National Nutrition Month is an educational campaign celebrated each year in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This year’s theme “Put Your Best Fork Forward”, serves as a reminder that small changes toward a healthier lifestyle can be made with each bite!
Mealtimes are the foundation of your health and nutrition and it’s important to incorporate a variety of foods. Try including…
a vegetable at every meal, focusing on dark green vegetables like leafy greens or broccoli and orange vegetables like carrots.
a lean protein source with each meal, such as chicken and turkey.
fish, like salmon or tuna twice weekly to increase healthy fat sources.
plant-based protein sources such as beans and lentils throughout your week.
a variety of grains at each meal, such as oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa.
Don’t forget adequate hydration from water is essential to living a healthy lifestyle! Aim for at least 40 ounces of plain water daily!
Recently, I was asked about the importance of recovery snacks after a workout and if they help with weight loss. Refueling after a workout is important regardless of your exercise or fitness goals and in some cases, it may be the difference between making huge gains in the gym or not. Whether your focus for working out is on weight loss, muscle building or even improved body composition, a post-workout snack can complement all of these goals.
Why is it important to eat after a workout?
While we know how important exercise is for fitness, many of us are unaware of how significant the recovery process is for health and weight loss. It is important to re-nourish your muscles and metabolism following a workout as this will allow you to A) refuel your engines and repair muscle tissue and B) obtain the capability to exercise just as hard for your next workout.
Think of your body and muscles in terms of how you treat your car. Eating frequently throughout day is equivalent to making pit stops and refueling your gas tank. Just like your vehicle, constant refueling keeps your metabolism going. You wouldn’t run your car out of gas, so why would you run your body out of fuel? When you exercise, you are revving up your metabolic engine and this can cause your body to burn up gas even faster. Missing that opportunity to refuel post-workout puts you at risk of draining your metabolic gas tank. Remember, it doesn’t matter how expensive, how brand new or how many options your car has. A car without gas is useless to you. Unfortunately, the same can be said about our metabolisms. Lack of fuel and drained metabolic gas tanks can lead to decreased functioning and performance.
If you’re a science nerd like me, you’ll want a more in-depth explanation. Having a greater understanding on what happens to our bodies on a physiological-biochemical level can help motivate positive dietary behaviors. When you work out, tiny microscopic tears occur in the muscle tissues as a result from repeated muscle contraction. Exercised muscle tissue is constantly adapting, meaning it is breaking down and rebuilding itself. Having a post-workout shake or snack can help initiate the repairing process. Ideally, this snack should be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing your workout, when your “metabolic window” is at its peak. During this time, one experiences increased blood flow to muscles, creating a faster delivery of nutrients. Insulin sensitivity and enzyme activity required for rebuilding and refueling tissue are also heightened after exercise. Consuming your post-workout snack during this increased hormone and enzyme-activity time frame will ensure you are properly refueling your body.
What makes a perfect post-workout snack if you’re trying to lose weight?
Regardless of your goal, the best type of snack to have post-workout is a lean protein source with quick digesting carbohydrates. The combination of the two preps your muscles to act like a sponge so they more properly absorb amino acids (proteins) and glucose (carbs). Amino acids will help rebuild and repair your muscles and glucose will refuel them with energy. Protein shakes make great post workout snacks for this reason. One could also focus on whole foods such as egg whites, lean meats or other desired lean protein source coupled with fruit, sweet potatoes or preferred starchy food. While fat is incredibly important in the diet, your post-workout snack is not the time to take a lot of it in merely because of the fact that it slows down digestion and can hinder the rapid absorption process needed to initiate protein synthesis after a workout.
Should you modify your next meal because of the post-workout snack?
Yes and no. Your first actual meal after your workout should contain a higher amount of healthy carbohydrates as compared to your other meals throughout the day. This is when I would recommend eating items such as rice, sweet potatoes and squash or whatever your favorite starch is with your protein and veggie sources. Save the salads and lower carb menu items for meals that are farther away from your workouts. In terms of calories, there is no reason to cut nutrients away from your meals to save up calories for your post-workout snack. I know it sounds counter-productive to eat what you technically just burned off, but properly re-nourishing your muscles and body will help keep your metabolism lit up all day long. Remember, a healthy metabolism is one that burns more calories overall than one that is being underfed.
Check-Ups. Our bodies need them, our eyes and teeth need them and even our cars need them. You know what else needs a nice check-up from time to time? Your diet.
If you are unsure of where to start, keep a food diary for 3 days and include at least one weekend day. Once completed, evaluate what your typical routine looks like and see where improvements can be made. Questions that you can ask yourself can include:
Do I eat too much fast food?
Do I not cook enough at home?
Can I increase how many fruits and vegetables I am eating?
Am I skipping breakfast too often?
Do I eat too much bread?
Do what works best for you and if you can, incorporate a friend on your challenge so the two of you can continue to motivate each other all month long. Eating healthier never has to be complicated. It can be as simple as choosing to eat something green every day or trying out a new vegetable with every grocery trip. Hopefully, you will come out of your challenge with some new tools to assist with living a healthier lifestyle. You may just surprise yourself how easy eating healthy can be!
For the past several months, my body has been enjoying the benefits of an increased metabolism from being a new mom and breastfeeding. While my overall eating habits have been good, my sugar intake had gone way up. For example, most mornings I would have scrambled eggs with ham, cheese and veggies paired with a delicious Mel-o-Cream donut. With the stress of being a new mom, I found myself also consuming cookies and almond milk literally every night. And I don’t mean 1-2 cookies…I’m talking more like 5-6 cookies at a time. One morning I thought to myself, “Gee it would be really great to just skip the eggs and have two donuts instead.” That’s when I knew my sugar intake was getting out of control and I needed to do something about it.
See, I am also a sugar junkie just like the vast majority of Americans. Sugar is very addicting regardless of the form it comes in such as bread, pasta, cookies, granola bars, pretzels, crackers or chips. When excess carbohydrates are consumed, your body releases large amounts of insulin to shuttle this extra glucose into storage. These large shifts in insulin levels can actually make you crave more carbohydrates and more calories! Additionally, large amounts of carbohydrates (particularly processed forms) can upset your GI system and affect your sleep patterns.
After I finished my last homemade chocolate chip cookie, I knew my eating habits needed a re-boot. I decided to take on a 30-day challenge and of course, incorporated the help of my husband. We have done this in the past and always come out of our month-long food adventure happier and healthier. The purpose of a 30-day challenge is to adopt habits that hopefully will become lifelong behaviors. The first time we took on a challenge, we cut out processed foods by doing the Whole30, and you know what? It forced me to become a cook and now I love making meals for my family every week! Staying away from processed foods for 30 days pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to utilize cooking techniques, vegetables, spices and a variety of proteins we previously had never had before.
My husband and I evaluated our eating habits and each chose an area to work on. My problem was my sugar intake and his was chips and sweets. Let me remind you that the occasional cookie, donut or bag of chips from time to time is perfectly fine! However, my sugar intake had gotten out of control since I was consuming these types of items every single day. I didn’t embark on anything too complicated given the fact that I am breastfeeding and would also have a little extra stress of returning to work. For my challenge, I simply chose to go a whole month without cookies. It was as simple as that! Now, fast forward 30 days.
You’ll be happy to hear that I survived my month without cookies! I swapped my morning donuts for a serving of sweet potatoes and choose protein bars or an apple with peanut butter instead of cookies as a bedtime snack. My goal was not to lose weight but rather help my body wean itself away from daily high-sugar intake. I can say that I feel great, my gut feels amazing and my body is back to craving much more wholesome foods such as fruit, peanut butter, nuts and veggies. It is so refreshing to remind my body how good it feels when it’s not craving processed sugars.
Last week nearly 100 people attended our “Ask a Dietitian” panel discussion! There were a lot of great questions and conversations. In case you missed it (or would like a recap), we wanted to share our top 5 takeaways.
1. Try the plate method. Fill your plate halfway with vegetables, a quarter with a protein, and a quarter with starch or grains. Be mindful not to over indulge in starchy vegetables such as corn or potatoes.
3. Stop county calories! Calorie counting isn’t always a good method to ensure proper nutrition. You can meet your calorie count with junk food or with whole foods, but your body will process them in a completely different way.
4. Eat what is in season. Eating produce that is in season will save you money and ensure a better product.
5. Eat what Mother Earth gave you. We live in a world where we have access to cheap, chemical-filled foods. Your body is not meant to break down all of those artificial properties. Skip the chips and cookies—focus on whole foods naturally found on Earth such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc.
It’s the time of year that many of us dread…flu season. You try to take every precaution you can by washing your hands, sanitizing grocery carts and not touching your face—but sometimes even that isn’t enough to prevent the nasty flu bug! In the past, I would get sick at least once every fall/winter and would always have 1-2 sinus infections on top of that. That was until I changed my diet up a few years ago, and I have enjoyed the last few years sick-free!
Remember, no one single food will make you healthier and improve your immunity. But I do suggest that it may be more beneficial to get your vitamins from your fruits and veggies rather than a packet of Emergen-C.
Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Veggies
Ideally, your goal is to consume a wide variety of colors when choosing your fruits and veggies. Each color introduces a powerful antioxidant or plant nutrient into your system. For example, red-orange colored produce such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots are great sources of Vitamin A and beta-carotene while blue, purple and dark red fruits like blueberries, raspberries and cherries deliver phytochemicals such as flavonoids that help reduce inflammation. Vitamin C can be found in red bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, kiwi and strawberries.
Eggs, Nuts and Seeds
These quick bites are good sources of zinc, which helps your T-cells and other immune cells function properly. Swap your afternoon wheat thins or granola bar for a handful of mixed nuts and seeds or even a hardboiled egg or two. In addition to the improved nutrient intake, you’ll also satisfy your hunger better and have more controlled blood sugars by choosing these good protein sources.
Proteins. Eggs, fish, chicken, lean or organic beef
Some studies suggest that inadequate protein intake can weaken the immune system by showing a decrease in the number of T-cells and antibodies being produced. A good goal to work towards is having protein with all your meals and with most of your snack choices.
Fatty fish and avocados
There are two great examples of healthy fats in the diet (omega-3 and omega-9s). Essential fats (fats that the body cannot produce) help decrease inflammation in the body as well as improve the integrity of our cell walls. I’ll explain in the next paragraph why this integrity is so important to immunity!
Immunity begins in the gut.
You gastrointestinal tract is your internal layer of skin. It can protect you from harmful agents invading your circulatory system; however, if its cell wall is compromised, you may be at a greater risk of getting sick this flu season. (This could be related to “leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability” however, not all practitioners believe in this concept). I know what you’re thinking—so what are the foods that damage my gut’s lining? Some of the main culprits could be foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates such as candy, juice, soda, cereal, chips, crackers, pretzels, pasta and white bread. Three years ago, I pretty much cut out all of these foods from my diet. Could it be coincidental that I didn’t get sick the same time I cut out processed sugars and starches? Yes. However, I will remind you that I work in health care and am exposed to a lot of sick people on a daily basis during the flu season. In addition to not getting sick the past couple winters, I also noticed that I was less bloated, slept better and had more energy after changing my diet. While my results may differ from others following the same meal plan, it is certainly something to consider if you find yourself chronically getting sick all fall and winter long.
Remember—your immune system is exactly that—a system, not one single entity. To function well, it requires overall balance and harmony between all your health habits: diet, exercise, stress management and sleep.
You may have heard the old adage once or twice that you shouldn’t eat after 6:00pm. In fact, most people are familiar with the health tip that eating late at night can be associated with weight gain. However, other health professionals argue that it’s the dietary intake over the course of the whole day that influences weight gain, not when those calories are consumed. While the debate on late night eating and the association with weight gain remains strong, I am actually most interested in the reason why you are eating so late.
Reason #1: I’m hungry! I can’t seem to feel full in the evening.
When patients describe this scenario to me, I look at two things: Are they eating often enough in the daytime and are they eating enough protein? It is very common to observe excessive hunger in the evening when people skip meals, especially breakfast. I understand that many people are simply not hungry in the morning, but this is most often the result of training your body into a bad habit of not eating within your first few waking hours of the day. In fact, not feeling hungry after getting up may indicate you already have a faulty metabolism. If food does not sound good, it is perfectly healthy to consume a protein shake instead.
Skimping on protein intake can also alter hunger and satiety levels, particularly if protein-rich foods like eggs, meats, cheese, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are being replaced by empty carb-rich foods such as cereals, white flours, crackers, chips, pretzels and granola bars throughout the day. Try to include a protein source with all your meals and preferably with your snack choices to achieve better feelings of fullness and more controlled blood sugars during the day and evening. High protein intake is a hot topic in research. Here is a great illustration depicting how protein can affect our late-night eating habits.
Solution: Don’t skip meals, and have a protein-rich breakfast every morning.
Obviously, boredom is never a good reason to journey into the pantry. Many people eat out of boredom in the evenings from not having enough stimulation and others eat out of bad habit. Remember, we can condition our bodies into bad habits just as easily as we can form good health routines. If you feel a craving coming on, ask yourself, “Is my hunger above or below the neck?” Hunger above the neck merely means that eating something just sounds like a good idea. This may have been stimulated from seeing a food ad on TV or again, out of habit. If your hunger is below the neck and actually presents itself as tummy gurgles, then it is perfectly acceptable to have a late-night snack.
Ideally, you do not want to load up on carbs right before bedtime. A high-carb bedtime snack can cause a blood sugar and insulin spike during the middle of the night and actually disrupt your proper sleep cycle. Safer bedtime snacks include a good protein source along with a small carb source such as an apple with peanut butter or a handful of nuts mixed with some dry cereal or possibly some hard cheese slices with a handful of grapes.
Solution: Figure out if you are truly hungry or not first. If you do have some stomach pains, make sure you include a protein source with your evening snack.
Reason #3: My family has to eat late at night since we had a ball game out of town. What’s the best quick stop dinner?
Eating on the go is practically unavoidable in today’s society. Sometimes it’s unrealistic to avoid fast food altogether, but ordering from a window doesn’t mean your nutritious eating habits have to go out the other one! Remember to include a balance of proteins and healthy carbs with your evening order. Examples could be a burrito bowl from Chipotle, bowl of chili with a side salad from Wendy’s or a grilled chicken wrap or grinder. Try to limit fried menu items such as fried/breaded chicken, French fries, onion rings, hush puppies and added sugars from milkshakes, pies and cookies that are quickly available at most fast-food chains. Don’t forget that you can quickly stop at a grocery store and bring home rotisserie chicken, green beans and sweet potato salad for a quick sit-down dinner.
Solution: Choose lean proteins with veggies and try to limit consumption of excessive starches (breads, potatoes, noodles) and fried fats.