The ERFOE Plate

Although eating a large variety of foods is our safest bet so far, we need guidance that goes beyond “Eat a little bit of everything” if we don’t want to be an easy prey for the food industry.

When considering nutrition, both macronutrients and micronutrients come into play:

Our food needs to provide enough macronutrients to supply energy and building material for our body (hormones, proteins, enzymes, antibodies, membranes, etc.).

But in a society where getting enough calories in not an issue, it makes more sense to think in terms of micronutrients and seek the most micronutrient-rich food. In fact even in countries where there is a risk of undernutrition (that is, not enough macronutrients), there is an emerging problem of malnutrition (that is, lack of adequate micronutrients).

Macronutrients play an important role, but they must be selected wisely:
– Modern diets include too many carbohydrates. Carbs should not be eliminated from our diet, after all, vegetables provide a fair amount of carbs, but the carbs we eat must be useful: they must also contain micronutrients.
Proteins portions are often diminished usually because of fear of fat. That is bad. We need proteins for the largest array of functions in our body: structure, hormones, enzymes, antibodies…
– Fats are feared because of the mistaken belief that fats make you fat and that fats are responsible for cardiovascular diseases. Don’t fear fats. Fats are needed for important functions in our body.

♦ ♦ ♦

ideal plateOur “ideal” plate is the result of years of clinical practice. It was designed empirically to provide enough micronutrients and macronutrients for most people.

Although it is easier to illustrate this concept with volumes (as in the picture), the proportions are intended in weight of cooked ingredients.

The “ideal” plate contains:
• 1/4 Proteins
• 3/4 Micronutrient-rich vegetables
• Fats
• No sugars or starches or cereal

Proteins can be animal or vegetal. They include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds.

It is assumed that vegetables are cooked or seasoned with fats. Protein generally comes with built-in fat. Fat is important: in the vegetable portion of your plate, half of the calories might come from fat (this is, however, not much in volume).

The exact quantity of fat for cooking vegetables is not important, as long as you use a reasonable amount. The window for “reasonable” is pretty wide: within the context of our micronutrient-rich diet, the body can deal with excess fat fairly easily, but it cannot cope with deficiency.

♦ ♦ ♦

On the ideal plate, the protein sets the agenda. This doesn’t diminish the importance of vegetables; it simply means that the quantity of vegetables is determined by the quantity of protein on the plate:

Whether you eat a 4-oz steak, a 6-oz fish fillet or a 3-egg omelet, make the vegetable portion of the meal about 3 times larger than the protein portion.

After you have finished your plate, if you want more food, make sure the next serving has the same 3 to 1 proportion of vegetables to proteins.

The quantity of protein required varies from person to person and also depends on the activity for the day. Younger or older people, or athletes, might need more than the general population. However, the “ideal” plate offers a good method for most people.

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Stem Soup

Here is a great way to get nutrition while making the most of your vegetables. Add a poached egg and you have a delicious breakfast to help you start the day!

On Wednesday mornings, I get my vegetable box delivered from the local organic farm. This saves a little bit of trouble with buying all the bulky vegetables that our household consumes in large quantities.

(Talking about organic, remember that “organic” doesn’t always equals “nutritious”. Check the growers’ credentials and verify that their agricultural practices are sound.)

…and after.

To save time, I fill the sink with water and wash the vegetables in bulk. After drying them, I cut them up and pack them in plastic bags so they are ready to use during the rest of the week. (This also keeps the refrigerator organized.)

While I’m at it, I dice the stems right away, and throw them in a big pot as I go. The soup cooks while I am dealing with the rest of the vegetables, a bonus.

Stem vs. Leaf
Don’t discard the stems of the leafy greens. They possess as much nutritional value as the florets or the leaves:
– The stems contain more chloroplasts and the associated chlorophyll and carotenoids, they also have more fiber.
– The maturation of nutrients in the stem and in the floret are different and complement each other.


Stem 01
Fresh beet stems and leaves are good.
Stem 03
Fennel stem and leaves are useful too!

Most stems are edible. Absolutely keep these:
♥ Beet stems and leaves
♥ Fennel stems and leaves
♥ Chard, kale, collard green and all the leafy green stems in general.

(Carrot tops are the only green stuff that comes in abundance and that I don’t know what to do with. Apparently you can eat them, but I’m not sure how…)

Stem Soup

(Proportions don’t matter much, use whatever you have.)

  • Stems from leafy green vegetables, fennel, beets
  • 1 tablespoon oil or butter or a few slices of bacon
  • bones (optional)
  • broth (optional)
  • other vegetables (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, spices, herbs

Continue reading “Stem Soup”

Food Labels: The Worst is Still to Come?

“The FDA plans an overhaul of nutrition information on packages to make it more useful for consumers.” The proposals for this much needed update are scary in more ways than one!

Wall Street Journal article (Feb. 16, 2016, A Hunger for Better Food Labels) discloses several food label updates that are under consideration. While we agree that an overhaul is needed, this is also potential for disaster.

The changes proposed by the FDA include: making the calorie information more prominent, changing the serving size to reflect the bigger portions that people eat, showing added sugar.

FDASome think that it is still not clear enough. Here are proposed “better” labels:

NuvalNUVAL score grades food on a scale of 1 to 100 based on many factors, positive or negative, including protein, calcium, sugar, cholesterol… It replaces the complex label by a single number.

TrafficLightTraffic light, developed in the UK, assigns a red yellow or green to the components that are deemed important: fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

GuidingStarsGuiding stars (developed in 2006) assigns 1, 2 or 3 stars to grade the food according to an algorithm that takes into account vitamins, minerals, fibers, sugar, fat, cholesterol.




Our Opinion

The new FDA proposal for sugar is misleading. It focuses people’s attention on added sugar (when in fact natural sugar is not better than added sugar). This line of thought makes people eat a ton of fruit, not realizing that they are ingesting sugar at the same time and no more vitamins than in vegetables.

But it is only the least of evils… The other proposals make our hair stand on end:

At first glance, simplified labels are good idea. After all, navigating the maze of nutrition is hard and most people don’t have the time. What’s wrong with helping them save time and effort in buying their groceries?

  • For starters, you’d have to trust the agencies to make the right choice for you. But, as everyone can understand, government recommendations are constrained by many factors other than pure science: practicality, the need to provide a diet affordable to all, politics, business interests, etc.
  • You’d have to blindly trust the science that’s underlying the labeling. At this point, nutritional science is still shaky and has been proven wrong many times. Take dietary cholesterol for example…
  • But most importantly, assessing ingredients using simplistic rules will not encourage people to consume a variety of foods. You could eat the same thing day in, day out, and still believe you are getting a “3 star” nutrition.
  • Simplified labels don’t allow us to think for ourselves; since all we have to work with are those silly stars, we cannot rate our food ourselves. This might help a minority but not regular people.

By reducing nutritional information to simplistic values, these systems hide the actual contents of the food and prevent people from understanding what they are eating.

Nobody will contest that food labels need improving. But the simplistic route is just not the solution.

Looking at nutrients on a broad basis and encouraging people to educate themselves about their food is the way to go.

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The Neanderthal Edge

In which we examine the consequences of inter-hominid romance.

The Neanderthal in you

We all know that some people are better at metabolizing carbs than others: your friend Giacomo can eat all the pasta he wants without apparent damage to his waistline, while you put on 2 lbs merely looking at the plate.

Many explanations have been offered to explain this frustrating state of affairs. An article in The Economist (Feb.13th-19th 2016, A Parthian Shot, page 78) is bringing a new perpective to the topic: In a recent report to Science, a team from the Vanderbilt Genetic Institute found, among other things, that “Neanderthal DNA seems to put modern humans at risk of a specific sort of malnutrition caused by a lack of thiamine, a B vitamin that is vital for carbohydrate metabolism. (…) But that same genetic variant may also make it easier to digest fats.

It has been known for a while that there was interbreeding between the homo-sapiens (us) and the now extinct Neanderthals (the big, hairy, heavy ones), and that 1% to 4% of the modern Europeans’ DNA is of Neanderthal origin. (For more on the topic see It has been hypothesized that red hair or blue eyes are of Neanderthal origin. It seems now that Neanderthal genes carry more serious consequences.

Of course, such results must be interpreted with caution: it is already difficult to run a serious experiment on humans, let alone on Neanderthals. Such studies that only observe existing data can show correlation (Neanderthal DNA and lack to thiamine appear in the same people), but cannot prove causation (is Neanderthal DNA causing the lack of thiamine? Or maybe both these things are caused by a third factor). A definitive scientific experiment would involve a “double-blind” procedure, where both the tester and tested are kept unaware of the actual nature of the test, in order to reduce bias.

This is however an interesting enough result that it deserves some attention.

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Carb metabolism is important because carbohydrates are linked to serious health problems. Just to cite a few:
♦ The nutritional value of carbs is low. Granted, they provide calories, but their micronutrient content is low.
♦Overconsumption of carbohydrates causes elevated blood sugar and elevated insulin levels.
♦ Chronically elevated blood sugar is responsible for
glycation. Molecules produced by our body in presence of a lot of sugar will be defective. Glycation leads to small vessel diseases in the kidneys, eyes, fingertips, toes and brain.
♦ Chronically elevated insulin is bad in itself: insulin directly increases arterial stiffness, which leads to high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Elevated insulin also clearly increases cancer risks.
♦ Elevated insulin impairs the action of glucagon, thus preventing the use of stored fat for energy. The excessive presence of carbohydrates in the blood shifts the body’s energy preference to burning sugar and impairs the burning of stored fat.

The Neanderthal Edge
What was presented as a problem is in fact an advantage for those with Neanderthal DNA: since they can easily metabolize fats, it is easier for them to revert to a natural diet lower in carbs and higher in proteins and fats, thus limiting the dangers posed by the high consumption of carbohydrates that has become the norm today.

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