Enjoy Halloween Treats—Avoid Sugary Tricks

From vampire bats to Kit Kats®, Halloween is a long-standing tradition celebrated with tricks and treats. In fact, it’s one of my favorite holidays. I have always found humor in dressing up in non-traditional Halloween costumes, even at an early age. Luckily, I have great friends and family that are willing to partake in my couple/group Halloween costume extravaganzas. 

 Routine consumption of “sugary tricks” can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.

There is no “healthy” candy

As a dietitian, the most common question I get this time of year is, “What is the best/healthiest candy to eat”? Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer. But don’t worry! This is not going to be your typical “don’t eat candy” Halloween post.  In my eyes, it’s perfectly fine to eat your heart out in candy for a night (or two). Why? Because we are a product of what we routinely do, not what we occasionally do. This applies to all aspects of life, but especially to our health.  

Everything in Moderation

What I mean by this concept is that it is perfectly fine to enjoy some less-nutritious foods, such as pizza, donuts and candy, occasionally. The problem is that most people enjoy these foods far too often than what their metabolisms are capable of processing. I am more concerned with the “daily candy” our youth and adults consume. Routine consumption of these foods can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.

Breakfast Candy

Cereals, Pop-Tarts® and pastries are some of the best ways to start off your day…. If you want a sugar and insulin surge. These habits lead to fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin control throughout the day, disrupt concentration and can suck the energy right out of you. Lower sugar options include eggs, lean breakfast meats, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese and small servings of fruit.

Liquid Candy

Juice, soda, sweet tea and sports drinks are simply sugar in a liquid form. Perceived benefits of caffeine, vitamins and electrolytes are far outweighed by the consequences of the rapid absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Not only does this sugar tidal wave spike insulin levels, it also increases preferences towards high-sugar foods, so the cycle unfortunately continues.

Fake Candy

Often, people gravitate towards items that are “sugar-free,” such as diet soda or sugar-free snacks, with the assumption that these products are healthier. I firmly stand my ground that low-calorie, chemical versions of sugar are no healthier for you than real and processed sugars. They may have a reduced nutrient density, but research shows that sugar substitutes greatly damage our gut lining. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, propelling a host of other disease conditions.

Fruit Candy

Fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks and fruit-fillings are not fruit. They are pastes and mixtures created to taste like fruit. While these foods may appear to be healthier choices than other snack foods, nutritionally, they are no different than Skittles®.

Dairy Candy

Milk and yogurt contain both natural and added sugars. Calcium intake is important but not at the price of 20 grams of sugar, which is what you may find in a standard serving of yogurt (even Greek) and especially flavored milk varieties. Opt for low-sugar calcium sources such as unsweetened milk substitutes, broccoli, spinach, cheese, cottage cheese or whey/casein-based protein powders.

M&M’s are Football Fields

M&M’s are football fields. To understand what this means, let’s take an imaginary trip to your local high school football field and play a game. On the way, stop and buy a small bag of plain M&M’s. Head to the field with your M&M’s tucked away—if you open them prematurely you’ll ruin the game!

Too many Americans have a sedentary lifestyle and do not make the connection of calories in vs calories out.

How to Play:

  • Walk your bag of M&M’s to the end of the field (10 yards behind the goal line).
  • Tear off the corner of the bag and push out one and only one M&M into the palm of your hand.
  • Stare at that one M&M for a few seconds and think how it will taste melting in your mouth.
  • Eat the M&M. Yummy, yummy. Right?
  • Stare straight out over the entire length of the football field. That’s how far you’re going to have to walk to burn off the one M&M you’ve just eaten. One football field—end zones included. One hundred and twenty yards!
  • Walk it! Yes, walk it! One football field, and don’t forget to keep the rest of the bag in your pocket.
  • Upon arriving at the other end of the football field, take your bag of M&M’s and squeeze out just one more M&M.
  • Again, stare at it for a while. Then, look back over the entire grass field you just walked. Then stare back at the M&M, then the football field.
  • Ask yourself “If I eat this M&M (M&M #2), would I be willing to walk the length of this field again?”

YES

If your answer is “yes”, eat M&M #2, and walk one more football field. If you want to eat the entire small bag of M&M’s that will take you about 55 football fields. If you are like me and prefer the peanut M&M’s to the plain, well, you will have to walk, two football fields per M&M!

NO

If you answer is “no”, the game is over and you can throw your M&M’s in the nearest garbage receptacle and return home.

Now let’s put this in correlation with other foods. A single potato chip is also a football field, slice of pizza is 80 football fields, , Snickers Bar is 54 football fields, a Miller or Bud Lite is 18 football fields, and a Big Mac, fries and shake is 240 football fields or the equivalent of walking 5 straight hours!

This helpful concept for connecting caloric intake with expenditure was developed by walking expert, Rob Sweetgall, for his workbook “Walking Off Weight.” Unfortunately, too many Americans have a sedentary lifestyle and do not make the connection of calories in vs calories out. So remember, just even a small change, like a little M&M, can make a big difference over time.

Should you be counting your calories?

The other day I was with a patient and she said, “Megan I’m frustrated with you”. That took me aback for a minute; I felt our sessions had been going well and she was working towards her goals. She went on to tell me I had not given her a calorie count to follow.

 

Now, this is not the first time I have heard this. We hear so many times calories in=calories out, so we must count our calories, right? NO! That is not so and I am not a dietitian that recommends calorie counting to my patients and here is why.

Our bodies are very complex. Trying to simplify the way our bodies work by tracking a single a calorie, is not necessarily effective.

Counting calories can leave you feeling hungry, deprived, upset, and eventually, right back to your original weight or higher. Not only can you feel exhausted and empty as you restrict your body of what it needs, but also any weight you do lose ends up coming back anyway once you start “eating” again. It’s a lose-lose situation. Not only do you not achieve the desired result, but you also feel defeated and terrible about yourself!

So what counts?

Eat healthier by cutting back portions and adding in non-starchy vegetables.
Remember your #plategoals— ¼ protein, ¼ carbohydrate and ½ non-starchy vegetables. Try this approach to every meal; it eliminates the need to count calories! The #plategoals method can provide half the calories of a typical meal, with the same volume, if not more— and get this, 1-2 times the nutrients.

 

Eat every few hours.
Snack between meals; be sure to include a protein and a carbohydrate. This frequent eating, not grazing, helps to fuel your body and boost your metabolism.

Here are some great snack ideas:

  • One half banana or one medium apple with 1 Tbsp nut butter
  • ½ c lite peaches and ½ c low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2 Tbsp hummus and ½ c sugar snap peas
  • 5 reduced fat Triscuits® with 1 oz low-fat cheese
  • One half of a whole-wheat pita stuffed with ½ c lite tuna or egg salad
  • One whole multi-grain English muffin topped with tomato sauce and 1 oz low-fat mozzarella cheese, then baked
  • 10 multi-grain Wheat Thins® with 1 oz low-fat string cheese
  • One small baked potato topped with salsa and 1 oz low-fat cheese
  • ½ c fruit blended with 1 c fat-free/low-fat yogurt and 2 Tbsp flaxseed meal
  • ½ c goldfish crackers made with whole grain and a medium apple
  • Whole-wheat tortilla, topped with ½ c apples and low-fat cheddar cheese, and then heated in microwave
  • 9oz angel food cake or reduced fat biscuit with 1 c strawberries
  • One small baked sweet potato, topped with ½ c pineapple tidbits
  • 3 c low-fat popcorn with 2 Tbsp nuts

Start today by simplifying your health and weight goals by no longer counting calories, but making sure your caloric intake is sourced from the right types of food.

Click here to print off Easy “Mix and Match Meals” using the #plategoals method.

 

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.

Your Diet and your Job: A perfect marriage or recipe for disaster?

When it comes to relationships (with people, food and even health habits), we are greatly influenced by those closest to us. In fact, many experts believe that our habits are shaped by the five people we spend the most time with. This illustrates how powerful of an impact social influence and our environment has on our daily decisions. We cannot blame all our poor decisions on others or our work setting, but I completely understand how the influence of others and demands of our jobs can make it difficult to stay on track with healthy eating. Here are some common traps and possible solutions to help get you through your 40-hour workweek, healthy and guilt-free.

Here are some common traps and possible solutions to help get you through your 40-hour workweek, healthy and guilt-free.

Problem: It’s Andy’s Birthday and that means cake, cookies and other Pinterest-inspired sugar villains.

Solution:Learn to confidently say “no thanks”.
Normally I say it’s perfectly fine to indulge on special occasions; however, special occasions such as birthdays, retirements, Fridays happen every week. In fact, we create special occasions such as “national eat chocolate for breakfast day” to justify eating sugar-rich foods. Try to separate work celebrations and personal celebrations and save those yummy treats for your own milestones. Here’s another trick I like to practice. Stand up tall and turn your head all the way to the left, now look all the way to the right and repeat this motion four more times. As silly as it sounds, remember it is perfectly fine to politely turn down sweets brought into the office.

Problem: Lunch meetings.

Solution: Become a savvier diner.
It is very common to go out to eat for social or business purposes during the week. You could always stay behind and eat your lunch by yourself, but where’s the fun in that? Learning to spot out the healthier items on a menu or give less-healthy menu items a makeover is a much savvier way to enjoy your lunch break. You can never go wrong with lean proteins and veggies. It’s also a good idea to make sure you do not have multiple starches on your plate. This may mean removing the buns from a chicken sandwich or swapping out fries for an extra serving of seasonal vegetables.

Problem: That 3:00 slump.

Solution: Prepare for the inevitable.
It happens every single day, so why do we repeatedly torture ourselves with blood sugar crashes followed by poor vending machine decisions? Packing a protein-rich afternoon snack will keep your tummy happy, your focus off the clock and get you through to dinner time without a starving metabolism. The downfall of pretzels, crackers, baked chips and granola bars is that they contain very little nutritional value and zero amounts of protein. In fact, it’s difficult to find a protein-rich snack from a vending machine or office snack bar. Always keep nuts or protein bars at work or pack some extra cheese, meat, cottage cheese, low sugar Greek yogurt, eggs or a protein shake in your lunch bag. One ounce of peanuts, 2 ounces of turkey and 1 ounce of cheese together provides almost 30 grams of protein!

 

 

Roasting Vegetables 101

Oh, the smell of winter is in the air. The colder temperatures, snow, ice, winter coats, skiing, sledding and root vegetables. Can you tell this is an enjoyable time for me?

No, actually it isn’t. I don’t like cold, I don’t like skiing, and I’m not a big fan of snow. Yeah, yeah I know, I live in Illinois, but I’m still not use to it! However, I do love root vegetables because you can roast these vegetables and they are fabulous to eat. They are like a guilty pleasure, almost too good to be good for you! Plus, it is super, super easy to do.

Click here to print off Roasting Vegetables 101

Optional: Stir/turn the vegetables 1 to 2 times during the baking process.

When roasting vegetables, go easy on the oil, which is high in calories and fat. You may also consider substituting oil for balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, tamari, lemon, lime juice, etc.

When done roasting, serve them as a side dish, pile them on a sandwich, inside a panini, or puree them to make soup. Happy Eating!!