooking in bulk and portioning it out for the individual we are able to offer these incredibly healthy and delicious foods at affordable prices.  Another bonus is an attempt to reduce food waste.  More than 2 decades as a professional Chef has taught us how to make the most of our ingredients and re-purpose them so there is little to no waste.  An example is that all vegetable stocks are house made from the peels and scraps of vegetables that went into your salads and soups.  So for those of you out there struggling after years of preparing foods for a family to pare down to cooking for just one or two people, The Optimal Kitchen healthy prepared foods are perfect for you!

Weekly Menu Board

When possible locally sourced and organic ingredients are used, but focus is always placed on affordability.  Therefore, I will never claim to be completely organic, but I will claim to always be healthy.  So come on by the Orleans Farmer’s Market and pick yourself up some of these delicious, healthy and affordable foods and you may just realize you won’t have to cook anymore!