Categories Food, Health, Nutrition, Weight Loss

Understanding Macros Part 1: Carbohydrates

Macronutrients (commonly referred to as macros) are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We know that healthy eating and proper nutrition is more than just counting calories. It’s about eating whole, real foods that are minimally processed and packed with nutrients. But to lower your risk of disease and to maintain a healthy weight, it is also important to understand the types of macronutrients your calories consist of and to maintain the right balance 😉 of each.

So let me explain a little bit about macros and why they should matter to you. In Part 1 of this 3-part blog, we’ll begin with arguably the most debated type of macronutrient: Carbohydrates.

CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrates have several functions. They provide our bodies with fuel and energy, they support our brain and they support our nervous system. Whether it’s to perform our day-to-day activities, exercise, or to simply focus better at work or school, carbs are an essential part of the diet.

Energy from carbohydrates is provided to our cells in the form of glucose (also known as blood sugar). When we eat any form of carbohydrate, our blood sugar rises. The carbohydrates are then broken down into glucose molecules, which are transported into our cells by our fat storage hormone insulin. Once our cells are at capacity for glucose absorption, any remaining glucose in the blood is moved to our muscles or our liver where it is stored in the form of glycogen. Once glycogen stores are at capacity, excess glucose is converted to fat. When our body needs energy, our fat burning hormone glucagon brings glucose out of storage and back into the blood for use by all the other cells. It is important to note that these two hormones cannot operate at the same time. So, we are either in fat burning mode or fat storage mode throughout the day.

Carbs are comprised of two types: Simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs are sugars comprised of molecules known as monosaccharides and disaccharides. Complex carbs are comprised of fibers and starches.

Monosaccharides are a single molecule of sugar. They are the easiest type of carbohydrate to be absorbed in the body, and can cause our blood sugar to rise the fastest. Monosaccharides include glucose, fructose, and galactose and occur naturally in fruit, honey, and dairy. Other sources include processed foods and beverages which contain high fructose corn syrup such as soda, cakes, cookies, pastries, certain breads, and ready to eat cereals.

Disaccharides are pairs of monosaccharides. They include maltose (glucose + glucose), sucrose (glucose + fructose) and lactose (glucose + galactose). Sucrose is commonly known as table sugar, and dairy products contain lactose. Disaccharides are digested less rapidly then monosaccharides because during the digestion process, the two molecules must be broken apart to be absorbed. However, disaccharides still cause our blood sugar to elevate more quickly then the final group of carbohydrates, which is complex carbs.

Complex carbs are comprised of long chains of monosaccharides, known as polysaccharides. All plant foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains) contain forms of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs take a longer time to break down in the body and to move through our digestive tract. They cause our blood sugar to rise the slowest. This helps to keep us fuller longer, and more effectively balance blood sugar by avoiding rapid spikes and dips that can commonly occur.

Foods that contain complex carbs include starches and fibers. Starches are found in plant based foods such as grains (rice, wheat, millet, rye, barley, and oats), beans, legumes, potatoes, yams, cassava, breads and pasta. Fiber (an indigestible carbohydrate) includes two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is known to protect against heart disease and diabetes due to its ability to lower cholesterol and blood sugar. This is imperative for individuals who are trying to manage high cholesterol, pre-diabetes or diabetes. Foods that contain soluble fiber include oats, barley, legumes, and citrus fruits. Insoluble fiber is also valuable in the diet because it bulks the stool to promote regular bowel movements and alleviate constipation. It can also help to feed our gut bacteria and support a healthy microbiome. Foods that contain insoluble fiber include celery, corn, and bran. Strive for a minimum of 20-30g of fiber per day. Include both soluble and insoluble fiber sources in your diet.

A serving size of most carbs is about a half a cup or the size of your fist. In terms of how many carbs you need in a day, this can vary per individual based on your calorie needs, health conditions, and your goals.

Why does it matter?

To function at its best, our body must be provided with enough glucose to support our energy needs, but not too much to cause harm. Our cells can only absorb so much glucose at a time. As mentioned earlier, excessive amounts of glucose (from eating too many carbs or too high a volume of simple carbs) will cause glucose to get stored in the form of fat. This can lead to chronically elevated blood sugar which can cause fatigue, cravings, difficulty focusing, elevated cholesterol, weight gain, pre-diabetes, and diabetes. In contrast, low blood sugar which can result from either a sudden blood sugar ‘crash’ after eating a high carb meal, or by consuming a diet too low in carbs, can lead to issues such as dizziness, light headedness, sweating, weakness, anxiety, confusion, and hunger.

Key takeaway

Not all carbs are bad. Aim to consume mostly complex carbohydrates in your diet. Complex carbs provide you with fiber. They are more slowly digested which will keep you fuller longer, provide you with more energy by preventing blood sugar spikes, and keep you at the lowest risk of disease. Remember that fruit and veggies can count as your carbs.

Summary

If you are struggling with energy levels and find it difficult to get through your day let alone your workouts you may not be eating enough carbohydrates. Carbs provide us with energy, so we need them in our diet. Diets that exclude carbs will only work for a short period of time, but eventually they will not be able to meet your daily energy needs and sustain you throughout your day.  The problem with carbs is that most of the time, we tend to get the wrong ones (simple carbs) and at too large of a portion. Strive for complex carbs in order to keep you fuller longer, and combine them with protein to help balance blood sugar and extend your energy levels. To learn more about protein, stay tuned for Part 2 of this post.

Want to know more about your specific carbohydrate needs? Contact me here for a nutrition counseling session.

Sources:

Mahan, K.L., & Escott-Stump, S. (2008). Krause’s food and nutrition therapy. St. LouisMissouri: Saunders Elsevier.

Murray, M. T., & Pizzorno, J. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Edition. New York, New York: Atria paperback.

Rolfes, S. R., Pinna, K., & Whitney, E. (2009). Understanding normal and clinical nutrition, eighth edition.   Belmont, California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

Categories Food, Nutrition

Healthy Snacks for Traveling

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
Categories Food, Health, Nutrition

The Power of Phytonutrients

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

Categories Food, How To, Nutrition, Weight Loss

Healthy Eating For the Holidays: 8 Tips on How To Avoid Those Extra Pounds

It’s that time of year again… the holidays!

This is by far one of the most challenging periods for many people in terms of staying on track with their nutrition and exercise goals.

While the coming weeks are meant for celebration and spending time with family and friends, the holidays tend to bring with them unwanted weight gain. Most often this is a result of parties and events that include an abundance of high calorie appetizers, dense meals, sugary baked goods, and extra alcohol.

If that’s not hard enough, studies show that individuals tend to be more stressed and/or depressed during this time of year, which can lead to binge eating, less motivation to exercise, and poor sleep – all of which can lead to extra pounds.

So how can you stay on track with your goals yet still take part in the festivities?

Here are 8 tips that I recommend:


1. Don’t skip meals – If you have a party or event to attend, I always recommend sticking to a regular eating schedule versus “saving” all of your calories for that one big meal. Chances are, you’ll arrive at the party starving and you’ll eat way more then you intended. Skipping meals leads to an uneven distribution of calories and macronutrients, blood sugar imbalance, and cravings. Instead, have balanced meals and snacks throughout the day that include protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, and fiber. You’ll arrive steady and clear focused, with the ability to stick to proper portion sizes.

2. Bring a “safe” dish – Think of this as an insurance policy that at there will be at least one healthy dish available, and that is because you will be the one bringing it. Offer to bring a green salad, a veggie tray, or maybe a low carb appetizer like deviled eggs with avocado. Whatever it is that you bring, fill up on it if there are no other healthy choices available.

3. Step away from the table – A common mistake that we are all guilty of is standing next to or near the buffet table as we talk and socialize. This can lead to mindless eating as we continue to reach down and load our plate over and over and over. Instead, fill your plate and walk to another area of the room to socialize. That way, if you want to go back for seconds you will have to excuse yourself from the conversation and consciously walk back to the table for more. This will make you much more aware of your overall intake. 

4. Exercise before you go – Getting some physical activity prior to a big meal can be a great way to stay motivated and acquire some discretionary calories. Hit the gym, go for a run, take a brisk walk, whatever you can do to get a workout in. You’ll feel so much better that you did.

5. Portion your indulgences – Allow yourself to indulge in moderation, but don’t lose site of portions. Being mindful of portion sizes can go a long way in terms of keeping off those unwanted pounds. At main meals, balance your plate with two servings of vegetables, 4-5 oz of lean protein, about ½ cup of complex carbs, plus 1-2 servings of healthy fats for an optimal combination. For simple carbs like bread, alcohol or dessert, decide which ones you will include versus which ones you will forgo, and portion them appropriately. For example, 1 serving of wine is only 5oz.

6. Be mindful when you eat – This means slowing down, avoiding distractions, limiting stressful circumstances, sitting at the table, chewing thoroughly, and savoring your food using all of your senses. You will get the most out of your meals, and will likely feel more satiated causing you to eat less. 

7. Breathe – When stress gets the best of you, don’t forget to stop and breathe. Deep belly breathing can be a great way to reduce oxidative stress, calm anxiety, and help you focus. The best thing of all is that this can be done anywhere. Allow yourself at least 5 minutes each day to breathe deeply. This can be especially helpful if you find that stress is dictating your food choices.

8. Don’t skimp on sleep – Studies show that individuals who get less then 7 hours of sleep tend to have a harder time losing weight and are at a higher risk of insulin resistance. Prioritize your sleep by setting a bedtime each night and sticking to it. Proper sleep will help to ward off cravings, and will provide you with the energy needed to stick to your workouts.

Try these tips to help you successfully navigate through the holiday season and stay in balance.

For more information on nutrition counseling services, contact me here.

 

Categories Food, Health, How To, Nutrition

6 Ways To Reduce Sugar in Your Diet

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!