Nutrition Hot Topic - "Should I Drink Cow's Milk?"

Many worry about all the antibiotics that are pumped into our animals; but is going totally milk-free absolutely necessary? There is a lot of good scientific evidence AND snake oil and radical theories out there about milk. Here is where I come down on it.

I think the evidence is very strong that getting dairy (as a vehicle for good quality protein, vitamin D, calcium and other minerals) is very beneficial and is beneficial throughout life. I don't think there is a ton of evidence for taking extra calcium unless you have low dairy intake. I do agree that the vast majority of the dairy that is grown (meaning the cows) and sold is really poorly grown and there is a concern with contaminants. For that reason, almost all my dairy that my family consumes is organic. Dairy DOES NOT leach bones - it supports them. Watch out - there is a really strong anti-dairy lobby group that has been promoting that.

Cleanses & Detox Diets

I am often asked about "doing a safe detox" or "trying out the latest cleanse"....are they really necessary? -- and good for you? -- or a potentially dangerous trend?

Cleanses and detoxes are certainly all the rage right now...and if I think about it, they have been quite the rage for a very long time! Here is the thing, these cleanses are based on MYTH...not science. They prey on those that are vulnerable to quick fixes...and those who do not realize how harmful they may be to your health and metabolism.

1) Detoxes and cleanses put your body through starvation mode. You are starving for calories -- and your metabolism slows to hold on to the very few calories that you are becomes more efficient -- but in a way that is not beneficial once you start eating normally again. Your body has learned to hold onto calories, and therefore is more at risk for packing on the extra pounds. 

2) They are also not well-rounded nutritionally. Your body requires over 40 essential nutrients -- vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, amino acids, etc. No cleanse that I have seen is well-rounded nutritionally. Also, if they tell you to take a supplement while you are "detoxing" to fill in these nutritional gaps, that is even more ridiculous. Eat whole nutritious food. PERIOD.

3) What are they "detoxing" or "cleansing" anyhow?? What are these toxins that I have not been educated on during my advanced degrees in nutrition? The last thing I heard was that we are well equipped, with a FINE detox system, which includes our liver and kidneys. Also, what about fiber? And cutting back on caffeine and alcohol and pills (including supplements)? Yes, eat whole unprocessed foods -- high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains -- all chock full of nutrients and fiber -- nature's own little scrub-brush -- and you will have come a long way in our highly processed diet world. 

4) As a nutrition scientist, I would never support or claim that any "detox" with magic potions, combinations, juices, etc. are either safe OR healthy

Co-enzyme Q10 (Co-Q10)

I have gotten a lot of questions on the road about Coenzyme Q10, known as CoQ10. Here is the scoop.

CoQ10 is a substance produced by your body that partially functions as an antioxidant, meaning it works to counteract the damage caused by free radicals. CoQ10 is present in small amounts in many common foods, particularly animal products, and it's also available in supplement form.

CoQ10 supplements are effective in erasing a CoQ10 deficiency, though this is rare. Some people believe that CoQ10 can help with heart disease by lowering blood pressure and/or cholesterol, but the studies that have shown these effects are small and more vigorous research is needed in order to substantiate such claims. The most significant findings have been with regard to blood pressure; however, CoQ10 can react with some medications, including blood thinners, and can reduce blood sugar, so it's absolutely necessary that you discuss CoQ10 supplements with your doctor before taking them. Some supplement with CoQ10 in order to increase energy, since CoQ10 has a role in the production of ATP, but this has not been empirically shown. Research on its effects on exercise performance is also inconclusive. 

Quit Smoking! But Gain Weight?

Question: One year ago I was 58 years old, weighed 150 lbs, wore a size 12 and smoked. I had a stroke, quit smoking cold turkey and now weigh about 178 lbs! I walk every day (30 - 45 minutes) just as I did before the stroke and I really do watch what I eat, but it seems the pounds keep coming on strong. I am reading your book now, but need to know how to jump start my metabolism.

I am sorry to hear about your stroke, but I am THRILLED that you stopped smoking. It is actually fairly common for smokers who stop smoking to gain some weight -- the "oral fixation" on a cigarette sometimes offsets the oral desire to put food into your mouth. In addition, your taste bud response to food is blunted -- food can be less desirable and palatable to smokers. However, all is not lost and this is not an endorsement for smoking for weight loss!

What I will say is that you are likely eating just a wee bit more now...even if it is what seems to be healthy...and it sounds like you are exercising just about the same. Plus, there is the general proclivity to gain a pound or two a year as we age with our hormones and metabolism shifting a little.

So here is the deal. You really do need to amp up the exercise. The 30-45 minute walk is GREAT -- don't lose that! BUT, you should either increase the intensity of your walks (interval jogging, carry weights or use ankle weights) and/or change up the routine..walking is great for you, but not as efficient at burning calories compared to higher intensity work (the book is great for giving you guidance on this). Second, please pay attention to the amount of food that you are consuming. One less spoonful here and there can go a long way -- and again, the book has some great advice on some good clean and nutritious meals. 

Overweight and Mortality

What do you have to say about the information given to me by my doctor and confirmed in a recent New York Times article that those with a little extra fat have greater longevity, so much so that the idea of "average" weight has to be recalculated?

I welcome speaking about the recent JAMA paper (Jan 2013) on overweight and all-cause mortality. First, the authors measured BMI -- which is weight for height -- it did not measure adiposity and where this fat tissue lies. We know that the more centrally located fat tissue around the mid-section is what does the most damage to our health. For example, you could be what I call "skinny fat"...thin to the eye, but with no muscle and a lot of excess in the mid-section, which is not healthy. 

Second, they did not take into account the fitness level of these individuals -- indeed, those who have a higher BMI and who are fit are much better off over those who are "thinner" and unfit (and fitter individuals typically have less of the dangerous fat around their mid-section). Finally, this article looked at mortality -- NOT MORBIDITY. Overweight and obese individuals may be under more careful watch by their physicians simply due to their body size and may be living with several health risk factors -- hypertensive, elevated lipids, etc. -- but then put on drugs so that they are kept alive long -- but not necessarily a picture of health. Just a few reasons to keep on believing that it is optimal to eat well, get fitter and stay lean. 

Raspberry Ketones

I must admit that I never thought I would blog about something as silly as raspberry ketones, but here I am! After having been out "on the road" for a couple of months, I was blown away by how many well-educated people would ask about them AFTER I just finished talking about a healthy diet and skipping the supplements! 

So, I had to do my due diligence and find out what was up with these things...and alas, they were promoted on Dr. Oz. Of course, silly me.

Here is the skinny. Raspberry ketones are a compound found in raspberries and blackberries, that SOME believe to be a fat burner. Since it's only available naturally in minuscule amounts, it's produced artificially for use in beauty products and as a food additive. (It's been on the Food and Drug Administration's "generally recognized as safe" list for decades for its use as a food additive.) There have been some studies showing that raspberry ketones can prevent weight gain IN RATS -- including one in which OBESE rats consumed nearly 5,000 times the estimated human take (anyone would feel ill and lose weight doing that) -- but there is zero evidence of raspberry ketone benefits for humans.

THERE YOU GO. My simple two cents. Save your money, eat some raspberries on your yogurt and head out for a bike ride!

Celiac Disease and Great Gluten-free Grains

From Kathy--

Hi, I have just finished reading chapter 3 of your book, but keep wondering what I will need to do different because of having celiac disease. I was diagnosed a little over 3 years ago. I do use quinoa noodles most of the time. I also make my own bread and try to doctor it up with less gluten-free flour and adding flaxseed meal. I am not sure of the nutrient value, but feel very confident it is better in taste and nutrition than I can purchase in the store.

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for writing. It sounds like you are doing a great job finding whole-grain gluten-free alternatives. The first important point that I want to make is that you have NOT eliminated whole grains (GREAT!) and that you really do not need a ton of whole grains daily in order to have a healthful diet. I still would strongly advise that you focus on the vegetables, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Whole grains do not need to cover your plate. I have also copied a segment below from the National Institutes of Health and the American Dietetic Association on some great gluten-free alternatives. Also keep in mind, that when you are buying processed/packaged items -- beware of things labeled as "gluten-free" as many just incorporate unhealthy substitutes for gluten. No matter what, try to avoid the processed/packaged items!

The Gluten-free Diet: Some Examples

In 2006, the American Dietetic Association updated its recommendations for a gluten-free diet. The following chart is based on the 2006 recommendations. This list is not complete, so people with celiac disease should discuss gluten-free food choices with a dietitian or physician who specializes in celiac disease. People with celiac disease should always read food ingredient lists carefully to make sure the food does not contain gluten.


Protein Prior to Exercise?

Chris and Jen...Chris, you have a bowl of oatmeal and some blueberries and go out and ride 50 miles or row hard for an do you have enough gas in your tank??? My pre-workout meals have been mostly protein, particularly eggs and egg whites...maybe yogurt and oatmeal, whole wheat bread or English muffin with peanut butter...I do workout 6 days a week. I do intervals on the rower I lift...I am 60 years old...I max out at about 155 bpm doing intervals, I do the slower aerobic work 2 days a week. Jen says lay off the protein pre-workout...what do I eat to have enough fuel...and how many calories??? Thanks, Bruce.

Hi Bruce,

I am not certain what time of the day you are working out, but based on what you are eating prior, it may be late morning or noon-time. First, you do not have to "lay off of protein" prior to working out, just as long as you give yourself enough time to digest the meal and make sure that it is paired with a great carbohydrate source. Based on some of your samples, you should be eating this two - three hours prior to your workout to give it ample time to be digested and absorbed. Chris' example of oatmeal and blueberries is great as is your whole wheat bread with peanut butter.

What and how much to eat all depends on WHEN you are eating prior to exercise:

1) The pre-exercise meals should consist of mainly of carbohydrates for several reasons:

a. They are easily digested and absorbed.

b. Carbohydrates in the AM will replenish lost muscle glycogen stores that have been depleted after a night's rest.

c. Muscle glycogen serves as the primary fuel source during exercise.

d. Muscle glycogen stores will limit your ability to exercise for long periods of time (like Chris' 50 mile rides) -- once it runs out in your muscles, so do you.

2) A higher carbohydrate meal of 300-500 calories should be eaten 2-3 hours prior to exercise to allow for digestion and absorption.

3) Meals higher in fiber, fat, and protein will take much longer to digest. Also note that protein is not a major fuel source for exercise. BUT protein with some carbs is great for muscle recovery.

4) If you consume more calories and/or meals higher in fat/protein -- allow more time for digestion. 

Turkey Bacon? Really?!


Is turkey bacon OK? Up to about 3 months ago, I always ate turkey bacon for breakfast with my egg white and Kale omelet then switched to real bacon and, of course, I liked it. Now after Thinner Next Year, I am eliminating my piece of real bacon, but I wonder if turkey bacon is OK. It is fake food, but does it hurt?

Turkey bacon -- don't fool yourself. Turkey bacon is still a processed and high calorie, high fat, high sodium meat. It is a WEE bit healthier than regular bacon, but not nearly enough to give you a green light (both are low in nutrients). My advice is to eat it in moderation for sure. Treat it as if it were bacon...and appreciate it for what it is -- NOT THE BEST FOR YOU!

Do You Exercise When Sick?


OK, it is that time of year -- the flu is going around like crazy, not to mention a multitude of other viruses. So the question came up the other night at one of our book signings: "OK, so you recommend exercising 6 days per week, but what do you do if you are sick?"

GREAT question. Here is my simple answer. If it is from the neck up -- keep on exercising! If it is from the neck down -- take it easy or take it off! So if you have a sore throat, are stuffed up or even have a headache, try to exercise! The likelihood of making you actually feel better and mitigating the symptoms is high. (I had a nasty travel headache yesterday and 45 minutes on the treadmill kicked it!) However, if your body aches, you have a fever, or an upset stomach -- take a break. Your body is already working hard to repair itself and you may take a couple of steps backward if you workout hard. Once you are feeling better, progress back into your routine slowly. 

Early Morning Workouts: Eat Prior?

From Brian: One question I have regarding early morning workouts...the book talks about waiting an hour or so after you eat before you workout...that would make it a very early morning for me. Is it okay to workout before breakfast? What would you advise?

Working out in the AM is a GOOD idea, but it is silly to get up at 4 AM to eat something for a 6 AM workout -- that would be beyond exhausting and unsustainable. I personally do not eat before my early morning work-outs...I feel much better on an empty stomach (no chance of cramping from undigested food). However, I also know that those are not the days that I can go much longer than 60-90 minutes (depending on the type and intensity of exercise) before I run out of steam. Interestingly, our bodies also adapt to working out early on an empty stomach by tapping into our fat stores a wee bit sooner for an energy source -- sparing the precious muscle glycogen, which is already a bit lower from fasting overnight -- and allowing us to exercise a bit longer over time. This is my crazy little way of thinking working out early is a win-win! Just remember to re-energize with a healthy breakfast within 30-60 minutes following your workout with a focus on healthy carbs and protein (oatmeal with skim milk and fruit, yogurt with granola and fruit, whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana, or an egg-white omelet with spinach, peppers and onion). 

Coconut Oil


From Glenn: "Just started reading the new book and I'm interested on your take regarding coconut oil. There seems to be many different opinions about whether it is good for you."

Here is the quick skinny on coconut oil. First, it is predominantly a saturated fat (90% vs. butter that is 65% saturated). Saturated fat increases your LDL, or your bad cholesterol. However, some fats in your diet can also increase your HDL, your good cholesterol. Some early studies have shown that coconut oil may have an especially positive effect on your HDL. Furthermore, plant oils, even coconut oil, have other substances that benefit health, many of which we are still discovering. However, I would not go overboard on coconut oil. There have been NO long term studies on its health effects, such as heart disease risk. It has great flavor, but use it sparingly. It still has 9 whopping calories per gram and the benefits of other plant-based oils, which are much lower in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats (such as olive oil) may far outweigh those from consuming coconut oil -- unsaturated fats will both increase your HDL and decrease your LDL, a far better physiological outcome. 



I just logged onto Chris Crowley's Web site where about 60 "beta testers" chat with one another about their challenges and successes of following the Thinner This Year lifestyle "plan"...and let me just say, "WOW." I can tell you how tickled I am to have just read about yet another person to have lost over 20 pounds since the summer by following your lifestyle regimen, but what makes me even more thrilled is that they really sense that it is a plan they can follow for life. Not a quick fix, not easy, but real. I am over the moon.