Happy National Coffee Day! I didn't even know that was a day until Facebook told me this morning. Apparently a number of places were giving out freebies, hopefully you took advantage. (The Krispy Kreme giveaway was incredibly tempting, but I was too lazy to drive 20 minutes to the closest store.)
Coffee seems to be a point of confusion for a lot of people. I often have clients guiltily admit to me that they drink coffee everyday with the added disclaimer "I know that's bad."
Listen, if you're drinking a pot or more of coffee a day, that's a little much. But, in moderation, coffee can provide a number of health benefits. Coffee is high in a number of different antioxidants that help keep the cardiovascular system, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, eyes and skin healthy. It also helps with mental clarity. Some studies suggest coffee may decrease the risk of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, but nothing has been proven yet.
Most recommendations for coffee intake give a range of 3-5 cups per day. The caffeine in each cup of coffee varies, but it's usually between 90-100 mg per cup. Caffeine intake over 500 mg per day can start to cause negative health effects (rapid heartbeat, nervousness, and insomnia). Some people who are sensitive to caffeine may notice those effects after just one cup. If you have heart disease, you should talk with your doctor about whether or not coffee intake is safe for you, since coffee can increase heart rate and blood pressure and interact with some medications.
The caffeine in coffee can cause appetite suppression, which is why some people feel drinking coffee can aid in weight loss. Coffee itself is fairly low in calories, but that all changes when you add creamers, sugars, or butter (like with the Bulletproof Coffee fad going on right now). That doesn't mean you can't add those things to your morning cup of joe; just recognize that the calories you're drinking are part of your daily calorie intake. Although coffee can suppress your hunger, I wouldn't recommend making it the only breakfast you have (even with clarified butter, which does have its health benefits). Also, a cup of coffee is not a substitute for a good night's sleep! So, like with most things, enjoy in moderation.
This week I made beet cupcakes. Well,I made beet cake because I had no cupcake liners. But I made dessert with beets, is the point. I struggled with it. It was a bit of an existential crisis; I'm not going to lie. I have very mixed feelings on adding vegetables to desserts.
I think sometimes when we do things like use beets to make cupcakes, or replace butter with applesauce we stop thinking about dessert as dessert. Although beets add Vitamin C, folate, and magnesium among many other nutrients, cupcakes are still cupcakes.
I'm all for healthy baking substitutes. I almost never bake with butter, and usually use whole wheat flour. Healthy substitutes make desserts a healthier choice when compared with a dessert made the traditional way, but they're still desserts. Desserts are, by nature, high in sugar and usually fat, which makes them calorie heavy. Desserts don't need to be avoided in a healthy diet, but they also don't need to be eaten everyday, even with beets in them.
So, really, my point is, if you want to make cupcakes with beets that's awesome! Just don't tell yourself that you can eat those cupcakes for breakfast.
The beet cake I made came from this recipe. I thought it was pretty delicious, it has a a good chocolate flavor. My fiance was less enthusiastic about them.
Luckily, my parents are visiting and my Mom broke the tie by voting the beet cake a success! So if like me you have a couple beets in your fridge you don't know what to do with, give it a try and let me know what you think.
I am a huge fan of snacking. I need to eat every few hours or I'm no fun to be around. Snacking between meals is a great way to keep your blood sugar stable, and decrease the possibility of overeating at meal time. The key to snacking is making smart choices, which means staying away from the vending machine and those donuts in the break room (I know they're tempting).
Snack time is a great way to get in extra servings of food or nutrients you struggle to get enough of, such as fruits and vegetables, or fiber or calcium. Some of my favorite snacks are air popped popcorn, dried fruit (like cranberries or blueberries), and yogurt. The key to snacking is keeping your portions small, for nuts or dried fruit you don't need more than a handful to keep you going until meal time. Snacks should generally be about 150-200 calories, depending on your calorie intake the rest of the day.
Now that football season has started, weekend snacking is back in full swing. Did you know NFL fans may gain an average of 10 pounds during football season? It's hard not to when every Sunday you're surrounded by chips, wings, and beer. But there are healthy options to snack on between touch downs. Vegetables like carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, or broccoli florets are all easy to grab and go great with hummus. Air popped popcorn, roasted chick peas, or apple chips also make great, healthy snacks. For more healthy snack ideas to bring with your to game day, check out Nuts.com, they have a registered dietitian on staff who has some of her own top picks.
One of my all time favorite snacks is chex mix, but it can be pretty high in sodium (especially the store bought variety). So last weekend I decided to try and make a low sodium chex mix in a crock pot. The only sodium in this chex mix comes from the Worcestershire sauce (about 675mg of sodium for the whole batch), but the spices still give it a great flavor. Bring it along for your next tailgating party!
9 cups Chex cereal (I used half rice and half wheat Chex)
3 cups pretzels
1 cup unsalted peanuts
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon pepper
Whisk together the oil, Worcestershire sauce and spices in a small bowl until combined. Add the cereal, pretzels and nuts to your slow cooker. Pour the sauce mixture evenly over the cereal mixture; then toss for about a minute until everything is coated.
Cover and cook on low for 3 hours, stirring at the 1 hour, 2 hour, and 2 1/2 hour marks to prevent burning. Once done, enjoy! Or to keep for later, spread the chex mix on cookie sheets or parchment paper and allow to cool to room temperature. Then store in an air tight container for no more than 3 weeks.
When I became lactose intolerant earlier this year, I decided to give soy milk a try as a milk replacement. I remember walking over to the dairy section and thinking "how will I ever find the soy milk I want?" The business of milk replacements is definitely booming. There's soy milk, cashew milk, almond milk, coconut milk along with all the various flavors they come in. If you walk into the grocery store not knowing what kind to get, I don't know how you could make a decision with all those options staring you in the face.
So, let's break it down! In my opinion, milk is the best option. It's a great source of calcium and protein and is usually fortified with extra vitamin D (it does occur naturally in milk in small amounts). There are people, though, who can't drink milk; don't like to drink milk; or, for ethical reasons, won't drink milk.
For all of the following, I am comparing unsweetened substitute options to a glass of non-fat milk. All you add with all those various flavor options is sugar (sometimes up to 20g per serving). For all of these comparisons, I'm comparing with milk alternatives fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
On a nutrient basis, soy milk is closest to milk. It provides 7g of protein per serving compared to milk's 8g, and about the same amount of calcium and vitamin D. Soy milk is a healthy alternative to milk, despite what a Google search will tell you. There is a lot of misinformation about soy. While soy does have a component of it that is similar to estrogen called phytoestrogen, it has not been shown to cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Phytoestrogens are not unique to soy; they can also be found in berries, yams, rice, spinach, and wine to name a few. So don't let fear hold you back from drinking soy milk!
I'm going to group almond and cashew milk together as nut milks for our comparison, because nutritionally they are pretty similar. Both are great sources of calcium and vitamin D, providing about the same amount of vitamin D as milk and a bit more calcium. Both are very low in protein, which has always seemed counter intuitive to me as nuts are a great source of protein. Unfortunately, nut milks are mostly water. You're not going to get more than 1g per serving of protein with any of the nut milks, but as long as you're getting protein from other sources it's not something I'd worry about. (However, because it's low in protein chocolate nut milk is not a good substitute for chocolate milk or chocolate soy milk as a training recovery drink.)
Coconut milk is sometimes, but not always, fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and I've found the amount that it's fortified is inconsistent. Sometimes it provides similar amounts of calcium and vitamin D to milk, sometimes it provides less. It is also high in saturated fat, as coconut is a food high in saturated fat. In general, I'd say if you enjoy coconut milk you should enjoy it occasionally, but it is not a good substitute for milk.
For all of these milk alternatives we talked about, I would suggest double checking the nutrition label before buying to make sure the substitute is fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and isn't hiding any added sugar in the ingredient list.
I really love grocery shopping. It's my favorite type of shopping. But I know for a lot of people grocery shopping can be overwhelming. Eating healthy is hard enough; trying to decode what all those nutrition claims on food packaging means just makes it worse.
The FDA has guidelines that all food manufacturers must follow regarding food labeling. Bt that doesn't always make it less confusing. The first thing you should look at is the Nutrition Facts and the Ingredients List. I have an example below that breaks down the parts of the label that I think are the most important, and tried to help get rid of some of the confusion.
Right now I have 3 very ripe bananas in my kitchen. People who know me know how rare that is. I loathe ripe bananas; as soon as they lose the green at the top, I'm done with them. They're just so banana-y. But I purposefully let these bananas ripen (it took a lot of self-restraint, believe me) so that I can make one of my favorite energy bite recipes I found on Pinterest (link at the bottom of the post).
It's just bananas, peanut butter, oats, and chocolate chips, and they roll up into easy grab-and-go little balls of energy. They're the perfect pre-workout snack. Fueling up pre-workout is so important; have you ever tried to workout hungry? It's not fun, and you definitely don't perform at your best. Plus, you run the risk of forcing your body to burn muscle glycogen (which means breaking down muscle) just to make it through the workout. Kind of defeats the point of exercising, right?
When it comes to the pre-workout snack, carbohydrates are your friend (I mean, they're always your friend, but especially before you hit the gym). When you're exercising, your body needs immediate fuel. Carbohydrates provide fuel that is ready to burn, whereas fat and protein are a slower sources of fuel.
Post workout is when you want to get some protein in, as well as more carbohydrates. Did you know that consuming carbohydrates and protein post workout actually increases your body's fat burning ability? It can also decrease muscle soreness as you recover and increase your ability to re-hydrate. You want to have a recovery drink/snack/meal within an hour after your workout for the best results. The absolute best recovery drink? Low fat chocolate milk. It provides the perfect mix of carbohydrates and protein for optimal recovery, so you see the results you want.
Here's the recipe I mentioned at the beginning of the post. For the "heaping" spoonful I do 2 tablespoons of creamy, natural peanut butter. I also cut the chocolate chips to 1/3 cup. What are some of your favorite pre and post workout snacks?
Who doesn't love a little sugar, am I right? It's natural to like a sweet taste. Did you know that even newborns prefer sweeter flavors? I've read a few different theories on why it is we all love sweetness so much (my guess is because sweet foods typically provide us with glucose, which is the preferred fuel of our heart, brain, and red blood cells). The why doesn't matter so much as the way we act on our desire for sweetness.
We have a lot of sweetening options available to us these days, and a lot of judgment to go with them. High fructose corn syrup is Capital-B-Bad, while honey and agave are natural and good for us. Aspartame is a dangerous chemical and Stevia is good.
In the professional nutrition world we talk about sweeteners as either nutritive or nonnutritive (meaning they are a source of calories, or they provide little to no calories). Nonnutritive sweeteners are things like Stevia or aspartame or saccharine, they provide little to no calories, are much sweeter than table sugar, and are generally used in diet drinks and diabetic friendly foods. All of the nonnutritive sweeteners used in our food have been approved as safe by the FDA and, in moderation, can play a role in a healthy diet.
When it comes to nutritive sweeteners, there is a lot of talk about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as being unhealthy or dangerous. However, HFCS, honey, agave, table sugar, raw sugar, and pretty much all nutritive sweeteners provide you with the same amount of calories per serving. There really isn't one that's better for you or worse for you, sugar is sugar. (The exclusion to this is sugar alcohols like xylitol, which provides fewer calories and may also cause some GI distress after consuming. So, you know, pick your battles.)
All of those sugars will raise your blood sugar, some more than others because of the way they are metabolized. The sugars-like agave-that don't raise your blood sugar quite as high but do raise your blood lipids so in the end, you kind of break even in the health department.
So where do all those judgments come from? Well, for HFCS some of the concern comes from how much of our food it's in. Sugar (like HFCS) is a great way to make food self stable because it prevents bacteria from growing, and HFCS is cheap for food processors to purchase, which makes it the preferred ingredient to use to make products last on the shelves. As for honey and agave being a miracle sweetener, I think the message might have gotten a little mixed up. I, along with a number of nutrition experts, will often recommend honey or agave because they have a sweeter flavor, meaning you can use less of them for the same result. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar, you can use 1/4 cup of honey or agave and get the same result. It's the decrease in the amount of sugar not the specific sugar you're using that creates the health benefit.
This doesn't that sugar is bad for you. Like I said before, sugar provides us with glucose, which is the main fuel for our brain, heart, and red blood cells (all very important). So sugar (and carbohydrates) is important in a healthy diet. It's how much sugar you're eating that's critical. Most Americans receive 15% of their calories just from added sugars (the sugar you put in your coffee, or the sugar that's added to your flavored yogurt both fall under that category); that's probably too much.
It all comes back to eating everything in moderation, and doing your best to eat fresh, whole foods more than packaged foods. And maybe try to resist putting six packets of sugar in your coffee like my fiancé.
Man, that got longer and more technical than I was expecting! I'd love to hear any thoughts or questions you might have in the comments section. Here's a recipe I modified to decrease the sugar (and add whole wheat) for sitting through all that!
Banana Zucchini Bread
1/4 cup honey
2 mashed bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 medium zucchini, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat eggs, honey, bananas, and vanilla until well mixed. Add in flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon and mix.
Mix in zucchini until just combined. Pour mixture into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in loaf pan for about 20 minutes, then pop out and finish cooling on a wire rack.
You can store it in the fridge for a week, if it lasts that long.
Pro tip: Actually wait the 20 minutes for the loaf to cool before you move it to a wire rack or your bread may leave some of itself behind in the pan (patience is not a virtue I have).
When I started this blog last month my goal was to write 3 posts every week. I'm not sure where the idea of 3 came from, it was really just an arbitrary decision that I'm now committed to. Last week I only wrote 2 posts because sometimes life gets busy. Even though I understand that sometimes life can put obstacles in the way of us accomplishing our goals, I still struggled with some guilt and disappointment in myself over it. Which got me thinking about some of the clients I've worked with and their own struggles in meeting goals.
Making a lifestyle change can be hard. Committing to a lifestyle change is a lifelong journey, there's no finish line you can cross and say "Lifestyle change accomplished; I'm done." It's something you recommit to everyday. There will be days, or weeks, or maybe even months, where you can't make it to the gym, or you slip back into old eating habits. That doesn't mean you've failed. The only failure in a lifestyle change is in not trying.
I've seen a lot of articles and professionals say "Living healthy is so easy; everyone can do it!" Everyone can do it, I definitely believe that. But it's not always going to feel easy. I think it's important to be real about the challenges, because when they happen you need to be equipped to deal with them.
The number one most important thing, in my opinion, is to just be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up over a slip up will only make you feel more discouraged. When you fall short of meeting a goal, focus on the steps you made toward accomplishing it. Always celebrate your accomplishments. Each step you make toward accomplishing a goal, no matter how small, deserves recognition. If you need help setting your goals or working toward them, don't be afraid to ask for it! Nobody expects you to make such a big change all alone.
Everyone can make lifestyle changes toward a healthier life. Give yourself credit for showing up and recognizing the need for change. You have the strength to accomplish your goals.
It is 106 degrees F today in Los Angeles. I've lost count of how many cups of water I've had, and I'm still thirsty. Hydration is one of those health topics that isn't usually talked about until you get sick or the weather gets unbearably hot, but mild dehydration can happen at any point.
You've probably heard the saying "If you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrated." Before you feel thirsty you may have a headache, low energy, have trouble concentrating or even feel hungry. I usually recommend to my clients to get a reusable water bottle to keep with you and drink from it regularly, once it's empty refill it and start again.
It's best to stick with water most of the day. I've had clients tell me before that water is "boring" and they don't like to drink it, but there are ways to change up and add flavor to water that don't include a Kool-Aid packet. Try adding some sliced cucumbers, strawberries, or oranges, or even a few sprigs of mint.
A lot of times we don't realize how many calories we're taking in with our beverages, even the healthy ones (did you know 1 cup of 100% fruit juice is about 120 calories? And how often are you really measuring exactly 1 cup of your drinks?). This doesn't mean you should never drink juice or milk (or even indulge in a soda or sweetened iced tea), but I suggest the majority of your daily beverage intake be from water.
There are some no calorie drink options, like diet soda, but I'm not a huge fan of diet drinks. Sugar substitutes have been proven safe, I know there are rumors out there about them causing cancer, but scientific studies have disproved all of them. In moderation, I think sugar substitutes are a great option, but a number of them (especially aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine) are so much sweeter than sugar that using them can often cause natural sugar, including fruit, to taste less sweet and be less satisfying.
In the end with beverages, like with food, it really comes down to decreasing your intake of processed stuff. If you can't start your day without a can of soda, have the soda! Just limit it to the one can, and then switch to water.
Stay hydrated, my friends!
When it comes to lifestyle changes, diet and exercise usually go hand-in-hand. There's a good reason for that. Research has shown that when diet and exercise are paired people see greater weight loss results than with diet alone (exercise alone generally yields little to no result for weight loss).
But exercise does more than just burn calories. It helps lower blood pressure and improve blood lipid levels. It can help stabilize blood glucose levels (if you're diabetic and on insulin or a medication like Glipizide talk to you doctor or diabetes educator before starting an exercise routine). It also helps to reduce stress, and create endorphins, which improves your mood (as those of us who saw Legally Blonde will remember).
The idea of starting exercise can be scary and overwhelming. Gyms can be intimidating. But exercising doesn't have to mean going to the gym and running on the treadmill (unless that's what you want it to mean). There are so many ways to meet your physical activity goals. The best way to create an exercise routine you will stick to is to do something that you enjoy. It can be as simple as starting to walk or hike regularly with your friends, to as intense as finding an intramural sport available in your community (like dodgeball, softball, or volleyball) and joining the league.
Current recommendations for physical activity are 150 minutes/week of moderate exercise (brisk walking/hiking, playing tennis, etc) or 75 minutes/week of intense exercise (running, swimming laps, etc). So, for moderate exercise that breaks down to 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week, which if you're starting from square one can feel like a lot. So instead of aiming for 30 minutes, start with a goal of 10 minutes a day for 5 days in a week, then increase your goal from there. Some is better than none, so do what you can and be proud of your accomplishment!
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.