Pumpkin seeds are a little like viagra. They’re loaded with zinc which kicks starts the libido. I found that nutritional nugget in Tosca Reno’s book, “The Eat-Clean Diet.”Pumpkin seeds are just one of “12 Superfoods” Reno discusses toward the end of her book – after she’s finished explaining the basics of how to Eat-Clean and escape being fat. Her slogan is, “Eat more food, not less.”

Eating Clean is not a diet. It’s a lifestyle that has worked for Reno who practiced it for 7 years before publishing her book this year. After the mother of three with a BSc. saw her weight yo yo for years from it’s peak of 200 pounds, she adopted the clean eating lifestyle and became a swimsuit model – after the age of 40. She now has a regular column, “Raise the Bar”, in Oxygen, a women’s fitness magazine. She lives in Toronto but, according to her blog, is often in much warmer places in the U.S. and Mexico attending fitness events.

Reno believes that how your body looks is 80% about the food you put into it. Only 10% of how your body looks is in her view – and this will be a relief for anybody who hates exercising — about the exercise you do. The other 10% is largely out of your control: genetics.

A key to the Eat-Clean lifestyle, Reno insists, is to eat every 2 or 3 hours. Eat five or six small meals a day. Couple lean protein and complex carbohydrates at every meal. These foods digest slowly and prevent you from getting hungry. And they prevent swings in your blood sugar that leave you with that lethargic feeling – one reason I am now following her advice. Following are a couple of small meals suggested in “A Typical Day” Meal Plan:

2:30 pm – 5 oz. lean cooked chicken breast, ½ cup raw veggies, 500 ml water

5:00 pm ½ baked sweet potato, 1 cup steamed vegetables, 5 oz. grilled salmon, tea and 500 ml water.

Although Reno insists early in her book that you pair up lean protein and complex carbohydrates as “a steady date” at every meal, she gets off to a slow start in explaining exactly what complex carbohydrates are. In Chapter 1, she leaves the reader to infer from the Meal Plan what complex carbs are. The last sentence in the chapter is the closest she comes to explaining what they are: “A serving of complex carbohydrates from fruit or vegetables is a heaping handful, while a serving of complex carbohydrates from whole grains or starches is the size of a tennis ball.”

I mention this because the difference between complex carbs and simple carbs is a source of confusion for many people. I heard the singer, Janet Jackson, tell an interviewer that she ate “no carbs”. No carbs? Surely she eats salads.

It’s not until well into Chapter 2 of Eat-Clean that the difference between complex and simple carbs becomes more clear. When it comes to simple carbs, Reno offers a rule of thumb, “In short, avoid the white stuff!” Reno further tackles this confusion in a section called “Carbohydrate Confusion” in Chapter 5.

That’s a strength of the book, redundancy. But not boring redundancy: every chapter is chuck full of colorful ‘shout out’ boxes and photographs reminding you of the basics: Eat lean protein and fresh vegetables and fruit. Avoid “white poison”. Drink lots of water. Learn to tell the difference between the good, the bad, and the really bad fats and you’ll notice a difference in your hair and skin.

Tops on Reno’s bad fat list are trans fats (the ones now banned in New York restaurants), which she says could be moving your body in the direction of heart disease and cancer. When it comes to good fats, throwing a few seeds on your morning cereal is a good way to get them. Remember those pumpkin seeds?

But Reno doesn’t gloss over the work involved in eating clean. To eat clean, you have to get organized and make packing your own food a daily habit. That may seem time-consuming, she says, but look at how bad habits that have packed on the pounds have eaten into your time. “Hey, if you made Starbucks your morning habit, didn’t that take some doing? You had to get yourself there, stand in line, order your drink, pay for it, pick it up at the other end once the barista had made it and then get on with your day.”

Reno’s not a fanatic though who will deprive you of a cup of coffee. “I will give up many things to eat clean but I refuse to give up coffee” she says. She allows herself a couple of cups of coffee first thing in the morning, but she’s avoids the fat by no longer putting cream in it. The problem with coffee, she says, is that it drains vitamins and minerals out of your body. In a sample meal plan, she recommends drinking a cup of green tea at both breakfast and lunch.

Reno is not a fanatic with children either. “Choose your battles,” with kids, she says in the “Eat- Clean – Kids” chapter. “Say yes occasionally to unhealthy treats.” Set regular meal times and stick to them “within reason” over the long term.

One way to engage your children in healthy eating, Reno advises in this chapter is to “Take your children grocery shopping.” But in an earlier section called, “Clean Eating – Shopping Clean”, she advises: “Shop solo. You can get in and get out quickly and no one will bug you for a candy bar at the checkout.” Ooops!

Toward the end of the book, Reno includes an “Eat-Clean Recipes” section with entertaining full page color photographs. Most of the recipes are refreshingly simple. Only occasionally did Rosca use ingredients that I knew I would have difficulty tracking down in my local market. One recipe calls for “wild rocket, arugula, or mesculun salad greens”.

This book is not geared to vegetarians – the word vegetarian is not even in the index – but Reno does encourage people to use meatless sources of protein such as beans, lentils, and the ancient grain, quinoa. One thing that appealed to me about her meatless recipes is that they do not rely heavily on cheese.

One of the most fun recipes in her book is the “Ziploc Omelet”.

Use a Ziploc freezer bag
4 egg whites per bag
½ cup vegetables of choice

Instructions: Separate 4 eggs (large or extra large) and pour egg whites into a Ziploc bag. Shake to combine. Add a variety of ingredients, such as onion, green pepper, tomato or salsa to the egg whites. Make sure to squeeze all the air out of the bag, and zip it up. Place bag in rolling, boiling water for exactly 13 minutes. You can usually cook 6 to 8 omelets in a large pot. For more, make another pot of boiling water. Open the bag and the omelet will roll out easily. Be prepared for everyone being amazed.

Reno’s book is not all about eating though. She hones in on that 10% of her formula for a better body — exercise. Reno believes that doing a little weight lifting three or four times a week is a must. Her book is published by Robert Kennedy who also publishes “Oxygen: Robert Kennedy’s Women’s Fitness”, a fitness magazine with an emphasis on weight training. That made me immediately suspicious: Was Reno’s book going to be a forum for hawking body building products? It wasn’t.

Whey powder though, a protein supplement widely used by body builders is included in the “Top Supplements” section near the end of Eat-Clean. Reno defers to Kennedy in endorsing whey: “It has virtually no fat but all the nutritional goodness of milk….,” states Robert Kennedy, publisher of Oxygen magazine. “It is the supplement most widely used by all those seeking to trim and define their physique.” I wince at any one-size-fits-all promotion of a dairy product. People who aren’t from Northern European backgrounds – “I’m Dutch,” Reno says in her book – commonly have difficulty digesting dairy products.

It’s Reno’s weight lifting that could buffer her from criticism that she is setting unrealistic Barbie doll standards for female beauty — although the photo on the back cover of her in a red two piece bathing suit made me wonder how many women could actually look like that. At closer inspection, you can see that Reno has a layer of muscle that it wouldn’t hurt most women her age to strive for, since weight lifting combats thinning bones. Reno is 48 years old and beating path to the gym, while many women her age are on a path to osteoporosis.

Reno actually sounds an alarm in her book about the unrealistic Barbie doll standard of beauty that women are constantly exposed to. She provides a chart which compares the weight of the average American woman to Barbie. Barbie is much thinner in every part of her body, except the bust where she is bigger than the average woman.

Reno cautions that you are at least partially stuck with the body type that is your genetic inheritance from mom and dad. “To some extent you must live with these physical attributes.” But you can make improvements, she says. “A thick waist can be trimmed down to a slimmer version; a saggy backside can benefit from uplifting resistance training and cardiovascular exercise; skinny legs [which she says she had as a girl] can be enhanced by doing specific weight-training exercises to build them up.”

That’s the theme that runs through the entire book: what you can do. This is an upbeat book in the tradition of body builders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger who says he puts his mind not to what he can’t do, but always to what he can do. By the end of the book, Reno has made a convincing case that, to quote the blurb on the back cover, “it’s never too late to get in the best shape of your life.”

The Eat-Clean Diet is available at Amazon and other major bookstores.
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