Do I Really Want To “Get Milk” Or Other Alternatives? (Posted on May 7, 2014)

Do I Really Want To “Get Milk” Or Other Alternatives?

Posted on May 7, 2014

I’ve been meaning to write this for some time now and just haven’t made the time. That said, I got a little unintentional nudge from a friend this weekend. She sent me an email with a link to a piece about the dangers of soy. Her initial message said “Claire… What kind of milk do you drink? This freaks me out! We are a soy drinking house. Yikes ! Help.”

Let me take a step back. I was born in the 70s. I grew up drinking both powdered milk (awful) and typical milk – usually low fat and mostly skim. That’s what you drank. We were in the beginning stages of “fat is bad” for you. We were also in the processed-food-saves-the-day mindset.

I really never thought about milk. I stopped drinking it as an adult for no good reason. My husband drank it and used it in cereal so we had it in the house. That said, it wasn’t a staple. But between the birth of my daughter and my program at IIN I started to think about it, a lot.

One of the things I learned was how processed low-fat/skim milk really is. John Douillard has a piece on the myths of milk. In it he states:

“The biggest factor regarding calcium absorption is getting adequate amount of Vitamin D3, which we primarily absorb from the sun or supplementation. In the cream portion of milk is a good supply of Vitamin D3, along with the other essential fat soluble vitamins A, E and K. Unfortunately these vitamins are broken down in the pasteurization and homogenization process. As a result, milk is fortified with synthetic Vitamin A, D2 (not Vitamin D3) and calcium.”

Skim milk means that the cream (fat) is “skimmed’ off the milk leaving it without the natural fat that you need to absorb any leftover soluble vitamins. I know, I know, it’s been hammered into your brain that milk is essential, that low-fat/skim milk is best and that without it you won’t get the proper calcium and vitamin D for your bones (picture an elderly person hunched over a cane…). But the truth is the best way to get vitamin D is from direct sunlight. That means sun on skin without anything in-between. This doesn’t mean to frolic in the sun without any protection. It means to keep your frolicking to a minimum but to get 10, 15, 20 minutes of direct sunlight before you put on the hat, the shirt or the sunblock.

And as for calcium, green leafy vegetables, sardines, wild caught salmon, almonds, etc are all GREAT sources of calcium.

If you’re lactose intolerant, you should definitely look at John’s piece linked below. He suggests that for most people the intolerance is to the processing of the milk (pasteurizing and homogenizing) rather than the milk itself. Therefore, you may very well be able to drink raw or VAT pasteurized milk.

So what about other “milk” products like soy, almond, hemp, coconut, etc… Most of these have additives that are not good for you over the long run either. Soy milk is particularly troubling because soy is now known to be an endocrine disruptor. What does that mean? Simply, it can doesn’t allow your endocrine system to act properly, which can lead to things like thyroid disease, early puberty in children, and breast cancer in women. In addition, most of the soy in the US is genetically modified and while it is still unknown whether GMO food creates additional damage to the human body, I’d like to see the evidence that it doesn’t before I over-consume it. And people, soy is in everything from chocolate, to processed food, to most conventionally raised animals that you may consume.

So, what do we drink? I still don’t really drink milk. Sometimes I opt for half and half in my coffee if we have any. My husband typically puts grass-fed butter in his coffee these days and no longer eats cereal. I use coconut milk (the pure stuff with no additives found in bpa-free cans) in cooking or even my coffee. My daughter does drink a local brand of milk that is full fat, not homogenized and only pasteurized once. I disagree with the notion that toddlers should switch to low-fat milk. Milk is not what is causing our kids to be obese. It’s the processed food and sugar we feed them. We get one bottle per week and when it’s gone, it’s gone until we grocery shop again. We thought about going the raw route but it felt kind of overwhelming to get it (even though it’s probably not). We also considered goat milk but it’s just really expensive. So mostly, we drink water.

As for cheese, my daughter does eat organic string cheese. If my husband and I eat any cheese it’s usually organic and raw. My son is already showing signs of intolerance or an allergy to dairy so when I wean him, he will be getting just water (with lots and lots of green leafy vegetables and salmon and a short but good dose of sunshine).

So ultimately, it’s up to you. Just don’t be so quick to assume that because the milk industry has really good ads that you have to drink milk or find a subpar replacement for it. Part of the challenge here is just that, challenging yourself to feel confident enough to think alternatively about how and what you eat. Milk is such a staple in our lives because we are told we have to drink it and because it has been married so nicely to our typical breakfast selection – cereal. When you step back and think about it, it’s all just marketing.

Happy drinking (or not).

For additional information please check out these sources:


BPA “Free” May Not Be So Freeing Posted on April 24, 2014

BPA “Free” May Not Be So Freeing

Posted on April 24, 2014

I honestly don’t even know where to start with this one. Information like this that I come across gets me incredibly riled up. Okay, deep breath. Let me take a step back. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to listen to a webinar by the awesome Lara Adler, fellow health coach and environmental toxins guru. She was teaching other health coaches about the importance of talking about environmental toxins in our discussions with our clients. Most of us health coaches tout the importance of balance in our lives, healthy food + healthy lifestyles + healthy sleep habits, etc. but often forget to educate our clients about the importance of ensuring that the products that we use are also healthy – toxin free. Over the next few posts, I’ll start to share with you some of what I learned. It’s overwhelming, even for someone like me that knew a little about the negative impacts these everyday products have on our overall health. What I didn’t know was that not only do these products (from every product you use to get ready in the morning to what you carry your lunch and water in to what you use to clean your house) may not only be contributing to major diseases (cancer, heart disease, thyroid disease, etc.) but also may be making us fatter. That’s right, I bet I just got your attention.

Many of you may have heard at some point that the chemicals used in say, conventional cleaning agents aren’t that great for you. Many of you may even know to look for BPA-free plastic containers to store food in, drink out of etc. But I bet most of you didn’t know that many of these everyday items that we rely on have the ability to make us fat. How? Synthetic estrogen has been linked to numerous diseases, including obesity.

Based on the Mother Jones article that discusses the reality behind “BPA-free”, in the mid-90s Congress passed a law requiring the EPA to screen ~80,000 chemicals for endocrine disrupting effects.  The article states “under US law, chemicals are presumed safe until proven otherwise, and companies are rarely required to collect or disclose chemical-safety data.” As of today, the EPA has yet to test any of the 80,000 substances. Yeah, you read that correctly, 80,000 untested substances may include synthetic estrogen. Even if only 10 substances include it, they could be in your rotation of everyday products.

Furthermore, the article states that these BPA-Free items we so proudly buy now aren’t any better.  When tested the results showed “that ‘almost all’ commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.”

Are you upset yet? Well read the full article and you’ll likely be outraged. What can you do? Start small, where you can. Replace your Tupperware with glass. Use glass or stainless steel products for drinking. This blog had a few additional suggestions with specific brands that I cannot attest to but may be helpful. We made the move to glass Tupperware recently. Right now, I’m mentally scanning my kitchen to identify what needs to go. Stainless steel and iron cookware – check. Glass bottled milk and water – check. Plastic plates, cups and utensils for the kids – a BIG FAT X. I promise this will be changing soon.

I Gained 6 Pounds Over Night! Posted on February 3, 2014

I Gained 6 Pounds Over Night!

Posted on February 3, 2014

It’s true! Awful right?  Well, I knew it was going to happen. I set myself up.  Since my last blog I have been focused on removing inflammatory foods in my diet to help me heal my gut and thyroid.  But, I decided to continue my tradition of eating an Italian sub while watching the Superbowl.  That means I consciously consumed foods that I know for a fact create inflammation as well as foods that I’m still testing.  What happened? Six pounds overnight happened! It’s not that I ate six pounds worth of calories, I assure you I did not.  What happened was that I ate things like gluten that make me bloat.  Within minutes of eating it my fingers began to swell.  And, yes, I will lose the six pounds over the course of the next week without much effort (other than going back to my anti-inflammatory diet) because, again, the weight was simply a reaction (inflammation) to the food.

Why am I sharing this?  Because up until recently I didn’t understand or appreciate that how much of the weight I had put on during my under-treated thyroid years had to do with consuming foods that created inflammation rather than eating “too many calories”.  This could easily be happening to you too.  I hear from people all of the time saying that they are eating the “right amount of calories” and exercising but still not losing weight or even (gasp) gaining.  When you start to remove foods that create inflammation (note, everyone may have different trigger foods), the focus on counting calories disappears.

How do you figure out your trigger foods? You have to play detective.  You refocus your diet on “nutrient dense eating” – lots of veggies, some protein, some fruit – for 30 days and then slowly reintroduce foods back into your diet.  Then you observe your body’s reaction to each of the foods.  It takes time but what you end up with is a better understanding about which foods are the best for you.  Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as saying “eat vegetables” because some people have a difficult time with things like nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, etc.).  That said, it’s worth going through the process.  Understanding this has made me feel a little less crazy when I think back to how I would endlessly track my calories and workouts with little results.

And, once you become more aware of your trigger foods you’ll start to decide whether they are worth eating.  Clearly I went into this knowing full well what would happened.  I had estimated that I’d put on 5-7 pounds and I was right (lucky me).  Maybe next year I’ll rethink my options!

Probiotics – Hype or Healthy? Posted on February 12, 2014

Probiotics – Hype or Healthy?

Posted on February 12, 2014

I’ve been noticing more and more commercials advertising the virtue of probiotics recently so I wanted to blog about it.

First, let’s start with explaining what probiotics are – microorganisms that live in our bodies – yup that’s right, tiny little things living in our bodies.  Sounds kind of creepy huh?  However, they are actually really good for us.  These bacteria live in our intestines and help reduce the growth of bad bacteria (think good guys vs the bad guys).

Do you need more of them?  If you watch any TV lately, you’ll think you do.  But tread lightly my friends, we are still learning about them.  And while there’s some indication that they are helpful in terms of boosting the immune system and digestive support they are yet to be proven as the end-all-be-all.  How can you get your hands on these microorganisms?  Most people turn to supplements but they are readily available in the form of food too (see list below).  That said, there are skeptics on both sides of aisle.  As Michael Pollan pointed out in his article last May, “… the probiotic marketplace is largely unregulated, it’s impossible to know what, if anything, you’re getting when you buy a “probiotic” product. One study tested 14 commercial probiotics and found that only one contained the exact species stated on the label.”  Note the grimace on my face.  Don’t forget that supplement business is big business.  There’s a ton of money to be made.  Who doesn’t want to just pop a pill to make the years of eating poorly “all better”?  Too bad, it’s just not that easy.  You’re thinking, okay, maybe I should be wary about probiotics in the form of supplements but can’t I just eat certain foods?  Again, if only it were that easy.  As I mentioned not everyone believes that food sources of probiotics are safe either since it is unknown which types of bacteria these foods carry.  In addition, while I eat many of the probiotic foods, some of the claims for things like Kombucha curing cancer are unproven and probably a bit exaggerated.

And what about prebiotics you ask?  Unlike probiotics, which are live organisms, prebiotics are substances that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.  Again, they come in the form of supplements and real food (see list below).

So, do you need them?  There’s no conclusive answer yet although most studies support some positive impacts on the immune system and digestive support.  Should you consume them through supplements or food?  That’s really up to you.  If you go the supplement route, make sure that they don’t contain “extras” like gluten or soy.  What do I do?  Well, I took supplements on and off for several years but now I really try to get all of my nutrients through food.

I know, I didn’t give you a clear “Yes” or “No”.  I gave you a yeah, probiotics and prebiotics are probably good for you but they won’t magically make you all better especially if you are still eating poorly, not getting enough sleep and living a high stress life.  I know it sucks to hear this, but there is really no ONE solution to good health.  If someone claims otherwise chances are they are trying to sell you something.  We know a little about a lot of things when it comes to proper health but everyone comes to the table with different health histories.  Everyone may need different versions of “healthy living”.  So when you hear about new diet trends, or supplements remember that the best thing you can do is to focus on nutrient dense eating – focus on whole foods, limit processed foods, consume organic, grass-fed, wild-caught when possible.

Free Yourself…and the Rest Will Follow (Originally posted on October 15, 2013)

Free Yourself…and the Rest Will Follow

Posted on October 15, 2013

I was definitely a calorie counter.  It started early. My mom and stepfather used to go on a diet from time-to-time called the rotation diet or something like that. It was a 3-4 week program and you would eat a prescribed number of calories from week to week.  Most of what I remember is 1. That there was A LOT of orange roughy eaten over those years and 2. That I thought eating 900 calories a day was healthy.  Sure, they lost weight but they typically gained it back too because there was no way to maintain it over the long haul.  Eventually I grew out of thinking ultra-low calorie intake was okay but I did continue to count calories.  Whichever way you look at it, food became a numbers game.  When I gained a ridiculous amount of weight because of my untreated hypothyroidism I joined weight watchers. While I wasn’t counting calories I was counting points.  Or we’re told to make sure that you eat a certain percentage of carbs, fat and protein/day.   Listen, I like numbers. I’m a bit OCD and counting things can be a favorite pastime of mine but I can’t even picture what 15% of my daily intake would, could or should look like.

After the birth of my first child, I still counted. I wasn’t obsessed with it but I counted and tracked how many calories I ate and how many I burned.  And I was so good at counting that I could do it in my head.  The weight came off but something else happened too. I learned that counting is not that way to go about it.  And I reminded myself that being obsessed with counting calories isn’t healthy.  What made me come to this realization?  Looking at my daughter and thinking I never what her to count calories. I never want her to feel uncomfortable in her own skin whether she’s thin or round. 

So I liberated myself.  It’s not always easy. Sometimes I catch myself adding up the number of calories or grams of fat I ate that day.  I mean, sure you can lose weight that way but it doesn’t mean that you’re making healthy choices to facilitate long-term health.  If you want to feel good in your body, have less visits to doctors and maintain a higher level of health (and by the way be a good role model for your kids) follow these simple rules:

1. A calorie is NOT a calorie.  What I mean is that all calories are not created equal. The fiber in the fruit helps your body break down the sugar much more efficiently than drinking a glass of juice.

2. Eats lots and lots of vegetables.  I don’t care if you eat 2000 calories worth of vegetables/day just eat them.  Eat them at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And, no I’m not suggesting that you don’t eat meat. I eat meat, I just eat a lot more vegetables alongside my meat.

3. Eat whole foods.  Reduce, limit, cut out as much processed food as you possibly can. It will eliminate the fillers that interfere with good health and weight loss.

I know that we’ve been trained to track calories.  It seems like an easy enough solution to getting rid of excess weight. But ask yourself this, did you maintain your long-term health goals by counting calories?  Probably not.  The focus has to be less of a numbers game and more about eating whole foods.

Raising Children to Eat Healthy (Originally posted on February 15, 2013)

Raising Children to Eat Healthy

Posted on February 15, 2013

A few weeks ago I saw a post that a friend of mine responded to on Facebook.  It’s such an important subject that I thought I wanted to post about it as well.  If you read it, maybe you’ll add to the conversation somehow, whether online or at home.

How do you plan to raise your child to have a healthy relationship with food?

While there’s a growing awareness and acceptance about healthy eating it is still often perceived as something for the elite or…obnoxious.  I know that when I told people about my certification as a holistic health coach eyes rolled and they thought, “Great, I’ll never be able to eat cookies in front of her again.”  The truth is, we have been inundated by awful food information for years and what I do has nothing to do with eliminating cookies.  It has to do with teaching people to understand what’s in their food, how they feel in general and the strong connection between the two.  It’s about adding to your food choices not about strict elimination.  I really do think that we are in the midst of a change.  I believe that, as more and more people become aware of what happens to their food from seed or egg to plate, more people will demand that the way our food is processed and delivered is changed, for the better.  But until then, I don’t want to have to hide the fact that our family eats mostly organic, locally grown food.  And I want my daughter (and son, come June) to embrace these habits as well.

Unfortunately, the cost difference can be a real obstacle for many people in this country.  Not only are there limited options in neighborhoods with traditionally low-income families, but there’s lack of education on how this can impact the overall health of their families. We need to continue to push for healthy options for everyone regardless of economic status, age, ethnicity, location, etc.  In addition, we need to end the myth that eating pre-packaged processed food is the easiest and best option.  There are ways to get healthy meals on the table without adding a ton of extra time or cost.  Over the next couple of weeks, I will start posting food ideas for you to try.

I’ll be honest, I’m already worried about the school lunch situation.  I recently looked over the menus for the local schools and they have a long way to go to be considered healthy.  It’s not that our children will never eat things other than vegetables and lentils…but, in our house we will try to limit the processed foods and make as much as we can using organic, whole foods…and cookies can and will still be eaten!

I think what it comes down to is practicing the 70/30, 80/20, 90/10 rule (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and education.  The first is eating whole, organic, local foods as often as you can but leaving room for treats when desired, special occasions or a guest in someone’s house. The second is educating our children early about where our food comes from.  This takes on a more non-traditional approach. Getting your children involved in planting even a small garden, preparing food with you, getting them to see how they feel when they eat certain foods will teach them how to make responsible choices.  But, and this is important, totally restricting them from even trying food will create animosity and rebellion.

When we were growing up, we couldn’t eat sugar cereals.  Not that the cereals we ate were super healthy but we couldn’t eat the typical all-sugar cereals on a regular basis.  Once in awhile we would get the mini packs of cereals that had something chocolatey or fruity and that was our treat.  And I’ll be honest, I never really liked them and I think some of that had to do with being able to try it once in awhile. On the other hand, we did grow up in a household that was always on or falling off a diet.  And that created confusion and ultimately bad decisions later on.  If the focus is on just eating healthier, you don’t need to count calories and fat and everything else. And while a movement to get kids to eat better is happening, some of the focus is too heavy on counting calories which, unfortunately, can lead to obsessive eating behaviors.

Just like with everything else, there is a line between healthy eating and obsession about healthy eating.  Orthorexia Nervousa was recently identified as an eating disorder. Unlike Anorexia, people are not obsessed about gaining weight but obsessed with eating only what they consider healthy pure foods.  People become so rigid in their food choices that they actually become deprived of adequate nutrition, exactly the opposite of what they are trying to achieve.  My point here is that it’s not as easy as saying “eat healthy.”  And it ends up being a delicate balance, especially when it comes to our children who already face so many pressures, including pressure about how they look.  It’s critical that we raise them in ways that build strength in character and intelligence in decision-making.  Neither of which are easy given outside influences.

So what do we plan to do?
1. Never complain about how we look and “walk the talk”. It’s important for our children to view us as healthy role models.
2. Get our children involved with planting and cooking the food we eat early and often
3. Crowd out the bad stuff with more healthy options
4. Provide experiences to learn about where food comes from and how it can impact overall health and well being
5. Avoid strict “never’s” and “no’s” that can lead to rebellious behavior in children- just as it does in adults

Again, none of this is easy.  And I hope that my children don’t end up being the outsiders in their school or with their friends.  What I really hope is that our children grow up demanding more transparency about the process of food for all people and that eating well is no longer a luxury that exists for only those that have the time and money to think about it.  It’s a big hope but one that I believe we can achieve.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder please contact your doctor for support and guidance. 

What Everyone Can Do Now (Originally posted on January 10, 2013)

What Everyone Can Do Now

Posted on January 10, 2013

It’s been awhile.  The storm at the end of October, overnight guests for two weeks in November, traveling for the holidays all took a toll on my writing.  But, excuses now aside, I’m back!

During my time away I spoke to clients and friends dealing with issues from infertility to cancer to Lyme disease to just wanting to make healthier decisions.  And now with the new year and the new (or often old) resolutions I thought it would be appropriate to talk about one thing that everyone can do to have a healthier you.

Fad diets don’t work because they simply can’t take into consideration your individual health challenges.  But one thing that can boost your immune system if it’s been compromised and help you have a stronger healthier body (and mind) is to eat whole foods.  This means kick the processed food habit.

I know, it’s so much easier to grab a power bar for lunch or microwave a prepared meal.  You’re inundated by ads telling you that it’s easier, that you’re too busy to cook a simple wholesome meal and that their product is healthy for you.  But have you ever thought about what goes into those crackers, power bars, and dinners that make them sit on shelves for months and months….and months?  While the preservatives in your favorite foods help stave off spoilage there are many that may contribute to major health issues like asthma, cancer, compromised immune systems, and attention disorders.  So is it really worth it?

It’s not easy to go against the grain, to challenge what you see and hear every day from the marketing companies.  But the long term impact on your health is huge.  It doesn’t mean you can never eat processed food but it does mean that you should aim to move your diet from a majority of processed food to a majority of whole foods.  We are not a completely processed food free household but we do eat mostly whole fresh foods.  The hard part of making the change is finding creative ways to get the cooking done.  Remember, you don’t need to make extravagant diners.  Tonight I made a simple stir-fry with chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, and peas with quinoa.  I cooked up 4 chicken breasts, using 1 1/2 and put the other aside to add to another meal later in the week.  I usually make enough of whatever I cook to eat later in the week whether it’s dinner and then a few lunches or a few dinners.

Another plus is that you can vary the types of vegetables, fruits and grains you use.  When you rely on processed foods you tend to eat the same food over and over denying yourself a rich variety of vitamins and minerals.

So whether you want to feel healthier in your body, pump up your immune system, or keep your body strong to fight off future illness I challenge you to introduce more and more whole foods into your daily diet.  In fact, the healthier you eat the less you have to care about counting calories and fat, neither of which are actually bad for you.  You need a good balance of carbs, protein and fat to have a healthy body.  Lastly, while it may seem like whole fresh foods are more expensive ask yourself how much your health is worth.  Last time I checked cancer cost more than food.