Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to all who have served and are currently serving in our armed forces!
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom, but it also seems to signify the start of barbecue and cookout season. While it’s always fun to hang out with our family and friends, it can be difficult to find healthy options when attending these parties and get-togethers and can be even more difficult if you have food intolerance or follow a specific diet (gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.).
You can totally bring your own food to a cookout if you’re afraid there won’t be anything for you to eat – I’ve done it! But a lot of people might feel awkward or disrespectful doing this (you shouldn’t feel that way, but I get it.). Rather than bringing an entire meal of foods you can/will eat, bringing a dish that you’ll eat but is also something everyone can enjoy is a great option. By bringing a dish you can eat, you can make a full plate of your dish and add to it from dishes that the host or other guests provide.
Maybe the host of the cookout you’re attending is awesome and is providing all the food; you can still have a healthy meal by choosing your foods carefully. Choose chicken or a hamburger with no bun over a highly processed hot dog or bratwurst. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, don’t hesitate to bring your own veggie burger – I would imagine most hosts would be happy to oblige. Baked beans are typically a staple at cookouts, and they’re a great protein option for vegetarians. In addition to including protein, load your plate up with fresh veggies but skip the dip, and avoid carb-heavy pasta salads as well as chips and crackers. Choose fresh fruit to end your meal over other baked good and desserts.
Looking for a dish to take to a cookout? Try out the garbanzo bean salad recipe from my May 7, 2017 blog. It is a great main dish for vegetarians and vegans (and meat eaters, too!), and it is a higher protein substitute for potato salad if you’re in need of a side dish. To make this dish, you’ll need two cans of garbanzo beans, ¼ cup olive oil mayo (or vegan mayo), 2 tablespoons of dill pickle relish, 1 tablespoon of yellow mustard, 2 stalks of chopped celery, and ¼ cup chopped green onion.
After draining and rinsing the two cans of garbanzo beans, use a muddler (typically used for drinks) or a potato masher to mash the beans. You could also put them in a food processor or blender, but be careful not to run it for too long, otherwise you’ll end up with bean puree, and you probably don’t want that.
Mix in mayo, relish, and mustard, stirring well until completely blended. If the texture is not creamy enough, add 1 tablespoon of mayo at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency. (I typically end up adding 1 extra tablespoon of mayo when I make this dish.) Mix in chopped celery and onions, stirring until mixed well.
This dish is better after refrigerating for a few hours and is best if left to sit overnight so that the flavors have time to blend and soak into the beans.
As the garbanzo bean salad sits in the fridge for a day or two, it may become dry, and I would suggest adding a touch more mayo, about a half a tablespoonful at a time.
If you're not a fan of mustard, you could leave that out, and you can add any spices that sound tasty to you! It's a great recipe to play around with and make it your own, and however you choose to prepare and serve this garbanzo bean salad, I hope you enjoy!
Serving suggestions: You could serve this as a sandwich, as a snack with crackers, or over a bed of greens of your choice.
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
I apologize for dropping the ball last week’s blog post! We were traveling for Mother’s Day, and I didn’t do a good job of planning ahead. *face palm* In this week’s post, I will share the recipe I used to make spinach, mushroom, and cheese quiche for Mother’s Day brunch. We paired the quiche with fresh fruit and huckleberry scones.
I have to credit my interest in eating well and exercising regularly to my mom – she always fixed healthy meals and snacks when I was growing up, and every evening that the weather permitted it, we would go for a walk before or after dinner. We always ate as a family, and my mom is the one who taught me how to cook. She’s seen her parents and siblings suffer from illness and ailments due to poor eating habits, and as mentioned in a previous blog post, high cholesterol runs in my family. My mom is determined to manage her cholesterol through diet and exercise, as she refuses to take medicine. I agree with her opinion on the matter and am determined to do the same!
For Mother’s Day brunch, I fixed my mom a spinach, mushroom, and cheese quiche.
I pulled ingredients and baking instructions from a few different recipes, as it is easy to add or leave out ingredients as you prefer. For example if you don’t like mushrooms, it wouldn’t affect this recipe if you left them out, and it would also be easy to add cherry tomatoes or green peppers if you prefer. The possibilities are endless! Here is the recipe I used:
1 prepared, refrigerated pie crust
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup sliced baby portabella ("baby bellas") mushrooms
10 oz bag fresh spinach
½ cup frozen chopped onions
8 oz cream cheese
4 oz goat cheese
4 oz feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Serving suggestion: pair with fresh fruit or a tossed salad
Next week I will be back with a traditional blog post. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the quiche!
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, have a long commute to work or work long hours, or are always driving kids from school to practice to home, you’re going to be eating on the go. Chances are this means stopping for fast food and/or snacking on high sugar/high carbohydrate/low protein/empty calorie snacks – think granola bars and chips. Sound familiar? Healthy eating on the go may seem impossible, but with the tips in this blog and a little time, planning, and preparation (notice a trend with planning and prep??), it is quite manageable, and you’ll likely feel much better eating healthy, whole foods rather than processed un-foods.
As previously mentioned, healthy eating on the go will take some time and preparation. Just like having healthy meals readily available, planning, shopping, and preparing and packaging foods to eat on the go will be the beginning steps of your routine. Because you’ll be on the go, you’ll also need ice packs and coolers to keep foods fresh. This routine might take you a couple of hours on a day when you have some free time (weekends or days off during the week), or you can spend an extra 30 minutes or so every day preparing for the next day. Suggestions include buying plenty of vegetables and fruits for the week and washing, cutting, and packaging them, preparing your own protein bars, and grilling or baking chicken breast to have on top of salad or with fresh vegetables.
Perhaps you aren’t savvy in the kitchen or aren’t willing to spend the time preparing and packaging foods, so buying pre-cut and washed fruits (sliced apples) and vegetables (baby carrots, snap peas) might be your go to. They will cost slightly more, but if you’re in a time crunch, it’s totally worth it. Buying a rotisserie chicken and shredding it for salad is a great, time-saving option for lean protein, while separating out a can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and/or black beans into individual servings is a nice vegetarian alternative to add some protein to a salad.
If you don’t have time to pack a cooler or can’t travel with a cooler (think airplanes), dried fruits and veggies, nuts, high quality jerky, and high protein/low sugar protein bars might be the way to go. These aren’t the BEST options for every day meals and snacks, but sometimes it’s the best option for the situation. And it sure beats scarfing down a hot dog and a bag of chips as you run to your terminal to catch your flight….
If you’ve not had time to prepare or pack anything, or maybe you left your cooler on the train you take to work every morning (face palm), local grocery salad bars can be life changing. Again this option will cost slightly more than if you’d prepared your own salad at home, but it’s better than spending money on low quality food from a drive thru. If you’re not a salad person, there are likely enough toppings available on the salad bar that you could make nice veggie bowl and buy some hummus for dipping the veggies.
You can even make the best out of a fast food stop when necessary. A lot of fast food restaurants now offer salad, and most of them have some sort of grilled chicken option. Even ordering a kids meal and opting for fruit rather than fries is an OK option when you’re in a pinch.
Anytime I travel by car, even if it’s just for a couple of hours, I pack a bag of healthy snacks like individual packets of almond or peanut butter OR single packages of nuts like almonds, single serving containers of applesauce, RX Bars or Larabars, apples, and bananas. If we’re taking a longer trip and pack a cooler, I’ll throw in some string cheese and some cut up and washed veggies, along with some deli ham for my husband. When we traveled to Hawaii for our honeymoon last Fall, it was a little more challenging because we flew (obviously), and there are restrictions on what you can bring in your carryon luggage. There are even more restrictions as to what you can and can’t bring into Hawaii (no fresh fruit or veggies), so everything had to be packaged and unopened. We’re currently planning a trip to Arizona, and we’ll be flying there as well. Luckily the flight is not nearly as long as it is to Hawaii, and I’ll be able to bring packaged pre-cut and washed veggies and fruit like apples or bananas on the plane in addition to some individual packages of almonds for myself or beef jerky for my husband. Just like we did in Hawaii, we’ll hit the grocery store first thing when we get to Arizona to buy some fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources. We try to prepare most of our own meals while on vacation not only to save money, but because we feel better when we’re eating quality foods that we prepare ourselves. I know, I know, who wants to cook on vacation?! We don’t typically fix anything fancy, but at least we know what we’re eating, and we’re not having to stop for fast food. We’ll also be doing a lot of hiking, so we want to make sure we have healthy snacks (and water!) we can pack to take on our hikes with us.
There are ALWAYS healthy options when you’re eating on the go – you just have to be creative! Making sure to include vegetables and lean protein is key, and include fruits, a healthy fat, and whole grains if you want. Take a little time on a Sunday to plan and prepare meals and snacks for the week ahead, and have a backup plan for unseen situations like forgetting your lunch, or your kids’ soccer games running behind schedule. Just remember to do the best with what you have.
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
Oh my gosh. I have high cholesterol. I’m 31 years old! How could this be?! I don’t eat meat. I try not to eat too much dairy or too many grains. I try to eat mostly vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, eggs, and fruit. I exercise AT LEAST three days a week (180 minutes), although I typically shoot for four or five (210-250 minutes). My weight and BMI are in the healthy range for my age, height, and activity level. I’ve never had any sort of bloodwork done, but in order to avoid paying an extra $600 (!) for health insurance, I had to do a wellness screening. They did a basic panel testing for total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and sugar.
My triglycerides and sugar were great - cholesterol, not so much. Although my total cholesterol fell in the range in which it “should be” (don’t even get me started), my HDL was two points below the range they want it to be in (40-60), and my LDL was 122. It is supposed to be 100 or lower. 100. When I was in school studying dietetics, it was supposed to be under 130. So if I’d had these numbers on a panel 10 or 12 years ago, 122 would have been perfectly acceptable. I always wonder if these numbers are actually, truly, scientifically based, or if it has more to do with selling statins, as statins are the second top selling drug in the United States, and most of the drugs are quite pricey. BUT I’ll try to keep my opinions on that to myself....
Knowing that my maternal grandparents, as well as my mom, have high and borderline high cholesterol levels, respectively, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised with these numbers. In my experience, I’ve found that genetics tend to play a bigger role in cholesterol levels than lifestyle (what we eat and how active or inactive we are). Heredity high cholesterol is called familial hypercholesterolemia, and unfortunately not much in the way of diet or exercise will help to lower cholesterol levels to the number “experts” recommend they should be. (Genetic testing can be done to determine whether or not a person truly has familial hypercholesterolemia.) Often times individuals with familial hypercholesterolemia are prescribed statins to regulate their cholesterol levels. Personally I’ll take my chance with having borderline high LDL levels – have you READ the side effects of statins?!
Lifestyle and diet do play into cholesterol levels, even for individuals with familial hypercholesterolemia. Elevated levels of blood sugar over time can increase LDL and decrease HDL levels and can also cause extra weight gain. Both obesity and large waist circumference are also linked with high cholesterol levels, as are smoking and inactivity.
So what can you do to lower your cholesterol levels? Precision Nutrition has a GREAT list with ten lifestyle tips to lower cholesterol/keep your cholesterol levels good, and you can check it out by following the link at the bottom of this page. Avoiding added sugar and processed foods, following a plant-based or mostly plant-based diet, and getting at least 150 minutes of exercise a week can give you a great start to getting your numbers down. Unfortunately we sometimes have to deal with “bad” genes that lead to higher cholesterol levels, and we have to put up more of a fight than those other lucky people to get those levels down.
I’m taking my lab results with a grain of salt and am not going to worry too much about slightly high LDL and slightly low HDL levels. My plan of action is to do a little better diet wise – more veggies and less to no added sugar. If I start exercising more, I’ll be living in the gym, so I don’t plan to change much in the way of my activity level. I likely won’t be doing anymore bloodwork until this time next year, but I will update this blog post with new levels the next time I get them checked!
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
Through chatting with people – friends, family, coworkers, strangers on the bus – it seems that the general idea in order to lose weight and get in shape is to cut foods like carbohydrates, sugars, fats, etc. out of your diet. While this isn’t totally untrue, it puts a huge burden on you and can be incredibly overwhelming. In addition to cutting out all the “bad” stuff, people tend to think they need to spend hours in the gym doing cardio and lifting weights, and this puts even more pressure on you. While exercising is important, it doesn’t have to take up hours of your day every day, and it doesn’t have to be done in a gym. This blog provides tips and advice to make small changes to your daily routine that will make a big impact on your health.
One of the many points that stuck with me during my Precision Nutrition certification was that if you have food in your home, healthy or unhealthy, eventually you or someone you love will eat it. And with that being said, buying more whole foods and fewer processed foods means you and the other people who live in your house will be eating more whole foods and fewer processed foods. This will help to cut down on your caloric intake and will increase the amount of nutrients you’re consuming. It also automatically aids in cutting added sugar from your diet as well as “unhealthy” carbohydrates and “bad” fats. (I use the terms “unhealthy” and “bad” loosely and to save the time it would take to dive into great detail about carb and fat sources.) As well as consuming more whole and fewer processed foods, eating appropriate portions is a great way to cut calories without calorie counting. We have a tendency to eat whatever is in front of us, even after we’re full, so filling your plate with only what you need can benefit a lot of us.
So how do you buy more whole and fewer processed foods? It will take some thinking and planning: What days will you have time to cook? What will you cook? What will you need to buy at the store? When will you do your grocery shopping? Once you’ve shopped, you’ll need to prep the food for healthy snacks and meals. You can prepare all your meals over the weekend or whenever you have time and separate and refrigerate/freeze them accordingly. Keeping healthy, easily accessible snacks handy and having meals on hand that have already been prepped and just need to be cooked or warmed up keeps us from reaching for unhealthy snacks or going through the drive thru on the way home from work. Keep healthy snacks at home as well as at work and on the go.
As previously mentioned, adding exercise to your daily routine is a daunting task for many, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re not used to exercising, start small – take a 10 minute walk every day. This can be done in the morning when you go out to get the paper, parking far enough from work to provide you with a 10 minute jaunt, before you sit down to eat your healthy lunch, when you get home from work, or after you’ve had dinner and washed the dishes. Or really any other time you have 10 minutes available. The goal is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and once you’ve gotten in the routine of taking one 10 minute walk, you can increase that to two and then three 10 minute walks every day, and BOOM – 30 minutes of daily exercise. You can of course add other forms of exercise as well – lifting weights at home or at the gym, walking or biking to work, taking an exercise class at a local gym, doing an exercise DVD at home – the possibilities are endless.
Not all healthy habits revolve around what we eat or how much exercise we get – our environment also plays a huge role in our health. Think about what meal time looks like for you: Are you eating in front of a TV? By yourself or with others? On the go while you’re driving the kids to sports practice? Do what you can to adjust your schedule (meal prepping ahead of time can help with this) to be able to allow at least 20 minutes to sit down at the table, away from the TV, with your family or friends to enjoy your meal.
What sort of people are you spending time with? At work we don’t always get a choice of who we’re around, but in our social lives, if we surround ourselves with supportive people who have similar goals and lifestyles as us, it will be easier to make healthy, positive changes in our lives. It’s a lot harder to eat healthy, nutrient-rich foods when you’re hanging out with friends who are constantly going through the drive thru and meeting up for happy hour every week. Joining a gym or taking an exercise class every week is a great way to meet people who have an interest in staying healthy.
These tips just begin to scratch the surface of changes you can make to your daily routine that will help lead to a healthier lifestyle. Making one or two small changes at a time can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed and defeated and will lead to success. Surrounding yourself with healthy foods and supportive people will make these changes much easier, and if you have trouble staying motivated, ask a friend or family member to join you in making these changes with you.
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
“So You Make Meal Plans for People?” If I had a dime for every time I heard this response when I tell people I’m a certified nutrition coach, I could retire. Typically when people hear the words dietitian, nutritionist, and nutrition coach, they assume that involves making a lot of meal plans – lots and lots of meal plans. If only it were that easy....
Sure I’ve made meal SUGGESTIONS for plenty of friends and clients who’ve asked, but unfortunately meal plans don’t really work. Think about it – do you want to be told what to eat at every meal, every day, for the rest of your life? I don’t, and although there might be a handful of people in the entire world who would go along with it, I can imagine most people don’t want their meals and snacks to be dictated by someone else.
As a certified nutrition coach, it is my job to help people tap into their relationship with food and to figure out how to make that relationship a healthy one. Helping someone make a lifestyle change – losing weight, being more physically active, eating better, learning to cook – involves a lot of time and trust and is very deep and personal. The relationship we have with food is very psychological and deep seeded in us, and this means it is incredibly difficult to make changes to our thoughts and feelings about food as well as our eating habits. I also have to be aware that sometimes there are underlying factors affecting a person’s relationship with food that are out of my scope of practice and that I will need to refer them out to someone with a psychological background.
In addition to working with clients on building a healthy relationship with food, I work with them to develop skill sets for planning meals, shopping, meal prep, and cooking. With the help of ProCoach, the online software I use, clients also receive daily lessons where they learn about eating slowly, eating whole foods, why it’s important to include protein at every meal, how to choose “smart” carbohydrate sources, and so much more.
While it is impossible to list every aspect of nutrition coaching, I believe this blog provides a basic, general description of how I help clients to achieve their goals of living a healthier life – whatever that may mean to them – and as you can see, it is so much more than “making meal plans for people.” For more information on what I do and how it’s different from other “weight loss programs,” check out my blog from January 1 of this year – “What I do versus what the Other Guys Do.”
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
Why do we need to eat? To provide us with fuel, right? If we really did just need fuel, or calories, to keep going and that was all that mattered, wouldn’t that mean we could just eat a certain number of calories a day, regardless of the source? For example, if all we were interested in was calorie intake, 200 calories of snack cake would provide us with the same fuel as an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter. That, however, is not the case. Our bodies are much more complex than that, and we need a wide array of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals in addition to the energy food provides us. What we eat helps our body do its job – strengthen bones, muscle repair, make hormones – and tells our bodies how to function properly – what hormones to express and when, when to release an immune response, and so much more.
Because our bodies don’t burn fuel the way machines do, we can’t look at food and the calories food provides as fuel. Every body digests and processes food differently, and our own body differs in how it digests and processes food throughout the day. Not only do our bodies process calories differently, calorie values assigned to foods are not always accurate, so counting calories doesn’t really work, and it can also drive a person crazy! A better alternative to calorie counting is to eat a wide variety of mostly whole foods in appropriate portions for your gender and personal needs.
Food also tells a story about us and our personality. It can indicate to others where we’re from, what culture or cultures we’re a part of, if we’re vegetarian or vegan, how conscious we are about what we put in our bodies (processed vs. whole foods), how willing or unwilling we are to try new things, and so much more! Not only does food tell a story about us, it helps us connect with others. Eating with people we care about provides multiple mental and emotional, social, and physiological benefits.
While it is true that food provides us with energy, or fuel, food also tells our story, connects us with others, and can benefit or hurt out health. So what story does your food tell about you? How do you connect with others? Sometimes taking a few minutes to really think about these things gives more meaning to, and makes us more aware of, the foods we’re putting in our bodies and what we’re doing while we’re “refueling.” Hopefully this has given you some insight and now you’ll look at food as more than fuel but rather an experience – and hopefully a positive one!
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
We all live very busy lives – working twelve hour days, running the kids to and from school and practice, hours of housework and yardwork – and the list goes on. And then, after all that, we have to prepare a meal for ourselves and our families. It would be a lot easier to run through the drive thru of a fast food restaurant or to throw a frozen pizza in the oven, but what if we want to give ourselves and our family something healthier? How do we do this without staying up until 10PM just to cook and eat? Keep reading for helpful tips and ideas!
You have probably heard that meal prep is a great way for those with busy schedules to have healthy meals, and if done correctly, that’s absolutely true. Planning meals, making lists, grocery shopping, cooking, and storing the cooked food in easily accessible containers in the fridge are all steps of meal prep and can be done when you have extra time, like on the weekends or a day off during the week.
One key when planning meals is to make sure you are including lean protein and vegetables in each meal and a smart carbohydrate (whole grain or starchy vegetable) and healthy fat with some meals. For example, if you are prepping breakfast, lunch, and dinner, make sure to include a protein and vegetable in all three of those meals and a smart carb and healthy fat in one or two of them, depending on your personal needs. Sticking to appropriate portions is also important during meal prep. One serving of protein is one palm-sized portion for women and two for men. One fist-sized portion of vegetables is an appropriate serving for women, and two fist-sized portions of vegetables are appropriate for men. A serving size of carbohydrates is one cupped hand for women and two for men, while one thumb-sized portion is a serving size of fat for women and two thumb-sized portions for men.
Both shopping and cooking in bulk are important strategies for successful meal prep. While it might take an hour to prepare one evening meal, it won’t take much more time, if any, to prepare five or six evening meals to have throughout the week. Same goes with menu planning and grocery shopping – you’re going to spend the time to do that for one meal, so why not do it for five or six meals to save yourself time during the week?
Separating foods into proper portions after preparing and/or cooking is the next step in successful meal prep. While storing foods in clear, stackable containers isn’t necessary, it is helpful. If you don’t already have containers like this and don’t want to spend the money right now, use what you have, but make sure to label what is in the containers so you know what’s in them without having to pull them out and peek under the lid. Using the same food for different meals is another benefit of meal prep: for example, if you’ve chopped up green peppers for an omelet for breakfast, use the rest of them on a salad for lunch the next day or in fajitas for dinner.
Maybe there is night or two where you know you’ll be really short on time – soups and one-pot meals (like “dump meals” for the Crock-pot) that include protein and vegetables are great for nights like this. If you’re like me and you’re short on time most mornings, breakfasts like overnight oats or pre-baked egg muffins might be perfect for you. Tired of spending money on low-quality fast food for lunch at work? Salad in a jar (throw lettuce or kale, all your favorite veggies, and a tablespoon of dressing into a jar or container with a lid and make sure to give a good shake before eating) or pre-portioned leftovers from the night before are convenient options for a healthy lunch away from home.
Once you find what works for you and get into a routine, meal prep will become second nature. Meal prep is also a great way to get your whole family involved – sitting down to plan meals, shopping, and preparing and cooking food together makes everyone feels included and helps insure the whole family will enjoy the planned meals. It’s also a great way to teach the kiddos cooking skills, proper portions, and the overall importance of healthy eating. Meal prep can be a wonderful time saver and a huge step towards better health, and it can even be fun!
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A
"Agh! I can’t eat carbs!” This might be what you think when they bring the basket of bread to your table at a restaurant or when you’re at your in-laws for dinner and they’re serving lasagna. And if this is the first thing that pops into your head, you’re not alone. We’ve all heard about low-carb diets and how they are supposed to help us lose weight and be healthier, and while this isn’t untrue, we still need SOME carbs to maintain a healthy balance in our diet. It can be extremely hard for most people to follow a low-carb diet for a significant length of time, so it’s pretty unrealistic to assume you’ll be able to stick with such a diet for the rest of your life. So… are we supposed to eat carbs or not? There isn’t a simple answer to that question, but throughout this blog, I will define what complex and simple carbohydrates are, sources of each, why carbs are important, and how to include them in a healthy, balanced die.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a carbohydrate is, “any of various neutral compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (such as sugars, starches, and celluloses) most of which are formed by green plants and which constitute a major class of animal foods.” Precision Nutrition goes a step further by discussing simple versus complex carbohydrates and their structures. Simple carbohydrates are easily processed in the body because they contain a single sugar group and can’t be broken down any further. Complex carbohydrates have two or more sugar groups linked together and therefore use more energy and take longer for the body to break down.
Simple carbohydrates come from foods made with refined flour and refined sugar, and some examples include white bread, pizza crust, snack cakes, white rice, pretzels, and biscuits. These foods have been highly processed and a lot of their nutritional value has been stripped. They don’t require much energy to be broken down in our bodies which means they don’t keep us satisfied for long. When our diet consists of mainly simple carbohydrate sources, we will likely end up eating more and more often than we would if we were eating complex carbs instead.
Sources of complex carbs include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Complex carbohydrates are a better option for the following reasons: Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, which helps control blood sugar and keeps us feeling fuller for longer. Complex carbohydrates also provide us with fiber which helps to keep our GI tract healthy and can help control cholesterol levels. Foods that provide complex carbohydrates are also more likely than simple carb sources to provide necessary vitamins and minerals.
Maintaining a diet that includes a healthy balance of complex carbohydrates is important because carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for both the body and the brain. Individuals who exercise intensely on a regular basis require a higher intake of carbs than those who live a sedentary or mostly sedentary lifestyle. If carbohydrate intake is too low in someone who exercises regularly, that person might experience a slowed metabolism and an inability to build muscle. He or she might often feel sluggish and have impaired mood and cognitive function. While adequate carbohydrate intake is necessary, it is important to maintain a diet with an appropriate balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
On average, we need about 130 grams of carbohydrate per day. This of course varies with gender, body type, and activity level. The majority of carbohydrate intake should come from unprocessed or minimally processed fruits and vegetables, although if you exercise regularly at an intense pace, simple carbs may be recommended for post-workout recovery. And, as always, moderation, a healthy balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), and consuming mostly un- and minimally processed foods are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Think positive, stay active, and smile. –A
When grocery shopping, most of us probably pay at least some attention to the packaging of the products we buy – reading the front of the package (health claims, front of package labeling, etc.), glancing at the nutrition label on the back or side of the package, and/or reading the ingredients list. Maybe we’re only buying those products because of the fancy packaging or because of the intriguing health claims on the package. Maybe we are planning to buy the product but we choose one brand over the other because the packaging or health claims are more attractive on that brand. Are we really getting the best buy or best product when we base our decision on packaging and health claims? Are the health claims actually true? What do the health claims actually mean? There are a lot of ways in which food companies get us to buy their food, and believe it or not, these companies aren’t always truthful.
Coloring of packaging and “health” claims are just two ways companies convince you to buy their products. Consumers perceive items in green packaging to be healthier, and brightly colored packaging attracts more attention. Products making claims of providing antioxidants, being gluten free, organic, natural, and/or whole grain also tend to make consumers believe these items are healthier than their counterparts – whether or not they really are. The labels of “natural” and “organic” don’t mean much, as these terms are controlled for some foods but not for others, and foods with these healthy-sounding labels aren’t necessarily healthy foods. Most of the foods labeled with these claims are minimally to highly processed foods that contain added sugar or preservatives. Think about it – when was the last time you saw an apple or a bunch of spinach with labels claiming to be “natural” or “gluten free?”
What may be even more misleading (and infuriating to me) than package colors and health claims are endorsements from the American Heart Association, the American Diabetic Association, and others. Off the top of my head, I can think of two foods that carry the American Heart Association logo, claiming to be “heart healthy foods” – Campbell’s soup and Minute Maid orange juice – both of which are highly processed foods that contain high amounts of sodium and sugar, respectively.
While I have an entire blog post dedicated to it, hidden sugar, or disguised sugar, is another way in which food companies trick consumers. If no “table sugar” is added to a food, it can be labeled as “low-sugar,” but that doesn’t mean the product contains no added sugar. When reading through the ingredients list on a product’s label, you may find corn syrup, anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, maple syrup, raw sugar, molasses, fructose, lactose, maltose, and/or syrup – these are all alternate names for added sugar.
Unfortunately it is unlikely to see an increase in truthfulness of food packaging anytime soon, so the more you know, the better off you’ll be. It is important to be aware of what is truly in the products you are buying, so ALWAYS read the ingredients list on packaged foods, or better yet, buy fresh, whole foods that have no need for an ingredients list. Choosing mostly unprocessed or minimally processed (nothing or little to nothing added to food found in nature) foods, as well as becoming an informed consumer, will help you avoid marketing ploys and misleading labels. Just remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A