What do you know about your sugar?

I recently attended the American Association of Diabetes Educators conference in Indianapolis. How great and refreshing it was to be with 3,000 other diabetes educators from across the U.S. At this conference, there was a great display from the Abbott Freestyle “Know Your Sugar Tour” bus, which is a cross-country expedition to raise awareness about the ill effects of sugar on the body. This tour, featuring one-of-a-kind sugar sculptures made by world-renowned Irish sculptors Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels, promotes the importance of understanding sugar’s effects on the body.

When there is extra sugar, it can be stored in muscles and liver for later use, but it also can be stored as fat.

We Need Sugar—to an Extent

Our body is fueled by carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that occurs naturally in foods, but can also be added during food processing. Sugar is consumed in many different forms, but our bodies digest almost all of the sugar we eat into glucose. Glucose is the primary sugar our bodies use to create energy.

Our bodies do need a minimum amount of sugar every day to function properly. The reason for this is that glucose is the only source of energy for the brain and red blood cells. The human bloodstream normally contains only about 5 grams of glucose at any one time, which is the equivalent of just one teaspoon of sugar.

But Too Much Sugar Can Risk your Health

Sugar is not the enemy, as it is our fuel source, but too much sugar can be. So when we eat, this is what happens…

When there is extra sugar, it can be stored in muscles and liver for later use, but it also can be stored as fat. Additionally, if there is too much sugar, adverse effects start to occur within our bodies. Too much glucose in the bloodstream is the third highest risk factor for premature death worldwide, preceded only by tobacco use and high blood pressure. Additionally, consistent high blood glucose can lead to serious diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Steps for Managing your Sugar

Now, I’m not trying to alarm you! Insulin resistance, an effect of too much sugar in our bodies commonly known as type 2 diabetes, can be managed with healthy eating, increased physical activity and education and awareness. Complications in diabetes can also be better managed with:
• early diagnosis
• health professional support
• controlling glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
• access to insulin, oral medications and monitoring devices.

You can get started on eating less sugar right away by making the following food choices:
• non-starchy vegetables
• whole-grain foods
• fish 2-3 times a week (fried fish doesn’t count)
• lean cuts of beef and pork
• removing the skin from chicken and turkey
• non-fat or low-fat dairy products
• water, unsweetened tea, coffee and calorie-free ‘diet’ drinks instead of drinks with sugar
• liquid oils for cooking instead of solid fats (limit quantities)

In addition to changing what you eat, you can change how you eat. Consider making the following changes to your eating habits for better health and balance:
• eat a variety of foods
• eat small portions several times a day
• match how much you eat with your activity level
• eat few foods high in calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.

I know this sounds like a lot, so to simplify:

Try to not go more than 3-4 hours without eating, get a portioned amount of carbohydrates and protein together and follow My Plate guidelines with portioning all types of foods. Strive to get some movement in daily. This could be going to a gym, walking, “chair walking,” water therapy, exercise classes—anything you want, really, as long as you’re moving! Don’t hesitate to also set up an appointment with one of the dietitians at Springfield Clinic, too.

Back-to-School Lunches: Tips & Tricks

As a follow-up to my school breakfast post, I want to share my strategies for healthy school lunches. As I said, we are not morning people. There is not much time to get everything ready and everyone out of the house. My philosophy: Prepping and planning are key. If it is not there, we can’t eat it, so make sure it is there. 

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping.

Prepping

My goal is to go to the grocery store every week or even two times a week, but honestly, that is not always possible. To get the most bang out of my time and wallet, I make a list on my phone. If I make the list on a piece of paper, it never fails that that piece of paper is sitting on my counter when it is time to shop. I make my list from staples needed and from my meal planning.

Planning

I strive to plan all three meals each day.  Ugh, you may be saying—yeah, its work, I’m not going to deny that. If I don’t plan, then we don’t eat or we don’t eat well. I also plan for two kid’s breakfast, a child lunch and family dinner. For myself, I make a shake daily for breakfast and leftovers for lunch—so it’s not as horrendous as you may think.

To plan the lunches, first we go through the monthly school menu and pick out what days my son wants to eat school lunch. Yes, I let him eat school lunch—even on hot dog day.  Most days he takes his lunch, I know what healthy foods he is eating at home, so to me it balances out.  I ask him what foods he would like in his lunch; I’ll listen, but typically veto many options. When kids think they have input they are more apt to eat it 🙂

I like to keep the #plategoals ( ½ of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein) in mind when packing lunches. Offer variety and keep portion sizes small. Remember there is no “parent fail” if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner. I try to include at least two colors of plant-based foods at lunch. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun! Examples: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks.

On those rare days when I have an extra minute, I try to label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus”—it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

Packing 

I plan, make my list, grocery shop, have it at home, prep it and send it. What do I send it in? I like containers, like these, that have the three compartments. They make it easy to have multiple items in the lunch box without colliding and smashing.  I am not a fan of the character lunch boxes; nothing against the characters, but they are just not big enough for the containers. We got a lunchbox this year that fits the containers, lays flat, and the handle on top to hold the containers flat.  If the handle is on the side, making the container on its side, it always leaks.

If your child’s school doesn’t have a refrigerator for cold lunches, then you need to make sure there is also room for an ice pack to help keep the lunch cool. If the lunch doesn’t stay cool then bacteria grows and the not so good happens—you get the idea.

Unpacking

When the lunchbox comes home, wipe it down and wash the container to use again.  Those lunchboxes can come home nasty at times and fill with lots of bacteria. Don’t forget about the box and wiping down the ice pack.

Here are some quick, simple healthy foods my kids will eat.

  • Sandwiches with
    • Bread, tortilla, flat bread, English muffin, bagel, day old Jimmy John bread and pita pockets.
    • To help mix it up I try to add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or cookie cutter and sandwich kabobs.
  • Leftovers
  • Entrees
    • Bagels with cream cheese, quesadilla, nachos, ravioli and pasta.
  • Fruit
    • Applesauce, fresh fruit (apple slices, grapes, orange slices, cutie or pear), or canned fruit, canned in light syrup.
  • Vegetables
    • Salad with salad dressing in a small cup to drizzle on, raw veggies with ranch dressing or hummus to dip in, or cold roasted vegetables.
  • Grains
    • Whole-wheat crackers, pretzels, goldfish crackers, or baked chips.
  • Treats
    • One cookie, rice Krispy treat, Oreo, or tootsie roll.

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping. There is no foolproof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!

6 Steps to Bathing Suit Confidence

Summer is just around the corner and that means weekends will soon fill up with beach trips, pool days and afternoons in the sun. As a dietitian, I often get asked on what are some slimming secrets and increasing confidence tricks for being in a bathing suit all day. Consider some of these tips the next time you are packing up your sunblock and beach towels and heading outdoors!

Consider some of these slimming secrets for bathing suit confidence next time you are packing up your sunblock and beach towels for some fun in the sun!

1. Don’t Skip Breakfast/Meals.

Nothing good will come from this action so please do not consider it. Skipping meals or going long durations without eating signals your body to prepare for starvation and will slow down your metabolism. Just like your computer, your metabolism will go into “sleep mode” when not being stimulated for an extended period of time. This causes your body to aggressively store calories and will also offset your body’s hunger hormone levels. Basically, you will find yourself extra famished by the end of the day and will be more likely to overeat.

2. Avoid carbonated beverages and salty snacks.

Both carbonated beverages (even sugar-free ones) and salty snacks such as crackers, pretzels, Chex mix and the like can cause water retention and extra bloating. This is definitely not the recipe one wants for feeling svelte and confident all day in a swimsuit.

3. Do pack lean protein sources.

Foods that are high in protein will help you stay fuller longer. This will allow you to spend more time splashing and playing in the water and less time breaking to eat. Protein go-to’s can include eggs, lean meats, protein bars/shakes, low sugar Greek yogurts, unsalted nuts, white cheese varieties. Another perk to frequent protein intake is that it can also help ward off sugar cravings.

4. Focus on water for hydration.

Believe me, I know nothing sounds better than ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day but fueling your body with liquid sugar isn’t the best recipe for staying fit and trim. Confession: I’ll be the first to admit that plain water isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to drink. Take advantage of fresh produce this summer and create natural flavor enhancers by putting fresh cut fruit, herbs or vegetables in your water.

5. Fresh fruit and vegetables make great hydrating snacks.

Fresh produce is naturally high in water, fiber and antioxidants. Choosing fruit and vegetables as snacks help boost your nutrient intake. Natural foods do not have any added chemicals or junk in them, which can often be the culprit for bloated, upset stomachs.  Save yourself some time preparing fruits and vegetables and purchase pre-cut bags and containers from the grocery store to be beach-ready in a snap.

6. Above all- kick back and have fun.

Despite the season of being more active, I understand summer can amplify body image issues with wearing a swimsuit. With constant reminders of magazine covers touting to have the perfect bikini body, even the most confident of women can become over critical of themselves. Try not to let worrying thoughts about how you look overpower the fun you could be having with your friends, family and kids. Summer always comes and goes too fast anyways, so grab your shades, sunblock and let out a big “cowabunga”!

5 Hidden Sources of Sugar

Cutting back on one’s sugar intake is always one of the best first steps to take towards healthier eating habits. However, sugar can be found lurking in every aisle of the grocery store. You know to limit sweets, soda and candy but watch out for some of these hidden sources of sugar that could be sabotaging your health.

Salad Dressing

You’ve heard the phrase that a perfectly good salad can be ruined by its dressing. This is especially true when that salad dressing is nothing but a spoonful of sugar. Believe it or not, a serving of salad dressing can have more added sugars than a candy bar. Beware of fat-free salad dressings as these are usually the ones with the highest amounts of added sugars. Classic ranch, Italian and unsweetened vinaigrettes are good low-sugar choices.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has become America’s excuse to eat ice cream for breakfast. You read that right. Most Greek yogurt options contain more sugar than ice cream. I know what you’re thinking. “But Amanda, I thought Greek yogurt was supposed to be healthy for me”. You’re right, it was when it originally debuted on store shelves a decade ago. However, most people couldn’t get past the thick, tart taste of natural Greek yogurt, so to boost sales and increase palatability, manufacturers began adding more and more sugar to their products.

Nutella

Nutella just sounds fancy and sometimes fancy-sounding foods are mistakenly taken as healthier options. There is nothing fancy about the amount of sugar found in Nutella. In fact, it’s nearly all sugar; it’s even the very first ingredient listed on the nutrition label. Putting Nutella on toast is no different than covering your toast in maple syrup. You’re much better off with toppings that provide protein and/or healthy fat like peanut/almond butter, mashed avocado or my favorite, an egg!

Granola/Granola Bars

Granola bars gained popularity decades ago because they were the perfect low calorie/low fat snack. Remember low-fat usually translates to high-sugar. Food manufacturers have known this for a long time. If you can’t flavor something with fat, you need to enhance taste with sugar. Even organic, whole-food bars fall victim to being high in sugar. Swap your granola bars for a low-sugar protein bar. Your insulin levels and waistline will thank you. 

“Energy” anything

In the world of food marketing, the word “energy” is code for sugar. Fancy labeling and flashy packaging may make items like energy drinks and energy bars look enticing (especially for athletes), they are simply expensive versions of soda and candy bars. Save yourself the $$ and blood sugar crashes and choose items that naturally provide sustainable energy such as lean proteins and healthy fats. Combine cottage cheese, cheese, nuts or hard boiled eggs with fresh fruit for well-balanced food choices.

 

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!