Gas it Up: Give your body the energy it wants

Let’s talk about how the body gets energy. “Glucose” is a fancy word for sugar, and it’s best known as a fuel for our body. All food is broken down into our bodies for fuel, but glucose is the body’s main energy source. Just like we need to put gas in our cars to go, we need to put gas in our bodies too. And just like we have different octanes of fuel for our cars, we have different octanes of fuel for our bodies.

Beneficial glucose

The best source of glucose is found in a macronutrient known as “carbohydrate.” And when you think of carbohydrate, you’re probably thinking about bread, rice or pasta. But in addition to these foods, fruits and a few vegetables are also carbohydrate sources.

These fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and lean proteins, are the best fuel to nourish our bodies instead of depleting our energy levels. These foods are permissible AND beneficial.

Less beneficial glucose

Processed foods, such as cake, doughnuts, cookies, sugary liquids and some white foods are among the types of foods that may be permissible but are not always beneficial. These carbohydrate sources are most often found in the center aisles of the grocery store. Let’s break down two of these foods/ingredients.

Enriched white flour

You see the word “enriched,” and you’d think this would be better for you. Bogus! Enriching means stripping the grain, removing most of its natural nutrients, then replacing some of those nutrients during processing.

When enriched foods came to the market, there were good motives. This food processing technique came about to better preserve foods for longer periods in order to prevent food famines. But now, when you see “enriched” on a food label, know that this will give you some quick energy, but your gas tank will quickly be on empty.

White sugar

Yummy in my tummy!—is what I always think when I think about foods made from white sugar or sucrose. Sucrose provides an immediate blood sugar surge. Your metabolic system lights up, and the body produces insulin and raises your serotonin levels (happy hormones).

Raised insulin levels can cause you to overeat while also causing you to be as hungry as you were before you started eating. In addition, your body will become more resistant to the sugar, causing you to feel the need for MORE sugar and unnecessary calories to elevate your mood while emptying your gas tank and causing you to crash just as quickly. What a vicious cycle.

How can we get more “good” fuel?

Focus on retraining your taste buds. Yes, you can retrain your taste buds! Try to remove or at least limit these permissible but not beneficial foods and then replace them with foods that will provide you with more clarity and energy, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Your body will thank you!

Don’t Stress about PCOS: 5 Habits for Better Weight Management

Baseball, food and dancing are three of my favorite things. On a typical fall Monday night, you will find me cooking dinner while flipping back and forth between the Cubs game and Dancing with the Stars. Recently, one of the new celebrity dancers spoke out regarding her struggles with weight gain from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is the culprit of many of my female patients’ stress, fatigue and struggles with weight management. Luckily, there are some methods that work better for weight loss over others.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

For those that are unfamiliar with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it is more common than you might think. PCOS is the culprit of many of my female patients’ stress, fatigue and struggles with weight management. Women with PCOS experience irregularities in hormone levels and insulin resistance, struggle with fertility and commonly have great difficulties losing weight. Luckily, there are some methods that work better for weight loss over others.

1. Practice good meal pattern habits.

It is incredibly important to control metabolic hormones through proper eating habits. Skipping meals can cause wide fluctuations in insulin levels, which can make weight loss near impossible. Eating a meal or snack at least every 4 hours has shown to control insulin levels and help women avoid blood sugar crashes. If you are not a snacker, consider eating five to six small meals spaced evenly throughout the day.

2. Choose high-protein foods.

Protein naturally lowers insulin and blood sugar levels. That is why this is the most important food group for women with PCOS. Remember to start each day with a high-protein breakfast, whether it’s from eggs, lean meats or a power-packed protein shake.

3.Be consistent.

One of the most important things to help with hormone control is to establish a routine for your body. The lifestyle factors that can influence hormone levels include how often you eat, what you eat and when you exercise. It is important to eat frequently and not skip meals. Ideally, all your meals and snacks should be balanced and not high in carbs and sugar. If you work out, try to exercise at the same time each day. The more your body follows the same daily routine, the easier it is to control metabolic and sex hormone levels.

4. Limit carbs & sugar.

Since carbohydrate-rich foods and those with added sugars raise blood sugar and insulin levels, it is good practice to cut down on these menu items. You don’t have to cut out bread, pasta and potatoes all together, but it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure these are the smallest portions of food on your plate. Load up on lean proteins and veggies to create satisfying and balanced meals.

5. Do regular strength training.

Every form of exercise has its benefits, but strength and interval training cause greater metabolic improvements.  Strength training can help both retain and build lean muscle tissue while simultaneously burning fat. Reducing body fat is one of the best ways to speed up metabolism and control hormone levels.

How to Read the FDA’s New Food Label

If you are a label reader, you may have noticed some changes to food labels recently. In 2016, the FDA announced the food label would get a makeover­­—with the hopes that this new label will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices. The current nutrition label is more than 20 years old. The changes that will be made, according to the FDA, are based on updated scientific information, new nutrition and public health research, more recent dietary recommendations from expert groups and input from the public.

The current nutrition label is more than 20 years old—but its makeover will help consumers make better-informed food choices.

The changes you will see include:

  • increase in type size for “Calories,” “servings per container” and “serving size”
  • bolding the number of calories and serving size
  • including “added sugars” in grams and as percent Daily Value
  • updating the list of nutrients permitted or required

US Food and Drug Administration

What do these changes mean?

Let’s take a closer look at why these changes are happening and how they will affect the way we read food labels.

Serving Size

Serving sizes are based on amounts of foods and beverages people are eating, not what they should be eating. The previous serving size requirements were published in 1993, and how much we eat and drink now has changed. For example, the reference amount used for a serving of ice cream was previously 1/2 cup but is changing to 2/3 cup because that’s more likely the amount someone will eat at one time.

Packaging Size

Package size also affects what people eat. So for packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20-ounce soda or a 15-ounce can of soup, the FDA now requires that calories and other nutrients be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.

For certain products that are larger than a single serving but that could be consumed either in one sitting or over time, manufacturers will have to provide “dual-column labels” to indicate the amount of calories and nutrients both per serving and per package. Examples would be a 24-ounce bottle of soda or a pint of ice cream. The hope is with dual-column labels available, people will be able to more easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package at one time.

US Food and Drug Administration

Added Sugars

You will also see “Added sugars” in grams and as percent Daily Value. Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar. The FDA will continue to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat” and “Trans Fat” on the label but will remove “Calories from Fat” because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.


The FDA is updating the list of nutrients that are required or permitted to be declared. Vitamin D and potassium will be required on the label. Calcium and iron will continue to be required. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required but can be included on a voluntary basis. Vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium are required to be shown in actual amount and percent Daily Value. Other vitamins and minerals can be shown as well in gram amount. The footnote is also changed to better explain what percent Daily Value means. It will read: “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”

US Food and Drug Administration


When will you see all packages with this new food label? The FDA set a compliance date for July 2018 with an additional year to comply for smaller manufacturers. So be on the lookout.

For more information you can go to the FDA’s website.


Practicing Environmental Control: Work & Home

You must have healthy foods available in order to eat them. Bringing foods into your environment that have the lowest calorie “price tags” is a great starting point. By doing this, you are essentially making healthier food choices earlier than you might normally because you are being proactive in your environment instead of reactive.

So let’s begin this environmental control for your home and work by asking yourself…

  • Do you have foods/snacks that don’t provide a lot of food for the calories?
  • What is something you ate at home or work that gave you a lot of food for the calories?
  • Identify a specific time(s) of day or situation when you more likely to eat higher calorie foods.

Learning to anticipate your challenges and then reducing your caloric intake by the choices you make can help to reduce your calories for the whole day. Without structure, there’s’ almost no ceiling as to how high the calories can go.

Try bringing these healthier foods into your home and work environment…

  • Place a bowl of mixed fruit on the counter, on your desk or eye level in your fridge
  • Buy several bags of frozen fruit to mix into different foods
  • Stock your car and desk drawer with ‘hand fruit’ – apples, bananas, plums, grapes, etc.
  • Prepare a large bowl of cut up fresh, frozen or canned fruit salad
  • Purchase several bags of frozen vegetables
  • Purchase ‘pop top’ canned fruit
  • Peal and cup up fruit and put in ready to go containers.
  • At work, bring the fruit and vegetables with you daily. I encourage you to strive to bring a minimum of 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables to work daily.

The more supportive foods you have on the counter at home, in the fridge, on your desk at work, in your car…essentially, anywhere you are, the more likely you’ll be able to prevent the higher calorie/higher fat foods from sneaking in your diet. Removing temptation/triggering foods and replacing them with some suggestions above, will have you feeling more in control of your environment and diet.

Practicing Environmental Control: Restaurants

Controlling our environment in order to successfully manage our weight and health is not always possible, but we can arm ourselves with a strategy. Unplanned, unstructured eating leads to eating out more which ultimately ends in weight gain and unhealthy habits.

Here are some tips to try when eating out:

  • Eat something healthy before you go. If you go to restaurants when you’re hungry, you’re more likely to snack on higher calories appetizers and bread and less likely to order healthier food options.
  • Carefully choose which restaurant to go to; some restaurants are more supportive with health goals than others.
  • Have a plan before you go of what you are going to eat.
  • Be direct in asking for your meal to be prepared with less or no oil. Restaurants are often not accustomed to special, low-fat request, though they are generally willing to accommodate them.
  • If ordering take-out, be very clear about your request for lo-fat preparation.
  • Avoid fried foods, ask for baked, broiled or grilled, instead.
  • Many vegetables including salad, can become high calorie with added dressings, sauces, and condiments. You can potentially save hundreds of calories by asking for low or no-fat sauces or condiments and always ask for it on the side!
  • Given that many side orders of vegetables are small, you may need to order several or make a request for a larger portion. (Remember your #plategoals)
  • Be the first in your group to order your food, so as not to be deterred by what others are ordering.
  • Remember why you are eating out, is it for a celebration or is it just a Wednesday evening?


Practicing Environmental Control: The Grocery Store

Managing environmental cues or as I like to call it, practicing Environmental Control, in the grocery store may seem easy, but is actually quite challenging. A basic misconception is that food-related decisions are consciously and deliberately made. The reality is, food choices are often an automated response. Sometimes choices made may even be the opposite of what the person would consciously prefer. How, you ask? Let’s take a look at a prime example: food placement traps.

Practicing Environmental Control: The Grocery Store

End of aisle location accounts for about 30% of all grocery sales. Vendors pay special fees for these spots and placement which can increase sales by a factor of five. Research using eye tracking equipment shows the attention drawn by special displays has more to do with the display itself rather than the goals of someone who selects them. Furthermore, people who lack the capacity to fully control eye-gaze and look the longest will be more likely to purchase those items.

So, how do we go about practicing environmental control in the grocery store?

  • Have an awareness that marketing is focused on selling foods that are not necessarily good for you.
  • Make a plan
  • Make a grocery list
  • Be aware of the ‘bad’ food placement traps
  • Don’t shop hungry
  • Do NOT under any circumstance ‘window shop’ junk food – don’t venture or gaze into the difficult areas.
  • Purchase fruits and/or vegetables at every grocery store visit
  • Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables if you have a plan for immediate use, otherwise look for canned or frozen variety.
  • Don’t read labels in the stores – this can be too taxing and cognitively stressing. Study labels thoroughly at home, so when you need to compare in the store you know what you are looking at.

To help you get started on the right track, I encourage you this week to go grocery shopping and make a plan that includes a specific list for vegetables and fruits and a more specific plan to substitute a new fruit or vegetable for any usual white carbohydrate item you purchase. Happy Shopping!