Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Start Making Healthy Changes Now

Woman Tying Measuring Tape Around Her WaistI am not an advocate for “quick fixes” like weight loss supplements, juice cleanses and the like. While quick fixes may result in fast weight loss, these results are only temporary and chances are, your depressed metabolism will cause you to rapidly gain the weight back…and then some. Seven-day or 21-day weight loss plans typically instruct you to drastically cut caloric intake and often severely limit the variation of food in your diet. Once these week-long or month-long fast diets are over with, most people resume their previous eating habits and unfortunately circle right back to square one with their weight loss efforts.

What’s unfortunate is these quick diet plans do not teach you how to eat for the long-run. You can’t drink a “body by Vi” shake forever; eventually you’re going to have to learn how to make real food for your meals. Research has shown that a multitude of different diets such as low-calorie/low-fat, high-fat/low-carb, Mediterranean diet, vegetarian diet, paleo dietetc., can all help individuals lose weight. Sometimes, losing weight is not the problem; it’s keeping the weight off. This fact stresses the importance of lifelong habits that one must take on, not quick diet fixes, in order to maintain their weight loss efforts. Here are some “quick” healthy changes that you can make today and turn into lifelong habits.

1. Start your day with protein. Breakfast is the most commonly missed meals reported by Americans of all ages. And when we think of breakfast, we typically think of a large bowl of sugary-sweetened cereal and a tall glass of orange juice. Breakfast meals high in these simple sugars can lead to a quick drop in energy come 9:00 a.m. Try to find ways to incorporate more protein with your breakfast meal. Add nuts into oatmeal, make a veggie omelet or pair fruit with high-protein Greek yogurt.

imgres2. Switch to water. Water is essential to one’s health and its benefits far surpass the simple purpose of hydration. Drinking more water is a habit I have been working on for quite some time now and it’s really sticking. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I previously was consuming about 4 diet sodas per day. To wean myself off of the diet soda, I would tell myself for every soda I consumed, I would have to drink a bottle of water. Now I keep a water bottle with me at all times so there are no excuses for not drinking enough water.

3. Stop serving multiple starches with meals. This is an easy fix that will help you naturally control your carbohydrate intake with your meals and make them more well-rounded. Our typical American western diet revolves around meat, potatoes, bread or some other starch like noodles and rice or corn and peas with most of our meals. Begin your meals by choosing a healthy lean protein, add one starch (preferably a healthy starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes or butternut squash) and fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and fruit, if preferred.

4. Bring your own snacks to work. It seems almost every week, someone brings in a new “Pinterest-inspired” sweet treat to share with everyone at work. Sure, these decadent treats look great, but consuming these items regularly as snack choices can lead one to a spike in blood sugar followed by a drop in energy. Plan ahead and make sure you always have healthy, nutrient-dense snacks packed with you for your workday. If you feel bad about turning down your co-worker’s cheesecake bites, you can politely decline by saying you had already packed an apple with almond butter for your snack today. Or a simple, “No thanks, but thanks for asking,” always does the trick too!

exercise_02F026015. Exercise. Daily physical activity is one of the most important keys for a healthy metabolism and weight management. It’s time to put the “excuse book” away and start moving today.


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How Carb Smart Are You?

Carbohydrate-food-shot-carbsWhat do breads, cereals, fruits, juices, milk, yogurt, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans, vegetables, soda and desserts all have in common? If you didn’t already guess it from the title, it’s Carbs. When asked what foods contain carbohydrates, bread, pasta and potatoes are the most commonly identified. Many people do not realize that carbs are actually found in almost our entire food supply with the exception of meats, cheeses and fats.

As Americans, we generally consume way too many carbs throughout the day. Most breakfast meals include toast, Poptarts, pancakes, biscuits or cereal followed by sandwiches, pizza, spaghetti and burger and fries for the rest of the day. These foods are also highly processed menu items that often contain preservatives and other added chemicals.

Do I feel that carbs are contributing to many of our current diseases and illnesses? Absolutely. Does that mean that in order to be healthy, one must cut out all carbs? Not at all.  In fact, many athletes actually need to increase their carbohydrate intake to ensure optimal performance. Research has shown that vegetarians, who are known for having high-carb diets, tend to have reduced risks for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.1

Going “low-carb” is a very popular diet trend to lose weight. While consuming fewer carbohydrates can help decrease circulating levels of insulin, which in turn can help the body switch to a fat-burning mode, weight loss is typically more attributed (but not conclusive in all studies) to the combination of consuming fewer calories, better food choices, less processed foods and improved physical activity habits. Researchers in a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that low-carb diets may give individuals a “metabolic advantage” meaning that more weight loss may be achieved per calories consumed (versus the same amount of calories consumed from a standard high-carb meal plan).2  

This is a very controversial subject since these findings somewhat violate the laws of thermodynamics. Since there is no consensus on what low-carb actually is (for some studies it’s a mere 5% of total calories and for others it’s defined as 45% of total caloric intake), the term smart-carb has become more popular.

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Today, research is investigating the health benefits of low-moderate carb meal plans:

  • Following a “smart-carb” diet in addition to exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity and assist in weight reduction in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • A Duke University study found that obese individuals with type 2 diabetes who ate a low-carb diet versus a low-glycemic diet experienced greater weight reduction and greater reduction in HgbA1C. In this same study, most of the subjects (95.2%) in the low-carb group were able to reduce or eliminate their diabetic medications compared to only (62%) in the low-glycemic group.3
  • There also appears to be some variation in low-carb meal plans. A group of Swedish subjects showed greater benefits in waist circumference reduction and improved blood sugar control when following a diet based of meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts (paleo diet) when compared to a subjects who followed the Mediterranean diet.4
  • The obvious concern with consuming a low-carb diet is the increased fat intake and potential increased risk for heart disease. Fortunately, studies are confirming that higher fat intake when associated with a low-carb diet may not be as big of a problem as once thought.

Low-carb meal plans may not always be the best, but choosing smart-carb lifestyles such as the Mediterranean and Paleo lifestyles are much more suitable for day to day living. Here are a few ways to smarten up your carb choices.

  • Nix pretzels, crackers, chips and granola bars and opt for healthier carb and non-carb snack food choices such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt and nuts.
  • Vary up your breakfast meal. Swap sugar-sweetened cereal and refined white bread for a veggie omelet, turkey sausage frittata or fruit with Greek yogurt.
  • Serve vegetables with a side of vegetables. Many people state that they always have to have a starch with their dinner meals. Why not swap the rice and pasta for vegetable starches such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash or spaghetti squash?
  • If choosing grains, consider whole grain choices such as oatmeal, quinoa or wild rice.

Remember, limiting carbs is not the only way for improved health. The mere reduction of processed foods in one’s diet can have positive health effects.

  1. American Heart Association. Vegetarian Diets. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Vegetarian-Diets_UCM_306032_Article.jsp
  2. Westman, E., et. Al. (2007). Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(2), 276-284. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/2/276.full.pdf+html?sid=ac06d160-abd0-4ba6-8a19-8b5560469446
  3. Westman, E.C., Yancy, W,S, Jr., Mavropoulos, J.C., Marquart, M. and McDuffie, J.R. (2008).The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition and Metabolism, 5, 36. http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/5/1/36
  4. Lindeberg, S., Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., et al. (2007). A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia,50(9):1795-1807.


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Cholesterol Month – Part 1

September is one of my favorite months. It marks the beginning of fall, campfires, football season and hoodies. It also happens to be National Cholesterol Education Month. Cholesterol was a word that I knew at an early age. Grandma was always yelling out across the farm, “Karl, did you take your cholesterol pills?” As a child, I believed that cholesterol was a problem that only old people had. Today, we now know this is not the case. Thanks to the Bogalusa Heart Study, http://tulane.edu/som/cardiohealth/  we have learned that children as young as 5 can begin developing risk factors for heart disease. This study and others like it show how important it is to adopt healthy lifestyles in childhood.

It’s important to know your numbers. Everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years. This is an important matter because one does not feel symptoms of high cholesterol. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it begins to build up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this build-up can lead to a hardening of the arterial walls which can slow down blood flow to the heart or even form a blockage. Lowering your cholesterol can help lessen the risk for developing heart disease.

cholesterol numbers

The three most important factors that you can control to help lower your cholesterol levels are: DIET, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY and WEIGHT.

Check back on Monday, Sept. 9 for part 2 of the Cholesterol Month Blog series where we discuss diet in regards to cholesterol management.


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Eating Right Through All Stages of Life

Healthful eating and physical activity play a significant role in aging well. For older individuals, it may be a bit harder to consume adequate levels of nutrients each and every day. Chewing difficulties, appetite changes, medications, stress of caring for ill family members and a decrease in digestive enzymes can all affect dietary choices and nutrient absorption.

Protein is a vital component in our diets. It serves as the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Protein intake is also associated with wound healing, recovery and immunity. Many older adults observe a loss in lean body mass as they age. Adequate protein intake can help preserve that lean muscle tissue. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for adults is 0.8 grams of protein/kg of body weight. Newer research is suggesting that the protein needs for older adults may be higher than this well-established recommendation. Protein sources with the best bioavailability include eggs, milk, poultry, fish and meat. Beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains can also provide protein in the diet, but these sources do not contain all the essential amino acids needed in the diet and most be consumed with complimentary protein sources.pumpkinoatmeal

One problem that many older adults face is a difficulty in chewing. Tough foods such as animal proteins can become more cumbersome to consume at meals. Cutting proteins into small pieces or utilizing moist cooking methods are two ways to help make chewing easier. Here are a few other tips for increasing protein in the diet:

  • Add dry milk powder to soups, sauces, casseroles or mashed potatoes
  • Consume cheese on whole wheat toast, whole wheat crackers, vegetables or soups
  • Keep hard-cooked eggs readily available for snacks or salads
  • Add leftover meats to soups, casseroles, salads, omelets or shredded into a dip mix
  • Sprinkle chopped nuts such as walnuts onto cereal, yogurt or on top of salads.
  • Stir in beans into sauces and pasta dishes
  • Order fish dishes when dining out since fish tends to be more tender and easier to chew
  • Spread peanut butter on toast, English muffins, whole grain bagels or whole wheat crackers

Taking care of loved ones often takes priority over one’s own health. My grandma was the sole caretaker of my grandpa when he became ill later in life. With each visit to my grandparent’s home, it was very noticeable that my grandma was losing weight mainly from increased stress levels and putting her own needs second to those of her husband. It’s just as important to encourage our healthy loved ones to consume well-balanced meals in addition to those suffering from illness.

As the body ages, it does not absorb vitamins and minerals as efficiently. Nutrients impacted by these physiological changes include Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin B-12. Good sources of these nutrients include milk or fortified milk substitute, yogurt, cheese, fatty fish, egg yolks, dark green vegetables and poultry. Dementia is often regarded as a natural part of aging; however, one possibility for memory loss and signs of dementia could be due to a Vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Fluid needs are also a concern for older individuals. Many people lose the strong sense of thirst as they age, making them more susceptible to dehydration. In addition to consuming adequate fluid amounts, consuming foods with high water contents like fruits, vegetables and soups can also preserve one’s hydration status.

Researchers at Tufts University have developed a modified plate method that addresses dietary concerns for older individuals. Proper nutrition is a significant component in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. Today marks the 20th anniversary for National Senior Health and Fitness Day but remember, every day is a new opportunity to make wholesome, nutritious food choices.

Find out more on nutrition for older adults.


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National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month, an educational campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each year, a theme is chosen to help promote good eating habits and increased physical activity patterns. This year’s theme is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day” and puts an emphasis on an individualized approach to dietary habits. We know that dietary habits are influenced by food preferences, cultural practices, environment, lifestyle and health concerns. Choosing the foods that best fit your individualized needs is this year’s focus.

In 2010, the USDA changed their nutrition education graphic from the MyPyramid to the new, colorful MyPlate. The MyPlate emphasizes filling ½ your plate with non-starchy vegetables and fruit, ¼ with lean proteins and ¼ with grains/starch with a dairy/calcium source on the side. This method focuses on increasing nutrient intake through better portion control of our different food groups.

Vegetables: Spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini and the list goes on and on! There are many ways to enjoy vegetables. You can serve them raw in a salad, roasted in the oven or grilled. Remember, the flavors and texture of vegetables change depending on the way you prepare and season them.

Asparagus is a great vegetable to add to your plate.

Asparagus is a great vegetable to add to your plate.

Fruits: Apple slices, oranges, berries, melons and avocados are wonderful additions to any meal. You can add fruit to salads, or grill them for a fun, fruit kabob.

Proteins: There are many ways to add protein to your plates. Traditionally, we think of chicken, turkey, fish, pork and lean beef, but beans, nuts, seeds and tofu are great ways to add protein for meatless meals.

Grains/Starch: Aim for whole grains to fill ¼ of your plate such as: quinoa, barley, brown or wild rice, whole wheat pasta or whole grain bread. Remember, sweet potatoes, corn and peas are categorized as a starch when using the plate method.

This individualized approach to healthy living also applies to physical activity. Personally, the thought of getting on the elliptical or running on the treadmill makes me cringe, and I wouldn’t last a day on “The Biggest Loser” because I hate when people scream at me to workout harder. But, that’s okay! I have found that I love getting cardio by dancing in hip hop and Zumba® classes, and I also thoroughly enjoy strength training. The key to engaging in regular physical activity is to find the workouts that you enjoy doing!

Format: Choosing a mode of exercise that you love will help you stay motivated and stick to your goals. If you like working out in groups, look into group fitness classes (I know a pretty fantastic instructor too :)). If you love high intensity workouts and feeling like a beast, CrossFit may be the answer for you. Swimming, water aerobics or Aqua Zumba® can be less stressful on joints for individuals with joint pain or other health concerns.

Music: Another motivator that drives our workouts is music. One of the most intimate things that you can have at the tips of your eardrums is your own personalized, sweat-provoking playlist. Whether it’s cheesy ’80s (my personal favorite), classic rock or today’s pop-country hits, choose the songs that will get your heart-pumping and body moving!

A fun way to enjoy fruit.

A fun way to enjoy fruit.

Time: One barrier of physical activity for me is always finding the time to do it. Through many trial and error experiments, I have found that going to the gym directly after work is the best time for me. For others, working out before work or during their lunch break fits best in their schedule.

“Eat Right. Your Way, Every Day”

We all have our own unique needs specific to our gender, body types, age and physical activity level. Choosing the foods that supply your body with the nutrients right for you and engaging in physical activities that you enjoy are the two components to leading healthier lifestyles.

 


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Weekend Bingers

Parties, anniversaries, restaurants, ball games, weddings, movies…yep, it’s the weekend! Many of us define the weekend as a time to kick back, relax and indulge with menu items like burritos, burgers, pizza, fries, buttery popcorn and “adult” beverages. While “weekend binging” isn’t a medical diagnosis, it is a habit that can really affect your waistline. Over-indulging, staying up late and a lack of physical activity can make us feel overstuffed, bloated and sluggish by the time Monday morning’s alarm goes off.

A binge (noun) is defined as a period or bout, usually brief, of excessive indulgence, as in eating, drinking, etc.; a spree. To binge (verb) means to eat, drink, etc., too much in a short period of time. Binging may last a few hours or occur on and off all day. Often, it can occur when you’re not even hungry, which can lead to feelings of guilt and depression. How often do we find ourselves justifying our unhealthy indulgences by saying “I deserve it,” “I’ve had a hard week” or “I’ve been saving my calories”?

Consuming too few calories during the week and then over-consuming on the weekend is a major cause of weight gain for many individuals. If you deprive your body of nutrients and calories during the week, your body will adjust by reducing its metabolic rate. This means your body is burning fewer calories each day. This combination of depressed metabolism and overconsumption of poor food choices and calories on the weekend can lead to weight gain. A study published in the Journal of Obesity in 2008 found that individuals following the “weekend cheaters” diet gained an average of nine pounds per year.

thisorthatAnother remark I have heard many people make (even myself) is “I only indulge on special occasions.” My concern with this statement is the fact that “special occasions” can occur much more frequently than we actually think.  For example, it’s your birthday, it’s Aunt Mary’s birthday, it’s Bob from Accounting’s birthday, the Illini are playing, it’s Friday, it’s summertime, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, etc. Depending on the way you look at it, special occasions can occur almost every weekend and even throughout the week.  Of course, the occasional indulgence is quite appropriate and can fit into most individuals’ healthy lifestyles. Once per year, I enjoy a good slice (okay, maybe two) of deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s; but, most of the time, I choose the same delicious and nutritious foods on the weekends as I do during the week.

Here are some tips for having healthier weekends:

1) Squeeze in a longer workout since you have a little more free time than on a weekday. Remember, a one-hour workout is only four percent of your day!

2) Eat like it’s a weekday. That means consuming three nutritionally-dense meals and choosing healthy snacks.

3) Try to stick to your usual sleep schedule. Research regarding whether or not we can actually “catch up on our sleep” on the weekends is debatable.

4) Break the on-again, off-again diet mentality and make eating right a part of your everyday habits.

5) Limit alcoholic beverages. Remember, alcohol depresses our central nervous system which can inhibit our decision-making skills (especially when choosing food/menu items).

6) Order well when dining out. Just because you’re eating healthier is no reason to skip dinner with friends. Look for baked or grilled proteins with side vegetables on the menu.

7) Plan ahead. Typically, my Saturdays are spent running a ton of errands, but I always have a bag of almonds or pistachios with me so I’m not tempted by the candy bar at the checkout counter.

8) Remember to hydrate. Keep a water bottle with you at all times.hydration

 

Eat right and live well—your way, every day.


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Do You Have Neuroprotection?

Alas, no, it’s not acquired by dialing a 1-800 number.

Research suggests that healthy eating and active lifestyles can provide this positive benefit. My grandmother always told me to do crossword puzzles because it’s good for my brain. While I’m sad to admit that I still have never been able to fully complete one on my own, the good news is research indicates that there are other ways to keep my brain in shape.

Having a nutritionally dense diet and engaging in daily physical activity is great for brain health and can help prevent neurodegeneration (loss of cognitive functioning). To some extent, a loss of cognitive functioning occurs naturally with age; however, scientists are concluding that some forms of neurodegeneration can be prevented. Neuroprotection is the term used to describe the strategies that defend the central nervous system against degenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

One review in The Lancet Neurology, 2011, estimates that almost one half of all worldwide cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented. Being overweight, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes are all risk factors for cognitive degenerative disorders. What’s alarming is that these are all modifiable risk factors, meaning you can prevent them or improve outcomes from dietary and lifestyle changes.

Physical activity has long been associated with physical and emotional wellness, but research is now showing how exercise benefits our mental health. Exercise increases fuel utilization by the brain (oxygen and glucose) and promotes neuron growth and survival.  Just like our muscles, your brain needs its exercise, too!

Try adding these foods to your meals for neuroprotection:

Walnuts. Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning, or what you wore yesterday? A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that walnut consumption, as part of a Mediterranean diet, was associated with better memory scores and cognitive function. Their findings suggest that walnuts, in combination with other antioxidants found in the Mediterranean food choices, may help prevent or slow down cognitive decline.

Extra virgin olive oil (or, as Rachael Ray has coined it, “EVOO”) has also been associated with improved cognitive function. Use extra virgin olive oil to lightly coat vegetables and proteins, then grill or bake in the oven to infuse the flavors. Try making your own salad dressings using olive oil as your base.

The Impact of Blueberries.

The Impact of Blueberries.

Berries. Not only are berries a potent antioxidant source, but studies have shown that consuming berries as part of a healthy diet are linked to slower mental decline in areas of memory and focus. Blueberries, which have been nicknamed “brainberries”, can help protect the body and the brain from oxidative stress. Add berries to cereals or yogurts, or enjoy them by themselves as a healthy antioxidant-packed snack.

Spinach. This dark green vegetable contains a well-researched antioxidant, lutein. Formally, researched for its role in eye health, newer research supports the role of lutein with brain health. Harvard Medical School researchers found that women in their study who ate the most dark leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline as compared to women who had the least vegetable consumption.

Ground flaxseed is another plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids consistently found in Mediterranean diets that offers brain-boosting benefits. Sprinkle ground flaxseed on oatmeal, yogurt or applesauce, or mix in with sauces and stews.

In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and compounds demonstrate these positive neuroprotective effects. Yet, evidence suggests that it is the synergy of all the antioxidants, phytochemicals and compounds of a total diet that work together to offer the strongest benefit. This emphasizes the importance of consuming an overall nutritionally-dense diet vs. trying to super-supplement with a specific food or nutrient.

For a healthy body and peace of mind, eat healthfully, exercise and, as Grandma recommends, do your crossword puzzles.

 

Barnes, D.E. & Yaffe, K. (2011). The projected effect of risk factor reduction on Alzheimer’s disease prevalence. The Lancet Neurology, 10(9),819-828.

Valls-Pedret, C. et al. (2012). Polyphenol-Rich Foods in the Mediterranean Diet are Associated with  Better Cognitive Function in Elderly Subjects at High Cardiovascular Risk. Journal of Alzheimer’s   Disease, 29, 773-782. http://iospress.metapress.com/content/w012188621153h61/fulltext.pdf

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