The Meal Matters Most

What Makes Healthy Food Healthy: From a Stress Perspective

Does Daphne Oz owe Bearnaise sauce an apology?



In a recent episode of “The Chew” Daphne Oz gave us “Healthy Restaurant Alternatives“. <—— Watch video and come right back!

I don’t mind Daphne being a low-calorie girl, I think we all do what works for us, lowering calories and limiting fats work as a lifestyle diet for a lot of people. What I do mind is her hijacking the word “healthy” to signify that lowering the calories of the meal, by getting rid of fats, makes them healthier. Daphne on this episode leaves out the bacon, cheese, meat, dressings, sauces and drinks from the meal to make them “healthy alternatives”.  And during the course of this episode Daphne accuses Béarnaise Sauce of being “artery clogging”.

Let me tell you why I think Daphne owes all lovers of Béarnaise Sauce an apology. First pretend that lowering calories is not the way to achieve health. Eating whole foods with a good source of calories (from fat and/or sugar) would be our goal. In the grand scheme of things raw vegetables and protein don’t really count as calories. So really our calories are from sugar and fat. So Daphne’s advice, to lower the calories of the meal by getting rid of fat and sugar is sound advice, if that is your goal and your own personal path to health. Lowering calories lowers stress and is therefore healthy.  However, when our calories are in check and balanced, then the calories Daphne says to get rid of; the fats, cheeses and sauces, may very well be the very best and healthiest calories of the meal. Because those calories from the sauces balance the stress of the meal.

Obesity is not caused by calories. Obesity, and metabolic disorders, are created by a complex interconnected dynamic interplay of stress balances within dynamic systems being thrown off balance.

Let me explain. From my perspective whether foods are healthy depends on the stress they create. It’s a balancing act contingent upon the system it is put into. Great foods and great meals, including ones that have quality fats in them, or sometimes especially because they have quality fats in them from sauces, can be the reasons they are healthy. Not that Daphne would ever recommend processed foods , but that is why processed foods are in the “naughty” corner right now, because they give us calories with high fat and sugar, but they aren’t balanced by what we find in real foods. Therefore processed foods create greater stress within the body’s systems and bring about disorders like diabetes and cardiovascular risk. To be fair many foods can do this, that’s why sauces, fruits and vegetables are so important. They contain ‘stress balancers’ such as fiber, polyphenols and flavonoids, to name a few.

So one way to balance our “stressed-out” foods and lives is to be in constant calorie-debt. Lowering your calories can create less stress, protect from stress, give you a bit of a positive stress and sort of puts your system in a different mode of operation.  Although calorie-debt can bring about its own consequences. That is, it’s an ok thing until you end up stressing your system out by not getting enough calories, nutrition and/or energy to fuel and balance your body systems. Life is full of trade-offs. If you don’t give your system enough calories, or stress it out without recovery or nutrients or exercise to balance it,  you are going to pay a price. Your heart, your digestion, your gut, your skin, your immune system, your brain and your reproductive system all depend and collectively use many more calories than going to the gym.  If you don’t have the energy, your system is strained, somebody, some part of your body, is going to pay the piper.

So the definition of “healthy” is a meal that strikes a balance of stress and recovery. Foods with energy we can use and resources without excessive stress.

Healthy also means providing a benefit to your body.  We can visualize calories like men that come to build a house. There is a purpose to maintaining an appropriate amount of calories, just like you don’t want too many men showing up on the builD. That would be wasteful, distracting and expensive. So you can’t go crazy on calories and neither do you want them in isolation without tools or materials; aka, the whole foods. So the goal of a healthiest meal and the healthiest body is not about getting as few calories as possible. The healthiest body, the best house you could build,  would actually be about getting the most calories we can make use of. Just like if you are building a house, your way of constructing a better house wouldn’t be by hiring as few men as possible, but rather your strategy would be to hire the most men possible with the proper tools, materials and guidance.

Steak with Béarnaise as a very healthy meal.

If you read reports that red meat can be detrimental to our health, this can be true. When we cook meat at high temperatures it creates byproducts like Heterocyclic amines (HCA) which have been associated with cancer, oxidative stress and CVD.  So in a way, another perspective of health, besides lowering calories, is reducing the stress and decreasing the stress of the meal by means of attenuating the byproducts because red meat, in moderation, can be beneficial to our health!  While there’s research about red wine and even potatoes attenuating this impact, we also know that spice rubs and marinades can buffer these byproducts. So from this perspective the béarnaise sauce isn’t artery clogging, it’s artery saving!

The easiest way to reduce your calories is the advice Daphne is giving: get rid of sugar and fats. But that advice gets rid of some of the best stress-attenuating aspects of the meal, the sauces!

Healthy eating is about balancing the stress food can cause your body, and it’s in the sauce where many important nutrients lie. A steak in all it gloriousness marvelous deliciousness also takes a toll on our bodies as we, our livers, try to break it down.

That said, reducing calories is one way to reduce stress, but it’s not the only way to reduce stress.  Making a FANTASTIC béarnaise sauce with a finely spice-rubbed steak could also be a very healthy way to keep those back-n-forth challenges and resource balances in check. I’m sure Michael Symon might give us a “Hell ya” to that one!

Béarnaise Sauce:



A light steam, the perfect accompaniment with loads of health benefits and possible digestive interaction


Some Gorgeous little peppercorns


Tarragon, a light licorice hint… the perfect perfume.


Reduce the shallot, tarragon and peppercorns in white wine and vinegar to about 1/4 cup


The potential health benefits of eggs (as always this type of thing will “depend on the system” it is put into; the person, sometimes gender, and state or health of the individual) and egg yolks.  Here I could mention just a few of the healthy qualities of  the egg yolk (Chris Masterjohn writes extensively about choline) which kinda makes sense, eggs would have been the most accessible food that could last for weeks as we domesticated animals, it just seems right that something so delicious, that makes SO many amazing sauces and dishes would have a solid, and worthwhile function in our diet. Give them up if you shall, they’re not for everyone, and some may benefit from their exclusion replaced by whole grains, again, it depends.  Certainly a very strong case can be made that these little guys are what’s good for some our hearts, and certainly should no longer be the center of name-calling and assumptions of clogginess. Which brings us to the butter…..

Eggs yolks whipped with reduction, getting ready to transfer to heat, i slowly added the reduction, yolk by yolk and then place the bowl over boiling water until yolks begin to thickening. Really just classic béarnaise here.


Add some sunshine….


I know we have this scare that ‘butter’ is “heart disease in a stick” and that is most probably what Daphne is referring to.  Even though it has been debunked and is now in the realm of great myths of the 20th century that ruminant fats from butter caused cardiovascular risk.  There are plenty of reasons to both eat saturated fat and to have a tremendous amount of respect for this nutrient, because as “The Meal Matters” emphasizes, the meal, the context of the fat within the meal and the system it enters and how it is eaten, how it’s treated and eats before it’s eaten, matters. Saturated fats and red meat have the potential to be harmful to us and we must respect that.

Steak being seasoned to perfection


Grilled med-high heat to start then lowered, flipped several times after sear, towards the end add (or on second flip depending on your smoke detectors) butter and rosemary-sage-thyme


Pouring on the deliciousness….



To say this sauce is something we should eat constantly or daily, of course not, but in moderation with a great steak, absolutely. It’s an exceptional flavor combination of a miracle of nature and experimental cooking but also potentially a remarkably healthy combination of interacting foods, herbs, fats, vegetables and protein. And not to mention one the tastiest ways ever to eat a meal.

This is why the Meal Matters Most, we have to look at our foods in context to the individual, the history of the food and the combination of the foods on your plate, the sauces and beverages, and of course eating and cooking for and with those you love.  Béarnaise can be a very healthy sauce, and for some, in moderation, an exceptional benefit to your heart, artery saving, not artery clogging Béarnaise.


Author: Lori Hogenkamp

Lori's passion is for food, the brain, science and stress shifting perspectives .

2 thoughts on “Does Daphne Oz owe Bearnaise sauce an apology?

  1. Pingback: Beyond the Calorie Model: Why real foods are more important. | The Meal Matters Most

  2. Pingback: Are pre-packaaged foods healthier than Celebrity recipes? | The Meal Matters Most

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