Categories Food, Health, Nutrition, Weight Loss

Understanding Macros Part 2: Protein

Hopefully you read about carbs in part one of this series. If not, you can check it out here. In part two of understanding macros, the focus is on protein. Protein performs many functions in the body and is essential to maintaining a healthy weight. Most of my clients are not getting enough. Read on to learn about the importance of protein and the minimal amount you should be aiming for in your diet.

PROTEIN

Proteins are mainly comprised of 20 different building blocks known as amino acids that are linked together in long chains by amino bonds. Amino acids are comprised of three types: essential, non-essential, and conditionally essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced in the body and must be provided through food. The nine essential amino acids are:

Histidine

LysineThreonine

Isoleucine

Methionine

Tryptophan

LeucinePhenylalanine

Valine

 

A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids. All animal proteins are complete proteins. An incomplete protein is lacking one or more essential amino acids. Most plant based proteins are incomplete proteins. Sometimes, certain combinations of incomplete proteins can make them a complete protein. Examples of these combinations include rice and beans, edamame and walnuts, or oatmeal with almonds.

Non-essential amino acids can be provided by food, however the body can also produce these on its own. Conditionally essential amino acids are normally non-essential, but they are supplied by the diet when the need for them exceeds the body’s ability to produce it.

Amino acids are required to enable protein to perform its many functions, which include:

  • Growth and maintenance of skin, tendons, membranes, muscles, organs, and bones
  • Repair of body tissues
  • Hormone regulation
  • Digestion support in the form of enzymes
  • Fluid Balance
  • Acid-base regulation
  • Transportation of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, oxygen and lipids
  • Formation of antibodies to fight infection
  • An additional form of energy and glucose

Foods that contain protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, soy, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and certain grains. When choosing meat such as beef, pork, lamb or eggs, be selective. Look for products without antibiotics and where applicable, choose pastured / grass fed. Remember that whatever the animal consumed, we consume. Choose lean cuts so that you can eat an ample portion.

A serving size of protein is generally 3-4 ounces for women, slightly more for men, or about the size of the palm of your hand. At a minimum, individuals should consume 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. This is a general recommendation and can vary based upon an individual’s needs, goals and healthy history. For weight loss, I generally recommend a higher amount. It is important to know that while protein is beneficial for many reasons, consuming too much protein can be detrimental. For this reason, I don’t always recommend certain types of protein supplements that exceed safe amounts.

Why does it matter?

Protein performs many valuable functions within our body. In addition to helping us build muscle and fight off infections, protein works synergistically with carbs to extend the energy that carbs provide. About 3-4 hours worth. Protein also provides satiety. Simply put, incorporating protein at meals will keep you fuller longer and help to offset blood sugar crashes that occur when our diet is too high in carbohydrates. I recommend including protein at each meal and snack, and especially at breakfast. By starting your day with protein, you will avoid those early morning blood sugar spikes that often lead to fatigue, mood changes, brain fog, and cravings.

Key takeaway

Protein can be essential in helping us to balance our plate and maintain a healthy weight. When choosing protein, choose a variety of high quality sources. Be aware of which combinations of plant based foods provide you with a complete protein. Include protein at each meal and snack, and combine it with a complex carb to provide energy longer.

Summary

Balancing carbs with protein will help utilize the energy they provide, but also extend it throughout the day to help keep you balanced. Adequate protein in the diet will also help to build muscle, keep your hormones balance, and support digestion.

Want to know your specific protein 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 Alex Munsell on Unsplash

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 Gut Health, Health, Weight Loss

Gut Health and Obesity – Is Your Microbiome Making You Fat?

If you are like many of my clients, you may be seeking guidance and recommendations for weight loss. I often teach people about the benefits of eating healthy unprocessed foods, getting the proper amount of exercise, reducing stress, and prioritizing sleep as a means of achieving a healthy weight. But what if you are doing all of those things and still not seeing results? What else should be considered? The answer is: your gut.

“All Disease Begins In the Gut”

These were famous words spoken by Hippocrates thousands of years ago, and they still hold true today.

Our gut contains 100 trillion microorganisms known as our microbiome. This vast and awesome environment consisting mostly of bacteria, houses 70-80% of our immune system. It is also where serotonin is produced. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating mood, behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire. While we want to strive to have as healthy and diverse of a microbiome as we can, we can easily find ourselves in situations where our microbes will become altered or imbalanced.

An imbalance in our microbiome is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis occurs when we have low microbial diversity, an overabundance of bad bacteria vs. good bacteria, or pathogens. Dysbiosis typically results from things like poor diet, stress, certain medications like NSAIDS, chronic infections, and toxins in the environment. Dysbiosis has been linked to many chronic diseases such IBS, depression, anxiety, thyroid disease, and autoimmune conditions and obesity.

But how exactly, does bacteria in our gut contribute to our ability to gain and lose weight? Several obesity studies have shown that specific microbes in the gut alter how we store calories and fats. Studies that compared the microbiome of lean individuals to obese individuals have found that the leaner study participants had a wider variety of microbes that break down plant starches and fiber into shorter molecules that the body can use as energy. Studies have also shown that a diet high in processed foods can lower diversity within the gut. Gut bacteria can also alter how we regulate glucose levels and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full, both of which can contribute to changes in body weight and metabolism.

Simply put, an imbalance in our microbiome may increase our risk of weight gain and obesity.

How do you know if you are at risk?

Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, reflux, or IBS are all signs that your microbiome is impaired and out of balance. If you are struggling to lose weight, these issues may be a contributing factor. Other signs of gut impair include fatigue, brain fog, depression and anxiety, frequent colds and infections, and autoimmune disease.

What to do about it

Repair your gut – for many this can start with a quality probiotic. Probiotics help to diversify your flora  and keep your gut functioning at its best. I recommend professional grade probiotic supplements along with glutamine or collagen to help maintain a healthy gut mucosal lining . But if you are experiencing any of the issues mentioned earlier, it could require a more extensive gut protocol that includes additional supplements such as digestive enzymes, HCL, Magnesium, herbal microbials, or reflux supportive supplements such as DGL. This may seem extensive, but keep in mind that many of these might be temporary supplements that are needed to reduce inflammation and put you on the road to better health.

If you are struggling with digestive issues and weight gain, it is worth exploring the topic of gut health and working with a qualified health practitioner such as myself, to develop a gut protocol to get you well. Once your gut is repaired you may find it easier to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight longer.

For more information on gut health and nutrition counseling, contact me here

Categories Exercise, Health, Hormones, Sleep, Stress, Weight Loss

Menopause and Weight Gain

Menopause. That notorious phase of life where one is prone to mood changes, fluctuating stress levels, anxiety, hot flashes, insomnia, food cravings and weight gain.

I counsel women about this topic all of the time. What I typically see is someone who is restricting calories, engaging in high intensity cardio multiple times per week, and not losing one pound. One of the most important things I want women to know is that there is A LOT going on behind the scenes during this time that is causing that stubborn weight gain, and much of that may not be your fault. And while a healthy diet and exercise are important, it may take more then that to handle the major fluctuation in hormone levels that can occur.

As your ovaries begin to decline in estrogen production, your body will try to compensate by producing estrogen in other ways. One way is through your fat cells. This is why it is so common for women to gain weight (especially in their abdomen) during menopause. Those fat cells are trying to produce and hold on to estrogen. Your body will make it much harder to lose fat then it will to gain it.

In addition, your adrenal glands (which regulate the stress hormone cortisol) will also try to support your declining sex hormones, essentially working overtime to help your body regulate itself. This is a problem because cortisol can then become out of balance, and run high or low at the wrong times. Normally, cortisol should be highest in the morning upon waking, giving us energy to start our day. Throughout the course of the day, cortisol should gradually decline and be at its lowest as we prepare for sleep. When cortisol becomes imbalanced, it can end up running high at night (causing insomnia) or low in the morning (causing fatigue). Or sometimes, cortisol will run high all day long. When this happens, it can cause your blood sugar to chronically run high, which can lead to increased appetite, food cravings, weight gain, and insulin resistance. Cortisol also plays a role in causing symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.

So what’s a woman to do?

The following strategies can help…

Balance your plate

The first thing I typically recommend is to balance your blood sugar with plenty of high fiber non-starchy vegetables, complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats. Complex carbs include fruit, starchy vegetables, beans, legumes, and high fiber grains such as quinoa. For protein, I like to recommend wild caught fish, free range chicken or turkey, and grass fed beef. Healthy fats would include olive oil, grass fed butter, ghee, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocado.

Do not deprive yourself of calories

It’s important to note that while we are normally inclined to limit calories in order to lose weight, in times of stress we actually want to be cautious about going too low. When this happens, it can actually cause additional stress on your body. That’s why it’s important to fuel your body with the right amount of calories to support its needs. Calorie needs differ for each individual. Know your minimal calorie range (I can help you with that) and stick to it. Do not over restrict yourself.

Stick to a meal schedule

Eat small meals throughout the day, and avoid going long stretches of time without eating. I usually recommend fueling your body every 3-4 hours. This will help to stabilize blood sugar and optimize your energy levels.

Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can raise cortisol, increase hot flashes and night sweats, and impair sleep. Many women report a reduction in symptoms when they reduce or eliminate these from their diet.

Exercise

Exercise on the regular, and include strength training. Strength training will help burn fat and build muscle, which is known to decline as we age. It will also help to slow down the onset of osteoporosis, which women are at risk of during menopause because of the direct relationship between estrogen and bone health. Avoid frequent amounts of intense exercise. This can actually raise cortisol levels which will make it harder to lose weight. Have variety in your workouts, such as strength training 2-3x per week, cardio 2-3x per week, and low impact exercise such as walking or yoga 1-2x per week to really balance things out.

Focus on Stress Reduction

Manage your stress! Deep breathing, yoga, laughing, being outdoors, and simply taking time for yourself are all things that can help support your adrenals and lower cortisol levels. You can also incorporate supplements such as Vitamin C or B vitamins to help reduce stress. Adaptogenic herbs such as Ashwaganda, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Lemon Balm, or Valerian can be especially helpful, but I recommend starting with these in the form of a tea versus a supplement, unless you’ve taken a cortisol hormone test and know what your specific levels are throughout the day. Work with a qualified health practitioner to learn more.

Prioritize your sleep

Adapt a healthy sleep routine and stick to it. Turn off electronic devices after 10pm, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and practice healthy sleep habits such as reading or meditating to help clear your mind and prepare you for restful sleep. The ultimate goal is 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

Acupuncture

Consider complementary therapies such as acupuncture to help with stress and hormone balance.

Hormone Replacement

Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapies such as compounded bio-identical hormones. Your doctor will be able to discuss options and help you determine if this is something right for you.

Finally, recognize that this is a journey and that it may take time to see your body respond to some of these changes. Set goals, stay consistent, and be patient.

For more ideas on how you can manage menopause and weight gain, contact me here

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

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.