Tag Archives: Human nutrition

Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #7

Eat lean proteins. If you can’t afford quality meats, find an alternative.

Now, I probably don’t mean the same thing by “lean protein” as you’re used to hearing. I do not mean ripping the skin off your chicken, taking the fat off your milk, or using low-fat anything. Leave the fats on your foods: stop taking the skin off your chicken breast, quite buying skim milk, and throw out the “low fat” whatever it is in your cupboard.  However, what you should be looking for is non-corn fed. Why? Because this causes a different kind of fat, and lots of it. Starches like corn do a variety of things to animal products, none of them good (at least not for you–they’re great for large agriculture, though). I won’t go into all of it here, because there’s a good bit of science heavy boring stuff that is beyond the scope of this blog series; but, one good example of why to look for non-corn-fed is grass-fed beef, which has up to 1/2 less fat than corn-fed. Now, there are a lot of issues with “grass fed” and “corn-finished,” as well. Start with going grass-fed, for now. I’ll do a post on how to choose meats of all types here in the future to help you figure out what is okay with grains, but starting with this rule will make things easier.


-Fats and protein play an essential role in brain function. You need them.

-When you buy “low-fat” products, what you’re actually getting is more carbohydrates, empty calories, and additives like salt.

-Buying quality proteins gives you more protein and quality fat for your dollar.

-Low-quality proteins are often high in undesirable types of fat and chemicals.

-Protein helps keep you feeling full.

-A diet of all carbohydrates is going to make or keep you fat. You need to be eating at least 30% of your diet in good fats (grass-fed animal products, olive oil, etc.), and another 40% in protein. Don’t stress about the numbers, though. Just start replacing carb-heavy meals with veggies and protein, and it’ll all work out.


-Donate or throw away “low fat” items. I promise you the fats they do have in them are bad for you, and what they’ve replaced the rest of the fats with to retain flavor and texture is even worse.

-Look for grass-fed dairy, eggs, and meats either in the supermarket, or (preferably) from a local farmer.

-It will be more expensive, so make it stretch. Don’t eat whole cuts of meat, instead use it  in soups, stews, and casseroles with other good ingredients (like those veggies from rule #6). American tend to eat too much meat as it is. That said, truly lean meats–meaning lean in their whole, not just lean when you trim all the crappy fat off of them–can be expensive, and hard to find in some areas. So, you may need to supplement with other protein sources.

-If you can’t find or afford quality animal products (or, if you prefer not to eat them), there are a lot of great substitutes:

-Lentils & beans. These are your frugal friend, with good proteins. Add some olive oil to them, or butter, to make sure the appropriate fats are there.

-Fish. This is a complicated issue, and one I’ll do a blog on at some other time. I will say that if you’re eating farm-raised salmon for it’s health value, you’re wasting you money, because it doesn’t really have any health value. Some fish are fine farm-raised, some are pointless and even harmful. Start by doing wild-caught salmon, and farm-raised swai (it’s a mild whitefish) now, and work other fish in as you do the research and find out what is healthful and what is harmful.

-Tofu & tempeh. (I am NOT going to get into the soy argument here, so all of you who found your way over here to tell me the dangers or wonders of soy, go do it on your own blog; this is meant to be basic nutrition info, not a thesis on phytoestrogens). If you are going to do this, you need to look for ORGANIC tofu and tempeh, preferably ones labeled “Non-GMO.”

-Eat protein-rich vegetables, like broccoli, in combination with grains. There can be a bit of complexity to this, so if you’re vegetarian, I recommend you do a good bit of research to make sure you have complete amino acids.

-Eat quinoa. It’s a complete protein, and is great with some olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes, or in place of rice or mashed potatoes.

-Eat nuts!

-Eat protein rich snacks like cottage cheese, nuts, and boiled eggs. Reach for a slice of cheese and almonds when you want a snack, instead of the Doritos. Even if it’s not grass-fed cheese (which can be really hard to find), the protein and fats in these foods will give you a slow energy boost instead of the sugar spike you get from starches and sugars. They’ll also fill you up faster, and keep you that way longer.

Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #6

Rule #6: Eat Your Vegetables.

This is often, it seems, the hardest thing for people to do; but, it needs to be done.


-Vegetables provide an important source of complex carbohydrates that fill you up and keep you full, with very few calories.

-The fiber content in vegetables helps stabilize blood sugar, helping to protect you from insulin resistance and diabetes.

-The fiber also keep the digestive system moving along, and can protect against some cancers.

-Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for your immune system, skin, brain, and pretty much every other part of your body.

-Many vegetables contain protein. Now, there’s no actual protein shortage here in the US, but it does mean veggies are a good stand-in for meat proteins if quality meats aren’t available or too expensive.


No one wants to eat a gray, floppy mess on a plate. Vegetables can and should be appetizing, and the most important thing to do is to learn how to cook them well. Choose fresh, crisp vegetables with bright colors, and mix them up.

-Roast. I don’t think I’ve met a vegetable that doesn’t roast well, even leafy greens. And, it’s easy: just toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper (add other spices if you want), lay in single layer on a cookie sheet or baking pan, and put into a hot oven (I usually use about 375o F) until done. Roasting caramelizes a vegetable’s sugar, rendering it yummy, and retaining most of the nutrients!

-Blanch. This is good for broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, edamame, etc. Plunge into boiling water for just a minute or two, then plunge into cold water. Eat cold as a salad, or as munchies.

-Kabob & grill. Cut into kebab-size pieces, toss with olive oil and teriyaki sauce if you like, skewer, and grill.

There are many other ways to do veggies; raw, sauteed, seared, ribboned instead of noodles, etc. Just don’t boil them, and don’t over steam. Don’t buy them pre-cooked and smothered in sauce, either. Fresh, whole, vegetables, and cook them at home.

.-Start by adding a vegetable to each dinner, either as side dish or incorporated into the main dish, or as a dinner salad.  Once you’ve mastered that, add them to lunches, and even breakfasts (eggs on a bed of tomatoes and wilted spinach is divine!).

The general rule is you can eat as many vegetable as you want (dietary restrictions such as diabetes notwithstanding). Even Weight Watchers is giving most of them zero points now. The exception to this is corn, which is technically not a vegetable except under the broadest definition. It’s a grain, and contains a lot of starch and sugar, so it needs to be eaten in moderation.

Back to Basics: Rule #5

Rule #5: No Fast Food.

There are exceptions to every rule. I recently had to make an unexpected, emergency 14-hours-each-way drive for a death in the family, and I barely had time to get in the car, let along grocery shop and pack a cooler. It’ll happen. That is what fast food is for. I will say I haven’t been so incredibly sick as I was when I returned home, though, having eaten really poorly for a week. I regretted it for almost a month, and it’s taught me I need to keep ready-to-go travel food on hand, because I just can’t handle the crap they serve in fast-food places.


-Fast food generally means you’ve planned badly. I am not saying you can’t ever have a burger from McDonald’s again, but I am saying it should only happen a few times a year, and then only as a special “treat,” or an absolute emergency.

-It’s really high in calories, even the salads if you get croutons or add dressings. Take a look at the nutrition information. For most people, one sandwich from a fast food chain can be up to half of their daily caloric intake needs. Add fries, and the vast majority of people in the US have gone well over half, often up to 2/3 (and, with the bigger sandwiches and fries, it can be almost the entirety of some people’s caloric daily needs).

-Almost all of it contains ingredients that violate the previous rules. Yes, even that yogurt parfait will surprise you with it’s loads of processed sugars and preservatives. “Healthy” options at most of these places just mean “slightly less awful options.”

-It’s not satisfying, because the ingredients it does contain do not set off the hormones that tell your body it’s full. So, you eat far more. It’s also got little or no fiber, so you’re hungrier sooner.

-You don’t want to know what’s in it. Trust me on this. If you saw what it was made of and how it was processed, you’d never eat it again.

-There are exceptions, but not many, and they change often enough that it’s hard to keep up with what might be reasonable options. Ingredients change quickly in the fast food industry, and what you’re eating one week may not be what you’re eating the next.


-Plan your meals. If you need lunch at work, plan your dinners to give you leftovers, or put sandwich or salad fixings on your grocery list. If you don’t have access to a refrigerator, get a cooler or insulated lunch bag and an ice pack. If you don’t have access to heating facilities, plan lunches that can be eaten cold.

-Pack healthy snacks for yourself and children if you’re on the go. I keep a cooler in my car almost all of the time. I also keep roasted almonds and walnuts with me.

-Get used to being  hungry. Here’s the truth: people can be hungry for a half hour with no ill effects. we don’t need to eat the very second we feel a slight hunger pang. It’s better if you eat before you get hungry by setting a solid meal plan, but if that goes awry, know that eating in a half an hour or hour when you get home will be fine (obviously, if you’re diabetic or have hypoglycemia, this doesn’t apply; but, what does apply is that you need to keep appropriate snacks at your disposal).

Back to Basics, Nutrition Rule 4

Get crappy food out of the house. Throw it out, donate it, whatever.


Here’s the deal: I occasionally eat a Butterfinger, or ice cream. But, we don’t keep them in the house. If I want something like this, I have to go get it. Because the dirty little truth is that if I keep it in the house, I’ll do exactly what most of us will do: I’ll eat it all, and I’ll do it in a far shorter time than is healthy or wise.If I have to go get it, I think more about it, and almost always make the healthier choice. Those treats are about instant gratification, and it’s not “instant” if I have to run my behind to the store to get it.

I am not saying you can never have your favorite candy bar again (obviously), or that you can’t ever get take-out. I am saying that almost everyone makes far healthier eating choices if they have to think about them. If they’re on hand, we tend to over-eat them, because they’re easy.


Keep replacements in the house. Want crunchy? Grab roasted nuts. Want sweet? Grab an orange or apple. Want salty? Grab some pickles. Want fatty? Grab the cheese. Considering frozen pizza for dinner? Make an easy homemade crust and throw on some tomato sauce, cheese, and your other favorite toppings (yes, this is still way better for you than DiGiorno, or however it’s spelled).  You get the idea.

Usually, you’ll find that if you satisfy your craving with a healthier food, the want for an unhealthy one will subside.

This series will take a break over the weekend, and return Monday with rule 5!

Back to Basics: Rule 3

I know we all love ice cream and candy, but processed sugars are bad for you.  And yes, I am including artificial sweeteners here. The key isn’t finding ways to eat more candy, it’s finding a balance in your diet so you stop craving it.


- They become addictive, so it’s hard to stop eating. Processed sugars have what is called a “high glycemic index,” which essentially means they spike your blood sugar, then drop it off a cliff. This starts a cycle of fatigue, which makes you eat more (usually more sugar), which spikes your blood sugar and drops if off another cliff, so you eat more (usually more sugar). This is much like a drug addiction cycle, and it acts the same way, causing you to crave more and more sugar.

-They make you fat. This is a three-parter:

Artificial sweeteners break the metabolic cycle, and can cause weight gain even though they have fewer calories than sugar (and in some cases, no calories). There’s a lot of science behind this that you can look up if you want, but the simple explanation is that your body is programmed to rev up your metabolism when it tastes sweet, because sweet things usually have more calories. Your body is very smart, and doesn’t like wasting energy; so, it stops this cycle once it realizes there aren’t going to be any more calories coming.

Processed sugars, like HFCS and table sugar, are empty calories. No nutrients, just calories.  So, either nutrient rich foods are being replaced by sugars, or are being eaten on top of them. Usually, it’s the latter.

-Some are processed through the liver. Why is that bad? Again, there’s a lot of science-y stuff here, but essentially it means that they can be turned directly into fat, and that they signal your body to keep turning other things into fat. So, even if you’re only eating your necessary amount of calories per day, if you’re getting a lot of them via processed sugars you may have a difficult time losing or maintaining weight.

-Processed sugars, especially liquids like High Fructose Corn Syrup, can contribute to insulin resistance, which translates into diabetes.

-Artificial sweeteners have some nasty long-term side effects, and some are known to be carcinogenic (meaning they elevate your risk for certain cancers).

-Your getting far more of them in your daily diet than you likely know about. Ever looked at the back of a jar of tomato sauce? About 90% of those jars will have “sugar” or “high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)” listed as an ingredient. Loaves of bread? About 85% of what is sold in most supermarkets contain a processed sweetener. While some people say that sugar and HFCS are fine in moderation, it’s very difficult to get them in what most people would consider “moderation.”

-There are great alternatives, so there’s no real need. Natural sweets, like honey and whole fruit, have lower glycemic indexes, and so won’t spike your blood sugar like processed sugars do. These natural sweets also contain beneficial ingredients, so they’re not just empty calories.

How to Stop:

There are two schools of thought on this, one that works and one that doesn’t (in my humble opinion). Sugar is addictive, and you have to break that cycle. You really just need to stop eating it, and live with the fact that you want a candy bar. I recommend a “sugar fast,” or a complete break from all processed sugars, for 2 weeks. Eat fruits and veggies, add some honey to your coffee, but no processed sugars, not even in your bread and pasta. The first few days will be awful, but you’ll live through it. After that, it’s much easier. After 2 weeks, your cravings should be gone. At that point, I’ll allow myself a treat once in a while (by which I mean every few weeks for a birthday party or something), but still stick to natural sources of sugar.

The other method is to  “wean” yourself off, and slowly switch over to natural sugars. I’ve known far more people to fail at this method than succeed, but if you’re not ready to go cold turkey, you can give it a try.

Everyone I know who has given up processed sugars and artificial sweeteners on a regular basis feels better and has a much easier time maintaining their weight.

Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule 2

Rule 2, eat whole foods, is pretty directly related to Rule 1.  Whole foods are unprocessed and unrefined foods, things that come as-is from mother nature, such as whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy, eggs, and meat, or that are minimally processed, like oats and brown rice.

Ideally, no ingredient labels should be necessary, because a green pepper should have nothing it but green pepper. But, some things, like sour cream, will have more than just “sour cream,” (I really wish that wasn’t the case, but it is). Look for foods with no more than 5 ingredients, none of which you cannot pronounce, and none of which you couldn’t get at home. No High Fructose Corn Syrup, MSG (monosodium glutamate), etc.

Why is this Rule #2?

-Whole foods almost always have fewer calories than processed foods.

-They also almost always have far more nutrients,  including immune boosters, to keep you healthy.

-Whole fruits and vegetables contain a lot of fiber. This not only helps keep you full and regulate blood sugar, it also makes sure things pass through your body in a timely manner, lowering your risk of certain cancers (or, the less polite way to put it: it keeps you regular, and if you’re not emptying your bowels at least once a day, you really need to up your fiber intake).

-They don’t contain additives that are going to make you fatter, hungrier, or more likely to develop cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, or all the other crappy-food related illnesses that are skyrocketing today.

-They trigger a “satiety” feeling that processed foods usually do not, so you’ll eat less and fell fuller, longer.

-You prepare them at home, so you can control what goes into your food. This means you can cut excess calories, preservatives, and chemicals.

Eating whole foods does require some forethought and preparation, but eating shouldn’t be automatic and easy. What goes into your body profoundly affects your health, and deserves a lot more consideration than Americans tend to give it (hence, the booming rate of obesity and related issues).

Back to Basics Series: Rule 1

As I promised, each rule on my “Back to Basics” nutrition steps are going to get their own posts. I don’t intend to go into deep science here, as hat is a lot of what seems to be confusing for people.  There is a lot of hard science to back what I am saying, and I may end up going into more detail at a later date (and, it’s already in many of my archived posts). For this, though, I wanted basic information people can get started on right away, with solid and easy-to-understand foundations.

Rule 1: Do not eat prepackaged or precooked foods. Period. Put it back on the shelf.


-Prepackaged and precooked foods usually contain a lot of additives that are bad for you, and that are linked to everything from obesity to diabetes to cancer. Also, many contain additives that can actually make you hungrier.

-You are likely to eat more of them than the stated portion size. Most “foods” of this type have unrealistically small portions sizes, and most people eat far more than that. So, while you think you’re getting 100 calories, you could be getting far, far more.

-Empty calories. Your body can tell the difference in the types of calories you put into your body. For example, fructose and sucrose–two types of sugar–are processed in a completely different way.  This means that you will retain fat in different amounts from different foods.  Highly processed foods metabolize more quickly, and send signals to your body that there is an excess amount of energy available, which it stores as fat. Whole grains, lean proteins, and produce metabolize more slowly, and so are less likely to get stored as fat.

-You are likely to feel less satisfied, and therefore eat more. Processed foods often do not trigger the hormonal response your body needs to feel satisfied. They can trigger the production of Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” and suppress the production and uptake of the hormone that signals your full and that your body needs to metabolize, Leptin.

Aside from seeing you through an emergency when you have no power or clean water, processed foods do nothing good for you. They’re not only not worth eating, they sabotage healthy weight maintenance, and they don’t taste nearly as good as the real thing!

Stop Complicating Things. Eating Well Isn’t Magic.

Thadd suggested I take things back to basics for a few posts. Simple, rational, truthful nutrition information and guidelines without the hype. I realize there’s a lot of confusing information out there about how to eat well, but most of it is smoke and mirrors. Yes, there are about a million niche diets (or, if you prefer, “lifestyles”) from vegan to paleo. But, most people aren’t going that route, at least not initially, because going from pizza 3 nights a week to veganism or locavore is just too big a switch too fast.

Start simple. Here are the 10 rules that I follow to eat healthy. Follow them. You will feel better, you will start coming to a healthy weight (medical conditions aside), and you will not get confused. To read my post on each one, just click on it.

1. Do not eat prepackaged or precooked foods. Period. Put it back on the shelf.

2. Eat whole foods. Ideally, they shouldn’t need an ingredient label, but if they do, no more than 5 ingredients and nothing you can’t pronounce.

3. Stop eating processed sugars. There’s no good in this. Eat fruit.

4. Throw our your crap food. Donate it, put it in the trash, whatever. Just get it out of your house.

5. No fast food.

6. Eat more vegetables. I don’t care if you don’t like them, eat them anyway.

7. Eat lean proteins. If you can’t afford quality meat, cut down on your meat consumption and find alternatives.

8.  Plan meals. Spontaneous eating just doesn’t work for most people.

9. Get a hobby. Boredom eating will steer you wrong every time.

10. Cook.

I’m going to do posts on all of these individually, but you can get started right now. It does take a lifestyle change, and it does take some willpower. If you’re not willing to do that, I can’t help you. If you’re ready, we’ll take these changes one at a time, and get moving into a healthier way of eating that is simple and tasty. And, most importantly, fun.

Friday Short One

I am over trained, and tired. As I continue recovering from the bug that had me coughing so hard I vomited everything I did manage to choke down (for three days, and a total of 6 pounds I didn’t need to lose), I have to continually try and be aware that I am not 100% yet.  It’s hard for me, because I don’t really understand “relax” and “recover,” as Thadd will happily expound on if you let him.

So, what’s this got to do with food? A few things. First, it’s a great illustration of what happens when I eat really poorly, don’t sleep, and have way too much stress. I ended up eating…and I know my regular readers are going to be incredibly disappointed here…fast food. For about a week. I had exactly one home-cooked meal in 7 days, and the rest was fast and nasty. I suppose there’s not a lot of excuse for this in most people’s view, but I’ll try anyway. My trip back to MI was sudden, and I had to rearrange my schedule with nothing short of Herculean effort to make it at all. I drove about 14 hours each way, by myself. There was family to deal with,  and I just couldn’t really get away to go shopping and cook. There was no time, and there were people who needed me to be there. In short, I guess I wasn’t really willing to sacrifice my family’s feelings and the support I was there to give  for the short time I was there, and did what I felt I had to do. Which included choking down whatever was available when it was in front of me.

Now, I am nourishing my body back to health. I can’t even stand the sight of fast food (not that I really could before my trip). Lots of fruits, pastured eggs, local honey, and raw milk. My recovery is going really well, and I’m back to life as it was before the trip and the illness.  The good news is that the illness broke really fast once I was able to rest at all, and I’ve gained ground really fast. Just like losing weight, though, that last 10% is always the hardest.

I am considering trying to figure out an “emergency” bag or stock of reasonable road food, but I can’t really do dried fruit and nuts for 14 hours. Whatever it is has to be fast, easy, and not require more than a minute or two of prep when I stop at rest areas. Thus far, I am coming up pretty shy on ideas. Anyone out there have emergency trip food that is healthy, storable, filling, and ready-to-go?

Photo note: First two are MI scenery from my trip two years ago. Last pic is a recent one of me.

Client Opening and What’s a Frugal Menu?

A short announcement: I have one opening for a client in the greater Lynchburg area starting the first week in May. If you, or someone you know, is interested just use the “contact Renaissance Cuisine” form to the right.

On one of my boards earlier this week, someone asked what frugal meals everyone was eating. It was interesting to see everyone’s various ideas of “frugal.” For me, frugal isn’t necessarily cheap. I define it as a good value, and our meals reflect this. I don’t consider pre-packed ramen noodle packs “frugal,” because while they’re very inexpensive, they’re also both nutritionally void and full of harmful chemicals. So, pound for pound, they’re a poor way to get any kind of nutrition. Lentils, while more expensive than pre-packaged ramen noodles, are a much better value.

What do we eat? Most of my readers have seen my “On the Menu” features. For me, these are generally frugal menus. Yes, we do splurge once in a while, and we’re very lucky to be able to do that. For the most part, however, we strive to eat inexpensively and locally within a frugal budget. It’s not always easy, and it requires a good bit of time and planning. I’ll be teaching some of these skills at a new community cooking class, which I’m excited about!

On The Menu


Sunday: Korean noodles with greens. We love ethnic food, and it’s often inexpensive and healthy. We had some of the first fresh greens of the season, which were wonderful with Korea noodles (made from yams) , and a fish-based sauce. The noodles came from an Asian market in Charlottesville, but I’m looking into making my own.

Monday:  Portuguese fish and sausage soup. Yes, we eat fish in soup. In this case, it was swai, farmed sustainably.  It’s a rich soup with gold potatoes and local sausage, and I used my homemade chicken stock as a base. This can be a more expensive dish, but it goes a really long way.

Tuesday:  Sliced beef over roasted red pepper couscous, with mixed green veggies. Thadd’s night to cook. He marinaded sliced beef, then quickly pan fried it. Couscous is a go-to side for us when we’re short on time.

Wednesday: Samosa pie with mango chutney and spinach-chickpea saag. This is a really inexpensive way to eat Indian, but it does take a good bit of time for preparation. I add about twice as much spice to my samosa mixture as this recipe calls for, and make my own chutney when mangoes are on sale. Chutney’s expensive to buy, but can be super-cheap to make yourself, and you can avoid the HFCS in most brands you’ll find at the store. The saag is a traditional side of spinach and chickpeas in a vegetable stock base with onions, ginger, garham masala, tumeric, and a cream finish.

Thursday: Tonight is sliced beef tacos with the rest of the beef from above. There’s nothing special about the tacos, really. We’ll have some fresh greens to use up, and I’ll make homemade re fried black beans. I’ve got to teach tonight, and Thadd’s busy all day, so we planned for something fast and inexpensive.

Friday: Basque chicken thighs over brown rice. This is a great, fast dish that includes a lot of smoke paprika and some prosciutto. The latter is a bit expensive, but it doesn’t use much. The rest will get frozen for later. You really don’t want to use breasts for this, as the thighs give a much richer flavor. And, they’re generally cheaper, though if you’re buying whole, local birds, I’d go ahead and piece it out and use the entire bird (as I will do). The juices from the thighs will flavor the rest.

This is as far as we got with diners this week , because we knew our weekend would be a bit crazy. I am considering making a Japenese Zisou, though, for dinner on Sunday. Hearty, fast, healthy, and I can use some homemade stock.

This is not the most frugal dinner menu I’ve ever listed. In fact, for us it’s pretty expensive. Why? Honestly, just because. We go in cycles. We have a monthly food budget, not a weekly, so some weeks are cheaper and some more expensive, but it all works out in the end.

Breakfasts include farina, homemade raw milk yogurt, local honey, local pastured eggs, raw milk,  tea, homemade whole wheat toast, and fruit (not all at once). Lunches are almost always leftovers and/or a smoothie (I do the smoothies, since I am often not really hungry in the mid-day).

What’s frugal to you?



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