Is Butter Good For You?

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Butter is Back! And it’s even good for you? These declarations can be illustrated by the dizzying array of delicious butters now available: besides the old-fashioned American butters, you can easily find the extra rich Irish and French Butters, and a variety of premium, grass-fed, and organic farmers market butters extolled for their superiority, and with a premium price tag to match. Is this a food lover’s dream come true? Even some nutritionists have joined the bandwagon, and yours truly has been confused.

This seemingly good news may have started with the widely read earth shattering 2002 New York Times Magazine story, “What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” by Gary Taubes, featuring a big, fat, juicy piece of steak on the cover. More recently, Mark Bitman wrote a 2014 New York Times story covering a scientific study in the March 2014 Annals of Internal Medicine journal concluding that eating saturated fat, the so-called artery-clogging, demonic fat in butter, did not raise a person’s risk of heart disease. This exciting news, covered in just about every print and broadcast media outlet around the world, seemed to reverse decades of medical advice saying the opposite was true.

So, how do we hash out the truth?

This is an important question as one in every four deaths of Americans are from heart disease, so it’s a critical issue concerning the health of the majority of Americans – and my clients, who rely on me to get it right. After all, what’s more important than your health?

Upon exhaustive research, I’ve found the answer, interestingly, is not too different than conclusions made by Harvard scientist, Ancel Keys, and other respected scientists in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s: that the type of fat – not total fat – is responsible for the rise in heart disease because of its affect on blood cholesterol levels.

But how important is blood cholesterol level? A multitude of factors increase heart disease risk, such as calcification, inflammation, blood pressure, high triglycerides, diabetes, obesity, inactivity, smoking, family history, gender, and age. But, apparently, the correlation between high LDL(bad) cholesterol levels and heart disease has been well established and is still deemed significant to your risk of heart disease and your health. Conclusion: Keep LDL low (under 100) and HDL high (Over 40) to prevent heart disease risk.

And the most recent clinical study – the gold standard of scientific studies – has confirmed the worst (if you’re a butter lover, that is): Replacing the saturated fat in butter with unsaturated oils, not only raises HDL (good) cholesterol – which clears fat and reduces placque in the arteries – using oils instead of butter also reduces artery-clogging LDL (bad) cholesterol from the bloodstream. Conclusion: Use oil instead of butter to reduce heart disease risk. So, it seems the advice hasn’t changed since Ancel Keys discovered the superior health of Mediterraneans who used oil instead of butter.

autopsy of severe atherosclerosis of the aorta (by

autopsy of severe atherosclerosis of the aorta (by

In a recent Harvard School of Public Health’s analysis of the controversy, the scientists review decades of research showing the successful reduction in heart disease risk by doing things like replacing butter (high in saturated fat) with oil, replacing steak with salmon, and eating a plant-based diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains for the reduction of LDL cholesterol, the increase in HDL cholesterol, the resulting effect on lowering heart disease risk, and improving your overall health. Conclusion: “Butter is not back!” said Harvard’s Walter Willett.

So, what about those New York Times articles? Well… Caveat Emptor! Don’t believe everything you read, and consider the source (be sure the information comes from a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, and compare it to other established science).

To say this Swede, raised on cream and butter, is disappointed, is an understatement! But I still use luxurious butter sparingly, when I deem necessary!

And it’s a relief to know that all these years, helping my hundreds of clients lower their LDL and raise their HDL cholesterol levels by substituting butter with healthy oils and other lifestyle changes has not been a waste! WHEW! No rioting necessary 🙂

Discover Puglia, Italy: The Source of the Mediterranean Diet

“I am very high on Puglia,” says Celebrity Chef, Mario Batali. “It is the next Tuscany for the American traveler…exotic... yet accessible”

Discover Puglia, Italy with me, and together, experience a rare, personalized, insider tour with local native, Silvestro Conte. Puglia, the source of the Mediterranean Diet and the most delicious food in the world, has amazing landscapes, mesmerizing beaches, 3,000+ years of history, exciting folklore, evocative art, gorgeous culture, and more.

Seven Reasons to Love Puglia

1. The History: 3,000+ years, still alive and part of our 21st century astoni-shingly advanced mindset. It’s alive in the languages, in the culture, in the cuisine, in the traditions and in the art. Unlike other parts of Italy, Puglia is a  layercake of history.

Castel del Monte (photo by Silvestro Conte)

2. The Food: “I am very high on Puglia,” says Celebrity Chef, Mario Batali. “It is the next Tuscany for the American traveler…exotic… yet accessible” Puglia’s Cuisine is the original source of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s not easy to summarize the rich simplicity and flavor of Puglia’s cuisine. Cooking is based on the FRESHNESS of the ingredients — from vegetables to seafood.  You will taste and feel it at all the unique restaurants we will visit, with Silvestro’s extended family, and at the Epifani family mansion. Our tour base will be Ceglie Messapica, Silvestro’s hometown, and renowned as the Gastronomic Capital of Puglia.

Appetizers by Silvestro's Family (photo by Silcestro Conte)

3. The Wines: “This magical wine destination is a thin peninsula packed tight with stunning beauty and surrounded by some of the bluest waters in Europe,” says Wine Enthusiast Magazine, which listed Puglia as a “TOP TEN Wine Travel Destination for 2013.” Primitivo, Negroamaro have been enjoyed for over 2,000 years, and are now familiar to the world and celebrated by wine connoisseurs. We’ll visit some little or at all unknown, yet outstanding wineries. Not neglecting homemade wine….

"This magical wine destination is a thin peninsula packed tight with stunning beauty and surrounded by some of the bluest waters in Europe," said Wine Enthusiast Magazine, which listed Puglia a TOP TEN Wine Destination for 2013

4. The Olive Oil:  Puglia is Italy’s greatest producer of olive oil. Some of the purest and most flavorful olive oil you will taste in Italy comes from here.  More than 65 millions olive trees are masterpieces in themselves, contorted yet majestic. Our tour includes olive oil tasting at family mills.  The Mediterranean Diet was born here.

A single Olive Tree Stands Next to a Trulli, mortarless homes from the 1200s (photo by Silvestro Conte)

5. The Beaches: Puglia boasts 500 miles of coastline (sand, rocks, cliffs), surrounded by turquoise blue waters.  Take Pescoluse, for instance : given the kaleidoscopic color of the water and its fine white sand, you’ll be thinking you’re in the Caribbean…or the Maldives.

Silvestro's Favorite Local Beach (photo by Silvestro Conte)

6. The Architecture: You’ll see structures you won’t find anywhere else in Italy, such as the trulli, the conical, mortarless stone farmhouses started in the 1200s. Historically the target of many invasions, Puglia is filled with fortified farmhouses or masserie. All invaders left their architectural mark, including the mesmerizing baroque style in Lecce (known also as “Florence of Puglia”).

An Illuminated Castle in Celebration of its Patron Saint

7. The People: the Pugliese people  take to the highest level the typical Italian’s warm and welcoming attitude. Guided by Silvestro, you’ll  learn about the traditions, languages, wines, olive oil, pasta, bread, cheeses and mozzarella at small old family farms, ceramics, pizzica, an ancient folk dance..

Pizzica Dance

Eating out in Puglia

When: September 14 – 22, 2013 (7 full days, 7 nights, arriving in Bari September 15)

The size of the group will be limited to 18, so please book early!

For more detailed information, contact: Silvestro Conte (202)290-5835

Ceglie Resort - Where We Will be Staying for 7 days & nights

Robin ‘Poldark’ Ellis Charms Washington, D.C. and Me

Photo: Acorn Media

It’s official. Now that I’ve met Robin Ellis in person during his recent Washington, D.C. visit, I have gone completely gaga over this talented and elegant actor, chef, and author, and his warm and lovely collaborator and wife, Meredith Wheeler. But I’m also charmed by his cookbook, website, and blog. I believe you will agree, and feel transported… inspired… to live a better, healthier life.

When I heard Robin Ellis was coming to D.C. to promote his new Mediterranean cookbook, I jumped into action, and so did a group of generous, community-minded people who came together to give Ellis and Wheeler a warm Washington, D.C. welcome. Washington Fine Properties’ Nancy Taylor Bubes opened her home and her heart to more than 80 guests, the American Institute of Wine and Food  co-sponsored, Bistrot Le Zinc Executive Chef, Janis McLean, demonstrated one of Ellis’s signature recipes, and at least twenty guests and fans brought dishes from Ellis’s book.

Ellis is known worldwide as the swashbuckling Captain Ross Poldark, the lead character in the classic BBC Masterpiece Theater series, “Poldark,” originally aired in the 1980s, but recently hailed as “a cure for your ‘Downton Abbey’ blues,” by Los Angeles Times media critic, Robert Lloyd, after viewing the series for the first time. I agree  with Mr. Lloyd: but expect a LOT more action, excitement, and ribaldry!

“Over 29 episodes, social and political intrigue ensue, with heaving bosoms and rugged landscapes and a soaring musical score,” said The Washington Post’s Bonnie Benwick. I’ve enjoyed watching the new DVD version of “Poldark,” available from Acorn Media, where I’ve incidentally conducted wellness programs (it’s a small world, isn’t it?).

Robin Ellis makes a few remarks to the gathering in Georgetown. Photo by Meredith Wheeler

For the past twenty years, Robin Ellis has lived in the south of France with his American wife, Meredith Wheeler, and their menagerie of animals, where he has collected and tested recipes while becoming an accomplished chef. I feel so fortunate he was willing to share his time, his talents, and his evocative stories and photos of his life in the south of France. His culinary experiences and travels, and even step-by-step recipe instructions, have been an inspiration.

Robin Ellis' home base in the south of France. Photo by Meredith Wheeler

Ellis was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes twelve years ago and has managed to keep the disease controlled, stay healthy, fit, and even optimistic. “After a few weeks of shock, and ‘why me,’ the diagnosis became an opportunity to get into shape,” said Ellis. “It opened up a whole new culinary path.” His new book, “Delicious Dishes for Diabetics: Eating Well with Type 2 Diabetes” (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011) is for anyone who loves Mediterranean classics. The Mediterranean diet is one I heartily endorse for anyone for superior health, but also, satisfying dining. I’ve witnessed the surprise, relief, and joy when my clients stabilize, and even reverse their Type 2 Diabetes. Robin Ellis did it and you can too!

See a few recipes and a beautiful video montage of Robin Ellis cooking in the south of France

Read The Washington Post’s story about my March 7 Robin Ellis event in Georgetown which contains details about Robin Ellis’ life and new cookbook

Read Robin’s own account of the Georgetown Event on his blog

Read about the Robin ‘Poldark’ Ellis cookbook reception in The Georgetown Dish

Janis McLean and Robin Ellis demonstrating "Salmon Fishcakes with a Sauce of Yogurt, Mustard and Dill"... Katherine "helping" in background. Photo by Robert Arnold


The crowd watching as Janis McLean and Robin Ellis entertain. Photo by Robert Arnold


Robin Ellis signing books in Nancy's kitchen...before the event. Photo by Meredith Wheeler

Friends/Volunteers Begin Preparations in the Kitchen. Katherine Tallmadge, Elizabeth Mautner, Zach Lipson, Johanna Medlin. Photo by Meredith Wheeler

Nancy Taylor Bubes’ dining table was brimming with simple yet sublime Mediterranean dishes “Roasted Eggplant Slices with a Walnut and Garlic Spread,” “Grilled Lamb Chops with Rosemary,” “Tzatziki,” “Fennel Salad with Parmesan Shavings,” “Minestrone,” “Grilled Strips of Duck Breast smothered in Walnut and Garlic Sauce,” “Rice and Spinach Torte,” “Tuna and White Bean Salad,” “Spinach Salad with Bacon and Avocado,” “Goat Cheeses served with Apple and Pear Slices,” and more…

Liz McGuinness with a few dishes assembled before guests arrive. Photo by Helen Belletti

Debbie Weil, Lisa Lambert, Hostess Nancy Taylor Bubes, Roxanne Fleming. Photo by Johanna Medlin

Michelle Molotsky, Robin & Meredith, and Robert Arnold

Katherine with Marcia Horting and Marc Marzullo

Elizabeth Mautner and Phyllis Frucht


Ben and Anne Vendegrift and Katherine Tallmadge with Robin Ellis. Photo by Robert Arnold

Helen Belletti and Robin Ellis

Robin Ellis with Hedvika Krone. Photo by Meredith Wheeler

Robin Ellis and Michele Reilly Hall. Photo by Helen Belletti

Robin Ellis and Bonnie Benwick relax before the event. Photo by Meredith Wheeler

Robin & Meredith surprised me with a lunch invitation at D.C.’s iconic “Kramerbooks & Afterwards” the day after… I feel truly blessed!

A Selection of Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Recipes

Robin "Poldark" Ellis with his new cookbook, which highlights the flavors of the Mediterranean

I’m completely charmed and impressed by Robin Ellis’ enthusiasm for his new healthy lifestyle; the Mediterranean lifestyle and diet I have adopted and a way of life I encourage everyone I know and love to embrace as well.

Ellis, a British star of stage and screen, was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and since then has been dedicated to a life of good health, but without deprivation. Based on Mediterranean cuisine – one of the healthiest in the world – Robin Ellis, in his book and blog, shares his lifetime collection of healthy recipes. Inside, you’ll find:

* Simple yet sublime recipes that work,

* Dishes that all the family can enjoy,

* Not a quick-fix diet but a way of eating for everyday life.

Some samples…

Salmon Fishcakes with a Sauce of Mustard and Dill

It’s like a crabcake – only with Salmon – delicious! 

 A Dish of Chicken and Leeks with Lemon

Spicy Chickpeas – Lightly Sauteed 

 Spatchcocked Chicken with Lemon and Bay Leaf

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