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.

Not Just Another Chicken Recipe

At our house we eat chicken…a lot. One goal that I have for this month is to try a variety of new chicken recipes (so my husband doesn’t get burnt out on having chicken five days a week!). You never have to sacrifice good flavor for eating healthy; however, you do need to step outside your comfort zone and experiment with spices, herbs and other fresh ingredients to create delicious, mouth-watering flavors. This is a perfect dish that incorporates natural ingredients and is solid on flavor. Want more healthy recipes? Follow our Pinterest board!

rosemary herb chicken recipeRosemary Herbed Chicken 

For the Chicken:

  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic (I am very liberal with this – we love garlic!)
  • 1 Tbsp of minced fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

For the Salad:

  • Mixed greens
  • ¼ avocado
  • ¼ cup artichokes (I use frozen artichoke hearts. After heating them up in the microwave, I add flavor by using an Italian seasoning blend on top of the cooked artichokes)
  • 2 Tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

1. Pre-heat oven to 400oF. Meanwhile, brush olive oil evenly over each chicken breast.

2. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread minced garlic cloves over chicken breasts and sprinkle minced rosemary on top of each piece of chicken.

3. Cook for 20-25 minutes.

4. Toss salad ingredients together while chicken is cooking.

5. Once chicken is done, pour balsamic vinegar evenly over each chicken breast. Serve separately or together as an entrée salad.

Fall – The Season of Sweet Potatoes

Taking advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables is a cost-effective way to consume healthy and nutritious foods all year long. The sweet potato is one fall vegetable that happens to be one of my favorite starches. If you asked me a year ago if I liked sweet potatoes, I probably would’ve responded with a big “Yuck!” The first time I tried sweet potatoes was at Thanksgiving. They were smothered in marshmallows and brown sugar and in my opinion, were a mushy mess. I later tried sweet potato fries and was also very disappointed. Knowing that sweet potatoes were good for me, I was bound and determined to find a way to prepare them that was to my liking.

steamables_sweet_lgDid you know sweet potatoes are actually not related to the potato family? They are a member of the morning glory family. Personally, I enjoy sweet potatoes with my eggs in the morning or roasted with mixed vegetables as a side dish for lunch and dinner. My favorite way to spice them is with garlic, sea salt and pepper. However, most people prefer using cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves. Sweet potatoes served with egg whites also make an excellent post-workout snack. If I’m in a rush, I grab a bag of steamable sweet potatoes at the supermarket and can have a quick side dish on hand in a matter of minutes.

A small sweet potato (about 5 inches long or about 1 cup) contains 112 calories, 2 grams of protein, 3.9 grams of fiber and is also a good source of potassium and Vitamin C. Sweet potatoes are most known for their content of Vitamin A and the antioxidant, beta-carotene which is excellent for skin and eye health. Beta-carotene is found within the deep orange pigment of the sweet potato. Other sources of (orange-pigmented) beta-carotene include carrots, pumpkin and squash and it is also found in green-pigmented vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale. Beta-carotene is best absorbed when it is consumed with a small amount of fat. This can be easily accomplished if you use a small amount of olive oil when sautéing or roasting your sweet potatoes. They also are a good source of Vitamin B6 which is essential for red blood cell formation and protein metabolism.

Using sweet potatoes in unconventional ways is a great method for consuming nutrients, especially for individuals with food allergies.  Here is a kid-friendly, gluten-free and dairy-free recipe for making:

Sweet Potato Pancakes

  • 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2-1 large banana
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
  • Canola, olive or coconut oil (for cooking)
  1. Wash and pierce potatoes with a fork; cover with a paper towel and microwave for 5-6 minutes until soft.
  2. In a food processor, add the scooped out portion of the flesh of the sweet potatoes, eggs and ½ – whole banana (for sweetness) and puree until smooth.
  3. Add baking soda and spices, to taste.
  4. Heat oil on skillet over medium heat. Scoop ¼ cup batter onto skillet and cook 2-3 minutes on one side. Flip carefully and cook an additional 1-2 minutes on other side.
  5. Serve with fruit, yogurt or your favorite breakfast protein for a balanced breakfast or serve by itself for a healthy, sweet treat.

A zesty way to roast potatoes in the oven:

Baked Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges

  • 2 sweet potatoessweetpotatowedges
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Olive oil (1-2 tsp)
  1. Preheat oven to 350oF.
  2. Slice potatoes into even wedges.
  3. Combine spices in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, add potato wedges and drizzle with olive oil. Add spices and lime juice; lightly toss together.
  4. Spread potatoes on baking sheet and bake 30-35 minutes, turning half-way through.
  5. Enjoy!

 

**Extremely high intakes of Vitamin A can lead to toxic levels in the body. Please consult with your physician if considering taking a Vitamin A supplement.

 

Help I’ve Hit A Plateau!

dont give upAhh, the dreaded P-word. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle or increase your fitness level, almost everyone has hit a plateau sometime or another. In fact, I’ve hit several plateaus during the last couple years. The most important thing to remember when trying to overcome a plateau is change. Your body can plateau for several reasons and this often requires a change in either your diet or fitness routine. In this blog, I share my own struggles with plateaus and provide insight on how myself and many patients have overcome challenges, both fitness and diet-related.

Are you eating too few calories? Or over-exercising?

Sometimes we can become over restrictive with our caloric intake. Yes, consuming fewer calories than those that are burned off can help you lose weight, but there is a point when consuming too few calories begins to sabotage your metabolism. Not eating enough nutrients can stress the body and cause it go into starvation/fat-storing mode. When your metabolism is compromised like this, it is very hard to lose weight and actually makes it fertile ground for gaining weight. Over-exercising can also cause this severe caloric deficit. Most research suggests that consuming less than 1200 calories per day can lead to alterations in metabolism and possible nutrient deficiencies.

Be honest with yourself.

With the stress of finishing grad school and planning a wedding, I had gained a few unwanted pounds. I couldn’t figure out where the extra weight was food-diarycoming from since I hadn’t really changed my diet…or so I thought. It took having a real honest look into my eating habits to realize I had been eating out more often and was enjoying chocolate a bit too frequently at the end of the day as a stress-reliever. Restaurant-prepared menu items and desserts/sweets are two common high-calorie culprits in our diets. A good way to identify trouble zones in your eating habits is to keep a food diary for one week. You will then be able to analyze what areas you need improvements in. (ex: eating out every day for lunch, too big of portions of late-night snacks, frequent consumption of free food at work).

Do you need a snack?

Many patients have told me that they do not snack between meals because they are trying to save calories. If you’re going too long between meals (> 6 hours) or having physical hunger pains 2 hours after having a meal, then you need to plan accordingly and prepare a healthy, protein-rich snack. Remember, those hunger pains are your body’s metabolism telling you to refuel. Try to stick with snacks that have some staying power. Greek yogurt, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs are all protein-packed snacks that can satisfy hunger and increase your energy level during that afternoon slump!

Does your workout need a makeover?

I can happily say that in my first year of marriage, I stayed the same weight. What helped me accomplish this was clean eating and regular exercise. During that year, I found that increasing my strength-training frequency and backing a bit off of the cardio helped me stay happy and healthy. I’ll admit, I like to work hard at the gym and lift heavy weights, but after a year of serious strength-training, my body fat % had only marginally changed and I didn’t see the definition I was hoping for. Then I took a huge leap. I joined my local Crossfit gym. In just a few short months, Crossfit has changed me in so many ways. My arms are more defined, my legs are stronger, I can do several unassisted pull-ups in a row and more! The transformation that I am most happy with is the fact that my back is no longer hurting. Crossfit has reminded me of the importance of daily stretching and taking care of my muscles and joints.

My husband and I at Crossfit.

My husband and I at Crossfit.

Am I recommending that you should start doing Crossfit? No, it’s not for everyone, but what I do encourage people to do is find a new way to constantly challenge themselves. This could be signing up for your first 5K or walking into your very first Zumba class. Find activities that you enjoy and recruit a buddy! Having a buddy-system can help you both hold each other accountable with your fitness and health goals. Wherever your fitness journey takes you make sure it is safe, fun and filled with new challenges!

 

Apples to Apples

Apples are one of the most iconic fruits of the fall season. Fall marks back to school themed apple decor and the fun tradition of bobbing for apples. Apples serve as a symbol for healthy eating. Many families use apples in theirapples everyday diet from a snack to an apple pie.  In fact, most are familiar with the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. But is there any truth behind this old proverb? This happens to be one saying worth repeating.

  • Apples under the microscope:
    • Quercetin, a flavonoid found in apples has been studied for its possible protective benefits against prostate cancer.
    • Researchers at Cornell University showed that nutrients found in the skin of apples inhibited the reproduction of colon cancer cells by 43%.
    • The National Cancer Institute released a statement saying that the flavonoids, like the ones found in apples, may reduce the risk of lung cancer by as much as 50%.
    • Other studies have shown that apples can also help reduce the risk of asthma and possibly type 2 diabetes.
    • Apples contain pectin, which is a valuable source of soluble fiber (1.0 gram per medium-sized apple). Soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol levels and possibly help control blood sugars. The average apple contains 3-5 grams of total fiber, which can help support digestive health.
  • Choosing your perfect apple:
    • Apples come in many varieties. They can be sweet, tart, crisp, soft, red, yellow, green; the combinations are endless! I personally love a sweet, crisp apple so I tend to stick with Gala, Fuji or the Honeycrisp varieties. Picking the perfect apple can depend on your usage of the apple. Different varieties are recommended if you’re simply snacking or using apples for cooking/baking purposes. Below is a list of apples, their profiles and recommended uses. appleVarietiesChart

    Eating an apple a day can definitely be part of a healthy diet. The phytochemicals and antioxidants found in apples help our bodies defend itself from oxidative stress. However, processed apple products, such as juice, typically do not retain these nutritious properties. When choosing an applesauce, opt for the no-sugar added variety. You can naturally sweeten it with cinnamon, if needed. For a balanced snack, combine an apple with 1-2 Tbsp of peanut butter or a low-fat cheese stick. Apple chunks can be added to salads, cereal and make creative slaws and salsas! Apples are so versatile; everyone can enjoy the fruit of the season!

 

 

How to Get Your Beach Body

iStock_000014575855MediumYou’ve been waiting all year for it and it’s finally here. Flip flops, sunglasses, SPF, backyard BBQs, boating, baseball, country music, fairs, festivals…it’s summertime. Summer can mean several different things. It means longer days providing more opportunities to be active in the evening hours. It means fresh fruits and vegetables make their way into our homes for a much cheaper price. It also means wearing fewer layers of clothing. If those stubborn winter pounds are overextending their welcome, here are a few quick tips to rev up your diet for the tank top and cut-off shorts season.

  1. Cut back on processed foods. That includes chips, crackers, pretzels, cookies, granola bars and everything else from that aisle in the grocery store. Items that are stored in boxes or bags require a lot of sodium to help preserve the shelf life of that food item. High sodium intakes can contribute to abdominal bloating.
  2. Protein. Consuming lean protein sources, especially at breakfast helps keep us feeling fuller longer between meals. Don’t forget about protein sources at snacks too!
  3. Non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are Mother Nature’s free weight loss medicine. Try to include a serving or two with every meal. Add spinach, mushroom, onions and tomatoes to an egg omelet for breakfast, a dark green side salad at lunch and roasted zucchini, peppers and mushrooms with dinner.
  4. Limit soda. Whether it’s regular or diet soda, both of these carbonated beverages can lead to excess bloating around the waistline.
  5. Remember, it’s okay to snack. Snacking is a chance to refuel your body and keep your metabolism burning bright. Try to keep snack options to 200 calories or less. Try a handful of almonds or one tablespoon of peanut butter with a small apple.
  6. Mind your alcoholic beverages. Many summertime beverages come with a hefty caloric price. Five ounces of margarita contains 370 sugary alcoholic calories and most restaurants will serve you double this amount. Alcohol also weakens our decision-making skills which may lead to unwanted consumption of late-night pizza.
  7. “Eat less, exercise more” is not always the best mantra to follow. Consuming too few of calories also adversely affects one’s metabolism which can make weight loss even harder. Try improving the type of calories you are consuming by choosing lean proteins, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts/seeds and small portions of heart-healthy whole grains.
  8. Change up your exercise routine. We often hit weight-loss plateaus after doing the same workouts week after week, month after month. Try adding some tabata training one to two times per week to provide variety and a new challenge for your body. Tabata is essentially the grandfather of high intensity interval training. The method is simple, yet highly effective. Do as many repetitions as possible for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and then repeat seven more times. A complete tabata sequence is four minutes, or eight rounds long. A great application to download is the Tabata Pro app. It syncs with your music and gives you bells and whistles on when to start the exercise and when to rest. Below are some great workouts to try whether you’re at the gym or in the comfort of your own home. Try to limit rest between exercises to just 60 seconds.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Exercise

Squats (no weight)

Goblet Squats

Squat Jumps

Push-ups on knees

Push-ups on toes

Push-up+ knee tucks

Stationary Lunge
(switch legs after each set)

Alternating Lunges

Lunge Split Jumps

Plank on forearms and knees

Plank on forearms and toes

Plank push-ups

Remember to always consult with your physician before starting a new exercise program.