A Guide to Keto-Friendly Meal Prep

 

Let's be honest. Changing our eating habits is hard. No matter how inspired and gung-ho we may feel when we first decide to go keto, inevitably, we will face temptations and frustrations. Whether you're brand new to the low carb or ketogenic diet or you've been following it for ages, adopting a meal prep habit can help traslate that initial enthusiasm into success. It can even save time and money along the way!

What is Meal Prep?

Meal prep is the practice of preparing a number of meals in advance, typically all at once on one day per week. I enjoy doing this on Sunday and trying to involve my kids as well! You can be flexible with this to fit your schedule. For instance, you can prepare and freeze an entire week of food, or make only certain meals or plan for only a few days at a time. 

Why Meal Prep?

It saves you time.

The more you prepare in advance, the less time you spend running to the grocery store, and my personal favorite, less day to day clean up! While yes, you prepare about the same amount of food, efficient meal prep typically relies on multitasking to significantly speed up the process.

It cuts your food bill, sometimes drastically.

Meal prep can save you a lot of money on food. How? Consider that the average U.S. consumer will dish out $5,400 on impulse purchases each year. Having a grocery list and sticking to it can dramatically decrease the likelihood that you will give into these types of impulse purchases. (anyone can make a list, but can you stick to the list? Seinfield reference anyone???) Also, preparing a week's worth of food at once makes it easier to buy in bulk, which is often more cost-effective. You'll also find it a lot easier to form your shopping list around sales when you're forced to plan in advance.

It helps you avoid impulse decisions about food.

When you're busy, it's very easy to give into carb-laden fast food temptations. When you're drained after a long day of work, you may think, Whi has time of energy to make dinner? That can lead to less healthy take out choices. Meal prepping helps you avoid this kind of impulsive decision because you'll always have a healthy meal ready for you at home. Just walk in the door, heat it up and viola, dinner is served.

It can facilitate your keto diet.

Since staying in ketosis depends on a certain percentage of macros each day, a meal plan can be invaluable. By planning your meals in advance, you can be certain that you won't get to the end of the day and realize you've gone way over your carb allotment. Meal prep makes it even easier to stick to your meal plan because you can reuse the same base components in multiple meals, making the macro calculations much easier. You're also less likely to deviate from a meal plan when the food is already in your fridge, ready to eat.

 

How to Start Meal Prepping

Getting Started

As with any lifestyle change, when you first start out with meal prep, it's important that you start slowly so that you don't overwhelm yourself. You don't need to prepare an elaborate menu with a different entreé each night. Instead, try the following steps to get acclimated to the habit.

  1. Start by picking two keto-friendly protein options that use different cooking methods. For instance, if one requires the oven, pick something that you can prepare stovetop for the other recipe. You may also pick a side dish or two if you'd like.
  2. Buy enough ingredients to make at least 3 servings of each recipe. You might also consider buying some extra meat and vegetables that you can prepare early and use throughout the week for lunches (think salads and lettuce wraps).
  3. Set aside enough containers to hold your meals for the week. You'll likely want to pre-portion the meals to keep your macros consistent, so you'll need one container per individual meal (Tip: glass is much better than plastic).
  4. On your chosen meal prep day, Sunday in my house, prepare your recipes. Be sure to prep your ingredients all at once and find ways to complete multiple tasks simultaneously. While your chicken is in the oven, for instance, you can be steaming or stir-frying some veggies.
  5. Cook any extra meat and vegetables as well, if you chose to purchase some. A slow cooker can be extremely useful here to free up your other kitchen appliances for your main recipes.
  6. Once you've finished cooking, portion out the meals into their containers. Consider freezing half of the meals to prevent any issues with spoilage. Put the extras into larger containers to portion out as snacks or side dishes.

Refining Your Routine

Throughout the first week, pay attention to the following questions:

  • Did I prepare the right amount of food? If you don't eat all the meals, consider cutting back. If you run out early or don't feel like you've saved yourself any time, consider preparing extra next time.
  • Am I bored with these meal options? If so, next time try preparing slightly different variations on the same recipe or add another entreé entirely.
  • Did meal prepping benefit me this week? Think in any terms you want: time, money, healthy decisions, etc.

It will take some trial and error to determine how often to meal prep and how much to prepare each time. Experiment with different schedules and menus until you are completely satisfied with the answers to these questions.

Keto-Specific Meal Prep Tips

Making meal prep work for any diet is all about planning, and keto is no different. The key is to prepare foods that will help you comply with the diet.

Add variety.

One of the main objections to meal prepping is that people don't want to eat the same meal over and over throughout the week. People who aren't following keto will often use a different carb with each meal to change things up. This isn't possible when following keto, unless you use alternatives such as spiralized or riced vegetables. If variety is important to you, consider one of the following ideas that take less time than adding a whole extra recipe to your prep day.

  • Prepare the same marinade, sauce, or seasoning, but use it on different proteins.
  • Stir-fry different combinations of vegetables with the same sauce or spices.
  • Portion your protein, vegetables, or both into sections and season each differently before baking or frying.

Don't skimp on snacks.

Pre-portioning keto-friendly snacks during your meal prep time can help ensure that you always have healthy options to keep you from dipping into the office candy jar, or in my case, snacking on the muffins and doughnuts in the doctor's lounge (I know that's absurd, but that is what they serve in the hospital!).

Label your food containers.

You should always label your food containers with the dish and date it was prepared. It's also helpful if you're following keto to mark the net carbs and other relevant macros in case you end up mixing and matching your recipes you can still stay on point.

With these tips, you should be well on your way to an efficient and effective meal prep routine. Once you see how much easier it is to follow the ketogenic diet with meal prep, you'll never go back.

 

How To Eat Low Carb On A Budget

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"I'd love to eat low-carb but I don't think I can afford it!" Have you thought this before? I know I have heard it before.

The benefits of a low carb diet are clear, but many people are put off because they think that a low carb diet has to be expensive. The truth is, eating low carb doesn't have to break the bank. You don't need to buy expensive foods or ingredients! In fact, you can eat delicious, healthy, and inexpensive meals every day. Read on to learn more about how to eat low carb without blowing your budget. 

Plan For Success

The most important part of eating low carb on a budget is the planning. Having a clear plan every week saves tons of time and effort. Start by browsing the weekly sale ad from your local grocery store to see what's on sale. From there, you can sketch out a meal plan for the week, based around those nutritious and tasty ingredients. You should be able to easily plan how much it will be for daily breakfast, lunch and dinner (or if you practice intermittent fasting, that's even easier!). Always plan to have a few extra snacks on hand, as this can help stop you from splurging on expensive, last minute treats.

If you have more than one local grocery store, compare prices. It may be worth the extra few miles of driving if you can save some serious money on food. If one store has free-range eggs on sale and the other has a sale on chicken, don't hesitate to stop for both.

One of the most helpful things you can do is put a few hours aside each week (maybe on the weekend) to map out your plan. During this time you can:

  • Plan out your grocery shopping.  After looking at your local store's weekly ad, write out a detailed list of everything you need to buy. Armed with a list, you'll be less likely to splurge once you get to the store.

  • Map out your meals for the week. Know what you'll be having for dinner each night of the week. Plan quick and easy meals for your busiest nights, and be sure that you know what you'll be packing for lunch during the weekdays. 

  • Prep foods you know you'll be using. You can pre-chop veggies, cook meat, and make soups or stews ahead of time. Keep pre-portioned meals in the fridge, so when you're hungry you already have a delicious low-carb meal on hand. Portion out snacks like nuts into containers or bags so you know you won't overindulge, and you'll always have something to grab when hunger strikes. When all your food is ready and on hand, you won't have any excuse to grab expensive takeout. 

Strategize Your Shopping

When you head to the grocery store, make sure you optimize your time and money. There are a few tricks to keep in mind to really stretch your grocery budget. First, make sure you head to the store with a list and don't stray from it. If you see something that you use a lot of on sale for a good deal, stock up and freeze it for later use. 

On a low-carb diet, you most likely don't even need to venture into the aisles of the store – you can just stick to the perimeter. That's where the most healthy, least processed foods are waiting. Fruits, veggies, meat, cheese, eggs and other staples are easily accessible, and you won't be tempting yourself with expensive, processed foods. 

Protein is Key

On a low-carb diet, your protein sources can be one of the more expensive items at the grocery store, but if you strategize your meat buying, you'll find that buying meat won't necessarily force you to go over budget. 

Often, it's cheaper to buy a whole chicken and portion it out yourself, instead of buying just chicken breasts, thighs, or legs. If you portion out a chicken by hand, you can also save the bones to make nourishing bone broth later. 

Also, try cuts of meat that you haven't necessarily considered before. For example, organ meat is much cheaper (and denser in nutrients) than muscle meat, but so many people are afraid to try it. Liver, onions, and bacon is a fantastic, healthy, and surprisingly tasty meal, and buying cow liver is much cheaper than buying steak.

Produce Power

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Fresh produce is an important staple in any healthy diet, and while some vegetables and fruits are high in carbs, sticking to lower carb avove the ground veggies will deliver nutrients that can help your body thrive. Look for seasonal veggies instead of buying expensive ones when they're out of season, and don't be afraid to go for frozen vegetables as well. They're just as healthy as their fresh counterpart, and you can be sure that you'll always have healthy veggies on hand in the freezer.

Also, keep in mind that convenience comes at a cost. Many stores have pre-cut veggies available, which makes dishes like stir-fry quick and easy, however, you pay for the prep work. If you set aside prep time every week, you won't need to spend the extra money on pre-shredded cabbage or pre-chopped broccoli.

Buying Smart

Sticking to a budget can be hard, but always buy the best quality that you can afford. Sure, free range chicken, grass fed beef, wild fish and organic produce is higher quality, but it can also be much more expensive, depending on where you shop. But you can always be sure that eating healthy, fresh food, even if it isn't organic, is much better for your body than pizza, soda, fast food, or other processed junk. So don't feel bad about buying the store brand canned salmon instead of the fresh fillets. Splurge on the good stuff when you can, and make the best possible choices when your budget is tight.

Another important thing to remember is to keep it as simple as you can. You don't need fancy cheese or expensive nuts to satisfy you. Grocery stores will upcharge trendy foods like kale because they know it will sell. Turnip greens, spinach, swiss chard, or collard greens are just as healthy, but can usually be found for much cheaper. A simple salad packed with superfoods makes a great meal and can be put together with affordable ingredients. Get familiar with all the different produce options, and how to cook them to make healthy and delicious side dishes. Be adventurous! 

Cooking healthy, delicious low carb meals for yourself and your family can be rewarding, and you'll add an impressive set of recipes to your repertoire. Herbs and spices don't add carbs to your meals and they can bring simple dishes to a whole new level. Buy herbs and spices in bulk, and they'll last you for months.

Final Thoughts

Maybe you've tried a low carb diet in the past without much success, or you got discouraged about how much you were spending. But the truth is, low carb is a healthy choice, and healthy choices are for everyone, not just the wealthy. If you spend some time planning out your meals weekly and get to know all the secrets of your grocery store, you'll find that eating low carb is easier and cheaper than you ever expected. It just takes a bit of strategy, and some creativity to kickstart your low carb lifestyle. 

 

How to Outsmart the Grocery Store 

It’s happened to all of us. You ended up in the grocery store, hungry, tired and unprepared and suddenly you have a cart filled with frozen pizzas and potato chips. You end up staring at shelves upon shelves of Kraft Mac & Cheese, intriguing cereal boxes, microwave dinners and twelve different types of fruity, sugary yogurts. You definitely don’t need any of these items but you somehow end up with a cart full of them and you leave the store guilty of falling prey to the hidden psychology tricks of grocery stores. Have you ever noticed how essential foods like milk and eggs are spaced farthest from the entrance and to get back there you have to walk by all those packaged foods you didn’t even think you wanted? Or what about all the candy and sodas that are so conveniently placed by the checkout to tempt you while you stand in line waiting for your turn at the register?  Or take a look at how large grocery carts are lately, do you really need to fill that much space or could you opt for a smaller shopping basket? Grocery stores are smarter than we think…but we can beat them at their own game and here’s how! 

Make A List

Do not enter the grocery store without a list, whether it’s on your phone or written down on an old receipt you found in your car. Make sure to plan ahead, list out the items you truly need and do not allow yourself to deviate from this list once in the store. It may take an extra five minutes to do before you head in but it will save your wallet will be thankful for taking that time after you’re done the shopping!Also, don’t even think of walking down an aisle that doesn’t have one of the items you need.Not only will this save you from purchasing that junk food you don’t need, it will also save you time AND money. You could even turn this challenge into a game by timing yourself each time you go into the store. How quick can you get in and out? Get your friends in on the challenge and see who can make the best time!

Never Go To The Store Hungry 

This is a rule everyone should live by. Your eyes are always bigger than your stomach and going to a grocery store with an appetite can land you in the frozen dinner section, or even worse, the bakery section picking out a donut to eat as you stroll through the rest of the store. Have a healthy snack before you go like an apple or a hard boiled egg. This will provide you with the energy you need to tackle the produce aisle and stock up with all your fruits and vegetables for the week! If you end up at the grocery store without a snack, just grab an apple or a banana from the fruit section (but don’t forget to pay for it on your way out!!).

Avoid Grocery Stores Completely

That’s right! Abandon the grocery store completely! Buy meat from a butcher and get your fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market. Or if you have a busy schedule, grocery shop online. There are countless platforms like Vons and Amazon that will deliver groceries right to your door. After having a snack and making your list, you can opt to shop online for the healthy foods you really need to stock your kitchen. If you’re interested in learning to cook new recipes you could also try one of a meal delivery service like Blue Apron or HelloFresh! These services can be very affordable and help you inspire you with creative & healthy new dinner options. 

Stocking up your kitchen with the right foods is just one of the first steps of living your best health ever! If you can successfully get through your trip to the grocery store you’re already on your way to improving your health with meals that feature the foods you really need to fuel your body and your mind. If you need inspiration for your next meal, try out this great recipe from our friends at Whole30! 

 

 

 

Kidney Stones and Veggies- Which are Safe?

No good deed goes unpunished. I recently saw a young patient who had a severe coronary blockage requiring a stent. It was a true “Aha” moment and he dramatically improved his nutrition, lifestyle and stress management. He is one of my favorite patients (I’m probably not supposed to have favorites, but I’m human). Not just because of what a nice person he is, but because of his clear commitment to improving his health.

 

Gone were the processed foods and added sugars. They were quickly replaced by veggies, fish, healthy fats (including nuts and nut butters), and a clear focus on real foods. Not to mention his dediction to exercise and stress management. He re-examined his life, and revitalized his health.

 

Then it happened. Kidney stones. Ouch.

 

It turns out, some people absorb more oxalate from certain foods than others. Too much oxalate in your system can lead to calcium oxalate kidney stones (far and away the most common type of stone. Even though calcium is in the name, the oxalate is the more concerning component). Some of the biggest duetary offenders are spinach, beets and nuts.

 

As part of his real foods, veggie-based eating pattern he was consuming spinach and nuts every day. Ordinarily that would be fantastic! But not if you form oxalate stones. Oops.

 

The good news is, there are plenty of healthy veggie options that do not cause increased oxalate absorption. Some of the best greens for this are lacinto kale (also called dino kale), collard greens, and mustard greens.

 

Other low oxalate examples are broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, Brussel sprouts

cabbage, zucchini, mushrooms, onions and peppers.

 

Last, taking more than 500mg of vitamin C has been implicated in increased oxalate production and should be limited.

 

Conclusion:

 

Don’t throw away your spinach or your almonds!

 

Most of us will do just fine eating spinach, nuts and taking vitamin C. However, for those few of us who are prone to forming calcium oxalate kidney stones, it makes sense to limit these foods and instead focus on the wealth of other healthy options listed above.

 

Do you have questions regarding your healthy lifestyles and your health? Let us know, info@DrBretScher.com

 

Thanks for reading

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com

 

 

 

 

Can Eating Better Save 400,000 Heart Attack Deaths?

By now you have likely heard the news that poor nutritional choices cause almost half of all cardiovascular deaths. Wouldn’t it be amazing if by eating better 400,000 people would still be alive today? You bet it would.

 

While it’s no surprise that nutrition and heart health are directly related, causing half of all cardiovascular deaths is a dramatic finding that deserves further scrutiny.

 

The recent study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was presented at the 2017 annual AHA meeting. They retrospectively looked at years of observational data to correlate nutritional habits and the subsequent risk of dying. Instead of focusing only on the “bad” foods that people ate, they also looked at the “good” foods people did not eat. They concluded that Americans need to eat more nuts, vegetables and whole grains, and less salt and trans fats.

 

Yawn. That finding is hardly earth shattering as we have been hearing this for decades. Does this new study add anything to the current literature? I’m afraid not.

 

We have plenty of observational data suggesting the same.  In fact, another similar study published in JAMA at the same time provided more observational evidence that 318,000 out of 702,000 cardiovascular and diabetes related deaths are related to (in order of statistical strength), too much salt, not enough nuts and seeds, too much processed meats, not enough omega 3 rich seafood, not enough veggies or fruit and too many sugary beverages.

 

Bad Studies Yield Bad Data

 

Two studies with similar results. Does that sound conclusive? Not so fast. The problem is that all this data is observational, and therefore weak data. It can point out associations, but it cannot prove cause and effect (see chapter 2 in my book, Your Best Health Ever for a more detailed discussion).  What we need is a randomized, controlled trial investigating the question of nutrition and cardiac deaths, not more observational drivel (see my post on The Best Weight Loss Trial You Will Never See here)

 

As an example, processed food is high in salt. Fruits and veggies are low in salt. Can we say with certainty that the salt is the problem? Or is it the company it keeps, i.e. too much crackers, chips and baked goods instead of fruits and veggies? This study cannot determine between the two. Also, those who eat more veggies also tend to be more health conscious, more physically active, and have less dangerous habits (i.e. smoking). The opposite is true for those who eat more processed junk food. Again, observational studies cannot completely control for those variables (they can try, but statistics are imperfect for this).

 

Does this mean we need to throw out the study completely? Not necessarily. It raises important questions, even if it does not provide clear answers.

 

Instead, we should combine the findings with the higher quality, randomized trials to see what the science truly supports.

 

Good Studies Yield Good Data

 

The more conclusive studies are the randomized controlled trials. One such recent trial was the PREDIMED study (see more on this study and the Mediterranean diet here).  Briefly, this trial investigated a diet that included a “high intake of olive oil, fruits, nuts and vegetables; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation with meals.” This pattern of eating significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to low-fat diet.

 

Since this was a randomized trial, there was no need to control for other healthy habits and self-selection bias. In addition, they didn’t measure surrogate outcomes like blood pressure, weight, or cholesterol. They measured the events we really care about- heart attack, stroke and death. In the end, a simple nutritional intervention reduced that risk.

 

This is an impressive study that tells us something conclusive about nutrition. I hope you can see the difference between this study and the throngs of poor-quality observational trials.

 

Do you see any similarities between the PREDIMED study and the recent observational trials?

 

Encourage nuts, veggies, and fish. Discourage processed meats and sweets.

 

In short, eat real food.

 

Can We Find A Common Ground?

 

After that, the science gets murky.

 

What about poultry? It was encouraged in the PREDIMED study and was not mentioned much in the recent observational trials. There doesn’t seem to be significant evidence to avoid it, and there may be reason to eat it. So be aware of your portion size and go for it.

 

What about salt? It wasn’t limited in the PREDIMED study. Some studies suggest increased risk with high sodium intake, and some studies suggest increased risk with low sodium intake. In the observational trials, it can be difficult to separate salt from processed foods, and therefore difficult to know if it is dangerous.

 

You may be thinking, if there is any question, why not just avoid it?  Is there a compelling reason to eat salt? You bet there is. Taste. Salt helps food taste better. If you are adding it to your cookies, white bread or potato chips, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. However, if you are adding a sprinkle of sea salt on your freshly steamed veggies or your roasted broccoli, then go for it. An observational study can’t tell the difference between those two circumstances, but trust me, your body can.

 

What about red meat? This is a big one. We don’t have any evidence that red meat reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, all the evidence suggesting that red meat and animal protein increase the risk of cardiovascular disease is poor quality observational data. In addition, there is plenty of poor quality observational data that claims the exact opposite, that red meat does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. So again, we must ask, if there is controversy, should we just avoid it? Is there a compelling reason to eat meat? For some there is. Animal meat is the most efficient source of B-vitamins, iron and protein, it is filling and it tastes great.

 

Once again, the specifics matter. Are you eating a 16oz porterhouse steak with mashed potatoes? Or are you eating a fresh vegetable salad with 6-ounces of grass-fed steak on top? A study may not know the difference, but your body sure does.

 

Wrap It Up

 

Can improving what you eat reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes? It sure can. The PREDIMED study showed that.

 

Do these new observational studies add anything new? That’s debatable.

 

We come back to the basics. Eat more real food. Eat more veggies and fruits. Eat less processed junk. Avoid manufactured trans fats. If you do that, you are doing 95% of the work (I made up 95%, but it seems right to me).

 

Spend all the time you want arguing about the remaining 5%. There is plenty of evidence to support your claim whether you are for or against salt, meat, eggs etc.

 

As for me, I am going to step out of the argument and go eat my spinach and kale salad with Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, squash, nuts and seeds, topped with olive oil and 4 oz. of wild salmon and a hard-boiled pasture raised egg. Heaven on earth. Bon Appetite.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com 

 

Action Item:

Look for ways to add veggies, nuts and seeds to your meals. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on your oatmeal, eggs or salad. Ask for a double portion of veggies and half the protein when you go out to dinner. Watch our veggies and eggs video to see how easy it is to make a veggie-based breakfast. Focus on real food, veggies first. Try it today and see how easy and rewarding it can be!

Local Farmers- The New Frontier of Health

I’m convinced that to be the best physician possible, to be the ultimate health advocate for my clients, I need to be a coach, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and a farmer.

 

That’s right. Our health may rely on farmers as much as on doctors. Farmers control how our vegetables are grown and how our animal protein sources are raised. It turns out, that’s a pretty big deal.

 

200 Decisions per day!

 

Every day we make over 200 food and drink related decisions. Decisions to put substances into our bodies that either augment our health, or substances that poison our health.  Considering that over 60% of the average American’s calories come from moderately or heavily processed food, the poison seems to be winning.

 

Instead, we need to focus on a real-foods, plant-based nutrition with a high proportion of healthy fats and, for many, appropriate proportions of high-quality animal protein. With these nutritional choices, we would see the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, dementia and other chronic diseases plummet.

 

Better Than Good

 

But what if we are already pretty health conscious with how we eat? What if we want to make sure the food we put in our bodies augments our health as much as possible?

 

For that, we need to look beyond the macro-nutrients. We need to look to the farms.

 

We have all heard the buzz words that we should eat local, organic produce. We should eat grass fed beef. Our eggs and chickens should be pasture raised. But does it really make a difference?

 

Yes, Yes and Yes!

 

Studies have shown that grass-fed meat has higher levels of vitamin A, vitamin E, Omega 3 fatty acids, and more beneficial saturated fats (such as CLA and stearic acid) compared to grain fed meat. In addition, wild fish have fewer dioxin contaminants compared to farmed fish, and greater benefit to harm ratios that farmed fish. Pasture-raised chicken produce meat and eggs with higher levels of vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin A compared to cage-raised poultry.

 

When it comes to animal proteins, quality matters. A lot.  Not to mention the ethical considerations of how these animals are raised.

 

The industrialization of the food industry has done nothing to improve the quality of our food, and in fact, has done the opposite. To be fair, it has allowed some populations to enjoy animal protein at an affordable price, but it has gone too far. I’m not sure of the exact definition of “too far,” but all you need do is see the conditions at a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) to know we have gone too far.

 

CAFO’s have overcrowded, inhumane conditions that lead to excessive methane production, concentrated waste that destroys the soil and contaminates the water runoff, and the end result is meat that has reduced nutritional value.

 

But it does not have to be this way. Cattle and the environment can have a symbiotic relationship. In fact, they did for generations before humans developed and industrialized the land and forced cattle into confined spaces. 

 

Ranchers have started to recreate the “good ‘ol days” of cattle by setting up migratory grazing, and cycling their cattle, chickens, and crops. The result is more nutrient dense meat, milk, chicken and eggs. It also leaves healthier soil, and results in a sequestration of carbon in the soil (as opposed to unopposed release of carbon in methane).

 

So, what can you do to help this process? First, eat grass-fed, locally sourced meat. Eat pasture raised chicken and eggs. Buy from your local butcher or even mail order meat from sustainable ranches. You will dramatically improve the nutrients you derive from your food and you will benefit the environment.

 

Won’t this be more expensive? That leads me to the second point.

 

Eat less meat.  Remember, the healthiest meals are vegetable-based. That means the main portion of the meal consists of veggies. In contrast, today most meals have vegetables as a small side dish if they are eaten at all. Some sources state that only 41% of all dinners contain a vegetable at all.  

 

What takes their place? Animal proteins and simple carbs/grains.  By refocusing on making our meals veggie-based, we can reduce the unneeded simple grains and sugars, reduce the quantity of animal proteins and INCREASE their quality. Think about it. You can eat less of a more nutrient dense animal protein source, you can get the same satisfaction, better nutrition, and you can manage to keep the cost fairly constant. That’s a win-win by any definition.

 

Eat your Veggies!

 

But what about the veggies? The news isn’t all rosy there either.

 

The National Academy of Sciences issued an alert that our veggies ‘aint what they used to be.

 

It appears that the nutritional value of vegetables has declined compared to the 1970s. For instance, the vitamin C content of sweet peppers declined by 30%, the vitamin A in apples dropped by 40%, and the calcium in broccoli has been cut in half. 

 

The most likely explanation for the nutrient decline is modern farming’s evolution to maximize yields and profits. To this end, the health and diversity of the soil has largely been ignored, resulting in undernourished soil feeding a larger number of crops. 

 

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that there are fewer nutrients to go around.

 

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 5 servings of veggies per day with an optimal intake of 9 servings per day. But those are based on the “old” nutrient values for veggies. Assuming a 30% decline in nutrient value across the board, the optimal number of vegetable servings would go up to 12 per day.

 

Considering 87% of American adults don’t consume the current RDA for vegetables, it would be safe to assume an even lower number are getting adequate nutrition from vegetables. Something must change.

 

Re-Define a Meal

The first step is reframing how we see our meals. We need to make veggies the center of our meals. We need to start seeing veggies as fun, sexy, and enticing. That means exploring new veggies (How about tubers, chard, Romanesco, kohlrabi, or just multi-colored carrots?), and experimenting with new ways to prepare them.

 

By making veggies exciting, we can begin to make them the center of the meal. No longer is the chicken the main dish. Now it is a veggie medley with chicken and avocado on top. No longer is it miso salmon on a bed of white rice. Now it is a spinach salad with grilled salmon and an array of fresh veggies. Now that is a step towards health!

 

Know your Farmer

 

The second step, however, is where we all need to be a farmer, or at least know a farmer.

 

We don’t have to rely on produce that has been stripped of its nutrients by modern farming techniques. We don’t have to rely on mega-food corporations that are far more concerned with their stockholders than public health. Mega-food corporations have lost the public’s trust, and for good reason.  We shouldn’t have to eat carcinogens mixed with our spinach or our berries.

 

Granted, local farmers still need to make a profit, but they are not beholden to stock holders and large corporate greed. They can maintain their beliefs about the proper way to treat soil, the healthiest way to grow vegetables, and the most efficient way to support their community.

 

And don’t forget about the new generation of entrepreneurs. Folks like Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs with Square Roots. Not only are they growing fresh organic vegetables in Brooklyn in the middle of the winter, but they are teaching others how to do the same. Their use of hydroponics and vertical farming promises to revolutionize urban farming.

 

And the result? More fresh, healthy vegetables on our plates year-round.

 

So, the next time you want to be proactive about your health, you can go see your physician. Or you can go see your local farmer or rancher. They have as much, if not more to offer you for promoting your health and preventing chronic diseases.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com

 

Action item:

 

Find the closest farmers market to you and go there! Find out when it is and plan your schedule accordingly. That is your time to go grocery shopping. Notice how the fresh fruit and vegetables looks and smell differently than in the grocery store. Talk to the local farmer. Ask if they use pesticides or other chemicals. Learn more about their farm and farming practices. Feel the sense of community and take pride that you are helping support local farmers and your health.

Bret Scher, MD FACC

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