AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
Dee McCaffrey is a living example of "the science of skinny." A self-ascribed junk food junkie, she shed 100 pounds more than 20 years ago and has kept the weight off by practicing what she preaches in her new book, "The Science of Skinny: Start Understanding Your Body's Chemistry-and Stop Dieting Forever."
In her book, McCaffrey, an organic chemist and nutritionist, explains which foods are good and which foods are bad, using hard science to back up her claims. McCaffrey offers tips and advice on how to live "processed free in an over processed-food world," complete with more than 50 easy recipes (see examples below).
McCaffrey talked about her book and the national food dilemma in a recent Daybreak interview.
Q. You were way ahead of your time in figuring out the connection between the chemicals in processed foods and health. Is that because you're an organic chemist and had a serious weight battle yourself?
A. No one paid that much attention to this 20 years ago. People didn't read ingredients lists. My chemistry background really was my advantage.
One of the first things I noticed was that the same chemical I was using in my work to test for pollution, I was seeing in my cake mix. That really opened my eyes. I didn't understand why chemicals could have so many multiple uses. And if they have so many uses, how they can possibly be good for our bodies? That piqued my interest in the beginning and then I started really researching and finding out about chemicals in food.
Q. Why are so many Americans still overweight with all this information available?
A. I was obese in the '80s and '90s but obesity didn't become epidemic until more recently. Now people are scrambling to figure out what's going on ... (and realizing the concept of) 'calories in, calories out' doesn't really work.
We have food additives in our bodies creating metabolic changes. People are eating what they consider a healthy diet and still don't lose weight. That's because they're still eating a lot of chemicals. They're eating so-called 'healthy processed' food.
Q. Why is it so hard for people to grasp this idea of healthy eating for life versus quick-fix diets?
A. There's a lot of information out there. It can become very overwhelming. One thing I think people need to start with is eating unprocessed foods as much as possible and don't worry so much if it's the right vegetable, just start eating more vegetables.
Then you can pay attention to the finer details. It's a process just to learn to eat healthy-and you have to learn to take it to the level at which you can do it. One bite at a time. My own story is an example of that. I first eliminated white sugar and white flour from my diet. I knew the main problem foods for me. I started doing more and eliminating more later.
Q. How does your book help people succeed in changing eating habits where other books on this subject have failed?
A. The first thing is the eye-opening information about the additives in food and the science in food and explaining why these additives are unhealthy and many have been linked to serious illnesses like cancer. Awareness is always the first step to any kind of lifestyle change and I bring awareness to (readers) in a way that's very profound. You really have to read labels. That's the thing I emphasize. Sometimes you can't even trust a brand you've trusted before.
The second thing is how processed foods produce disease and then how healthy foods produce health and the science behind that. People appreciate hearing why it's so important to eat whole foods. The main thing I talk about is how fruits and vegetables balance our alkalinity - which helps you to lose weight more effortlessly and gain health more quickly. It's really a health plan more than it's a weigh loss plan.
Q. Are you still tempted by processed food and flashy advertising packaging?
A. I've actually become very desensitized to that. My body chemistry has changed and I don't get pulled into those things. I value my health more than I to want to go out and eat a Twinkie or something. I've learned how to make those kinds of things myself. When I want to make cookies, I can pull out great recipes - all made from healthy ingredients that I can find. That's basically been my way to maintain the weight loss - not by being super rigid, but very free with what I'm allowing myself to have in the healthiest way possible.
Q. What are the most important things people can do and eliminate from their diets?
A. After eliminating processed foods, buy more local and higher quality foods. The other thing is that it's not just what you eat, but also how you feel. When you're taking care of yourself nutritionally, you're more motivated to take care of yourself in other ways. One of the really important pieces is not to look at any lifestyle change as a goal to perfection. It's about doing the best that you can - if you fall off the track, you just get right back up and don't beat yourself up about it.
We've put our nutrition and health last on the list - our health deteriorates and we have to go to a doctor to give us something to fix that. You can either spend time going to doctors' offices and wait a long time for them to give you five minutes or you can spend that same time preparing food that's healthy. It's a shift that needs to happen to make life and health work for you.
"The Science of Skinny" by Dee McCaffrey (Da Capo Press) is $19.99, softcover. A percentage of proceeds go to programs to teach children how to eat more healthfully. More info at www.processedfreeamerica.org.
OVER-EASY EGGS FLORENTINE
1 tablespoon extra-virgin coconut oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
2 cups baby spinach leaves or other greens, chopped
2 eggs, preferably organic
3 sprigs fresh parsley
Heat a skillet over medium heat and place 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil, garlic, and brown rice in the pan. Sauté for 1 minute, then add spinach and stir until it wilts lightly. Transfer everything to a plate, turn down heat to medium low, and return the skillet to heat.
Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil, then crack the two eggs into the skillet. Cook until the whites are mostly set, then flip eggs over gently, being careful not to break the yolks. Turn off heat, let eggs sit for a few more seconds, then transfer eggs to plate on top of the rice and spinach. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
ALASKAN SALMON-STUFFED TOMATOES
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and pepper
2 large beefsteak tomatoes
6 ounces baked wild salmon fillet, or 1 (6-ounce) can wild Alaskan salmon, drained
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped or grated carrot
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
To make the dressing, whisk olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon mustard in a small bowl. Season with sea salt and pepper as desired.
To make the salad, cut tomatoes in half crosswise; scoop out and discard flesh and seeds. In separate bowl, combine salmon, carrot, celery and parsley. Drizzle with dressing and toss lightly.
Fill each tomato half with salmon mixture. Serve immediately.
COCONUT SWEET POTATO BROWNIES
Coconut oil, butter, or palm shortening, for pan
1 cup cooked and mashed orange-fleshed sweet potato or canned sweet potato puree
1 1/2 cups organic whole cane raw sugar or Sucanat
1 cup coconut flour (or almond meal, if desired)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat 8-inch square glass baking dish with coconut oil, butter or palm shortening.
Blend sweet potato, 1 cup of sugar, coconut flour, cocoa powder and salt in food processor for 30 seconds, or until smooth, scraping bowl as necessary. Leave in food processor bowl.
Separate three of the eggs, placing the whites in a large bowl, preferably of a stand mixer. Add the three yolks and remaining whole egg to sweet potato mixture; pulse to combine. Transfer sweet potato mixture to large bowl.
Beat egg whites at high speed with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar; beat 2 minutes more, or until stiff, glossy peaks form.
Fold one-third egg white mixture into sweet potato mixture, using a spatula.
Gently fold in remaining whites. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.