May 29 2011

you are what you eat

-by Sue Ann Gleason, Culinary Nutritionist

Did you know your skin is a window into your digestive health?

I picked up a magazine this morning. In it was a very clever ad: Reform School for Aging Skin: Reducing the Signs of Aging through the Science of Cellular Water. Now the marketing strategist in me wanted to nab that title for a teleclass or workshop, but the magazine was promoting a skincare product. I added the advertisement to my “bunk” pile, saddened by thoughts of all the women who will run right out and purchase that sixty-dollar promise in a BP-laden bottle, but scoff at the idea of paying more for organic produce. You see, glowing skin is an inside out affair. If you have a healthy gut, you’ll have healthy skin. If your diet is high in water-rich, chemical-free foods, you’ll reap the rewards in glowing skin.

Traditional societies across the globe have some culinary tradition of fermentation handed down, parent-to-child, for thousands of years prior to refrigeration. Japanese miso, Bulgarian yogurt, Polish sauerkraut, Indian lassi, and Korean kim-chee. Fermented beets feature widely in the culinary traditions of eastern Europe with dishes like rossel and tonics like beat kvass. Earthy, salty pickled eggplant graced the shelves of my grandmother’s pantry.

Continue reading

Apr 20 2011

chocolate for breakfast smoothie

Chocolate is not just for Easter. Try it for breakfast.

True confession: my love affair with chocolate began with Little Debbie Nutty Bars. You know, those long wafer-like cookies filled with fake peanut butter dipped in chocolate. Yes, I loved those crunchy bars of peanut butter wonder.

Heck, I was a kid. What did I know about chocolate?

There wasn’t a whole lot of chocolate in my childhood. My mother was on a perpetual diet and my grandmother, the cook in the family, had a proclivity for lemon. Lemon pie. Lemon cake. Lemon cookies. She must have been pining for the subtle scent of lemon trees that graced her childhood in Sicily.

Chocolate was for Easter Sunday. I remember the year I woke up at the crack of dawn and rushed into the living room to see what the Easter Bunny had left in my basket. There it was—a thick, creamy milk chocolate bunny, a foot tall, with crunchy candy eyes and a big pink satin ribbon tied around its sweet chocolaty neck. Baby blue Easter eggs, chewy gooey jellybeans, and dozens of foil-wrapped chocolate eggs surrounded him. But, oh no, WAIT! What was happening to his backside? It was caving in, being melted slowly by a blaze of sunlight streaming through the window.

I grew up in Buffalo, New York, where sunlight streaming through the window was a big deal. Snow was undoubtedly still on the ground. The Easter Bunny had probably arrived in a sleigh. I have a photograph of me in my purple lace Easter dress, sitting at the dining room table beside that disappearing bunny in a basket, arms folded across my chest, big blue eyes drooping sadly. It’s not a happy picture. No one messes with my chocolate, not even Mr. Sun.

Fast-forward many years. I’m now a culinary nutritionist, and sugar is getting a bad rap. Everywhere you look you see books like Sugar Blues, Sugar Shock, Suicide by Sugar, The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program. And once again I’m thinking, “They’d better not mess with my chocolate.”

Poor chocolate. This delectably sensuous treat has become the subject of so much controversy. First it’s touted as the best superfood on the planet: antioxidant-rich, serotonin boosting, better than sex chocolate. “Yes, I’ll have some of that!” But then, “Oh no, don’t believe a word of it. Chocolate has caffeine. There are insect parts hiding in each and every bar.”

What’s a body to do with all this conflicting information? Me? I’m a rebel at heart. I’ve studied with enough experts to know that scientists can make a case for or against anything. I’m choosing to stay with those promoting the health benefits of chocolate.

Here’s my take on cacao. It’s an extraordinary superfood, rich in antioxidants and minerals, and it doesn’t have to be laden with sugar to taste delicious. In fact, the best chocolate I’ve sampled, other than the unadulterated nib, is generally about 70% cacao. The best products come from organic cacao beans, fairly traded, preferably from Ecuador.

But even more important than antioxidants, minerals, and the quality of the bean are the rich and satisfying experiences associated with chocolate. Have you ever met a cranky chocolate lover?

So the next time you reach for a piece of beautiful dark chocolate, listen to the snap when you break the bar in half. Arrange it on a plate. Smell the aroma of the cacao bean. Make sure to clear your palette so that you can appreciate all the subtly complex flavors. After you take a bite, sit with it a minute to see if there is a second rush of flavor on your palette or in your throat. Notice the crunch of the nibs when you’re lucky enough to find a chocolatier who fancies those little crunchy wonders as much as you do.

Sometimes I put a piece of chocolate in my mouth and just let it melt, noticing every nuance as the flavor notes unfold. I encourage you to invest in the finest, purest chocolate you can acquire. Learn what it means to truly savor a treat. And the next time you’re looking for a way to include a healthy dose of cacao in your diet, try my signature Chocolate for Breakfast smoothie so that you, too, can enjoy a little guilt-free chocolate for breakfast.

Chocolate for Breakfast Smoothie

2 bananas (sliced and frozen)

2-3 leaves Swiss chard (no stems)
or romaine lettuce
8 oz filtered water

1 tablespoon raw cacao powder

1 tablespoon carob powder
1 tablespoon maca
powder (optional)
1 cup frozen raspberries

1 ripe pear

Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender and enjoy!

Sue Ann Gleason, founder of Conscious Bites Nutrition, is a Washington, DC-based culinary nutritionist, dynamic eating psychology coach, speaker, and writer. Her entertaining, fact-filled articles on nutrition, healthful living, the psychology of eating, and the blissful benefits of chocolate have appeared in various publications as well as her own eco-friendly blog.

Sue Ann’s recipes, radiant life tips and reflections embody the concept: Dancing with Delicious. Her mission is to show people that a radiantly healthy lifestyle can be easy to achieve and delicious.

When not working with private clients, Sue Ann can be found sampling exotic chocolates or building broccoli forests in her mashed potatoes.

Follow Sue Ann on Facebook: Chocolate for Breakfast

Jan 18 2011

the myth that keeps you eating too much sugar

Agave nectar, sugar in the raw, organic sugar and even non caloric sweeteners are put on a higher pedestal than plain old sugar and high fructose corn syrup. I often hear parents say that they stay clear of what they believe are “bad” sugars in favor of more natural sources of the sweet stuff.

Now I don’t have a problem with choosing unadulterated forms of sugar but it’s the myth behind it that bothers me: the type of sugar matters more than how much someone eats.

I’m winding down my managing sweet series (still one more post). So far we’ve talked about how to feed sweets but I wanted to discuss what’s actually in the sweet foods your family eats. By answering these 5 myth-busting questions, I hope to reveal the real problem we all face.

1. What’s in Sugar Anyway?
Having a basic understanding of what’s in sweeteners is important (we are talking about “added sugars” here not the sugars naturally found in food). For example, the most common added sugars are sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup. They both are made up of the smaller sugar molecules, fructose and glucose. Sucrose contains about half glucose and half fructose (50/50) while high fructose corn syrup has a ratio of 55/45.

The reasons these two sugars are used most often is they contain fructose which does a good job of sweetening. For example, lactose, a natural sugar found in dairy products, contains glucose and galactose (no fructose). And while milk is sweet, it’s not half as sweet as sugar-sweetened beverages.

Take agave nectar, the latest and greatest sweetener, it can contain as much 90% fructose and 10% glucose which means less can be used to sweeten. And artificial, non caloric sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame (NutraSweet) and sucrolose (Splenda) are all much sweeter (200X or more) than sucrose. So a little goes a long way.

2. How much are we consuming?
From 1970 to 2005 sugar intake has increased by nearly 20%. According to the American Heart Association’s Report on added sugars, the average intake for sugar is 22 tsp/day. Here’s a quick breakdown by age group: 1-3 (12tsp), 4-8 year (21 tsp), males 9-13 (29tsp), males 14-18 (34tsp), females 9-13 (23tsp) and females 14-18 (25tsp).

That’s a lot more than the American Heart Association recommends for women (6 tsp) and men (9 tsp). The primary source of added sugars are soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

During this same time period (mentioned above) the intake of high fructose corn syrup has gone up by nearly 1000 percent and has become the food industry’s sweetener of choice.

“As a liquid, high fructose corn syrup can be mixed into food without forming crystals,” says Dr. Richard Johnson, author of The Sugar Fix. ”That’s why food manufacturers prefer to use it.”

3. What are the health consequences of over-consumption?
Excessive sugar has been linked to nutritionally inadequate diets, obesity, diabetes, high triglycerides and hypertension. And while many rush to blame high fructose corn syrup, Johnson says that “sugar and high fructose corn syrup are not hugely different.” There may be problems with fructose and glucose not being bound together [in high fructose corn syrup], he explains, but more studies are needed.

While too much sugar can increase calories and displace nutritious foods in the diet, researchers are beginning to believe that too much fructose in general is contributing to health problems. Unlike glucose that goes into the blood stream to be used by cells, fructose goes directly to the liver where it is more likely to be turned into triglycerides (blood fat) and stored in the abdomen as unhealthy visceral fat.

Take a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigations. Overweight individuals consuming a diet with 25% fructose developed insulin resistance, more visceral fat and high blood lipids than those who consumed the same diet with 25% glucose.

Of course studies like this give fructose at much higher-than-normal levels. ”Most people can handle 30-35g fructose without problems,” says Johnson. “To give you an idea a large cookie has 20g and soft drinks contain about 25g”

4. What’s role does the market plays?
The market is always responding to demand — especially the demonizing of ingredients and foods. When high fructose corn syrup started getting bad press products with “natural” sources of sugar skyrocketed. While these products may be marginally better, they often contain the same amount of sugar. And as we just pointed out, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are similar.

Artificial sweeteners were supposed to be the answer to the obesity epidemic. According to a recent review study published in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine on artificial sweeteners, our bodies react strangely to sweetness without calories:

“Animals seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness, even in the absence of energy need. Lack of complete satisfaction, likely because of the failure to activate the post-ingestive component, fuels the food serving behavior.”

The theory is artificial sweeteners gives us the sweetness without the calories so the body is left wanting more.

Sometimes the alternative to a supposed “bad” item the market provides, is not all that much better. So check labels for all sources of sugar which come under many code names such as evaporated cane juice, corn sweetener, corn syrup, brown rice syrup and polydextrose (and other “ose” words). Grams of sugar also tell you how much is added, except in the case of yogurt, fruit and milk which have natural sugars.

5. Is sugar all bad?
According to the American Heart Association report, when sugar is added to milk, yogurt and cereals the diets of children and adolescents improve. Sugar can increase the palatability of nutrient-dense foods.

The truth is sugar is not bad, it’s just we are consuming too much of it, and kids are getting used to an extra-sweet taste world. Instead, we need to be picky about how much sugar we add (all types) in our family’s diets so that we consume enough to satisfy our sweet tooth while preserving good health.


Dietary Sugars and Cardiovascular Health, Report from the American Heart Association

Johnson RJ, Sanchez-Lozada, Nakagawa T. The effect of fructose on renal biology and disease. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010; Dec;21(12):2036-9. Epub 2010 Nov 29. Review.

Stanhope KL et al. Consuming fructose sweetened, not glucose sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. 2009; J Clin Invest 119: 1322-1334.

Yang Q. Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings. Yale J Biol Med. 2010; Jun;83(2):101-8.

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen is a registered dietitian, mother of two and creator of Raise Healthy Eaters, a blog that provides parents with simple and sound nutrition advice.

The Myth That Keeps You Eating Too Much Sugar is part 5 in a series Maryann has written in her Managing Sweets Series.

Jan 7 2011

the skinny on fat

Get an Oil Change

The idea that fat in your food = fat on your body is an outdated nutritional belief system. When this belief system was firmly in place we all jumped on the Low Fat No Fat Battleship. We waged war on fat and removed it from the premises.

When fat became the enemy we got very good at reading food labels but the only thing we looked at was the number of fat grams in the product, totally ignoring the gazillion chemicals, food colorings, and “natural” flavors in the product. (If they’re “natural” why don’t they name them?)

Our refrigerators became stocked with:

Skim milk
Low fat or no fat yogurt
Fat free salad dressing, or worse yet—no salad dressing
And our favorite sweet snack became “Snackwell” cookies.
So what happens when we don’t get enough healthy fat in our diets?
The quality of our skin diminishes.
We got a little grouchy.
We can’t find our keys.
We have difficulty absorbing vitamins A, D, E, & K (all of our fat soluble vitamins)
Our bones suffer.
Our kids are acting out in school.
We fall asleep at our desks at 3:00pm.


When food scientists took the fat out of our food they replaced it with more sugar and all of the latest research is pointing to fructose, not fat, as the real culprit in diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Dietary fat is very slow burning in the body. When you replace the fat with faster burning carbs you tend to feel less energetic, you risk burning muscle tissue, and you wreak havoc on your metabolism, your hormones, your blood sugar, and your energy.

Dietary fats supply some of the best, and most stable sources of energy. If you want to feel good all day long, you need to make sure you are getting enough healthy fat in your diet.

Remember, the human body needs fat to function properly and for proper hormone production. If hormone production is off, your metabolism will follow. Hormones regulate all kinds of things in your body including your ability to build and maintain muscle tissue, which is responsible for a large portion of your energy expenditure. In simple terms, muscle burns calories 24 hours a day and if you eat a low fat or no fat diet you will have a hard time building and maintaining muscle.

For more on hormones, sign up for my f.r.e.e teleclass.

Meanwhile, add some of these items to your grocery list:

• olives
• avocados
• walnuts
• hazelnuts
• almonds
• Brazil nuts (great source of selenium)
• seeds (hemp, flax, pumpkin, sunflower)
• wild cold water fish (preferably line caught)
• coconut oil (yes this is GOOD for you)

And while you’re upgrading the items in your pantry, check the label on your peanut butter jar. If it says hydrogenated vegetable oil, throw it away and upgrade that as well!

In good health,
Sue Ann

Find more radiant life tips on Sue Ann’s website Conscious Bites Nutrition.