The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

May 21, 2015 | Oldways Table

Chris Haywood is a nutritional chef and fitness trainer in Austin, TX.  He is the founder of Injoy Foods  – a one-stop-shop for home delivered healthy meals, nutrition information, and personal training services in Austin.  On top of that, Chris just became a new dad.

This spring Chris volunteered his time to become an A Taste of African Heritage instructor at Austin’s Sustainable Food Center, a nonprofit organization delivering fresh food access, gardening and nutrition education, and cooking classes in their state of the art teaching kitchen to the Austin community.

Last week, I got the chance to attend Chris’ finale lesson in his six-week series – Lesson 6: Fruits, Vegetables and a Healthy Lifestyle.  Chris greeted his students while prepping for the evening’s lesson, washing fresh herbs and chopping up fresh mango chunks.  His class consisted of nine adult students who, over the last five weeks, had learned how to prepare healthier snacks and meals together.  Fellowship around good health and food filled the air along with the fragrant aromas of mango, mint, lemon and cilantro.    

Chris started class by walking the group through the African Heritage Diet Pyramid, calling out the various food groups the class had explored over the last five weeks and listing all the dishes they had shared together.  He asked his students to share their favorites.  Many of them loved trying quinoa and millet for the first time, others found a new appreciation for sweet potatoes, and one mentioned the spicy chickpeas recipes from Lesson 1.

In the midst of this discussion, Chris made a simple, but profound statement that I’ll never forget: "Remember,” he reminded his group, “don’t count calories, count colors!".   What Chris meant was, don’t worry so much about the calories on your plate, but make sure you’ve included as many different colors as possible — green especially, red, orange, purple/blue, white — to ensure you’re eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits and getting plenty of nutrients at every meal.  This is an important, defining aspect of the African Heritage Diet: Incorporating as many plant-based, whole foods as possible into one’s daily menu. The class loved this perspective. 

Then Chris discussed the traditional role of fruits and vegetables in the diets and health of the African diaspora, which was very powerful and moving.  He walked his class through a healthy lifestyle exercise that asked students to take a minute to check in with themselves to see what areas of life could use some extra TLC. The energy in the room kind of hushed as everyone concentrated on their list from relationships and physical fitness to spirituality and self-esteem. Another beautiful moment.

Lesson 6 discusses the role of fresh fruit as a staple dessert throughout the African diaspora, often called “After-Chop.”  In addition to the After-Chop Fruit Salad recipe in the curriculum, Chris took the opportunity to make a couple of other fruit salads to show the versatility of African heritage fruit, combining citrus fruits, avocado, mango, mint, cilantro, and a simple citrus dressing with olive oil for amazing results.  Each salad took him a mere 5 minutes to make, and they tasted oh-so gourmet!

We’re thrilled to share a slice of the A Taste of African Heritage program with you and our “After-Chop” recipe.  We hope you enjoy it as a delicious summertime dessert, snack or even breakfast this season!

Happy cooking!


May 19, 2015 | Oldways Table

It was our great pleasure to meet dietitian Hadas Hardoon at the recent Oldways Supermarket Dietitian Symposium. Hadas joined us as our guest to learn more about supermarket dietetics in America and put in motion ideas to influence what people put in their shopping carts in Israel. For the past seven years she has been working at Clalit Health Services, the largest health service in Israel. She is the head dietitian in the diabetes department and is responsible for counseling and lecturing patients and medical staff about up-to-date nutrition. She has also established the Israeli PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) nutrition center.  We asked Hadas to talk with us upon her return home and reflect on some of the differences she observed between supermarkets in Florida and what she is accustomed to in Israel.

OLDWAYS:  While attending the Oldways Symposium in St. Petersburg, Florida, you visited several local grocery stores.  What surprised you the most about them, and how did they differ from the stores where you shop at home?
HADAS:  Coming from Israel, I was looking forward to comparing the grocery experience. I visited three local grocery stores and each of them surprised me in different ways. From the décor to the products and brands, it was an eye opening experience to compare them to what I see on a regular basis in Israel.

At Trader Joe's, I was positively surprised by the overall design.  It was interesting to see the effort they put into the appearance, with colorful paintings throughout the store. Also I was surprised that the store was exclusively selling only the store brand, which is something we don't see in Israel.

At Rolling Oats, a locally owned natural foods market, I was surprised by the wide variety of beverages - pro+prebiotic, and the large number of gluten- free food and vegan products.

I also visited Publix, which reminded me most of the supermarkets in Israel. What surprised me the most though, was the special room they have for the dietitian, something we can only dream about in Israel!

In Israel, we have a wide variety of low fat cheeses (like 5% cottage cheese). We also have a great variety of yogurts. Most of them are between 0%-1.5% fat. I also noticed a similarity in the amount and types of breads. Grocery stores in Israel sell a large selection of whole wheat bread, and many of them are also low in calories (only 35 calories a slice).

We have a special tag for diabetes on many products.  The tag is managed by the Israeli Diabetes Association and indicates fiber, sugar, and calories per serving.

OLDWAYS:  What are the typical food shopping habits in your country? 
HADAS:  Typical shopping habits are difficult to characterize, but I will try to specify some things that I see in almost every shopping cart.

First of all, I see all a lot of fruits and vegetables (usually between a quarter to half the cart). Secondly - chicken, turkey (we eat it the entire year) and beef; and thirdly, 5% cottage cheese, hummus, and pita bread are the typical basics. Based upon what I saw in Florida, I would say that in my country we buy more food in each trip.  Average Israelis go to the supermarket once a week but usually the cart looks like they buy products for a whole month.

OLDWAYS: How would you describe the typical Israeli diet today?
HADAS:  Because I am a clinical dietitian it's easiest for me to describe it as a daily menu.  In general, we have four traditional menus: Israeli, Arab, Russian, and Ethiopian. 

The Israeli menu is divided to Moroccan food, Iraqi food, Eastern Europe food.

The typical Israeli diet:

Bread (pita/whole wheat)
5% cheese/avocado/Arab cheese "labane"+ olive oil
Fresh Vegetables (mainly cucumber and tomatoes)

In between:
Fruit, 1 or 2

Chicken (mainly)/legumes
Carbohydrate: pasta/ potato/sweet potato/ buckwheat/ rice/couscous
Vegetables- almost always! Fresh or cooked

In between:
Coffee+ cookies or fruit

Basically like the morning.
Sometimes also with tuna/egg

The Arab population tends to eat their lunch at 4 o’clock, and then they usually only eat fruit for dinner. Whereas the Russian newcomers tend to eat their dinner like their lunch. Because Israel is such a melting pot, it is interesting to see different traditions reflected in the foods too.

OLDWAYS:  Do the health challenges facing people in your country parallel those in the US?  (Diabetes, heart disease, etc.) 
HADAS:  Sadly, our health challenges are exactly the same as yours. The obesity epidemic is growing, and the diabetes and heart disease trends are also on the rise.  Like in the US, many Israelis seek fast answers and fixes, and bariatric surgeries are becoming more and more popular.

OLDWAYS:  Do you think the Israeli medical community is tuned in to the connection between diet and health?  What positive changes do you see? 
HADAS:  The medical community is very tuned in to the connection between diet and health. Especially concerning obesity and diabetes, heart diseases, NHFLD, dyslipidemia and sleep apnea.  Unfortunately, most of them do not believe that their patients will change their unhealthy lifestyles, and they usually rush into drug therapy instead of looking at nutrition and diet as the first line of defense.

OLDWAYS:  What steps would you like to take to help people improve their diets? 
HADAS:  First of all, I work in the largest public healthcare service in Israel where I see and treat around 80 patients a week. Unfortunately, most of them are returning patients. I see my job as a place to improve as many people's lives, through healthier lifestyles, as I can.  In addition through my work at a fertility clinic I see much improvement when it comes to healthy pregnancy.

I believe, and this is the reason I was so happy to attend the Oldways conference, that some of what we need begins with supermarket dietitians. The opportunity to have a person that will "escort" the shopper and improve health through their shopping cart and not through pills is going to make a difference when it comes to public health.

May 14, 2015 | Oldways Table

May is Mediterranean Diet Month, a time to celebrate the food traditions of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea including Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Morocco.

Touted as one of the healthiest ways of eating, it’s easy, budget-friendly, and well, really not so much a diet (as in, “I’m on a diet”), as a lifestyle.

So, if it really isn’t a “diet” per se, you may wonder if it’s possible for people to lose weight when they follow it. For most people, they can.

We had the opportunity to connect with Maryrose Agel, RDN, dietitian and in-store nutrition expert for Shoprite, Spotswood, New Jersey about the Med Diet and weight goals. Through the store, she works with people who want to lose weight and encourages her participants to follow the principles of the Med Diet.

Because the Med Diet is about eating a balance of fruits and vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and fish, whole grains, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, olives and olive oil, you’ll have plenty of nutritious and delicious choices to put on your plate. The key is to eat a balance of these foods and enjoy them in moderation. Studies have repeatedly confirmed the health benefits of this way of eating, including being more effective than a low-fat diet when it comes to weight loss.

According to Maryrose, contrary to popular belief, eating well can be affordable. She explains, “the Mediterranean Diet lifestyle can be budget friendly if you choose produce that’s in season and locally grown, it’s nutrient dense and low cost. If buying fresh is not an option or if you want to add variety to your diet, choose frozen or canned veggies and fruit which is equally nutritious and economical.” Frozen and canned items are perfect for keeping in your pantry as they’re always ready for last minute meal ideas or stretching your food budget. Be sure to look for items that are low in sodium with no added sugars.

In addition to the delectable foods of this region, other aspects of this way of life include enjoying the pleasures of the table with family and friends, staying physically active each day (such as an after-dinner walk or taking the stairs whenever possible), choosing whole foods over processed, and cooking meals at home.

As you enjoy the flavorful foods of the Mediterranean Diet, these practical tips can help you stay on track with your weight loss goals:

  • Know what you’re eating. When buying processed foods, read the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts panel to understand exactly what’s in your food, the calories, and serving size. Maryrose suggests to “use the Daily Value and the 5/20 rule for a quick and easy way to read the label. Five percent is considered low and 20% is considered high.” Identifying foods with high levels (at least 20% DV) of healthy vitamins and nutrients and low levels (less than 5% DV) of sodium, saturated fats, and sugars will help you know which foods to reach for most often.
  • Don’t skip meals, doing so can make you ravenous and more prone to raiding the fridge or vending machine.
  • Cook and enjoy more meals at home. You’ll likely save calories as well as intake of fat, sugar and sodium when you control the ingredients.
  • Maryrose encourages “engaging in mindful eating by enjoying every bite of food and the conversation of family and friends” which can help us feel fuller with less food.
  • Cook once. Eat twice. When planning family dinners, keep lunch in mind. For example, when roasting a chicken, making a whole grain or pasta dish, or making soup or chili, make extra for lunch. It’s economical and helps cut food waste, too.
  • Another tip from Maryrose to follow as you pack your lunch for the day is to keep food safety in mind. Include an ice pack to keep your cold foods cold and an insulated container to keep hot foods hot.
  • Stay hydrated. Liquids, such as water, unsweetened tea, coffee, 100% fruit juice, as well as hydrating foods such as fruits and veggies help keep our joints, organs, and brain functioning properly. Before grabbing a high-calorie treat, drink a glass of water. Often times, we think we’re hungry, but we’re actually dehydrated. That glass of water may just save you extra calories you really don’t want to consume.
  • Did you know that sleep is an essential aspect of a healthy lifestyle – and even our waist size? According to Maryrose, there’s a correlation between the amount of sleep we get with our body mass index. If you find you’re not getting 7-8 hours a sleep per night, make a routine before bedtime and set the stage for a good night’s sleep. Start by turning off the TV, computer and cell phone, make sure your room is dark and cool, and then close your eyes and enjoy your well-deserved beauty sleep.

This May celebrate the goodness of the Mediterranean Diet lifestyle and see how easy it is to incorporate it into your daily routine. As Maryrose just showed us, following the Med Diet is fairly simple. Eat a balanced diet of wholesome foods, get daily activity and enjoy the meals you’ve prepared with family and friends. Soon you’ll be enjoying this way of life (and the benefits) every month of the year!

For more information on the Mediterranean Diet, check out the Mediterranean Foods Alliance.  Additional resources can be found in our Oldways Nutrition Exchange (ONE) April “Healthy Weight Loss” toolkit.



May 12, 2015 | Oldways Table

In his new book, The Gluten Lie, Alan Levinovitz uses today’s hysteria about gluten as only the latest example of our ages-old misunderstanding about good eating. He writes, “The truth about what we eat is unromantic,” and that there are no dietary “miracle cures.”

It certainly holds true that no one food can be responsible for saving (or destroying) our health. But at Oldways, we believe that there is absolutely something romantic about embracing traditional food cultures, and the delicious, old ways of eating.

Time and time again, science and common sense tell us that good health and good food go hand in hand. Just last month, researchers reported that embracing a traditional, African heritage diet significantly improved health in a group of middle aged African Americans. This evidence complements the mounting health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, a flavorful eating pattern rich in seasonal fruits and vegetables, hearty grains, nuts, and beans, and fruity olive oil.

Reminiscent of Michael Pollan in his 2009 bestseller In Defense of Food, Levinovitz rallies against the single nutrient approach to dietary health, instead advocating for a larger perspective, including home cooked meals, eaten mindfully.  Levinovitz suggests that diners “Set aside time to eat, rather than eating during time you’ve set aside for something else.” Similarly, he prescribes, “Make sure that four dinners a week take at least thirty minutes to prepare and twenty minutes to eat… Just prepare your food with care and eat it slowly, seated at a table.”

The Gluten Lie serves as a refreshing voice of reason against fear mongering and food faddists, as readers are assured that “gluten is not toxic to the general population… It does not give you wheat belly or grain brain, because there are no such things.” Levinovitz attributes many food fads to mythical, religious-style thinking. He accurately labels the authors of these pop-science books as “sensationalists, not scientists,” and reminds readers that, “Citations and jargon notwithstanding, their books are filled with slick, manipulative, unscientific hyperbole, designed to scare the crap out of you and make their authors money.”

In a recent interview with James Hamblin, senior editor at The Atlantic, Levinovitz says, “People need to know they can trust scientific consensus, it is reliable, and it is impossible to buy.” That being said, there actually is much more consensus on the effects of excessive salt, sugar, and some fats than Levinovitz lets on in his book. The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee, which calls for a reduction in salt, sugar, and saturated fat based on an extensive review of the evidence, is just one example. Similarly, many traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are naturally low in these questionable nutrients, instead providing an ample amount of whole grains, fresh produce, and healthy fats, like nuts and olive oil.

While fad diets are undoubtedly harmful, what we eat (and how it is produced) does matter. In the words of Alan Levinovitz, “Let’s forgo nutrition alarmism and focus on warm, cozy kitchens filled with wonderful smells.” And if those smells are coming from a traditional, heritage recipe, savored in the presence of friends and family, all the better!




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