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Healthy Snacks for Traveling

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For many people, summer is a time for fun in the sun, relaxation, and vacation. As great as it is to travel, it can also be a challenge in terms of sticking to your nutrition goals. Long trips in the car can lead frequent stops at rest areas where the choice of food and snacks can be limiting and often times, really unhealthy. The key is to plan ahead. Before hitting the road, visit your local supermarket and stock up on healthy snacks. Pack them in a portable cooler to help you save time and money when traveling, and to keep you on track with healthy eating. You’ll be glad you did!

Here is a list of items I recommend. They pack well, taste great, and will keep you fuller longer. Strive for lots of fruits and veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats, and high fiber complex carbs. Eat your proteins and carbs at the same time to maintain proper blood sugar balance. This will help you stay energized and focused and avoid needing large amounts of caffeine.

Make sure to pack your cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs to keep your items cold and to avoid spoilage. Also be sure to include plenty of bottled water to help you stay hydrated and avoid high calorie juices, sports drinks, and sodas that are loaded with sugar, colors, and other artificial ingredients.

Fruits and Veggies:

  • Baby carrots
  • Bell pepper slices
  • Broccoli florets
  • Cucumber slices
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Peaches

Protein:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Vermont Beef/Turkey/Pork sticks
  • Protein Bars (RX, Lara, Zing, Kind)
  • Siggi’s yogurt
  • Lifeway Kefir
  • Babybel Cheese

Healthy Fats:

  • Hummus cups
  • Guacamole cups
  • Justin’s peanut butter packets
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews
  • Sunflower seeds

Complex Carbs:

  • Brown rice cakes
  • Pecan Thins
  • Almond Thins

Hydration:

  • Bottled Water
  • LaCroix sparkling water
  • Hint Flavored Water

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! 

 

 

6 Ways To Reduce Sugar in Your Diet

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Sugar is all the buzz these days.  As a dietitian, I spend a lot of time educating clients on how sugar in the diet can be a huge contributor to weight gain. I’m often asked about artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, how much sugar we should be consuming per day (hint, it’s not much!) and what to do about it all.  Here are a few ways you can reduce sugar in your diet in order to set yourself up for weight loss success.

 

1. Read labels.  The back of the label that is. Currently, the guidelines for sugar intake per day are 24g (6 teaspoons) for women and 36g (9 teaspoons) for men. That might seem a like a lot, especially if you consider that 1 teaspoon is equal to 1 packet of sugar, but in reality sugar is hidden in a lot of processed foods and beverages, so you may be getting way more then you think. To put it in perspective, the average can of regular soda has 36 grams of sugar – the daily allowance for men. If you were to consume a 20oz bottle of regular soda per day, you would consume a 4lb bag of sugar in less than 1 month! And it’s not just beverages that we need to worry about. Even some “healthy” foods contain a huge amount of sugar. Take yogurt for example. Some fat free yogurts contain close to 30g of sugar per serving. Talk about sabotaging your efforts to maintain a healthy weight. When reading a food label, look at the grams of added sugar and read the ingredients list! If you see sugar listed (especially within the first 3-5 ingredients) put it back.  Sugar has many guises, so even if it says ‘evaporated cane juice’, ‘agave’, ‘rice syrup’, ‘dextrose’, its all sugar. Remember, to get the facts read the back!

 

2. Avoid fat free or “diet” products. The fat free craze has done more harm then good over the years when you think about it. Obesity is at an all time high. Why? Because when fat is removed from a product it needs to be replaced with something to make still taste good. This is typically sugar, artificial sweeteners, or sodium. Eating fuller fat products will provide satiety and fullness, and will help reduce cravings.

 

3. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are 200-600x sweeter then sugar. When you consume them, your palate is stimulated along with the sensory receptors in the brain. While they are marketed as a safe alternative to sugar, there is evidence to suggest that they do not help to promote weight loss. In some cases they may even make it harder to lose weight. Whether this is because they stimulate cravings for sweet foods or because they are chemically derived and therefore not metabolized the same as sugar is not totally clear. In any case, these are not natural alternatives and therefore are not something that I recommend.

 

4. Balance your carbs. We need carbohydrates in the diet to provide us with fuel and energy. The problem is most people tend to eat too many carbohydrates and, they tend to eat the wrong kinds (think simple vs. complex). Choose carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables, fruits, and certain grains such as quinoa or rice as your main source and reduce processed simple carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, cereals, and sugary granola bars. Simple carbs create a high glycemic load (too much sugar coming into the body at once) and ultimately a sugar crash (your body’s response when your blood sugar rises rapidly, then falls dramatically). Blood sugar crashes cause the body to crave more carbohydrates and sugary foods which ultimately leads to an endless cycle of carb craving and consumption. Eating complex carbs, paired with a quality protein source and a healthy fat will balance energy levels, lessen the glycemic load, and will ultimately be your best defense against sugar cravings.

 

5. Eat every 3-4 hours. This is what is known as preventative eating. Each time you eat a meal you should feel hungry enough to eat a meal, but not starving. When we are starving, we tend to overeat, which can impact blood sugar levels by causing a rapid rise then fall. The most common time of day reported by clients is late afternoon. Think of yourself nodding off in that afternoon meeting. When blood sugar falls, the body will signal us to eat more (you guessed it) sugar! This is usually about the time you are arriving home from work and raiding your cabinets for carb dense snacks. Sound familiar? Eating a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours will keep your blood sugar stable and will help to prevent crashes and cravings. Try it, it works!

 

6. Track your intake. Keep a food log or journal for one week. Track your sugar intake and determine how much you are getting per day. The average consumer gets approximately 97g of sugar daily! Once you determine how much you are getting try to gradually reduce wherever possible. A good goal to set is to reduce by 4g (roughly 1 packet of sugar) per day for the first week and continue to reduce until your intake meets the daily guidelines. Reducing gradually will allow your taste buds, your brain, and your metabolism to gradually adapt to this change.

 

Practicing these key principles will make a big difference in your overall sugar intake. Once you are aware of how much you are getting (and make strides to get sugar our of your diet) you’ll notice some big changes. You’ll feel better, have more energy, have less cravings, and more then likely see a big difference in your waistline!

Probiotics: What’s In It For Me?

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Probiotics have gained a ton of press over the years, and rightly so. Every week new studies surface promoting the benefits of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, and probiotics are a key part.

probiotics

Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria and yeasts within the body, and they are everywhere. There are more bacteria in the body then there are cells. Probiotics live within the sinus, mouth, ears, eyes, nose, gums, esophagus, tonsils, stomach, appendix, vagina, joints, and urinary tract, but most live within the large intestine or colon. Probiotics have been researched for decades, and many studies support the theory that they are essential for optimizing your health. Probiotics help to keep pathogens at bay, support proper digestion and nutrient absorption, improve mood, and boost the immune system. So should everyone consider taking a probiotic, or only individuals with health issues? Is supplementation necessary or can probiotics be obtained through food? If taking a probiotic supplement, which one do you choose? Read below to get the answers to these questions and more.

 How can probiotics keep me healthy? Lets start with the immune system. Numerous studies indicate that probiotics can benefit us in this area. Immunity can help with anything from the common cold to chronic infections. Approximately 75-80% of our immune system exists within the gut. One of the many functions of the gut is to act as a protective barrier to antigens. Antigens are the ‘bad’ bacteria. These come from things like the environment or from food. They enter the body and wreak havoc. But we can also loose probiotics from things like stress, chemicals, artificial sweeteners, medications, and poor diet. When your microbiome is out of balance, your health will undoubtedly be compromised. In contrast, when your gut maintains the appropriate balance of healthy bacteria or flora you are more equipped to fight off colds and illnesses, and stay healthy. So, it is of benefit to maintain your good bacteria at all times, not just when taking an antibiotic.

In addition, probiotics can be hugely beneficial to those with digestive disorders such as constipation, diarrhea, IBS, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s and Colitis. Probiotics can help protect the integrity of the gut lining as well as replenish and rebalance the levels of good bacteria in the colon. They can also help to absorb depleted nutrients.

Probiotics can also help treat certain illnesses including, UTI’s, chronic yeast infections, and certain allergies.

Who needs a probiotic? Those who are generally healthy can benefit from having probiotics in their diet in order to stay healthy. Individuals who are taking an antibiotic should consider taking a probiotic as well. Antibiotics are great at getting rid of the ‘bad’ bacteria in our bodies, but in doing so also get rid of the good bacteria. Many people will take a probiotic throughout the duration of their antibiotic. But we don’t just get antibiotics from pharmacy. They also exist within our food supply. They can be found in conventional eggs, poultry, beef, pork, and fish. So even if you have not taken a prescribed antibiotic for quite some time, you could still be ingesting them through your diet.

How can I get Probiotics into my diet?

Probiotics can be found in two sources: fermented foods and supplements.

Fermented foods containing probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha. Having a variety of these foods in your diet can be a simple, healthy, and delicious way to balance your flora.

Probiotic supplements are a bit trickier, as not all probiotics are created equal. One of the most important things to consider is the strain of probiotic. Broadly speaking, probiotics are identified through their scientific nomenclature. This includes three names: Genus, species, and strain. Each name helps to identify the probiotic based on properties that make it distinct from others, beginning at the broadest level, and ending with the most specific classification. It is the strain that can be most important, as this is where you can correlate research studies and data specific to the probiotic. A common analogy is that of dogs. All dogs belong to the genus Canis and the species familiaris, but within the species there is a huge variety among breed. Think shape, size, coat, etc. This same logic applies to a probiotic strain. When choosing a supplement for specific conditions, a healthcare provider or dietitian can help you to identify which strains have been shown to be the most effective. Strains that work well for one condition, might not necessarily work well for another. The strain should be listed on the supplement label. An example would be Lactobacillus (Genus) rhamnosus (Species) GG (Strain).

Other things to consider in a probiotic supplement include whether or not the supplement contains guaranteed live colonies, has an expiration date (don’t buy one without it), whether the manufacturer offers unbiased third party testing, and the total bacterial level. Probiotics are dosed in billions of colonies per pill. This might sound like a lot, but keep in mind that there are between 100-300 trillion probiotics that occur in our body naturally. I generally recommend starting with a low dose of 1-5 billion in order to determine if you tolerate it well, then gradually increasing your dosage to 10-20 billion over time. You can start with .5-1 pill per day depending on the brand and colony level, and go from there. Side effects from probiotic supplements are rare, but ones that I have generally seen in practice include bloating or flatulence when initially started.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of probiotics and their benefits. If you are considering adding a probiotic to your health regimen, talk to your health care provider or dietitian to determine which probiotic is best for you.

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Sources:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/73/2/444s.full

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