Sure, it's easy to say when it comes to your morning coffee, it's ideal to drink unprocessed almond milk with no additives or sugar. But the reality for most people rushing into the coffee shop in the morning is that they have to make the best choices they can with the options that are available. Which leaves us wondering, when it comes to food choices, which are the lesser evils? We spoke to Laura Kraber, a health coach over at Dr. Frank Lipman's Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, to get some answers.
MBG: You walk into a coffee shop, really wanting a cappuccino. Here are your milk options: skim milk, whole milk, soy milk, and almond milk with sweeteners and additives. Which one should you choose?
Laura: Whole milk if you tolerate dairy, almond milk if you don't. Whole milk is a good choice in that it is natural, does not include the additives or preservatives found in the nut milks, which usually contain sweeteners and carrageenan. Whole milk, and whole milk products such as yogurt and cheese are beneficial in that they provide much needed healthy fats. As building blocks of our cell membranes, precursors to our hormones and essential for the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, fats play an essential role in our bodies and many of us are not getting enough, due to the proliferation of low-fat products and our fear of fats generally
MBG: Why don't you get the same benefits from low-fat milk as you do from whole?
Laura: Generally, fats and protein modulate the uptake of glucose in your body so whenever you consume sugars, including lactose, or milk sugar, you also want to consume protein and fat to help regulate your blood sugar. As a general rule, the lower the fat content of a dairy product, the higher the lactose (milk sugar) content of that food. So skim milk has a higher percentage of lactose. Additionally, the vitamins in milk, A, D, E, and K are fat soluble vitamins; in order to be absorbed, they need to be consumed with fat. Calcium absorption is greatly enhanced by Vitamin D, but if you are drinking skim milk, you are not absorbing the Vitamin D. Furthermore, when we remove natural fats from our diet, we inevitably have cravings (because we need fat in our diet) and we turn to refined carbohydrates and sugar, which spike our blood sugar and cause blood sugar crashes later, necessitating more sugar/carbs -- an endless cycle.
For more info about skim milk, you can read fellow health coach, Jenny Sansouci's blog post about this issue.
MBG: Now you want to sweeten you coffee. The options are splenda, cane sugar and honey that has been heated. Which is your best option?
Laura: Honey. Although sugar is sugar and is certainly not a health food, if you are going to add a small amount of sweetener to your coffee or tea, opt for honey. Honey has lower levels of glucose and fructose and requires more work for your body to break it down, thereby slightly reducing its impact on your blood sugar levels, as compared to sugar. Secondly, depending on the type of honey, it may contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals, since it is a natural food it contains no preservatives or additives.
MBG: But once honey is pasteurized, doesn't it lose most of these health benefits?
Laura: Pasteurized (heated) honey does not have the same benefits as raw honey. However, most of the beneficial enzymes found in honey can survive the pasteurization process, depending upon the specific producer's processes so it is still a better option than sugar. We do recommend raw honey as the best option.
MBG: Now it's lunchtime. Your sandwich shop offers sandwiches on white, whole wheat and gluten-free (which may contain sugar and additives). Which is your best bet?
Laura: NO SANDWICH! Any place that has sandwiches will usually have salads, or you can ask to have the sandwich contents prepared without the bread. Why? Although only a small percentage of people have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, there are increasing numbers of people with gluten sensitivity. One theory is that the dramatically higher levels of gluten in today's wheat are causing reactions in a greater number of people. Similarly, scientists have shown that gluten increases zonulin production in the body, which increases likelihood of "leaky gut" or intestinal permeability, opening the door to allergies of many kinds. Whatever the cause, taking wheat out of the diet has proven beneficial for health -- not for everyone, but for many. Although we may be accustomed to the convenience of sandwiches, there are many other lunch options to explore which are readily available.
MBG: You meet a friend for dinner at a casual restaurant and feel like a burger (no bun). What's better, a veggie or meat?
Laura: Regarding burgers, generally, you are better off with a humanely-raised grass-fed beef burger as opposed to a soy and preservative or additive-filled veggie burger. That said, there are plenty of healthy vegetable burgers to be found or to be made at home, as soy is not a required ingredient.
Soy is another food that has become ubiquitous in our food supply and, unless labeled organic, is a genetically modified food. Soy is potentially disruptive to thyroid and endocrine function and it can interfere with leptin sensitivity, setting you up for metabolic syndrome. If you do choose to include soy in your diet, aim to eat only fermented soy products and make sure that you take a good multi-mineral supplement. It is important to remember that you should not rely on soy for your protein, but to think of it as a small portion of a balanced diet.
Laura Kraber is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a health coach, offering nutrition counseling and health coaching at Dr. Frank Lipman's Eleven Eleven Wellness Center and in her Brooklyn office. She works with clients to develop dietary and lifestyle habits to improve their overall health, energy levels, and resolve digestive disorders.
A graduate of Yale University and a certified English teacher, Laura offers health and nutrition seminars and workshops in NYC-area schools and for corporate clients.