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, Nutrition, Stress

A Nutritional Approach to GERD

The incidence of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) has dramatically increased over the last few decades. I know I see a lot of it in my practice. This blog post will help you to understand the most common causes of reflux, dietary factors that contribute to symptoms, and some helpful tips for management and prevention.

 

GERD is most often caused by the flow of gastric juices (stomach acid) up the esophagus, which can result in a burning sensation, pain, or discomfort often referred to as heartburn. The condition typically intensifies following a meal and when lying down. While some individuals may suffer from occasional cases of heartburn that are easily resolved with over the counter medications such as antacids, GERD is more of a chronic condition. GERD can place individuals at a higher risk for swallowing difficulties, esophageal inflammation, ulcers, and certain cancers.

GERD is frequently associated with abnormalities or a decrease in pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Your LES is a valve that controls the flow of food from your esophagus into your stomach. Normally this valve should close tightly, keeping hydrochloric acid and gastric juices in their rightful place – your stomach – so that they can help you digest your food properly. When the LES is compromised, the valve does not close fully, or it opens too often, and stomach acid will creep up into the esophagus as foods are being digested.

GERD can also be associated with muscle contractions known as gut motility. In a healthy gut, foods are normally pushed through the GI tract from the esophagus into the stomach, from the stomach into the small intestine, and from the small intestine into the colon. However, when the gut is impaired, these contractions can become compromised and cause a disruption in the digestive process.

Another factor to consider is hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid. While it may sound counterintuitive, having too little stomach acid can disrupt natural digestion, causing food to remain in the stomach longer then it should. This can cause major discomfort for many individuals including reflux-like symptoms.

Consuming foods that weaken the LES (see list below), along with increased stress, anxiety, and gut dysfunction, can make the symptoms associated with GERD occur more frequently and at a higher intensity.

 Common causes of GERD include:

Overeating / Obesity (puts pressure on the stomach)

Smoking (relaxes the LES)

Ingestion of the following trigger foods (weakens the LES):

  • Alcohol
  • Soda / Carbonated beverages
  • Coffee / Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Fatty / Greasy / Fried foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Acidic foods (tomatoes, orange juice, citrus fruit)
  • Peppermint / spearmint
  • Onions / garlic
  • Sugar

Stress (impairs gut motility)

Use of certain medications (NSAIDS, calcium channel blockers, Bisphosphonates)

Additional considerations include:

  • Bacterial overgrowth such as H. pylori, SIBO or yeast
  • Celiac Disease
  • Hiatal Hernia (stomach pushes up through the diaphragm muscle)
  • Food sensitivities / Allergies
  • Chronic constipation
  • Micronutrient deficiencies (from use of GERD medications) such as zinc, B12

When reviewing this list, you may find that few or many of these items pertain to you. The list of trigger foods is a general one, and not all foods listed will trigger symptoms in all individuals with reflux. But it is important to know which ones exacerbate your particular symptoms and to avoid those whenever possible. This will allow your esophagus to heal and will help to avoid the pain and discomfort associated with this condition.

Conventional treatment and management of GERD often involves:

  • Weight loss (when appropriate)
  • Continual avoidance of trigger foods
  • Eating smaller meals
  • Raising the head of the bed
  • Use of certain medications such as antacids and acid-blocker drugs such as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
  • Avoidance of eating within 2-3 hours of lying down or going to bed
  • Avoidance of tight clothing that can put pressure on the LES
  • Avoidance of certain exercises that can put pressure on the LES such as sit-ups, inverted yoga poses, and certain forms of heavy lifting

Additional recommendations that can help include:

  • Slowing down at meals
  • Sitting at meals (avoid standing)
  • Taking smaller bites
  • Chewing food thoroughly. This can actually increase saliva production which can help support the integrity of the esophageal mucosal barrier, which is often impaired in reflux patients.
  • Consume meals that are lower in fat
  • Consume meals that are lower in carbohydrates (to help maintain a healthy weight)
  • Consume fermented foods (to support a healthy microbiome)
  • Avoid consuming large amounts of fluids with meals
  • Begin a routine of gargling at night to stimulate the vagus nerve (supports healthy digestion)
  • Stress reduction / Lifestyle change
  • Regular exercise

There are several types of supplements that can support GERD naturally and can help avoid the harmful side effects of PPIs. These include:

  • Deglycyrrhizinated licorice(DGL)
  • Limonene (extracted from citrus fruit peel)
  • Zinc Carnosine
  • Magnesium Citrate or Glycinate
  • Aloe Vera
  • Slippery Elm
  • Marshmallow
  • Glutamine (to heal)
  • Probiotics (to balance the microbiome)
  • Digestive Enzymes
  • Ginger
  • Iberogast (for motility)

It is always important to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner to receive a proper diagnosis for reflux and to identify the root cause.

In addition, many people find it valuable to work with a dietitian to help control their diet, which will make it easier to manage reflux and its related symptoms.

Common dietary approaches that I recommend in practice:

  • Identify and avoid trigger foods
  • Avoid processed foods and those high in refined sugar that can impair gut integrity and motility
  • Identify and support any nutrient deficiencies
  • Practice the key principles of eating properly (slow down, chew your foods, do not overeat)
  • Dietary support of Hypochlorhydria if present
  • Dietary support of bacterial infections if present
  • Incorporation of fermented foods and probiotics to heal the gut and support your microbiome
  • Stress reduction each day

 

Sources:

Gaby, Alan R., MD. Nutritional Medicine. Alan R. Gaby, M.D., 01/2011. VitalBook file.

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

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. An Integrative Approach to GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). (2018)

Mullin, G. E., & Swift, K. M. (2011). The Inside Tract: Your good gut guide to great digestive health. New York, New York: Rodale.

https://www.iffgd.org/motility-disorders.html

Rishikof, D. Health Takes Guts Ebook, 2018.

Hyman, M. 7 Steps to Reduce Acid Reflux. 2018.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/expert-answers/heartburn-gerd/faq-20058535

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