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The Power of Phytonutrients

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Phytonutrients are natural compounds in plants that are a powerful tool for building better health. Phytonutrients provide numerous functions, such as providing the body with a rich source of antioxidants, which protect us from oxidative stress. Phytonutrients also stimulate enzymes that help the body get rid of toxins, boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, promote healthy estrogen metabolism, and stimulate the death of cancer cells.

The best source of phytonutrients in the diet are fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and teas. Phytonutrients in food come in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, tan, and white. For optimal health, it is important to eat a variety of colorful foods often.

Remember to strive for at least two servings of vegetables (about half of your plate) at meals, and one serving at snacks. Challenge yourself by aiming for one to two colors per day and choose a variety of fruits and vegetables within those color groups each week. In addition, vary your preparation methods. Enjoy veggies raw or cooked. Try adding colorful fruits to salads, smoothies, or hot cereal. Experiment with different varieties of beans and grains. Add colorful spices to your foods.

Below is a sample list of phytonutrient rich foods by color. Which ones do you enjoy often? Which new ones will you try?

Green – Apple, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, bell peppers, bean sprouts, Bok choy, broccoli, cucumbers, green beans, peas, zucchini

Yellow – Apple, pears, banana, bell pepper, corn, summer squash, pineapple

Orange – Apricots, bell pepper, cantaloupe, carrots, mango, nectarine, oranges, papaya, persimmons, butternut squash, sweet potato, tangerines, turmeric, yams

Red – Apple, kidney beans, beets, bell pepper, cranberries, cherries, pink grapefruit, goji berries, grapes, plums, pomegranate, radishes, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, tomato, watermelon

Blue/Purple/Black – Blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, figs, grapes, kale, plums, potatoes, prunes, raisons

White/Tan – Apples, cauliflower, coconut, dates, garlic, ginger, jicama, white beans, lentils, mushrooms, onions, pears, shallots, seeds, grains, black or white tea

Source: Institute Functional Medicine

“Why Am I Still Not Losing Weight?” Common Barriers to Weight Loss

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Have you ever thought “It all comes down to will power?” Not true! There are so many reasons why your body may be holding on to those stubborn pounds. I’ve listed some of the most common barriers to weight loss that I’ve seen in practice. Read on to see if any of these apply to you.

Let’s start with nutrition. For weight loss it all starts here. While there are many factors that contribute to weight gain and weight loss, nutrition is by far the most important part of the equation. 

 

Consuming Processed Foods

Start by removing processed foods and refined sugars from your diet, as they provide little to no nutritional value and can be a huge barrier to weight loss. Processed foods are generally packaged convenience foods designed to have longer shelf life. Many are high in sodium, sugar, or artificial preservatives.

Consuming Diet Foods

Diet foods have populated grocery store shelves for years, promoting healthy eating to consumers and promises of weight loss by simply restricting calories. The problem is, these foods still need to taste good in order to sell. In order to keep calories low, the fat is removed and sodium, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives are added in. Many of these foods not only are void of great nutrition such as healthy fats and protein but they are loaded with additives and chemicals that the body just does not need. Remember, calories are not just about quantity – its quality that matters. Think about it. 100 calories of pre-packaged “diet” cookies are NOT the same as 100 calories of blueberries.  Quality counts!

Too Much Sugar

Plain and simple, Americans are consuming too much sugar!  Current guidelines from the American Heart Association state that women should strive for 24g of sugar per day and men should strive for 36g of sugar per day. For perspective, 1 can of regular soda contains approximately 36g of sugar. Sugar gets converted to glucose in the body, which is managed by insulin, our fat storage hormone. Insulin’s job is to convert glucose to glycogen and distribute this to our cells for energy. If too much sugar is consumed, therefore causing too much glucose in the body, insulin will store the additional glucose in the liver as fat. Managing your sugar intake and striving to consume as little added sugar as possible can make a huge difference in terms of reaching your weight loss goals.

 Not Reading Labels

If nothing else, this might be the most valuable tool you can use in the grocery store to help you stay on track with your nutrition goals.  When reading labels, focus on the back of the package and look at the nutrition facts panel or more importantly the list of ingredients. This is where the truth is! Ingredients are listed by volume, so the first few ingredients are what the product mostly consists of. If you see ingredients such as added sugar, sodium, or items that you cannot even pronounce, put it back on the shelf and keep looking. A good rule of thumb is as few ingredients as possible, all of which you could find on the grocery store shelves if you wanted to make the product yourself. Remember, the front of the package is NOT regulated, so manufacturers can make any claim that they want such as “Natural” or “A Good Source of _____”. Read the back to get the facts.

Meal Balance

We’re talking macronutrients here. Carbs, Protein, Fats.  Eating meals and snacks that contain all three macronutrients along with lots of non-starchy vegetables will keep you fuller longer, extend your energy, provide you with satiety, and keep your blood sugar balanced. All of which can help with weight loss. Knowing how to properly balance your macronutrients in order to meet your needs will set you on the right path to achieving your goals.

Skipping Meals

If you are skipping meals (especially breakfast), you are not doing your metabolism any favors. Disbursing your calories throughout the day through small meals will not only help your metabolism, but will also stabilize your blood sugar which will give you more energy. Some research shows that individuals who consume breakfast within 1-2 hours after waking and then continue to eat small meals every 3-4 hours may actually have an easier time losing weight then individuals who skip meals. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar crashes, lead to a higher level of hunger (which can lead to overeating at the meals you do eat), and a lower rate of metabolism.

Liquid calories

One of the first things I look for in a food intake is whether or not a person is consuming added and unnecessary calories through sugary beverages. It is amazing how quickly calories can add up with a sugary coffee, a sweetened iced-tea, or a bottle of regular soda. Remember, 1 can of soda contains a day’s worth of sugar and up to 260 calories. Calories should ideally be consumed through foods, not through what’s in your glass. Strive for water, seltzer, or caffeine free tea with no sweetener.

Portion sizes

I hate counting calories as much as the next person, but it is important to know proper portion sizes. Over the last 20-30 years portion sizes have gotten so skewed that most people are completely unaware of what a proper portion size is anymore. Just to give perspective, an average sized bagel (about 6” in diameter) is approximately 60g of carbs, which is equal to 4 servings! This is a huge increase since the 70’s and 80’s when a bagel was approximately half this size. Understanding appropriate portions can make a huge difference in overall calorie consumption and weight loss.

Ok, so let’s assume your nutrition is in check and you are still not losing weight. Here are some other common barriers that I see all too often.

Not prioritizing physical activity

“I have no time to exercise!” I hear this all the time and have even said it on a few occasions. It’s the first thing we take off the list when life gets busy, but it is essentially one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves especially at times when life seems out of hand. Current guidelines state that we should be striving for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week. Ideally, this should include cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and stretching to prevent injury.  Know that you can do this in small amounts, such as 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. The most important thing is to set aside time in your day to get active even if it’s in small amounts such as taking the stairs, parking further, walking the dog, etc. Start with prioritizing exercise 2x per week – schedule it on your calendar! Then slowly add more time in and vary your workouts. Your body will thank you.

Disrupted Sleep

Sleep can be a huge barrier to weight loss. Hormone regulation occurs during our sleep cycle. Insulin (our fat storage hormone) needs to work optimally to manage the blood sugar coming into our bodies. If sleep is compromised it can lead to hormone disruption and weight gain. Obtaining less then 7 hours of sleep per night has been linked to weight gain in individuals. Strive for 7-9 hours on average. Optimal sleep means you fall asleep easily and stay asleep. If you are having trouble falling asleep make sure you are practicing healthy sleep habits each night such as shutting down your screen, laptop, phone, or television at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. If a mental “to-do” list keeps you up at night, add list making to your nighttime routine. Write down everything that needs to get done and tell yourself “I will deal with this tomorrow”. This simple act can help clear your mind and prepare you for restful sleep. Deep breathing, meditation, reading, listening to music can all help as well. The idea here is that you are decompressing and preparing your body for sleep mode. If you are waking during the night and having trouble falling back asleep magnesium rich foods can help. Magnesium is a natural stress reliever and can help promote restful sleep. Strive to include magnesium rich foods such as almonds, cashews, avocados, bananas, and spinach into your diet especially at evening meals.

Too much stress!

Elevated stress can definitely take its toll on your waistline. Whether it’s stress eating, or an elevated level of cortisol (your stress hormone) which raises blood sugar, stress will definitely impair your ability to lose weight. Practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, or spending more time outdoors can really help lower stress levels and make it easier to focus on your nutrition and weight loss goals.

Your environment

Too much junk food at work? Late night snacking at home? Dining out too often? Stressful events? Is your environment affecting your ability to stick to your goals? All of these items can lead to consuming unhealthy foods when you are not hungry. If this is happening to you, stick to a plan. Take the unhealthy foods out of the home to make this your ‘safe place’ and minimize triggers. Pack healthy snacks to keep on hand at work to avoid consuming sweets ‘just because they are there’. When dining out, take 5 extra minutes to check the menu online and determine which dish will align with your goals. Stick with your choice when ordering. Identifying triggers within your environment and devising a plan to avoid them can definitely help you stay on track.

Your support system 

“Are you really going to eat that?” Negative comments from people in your life can easily derail a person and feel like a threat. Whether its a friend who thinks that having that slice of cake is “no big deal” or the co-worker who thinks that healthy eating is “no fun”, negativity can be a real downer in terms of goal setting and can sabotage your effort to get healthy. Strive to surround yourself with people who support your goals and understand how important they are to you.

 

If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Barriers can exist all around us. The key is to identify them and devise a plan that will set you up for success. Start with one or two small changes at a time and build from there. Remember, small changes lead to big results! 

 

 

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