Provision #786: We Are How We Eat

Laser Provision

After a week off during my annual vacation at the Chautauqua Institution, I’m back with an all new Provision as we wind up our series on optimizing wellness through paying attention to what, when, where, how, and why we eat. This conversation is far more than just a matter of physical well being. How we eat reflects and influences how we go through life. These things matter to body, mind, and spirit. If we want to be the best we can possibly be then it behooves us to pay attention to how we eat. Fail to see the connection? Read on to get a taste of how things might be better for you.

LifeTrek Provision

I received two kinds of responses to my short announcement last Sunday that I was taking the week off while enjoying my time at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York State. Some were celebrating (Good for you!) while others were mourning (Sad for me!). I empathize with both responses. My wife was proud of me for taking the week off, since I have so rarely done that. But I missed the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s good to be back in the saddle.

In the interest of full disclosure, there was another reason I took the week off: at the start of the week, my laptop died. One minute I was humming along just fine. The next minute, it was dead and gone. You can click on this link, if you want, to watch a 52-second YouTube video regarding Catastrophic Hard Drive Failures. It isn’t pretty.

That said, everything I have learned over the years as to the importance of backing up your data really paid off. Virtually nothing was lost because everything was backed up at home. And now, in the wake of my recent experience, I have instituted real-time backups in the cloud, using Dropbox. That would have helped me when I was on vacation. It’s free, simple, and effective. I encourage you to click on the link for Dropbox to learn more and to sign up yourself.

Redundancy and reserves are two interrelated coaching principles. Although my family and friends were not unhappy about my laptop dying, saying it was the universe’s way of getting me to actually take a vacation for a change, I would not have been able to relax if my data had been lost. Knowing it was safe at home made all the difference in the world. That knowledge lowered my stress and enabled me to enjoy myself. It was the key to actually having a vacation at all.

The same works in all areas of life. If we have no cushion to fall back on, if we are living on the edge • whether that be “paycheck-to-paycheck” or “uproar-to-uproar” • our stress increases and our health decreases. As coaches, we work with people to develop those cushions of redundancy and reserves. We do so not because we are cautious but because we are courageous. Having resources to fall back on enables people to stretch out, to help others, to be creative, and to take risks. Resources enable people to make more of a difference in life.

Which does not mean that one has to have a lot of money to make a big difference. We all know lovely stories of people from modest or even impoverished means who go on to distinguish themselves as heroes and to make a huge contribution in life. I think that’s what I most enjoy about the Olympics every four years. It’s not who wins or loses. It’s the stories of how people got to that level of excellence, often against all odds. Those stories fill me with emotion and inspire my soul.

If the stories that move me have a common thread, whether it be in the Olympics or in life, it’s the combination of talent, determination, and support. Those three always make for success, sooner or later. And of the three, nothing is more important than support. Without support, talent will be squandered and determination will fail. With support, all manner of things become possible.

And support takes many forms. Physical, financial, emotional, social, and spiritual support come immediately to mind. That’s what we heard in all those stories from the Olympics and that’s what comes back, over and over again, when people who make a difference in life talk about what enables them to do whatever it is they do. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both right on that score: no one gets there alone.

So make sure you have the redundancy and reserves to go forward with confidence and to become the best you can be. It may sound like a stretch to go from Dropbox to the Olympics, let alone to leaders around the globe, but they all share one thing in common: they provide and depend upon vast storehouses of redundancy and reserves in their quest to make life great.

Of all the storehouses that we depend upon, nothing is more important than health. You will, perhaps, remember the old adage: “Those who have their health have many wishes. Those who do not have their health have but one.” And health means so much more than personal, physical well being. Health means psychological, social, spiritual, and global well being. It all adds up together. When any one part suffers, every part suffers. It is a delicate balance that we attend to each and every day.

Recently I watched the movie, Vanishing of the Bees. Here is a synopsis of the movie from their website:

Honeybees have been mysteriously disappearing across the planet, literally vanishing from their hives. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this phenomenon has brought beekeepers to crisis in an industry responsible for producing apples, broccoli, watermelon, onions, cherries and a hundred other fruits and vegetables. Commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables.

Vanishing of the Bees follows commercial beekeepers David Hackenberg and Dave Mendes as they strive to keep their bees healthy and fulfill pollination contracts across the U.S. The film explores the struggles they face as the two friends plead their case on Capital Hill and travel across the Pacific Ocean in the quest to protect their honeybees.

Filming across the US, in Europe, Australia and Asia, this documentary examines the alarming disappearance of honeybees and the greater meaning it holds about the relationship between mankind and mother earth. As scientists puzzle over the cause, organic beekeepers indicate alternative reasons for this tragic loss. Conflicting options abound and after years of research, a definitive answer has not been found to this harrowing mystery.

Although a definitive answer may not have been found, Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, summarizes eloquently a major factor and what we can do about it at the end of the movie. Pollan states:

We don’t know exactly what is responsible (for Colony Collapse Disorder). Is it a particular virus? Is it a particular pesticide? There are conflicting theories. But in the long run we know exactly what’s responsible and that is these huge monocultures in American agriculture, and world agriculture, that are making bees lives very difficult and creating conditions where they are vulnerable to disease and exposed to pesticides.

In our culture scientists have the last word, the ultimate authority, in commenting on matters having to do with biology. But there are other forms of knowledge, very powerful forms of knowledge, about biology. There is local knowledge, there is the knowledge of beekeepers, there is the knowledge of people who are just really great observers of the natural world. We should listen because very often traditional knowledge gets there before the scientists.

My take on colony collapse is that is is one of the signs, the really unmistakable sign, that our food system is “unsustainable.” That word that we all throw around but that means something very specific, which is to say, “It’s destroying the conditions upon which it depends. It has internal contradictions that will lead to breakdown.”

We don’t have to wait for the government to act on some of these issues. Even though it’s important for the government to act, we can do something today. We get to vote three times a day for what we’re going to eat and what we’re not going to eat. And both decisions are equally important. So that voting with your fork is a very powerful thing. And by doing so you can nurture the food systems that will take better care of the bees.

Life becomes “unsustainable” when we lack redundancy and reserves. In agriculture those equate to polycultures (many different species growing together in one area) and preserves (protected areas for wildlife, flora, and fauna). Without these key ingredients, the system will indeed collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions.

It’s encouraging to think that we can make a difference by voting with our forks. It’s also sobering to realize the consequences of our dietary habits. What, when, where, and how we eat is not just a matter of personal preference. Our choices make a difference to the trajectory of our own lives and the future of our planet as well.

That’s why I and many others choose to navigate through our Planetary Predicaments by eating as much fresh, local, organic, and sustainable food as possible. By eating close to home, we not only do a body good, we do our heart, mind, and soul good as well. By connecting with life in this way, by paying attention to the food choices we make throughout the day, and by seeing the deep value of those choices for our own health and the health of others, we become more physically fit, spiritually minded and socially active.

I hope you will join me in this quest. No one does it perfectly and I make more than my fair share of exceptions. But every time I choose to eat something that is not recommended in the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype, I am at least aware of what is going on. And awareness is the beginning of change.

So think about why you are eating the way you are eating. Look at the effects on your well being and the well being of others. Compare how you are eating to your intentions. Then do your best to put your values where your mouth is.

Coaching Inquiries: On a scale of 0-10, how important would you say it is to pay attention to how you eat? Why didn’t you pick a lower number? What would make it a higher number? What changes would you make if it how you ate was really, really important to you? What if your life depended on it? What if the life of the planet depend on it? What is one, easy step in the right direction you could take today?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

Great to read about your time at Chautauqua. Hope you’re more radical as a result! And how wonderful to celebrate your dad’s 90th! Continue blessing.

Good for you (to take that vacation) and be happy in life.

I woke up on Sunday morning and went to my computer to read my weekly Provision and I was sad that it wasn’t there. It has become quite a ritual for me and my husband. Can’t wait until you are back next week!

I’ve known you for almost 40 years and it’s been fun watching your professional life grow over the years, at a distance, once a week with Provisions. You•ve done a great job! 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #777: Libelous Legumes


LifeTrek Provision

Read the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and you would think that everyone should go out and start eating beans, peas, soy products, peanuts, and other legumes. “A healthy eating pattern emphasizes nutrient-dense foods such as beans and peas.” “Foods and nutrient to increase: dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.” “Plant sources of protein include beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products.” “Beans and peas are unique foods. They are excellent sources of protein, dietary fiber, and other nutrients such as iron, zinc, potassium, and folate.”

With claims like that, what’s not to like! Unfortunately, such health claims are as libelous as saying there are “0 grams of Trans Fat per serving” in a product containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. That’s just not true. The USDA allows products with less than 0.5 grams of Trans Fat per preserving to be round down to 0 grams of Trans Fat on the nutrition, but that rounding is a lie. Any product containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contains Trans Fats, which are known to raise cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease even more than saturated animal fats. To choose between two evils, butter is definitely better than any margarine containing Trans Fats.

Although things have improved when it comes to the use of hydrogenated oils in the food industry over the past five years, as consumers have become more educated and cities like New York have banned them altogether in restaurant cooking, we are hardly out of the woods. Here are the Top 10 foods that still contain hydrogenated oils and Trans Fats, many of which are derived from soybeans and other legumes:

  1. Most stick margarines
  2. Many cake mixes, like Bisquick
  3. Many soups, like Ramen noodles
  4. Most deep-fried fast foods like French Fries and KFC Original Recipe chicken
  5. Many frozen foods with crusts like Mrs. Smith’s Apple Pie and Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie
  6. Most packaged baked goods, like donuts and pound cake
  7. Most fried potato chips and crackers like Wheat Thins
  8. Many breakfast cereals and energy bars like Quaker Granola bars
  9. Many cookies and candies like Chips  Ahoy! and Baby Ruth bars
  10. Many nondairy creamers, dips, and toppings like Cool Whip

Any health claims associated with foods containing hydrogenated oils,  partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, or Trans Fats, in any amount, are not to be believed. Those foods should be avoided as much as possible and many have said the same when it comes to eating beans, peas, soy products, peanuts, and other legumes. These foods often masquerade as health foods, or as healthy alternatives to more dangerous foods, but those claims do not hold up to careful study and scrutiny.

All legumes contain antinutrients, such as phytic acid, allergens, lectins, saponins, protease inhibitors, and other health-risky toxins. That’s especially true when beans are eaten raw or undercooked. Undercooked red kidney beans are well known, for example, to cause severe gastrointestinal and even heart problems. That’s why imports of red kidney beans into South Africa were legally prohibited until about fifteen years ago, because of their “potential toxicity to humans.” The same goes for castor beans, from which the deadly poison ricin is derived (a dose as small as a few grains of salt can kill an adult human).

Perhaps that’s why humans had an aversion to legumes for most of human history. Our ancestors knew they were bad for us. Of all the foods people eat that have not been invented by modern science, such as those hydrogenated vegetable oils, beans and other legumes were the last to make their way into the human diet. It was only a few thousand years ago that people started fermenting and processing them in ways that made them palatable and apparently nutritious. But looks can be deceiving. Just because we don’t die right away, legumes still take a toll on our health and well being.

In last week’s Provision I wrote about Trojan Foods and explored these dangers, paying special attention to the high concentration of toxic lectins in grains and legumes. If you want to know more about that, I recommend Loren Cordain’s new book: The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young. While making the case for not eating legumes at all, Cordain observes that peas and lentils seem to be much less toxic than kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans, soybeans, and peanuts (to mention only a few). If you want to eat legumes, properly cooked peas and lentils would seem to be the way to go.

It may come as a surprise to see soybeans on the list of foods to be avoided or minimized. They are often promoted as healthy and many athletes use soy protein powders to supplement their protein intake. Yet the initial enthusiasm for soy as a health food has waned since multiple studies found unclear or insufficient evidence that soy can prevent heart disease, relieve menopausal symptoms, or prevent osteoporosis. Although the FDA has yet to withdraw its 1999 ruling that allowed such claims to be made on foods containing soy, that day may yet come. Even the American Heart Association has notified physicians, in 2006, that soy is unlikely to prevent heart disease.

If anything, foods like soy and other legumes might well come with warning labels as to their possible adverse health effects. Those effect may not be obvious right away, but they do cause incremental damage which builds up slowly over time. By the time we find ourselves suffering from a chronic disease, we may not even be aware that our diets have been contributing to our problems. We may just figure, “We’ll that’s the way it goes. It’s a genetic problem that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life, until it disables or kills me.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can clean up our diets and, in the process, we can save our lives.

What led to the FDA’s health claim was not that soy was so wonderful but that the meat people eat is so fatty and distressed. What’s the lesser evil? What has fewer antinutrients? Soy protein or commercial meat? It’s hard to say, but if I had to choose one or the other (and fortunately I don’t), I would go with the meat. Better still: I would go with wild fish, skinless, organic cage-free poultry, or lean meat from local, pasture-fat, and humanely raised animals such as buffalo. These proteins are much easier for human beings to digest and thrive upon.

One of the complications when it comes to soy protein is that most of the soybeans in the USA, and increasingly in the world, are of the genetically-modified or GMO variety. The four most common, genetically-modified foods are soy, corn, canola (for canola oil), and cotton (for cottonseed oil). Even though the FDA has banned some genetically modified foods from the marketplace, because they cause disease, disability, and/or death, the FDA has allowed other GMO foods to enter the food supply. It’s a grand experiment and only time will tell as to how that experiment will turn out. I read labels and avoid GMO foods altogether, when I become aware of them.

For vegetarians or or others who want to continue eating soy, the time-honored practice of fermenting soybeans before crafting them into foods such as miso, tempeh, and natto is probably the best way to go. Fermenting means that the soybeans have been predigested by bacteria, making them more digestible and deactivating some of the antinutrients. Tempeh can be crumbled into lightly-steamed vegetables to add more protein and taste. That said, we frequently stir-fry vegetables at our house and enjoy them just without any added protein at all.

non-fermented soy foods include edamame, tofu, soymilk, soy burgers, soy nuts, soy flour, soy grits, texturized soy protein, hydrolyzed soy protein, soy protein powder, and soy protein isolate. Many soy and tamari sauces are also non-fermented. These foods are best kept to a minimum or not at all.

That is especially true when it comes to infant formulas, which are often made from soy as an alternative to dairy. Infants are even more susceptible than adults to the antinutrients, allergens, and hormones in soy protein. Their perfect food, of course, is human breast milk. When that is not available, I would look for non-soy and non-dairy alternatives. I would also avoid feeding children a diet that is high in soy protein, for the same reasons mentioned above concerning the health-risks to adults, amplified by their young, developmental stage in life.

So when it comes to the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype, beans are pretty far down the list. They haven’t disappeared altogether, but their quantities are limited and their qualities are controlled. By staying with peas, lentils, and fermented soybean products, even vegetarians can get the protein they need with a minimum of risks and a maximum of benefits.

Coaching Inquiries: How many and want kinds of legumes do you include in your diet? How often do you eat them? When you eat soybeans, are they fermented or non-fermented? Do they come from genetically modified sources? What are your thoughts now as to any changes you might like to make? What other information do you want? Who would you want to talk with in the quest for wellness?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

I really enjoyed your last Provision on Trojan Foods. Gave me lots to think about! I have already forwarded it to several others. Keep up the good work. I read these every week.

Your new website for the work you are doing with schools and school leaders,, really looks great. Congratulations!

Your new website not only looks great, it is very well organized and very helpful to schools and anyone interested in working on school transformation. Thanks.

To Bob and the team at Center for School Transformation: Congratulations on a special website and project! I’ll be following and reading all new developments in your newsletters and emails. 

Your new website is really beautiful — reflecting the beauty in you! 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #769: Water Clarity

Laser Provision

When I first wrote about Water Rights almost six years ago, I received so many replies and requests that I wrote a follow-up Provision on the same subject. This time around was no different! There’s obviously a lot of interest here, so I’ve written this Provision in Q&A format, grabbing questions and comments from both editions. The bottom line is that water benefits us on many levels, including the physical, mental, and spiritual. From the waters of the womb to the decomposition of the grave, water makes life possible. The better we connect with and treat water, the better life will be • so I hope you will join me for a few more reflections on the subject.

LifeTrek Provision

It’s been said that getting people to change the way they eat is harder than getting people to change their religion. I’m not sure about that, but I do know that writing about health and wellness is a surefire way to get a surfeit of reader replies. Everyone has an opinion! And for that I am thankful. Given the importance of proper hydration to optimal wellness, I’m happy to spend a little more time on the subject of drinking water. Let me know what you think!

Question: To say that the human body is more than 50% water and that, therefore, we should drink only water begs an obvious question. Everything that we drink and eat is more than 50% water, so why limit our fluid choices to water alone? What makes water better than other drinks?

Response: It is true that most drinks and foods are more than 50% water, enabling those who drink a lot of other beverages or eat a lot of soup, for example, to reduce their water consumption. But this does not elevate other beverages above water from the viewpoint of health and wellness. Other beverages add other things, including calories and often artificial carbonation, caffeine, sweeteners, colors, or alcohol. These additives should be kept to a minimum. Clean, fresh water helps to suppress the appetite and cleanse the body. Drink at least two quarts (1.9 liters) per day.

Comment: Another interesting post. Couple comments though. Water needs, as beverage intake, vary widely with the individual and situation. Setting an arbitrary 2 qt or ounces per body weight intake does a disservice to people and is misleading, even potentially dangerous. Hyponatremia does occur. Someone eating a lot of meat and grains, or salty chips for that matter, will need a lot more water than someone eating a lot of veggies, etc. Desert dwellers in summer vs. Pacific Northwest in winter.

The other thing is the “liquid calories go unrecognized” idea. This is partly true, based on the physiological response to extracted, concentrated fructose in all the sodas and juices people drink. It is totally untrue in the case of soups which can contain quite a few calories, though much less per volume or per pound than solid food. Soup consumed as an appetizer has been shown to cause people to generally consume fewer calories total at a meal, precisely because the added liquid volume helps trigger their satiety mechanism!

Response: The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake of fluid for people living in temperate climates is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) for men and 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) for women. My water recommendation is a little under that to take into account the fluid in cooked foods, such as soup. You’re right that soup, which I would not classify as a beverage, does register nutritionally and can be part of a healthy diet. The challenge with commercial soups, both canned and boxed, is their high sodium content. Look for no-salt added or low-sodium varieties if you don’t prepare your own.

Comment: Thanks for your Provision on drinking water from the tap. Some time ago I vowed only to drink tap water and then somehow along the way I find I buy the odd bottle of water here and there. I watched the YouTube video on what happens to plastic bottles and was appalled that recycled plastic goes to India to accumulate there and contaminate the environment. I shall forward this to all my friends.

Response: This was an area that I did not emphasize strongly enough six years ago. There is reportedly a trash vortex the size of the State of Texas circling in the Pacific Ocean. You can find plenty of YouTube Videos on that as well. Although there are those who dispute the magnitude of the problem, no one disagrees that plastic does not belong in the ocean at all and that the extent of the problem is increasing rather than decreasing. It behooves us, then, to reduce or eliminate our use of disposable plastic products such as bottles and bags.

Question: I enjoyed your article on water rights and read it with keen interest. I’ve been trying to consume more water in my everyday life and the article substantiates my need to do just that. I absolutely agree that drinking something sweet triggers hunger in the brain, and even if the beverage is no or low calorie • it will have an indirect effect on overall consumption. I loved how you eluded to the history of water availability and how that’s changed over time. I’m wondering if you have any information on the risks of bottled water with regards to the plastic contaminants? I’ve read that it may be dangerous. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Response: Beyond the issue of plastic waste disposal (plastic does not biodegrade so all of the plastic ever produced is still in our environment today), plastic bottles also have the potential to leach contamination into their contents. If you want to rule out that risk completely, you should stay with glass or stainless steel containers. A good source for stainless steel water bottles is

If and when you do use plastic containers, avoid those that are classified as Types #3 (polyvinyl chloride products), #6 (Styrofoam), and #7 (polycarbonate products) by the American Chemistry Council (look for the number in the small triangle on the bottom of the container). These plastics leach more dangerous chemicals into their contents than those that are classified as Types #1, #2, #4, or #5. It’s especially important for pregnant women and infants using baby bottles to avoid plastic Type #7, since this plastic can leach a hormone disrupter known as Bisphenol A (or BPA). To learn more, see this Sierra Club Article.

Type #1 is the plastic used for the ubiquitous, clear, thin water bottle sold by brand names around the globe. These bottles are fine at point of purchase but should not be washed and reused. Washing these bottles with detergents or water hot enough to kill bacteria (such as in the dishwasher), breaks down the plastic making it more of a leach hazard. Failing to use detergents or very hot water will allow bacteria to multiply over time. Type #1 bottles are meant to be recycled after a single use.

Types #2, #4, and #5 bottles are safer for repeated washings, even with strong detergents and very hot water. Like reading the ingredient labels on processed foods, reading the resin identification codes on the bottom of plastic bottles is a good habit to develop.

Question: After admonishing us to drink nothing but “clean, fresh water,” you go on to mention green tea, yerba mate, rooibos, and even alcohol. What happened to my Cup o’ Joe in the morning?! I love my coffee.

Response: Sorry about that! My inclusion of green tea, yerba mate, and rooibos was an attempt to include some calorie-free beverages for the sake of variety. Clean, fresh water is still number one. Rooibos tea • the “tea” that comes from the South African red bush • has no caffeine, no calories, little tannic acid, and plenty of antioxidants. That makes it, along with other herbal teas, a perfect complement to clean, fresh water. Try it on ice for a great summer cooler.

Green tea and yerba mate contain caffeine and mateine respectively, although in significantly lower amounts than coffee. Caffeine is a diuretic that can increase urine production and thereby work against hydration. To eliminate the caffeine or mateine, steep for 30-60 seconds and then pour off the water before steeping again. Decaffeinating in this way is a safe water process with personalized quality control. If you choose to drink the caffeine, keep your total for the day to under 300 mg • which amounts to about 6 cups of green tea or yerba mate.

Coffee can give you that much caffeine in a single cup, depending upon brewing method and strength, which is why I tend to avoid coffee altogether. While working in an environment with a bottomless coffee pot, I succumbed to caffeine’s mildly addictive qualities and ended up drinking way too many cups per day. That’s a problem. For those who can avoid creeping up on their coffee consumption, recent research suggests that a cup or two per day will do you no harm and may even be protective against certain maladies (such as type 2 diabetes, gall stones, colon cancer, liver disease, and Parkinson’s disease). So enjoy, if you like. Just remember to be careful about what you put in your coffee or tea. Drink no calories is still the rule.

That relates to why it’s best to keep alcohol to a minimum. The alleged health benefits of alcohol are not sufficient to start drinking especially considering the very real calories that are in alcoholic drinks. If you choose to indulge, limit your consumption to one (women) or two (men) drinks per day.

Question: Thank you for all your magnificent Provisions. What do you think about replacing sports drinks with a mix of water, baking soda and lemon? How much baking soda per liter? Thanks again for your job.

Response: That looks like the formula for a cleaning solution or a bottle rocket rather than a sports drink! Seriously, it lacks at least one important ingredient: potassium. It also lacks energy, which is important for endurance exercises lasting longer than an hour. Having never tried this formula myself, I am not able to comment on the ratios from personal experience. Most of the recipes I have found include no more than 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per liter. To get some potassium, you may want to add 1/2 cup of orange juice or mashed banana. To add energy, you may want to include some honey or Agave syrup.

My own preference is to mix a high energy electrolyte drink powder with egg white protein powder in a 4:1 ratio. The high energy electrolyte drink powder that I use is HEED Sports Drink by Hammer Nutrition. It contains complex carbohydrates (primarily maltodextrin and xylitol), a complete electrolyte profile (including sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and chromium), as well as supplemental nutrients (three amino acids, Vitamin B6, and stevia). I prefer organic egg white protein, rather than whey or soy, because of its digestibility and complete amino acid profile (including cysteine). Recent studies have documented the value of consuming carbohydrates and protein in a 4:1 ratio for endurance exercises lasting longer than two hours.

Question: Your last Provision was awesome! You couldn’t have said it any better. All that talk about bottled water being polluted, the facts about the artificial sweeteners, and the fact that liquid calories don’t register but equal fat accumulation. Good stuff.  Water is my drink of choice also. I drink 1 to 1 1/2 gallons a day, and other than my 2 daily shots of Goji juice, I drink no other beverage.

I love the fact that you mention Stevia too. I am a huge proponent of it, and not just in powder form. I, along with two close friends, have an organic garden. We have a Stevia plant in it. It is fantastic. I take 4 or 5 leaves, chop them up, and put them in my salads. You would be shocked as to what kind of flavor this adds. There are also a couple of other good, natural sugar substitutes that don’t cause a blood sugar spike. They are Agave, Lo Han, and Xylitol. Have you heard of any of these?

Response: First, hats off to you for growing your own Stevia. I grow that myself and enjoy putting a few leaves in a bottle of sun tea. As for the other natural sugar substitutes, I have tried Agave and Xylitol, but not Lo Han. Agave syrup, which looks like honey and comes from succulent cacti by the same name, is not low calorie, but is absorbed more slowly by the body than honey or other sugars. Xylitol and Lo Han, like Stevia, are both low-calorie sweeteners derived from natural sources. Given that I hardly use sweeteners at all, I will probably just stay with Stevia.

Question: What peer reviewed journals do you base your recommendations on?

Response: I do not start my research with peer reviewed journals, although I do end up there, at least on occasion. I review the following health and wellness newsletters and magazines on a regular basis (they appear in alphabetical order): Consumer Reports On Health by Consumers Union, Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Heart Letter, Health Magazine, Nutrition Action Health Letter by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Peak Running Performance, Runner’s World Magazine, Self Healing by Dr. Andrew Weil, Spirituality & Health Magazine, and the Washington Post Health Section.

When I find a topic that interests me, I do additional research on line • often pursuing the peer reviewed references that appear in the more popular sources cited above. The problem with many peer reviewed journal sites is that they carry a pretty hefty price tag. The Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, is free for physicians but costs the general public $125 US per year for an on-line only subscription. Often, however, peer reviewed articles circulate in the public domain, and I use Google Scholar to find many of those.

Beyond journal articles, newsletters, and magazines, I also base my recommendations on books and experience. The books are listed in LifeTrek Provisions, so that you can keep an eye on what I am reading. My experience includes significant weight loss back in 1998, with successful maintenance ever since. I also teach on the faculty Wellcoaches, the leader in training health, fitness, and wellness coaches and delivery of wellness coaching services to physicians, consumers, corporations, and health plans. It’s a rich collaboration that helps to keep me in the know.

Comment: Thanks for your Provision on water rights. Don’t forget • water is sacramental!

Response: Thanks for the reminder. If “sacramental” means that water has the power to connect us with the sacred, then I can hardly imagine anyone arguing the point. Who has not been refreshed by drinking water, buoyed up by swimming in water, or inspired by seeing a large body of water, at least on occasion. Because of its connection to the source of all life, water has unique, spiritual, and energetic qualities. No wonder so many religions include water rituals as part of their traditions!

Although his research is often ridiculed, it would not surprise me that water has at least some of the qualities ascribed to it by the Japanese author, Masaru Emoto. His work involves taking pictures of frozen ice crystals from water that has been treated with a variety of chemical and intentional processes. Emoto’s conclusion is that clean, natural water surrounded by love and gratitude makes the most beautiful crystals. Things work the same way, he argues, when it comes to human beings. The water in us seeks and responds to love and gratitude, connecting us with the cosmos, the marvels of nature, and life itself in energetically positive ways.

That sure sounds sacramental to me. May we all find the clean, fresh water for life!

Coaching Inquiries: What place do love and gratitude have in your life? How could consuming more and better water benefit you both physically and spiritually? Where are there bodies of water, or streams of moving water, that you could look at, get into, and / or otherwise connect with? Who could become your water body for life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

I look forward to your Provisions, they have given me so much over the past years to add to my resources for my patients. I am a psychotherapist, LCSW, an exercise physiologist, MS and a yoga therapist (graduate of the American Viniyoga Institute with Gary Kraftsow). I provide counseling to the military and also to clients in rural mental health clinics.

I am a friend of Margaret Moore, the founder of Wellcoaches, which is how I found you. I want to add to your resources by adding a book that made a huge impact on me last year (and on my husband who legally fights KAFO’s and processed food). This book provides us with the latest research on the market about our food industry and stress on our bodies. It is called Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Shreiber MD, PhD

His research documentation is unprecedented. He had brain cancer and researched it on himself for 20 years (this book is a fast read: his father was the famous French writer). Unfortunately, he died last summer at 50 years old. I hope that you can enjoy it and use it with your clients as well. I am sorry about the recent loss of your mother, thank you for sharing your loss with all of us.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #768: Water Rights

Laser Provision

Good nutrition starts with good hydration. The human body is more water than anything else, so it behooves us to stay adequately hydrated with clean, fresh water. In most environments, that’s easier said than done. Either clean, fresh water is not available or it is eclipsed by other liquids. For anyone who wants to reach and maintain both optimal weight and wellness, other liquids are best kept to a minimum. Surround yourself with dependable sources of clean, fresh water and drink at least two quarts (1.9 liters) per day • that’s a primary input for health.

LifeTrek Provision

We’re ready to turn our attention to the specifics of the Optimal Wellness Prototype, which includes seven inputs, seven outputs, and benevolence as the throughput of them all. I want to thank my colleagues, friends, and readers of LifeTrek Provisions for your continued comments and suggestions as to both the value and the expression of the prototype. It is a work in progress, and I expect it will continue to evolve as we work on it together in the weeks and months to come.

The inputs begin with the source of life itself: water. If planet earth was any closer or further away from the sun, life would not exist because water would not exist simultaneously in all three forms: gas, liquid, and solid. It is the abundant mix of water vapor, liquid water, and ice on planet earth that gave rise to life and continues to support life in all its manifold forms. The ancient writings do well to portray this dynamic in their creation accounts. Before the earth had form and fullness, it had deep water. That’s where it all began.

Many people are surprised to learn that human beings are more water than anything else. We are called to life in the waters of the womb, and at birth our bodies are almost 80% water. As we age, we dehydrate (that’s part of the reason we shrink in height over time). By middle age, we are about 60% water. By old age, we are closer to 50% water. When we dry out completely, we return like dust to the earth.

From this vantage point, human beings can be viewed as ambulatory and sentient sacks of water. It’s no wonder, then, that optimal wellness depends upon our staying adequately hydrated with clean, fresh water. With water, we can live for weeks without food. Without water, we can live for only a matter of days. That’s because water is the medium for all metabolic activity. It is also a lubricant for muscles and joints and a coolant for our bodies. It is truly the source and sustenance of life itself.

How much water we need is a matter of intense debate. Many have adopted the mantra of following your thirst: when you are thirsty, drink water. Others have recommended a minimum volume of water per day, such as 2 quarts or 1.9 liters. I tend to follow the latter course, since I find that drinking water routinely throughout the day assists me to not over eat. If I wait until I am thirsty, I find it is often too late to have that effect.

The key is to drink water rather than other beverages with calories. It is well documented that liquid calories do not register with the body. Researchers have demonstrated that when people eat calories before a meal, they decrease how much they eat at the meal. When people drink calories before a meal, they eat as much as ever. Liquid calories are off the radar screen because they do not create a sense of stomach fullness. They pass on through and fail to satisfy, even though the body absorbs the calories and converts them to fat when drunk to excess.

That’s why I try to drink no calories on a day to day basis. They make it harder, rather than easier, to maintain my optimal body weight. This includes all forms of liquid calories: soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices and drinks, milk, milk substitutes, creamers, and alcohol to name only the most common. They may taste good, but they are not good to taste. It is best to eliminate, or at least to minimize, them all.

Drinking clean, fresh water is ideal for optimal wellness but it is easier said than done. Early explorers of North America marveled over the abundance of flowing, potable water in comparison to the often limited and polluted water supplies of the Old World, from whence they came, but the growth of population and industry quickly changed all that. The once clean waters of North America came to harbor contaminants and diseases, along with virtually everywhere else in the world. Drinking untested or untreated water is just not smart.

The development of effective water treatment and sanitation may well have done more to improve public health and wellness than any other single factor. 6,000 years ago civilizations were already working to improve the taste, clarity, and odor of drinking water. It wasn’t until relatively recent times, however, that people gained an understanding as to the sources and effects of drinking water contaminants, especially those that were not visible to the naked eye. With the development of microbial germ theory, in the 19th century, new standards and purification methods were established for improving water quality.

In the 20th century, these standards became even higher forcing the methods to become even more sophisticated. People started adding chlorine and ozone to water, for example, in order to kill bacteria. They also started filtering for new chemical contaminants being generated, discharged, and leaked into the environment by modern industry and agriculture. Many communities also started to add fluoride in order to prevent tooth decay. 

These efforts notwithstanding, multiple studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s revealed widespread water-quality problems. In the USA, that led to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, with significant amendments in 1986 and 1996, administered by the Environmental protection Agency (EPA). These Acts have improved things, but not enough for optimal wellness.

That’s why bottled water and home water filtration systems have become booming businesses. Unfortunately, bottled water • a $10 billion business in the USA alone • is not necessarily any better and may be worse than tap water. It is certainly less well regulated than the public water supply and it comes with a heavy environmental load both in the manufacturing and disposal of all that plastic. Think 1-2 million tons per year. If you want the whole story in about eight minutes, check out this YouTube video from

Research by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others has documented the water-quality problems of bottled water. In 1999 they documented that one brand of “spring water,” for example, “whose label pictured a lake and mountains, actually came from a well in an industrial facility’s parking lot, near a hazardous waste dump, and periodically was contaminated with industrial chemical as levels above FDA standards.” There’s nothing illegal about that. Until we have a “certified safe” standard for bottled water, comparable to the “organic” standard for food, it really is a matter of buyer beware.

That’s why I prefer to drink tap water that has been additionally filtered or distilled. Additional filtering or distilling raises the bar as to water quality beyond what public water supplies are able to maintain. There are many different home systems and they each have their pros and cons.

Distilling represents the absolute standard of purity. The boiling and condensing of water removes virtually all bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, and other organic and inorganic contaminants generating a pH-neutral beverage that has no effect on the body’s acid/base balance. The process uses a significant amount of electricity and takes time to distill, so most home systems come with reservoirs of 1-5 gallons.

These limitations make filtering a more practical and attractive option for most people. The simplest systems are the ones that attach to existing faucets, with valves that allow easy switching from filtered water for drinking and cooking to unfiltered water for cleaning. The best filters of this sort remove not only off-tastes, odors, lead, chlorine, copper, mercury, and other metals, but also pesticides, herbicides, industrial pollutants as well as chloroform and cysts like cryptosporidium and giardia. Such systems are available for less than $50.

More elaborate and expensive filtration systems are installed under the sink, with filtered water coming out through a separate faucet. These systems usually come with reservoirs, making for a faster water-flow rate, and require less frequent changing of the filters.

The under-sink filtration system that comes closest to the quality of distilled water involves multiple filters including one to trap particles, one to trap organic chemicals and chlorination, as well as one with a reverse-osmosis membrane that pulls the water through a thin film to remove not only pollutants but also the smallest microbe known. This system uses no electricity, but it pours as much as 5 gallons of water down the drain for every 1 gallon of filtered water as it pulls water through the composite membrane. This is the system that I use, along with a whole-house sediment filter.

In addition to drinking water filters, there are also shower filters to remove chlorine from wash water. The absorption of chlorine through the skin is a matter of concern for many people.

No filtration system is perfect, but they all improve the quality of tap water as long as you follow directions and change the filters regularly. Once the quality issue is dealt with, the real challenge for many people is to actually drink the water. Once, as I was ordering breakfast • water, green tea, banana, blueberries, and plain oatmeal • I overheard the table next to me ordering French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, and Diet Coke. “I never drink the water,” the fellow ordering explained to his fishing buddy, “Diet Coke is better for you.”

I beg to differ. Although Diet Coke meets the test of drinking virtually no calories, the artificial carbonation, caffeine, sweeteners, and colors pose their own set of health hazards. As a general rule, I am suspicious of our ability to improve on nature-made when it comes to the input side of the equation. Artificial sweeteners, in particular, not only pose health risks to which some people are more susceptible than others, they also serve to trigger food cravings not unlike the sugary sodas they were meant to replace. That makes them doubly bad for health and wellness.

I have come to stop using sweeteners in beverages altogether. I drink almost nothing but water, unsweetened tea, and an occasional cup of unsweetened coffee. That said, I know many people would be hard pressed to follow suit. If that sounds like you, then you may want to consider Stevia as a natural, low-calorie sweetener. It comes from a South American plant and has been used safely and extensively for decades in many countries, such as Japan. Due more to political pressure than scientific evidence, Stevia has not been sold as a sweetener but as a supplement in many countries.

Thankfully, that is beginning to change and you can increasingly find green packs of Stevia alongside the artificial sweeteners: pink for saccharin, blue for aspartame, and yellow for sucralose. Let’s be clear: no artificial sweetener is good for human health and consumption. They are invented foods and should be avoided as much as possible. That’s true not only because of their health side effects but also because of how they affect our appetites. The taste of something sweet tends to make us hungry. As a result, even if the drink itself does not contain calories, it may cause us to eat more calories than we should. At a time when the sales of artificial sweeteners are at an all-time high, so too is overweight, obesity, and chronic disease. The connection is more than a coincidence.

Drinking plain water has the opposite correlation. The more water people drink, the less overweight they tend to be. Ice water has the special quality of actually burning calories, since it takes energy for the body to melt the ice after it has been ingested. If someone were to drink a gallon of ice water every day for a year, with no other changes to their diet, they would lose ten pounds just from the melting-ice factor. Ice-cold or not, drinking sufficient quantities of water on a regular basis throughout the day helps to avoid overeating.

In recent years, medical authorities have become concerned not only about the problems of dehydration but also about the problems of over hydration or water intoxication. The latter condition • called hyponatremia • develops primarily in thin people who are sweating profusely for extended periods of time while drinking nothing but water. Since sweat contains sodium, the replacement of sweat by water alone can dilute the sodium levels of blood plasma to critical levels. The condition can be fatal.

As a result, this is one case where it may be good to drink some calories (or at least some electrolytes including sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium). During periods of vigorous exercise that last longer than an hour, consuming calories and electrolytes on a regular basis throughout the duration of the activity can avoid problems. How much to consume depends upon many factors, including ambient air temperature and perceived exertion level. The more you sweat, the more you need to drink. One cup of electrolyte-rich fluid every 30 minutes is usually sufficient to avoid both dehydration and over hydration.

Apart from this exception, it’s best to stay with clean, fresh water as our beverage of choice. Avoid artificial carbonation, sweeteners, and colors. If, for reasons of personal preference and taste, you want something other than water, I recommend tea as the next best alternative. I drink several cups of green tea, yerba mate, and/or rooibos per day. When steeped for 3-5 minutes, these teas contains healthy antioxidants. Green tea and yerba mate also contain caffeine, which can be removed by steeping for 30-60 seconds and then pouring off the water before steeping again. Decaffeinating your own tea in this way is the safest water process I know.

Many people like to drink alcoholic beverages and one or two drinks per day can be consumed without ill effect apart, once again, from the calories. Some studies have suggested a health benefit to the regular, moderate consumption of alcohol. The health benefits are not strong enough to qualify alcohol as a health food, however, and no one should start drinking to reap its alleged benefits. In addition to being a high-calorie and high-cost beverage, alcohol’s intoxicants are a slippery slope that get many people in trouble.

The bottom line is to make clean, fresh water your beverage of choice. Organizing your life to make it so is the first, best step you can take for optimal health and wellness.

Coaching Inquiries: What are your beverages of choice? How could you decrease the consumption of other liquids and increase the consumption of clean, fresh water? Do you filter or distill your drinking water? What systems could you put in place that would making drinking water an easier choice?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


I sure enjoy your newsletters. Good to meet you last year in Taiwan. 

I read your stuff with great interest. Thanks for your contribution.

I enjoyed your podcast with Choice Literacy. Well done! 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #767: Better Nutritional Guidelines

Laser Provision

In today’s Provision we look at the details of why the official 2010 Dietary Recommendations for Americans read the way they do. They’ve come a long way since their last revision in 2005, but they are still limited by the mass audience for which they are written and the vested interests behind the food industry. If you want to stand out from the crowd, if you want to do better with your own health and wellness than most of the other people on the planet, then you may want to read through this Provision. Different results require different practices, and that’s exactly what this Provision has in store. Enjoy!

LifeTrek Provision

When I first launched a series on better nutrition with a Provision titled Nutrition 401, I received a lot of reader replies some of which were complementary and some of which were critical. No one criticized last week’s Provision, however, and that may be, in part, due to the escalating health crisis in the USA and other developed countries surrounding overweight and obesity. The way we are eating and living now is just not working. Consider the following facts from the 2010 Dietary Recommendations for Americans:

  • 40 years ago, the prevalence of obesity was 5% for children ages 2-5 years, 4% for children ages 6-11 years, and 6% for adolescents ages 12-19 years. Today, those numbers stand at 10%, 20%, and 18% respectively.
  • 40 years ago, the prevalence of obesity was 15% for adults. Today, that figure stands at 34%
  • 20 years ago, no States in the USA had an adult obesity prevalence rate of more than 25%. Today, 32 States can claim that ignominious distinction.

So what’s the big deal with being overweight or obese? Plenty. Such individuals have increased risk for many health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. In other words, being overweight or obese increases the risk of premature death.

The USA is not alone in this epidemic. I have spent the last two weeks in Asia and, although people here are definitely less overweight than Americans, the telltale signs are unavoidable, not the least of which is an explosion of fast-food restaurants with an abundance of nutrient-poor calories. Everywhere you look there are all-you-can-eat buffets with mounds of white rice as well as salty, sweet, and fatty foods. That’s a formula for disaster.

I should know. After losing 65 pounds in 1998, becoming the fittest I have ever been in my life and an active marathon runner, I, like many others, have struggled to maintain an ideal weight in what the 2010 Dietary Recommendations refer to as an “obesogenic environment.” Apart from maintaining my running, I’m sure I would have gained all that weight back.

Our bodies are naturally designed to be on a “see-food” diet (when we see food, we eat), since we evolved in environments that were rife with feast-and-famine cycles. When food was available, we ate extra calories and stored them as fat since there would be other times when food would be scarce and we would have to live off those fat stores for days, weeks, or months at a time.

Not so today in the developed world. In fact, the definition of being a developed country includes having more than enough food to feed your people. And when our environments consistently have more than enough food our bodies just keep on gaining weight. That’s especially true when the definition of developed also includes the notion of modern, labor-saving devices. Every time we push a button to do something that we used to do by hand, like raising or lowering the garage door, we avoid burning calories.

So, the 2010 Dietary Recommendations conclude: “The current dietary intake of Americans has contributed to the obesity epidemic. Many children and adults have a usual calorie intake that exceeds their daily needs, and they are not physically active enough to compensate for these intakes. The combination sets them on a track to gain weight.”

With this concern in mind, the 2010 Dietary Recommendations are written with more of a focus on weight loss and physical fitness than ever before. Back in 1980, when the first Recommendations were issued, the concern revolved around eating a balanced diet from “four food groups”: Milk/Dairy, Meat, Vegetables/Fruit, and Bread/Cereal. Today, the concern revolves around eating less and exercising more with at least some official recognition that the “four food groups” may be part of the problem. What a shift in just 30 years!

To help people eat better, the agencies responsible for the Dietary Recommendations have utilized different graphics to represent what Americans should be eating. In 1992, they replaced the four food groups with a six-category Food Guide Pyramid. Grains were at the bottom of the pyramid, calling for the most number of daily servings (6-11). Vegetables (3-5 servings) and fruits (2-4 servings) were on the next level; above them were dairy products (2-3 servings) and a mixture of protein products including meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts (2-3 servings). At the top of the pyramid were fats, oils, and sweets with the recommendation to use sparingly.

In 2005, the Dietary Recommendations included a new food pyramid known as My Pyramid. This pyramid worked with vertical rather than horizontal sections, along with a set of stairs to indicate the importance of daily physical activity. That was a huge step (pardon the pun) in the right direction. For one thing, they replaced “servings” (who knows what a serving is?) with cups and ounces. They also took advantage of the Internet to give people the ability to personalize the pyramid based upon their age, gender, and activity level. That produced helpful and specific information as to how much and what to eat, along with tips on food selection and preparation.

With the latest set of Recommendations, in 2010, the government got rid of the pyramid altogether (who piles their food in a pyramid?) in favor of a plate. The new URL is In this diagram, Americans are encouraged to fill half of our plates with fruits and vegetables (more vegetables than fruits), 30% of our plates with whole grains (more than refined grains), 20% of our plates with lean protein (more than fatty meats), plus a glass of no-fat or low-fat milk. Here is how the report summarizes some of its recommendations:

Many Americans do not eat the variety and amounts of foods that will provide needed nutrients while avoiding excess calorie intake. They should increase their intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, and oils. These food choices can help promote nutrient adequacy, keep calories in control, and reduce risks of chronic diseases.

Consuming such foods is associated with a health benefit and/or with meeting nutrient needs. They should be emphasized to help Americans close nutrient gaps and move toward healthful eating patterns. They provide an array of nutrients, including those of public health concern: potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D. It is important that while increasing intake of these foods, Americans make choices that minimize intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars, which provide few essential nutrients.

That’s a start in the right direction, but it hardly goes far enough and, in some cases, is still counterproductive to the report’s stated goal of helping Americans to reduce our calorie intake and lose weight. Why is that? Because liquid calories from milk, low-fat or otherwise, are completely unnecessary for good health and may even work against good health. So too with grains, whole or otherwise. The more of these foods we eat the harder it will be to control our eating.

I like the discussion of these pyramids and plates found on the Harvard School of Public Health website. There you will find a detailed history of the food pyramids as well as an alternative Healthy Eating Plate that I like a whole lot more than the one found in the 2010 Dietary Recommendations for Americans. Here are a few of the differences, some of which clash with the commercial interests of the American food industry:

  • The glass of milk is replaced with a glass of water (or coffee or tea without sugar).
  • The ratios for lean protein and grain are reversed to 30% and 20% of your plate respectively (more protein than grain, rather than vice-versa).
  • The types of grains, if eaten at all, are strictly 100% whole grains (rather than mostly whole grains).
  • The types of protein matter as well: fish, chicken, beans, and nuts are preferred over red and processed meat.
  • Healthy oils rather than butter and trans fats are clearly favored.
  • Plus the message to Stay Active is on the placemat (it came off the 2010 government diagram).

In the weeks to come we will review and revise these recommendations with the help of my ownOptimal Wellness Prototype developed since the summer of 2004, when I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by S. Boyd Eaton, MD, at the Chautauqua Institution. Dr. Eaton, a radiologist and anthropologist who has distinguished himself in the field of evolutionary nutrition, made the following case: perhaps our diets should reflect the evolution of our species more than the evolution of commercial agribusiness. Perhaps we should eat more of the foods that enabled us to evolve our big brains and sentience rather than the foods that enabled us to overpopulate the planet.

That argument, combined with evidence from numerous scientific studies, hit me like a ton of bricks. Especially when he noted that the introduction of agriculture into a population can always be traced archaeologically in terms of the skeletal remains: that’s when arthritis, shrunken stature, osteoporosis, and all manner of other “diseases of civilization” leading to premature death start appearing. At the same time as agriculture makes it possible for more and more people to be sustained with more and more calories, health problems arise that were never there before.

Animals thrive when they eat foods they have been eating the longest, and human beings are no exception. Grains, dairy products, beans, corn-fed meats, and invented foods like hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup are relative latecomers in the history of human evolution. That’s why so many people have trouble digesting the proteins, fats, and sugars that come in these foods. Our bodies were not designed to eat them. They’re not as impossible for humans to digest as grass • which works just fine for ruminant animals such as buffalo, deer, antelope, giraffes, llamas, cattle, goats, and sheep • but they are nevertheless a far cry from the foods our bodies require to maintain optimal wellness.

What are the foods we have been eating the longest? Think fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, birds, eggs, and lean meat. These are the foods that we could still gather and hunt right now, in the wild, if we knew how and if we cared to do so. They are also the foods that our bodies are most suited to eat.

Since the summer of 2004, I have been on a quest to learn how to eat in the space age as though I lived in the stone age. That’s why this diet is sometimes called the “Paleolithic diet.” Ironically, the most ancient diet may be the best diet of all. And there is a growing body of scientific studies to support this approach.

After writing The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2007, Michael Pollan summarized some of this research when he started off his next book, In Defense of Food with the following sentences: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That, Pollan notes, is “more or less the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.” He then goes on to unpack those sentences in a delightful critique of both the American diet and food industry. I encourage you to get and read the book if you have not already had the chance.

Eliminating or reducing commercial meat from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (or CAFOs). Eliminating or reducing grains. Eliminating or reducing dairy products. These three steps, although challenging, are not impossible for anyone in the developed world and would improve our health as well as our waistlines. You will find those steps reflected on the Optimal Wellness Prototype, along with a call for increased physical activity as well as a sense of benevolence for the entire human community. The Prototype is a total package that we would all do well to appropriate.

I call the diagram a Prototype for two reasons: First, it’s a starting point rather than an ending point. It is something we will learn from and build on as time goes on. In fact, your reader replies to these Provisions have become part of the mix. Second, it’s an ideal that no one will ever live up to perfectly. There is simply no way to eat healthy all the time in our society. The commercial food supply is too ubiquitous to avoid completely. We simply do the best we can to hunt and gather healthy alternatives.

That, in a few brief paragraphs, describes much of where the current series on optimal wellness is going. We will dig into the details in the weeks and months to come, but if you review the Prototype now you will have the basics for life.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your pattern of eating? What changes, if any, would you like to make? Where could you turn for healthy, local food sources? Do you know anyone who is a great representative of optimal wellness? How could you interview them to learn more about how and why they do what they do?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

I greatly enjoy reading LifeTrek Provisions. Felt I must comment on your nutritional recommendations, always a controversial topic! I highly recommend reading Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, Eat To Live. The FDA’s advice is somewhat better than in the past but still woefully lacking. Dr. Fuhrman’s approach is solely based on current, state of knowledge research. He is more detailed and nuanced than Michael Pollan but a good starting point is Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food.

There is quite a bit more to eating a health-building diet if you dare to dive down the rabbit hole…. A doctor once told me that getting people to change how they eat is more difficult than getting them to change their religion. Check out Fuhrman, you may or may not be sorry. 🙂 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #766: Nutrition 501

Laser Provision

What are the basics of healthy nutrition? That question is harder to answer than it might, at first, appear. Food isn’t what it used to be and the effects are taking their toll. Overweight and obesity are the rule rather than the exception in many parts of the world while, at the same time, people elsewhere are starving in abject poverty. What’s a person to do? The key is to get educated and interested in sustainable, healthy nutrition. It’s not beyond our ability to turn things around.

LifeTrek Provision

When I first wrote this Provision, in 2005, I called it “Nutrition 401.” Now that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have updated their nutritional recommendations (they do this every five years), it’s time for me to update my Provision series as well. So let’s call this “Nutrition 501” and get started on a new adventure of learning together. As always, I welcome your replies.

Growing up as a child in the 1950s and 60s, good nutrition came down to eating three square meals a day. We really didn’t think much about it. The basic idea was to avoid snacking and to eat a mix of foods from every food group. That’s still pretty good advice, although we now know a lot more about the reasons as well as about the caveats and cautions. It’s taken a concerted effort which is far from over, but science has made real strides in understanding how diet impacts health and nutrition.

Here, for example, is a summary of the key nutritional recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010:

  • Build a healthy plate:
    • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
    • Switch to skim or 1% milk.
    • Make at least half your grains whole.
    • Vary your protein food choices.
    • Keep your food safe to eat — learn more at
  • Choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars:
    • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt.
    • Look out for salt (sodium) in foods you buy — it all adds up.
    • Eat fewer foods that are high in solid fats.
  • Eat the right amount of calories for you:
    • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
    • Cook more often at home, where you are in control of what’s in your food.
    • When eating out, choose lower-calorie menu options.
    • Write down what you eat to keep track of how much you eat.
    • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so sensibly — limit to 1 drink a day for women or to 2 drinks a day for men.
  • Be physically active your way.
  • Use food labels to help you make better choices.

You can download the full 112-page report, a high-level 4-page summary, and even get personalized recommendations by going to  Although the full report is vastly improved over 2005 (it now includes, for example, a targeted discussion on protein foods as well as many more suggestions on how to follow a healthy diet), it still does not discuss the nutritional differences between conventional and organic foodstuffs. Neither the word “organic” nor the word “artificial” ever appear in the report at all. And it certainly doesn’t call into question any aspect of the food industry (which they are in the business of regulating).

Inquiring minds want to go beyond the basics and vested interests of Nutrition 101. Today, and in weeks to come, I intend to go deep into the best thinking available when it comes to health and well being, taking us all the way up to Nutrition 501 (or version 5.0, if you prefer). Given our society’s continuing problems with overweight and obesity, it behooves us to learn all we can about healthy human nutrition. Few will end up with advanced degrees in nutritional science, but we can all do better when it comes to the basics of how and what we eat.

There’s no doubt that “balanced eating” is the key to health and wellness. We need to balance energy consumption with energy expenditures in order to reach and to maintain optimal weight; we also need to balance our consumption of different food types in order to reach and to maintain optimal wellness. One of many illustrations: the human body needs but cannot manufacture either its own Vitamin C, found in fruits and vegetables, or its own Vitamin B12, found in meat and fish. Human beings evolved as omnivores, and omnivores we remain.

Unfortunately, being able to eat just about anything makes it harder, rather than easier, to know what’s good to eat. As Michael Pollan points out in his excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, there is no dilemma for koala bears. If it looks, smells, and tastes like eucalyptus leaves, then it’s good to eat. Otherwise, it’s off the radar screen. Not so for human beings! Human beings can eat just about anything and survive, at least for a time. But what’s good to eat if we want to thrive? The 2005 Dietary Recommendations are a good place to start.

Apart from Atkins and other low-carbohydrate aficionados, no one supports the unlimited intake of saturated fats (primarily from animals, but also from some plants such as coconut and palm) and trans fats (manufactured since the early 20th century from vegetable oils). As the links between saturated fats and chronic disease became better known, people shifted from butter to margarine, for example, as a heart-healthy alternative. Today we know that trans fats, generated largely through the chemical hydrogenation of vegetable oils, are as bad or even worse for our health and wellness as saturated fats.

The 2010 Dietary Recommendations are right: we need to limit our intake of both saturated fats and trans fats. Do you know what that means? That means avoiding or limiting our intake of fatty meats and dairy products as well as all foods containing or cooked in hydrogenated vegetable oils. Examples of these foods include: cheese, milk, ice cream,  yogurt, beef, lamb, poultry, bacon, sausage,  ribs, butter, margarine, oils, shortening, salad dressings, fried potatoes, and most processed foods including crackers, cakes, cookies, quick breads, doughnuts, pies, and bread. If the label reads “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” the food product (if we can call it that) should not be eaten.

The 2010 Dietary Recommendations are also right that we need to avoid or limit our intake of added sugars, salt, and alcohol. No one sees it otherwise. The problem is that added sugars and salt are everywhere. They are the key ingredients that make processed food taste good, from junky snacks to fine restaurant entrees. They are also disguised under many names, with high fructose corn syrup being the most ubiquitous.

High fructose corn syrup or HFCS is made, as the name suggests, from corn. The process for making HFCS was developed by Japanese researchers in the 1970s and the product, like the hydrogenated vegetable oils of the early 20th century, quickly took over the North American market because it was both cheap and shelf stable. In less than two decades, it had all but replaced sugar in processed foods and soft drinks. Today it’s hard to find a food product that does not contain HFCS. It is so cheap and abundant (due, in part, to US farm subsidies) that HFCS has played a major role in the super sizing of both portions and waistlines. Who knows what else this newly engineered food may be doing to our long-term health.

Salt, on the other hand, has been in the human diet since the beginning of time. It is one of a very few rocks commonly eaten by humans. In addition to improving taste, salt has been used for millennia as a natural preservative. It is essential for the survival of all living creatures, including humans, but too much salt can lead to as many problems as too little salt. As with many things in life, when the balance is wrong, disease and death can follow. Because salt is used in so many processed and prepared foods, most people today consume way too much salt (a complicating factor for asthma, fluid retention, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and gastric cancer). Less than one teaspoon per days leaves most people with little to no room for added salt at the table.

Alcoholic drinks, which contain ethanol, have also been in the human diet for millennia. Fermentation occurs naturally when certain species of yeast consume carbohydrates in the absence of oxygen. As in the case of salt, however, too much alcohol causes a wide variety of health problems not to mention intoxication. The health benefits of consuming up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, while documented, are not reason enough to start drinking.

By now I can hear you saying, “Whoa! That’s a lot of my favorite foods, drinks, and seasonings to limit or avoid. What’s left to eat?” Here, too, the 2010 Dietary Recommendations are right on target: fresh fruits and vegetables are the key to healthy nutrition. There’s no way to eat too many fresh, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables such as artichokes, pears, peas, berries, prunes, spinach, apples, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, okra, and greens. The next time you’re looking for a snack, reach for a handful of those. The next time you fill your plate, make sure at least half of it is filled with fresh or steamed fruit and vegetables. The next time you go back for seconds, stay away from the meat and go for the veggies.

All that sounds well and good, of course, but most people are not following these recommendations. For one reason or another • including cost, convenience, culture, awareness, and habits • people are not developing the resolve, resources, and routines that make for health and wellness. If that sounds familiar, then the upcoming series of Provisions will be for you. We will take the mystery out of healthy carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, we will explore practical strategies for better eating, we will specifically address the issues of dairy and grain, we will give you more complete lists of healthy foods, we will steer you away from foods that provoke hunger pangs, and we will even point you in the direction of healthy comfort foods.

So come along for the journey. We’ll make Nutrition 501 an interesting and rewarding course indeed.

Coaching Inquiries: Which of the 2010 Dietary Recommendations do you follow on a regular basis? Which ones could you start to follow more regularly? What changes would you like to make in your nutritional routine? Who could you recruit to share the journey with you?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

Enjoyed your last Provision summarizing your series on Our Distributed Brains. Have a great trip to Asia!

I was thrilled to receive your email about the Choice Literacy Podcast regarding evocative coaching! I listened to the recording and found it be excellent coaching dialogue! Thanks. (Ed. Note: If you did not receive this email and you would like to start receiving announcements about the work of the Center for School Transformation, sign up today!) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services