Monday, June 22, 2015

Trim Healthy Mama: Our Take

So, we aren't so happy with the Trim Healthy Mama plan. We definitely like some parts of it but other parts concern us. Not to mention that we haven't been happy with any recipe we have found while doing the program. I'll talk about our dislikes and concerns first, then I'll talk about what we did like. Before anyone asks, we did try this program (not strictly) for about a month.

For those of you who may love the THM life, don't get too mad at me, there are many positives with the program and if it works for you and your family, that is wonderful and I am happy you have found a healthy plan for your family. I would actually encourage people trying the plan. Every family is different, every cook is different, every person's taste is different. We all need to find what works best for our families. 

Less than plan friendly foods
My first issue is that there are several foods that are not exactly plan friendly but are very healthy. I will say the plan isn't necessarily against these foods and they do stress eating these foods but only rarely. Most of them are off-plan if you are attempting to lose weight. Some of these foods include all fruit, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, and honey. 

I will repeat, these aren't exactly "off-plan" foods but they are encouraged to be eaten only in very moderate amounts. That I do agree with, at least the eating in moderation part. Moderation in all food types is a key to healthy living and something most of us have a very difficult time practicing. 

What I don't agree with is that these foods are looked at as almost bad guys. Some may say I have gotten the wrong impression but this is the feel I have gotten from this program. 

Most of the plan teaches a low glycemic index diet which I totally agree with and the foods that they put in this "less-than-friendly" category are on the higher end glycemic index foods and should be eaten in moderation but some of these foods are incredibly healthy alternatives to less healthy counterparts. For example, a sweet potato is much better for you than a russet potato, carrots are better than chips, and you can sweeten foods with carrots and onions rather than using sugar. 

Honey. They state in the book that "honey can make you very fat." I agree that eating too much sugar in any form can lead to gaining weight. However, most people don't eat tons and tons of honey. We use honey but we can keep a bottle of honey in our cabinet long enough for it to crystalize. We occasionally sweeten a cup of herbal or green tea with honey and we use it in cooking from time to time. There are many benefits to consuming honey and I believe that it is a much healthier alternative to sugar. Unless you are slathering your Chick-Fil-A or Babe's biscuit in honey, you are likely fine. And, lets be honest, if you are eating at Chick-Fil-A or Babe's, honey is probably the least of your concerns. ;)

While I agree you should be careful with them, I hesitate to criticize them as much as I feel this plan does. Again, this may just be a misunderstanding on my part but many of these foods are considered low glycemic index (GI) foods so I'm probably going to use them in cooking more than this plan prefers.

Sugar alternatives
Anyone who knows me, especially from my younger years, probably knows I had a probably unhealthy love of Sweet-'n'-Low. I've never been too afraid of sugar alternatives. I love to add generous helpings of Splenda when I'm making sweet tea. However, let's be honest, in the back of our mind have we not always had the inkling that sugar alternatives may possibly just be one of those "too good to be true" situations? 

As a kid and don't-care-about-"healthy" adult, I scoffed at people who were skeptical of sugar alternatives, or pretty much any "healthy alternatives." People who criticized margarine, products marketed as fat-free/low-fat, and processed/packaged foods, annoyed me slightly. I figured either they were overly cautious, just didn't like the taste, or were conspiracy hunters. However, I still managed to marry one of these people. Anthony immediately changed some of the ways I cooked. We cooked more at home with real foods, opted for the full fat rather than low-fat/fat free alternatives (real sour cream, real cream, higher fat milk, etc), used real sugar, and real butter. After about a year of this, my cholesterol dropped by about 20 points. I didn't lose any weight but I figured there had to be something to this.

One the THM plan, most sugar alternatives are highly discouraged but sugar is not on-plan at all. They do have a couple of sugar alternatives that are used and used in almost everything. They allow stevia and erythritol. I have used stevia before and found it tolerable in very small amounts. When we first started the plan, I got some Truvia. It's probably the most common and popular form of powder stevia on the market. We did not like it at all. So, we purchased the Sweet Blend and the Pure Stevia powder from THM. I will say, these are much better, and if you are looking for an alternative, I highly recommend their blends. 

Stevia is a sugar alternative that is natural. It comes from a herb that a lot of people have started including in their home gardens. I am not one of those that jumps on the band wagon of anything that someone says is "natural." Usually when someone is telling me "______ is good for you. It's natural." I usually reply with something like, "Poison ivy is natural too but you don't see me eating it." Yes, I know, I'm a little snarky sometimes. But, the point is, just because something is "natural" doesn't mean it is good for you. Due to the fact we live in a Genesis 3 world means we have to be careful of the "natural." 

Now, I'm not trying to denigrate stevia. However, I have done a little research looking into whether stevia is really a safe alternative to sugar. Here is what I have found:

Animal testing in the 1980's linked stevia with problems with fertility, reproductive growth, and genetic mutations. Stevia could only be sold as a dietary supplement due to the safety concerns. However, in 2008, Truvia and a few other manufacturers, using a highly purified extract of stevia called Rebaudioside A (aka Rebina or Rep A), petitioned the FDA to rate Rep A as "generally regarded as safe" (GRAS). The FDA accepted Rep A as GRAS but not whole leaf or crude stevia extracts

Here is what the FDA says about stevia:
"FDA has not permitted the use of whole-leaf Stevia or crude Stevia extracts because these substances have not been approved for use as a food additive. FDA does not consider their use in food to be GRAS in light of reports in the literature that raise concerns about the use of these substances. Among these concerns are control of blood sugar and effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems. Food additives and GRAS affirmation petition or pre-petition submissions for the use of such substances that FDA has received in the past have not contained the data and information necessary to establish the safe use of these substances as ingredients in food."
Even though the FDA approved Rep A as a GRAS ingredient, there are some people/organizations who are concerned at that the FDA did not require as strict of testing for Rep A as they usually do for other ingredients. 

To be honest, "generally regarded as safe" doesn't generate confidence in a substance. Even then, how do we know if a product is using Rep A and not the pure or crude extract? I just checked all my containers of Truvia, THM Sweet Blend, and THM Pure Stevia Extract. None of them said what form of stevia they used. 

I'm also not super trusting of the FDA considering some of the things they do pass but when even the FDA finds concern with a product, that makes me a bit more skeptical regarding that product.

Considering that we have issues with the three biological systems that the FDA were concerned as to the effects of stevia, I'm not super comfortable with continuing using stevia. 

I have read a few other testimonies from women who struggled with infertility while using stevia and then their problems resolved after they removed stevia from their diet. This is just anecdotal evidence but probably does suggest more testing being done regarding this product.

I'm not saying stevia isn't safe but I do think their may be some concerns worth considering. Personally, I'm no longer comfortable with it.

I know I need to break my addiction to adding sweeteners to my tea and coffee. Personally, I would rather have less of the real thing than all I want of the alternative.

The THM Food
So, we have tried several of the recipes and only had one that was good. Several we had to throw out because they were inedible. We bought the THM Baking Blend and made pancakes the other night. They were full of fiber so we weren't hungry after dinner but I must say, we were less than happy with the texture. We would never make them again. Hopefully, we can find something to do with the rest of this Baking Blend because it was quite expensive.

That brings me to another point. This lifestyle is less than budget-friendly, if you ask me. Much of this food is essentially gluten free. Anyone who has had to go to a gluten-free diet knows buying flour alternatives is anything but cheap. 

I will talk more about fat in the Pros section but this is my concern regarding fat on this program.

This program has categorizes meals into "S," "E," and "FP." I explained these meals in my last post. The "S" meals have to include over 5g of fat which is not really the problem. However, most recipes I have found for "S" meals seem to be overly generous with fat. To the point that it would never be considered a healthy meal by any sane person. Delicious, possibly, healthy, not likely. This seemed to be a complaint by many people with the Adkins diet. People seem to get in the mind set that as long as a meal doesn't have carbs in it, you can throw caution into the wind. I don't think this is what the creators of THM intended but it does seem to be inevitable in plans like this.

This is probably more of a complaint with how humans react than with the plan itself.

Eating out or eating at a friend's house
Like many diets, eating out or eating the food someone else cooked, is almost impossible to stay on plan. 

Planning a menu
Anyone who has read this blog at all knows I have no qualms regarding planning our meal. I actually enjoy it. It has really been one of the most helpful and enjoyable habits I have adopted.

I have certain rules I stick to in making our menus (topic for another future post). However, with this plan, trying to make sure each meal type alternated was beyond difficult. Menu planning became less than enjoyable and if I don't enjoy it, I probably won't stick to it. Another major reason this plan will not work for our family.

Religious aspect
The sisters who created this plan are two Christian women. They love the Lord and love the Bible. I am thankful for that. However, I think they may have tended to over-spritualize their plan.

Don't get me wrong, there is a spiritual aspect to all parts of our lives and I believe it is important to recognize that. Our temptation and addictions to certain foods can be a form of idolatry and a parable to how we approach sin in our lives. 

However, these ladies implied that aspects of their diet plan came directly from the Bible. I believe they may be leaning a little too far into "twisting Scripture" to come up with some of their ideas. 

I did watch a video where they discussed their plan at a conference for women associated with The Hebraic Roots Network. I am not exactly familiar with this organization but I suspect they are a part of the Hebrew Roots Movement. This movement is a false teaching within Christianity. While I don't doubt their salvation, their passion, or their devotion to Christ and the Gospel, if they are involved in the HRM, it does reveal that their interpretation of Scripture is less than reliable.

While that may not exactly make much of a difference regarding the safety and healthiness of their plan, it is a con for me. Any plan, like this or Rick Warren's "The Daniel Plan," that tries to make the Bible or certain passages into a diet book concerns me. 

There are many good points this plan makes and we have definitely used this program to add some healthy aspects to our own diet. As far as diet plans out there, THM is probably one of the better one's I have seen in a while.

Whole foods/Cleaner eating
There has been a movement in the nutritional world in the last few years to move to a cleaner diet, a diet of more whole foods. There isn't an exact definition of "whole foods" or "clean eating." What some people call "clean eating" others would not. However, the essential aim of these movements, is to get away from overly-processed foods and eat more foods as closely to what would be picked off the plant or taken from the animal as possible. 

One recent suggestion I have seen in this program and others is to consider "Is this something my great, great, grandmother would recognize as food?" This doesn't always work but it is something worth thinking about before purchasing a product. Would my great-grandmother recognize me making mashed potatoes from freeze-dried flakes or from a potato? 

Unfortunately, much of what she would call food these days isn't the same as when she was around. Wheat is completely different than it was a few decades ago, corn has changed as well, and the chicken we purchase in the grocery store is not even recognized as an animal by US law and referred to some people as "frankenchicken" due to the way this particular type of chicken was bred. 

Moving away from overly-processed foods is a undeniably more healthy step in the right direction. It is also something our family doctor was completely in agreement with. 

I do wish that organic, grass-fed, free-range food was more affordable. But, until then, we will just do our best.

Glycemic Index
I had heard of the Glycemic Index prior to this diet but I did learn more about it. It is definitely something Anthony and I must start paying more attention to due to diabetes being so prevalent in our families. 

All fats are not created equal. All saturated fats are not created equal. In the past, anything that had fat in it was bad, anything with saturated fat was down right evil. In recent years, more research has been done regarding fats and this myth has been exposed. There are some saturated fats that are actually healthy. More research is needed to fully understand fat but it goes to show that we don't always know everything. ;)

While I don't think the Trim Healthy Mama lifestyle is for us, we did learn some beneficial habits and would recommend it as a diet for people to try if they are trying to find a plan they like but it isn't for us. 

Also, this may be a result to trying this plan for a few weeks or not but as a side note, I had to have lab work for our annual insurance lab draw and my cholesterol is back up where it was when we first married. I'm not sure it can be blamed on this program but it did concern me a bit.

I will say that Anthony was quite the trooper during this time of new food trials. He was really positive about everything and willing to really try which is never easy for us foodies with all our very strong feelings regarding food's taste, food's texture, and how food is made. I have an amazing husband!

So, I am going to continue making menus and I'm going to incorporate more of the good habits but I'm not going to be stressed out over the correct combos. We are going to continue moving to a more whole food/cleaner diet and just opt for less of the real stuff rather than all we want of the manufactured. 

As Christopher Kimball said on a recent installment of America's Test Kitchen Radio podcast (episode 417):
"Please don't ask me about diet, health, and weight. Is it calorie intake, is it when one consumes those calories, is it the type of calories, or is it simply your metabolism? All of this leads to a very simple fact, when it comes to the human ecosystem, theories abound. So, until scientists sort all this out, follow this simple maxim: Eat early, eat natural, and enjoy your food."

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