Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Avoiding Constipation this Christmas!

Christmas is almost here -12 days to go, yes I am 'countdown-ing'.
During the holidays, we are bombarded with deliciousness everywhere - I mean my mom and tetas make the most amazing food and resistance can get quite hard! Therefore, our dietary habits tend to change, often to the worse. We tend to ditch the water for alcohol and coffee as well as salads for more fat-drenching cuts and fries, ending our masterpiece with overdosing on that buche we’ve been putting our eyes on all night! Aaaand voila! Constipation.

So long story short, here’s how constipation can be avoided!

Don't neglect your fruits and veggies - The most common cause of constipation is a diet low in fibers! Fiber is necessary to help move food around your digestive tract and thus alleviates constipation. Therefore, whether you are preparing Christmas dinner this year or you are helping in devouring it, make sure to include vegetables in your main meal as well as fruits as dessert. And make sure to eat them as well.

Eat wisely - Mindful eating goes down to the ‘non-existing’ level when we are confronted with all these food options! I know how Christmas dinner looks like, I’ve seen ours. We have almost every type of food you can think of, making us want to have a bit (or a lot) of everything. So to avoid getting constipated all the way to New Year’s (and to watch your weight and health), choose the foods that you love the most and have them within reason. Listen to your body and eat when hungry, not to socialize. Instead of nibbling on roasted nuts, chocolate and alcohol, try to stick to lighter options like nibbling on green veggies, carrots, bell pepper, cauliflower or a bit of raw nuts. And if you are hosting this dinner, please have these crunchy munchies available for us, with mustard, lemon, vinegar, soy or low fat sour cream dip, please.

Stay Hydrated - Without enough water, your body extracts the needed liquid from your colon – leaving your stool dry and increasing your risk of constipation. During the festivities, we tend to prefer alcohol or coffee which intensifies the dehydration process since these 2 make you lose more water! Therefore, to combat these dehydrating effects, try to limit your coffee intake to 1 or 2 per day and if you decided to have some alcohol, try to either dilute it with water/ice or have 2 cups of water for every drink you have!

Squeeze in some exercise! Exercise is known to improve your bowel movements, but during the holidays, it seems like we take a holiday off of exercise as well! Steady exercise can regulate intestinal muscle contractions and reduce the time food stays in your digestive tract and thus can be a very efficient natural way to relieve constipation. So try to fit in at least 30 minutes of exercise and if you are way over your head celebrating, try to split the 30 minutes into 2 15-minute workouts or dance your time away with family & friends!

Don’t ignore the urge to go – If you’re busy hosting dinner and family & friends are all around your place, you tend to ignore the fact that you really need to use the bathroom! Ignoring bowel signs can leave food longer time in your colon, resulting in more water absorption from the stools. So when you feel like going, just go!
If you're traveling for Christmas,
don't tell us!

And last but not least, if you are traveling for the holidays, I hate you. Nevertheless, traveling can disturb the microflora in your intestines, damaging beneficial bacteria. So watch your diet, avoid the booze on the plane, drink lots of water, have lots of fruits and vegetables and help yourself with some yogurt, it contains probiotics that  can stimulate the growth and activity of bacteria in your guts!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Healthy Gifts this Christmas!

I finally finished my Christmas shopping today and for the first time, books were all I got! I figured that clothes and gadgets sure can be fun, but books help us grow. Some of the books I got were about healthy eating for children, simple ways to cook healthier meals, baking your own cookies this Christmas as well as planning nutritious vegetarian meals! From all these, my favorite book was "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual" for Micheal Pollan - even snowy the snowman loved it, obviously!

When it comes to nutrition and food science, we hear many scientific terms that may seem unfamiliar and complicated to us; however, this book makes food and nutrition the easiest topic! Micheal Pollan divided the book into 3 sections: What should I eat, what kind of food should I eat and how should I eat? Now the food rules are simply listed from 1 to 64, with one rule on each page - quick, useful, witty and best of all, easy to retain! Pollan made it easier for us to see nutrition from a practical side and formulated his rules in a way that will certainly ring a bell long after we've read them!

Here are few rules that I loved
Rule # 2 - Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
Rule # 13 - Eat foods that will eventually rot!
Rule # 20 - It is not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
Rule # 24 - Eating what stands on one leg (mushroom and plants) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs, mammals)
Rule # 36 - Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk!
Rule # 37- The whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead.
Rule # 57 - Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.

The rules are simple and super smart! And retaining just 5 rules out of the 64 then adopting them is life changing itself. After all, having a healthier lifestyle can be achieved one step 'food rule' at a time. So get healthy useful books this Christmas - not necessarily Pollan's. Just make sure to make the best (and healthiest) out of your Christmas gifts this year!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Forget About Yearly Resolutions, Make It a Monthly Habit!

We may still have one month to New Year's Eve, but everyone around has already started thinking where the party is going to be! So resolutions are just around the corner! If you’re like most people, you don’t even think about making New Year’s resolutions anymore. I know it was exciting the first couple of times for me, but just like Pick the brain indicated, it becomes too depressing to feel like a failure when I couldn't stick to a diet, lose weight or exercise properly for a long time! Well, maybe it works out for the first month, but then it’s just too much of a commitment to handle every day, especially that we have dinners and parties everywhere in Lebanon! Well, here’s a way to have resolutions that stick. Pick the brain came up with an absolutely excellent idea last year to say goodbye to New Year’s resolutions and hello to monthly habits!!

Keeping a goal for for 365 days is pretty hectic! However, Pick the brain's smart idea is that if you can stick to a habit for 28 days, the habit becomes permanent. You no longer think of it as a difficult task for it just becomes part of you and your daily habits. 
So, how do you come up with 12 habits rather than 1 unachievable big resolution? Well, again Pick the brain was smart enough to break up that big resolution into 12 “mini-very-possible” habits? Let’s say your huge resolution – the one we tend not to keep – is to “lose weight.” So why not break this huge goal into the smaller steps that constitute it! Don't just say I want to lose weight because once khalto or teta invite us to that huge dinner and the food looks absolutely good, we'll overeat and ditch our resolution.
Instead, this year, I am committing to easier, more achievable goals! All I am going to do is commit to one thing at a time, for 28 to 30 days.  Here are the mini resolutions I am sticking to, some were originally in Pick the Brain's article, but you can find them helpful or you can make up your own!
  • January: Only have low-calorie snacks, I'll have to read my labels for this resolution
  • February: Drink skim milk instead of whole milk
  • March: Exercise 30 minutes at least 3-4 times a week
  • April: Bring my lunch to work instead of eating out (my mom will be happy!)
  • May: Have whole fruit for dessert
  • June: Perform 25 to 50 crunches before going to bed
  • July: Have beans and legumes at least 3 times a week
  • August: Have a salad before every lunch and dinner
  • September: Eat fish, nuts, soy products and legumes instead of red meat
  • October:  Skip the soda, alcohol or iced tea
  • November: Switch my bread, pasta, kaak, toast and rice to whole grains (am7a kemle) instead of white and refined breads
  • December:  Buy me some new holiday clothes to show off what I have achieved!!
One key thing to consider is to keep thee new habits realistic. Don't go putting impossible goals and overwhelming yourself too soon! You'll end up stressed about too many mini goal. Moreover, try to make these habits fun! Turn them into a challenge between you and your friends or siblings or even get a partner! I know my sis will be my partner and coach! When the next month comes, focus on your new goal. You don’t have to keep doing what you were doing the previous month, but you may find you want to, so be it! Long story short, small steps will help you reach your goals rather than large impossible ones! So Happy New Month!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Celiac Disease 101 in Lebanon!

Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue, gluten intolerance or gluten sensitive enteropathy, is a permanent inflammatory intestinal disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a form of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and perhaps oats in genetically predisposed people.
Celiac disease was once thought to be a rare disease; however, it is now recognized as a common chronic disorder that affects as many as 1 % of some Western populations especially Europeans. Recent studies show that celiac disease is a common disease in the world, affecting not only Europeans and people of European ancestry, but also populations of the developing countries such as the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and South America, where its prevalence is similar to that of Western countries.
What happens exactly?
Gluten triggers the small intestine’s inflammatory response! The inflammation leads to the destruction and eventually the loss of the absorptive capacity of the intestines leading to mal-absorption especially fat soluble vitamins (D, E, A and K) and iron, folate, B12, magnesium and calcium!

The challenge with gluten intolerance is that it is often misdiagnosed and that its symptoms imitate other health problems, making it harder to detect it at earlier age. The commons symptoms vary from weakness, appetite loss, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, cramps and bloating. Among 6 studies assessing chronic diarrhea in Middle East and North African countries, celiac disease prevalence was 6.5 % to 21 %! In Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, celiac disease was one of the most common causes of chronic diarrhea! While some may experience painful rash, muscle cramps or joint pain. Therefore early diagnosis is very crucial to avoid malnutrition, stunt growth, short stature and anemia, especially among children! In fact, for children, gluten intolerance is very risky. Unless well managed, it can affect child’s behavior, ability to grow and learn, especially that for appropriate development, high energy and nutrient needs require proper nourishment!
Gluten intolerance can occur at any age. Symptoms can appear as early as infancy, but most cases are diagnosed at adulthood, often 10 years after the first symptoms. Temporary lactose intolerance may accompany gluten intolerance, until the inflammation of the intestines resolve – which might take months or years!
Medical Nutrition Therapy
Primarily, treatment for gluten intolerance is a life-long, strict regimen of a gluten free diet.
When gluten is omitted from the diet:
- The inflammation of the intestine resolve and heal
- Nutrient absorption improves
- Symptoms disappear
Yet this inflammation will recur once gluten is reintroduced in the diet. There are no pharmaceutical cures, so don't be fooled. A 100 % gluten-free diet is a must.
What food should be avoided in a gluten-free diet?
Even trace amounts of gluten in the diet can damage the intestines. Now the grains that should be avoided are wheat (قمح) (or the label can say durum, graham, kamut, spelt, emmer, faro), rye (الجاودار), barley (شعير), malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar, couscous (كسكس), bulgur (برغل), semolina (سميد), farina (دقيق) and oats (شوفان). Speaking of oats, many confirm that oats per se can be ingested but it is often contaminated by other gluten-containing products. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, some can tolerate oats and it could be safe to consume 50-70 grams (up to 1/2 cup dry oats daily) of uncontaminated oats per day by adults and 20 -25 grams per day by children with celiac disease. However, many can’t tolerate it and with our “unsure” industry in Lebanon, oats may be harvested with the same equipment as wheat and thus many be contaminated. So unless oats are specifically certified as gluten-free oats, avoid them.
Avoiding wheat is probably the most challenging here because it is the main ingredients in many foods! Frequently overlooked foods that may contain gluten and need to be verified from the Celiac Disease Foundation:
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Breading & coating mixes
  • Croutons lurking in salads
  • Canned foods such as tuna and meats
  • Energy and chocolate Bars
  • Flour or cereal products
  • Imitation bacon and seafood like surimi crab for example
  • Luncheon and processed meats
  • Marinades
  • Pastas and pizzas
  • Processed and luncheon meats
  • Sauces, gravies
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Soy sauce or soy sauce solids
  • Soup bases
  • Stuffing and dressings
  • Sweetened milk with malt
  • Thickeners (Roux)
  • Herbal supplements
  • Drugs & over-the-counter medications
  • Nutritional, vitamin and mineral supplements

Distilled alcoholic beverages and vinegars do not contain any harmful gluten peptides. Research indicates that the gluten peptide is too large to carry over in the distillation process. This process leaves the resultant liquid gluten-free. Wines and hard liquor/distilled beverages are gluten-free. However, keep in mind that beers, ales, lagers and malt vinegars that are made from gluten-containing grains are not distilled and therefore, are not gluten-free

So what can we eat if we’re on a gluten-free diet?
  • The good news is that all fresh fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork and dairy products are naturally gluten-free. Just make sure they are fresh and not contaminated with gluten. 
  • Gluten free grains that can be consumed when you are cutting your gluten intake are rice and its flour (الأرز), corn (maize) and its flour (ذرة), potatoes (البطاطا), potato starch (نشا البطاطس), uncontaminated (gluten free) oats, soy, beans, millet (دخن), teff, polenta, wild rice(الأرزالبري), quinoa, tapioca (التابيوكا), nut flours and buckwheat (الحنطةالسوداء/روسي قمح). If the label on your food package says amaranth, xantham gum, guar gum or sorghum, you’re free to have these as well. 
  • Now don't be misled by products that claim to be wheat-free - they may contain barley or rye! It is important to read on your food that that specific food is “gluten free”. Read your food label wisely, sometimes wheat can be disguised as the word semolina or farina, so know your linguistics well. Labels must be read every time foods are purchased because manufacturers can change ingredients at any time. 
  • And stay up to date with gluten free food products! Ok, so I’ll admit is, the country is not quite well equipped for gluten-free products, but this doesn’t mean that we don’t have any. So I decided to look around and here’s what I found.

Stores, Supermarkets and Bakeries

A New Earth store: organic gluten free products, like several types of pasta (quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, black rice, and many others...) Breakfast Cereals for adults and kids (around 10 different ones), crackers, Oat cakes, chocolates, Tamari sauce, ketchup, candies, Bars, Flours, Grains, kuzu, fritters, oat pita bread, oat man2ouche.

TSC, Metro, Charcutier Aoun and Spinneys Supermarkets: gluten free pasta, lasagna sheets, bread mix, all purpose flour, bread sticks, rice cakes, couscous, crackers, maize galettes, muesli, toasts, soup mixes, buckwheat pancakes mix, chocolate cake mix, fruit filled biscuits, whole-fruit cookies, rice cakes, muffin mix, breakfast bars, chocolate and rice breakfast cereals

Keyrouz Bakery: They provide corn breads only; however, with a one day notice, they can prepare gluten free breads, dough, pizzas and burger buns

Al Sultan Bakery: Kaak, thyme or cheese man2ouche, pita bread, doughs, buns, burger buns, pizzas, toasts, plain or dates brioche, cheese, chocolate and thyme croissant, pain au lait, pain au chocolat, vanilla or chocolate cakes, sable vanilla or chocolate and swiss rolls.

** This list is not for advertising purposes whatsoever! It is only to help anyone find gluten-free products in Lebanon. So if you know more places where we can find certified gluten free foods, feel free to add your store!

As for restaurants in Lebanon, most do not guarantee a meal that is 100% gluten free. The risk of cross contamination in the industry, storage, preparation method and when serving is high because kitchens handle wheat as well as gluten-free grains and products in the same kitchen! So when eating away from home, pack your gluten free food with you, read menus carefully and ask all the questions needed and inform the restaurant of your intolerance!

Last but not least, it is always best to educate yourself on the matter! You can definitely consult a dietitian nearby and you can also read books written by professionals! These are couple of useful books: Nutrition and Celiac Disease written by Monique Bassila Zaarour, RD and Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide written by Shelley Case, RD.

* If you are looking for more about gluten-free foods and celiac disease in Lebanon, you will find joy in reading Sans gluten a Beyrouth blog!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Smart Dining at Parties and Buffets!

Food is everywhere during the holidays! In December and January, it’s a food fiesta everywhere! These couple of months seem to dump – delicious - food on you wherever you go and whatever time of the day it is! So, even though it’s quite a “health mess”, there is, in fact, lots of ways to control your calorie intake. They key is moderation and portion control! These helpful tips can help you during these holiday parties and dinners without totally depriving yourself or feeling guilty.

·        Try to maintain a regular eating schedule, starting with breakfast. Don’t skip meals because this lowers blood sugar levels and causes you to overeat the rest of the day to make up for those missed calories.

·        Balance party meals with other meals during the day. Eat small, healthy meals with fewer calories so that party foods won’t cause you to exceed your total calorie intake for the day.

·        Never go to a party hungry. Take the edge off your hunger by eating a healthy, filling snack (e.g. fruit, small peanut butter sandwich or low fat yogurt) beforehand so you won’t overeat at the site of the deliciousness.

·        Drink plenty of water throughout the day, including a glass before your dinner or party. It helps fill you up and offsets upcoming dehydrating drinks  like coffee or alcohol.

·        Take smaller portions, and eat only the foods you really like. Don’t go on wasting precious calories eating unpleasant foods because they’re just there.

·       Architect your plate: Fill half the plate with simple vegetables and a quarter with carbohydrates. The remaining quarter should be protein foods, which help you to feel full longer and help curb the carbohydrate cravings.

·        Enjoy the night and enjoy your food! Eat small bites, chew slowly, and savor each delicious bite. You will probably enjoy the food more, get full faster and won’t overeat.

·        Don’t drink your calories. Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol is full of calories, can increase your appetite and it reduces the number of fat calories you burn for energy!

·        Don’t hang out next to the buffet and before going back for seconds, wait 20 minutes for your food to “settle.” It takes that long for your stomach to tell your brain that you’re full.

·        Save calories by skipping dessert or choosing fresh fruit when it is available. Now if you want dessert, eat fewer calories during the meal and try to share one dessert with a friend!

Last but not least, get plenty of exercise! During holidays, most tend to ditch their healthy habits, eat like there’s no tomorrow and “slob” around! Remember, you gain weight if you eat more calories than you burn, eat your holiday fiesta and make sure to burn it off!
Christmas dinner photo