Tag Archives: nutrition

Unhealthy Foods 101: Outsmarting Habits Disguised as Cravings

Today, let’s start with the end in mind.

You have to make it a habit to get rid of a bad habit to make space for better habits.

Anyone who knows me is fully aware of my love for desserts–especially dark chocolate, sweet potato pie, apple pie, ice cream, soft chocolate chip cookies, birthday cake, well, you get the point. Once upon a time about five years ago I decided to give up desserts for the entire month leading up to my birthday. I was curious to see if I could actually do it. And what better way to celebrate than to have a big ol’ piece of birthday cake and ice cream 31 days later!?!? So yes, 31 days of no desserts for a person who regularly partakes in the deliciousness of sweet delectables.

The first few days weren’t so bad and admittedly it was very eye opening to experience the “alleged” cravings for sweets. Mind you, it didn’t help that certain people who shall remain nameless tried to tempt me with all types of sweets. My will power prevailed. I also noticed how much desserts are around me as a convenience to eat. Work. Dining halls. Restaurants. Grocery stores. Work meetings. Doctor’s offices. My purse. In the hands of friends and colleagues. Hair salon. Movie theater. And the list goes on and on. Let’s fast forward 31 days and chat about a few things that surfaced during my 31-day dessert fast.

discipline: Unsurprisingly, I have will power and discipline to push through any type of luxurious sacrifice. It was only dessert (my precious). It’s not like I was giving up water and food all month. Mind you, I remain thankful for the choice to even give up desserts, let alone the possibility of giving up water or food.

craving: At first, I could have sworn I was craving desserts. I didn’t have the shakes or some other noticeable physiological response, but I really did think I seriously craved desserts. And then it happened….

habit: I figured out that I don’t really love desserts, nor do I crave them. I have simply conditioned myself to eating desserts at a certain time of day and for certain occasions for the majority of my life. After dinner–dessert. Birthday–dessert (I still haven’t been able to shake this one). After lunch–dessert. After snack snack–dessert. After pulling desserts (high glycemic index and super sugary foods) out of my diet, my sensitivity to sweets increased and my desire to eat sweets decreased.

Moral of the story: You have to make it a habit to get rid of a bad habit to make space for better habits.

Here’s a cool video infographic I found on YouTube about the Science of Habit. It’s pretty basic and progresses into how habits become addictions, so you could stop watching at the 2:40 mark…or not. 😉

Video credit: Kenny Winn via YouTube

There’s also a book I’ve been meaning to read, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.

QUESTION: What not-so-healthy foods do you crave? Are they truly food CRAVINGS or have these foods become part of your food intake routine (a.k.a., habit)?  Perhaps it’s a little bit of both…

In order for change to occur, change needs to happen.


[Review] Livestrong MyPlate App

‘Tis the season for resetting fitness and nutrition goals! Many of us could benefit from maintaining a food and/or exercise journal to help track our progress. And of course there’s an app for that! Actually, there are several apps….oh, where to begin?

This month I figured it would be helpful to gain first hand experience using some of the free food tracking and fitness mobile applications. Before I begin, let me be clear. I do not officially endorse any nutrition or fitness applications. My goal is to share some of the pros and cons of these applications to help others determine what may best suit their needs. Also, for selfish reasons, I want to figure out which ones I may encourage future personal training clients to use to complement their fitness goals.

Now, first up is the MyPlate application hosted by the Livestrong Foundation. livestrongmyplate

This app starts off with asking for some basic demographic information: age, weight, goal (maintain/gain/lose weight or other) and activity level (sedentary, light, moderate, very active).

Cool features…

Bar code scan: Instead of manually entering nutritional information, this app gives you the option of scanning the bar code of foods. The bar code automatically uploads nutritional information. I’ve noticed that the bar codes of bulk items purchased at large food warehouse stores tend to not work and I need to manually enter basic nutritional information (i.e., carbs, fat, protein, and calories).

PC and Phone Access: You can download the FREE MyPlate app and log-in online with the same username and password to upload various information about food intake and exercise. All entered on either device information automatically syncs.

Track water intake: This is pretty handy and helpful to keep you on track with daily water intake.

Clever naming: The Livestrong Foundation’s MyPlate calorie tracker application shares the same name as the MyPlate initiative created and hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). To my knowledge, Livestrong and the USDA do not have an official partnership.

Direct access to full Livestrong website: The MyPlate calorie tracker is only one tool on a very comprehensive website dedicated to fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Other examples of resources on the website include: blogs, how to exercise demos, articles, diet plans, workout gear, and more…

Frustrations and other things I wish were better….

Simplistic nutritional tracking: The manual food entry option on the app only asks for calories, carbs, protein, and fat information. It doesn’t break down food intake into smaller sub-categories (i.e., vitamins, minerals, sugars). However, I noticed in a daily summary that the app somehow tracks fiber, sugars, sodium, and cholesterol, too. I assume the app collects additional information about other nutrients via the search list of the Livestrong food database. In a nutshell, this extremely decreases the reliability and validity of all reports in this app.

Exercise tracking: You can search for popular exercises (i.e., yoga, boot camp, Zumba, weightlifting, boxing) and calories burned automatically fill in. Otherwise, you must enter custom exercises and figure out how many calories are burned. The drawback of auto-fill calories burned is that we expend different amounts of calories based on our individual body mass. A 130 lb woman will burn less calories in 1 hour of boxing than a 170 lb woman. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor to calculate calories burned during specific exercises, then you’re left guessing. It looks like the MyFitnessPal app has a more comprehensive listing of various exercises and respective calories burned. MyFitnessPal includes a mini-calculator to determine calories burned based upon body weight and the duration of exercise.

Other hydration sources: There’s a grey area when it comes to hydration with this app. For example, when I log a tea beverage it counts as tea and not water. As the user, you must determine how you want to count tea — as a part of a meal, as part of your water intake, or both? For me, I don’t mind not counting tea or any other non-water beverage as water because the overall point is to drink more water.

All fat is not the same: This app asks for fat, calories, carbohydrates, and protein. Period. That’s it. More specifically, or should I say less specifically, fat is not broken down into saturated and unsaturated fats. It is very helpful to breakdown our saturated and unsaturated fat intake because we receive numerous benefits from unsaturated fats such as improved cardiovascular health. Also, many people make the assumption that all fat is bad and as a result, not eat enough fat daily. Back in 2005, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended total fat intake of 20-35% of daily calories for adults, 25-35% for children ages 4-18, and 30-35% for children ages 2 to 3 years. Check out pages 24-29 of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for America report released in January 2011.

Time of day: There is no time of day entry option when you eat or exercise. I think this would be a very interesting factor to analyze in a custom report and would be very insightful for a personal trainer. For example, some of us may eat our daily recommended caloric intake, but go long periods of time without eating and cramming in a super high calorie meal at the end of the day.

Average summary and analysis charts: Most of us want to view detailed summaries and reports of our nutrients we consume daily, weekly, and across multiple weeks. Unfortunately, the MyPlate application only allows you to view ten days at a time. I noticed a view by month option and this may illustrate daily nutrient consumption over the course of 30 days, but I only used the app for 10 days. I believe the GOLD (for fee) option may offer more options to review collected day and to also alter the type of nutritional data you collect (e.g., specific micro and macronutrients, minerals, etc.).

Other notable features include: food/diet/fitness diary (you can set it to private or public), online community to share fitness and nutrition MyPlate journey, includes a pretty comprehensive exercise library that automatically calculates burned calories based on body measurements, and enter personalized recipes (makes for easier food entries in the calorie counter app)

Grade: C (average)

Did I miss anything? (probably so)
What do you like or not like about the free version of the MyPlate app?

Is there a FREE fitness or nutrition mobile app you want me to review? Send suggestions.

“PFF” (Protein Fiber Fruit) Pancakes

Here’s the recipe to one of my favorite morning treats to help break the monotony of eating oatmeal daily. In addition to my PFF pancakes, I usually eat an egg over easy and drink a cup of black coffee. This meal keeps me feeling full throughout most of the morning. It also serves as one of my favorite post morning workout meals.

-1 1/2 c. favorite pancake batter
-1/2 to 1 scoop of your favorite protein powder (approx. 15-20 g of protein)
-1 tsp chia seeds
-1 tbsp ground flax seed meal
-3 tbsp old fashioned oats
-fresh or frozen fruit
-extra virgin olive oil

Feel free to alter quantities to your liking. Mix pancake batter, protein powder, chia seeds, flaxseed meal, and oats in water. The batter should be a little thick. Heat pan. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in the pan. Make sure the pan is hot enough before pouring batter into it. Pour enough mix into the pan to create your desired pancake size. Sprinkle some of your favorite fruit on top of pancakes in pan. (I prefer frozen blueberries.) Flip pancakes. You may need to drizzle a little bit more EVOO in the pan. This helps make the pancake a little crunchy on the edges and prohibits it from sticking to the pan. Remove cooked pancakes from pan and continue process until done. Enjoy!

1. Keep pancakes in warm oven or covered in microwave to keep warm.
2. There’s no need to use syrup because the protein powder and fruit serve as sweeteners.
3. Pre-mix dry ingredients in bulk as a time saver.

Yields approximately 5 medium size pancakes.

Of course there are a few nutritional benefits of this delicious morning treat.

Chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and also serve as a blood sugar regulator. Omega 3 fatty acids are terrific for heart health, muscle recovery, brain functioning, joint tenderness, lowering blood triglyceride levels, and anti-inflammatory effects on the body. The soluble fiber found in chia seeds, flax seed, and oats helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Additional fiber benefits include satiety and bowel movement regularity. Antioxidant rich foods offer nutritional benefits and help eliminate free radicals from the body. Flaxseed meal is full of fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, and lignans. Lignans offer additional antioxidant benefits to the body. Old fashioned oats are high in fiber, protein, and help lower cholesterol levels. Extra virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (lowers cholesterol levels in the body) and polyphenols (antioxidant properties). Check out a past blog post about the benefits of proteins.


Considerations about Dietary Supplements…

2013-10-16 10.50.15This week I was a bit stumped about what topic to discuss. Lately, I’ve engaged in several conversations about dietary supplements and their perceived purpose in our lives. Instead of delving into the infinite number of supplements in the market, I decided to create a short checklist of things to consider before taking a dietary supplement.

1. Want versus Need. It’s important to decipher if you want to take a supplement versus if you need to take a supplement. For example, you may have conducted research about a product that helps you burn body fat and suppress your appetite. Do you NEED a product to help you burn fat and suppress your appetite or do you WANT something that claims to achieve these outcomes? And is a supplement the answer or is it good old fashion exercise, a clean diet, and discipline to achieve your health goals?

Here’s another example. You have a gastric by-pass surgery coming up and your doctor has directed you to purchase a specific type of whey protein with no vitamins and low sugar. A basic whey protein shake will be used in conjunction with other methods of nutrient consumption within the post-operative healing process. Do you WANT whey protein or do you NEED whey protein?

Another common example involves iron supplements. An individual with anemia may be prescribed an iron supplement. Does this person want iron or NEED it? Most likely the answer is yes to both.

Remember, oftentimes we want a supplement and actually don’t need it and can just as easily consume foods rich in a variety of nutrients to meet our recommended daily intake requirements.

2. Prior and Current Health Conditions. Several supplements may improve or magnify a current or prior health condition. For example, you’re diabetic and want to take a supplement to help burn fat and curb your appetite. Losing weight is your intended purpose for taking the supplement, but an indirect outcome may be not eating enough food, thus significantly lowering blood sugar levels placing you in diabetic shock.

Another example relates to statin drugs (e.g., several blood cholesterol lowering drugs). A common warning on the labels of statin drugs is “do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while taking this medication.” This is because grapefruit (a citrus fruit) negates the effectiveness of statin drugs. How does this relate to supplements? Well, some supplements are infused with citrus fruits (read the fine print) and can potentially be counter-intuitive to the drug’s intended purpose.

3. Lower and Upper Tolerable Limits. Several credible national health entities (e.g., Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies) have defined upper tolerable limits for the majority of micro and macronutrients. Recommendations are provided for a variety of demographic groups separated by age group: children, males, females, pregnancy, and lactation.

Vitamin B-12 is a very popular nutritional supplement associated with energy. As a water-soluble vitamin, B-12 is not stored in the body and is readily excreted in urine. Also, it is important to note that vitamins do not provide energy. Instead, they help our bodies maximize nutrients that yield energy. B-12 vitamin toxicity is uncommon, but consumption of high doses may result in negative health outcomes (e.g., numbness, tingling, insomnia).

4. Medical Professional Consultation.  In my experience, I’ve noticed several people have not and do not plan to consult a medical professional prior to ingesting any type of dietary supplement. I have to admit that I have fallen into this category. Several of us search the internet for facts about various dietary supplements and are oftentimes content with what we are able to find. Although it is great to conduct research, but I encourage us all (myself included) to consult a medical professional prior to taking any supplements. It’s important to know supplements are not required to be approved by the FDA. Therefore, most medical doctors will not advocate or support the majority of supplements. 

Also, remember you have the option to ask specific questions (free of charge) about supplements and potential drug interactions with any pharmacist at a local drug store or grocery store. And of course, you can consult other medical and health professionals (e.g., medical doctor, nurse, nutritionist). Let’s all make thoroughly informed choices and do our diligent research.

5. Listen to Your Body.  Last but not least, listen to your body. Most of the time our body tells us exactly what it needs more and less of to function optimally. Together with a healthy support system and the expertise of medical and health professionals we are equipped to live a healthier lifestyle.

What’s missing from this list? What are some other things to consider BEFORE consuming a dietary supplement?

The Golden Rule of Protein….

Do unto protein as you would have protein do unto you. Respect it and it shall respect you. Purposefully consume it and it shall purposefully provide several benefits to your body.

We often hear about diets full of lean, protein rich foods, but we don’t hear enough about how and why consuming enough, too much, or not enough protein is important. Today, I want to delve a little deeper (but not too deep) into one of the most critical macronutrients in our bodies: PROTEINS.

What purpose does protein serve our bodies? Protein has big responsibilities in our body! Just to name a few—our hair, skin, eyesight, bones, and muscles depend on it. Some of the main roles of protein in the body are to provide (a) structure and movement, (b) energy and glucose, (c) blood clotting, (d) build antibodies to fight illness, and (d) to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance. Important stuff, right?

Proteins are made up of amino acids and there are 20 total, nine of which our bodies need and cannot create on its own–hence, they are called essential amino acids. That means we must obtain them through our diet. Protein benefits for the bodyFeel free to read more about essential and non-essential amino acids on the US National Library of Medicine website or simply conduct a basic Google search using
“amino acids” as key words.

How much protein should I eat? The Daily Recommended Intake of protein for an adult (18+ years old) is 10-35% of total calories consumed daily (source: Daily Recommended Intake). A benefit to using the percentage of total calories consumed daily is very useful and arguably more useful to athletes and individuals with a more active lifestyle. For example, I weigh 130 lbs (or 59 kg) and burn at least 500 calories daily via exercise alone. Considering I am not trying to lose weight and instead maintain my weight, I need to consume around 1,800-2,200 calories per day; 180-770 (10-35%) of these calories should come from protein.

Note: A half of a skinless, boneless chicken breast is 30g of protein or 250 calories. So, I would need to eat 1 to 1.5 whole chicken breasts daily to consume enough protein. (This assumes I only ate chicken as a protein source.)

Using this method as a way of informing my daily protein intake, I would end up consuming 75g of protein per day. Note how this number is different than the number I will calculate next using the RDA’s recommendations.

Another way to determine how much protein I should eat daily is looking at the ratio between my protein consumption and body weight. The Recommended Daily Allowance recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. For example, I weigh 59 kg (calculate lbs to kg here). I multiply this number by 0.8 g. The result is 47.2 g. So, I should roughly consume 47 g of protein on a daily basis.

Neither the DRI or RDA recommendations are steadfast rules, but like their names indicate, they are recommendations of how much protein to consume. This is a great segue way into discussing over-consumption and under-consumption of protein.

A few words about protein toxicity and deficiency.   I will try to keep this brief. Too much protein in our diets can also result in heart disease, adult bone loss, cancer, decreased muscle mass, kidney disease, weight gain (meat usually has high saturated fat, hence increase in fat intake, and potential weight gain), and irritated digestion in the intestines (bloatedness, gas, constipation, diarrhea).

Diets with not enough protein consumed may result in impaired immunity and an increased risk in experiencing lethargy, heart disease, kidney disease, bone loss, and cancer.

After all of this talk about protein, what are some protein rich foods? Some of my favorite proteins include: salmon, almonds, walnuts, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, chicken, turkey, beans, eggs, soy milk, chia seeds, and tuna fish.  A comprehensive list of high quality protein foods is located at ChooseMyPlate.gov. In your spare time, feel free to read this 43 page USDA report about proteins. It’s pretty informative and for the most part, written in lay terms.

Well, there you have it. That’s proteins in a nutshell (pun intended).

Fat Consumption, Weight Gain, and Increase in Fat

Most people equate eating fat to gaining weight and/or increasing the amount of fat within the body. This isn’t necessarily true. Not all fats are bad and believe it or not we NEED fats in our diets (a.k.a., essential fatty acids – Omega -3 and Omega -6).  It is recommended that 20-35% of an adult’s daily diet intake is fats (Dietary Guidelines for America, American Heart Association, USDA). Wait! Before you bust out the ice cream and brownies, let me break it down.

Fats are broken into good (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) and bad (saturated and trans) fats. Out of the 25-35% daily fat intake, 1% is transfat, 7-10% is saturated fat, and the remaining 15-25% is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

So, how does this relate to gaining weight or adding fat mass to our bodies?

When we don’t eat enough fat, our energy may plummet and we may become vitamin deficient. [Note: fats help body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.] We are more likely to not be active and potentially make unhealthy food choices when we feel tired, lethargic, and low in energy. And we sometimes lean upon quick and easy (UNHEALTHY) food choices because they are convenient and don’t require a lot of energy to prepare. And this my friends, is a recipe for gaining weight.

Stick with eating good fats such as fish, nuts, seeds, and oils from plants. For example,   salmon, trout, avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.

Eating our recommended daily fat intake is good, but we must be careful about the proportions of good and bad fats. If our bad fats are high and good fats are low, then we have a higher risk of weight gain, higher cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease. We must limit saturated (e.g., butter, solid shortening, animal fat, coconut oil, palm oil) and Transfats (vegetable shortening, cookies, cakes, several types of snack foods).

Fats also help our immune system processes. If we don’t consume enough fat in our diet, our immune system may suffer. When our immune system is out of whack, we are more susceptible to illness. And when we are ill, we often lose our appetite, gain a larger appetite, and/or become more sedentary. More calories plus less activity equates to potential weight gain. Less calories and less activity can also contribute to potential weight gain because our body looks for sugar, glycogen (in muscle and liver), and fat for energy. During this process our insulin levels get elevated and our metabolism is negatively impacted; hence, potential weight gain.

An NIH-funded study found that the source of calories, whether from fat, protein, or carbohydrates, isn’t as important as the number of calories we consume. What does this mean for weight loss? First, we should stick to the recommended daily intake of fats (25-35%). Second, we must also stick to our recommended daily caloric intake (based on personal wellness goals, body composition, and physician advise). In sum, we can gain weight by exceeding daily recommended calories via consumption of fats, proteins, and/or carbohydrates!

Remember, strategic and purposeful fat (AND overall food intake and calorie) consumption is the key.

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