Are you a flexitarian by conviction or trend?

by Maria on February 20, 2015

If you like to follow trends, in my opinion, this is the one to choose when it comes to healthy eating:flexitarianism. In essence, it is the same plan that many of us in the nutrition field teach our clients without giving it a name. But if all it takes for people out there to become interested in healthy eating is a fashionable term, that is fine with me!

flexitarian is a person whose diet is mostly vegetarian but sometimes includes meat, fish and poultry. The word became popular in 2008 with the publication of the book “The Flexitarian Diet” and is now constantly used when talking about healthier ways to eat.

Many vegetarians don’t really like the term flexitarian or semi-vegetarian (another common way of saying it), however, the reality is that both “currents” are mainly choosing this lifestyle for the same reasons: health benefits, animal rights, or environmental protection.

Choosing vegetarianism as a lifestyle in the United States is not that common. Despite the fact that the numbers have been growing in the last decades, according to a study done by Vegetarian Times and Live Science, only 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet.

Why? Well, being a vegetarian is not always easy. At least not if you want to do it the right way. By that I mean, really having a plant-based diet.

Unfortunately, many vegetarians don’t take the time to learn about what they’ve chosen as a lifestyle: they don’t learn how to cook, how to eat the right foods so that nutrition deficiencies are not developed, and most importantly don’t commit to the basic premise of this system: to eat more veggies!

It worries me to see vegetarians that rely mostly on refined carbohydrates, cheese (if allowed by their type of vegetarianism), sugar, and excessive amounts of soy products that try to “mimic” the meat versions of them (e.g. sausages, burgers, and other types of deli meats).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m against vegetarianism. I admire those who follow it in its true essence. I have witnessed in my circle of friends and fellow nutritionists that when done right, vegetarianism is one of the healthiest ways of eating. But once again, it requires lots of dedication and a body of knowledge that supports your food choices on a daily basis. Besides, it is not a system that works for everybody as we’re all biochemically different and therefore have different nutrient needs.

I think that being a flexitarian is the “happy middle” between being and omnivore and being a vegetarian. As the term suggests, it is a “flexible” system. So in my opinion, you don’t have to follow specific numbers when deciding how often to eat meat, poultry or fish (I’ll just call them “meats” for simplicity).

For me, being a flexitarian is all about making a conscious decision to reduce the amount of meats and substantially increase the amount of plant-based foods that you eat. It also means to that you care and commit to improving your health.

There is enough evidence that shows the health benefits of a diet that is mostly composed of foods that come from the earth and not from animals.

plant based-diet has a direct impact in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer; it supports the immune system, prevents type II diabetes, promotes a healthy digestion, and last but not least, helps with weight management.

So what are you waiting for? Start making an effort toreduce your dependency on meats. They’re not the only protein source in the world. How about legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)? They are delicious and budget friendly.

How about exploring new types of vegetables and including them in every meal? (yes, even breakfast! Or you’re going to tell me that you’ve never tried a delicious omelette with tons of spinach, onions and mushrooms? Well, you don’t know what you’re missing!).

Either as a trend follower or as someone who cares about their health, good luck and welcome to flexitarianism!

– This article was originally written for VOXXI/Saludify. To learn more about these publications click here.

In North America, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) has reached what many call epidemic proportions. It is estimated that 10 percent of the adult population in the United States have an underactive thyroid. Dr. David Brownstein in his book Overcoming Thyroid Disorders estimates that these numbers are too low. He believes that up to 52 million adults in the United States are suffering from hypothyroidism.

The thyroid is an endocrine gland located in the front of your neck. It has a critical role as it influences every cell, tissue, and organ in your body. It regulates our metabolism and directly affects:

  • Heart rate
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Body weight
  • Energy levels
  • Bowel function
  • Fertility
  • Mood
  • Skin and hair texture
  • Menstrual regularity
  • Memory
  • Other bodily processes

Hypothyroidism is caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormone and it’s much more common than hyperthyroidism. Women are five times more likely than men to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

For people who have tried several diets over the years, without seeing positive results, hypothyroidism could be the root of their problem. Fat burning is impaired when your metabolism (regulated by the thyroid gland) is not working properly.

Possible causes

Hypothyroidism is a complex disorder that can originate from a number of different causes. Some factors include:

  • Thyroid gland malfunction (possibly caused by an autoimmune response – Hashimoto’s disease)
  • The pituitary gland or the hypothalamus fail to send a signal to the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone
  • Thyroxine (T4), produced by the thyroid, does not get properly converted to its active form triiodothyronine (T3)
  • Imbalanced levels of adrenal hormones: cortisol and DHEA (the adrenal glands handle our response to stress).
  • Toxic levels of mercury
  • Imbalanced levels of estrogen and progesterone
  • The consumption of excess soy-based foods and beverages
  • Excess fluoride and pesticides in drinking water
  • Nutritional deficiencies (i.e. iodine, tyrosine, zinc)
  • Certain medications (e.g lithium, steroids, and estrogen in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy)

A physician will be able to recommend specific tests and evaluate individual cases to determine if hypothyroidism is the issue and what the possible causes are.

Common symptoms

Symptoms may vary, but they usually include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Puffy face
  • Cold intolerance
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Decreased sweating
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual periods and impaired fertility
  • Depression
  • Slowed heart rate

What’s wrong with routine thyroid lab tests?

During a routine physical exam your doctor will most likely check on your thyroid function by recommending a blood test called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).

In the U.S. the normal range for this test is 0.35-4.5 mIU/L. However, many, including the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, believe that a TSH as low as 3.0 could already be a sign of what is called “subclinical hypothyroidism.” In other words, you are on the path to suffer from hypothyroidism and eventually need medication for life.

In contrast, some integrative and natural health professionals feel that the TSH level should be less than 2.0. Sounds puzzling? Well, it is. My suggestion is, don’t ever let your doctor tell you that your thyroid is fine without you having the chance to look at the results. Ask for copies, do your own research and explain your concerns if you feel that you might be suffering from subclinical hypothyroidism.

There are many things that can be done through proper nutrition and supplementation to help regulate your thyroid before you’re chained to taking medication for life. Your doctor might not know or be willing to talk about them, but you can find a natural health practitioner to help you with that.

I like Dr. Brownstein’s holistic approach to diagnosing hypothyroidism, which includes:

  • Thyroid blood tests (TSH, T3, T4, Thyroid Antibodies)
  • Medical history
  • Basal body temperatures
  • Physical exam

This way, every patient is evaluated as a whole and not just by the numbers on a piece of paper.

Thyroid function is an extremely important part of your overall health. Next time you visit your doctor,  I recommend that, if you haven’t done it already, you ask to have your thyroid checked. It could be the root cause of many other health issues such as high cholesterol, depression, or inability to lose weight.

– This article was originally written for VOXXI/Saludify. To learn more about these publications click here.

Mid-mornings and mid-afternoons are easy times to fall into your favorite delicious snacks or as I like to call, the “Starbucks trap.” That latte tastes and smells so good, and since you’re there already, why not have a biscotti, or even better, a scone?

Yes, sounds delicious. But wait, not so fast. Did you forget about those extra pounds you’ve been trying to get rid of for months? Most importantly, what about your mental health? Both coffee and sugar are stimulants so if the stresses of work are not enough load for you, with these “little snacks” you’ll be putting a lot more stress into your nervous system.

We’ve all been there: the 2 o’clock crash. You’re feeling so lethargic that you can barely hear what your boss is telling you over the phone. The easy fix is to grab a sugary, refined snack like the “Starbucks trap” to boost your energy. The problem is, soon after, you’ll sink back into exhaustion – while piling on more weight. It’s a vicious circle because once again, you will need another “pick me up” snack.

Glycemic index and glycemic load

Every food has a different effect on blood sugar levels so it is wise to choose the ones that have a lower impact. There are two tools that can help you make those decisions: glycemic index and glycemic load.

The American Diabetes Association says glycemic index (GI) is the measurement of how a carbohydrate-containing food raises your blood glucose. Foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food – either glucose or white bread. A food with a high GI  raises blood glucose more than a something with a medium or low GI.

According to the Association, when eating a food with a high GI, it’s better to combine it with low GI foods to help balance the meal. Examples of carbohydrate-containing foods with a low GI include dried beans and legumes (like kidney beans and lentils), all non-starchy vegetables and some starchy vegetables, most fruit, and many whole grain breads and cereals (like barley, whole wheat bread, rye bread, and all-bran cereal).

The glycemic index is very useful, but since it doesn’t tell you how many carbohydrates are in a typical serving of a particular food, another tool is needed: the glycemic load (GL). The glycemic load assesses the impact of carbohydrate consumption. It takes the GI into account but gives a more complete picture of the effect that a particular food has on blood sugar levels, based on how many carbohydrates you actually eat on a serving.

GL = (GI x carbohydrates) divided by 100.

For example,  a single apple has a GI of 40 and it contains 15 grams of carbohydrates.
GL = 40 x 15/100 = 6 g

Don’t worry, you don’t have to brush up on your math skills. The University of Sidney created a great tool to find out the GI and GL of specific foods. You can access it here.

Putting it all together

You might be wondering, how do I apply these concepts when choosing my snacks? Don’t worry, I’ve already done the job for you. You don’t need to know the exact GL or GI of each food. Even though they are great tools and yes, you will need to use them if you’re on a serious diet plan to lose weight, for now just follow my advice.

1. Stay away from snacks that come in a package, even if it claims “less than 100 calories”. It’s all marketing. They don’t care about your health. They just want to sell their products!

2. Eat your fruit. Fruit is a good source of fiber and antioxidants, however some (e.g. mango, banana, papaya) have a high impact on you sugar levels. My recommendation is, eat fruit with protein or “good” fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, nut butter) to bring their GI down:

  • a small apple with a handful of nuts
  • a banana dipped in almond butter
  • a pear or a cup of strawberries with a small slice of cheese.

3. Go for veggies and dips. Yes, they’re not just for potluck parties. Take some cucumber slices, baby carrots, pepper or celery sticks and enjoy them with a delicious hummus or any type of bean dip.

4. Watch your portion size. Don’t forget we are talking about snacks, so be conscious of  how much you’re eating. Also, avoid mindless snacking in front of the TV, reading, or while driving.

Good luck and enjoy!

– This article was originally written for VOXXI/Saludify. You can learn more about these publications here.