Archive for January, 2011

For years, people would routinely pose the same question me “so what are you?” Pretty sure that people are clear that I’m a brunette, a female, even that I’m a dietitian (though sometimes they confuse that with a nutritionist – sorry folks, I have a license and the educate years and internship to show for it). So since the question usually came amidst a conversation about food choices, I would presume they were asking about my eating habits. And for years, I wouldn’t really have an answer. I had been a vegan, a pesco-tarian, a person following a macrobiotic diet and later Westin Price’s protocol; I had dabbled with Atkins out of curiosity (and the promise of daily lattes with half and half), the Body Ecology diet (despite not having a yeast problem, call it ‘professional curiosity’) as well as other “plans”. But I stopped in my tracks when the question now came to me.  It was about me and my eating for sure, but also recognizing that it came with undertones of obviously if I was doing it then that must be the plan I endorsed for others. It got me thinking – what protocol or plan do I endorse?


Around the same time I had the good fortune to vacation, truly vacation, as in no cellular service once we hit the seventeen miles of dirt road that took me to the ranch, as in no cell service while I was casting, wading, or glaring at the bank in search of snakes, and as in not eating a single thing from a package.  During that trip, a ranch hand cooked dinner for me one night, a fly fishing guide brought me lunch daily, and a group of women invited me to their gathering where I sampled some of their amazing treats. Yet, I was in Montana – and in Montana they eat meat, and not just meat but game. I haven’t eaten meat in years  (like 15) after a rather memorable experience with some veins in a supposed chicken breast in my college campus café almost sent me right into the hands of my frozen yogurt-loving, bin-food candy eating friends. While that didn’t work out to well as fuel for college requiring energy, the no meat part lasted. But back to Montana, at first I declined to eat antelope, to taste have bison, or any other meat and said no to the dairy from the cow I could see eating the grass as I looked out the window. Then, someone said to me “so what’s your objection? Is it animal cruelty, taste, or what they might be fed, cause I can tell you I treat these animals like they are my kids – no hormones, plenty of grass…” and then he chuckled and looked at his grown son “and I do kill them when it’s time – I guess that’s where it’s a little different than my kids.”


“So what was my objection,” I pondered.


I object to animals fed food they wouldn’t eat in nature, to the medications used to treat them when develop illness related to eating the wrong foods; I object to artificial ingredients, chemical combinations made in a lab to look like things in nature but that don’t chemically resemble what’s in nature. I object to genetic modification of plants (and certainly of animals) so that we can speed growth up or get more of something when what nature provides should be plenty. And I object to making claims about components of foods when tone doesn’t have anything nice (or worthy) to say about the rest of the food or product. Thus, I realized, I had no objection, other than what my palate may or may not enjoy, to the meat being presented to me in Montana. And further, thus, “Qualitarianism” was born.


Being a qualitarian, is, I believe, the solution to our health issues today – all of them. We wouldn’t have the quantity and intensity of health issues (mental and physical) if we ate better quality foods exclusively.  And if we all ate better quality foods, they would cost less resulting from greater demand for food coupled with lesser need for advertising money to be spent to counter the poor quality food products. If we all ate better quality food, better quality food would be more available, too.


What does it mean to be a qualitarian? It means, first and foremost, that you choose to be the gatekeeper for what goes into your body. That you don’t feel deprived but rather empowered when you turn down a veggie burger with genetically engineered ingredients or hexane and enjoy one made from organic quinoa and mushrooms or a wild salmon burger or a grass-fed burger. It also means saying no to a ready-to-eat salad of chemically sprayed lettuces in favor of cooking your own organic broccoli (great to start with frozen too). And it means taking pride in being smarter than the front of a package or a commercial. Yes, you are smarter than both of those; yes, you are. You are smarter than the package that tells you what it wants you to know but doesn’t tell you the rest of the story. Or what about the commercial, do you think whoever made it feeds that food to their kids or eats it themselves?  So just as you wouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, get to know the whole story before you buy and certainly before you eat.


There are so many amazing resources out there today to help you on the journey to becoming a qualitarian. I have added one more – the Ashley Koff Approved lists – so that if you don’t know what questions to ask, don’t have the time, energy, or even don’t care to do the work, you can feel comfortable that I have asked the questions and have evaluated the products for you. Why should you trust me? Because I became and remain a registered dietitian to address my curiosity, which can be at times relentless, about what is actually good quality in our food system. That, and because I am not paid to evaluate any products – the Ashley Koff Approved stamp of nutrition for optimal health can’t be bought, it’s earned.

I hope you will join me in becoming a qualitarian and please email me (aka@ashleykoffapproved.com) questions and follow me on facebook at the Ashley Koff Approved fan page or on Twitter @ashleykoff for daily tips and discoveries on being a qualitarian.


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Did I just hear right? Indeed I did. I caught a moment of the news and the anchor was covering a new study touting these results – and later, after a quick online search, I learned that this anchor wasn’t alone – many were covering the “4 cup a day, keep diabetes away” story.

Here’s what I’ve got to say, could 4 cups of Joe a day ever be healthy, or even help prevent diabetes?:

1) If one exchanged plain coffee for caffeinated sodas – this would be a nutritional upgrade that could help prevent diabetes.
2) If, however, one decided to have cream and sugar or even fat-free milk and artificial sugar or a no-sugar added powder or a non-dairy creamer with partially hydrogenated oil in their coffee…then they would lose in terms of diabetes risk
3) If one was drinking 8 cups of coffee a day or 6 cups and 2 Red Bulls, and traded down to 4 cups a day, then I could see how this nutrition upgrade could help prevent diabetes.
4) If one was drinking 16-24 ounces daily of juice, “vitamin” waters, and sugar-based teas, and exchanged these for 4 cups of coffee one could see reduction in their risk of diabetes as well as likely their waist circumference and body fat.
5) If one was eating “energy” bars with greater than 10 grams of sugar, less than 5 grams of protein, and which contained artificial ingredients daily or several times daily, and exchanged it for a cup of coffee and an apple with some peanut butter, then perhaps the coffee could help to reduce diabetes risk.
6) If, however, one consumed 4 cups of coffee in lieu of eating nutrient balanced eating occasions during the day and then “backloaded” with calories at night, then one surely did not help prevent the onset of diabetes and moreover, the stress and irritation to the system would more likely increase risk for other chronic diseases or symptoms in the future
7) If one added spices to coffee like cinnamon, clove, and cardamom then one would likely feel the benefit of digestive aids as well as hormonal ones that could help protect the body against diabetes and other diseases.
8) If one has a high risk of diabetes due to obesity, family history, or other medical factors and decides to ONLY increase consumption of coffee to prevent diabetes then one likely misses out on whole host of other well-documented nutrition and lifestyle behaviors that can help prevent diabetes while also improving overall long term health.
9) If one consumed only organic coffee – so that no additional chemicals enter our system – then one will help reduce the toxic burden in the body which could be linked to a lower risk of obesity and disease, including diabetes.
10) If when consuming coffee, one doesn’t get any jitters and it allows one to function daily as well as get in routine exercise and go to sleep at a reasonable hour (before midnight) with 6-8 hours of sleep then the coffee consumption might not be an issue.
11) If, however, one has one 24-hour day where coffee wasn’t available and one can’t function; one scours the cupboards for sugar to get a “lift” or to identify replacement sources of caffeine. Then one’s body is telling them that it is likely addicted to caffeine and should consider reducing or eliminating intake.

Net, net, only you can answer the “if’s” for yourself. But I will provide one final If / Then scenario that applies to us all: IF you believe the topline of a study presented on the news and change your diet to meet the reported results without finding out more about what the study results were based on, as well as whether it fits your particular health profile, Then you have no one but yourself to blame if the outcome isn’t as the tv reporter presented.

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Recently, on a trip touring the food and beverages of Aspen, Co, I had an ironic moment when an old Burger King ad jingle popped into my head at one of Aspen’s, and the world’s, most renowned restaurants, Mastuhisa. What in the world could an exquisite restaurant sourcing high quality and unique ingredients for both its menu and bar have in common with a global fast food chain?

In the 1970’s, Burger King ran advertisements touting its’ ability for customers to get their burger exactly the way they desired. The popular jingle, “Have it Your Way,” became a defining competitive stance.  So there I was sitting in Aspen amongst a group of journalists for a special lunch and this is what I hear “I’m lactose intolerant and I don’t eat meat, but I do like fish and eggs,” “I’m a vegan and I also don’t do well with fats,” “I am an omnivore – I like everything – bring it on” and, of course, then there was me, “I am a Qualitarian – can you tell me where the fish comes from…and the soybeans…and is that real wasabi root – how divine!”  To be fair, our food preferences and even interests weren’t news to the chef, they had already been conveyed to the chefs and the servers at every restaurant we attended and so as we sat similar menus were placed in front of us, customized to our preferences.

That said, Matsuhisa is no Burger King, nor is the Montagna, Rustique, Caribou Club, Cloud Nine, Zocalito, Ajax, nor even 39 Degrees at The Sky, the après ski spot –so what proved amazing was that in every instance, we each enjoyed “Have it Your Way,” menu items that were still completely five-star.  Vegan and vegetarian options were creative both from an ingredient, flavor and visual appeal standpoint. Vegan sushi looked like a work of art at Matsuhisa, risotto made without any fat tasted divine and the colors (beet purple and carrot orange) lit up the table at Rustique, there were no grasshoppers for several but instead bean dishes and guacamole, and chiles at Zocalito delighted, and up on the mountain, chef Ryan Hardy from Montagna made the non-cheese eating menu of pickled and fresh vegetables with mustards, toasted baguette and sautéed truffles taste and look as visually appealing as the fondue-experience.

Customization in fine dining has its’ fans and its’ nay-sayers. For example, I’ve seen menus that state “we politely decline any alterations to the menu” and have witnessed the more overt shunning of a customer by a chef when said customer requested parmesan on their pasta “it is not done that way – ever.”  But in an exclusive resort town, where the defining concept is to cater to the guest’s every whim, it was music to my ears to hear chefs and managers express their pleasure in carrying that over to food requests. Several of the chefs said they felt inspired or challenged (in a good way). The restaurant managers agreed. That said, as Todd Clark, general manager of Matsuhisa Aspen – who developed a gluten-free menu for food and beverages – remarked, “there are challenges – it’s almost always doable if we have advance notice, but we can run into an issue if we have someone who eats here at a less busy time of the year and we customize something for them that takes my chef a long time and then they come back in the height of the season bringing friends and wanting the same thing, it can be tricky if we can’t accommodate that at that moment.”

So next time you are planning a ski trip and you know that your crew may have differing opinions on just about everything, feel confident, that when in Aspen, all their mouths can be fed “their way.”

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