Healthy New Year: Transformative Food Habits for 2023
January 25, 2023 | Webinar
In this webinar we learned how to kickstart healthy habits in the new year. Our guests, Matthew Rees, former White House speechwriter and Food and Health Facts newsletter founder and Kristen Coffield, founder of The Culinary Cure®, gave us their insights into healthy habits. Rees, co-author of Discovering Precision Health: Predict, Prevent, and Cure to Advance Health and Well-Being, examined our food culture and shared ideas about what can be done through public policy to help us live healthier lives. Coffield, author of How Healthy People Eat: An Eater’s Guide to Healthy Habits, shared actionable steps for having more energy, less stress and better sleep.
Text, Wednesdays with Woodward (registered trademark) Webinar Series.
JOAN WOODWARD: Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us. I'm Joan Woodward, President of the Travelers Institute. Welcome to Wednesdays with Woodward, where we convene leading experts for conversations about today's biggest challenges, personal and professional.
So before we get started, I'd like to share our disclaimer about today's program.
Text, About Travelers Institute (registered trademark) Webinars. The Wednesdays with Woodward (registered trademark) educational webinar series is presented by the Travelers Institute, the public policy division of Travelers. This program is offered for informational and educational purposes only. You should consult with your financial, legal, insurance or other advisors about any practices suggested by this program. Please note that this session is being recorded and may be used as Travelers deems appropriate.
I'd also like to thank our webinar partner today, the MetroHartford Alliance. Thanks for being with us.
Text, Healthy New Year. Transformative Food Habits for 2023. Logos for Travelers Institute (registered trademark) and MetroHartford Alliance.
Many of us make New Year's resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier and exercise more. I certainly do every year. We want to turn a new page and start our new healthy habits that will be with us for a long time, and yet it can be a struggle.
So here we are, third week in January, and we thought we would jump-start your New Year's resolutions. It has been a challenge for me personally to keep the weight off and exercise. So I know how this all works.
Seventy percent of Americans are overweight. That's a large number. Forty-two percent of Americans are considered obese. That's a very large number, a higher rate than just about any other country in the world.
This extra weight, as we all know, can lead to diabetes, cancer, heart issues, and more. It costs the health care system and employers billions of dollars every year. But, most importantly, it costs us years off of our lives.
So what can we do to reverse this trend? What can help the government and employers do-- you as an employer have a part to play in your employees' health. And what can you do in your daily life that will create these healthy habits that will stay with you to eat better, be well and live a healthier life?
Photos of Joan Woodward and guests. Text, Speakers. Joan Woodward, Executive Vice President, Public Policy; President, Travelers Institute, Travelers. Matthew Rees, Founder, FoodandHealthFacts.com, Senior Fellow, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, Co-Author, Discovering Precision Health. Kristen Coffield, Founder, The Culinary Cure, Author, How Healthy People Eat, An Eater's Guide to Healthy Habits.
So I've asked two really great guests to join me today to talk about all of this. First is my friend Matt Rees. Matt was a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. He was also a journalist and wrote for The Weekly Standard, The Economist, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, and more.
He's co-authored books, including Discovering Precision Health. He's the Founder of an editorial consulting firm, Geonomica. But during the pandemic, most importantly, he founded the website Food and Health Facts. His first post was entitled, "A Big Fat Crisis-- the Rise and Rise of Obesity in America."
He's since chronicled what he calls America's toxic food culture and its impact on our health. We've got a link to his website in the chat, so go check that out. He'll dive into Food and Health Facts for us. And we'll explore some of the fixes he's proposing.
We're also joined today by Kristen Coffield. Kristen is an author, educator, and culinary disruptor. She's the Founder of The Culinary Cure and Co-Founder of Better Than Gossip-- Ageless Advice for Timeless Women.
Her wellness coaching programs include corporate wellness and culinary teambuilding, private coaching, and the 21 Day Detox and Reset. There's a link to her website in the chat, so check out her website. It's really chock full of great practical advice.
She's the author of How Healthy People Eat-- An Eater's Guide to Healthy Habits. I love that, an eater's guide. Kristen is a chef and ran two catering companies before founding The Culinary Cure. She has a great story about what led her to create her wellness business that she's going to share with us.
So welcome to you both. We're going to start with the big picture on American health from that. So, Matt, I'm going to turn the virtual stage over to you. Take it away.
Text, Do a Google image search of Obese David Statue Italy USA.
MATTHEW REES: Thank you very much, Joan. And thank you for having me. I'm going to start with something a little bit unconventional, which is, for those of you in front of a computer, to do a Google image search of Obese David Statue Italy USA.
And what you'll find is a statue of Michelangelo's the David, who has just returned from Italy after three years in the United States, and he's now obese. It's a lighthearted way to get at a very serious subject, which is the America's food culture and the way in which it is contributing to high rates of disease, disability and death.
The newsletter I publish, Food and Health Facts, focuses on a lot of these-- the toxic food culture in the U.S. and highlights a lot of the-- frankly, it's a lot of doom and gloom. And I have people tell me that perhaps I should write a little bit less about the doom and gloom. But for the purposes of today, I'm actually going to lean into that doom and gloom. And so, let's get right to it with the-- yes, here.
Text, The Doom and Gloom Data. Photo of fireman facing a burning fire.
Two graphs appear. The top one is titled Risk factors and related deaths, showing Dietary risks as the leading factor, followed by tobacco use, high systolic blood pressure, high body mass index, high fasting plasma glucose, high total cholesterol, impaired kidney function, alcohol and drug use, air pollution, low physical activity, occupational risks, low bone mineral density, residential radon and lead exposure, unsafe sex, child and maternal malnutrition, sexual abuse and violence, and unsafe water, sanitation, and handwashing. The second is titled Risk factors as a percentage of disability-adjusted life years, showing tobacco use and high body mass index as the top factors, followed by dietary risks, alcohol and drug use, high fasting plasma glucose, high systolic blood pressure, high total cholesterol, impaired kidney function, occupational risks, air pollution, low physical activity, child and maternal malnutrition, low bone mineral density, unsafe sex, sexual abuse and violence, residential radon and lead exposure, and unsafe water, sanitation, and handwashing.
So you'll see here that this highlight, the top chart-- I realize it's a little bit small. But it's highlighting the leading causes of death in the United States. And you'll see diet, it's number one. Tobacco is number two; blood pressure, number three, also tied to diet. And fourth is body mass index, which is directly tied to diet.
So just to set the stage, three of the four leading causes of death in the United States are a function of our diet. So why is that?
A graph titled Share of American adults who were overweight or obese, 1960 to 2018, showing a rise in obesity.
If we go to the next slide, we'll see that the obesity rate in the United States has increased dramatically since 1960.
And as Joan mentioned, it's now at 42%. And about another 30% of Americans are overweight. So that, again, and as Joan mentioned, the highest obesity rate in the world.
So you'll see in what follows here a comparison of several different countries, Japan way down at the bottom and, sadly, the United States right there at the top.
A graph titled Obesity Rates as percent of total adult population aged 15 years and over, 2016 or latest year, with United States at the top.
And this has been part of a long-term trend.
A graph titled Share of adults that are obese, 1975 to 2016, showing United States at the top.
Several other countries and regions, as you'll see here, the increase has been steady since 1975, but, again, the United States right at the top. So a very sad statement and with very severe health effects.
A graph titled Figure, Trends in obesity among children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years, by age, United States, 1963 to 1965 through 2015 to 2016.
In the next slide, we'll see that it's not just all of those statistics I just cited were for adults. Children, sadly, have also been falling prey to obesity, setting themselves up for a life, potentially, of high rates of disease and disability. It’s also-- and it's not just in the United States that we see this problem.
In several other countries, the childhood obesity rate has been rising.
A graph titled Childhood obesity rates, 1975 to 2016.
Sadly, the United States, again, an outlier. You see here G20, OECD, EU. Once again, the United States standing out from the rest.
A graph titled Description of Weight Situation. How would you describe your own personal weight situation right now, very overweight, somewhat overweight, about right, somewhat underweight, or very underweight?
If we look here-- so how do we-- so what's the first step in solving a problem? And it's acknowledging that you have a problem. Here, you'll see that only about 40% of Americans, going back for the last 30 years, acknowledge that they are overweight. And more than 50% say their weight is just about right. So there's a degree of dietary self-deception here that has decidedly unhealthy consequences.
And it's not just everyday Americans who are falling prey to obesity. What this slide is meant to illustrate is that it's actually become a problem in the U.S. military. The most recent report from the Pentagon showed that 18% of people in the U.S. military are obese.
A photo of an obese man in fatigues holding a donut. A photo of an obese dog laying down.
And as this slide shows, the problem is not just among humans. Pets have also fallen prey to obesity. The largest electronic health records from veterinary centers show that about 34% of dogs and 38% of cats have actually become obese in the United States, a sharp-- basically a doubling just in the last 10 to 15 years.
A graph titled Life expectancy and healthcare spending per capita, 1980 to 2021.
So what's the impact? Here, this chart, I think in many ways, is the most stark statement of the health and health care situation in the United States. You have-- you can see the green line is life expectancy dramatically lower than other comparable developed economies.
And just to add insult to injury, if you look on the bottom, that monitors the-- or shows the cost of what Americans spend on health care per capita. And we're paying basically about double. So we're paying more and having worse outcomes. It's really, again, the starkest statement of anything you might see here in terms of what's wrong in American health and what's wrong in American health care.
Text, What are the causes? A photo of a brain scan.
So what are the causes?
A photo of Michael Greger, MD, Author, How Not to Diet.
So, fundamentally, obviously, it’s about-- it's the food we eat and the way it is marketed and purchased. And this is-- Michael Greger is, here, the author of How Not to Diet.
And he writes, "The reason that some of the unhealthiest foods are marketed is one of simple economics-- Real food goes bad. What shareholders want is a snack cake that lasts for weeks on the shelf.
On top of that, real food doesn't have brand names. Why would a broccoli grower put an ad on TV when you'd just as likely buy their competitor’s broccoli?" And I think the next passage or sentence is the key one. "The system is simply not set up to reward the sale of health-promoting food."
So the single biggest liability in the American diet is our consumption of ultraprocessed foods. And you'll see here that the United States, again, is an outlier.
A graph titled Total energy intake from ultra-processed foods and obesity rates by country.
About 58% of calories consumed by American adults come from ultraprocessed foods and about 67% of calories for children. All sorts of ill-health effects follow from that.
A graph titled Calories by food group, 1970, inner ring, and 2014, outer ring.
And, here, you'll see the-- here's the sort of, very quickly, just how the American diet has changed. Since 1970, the biggest change being the added fats and oils.
A graph titled U.S. Dairy products per Capita Consumption.
If we can go to the next slide, we'll see that the dairy consumption has gone up sharply-- well, actually, milk from-- animal milk has actually-- consumption has actually gone down. There's been a sharp increase in consumption of processed cheese, butter and ice cream.
Protein also quite high.
A graph titled Daily per capita protein supply, 1961 to 2019.
Americans consuming protein actually get much more than typically is needed. And you'll see protein much higher than in other countries and regions.
A graph titled Fast Food Was Healthier in the 1980s.
Looking at the next slide here-- again, we're just going through all of the negative indicators—fast-food portions growing in size and more calories, more unhealthy food. If we look at the next-- here, there's a correlation between--
A graph titled Where People Spend the Most Time Eating and Drinking. Time spent eating and drinking each day in hours and minutes.
or people have identified a correlation between the amount of time people spend eating and obesity rates. You'll see France and Italy, perhaps not surprisingly, spend the most time. Who's down at the bottom? Again, the United States.
A map titled Growth in quick-service restaurants concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast and in other scattered counties.
I think the next slide-- we have the proliferation of fast food. The dark red highlights where there's been the most increase in the number of-- the greatest increase in the number of fast-food outlets, clearly, a big problem. Here, we have, again, portion sizes increasing at restaurants since the 1950s, a sharp, sharp increase. Just think about the, say, unlimited refills that are offered at restaurants, a big contributor to obesity as restaurants are generally, which I can talk more about.
A graph titled The New Abnormal. A Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner menu with the following options circled, Breakfast Proteins, Meats, Black Angus Beef Burger, and Grilled Flat-Iron Steak.
I think this is, in many ways, one of the saddest statements. This is a menu from the leading cancer center in the United States, the MD Anderson Cancer Center. They won't even hire anyone who's a smoker.
But, here, this is one of their room service menus. You'll see bacon, steak, beef. Right on their website, they recommend against consuming these items, bacon in particular, identifying it as a carcinogen. But, here, they are serving it to patients and, I guess, to guests. It's emblematic, again, of everything that's wrong about the culture of food and health care in the United States.
Text, Washington is MIA.
So, I sit here in Washington. Is Washington doing anything about this? A federal office issued a comprehensive report earlier in 2021 looking at this. And they basically found that there's no coordination across 200 different initiatives. When officials from 16 agencies were interviewed, they said there either is not a strategy, or they were not able to identify one. So, Washington-- MIA.
A book titled, The End of Craving. Recovering the Lost Wisdom of Eating Well, by Mark Schatzker.
And then just to close out, I think that the key point to just to keep in mind is the way in which the food in the United States, so much of what we consume has changed. And I think this quote captures it so perfectly.
Quote, For hundreds of millions of years, every one of our ancestors labored to feed itself. Some won, some lost. But when food was obtained, it didn't tell lies. Then, in a blink of a few decades, we changed food. So much of what we now eat is engineered to mislead the brain. The information we sense as we eat has become unreliable. It is the most significant change in food since the dawn of agriculture.
And I think that just the key passage there at the end talking about how the food has changed, and the author Mark Schatzker, the author of The End of Craving-- "It is the most significant change in food since the dawn of agriculture."
And that, I think, is a key contributor to all of our health challenges. So, on that happy note, I'm going to pass it off to Kristen, who hopefully can have some slightly better news to share with us.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Well, thank you, Matt, for teeing me up. That is a really great overview of what is wrong with our food system. And it should make everybody lean in and want to know what they can actually be doing to take control of their own health and actually invest in their future wellness.
So my story is an interesting one. And I like to think that my story is a little bit of everyone's story. I was going through life doing what I thought was best for my family. I was giving my kids probiotics 34 years ago. So I was an early adapter to knowing that there was an importance to the food that we eat and the outcome we get from that food.
And when my last kid went off to college, I found myself in my early 50s in a place where a lot of real-life challenges had come into my personal life. My mother was dealing with breast cancer. It came to our attention that-- my parents were divorced,my dad was living down in Florida, and we started getting phone calls at 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. in the morning. And we realized something was very wrong. And it turns out he had Alzheimer's. So my mother is dealing with breast cancer, and my father is dealing with Alzheimer's.
Personally, my family was struggling with some financial challenges. That last kid went off to college. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and then my dog died. It was like this decade that just every day I would wake up, and I'd be like, oh my gosh, what else can go wrong in my life?
And I had slid into some sort of sloppy, lazy habits. And I think a lot of people can really relate to this. I'd get up in the morning. I'd have a cup of coffee. I'd have some carbohydrates.
I'd go through my day. I might have a second cup of coffee. Loved that glass of wine at 5:00. Had stopped going to the gym regularly. And I was feeling pretty crappy. I was sad about a lot of the things that were happening in my life, and I was overwhelmed. And as much as I knew about food and wellness, it didn't mean I wasn't struggling with it myself.
So, one morning-- and my sleep was terrible. It was awful. I would get into bed. I'd be so exhausted from my emotionally filled day. And I would shut my eyes, and I would be wide awake.
So one morning, I woke up, and I just realized I couldn't control everything. I couldn't control my mother's cancer or my father's Alzheimer's. I was dealing with my own cancer. We were managing-- we were working through our personal problems. And there was one thing I could control. I could control what was on the end of my fork.
So in that moment, I was like, OK, enough of this. The wine's got to go. The coffee's got to go. I've got to strip this down. So I started focusing on only consuming things that could support me, could make me feel better because I was so desperate to feel better.
I like to say, nobody should wake up and just feel meh. That is not your new normal. You should wake up filled with energy, feeling good for the day. So I started where I was, controlling the one thing, what was on the end of my fork.
And what happened was really quite incredible. I started with what I was eating. And by changing those things, by taking out the refined carbs, by really looking at the added sugars, by cutting back on the caffeine and the alcohol, not eating anything that had artificial ingredients, I started to look better and feel better and have more energy. So now I had more energy, and I felt like I could deal with these big, real-life problems.
I still wasn't sleeping. So guess what? I started going to the gym at 5:00 a.m. So now I'm up. I'm going to the gym at 5:00 a.m. I'm eating healthier, and my whole life begins to change.
And with my background as a professional chef, I was like, nobody wrote the playbook for when you're-- it hits the fan, and you just don't know how to pick yourself up. So I decided in that moment I was going to start The Culinary Cure. I was going to write a playbook for people that met them between the intersection of lifestyle and wellness and teach them how to take control of their wellness in their own kitchen.
So that's why we're in my kitchen today. The kitchen is the heart of the home. And when we get our kitchen right, when we get the heart of our home right, it is so much easier for us to make good food choices, to nourish our bodies and brains and offset some of those things that Matt was talking about.
So thank you, Joan. Thank you, Matt. I'm going to wrap up now so we can get into some of those questions that I know everybody wants to hear the answers to.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, wonderful. Well, Matt, you didn't cheer us up. But, Kristen, I feel there's hope, right?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: There's hope.
JOAN WOODWARD: So, Matt, let me go to you first, because-- and we're going to get to the really, really practical stuff soon, I promise, because this is why you all tuned in. We want those tips and tricks that we can do every single day for busy people like us, traveling a lot, eating out. We have to eat out. There's business dinners all the time. You can't avoid it. So we want to get to the tips and tricks.
But, first, I think we should turn the tables on our audience first because our audience is going to inform how we navigate this discussion. So let’s go-- we have two polling questions. Ladies and gentlemen, let's go to our two polling questions first. OK, here we go.
All right, guys and gals, how would you rate your overall wellness first-- excellent, good, fair, or poor? Tell us exactly. This is not recorded-- well, this is recorded, but we're not going to record your answers. We're not going to go back and-- it's all anonymous.
So let's get that poll. How would you rate your overall wellness? OK, we have a few people that say, excellent. That's wonderful. It looks like about half of the audience says, good. And then we have about 45% of us, so about half saying good and excellent, about half saying fair and poor. We're split evenly there.
Let's go to our next polling question and see, what is your biggest wellness challenge? So just choose one. Finding time to exercise, getting quality sleep, eating healthy or hydration, getting enough water in you. So let's see where our audience is on these.
Eating healthy is about half the audience. Quality sleep, finding time to exercise-- again, I could check every single one of these because I'm guilty of all of them. But first of all, Matt, does this surprise you, some of these answers here, or-- about half the audience says they're in pretty good shape, yet they're still in this webinar. That's telling. So what do you make of these answers?
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, no, I think it's representative of, I think, where a lot of people are. And I think also particularly interesting just the sleep question because sleep is often an overlooked factor in health and in particular with obesity. And it's been actually documented that the less-- there is a correlation between getting less sleep and eating more, and your judgment can be impaired.
And I will just mention there's a wonderful, wonderful book called Why We Sleep and Why We Dream by Matthew Walker, which I would highly recommend to everyone listening.
JOAN WOODWARD: Thank you for that. Our CEO gave me that book, Why We Sleep. And it's a fantastic one. And I've actually made some life changes based on that. Getting sleep is really important. Kristen, what do you make of our audience answers here?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Well, I'm surprised that more people didn't check hydration, because I consider hydration to be the low-hanging fruit of wellness. When we can get the hydration part right, all the other things fall into place more easily for people-- making good food choices, having a better mood, higher productivity, improved sleep.
Interesting that-- and I think Matt would note this too-- food is 80% of the wellness equation. And people tend to put more emphasis on exercise than they do on nutrition. And this is where we get into a lot of trouble.
What people are eating, a diet that tends to have a lot of highly processed foods, a lot of grab-and-go foods, a lot of high-protein bars and supplements, people think that this is a healthy way to eat. But, in fact, the healthy way to eat is eating foods in their most natural form. And so these-- we've adopted a way of eating that doesn't support our bigger wellness goals. But we think that that is the way we're supposed to eat, if that makes sense.
So we think that dieting means eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, when eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is what we are designed to eat and what this engine runs on most efficiently.
JOAN WOODWARD: Got it. Got it, OK. So back to Matt. Matt, why do you think-- you write a lot about the toxic food culture in America. Why is it such a problem here in the U.S. versus other cultures? As you said, the French and Italians, they spend a lot more time eating, yet obesity rates aren't so high. Why is this?
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, it's a great question. And, I mean, there are a few different factors. I think one is just the convenience culture in the United States that places a premium on fast food, whether it's eating in fast-food restaurants or just eating quickly, as the document showed.
I think that restaurants also are a big part of the problem and, in particular, portion sizes. I mentioned that I showed that the fast-food portion sizes have grown. And I think that's the case throughout all restaurants. There's been several studies showing-- and one in particular from the Friedman School at Tufts showing just how low quality the typical restaurant meal is. And so I think that's a big factor.
And then, again, coming back to Washington, you have the U.S. Department of Agriculture that its mission is, really, to promote these foods, so many of which are not healthy for us and then not good for us. And then the Food and Drug Administration is really asleep at the wheel when it comes to nutrition with a tiny little budget.
And then you just think about the food environment and what's changed over through the years and the way in which food-- it's now everywhere. You think about, you go into-- my favorite example is you go into a Home Depot, and they're selling candy in Home Depot.
And you take all of these factors, combine all of these factors. And you just create an environment that it’s not-- almost it's geared toward being unhealthy. And so you really need to make a conscious, conscious effort to stay healthy and to fend off all of the adverse influences.
JOAN WOODWARD: Thank you for that. And you also talk about doctors and not having-- they're ill-equipped, really, to talk about how your nutrition needs are so important. And talk a bit about that. To make their patients eat more healthily, why do you say doctors are not equipped?
MATTHEW REES: Well, doctors-- about 1% of the classroom time that doctors spend in medical school is devoted to nutrition. And even that is typically complex biochemistry. And ask any doctor, again, what sort of training they got, and it's little to none.
So they’re-- so they are not equipped. And studies have shown that their knowledge of nutrition is really often no better than the average person on the street. And so you're missing-- really, I think doctors are among our most trusted professionals, and they could be a hugely valuable ally.
And they're absent. They really can’t-- they're just not equipped to offer this advice. And, again, it's revealing that when the single biggest driver of illness and disease is food, and the people who are supposed to be addressing that don't really have anything to say, or they're just not trained in. And it's a real indictment of, I think, our medical schools, but also just the broader health care system.
JOAN WOODWARD: So what are your top lessons then from the book you wrote, Discovering Precision Health? Give us some key takeaways that if we're not-- by the way, for all the audience out there, it's in the chat. We have copies of both Kristen and Matt's book still available. And we're happy to ship them to you for free, so please go on the chat and request a copy of your book if you haven't seen it yet. But, Matt, give us your key takeaways.
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, well, so the book really talked about, again, some of the shortcomings in the existing health care system, which is that, typically, doctors and medicine, it's all about, well, we treat people once you get sick. And the book was really focused on, what are the kind of the-- shifting the pendulum so that we're intervening earlier and trying to keep people healthy?
And so we talk a lot about some of the tools that now exist. And it's things like with the mapping of the human genome, the genetic testing that can be done to identify disease before it becomes life-threatening in individuals. We talked about some of the companies that are doing innovative things, like Livongo and Omada, which are focused on counseling and helping people through digital tools, having more of a direct connection with people to promote healthier diet.
JOAN WOODWARD: And what can employers do then? There's a lot of employers on the phone, who may offer free Weight Watchers classes or free Peloton, whatever, sessions. I mean, what other things can employers do, even if they're a small employer or may only have 10 or so employees?
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, I think certainly creating incentives and rewards for-- again, whether it's something as basic as a gym membership. But for the larger employers, I think one of the key things-- and it's going to sound small, but is-- if you're at a company where there's a company cafeteria, for example. And there's this whole emerging field called food choice architecture that you see at some universities.
And it's things like smaller plates. When people have smaller plates, they put less food on it. When in the buffet line or the cafeteria line, have all of the healthy food appear first and all of the unhealthy food, the desserts and everything, appear in the corner. Don't have any trays in the cafeteria. When people have this big tray, they feel the need to fill it up.
And so these are known as nudges and as ways to encourage healthier behavior almost through these hidden tools. And it's something that employers-- Google has done this. And, again, there's a cafeteria at Stanford that has done this. And it's a great way to encourage healthier behavior among your employees.
JOAN WOODWARD: Terrific. Well, we have an amazing cafeteria in Hartford. I'd love to host you there someday, with hydroponic things everywhere. It's very, very healthy. All right, Kristen, back to you. Thank you, Matt, for that. We'll be back to you in a minute.
So, Kristen, let's get practical. You're a wellness coach. What are the common health mistakes you see your clients making? And talk about what you call resilient wellness. We want to get practical here.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Whenever I'm coaching people, I have them keep a food journal. And this is such a great thing that anybody can do for themselves. You can even keep it in the notes on your phone. But people put down what they eat, what they drink, how much liquid they consume, when they exercise.
And everybody, to a person, always says, I hydrate really well. Well, hydration is, as I said before, it’s this low-hanging fruit of wellness. And so what I see across the board is that people are walking around partially dehydrated. Almost all of us are.
And if you're even a little bit dehydrated, it affects your ability to make good choices. And that's all kinds of choices. That's food choices. It's business decisions. It's interpersonal decisions. So we want to get everybody hydrated. And it takes two weeks to become fully hydrated.
So what I see is that people are underhydrated. They have some habits that trip them up. Very common is eating too much food at the end of the day. So a lot of people are eating when they're supposed to be sleeping.
So if you eat a big meal at the end of the day, it can really interrupt your sleep. It can mean your body doesn't know what to do with those calories, because you're not going to burn them off as fuel. So not hydrating properly, eating too many calories at the end of the day, and then also incorporating too much added sugar.
And sugar is sneaky. Added sugar is in everything from chicken stock to mustard. So you've got to really become a label reader to make sure you're not getting added sugar, which is addictive. Sugar is one of the most addictive substances on the planet.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, so how much water should we drink? We're always told-- I think it's eight glasses of 8 ounces. That's 64 ounces. Is that the right amount?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Well, the best way to start hydrating-- so for everybody listening, if you would like to start creating your own hydration practice, this is what you're going to do. You're going to take half of your weight. So if you weigh 140 pounds, you're going to start with 70 ounces, so half your weight in ounces of water. And you're going to sip that 70 ounces throughout the day, so like an 8- to 10-hour period.
So I like to say, when I say to people, you should really be working your way up to about 100 ounces a day-- this is 100 ounces-- and people just go, oh my gosh, that's so much water. Well, nobody should be drinking 100 ounces of water at one time.
Now, if I show you this and I say, well, could you drink this much water? This is 10 ounces. Could you drink this in an hour? Most people say, oh, yeah, of course, I could drink 10 ounces in an hour.
So the idea is you want to start your sipping when you wake up. When you're asleep, your body is fasting. All of your major organs have done their detox. The metabolic waste is gunking up your lymphatic system. And the first thing you want to do is rehydrate after the fast that occurs during sleep.
So your first beverage of each day should be water. And that's going to help you rehydrate. It's going to help detox your lymphatic system, and it's going to get you set up with your hydration practice for the day.
So start hydrating now. Practice every day. Get yourself to two weeks because that's when you're fully hydrated. And then you can up your water consumption if it feels right for you. I like 100 ounces for me, personally. But nobody should drink 100 ounces of water at one time. Let's just put that out there.
JOAN WOODWARD: What about adding-- I always read this, and I don't know if it's celebrity talk. But add a little lemon to your water in the morning. Does that do anything?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: I am a big fan of lemon water. So make your first beverage of each day a warm lemon water. And the reason we do this is because lemon goes in acidic. So you want to use a straw to protect your tooth enamel. But it turns alkaline in the body.
So we want to raise the alkalinity level in our body because that helps lower the inflammation, the acidity level in our body. So, yes, lemon is a wonderful thing to add to your water. And there's a terpene in lemons called limonene. And it's very beneficial to us. It's a good thing to do.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, let's talk about inflammation because you write about this a lot, and it's something not talked a lot about there. So what about inflammation to lower your cholesterol, lower your weight or your blood pressure? Tell us first what causes inflammation and what foods maybe we should avoid.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Yeah, inflammation is the root cause of all those diseases. So this low-level inflammation that we get from our diet, so diet, the things that cause inflammation are the things we put in our body, the things we put on our body, and the things in our environment that the body responds to in an inflammatory way. So we don't want to get rid of inflammation entirely.
If you bang your finger, it's going to get swollen. It's going to hurt. And that's part of how the body heals itself. But what we want to do is get the inflammation into a manageable place.
And so the primary driver of our modern diet is our modern diet for this inflammation. And it's high in sugar. It's high in starch. It's low in fiber. It's awash in refined oils. It's nutrient-poor, and it's phytonutrient-depleted.
So if we want to lower inflammation, the answer is plants. We need to be eating more plants. We need to be eating more plants in their original form, not processed plants. And so our diet should be more plant-rich because we get those phytonutrients, those vitamins, those minerals, and all that good fiber, which is so beneficial for our gut health.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, I have a question coming in from the audience. There's a lot of them coming in, so continue to put them in there. What's your take on cooking with seed oil? So are there any you recommend or should we avoid? What type of oil do you cook with?
I know people do avocado oil because it doesn't burn when you're searing something in a cast-iron skillet. Is avocado oil or seed oils better for us? Give us the scoop.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: So the healthy oils are-- they're pretty simple. There's five-- extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter from grass-fed cows, and lard from grass-fed animals. And the seed oil-- so we shouldn't be eating oil from anything that's not naturally oily.
So the process for making many of these seed oils is about a 10-step process. It involves bleaching and chemicals. And it makes these oils into incredibly inflammation-causing substances. So keep it simple. Cook with the simple oils.
And then if you want to season your food-- so a lot of people like nut oils or sesame seed oil-- you can use those oils as a seasoning. But you don't want to be cooking with them every day. You want to keep it really simple-- butter from grass-fed cows, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
JOAN WOODWARD: So when you say butter from grass-fed cows, I have two kind of butter in my fridge right now. I have the Irish butter, or the fancy one for fancy times, and then just the regular old-- I don't know what you would call it-- just regular butter in the little stick. What do you mean by grass fed? Do I have to go look somewhere else for that?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Well, your fancy butter is probably a good one. And this brings up the subject, real quick, of organic food. So we should always be supporting businesses that are doing the right thing for the planet and the animals because that's going to benefit us more.
So I like to say, if you can shop local at your local farmer's market-- sometimes you've got a local person there that can sell you butter-- that's going to be really good. And when we buy local, our food has more nutrients in it because it didn't have to get packaged and stored and shipped. So there's a lot of ways we can eat the way our great grandparents ate. That's a good thing for people to remember.
If it wasn't around when your grandparents were kids, you shouldn't probably be eating it now. So be thinking eating like your great grandparents did when they were kids. And that's a good-- when you're in the store and you're looking at things, just say, hey, was this around when my great-grandmother was shopping? Probably not.
JOAN WOODWARD: So give us three healthy habits that we can start today. Three easy things.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Three easy things. Read labels. And there are two lines on the label for sugar when you look at a food. There's total sugar and added sugar. So you want to look for zero or a very low number in the added sugar because that's sugar that was added, obviously, to that product.
You also want to look for ingredients you can't identify just because there are chemicals in food doesn't mean chemicals are food. So read your label, look at the sugar, don't eat chemicals, drink your water, and practice going to bed a little bit earlier. So every hour of sleep we get before midnight counts as two after. So you want to get a little more shut-eye on the early side of the evening.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, let's talk about sleep. And, Matt, I'm going to pull you back in too. But, first, Kristen, so you say we should get better sleep. You said, don't eat a big meal late at night. Don't have alcohol.
So these are things that we're doing because we're insurance people. We're busy people. We're in the airport. So try not to eat a big meal late. I think we can handle that. We have control over when we eat most of the time. Don't drink a lot.
What are some other tips and tricks to get us to sleep and keep us to sleep? Because I find as I'm getting older, I'm waking up more. Once I'm up, then I'm thinking. Then I'm thinking. And so give us some tricks.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: I know the brain, it's like a filing cabinet, and ideas are just flying out. Cool, dark and quiet-- your room needs to be cool, dark and quiet. If you travel a lot, you probably need soft foam earplugs, maybe an eye mask because not all hotel rooms are dark. So that, that'll get you dark and quiet.
And then set your temperature down low. The body has to cool down by 2 to 3 degrees for you to get into that nice, deep, restorative rest. So I actually set our thermostat at 63 when we go to bed, so cool, dark and quiet.
If you're well-hydrated, it's going to help you sleep better. But sleep is such an important time for the body to detox and reboot itself. And it's something that we can manage. And the other thing is get off your gadgets an hour before you want to go to bed. Put your phone to bed. It should go to bed an hour before you do.
JOAN WOODWARD: Matt, you read the book Why We Sleep, and you talked about it. And I read it. What were your takeaways on sleep? And then we're going to get in back to the food area.
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, I mean, the big takeaway, again, was just how much of it affects so many different dimensions of human health, both physical and mental and, in particular, the way in which the sort of for clarity of thinking that-- he talks about how the process of dreaming and just REM sleep, it basically purges a lot of the stuff that you want to get out of your brain each night.
And so he talks about there's the phrase, let's sleep on it. And it's really-- it’s true. You have, again, greater clarity of thought after you've had a good night of sleep. And then just the restorative power of a good night of sleep and waking up feeling refreshed, it underscored for me just how critical sleep is. And I guess I would just reinforce how valuable the book is to read.
JOAN WOODWARD: And just a question on melatonin-- so people think, oh, melatonin, I know it's not addictive. It helps me fall asleep and stay asleep. Thoughts on that?
MATTHEW REES: Well, the author, Matthew Walker, graduate of Harvard Medical School, he is not an advocate of melatonin. He's not saying that it has great risk. But he feels like the real-- the greatest benefit from sleep is uninhibited sleep. And that means little to no alcohol, but also not having caffeine after about noon and--
JOAN WOODWARD: About noon?
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, yeah, because he talks about how the way in which caffeine stays and how long it stays in the body. And then melatonin, again, just while having some benefit in terms of helping people sleep modest, I think, based on what the studies show, he's not an advocate for using it on any regular basis.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, let's get back into food. So, Matt, you talked about ultraprocessed food. I mean, it's everywhere. It's the easiest food for people to get. First of all, tell us what you mean by ultraprocessed versus just processed food.
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, well, I think one of the best descriptions is-- and I think Kristen touched on it-- is it's food that with ingredients you don't recognize or food with ingredients that aren't sold in grocery stores and a lot of chemicals. And, typically, the ultraprocessed foods are going to have a very long list of ingredients.
And they have all sorts of adverse effects on the human body and one of which is that they-- studies show that they're not as satiating. So people end up eating more. And there was a big comprehensive study done at the National Institutes of Health, where they put people on an ultraprocessed diet versus a non-ultraprocessed diet.
And the people eating the ultraprocessed foods ate more, about 500 calories more per day. So you're eating more food, and it's of lower quality. And it's really a toxic combination.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, thank you, Matt. Kristen, back to you. Let's talk about fruits and veggies because everyone thinks, oh, fruits and veggies are great for me. But there's a lot of sugar in them. It's natural sugar.
But what about the store-bought smoothies that people are-- making it yourself? Give us your thoughts on fruits and veggies because they are high in sugar.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: They are high in sugar. And I love for people to eat fruits, but eat them in the first part of the day because then your body can convert that fruit sugar into fuel, glucose. And that's going to help you-- energize you in the morning.
We don't want to give people bad information that, well, sugar, you've got to be really careful about eating fruit because it's got so much sugar. People should be eating fruit that's in season, locally grown. Apples are great this time of year.
We just don't want to be eating grapes from Bolivia and blueberries from Mexico and strawberries from another place. We want to try to eat more foods in season. And what's happened is that there's this very interesting phenomenon that we have become self-selective eaters. So now that we have a global economy, we can eat all our favorite foods all the time.
So instead of eating a wide variety of foods, what we've done is we've narrowed it down. And we're eating our favorite foods over and over and over again. So people are eating blueberries and asparagus and strawberries and salmon all year round.
And what would benefit us more is to eat fruits and vegetables in season and enjoy all those wonderful nutrients that we're going to get from them and put some variety in our diet because the way we used to eat was that was how we had to eat. We didn't have blueberries from Mexico in January in Virginia. So we were eating more preserved foods, that canned foods, and fermented foods. And all those nutrients are very beneficial for us.
So we talked a little bit before that Americans have become very wasteful. And so we throw out about 40% of the food we buy. So we should be buying less food, but buying more meals and having a plan for everything we buy so we don't throw it away, and we're being more mindful about what we're eating. And we're eating a bigger variety of foods in-season.
And skip those smoothies and juice drinks because they've taken all the fiber out of those. So it's the same as drinking a Coca-Cola. You're literally getting sugar with no fiber to slow down the absorption into your blood.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, we're got to do rapid fire because we're running out of time. Let's talk about the business traveler. I have to eat in restaurants a lot. I love it, but I try very hard to section my plate. I'll look at my plate and say, oh, I'll eat half of everything on my plate.
How do we eat better in restaurants? And how do we eat better on the road? I bring carrots along with me all the time. Luckily, the TSA has not confiscated my carrots. But what are your tricks? And, Matt, I want to get back to you because I want to ask you what you guys eat every day. But what are your tricks about eating out and traveling?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate because that's going to help you make better food choices. If you're eating in a restaurant, look at the menu online before you get there so you can have a good idea of what's going to be a healthy entrée. And then maybe do two veggie sides.
Chew more to eat less. Chewing is one of the most underrated skills and things each one of us can do. The optimum amount of chews per bite is 32. This will slow down your eating. Well, you will actually have improved digestion. You will absorb more nutrients from your food. You will create less digestive acid to break down the food.
And do not drink liquids with meals, because what people do is they put food in their mouth. They take two bites. They wash it down, and now they've got acid reflux.
So chew more to eat less, stay well-hydrated, look at menus before you get to the restaurant, order protein and fruits and vegetables, and stay away from the carbohydrates. And never use salad dressing at an airport restaurant.
JOAN WOODWARD: This is so much. So, Kristen, you're the cook. And, Matt, you're just not a cook. So what do you have in your pantry? What's a healthy kitchen refrigerator look like? What should that include? Matt, back to you.
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, so I will do minimal cooking. But I eat a lot of hummus, which is great on carrots. And in particular, there's this wonderful product that I discovered about five or six years ago that's known as either Korean sweet potatoes or Japanese sweet potatoes. You can find them at Whole Foods, quite satiating, quite good for you, and with a wonderful really kind of a very sweet taste, but different than sweet potato.
I eat-- I'll eat the steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast or Ezekiel cereal with almond milk. So there are ways to do it. And I think just also legumes, beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, you can buy them in a can. They're $1.19 for whatever, 12 or 16 ounces at Whole Foods. It doesn't have to be expensive. And it can be consumed or prepared very quickly.
I actually often travel with food when I-- just put it in the suitcase so it doesn't get caught by TSA and stay in hotels that have kitchens and prepare meals for myself.
JOAN WOODWARD: Wow. OK, Kristen, what does your refrigerator and pantry look like today?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: You can see my refrigerator. You can see my refrigerator. So I've got sprouts from the farmer's market. I've got eggs. I've got coconut yogurt. I've got chia pudding. I've got some miso, flaxseed, some Kerrygold butter.
I've made some soups and stews. I eat probably the way a lot of people eat. We do eat animal protein in our house. We make sure that a serving of protein is like a circle drawn on your fists. That's about as much as you need at a meal.
And then we have two vegetables always, and we do a lot of plants, so plant-based. But we still eat some cheese. And we still eat some dairy, other dairy products. We do enjoy-- not going to lie, we do enjoy some bacon with our eggs.
But we buy our eggs at the farmers market. And we buy our bacon from that guy who's at the farmers market too. So we invest a little more money in the quality of our food. And we eat all the food we buy, and we have a plan for it.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, I'm going to take some audience questions here. "What advice do you have for a working mom of two little kids, who has little time to cook and little cooking skills?" She's honest here. "It's a huge mountain to climb for me. Where do I start?" she says.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Well, you can get a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. You can get your veggies and have them prepped. If you have a microwave, you can get a silicone steamer. I'll show you mine.
This is a time-saver. It is a great way to-- now microwaves aren't great. I never had one until I moved into this condo. And now I can see why people do like them. But I do go in the other room when I turn my microwave on.
But you can quickly steam up vegetables in three minutes. So planning-- for a working mom who's trying to feed a family, it is key to set your week up on the weekend so that you've got some meals queued up and ready to go. You don't have to cook to eat healthy. Food assembly is all that's really required. And people can get lots of inspiration at The Culinary Cure, my website.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah, it's a fantastic website, The Culinary Cure. OK, another question coming in-- "What are your thoughts on sugar alternatives? So I know sugar is bad for me. I was told…” Don't shake your head because they're going to use it. So someone's going to use a sugar alternative. Is there any one of them that's good? Kristen, no?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: What I tell people-- and we're in the middle of the 21 Day Detox and Reset, which is my signature program. And I've been dealing with people having their sugar detox headaches.
I tell people, if you want to add a little sweetness to your coffee or your tea, maybe a little bit of honey or a little bit of maple syrup. So I like maple syrup. It's thin. It dissolves quickly. It gives you a little bit of sweetness.
But these artificial sweeteners change your ability to taste sweet. So the more we eat sweet, the more we crave sweet. And if you're using an artificial sweetener, it's still telling your body that you're getting something super sweet and starting that process. So just because it doesn't have calories doesn't mean it's OK to eat. Matt, you want to--
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah, Matt, weigh in here.
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, no, I think in terms of just-- when I say eating oatmeal, my sweetener are blueberries or mango or grapefruit. It's a little bit sour. But there are ways-- I think looking for ways to sweeten your food with, again, with natural foods.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: I think the big question is-- so for people who've been using artificial sweeteners, they are very addictive. So you want to start cutting back. So if you're addicted to Diet Coke, let's say, start cutting it with club soda and kind of weaning yourself off of that because it affects your ability to taste natural sweetness in your other foods.
So just start weaning yourself back a little bit and seeing if you can just start tasting more natural sweetness. That would be a great place to start.
JOAN WOODWARD: The maple syrup is better for me than Equal or a Splenda or any of that, right?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Yeah.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, another question coming in-- a lot of women over 50 asking lots of questions. So being a woman over 50. "Anything different that we should do now that we're 50-plus? Anything women should do differently than men?"
Matt, let's go to you first. Is there a playbook for being a male versus a female? What do you think about supplements, daily vitamins, probiotics? Throw that all out there.
MATTHEW REES: Yeah, I mean, there's a vast literature on supplements for men and women. And I would encourage people to explore it. Much of it shows that there is not great benefit from supplements. And the vast majority of the nutrients you need you should be getting from, again, a diet that is mostly plant-based, as Kristen talked about. And so that's what I would emphasize, is trying to focus less on what you can do to supplement your diet with pills and focus on actually eating real food.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, Kristen?
KRISTEN COFFIELD: There's a couple of supplements I do like. I think a probiotic is very helpful for most people and maybe take a couple of different types, 10 beneficial strains, 10 billion CFU count. Back to the sleep question, people who are struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, magnesium glycinate taken before bed can be very beneficial because it helps relax muscles.
And so a lot of people are a little bit deficient in magnesium because we're just not eating enough plants, and our soil is nutrient-depleted. And then the vitamin D3 and K2, you can get some little drops. And you can just put them in your lemon water in the morning. And that's going to be beneficial.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, first of all, this has been so interesting. And I want to invite you both back because the hour just completely flew by us. And I have a lot more questions for you. But I would urge everyone to go to the websites that we have both of our authors here.
Again, the book is still available. It's in the chat. If you haven't requested it, we will run out at some point. But thank you all, Matt, Kristen. This has just been amazing. We really appreciate you joining us.
KRISTEN COFFIELD: Thank you so much, Joan.
MATTHEW REES: Thank you, Joan. It was great.
JOAN WOODWARD: All right, folks, so next week, we're going to go back to insurance for the week of Wednesday at 1:00 Eastern time. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners and what's that all about. We're going to be joined by the CEO, Michael Consedine. And he's going to talk to us about the NAIC does for us in the industry and kind of a sneak peek under the hood there.
Wednesdays with Woodward (registered trademark) Webinar Series. Upcoming Webinars. February 1, Understanding Insurance Regulations: A Conversation with N A I C CEO Michael Consedine. February 15, Economic Outlook 2023 with Former White House Senior Economist Dr. LaVaughn Henry. Register, travelersinstitute.org.
And then on February 15, I'll be joined by former White House senior economist Dr. LaVaughn Henry. LaVaughn and I worked together on the House Budget Committee 25 years ago. We've been in touch. He was a Federal Reserve president of the Cincinnati Fed, again, worked in the White House, just a terrific, easy to understand economist, one of those.
So, folks, please continue to give us feedback in that survey function. We really do read every single comment you give us. And that informs who we invite on these shows. So let us know if you liked today's program.
Again, Matt and Kristen, I can't thank you enough. I'm going to restart my New Year's resolution today. So thank you all, be well, stay safe, and we'll see you next Wednesday.
Watch Replays: travelersinstitute.org. Connect, LinkedIn logo, Joan Kois Woodward. Take Our Survey: Link in Chat. Hashtag Wednesdays with Woodward. Logos for Travelers Institute (registered trademark). travelersinstitute.org.
Founder, FoodandHealthFacts.com; Senior Fellow, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business; Co-Author, Discovering Precision Health
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