Since the recent Harvard study, which found that red meat consumption is tied to an increased risk of death from heart disease and cancer, many people have asked me about giving up meat, or at least cutting back. The study, which tracked over 100,000 men and women for about three decades, found that replacing one serving of red meat with one serving of a different protein source was associated with a lower death risk: 7% lower for fish, 10% for beans, lentils and soy, 10% for low-fat dairy products, 14% for poultry, 14% for whole grains and 19% for nuts - pretty significant numbers.
Replacing red meat with poultry or salmon is pretty easy, but if you’re motivated to move towards a plant based diet, figuring out what to eat can be tricky, since most of us have been trained to build our meals around meat. But in reality, most of the foods we eat, or at least those we should be eating for optimal health, are plant-based. And that’s exactly how I constructed the eating plan in S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim. It includes four meals a day, each constructed as a puzzle with five pieces:
Produce (fruit at the breakfast and snack meals and veggies at the lunch and dinner meals)
Plant based fat and
Natural seasonings (herbs, spices, vinegar, citrus juice and zest, etc.)
In the book, the meals are listed according to the lean protein ingredient, which includes omnivore, as well as vegetarian and vegan options: dairy-based meals; egg-based meals; poultry-based meals; seafood-based meals; and vegan meals. So in each dairy-based meal, dairy is the only animal-derived ingredient, either milk, yogurt or cheese, combined with foods like berries (produce), oats (whole grain), sliced almonds (plant-based fat) and cinnamon (natural seasoning). In the egg, poultry and seafood-based meals, the only animal-derived ingredient is the egg, poultry or seafood, combined with the other ‘puzzle pieces’ as I call them, which are each plant based. And in the vegan meals, the lean protein also comes from plants, either beans, lentils or organic tofu or plant-based ‘dairy’ (e.g. soy or hemp milk, etc.).
But one of my favorite things about how I constructed the plan is that the lean protein options are easily swappable. For example, if a meal calls for dairy, egg, poultry or seafood and you’re trying to move toward a plant-based diet, you can swap the animal-derived protein for something like beans, lentils or soy milk and presto, now the meal is entirely plant based. That means all 100 recipes in the book can be made vegan, or you can go semi-vegan, by choosing lots of vegan meals throughout the week, as well as others that include whichever animal-derived proteins you do eat. Some of my clients eat only seafood and are otherwise vegan, others eat dairy and eggs, but not poultry or seafood. And some eat all of these, but choose to omit red meat, as I recommend in the book, based on research published long before the new Harvard study.
Here’s an example of a recipe from the book that can be made with various lean protein options:
S.A.S.S! Yourself Stir-Fry
Produce: ½ cup each red bell pepper, sliced into strips, chopped carrots, shredded purple cabbage and chopped onion
Whole grain: ½ cup cooked brown rice
Lean protein: 3 oz extra lean ground turkey, browned OR 3 oz broiled or grilled salmon OR ½ cup shelled edamame (cooked separately)
Plant based fat: 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
Natural seasoning: 1 Tbsp 100% orange or tangerine juice (preferably fresh squeezed), 1 Tbsp brown rice vinegar, ½ tsp fresh grated ginger, 2 Tbsp chopped scallions
In a small dish, whisk together the citrus juice, vinegar and ginger, then add the scallions. On the stovetop over medium heat, sauté the veggies in the ginger sauce until the peppers are slightly tender. Spread the brown rice on your dinner plate, top with the veggie mixture, then add your lean protein of choice and garnish with the sliced almonds.
This ‘5 piece puzzle’ meal strategy with swappable ingredients means that on taco night my hubby can eat chicken, I can choose black beans, and we can share the other ingredients, like grilled veggies, whole corn tortillas, and cilantro lime guacamole.
Even if you don’t want to commit to going vegan, eating ‘5 piece puzzle’ meals, and choosing vegan lean protein options just part-time, will result in a much healthier diet and a better balance of the nutrients your body needs. And if you want to apply the ‘puzzle principle’ to your own recipes, I included a DIY chapter in the book that shows you how to use the concept to create your own healthy, perfectly proportioned meals.
For recipes or meals you eat regularly, you can easily make them plant based. Just:
- Swap meat, poultry or seafood for beans, or lentils
- Trade eggs and some cheeses for extra firm organic tofu
- Use plant-based forms of ‘dairy’ like organic soy and hemp milk
- Exchange butter and some cheeses for extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds or natural nut and seed butters
It's healthy eating made easy – no counting, no complex charts or numbers, just clean, wholesome foods in delicious combinations that result in the best balance for losing weight, keeping it off and optimizing your health.
The notion that laughter is the best medicine has probably existed for years, but the first real proof surfaced in the 1970s when Norman Cousins, a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He believed that if stress could worsen his health, which was known at the time, than laughter could improve it. With the approval of his doctor, he tested the theory on himself, by prescribing funny videos, and his disease went into remission. He wrote a paper about his experience, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, as well as a best selling book, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, and opened our eyes to the connection between laughter and wellness.
Since that time dozens of formal studies have been published, and the findings are amazing:
Laughter boosts hormones, including beta-endorphins, which elevate mood and human growth hormone, which helps boost immunity. In one study, just anticipating watching a funny video sent the hormones surging by 27% and 87% respectively.
A good belly laugh can also lower harmful stress hormones, including cortisol, which triggers an increase in belly fat, and adrenaline, which can weaken the immune system when it remains elevated.
Laughter has also been shown to lower “bad” (lousy LDL) cholesterol, raise “good” (happy HDL), decrease blood pressure, and cause your body to respond in a way that’s similar to moderately intense exercise. Isn’t the human body amazing?!
One of the reasons I went back to school to get a second master’s degree in public health was because I knew that nutrition alone can’t completely determine wellness. I often ask my clients about their sleep patterns, social support, and even, “When’s the last time you laughed really hard?” or “How many times a day do you laugh?”
Children laugh 300-400 times a day, even when they’re not provoked to laugh. Adults laugh about 15 times a day, but “filter” their responses, which kids don’t do.
I suggest taking Mr. Cousins’ lead, and prescribing yourself some comedy. In other words, a 5-10 minute YouTube detour isn’t a waste of time – it’s kind of like fitting in a workout! Below is my favorite funny video - no matter how many times I watch, it always makes me laugh out loud :)
I use the word antioxidants a lot. These little life savers protect your body from head to toe, and have been shown to fend off aging, as well as a wide range of diseases, from heart disease and type 2 diabetes, to cancer and even obesity. But every once in a while, someone stops me and asks, “OK, I know they’re good for you, but just what is an antioxidant anyway?” Great question!
In a nutshell, antioxidants are natural substances in plant foods, tied to the flavor, aroma, color, and even texture (like the crispness of a fresh apple). While fruits, veggies, whole grains and herbs are growing, antioxidants protect them against pests, such as insects, and help them withstand harsh weather conditions.
In our bodies, antioxidants protect healthy cells and keep them healthy by fighting nasty little substances called free radicals, which we all produce as a normal part of metabolism. Free radicals are essentially molecules that have become unstable (think of a chair with three legs). In an attempt to level out, they attack healthy cells (imagine them marching around trying to steal legs from other chairs to stabilize themselves). These attacks damage cells, causing them to not function properly, and leave them susceptible to aging and disease.
We generate more free radicals when we’re under stress, exposed to too much sun, pollution (like cigarette smoke or pesticides) and even when we exercise. By protecting your cells, antioxidants slash the risk of every chronic disease, from heart disease and diabetes to Alzheimer’s and obesity. One recent study found that people with higher antioxidant intakes weigh less and have less body fat, even though they eat the same number of calories.
There are 100 trillion cells in your body (can you believe it?!) and dozens of different types of antioxidants. To get the most head to toe protection, the #1 thing you can do is eat more plant foods. Gobbling up more antioxidants is one of the major strategies in S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Every meal is set up as a puzzle with 5 pieces: produce; a whole grain; lean protein; plant-based fat; and natural seasonings. In every single meal at least 4 of the 5 pieces come from plant foods, which are naturally overflowing with antioxidants. And the book contains many 5 out of 5 vegan meals, which include beans, lentils or tofu as the lean protein, such as Mediterranean Lentils Over CousCous or Black Bean Tacos with Cilantro Jalapeno Guacamole, which even meat lovers have raved about.
We’re constantly learning about nutrition, but right now antioxidants are one of the star players. Take advantage of them by powering up your plate today!
Fun fact: Did you know that 1 teaspoon of cinnamon packs as many antioxidants as a half-cup of blueberries? I sprinkle some into my coffee every morning.
I'm a former runner turned walker, and in my opinion, walking is the perfect exercise. Here are 10 reasons why I hope you'll fall in love with walking too:
10. Walking has been shown to boost your immune system, open up your circulation, and improve digestion, all of which play a role in preventing cancer.
9. Regular walks boost bone density, and protect against the loss of bone tissue as you age.
8. Walking lowers blood pressure, "bad" or lousy LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
7. Walking is versatile - you can walk alone, with your family, your dog, or with a friend.
6. All it takes is a good pair of shoes – no gym membership or special equipment needed.
5. You already know how. It's second nature - after all, you've been doing it since you were about one year old!
4. Walking improves mental and physical stamina. Instead of draining you, a brisk walk can actually help your energy level soar and boost your productivity.
3. A single walk can transform your body image. Research shows that all forms of exercise improve personal body satisfaction, even without weight loss. That means in one 30 minute walk, you can return home feeling entirely different in your own skin.
2. Research shows that when the same distance is covered, walking is just as effective as running for both health and weight control. In a Duke University study, runners and walkers lost nearly identical amounts of body weight, body fat, and belly fat.
1. It just feels good before, during, and after! Walking helps reduce stress, lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and boost overall mood. Now that's powerful.
I love walking so much I devoted an entire chapter to it in S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Check it out to learn more about four other unique benefits, which are the reasons I'd walk even if there were zero health benefits, and walking didn't burn a single calorie.