14 Jan 2015
Superfoods are still all the rage these days (at least according to those I follow on Twitter). But are they really so super?
What is a super food?
Entering “super foods” into a Google search provides a variety of definitions. According to Wikipedia, super foods contain “essential nutrients with proven health benefits and few properties considered negative”, and per the Oxford dictionary they are “food considered especially nutritious or otherwise beneficial to health and well-being”. Basically, they are foods that are nutrient dense and have known health benefits while producing no adverse effects to the consumer. Below I’ll discuss the health claims and research surrounding a few of the more well known”super foods”.
Bananas are a good source of fiber, carbohydrates and energy, potassium, and vitamin B6. Potassium is an electrolyte, important for maintaining electrolyte balanc
e and normal heart and muscle function and preventing muscle cramps. Vitamin B6 is involved in a number of reactions, mostly with protein metabolism, and has in some cases been associated with lower risk for certain cancers and improved sleep. One study showed that bananas were just as good as sports drinks for maintaining performance while providing healthier sugars and more vitamins and antioxidants in endurance cyclists. Bananas are a great source of carbs and energy for athletes, and make a great pre or post workout snack.
Acai Berries were popularized several years ago by reality TV star Lauren Conrad and is regularly marketed as a weight loss supplement in a variety of forms including juices and tablets. The acai is a dark purple berry found on acai palms, which are native to South and Central America. Claims about acai are numerous and include weight loss, help fighting heart disease, cancer prevention, improved digestion, and overall health. However, little evidence supports these claims, and in 2009 the Center for Science in the Public Interest actually issued a warning to consumers regarding internet acai berry supplement scams. In 2011, a small pilot study found that the acai berry may help improve choleterol and triglyceride levels in healthy adults, but more studies are needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.
Garlic has been claimed to have a variety of health benefits including lowering LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) and raising HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind), lowering blood pressure, reducing risk of blood clots, and helping the body fight infections. There is some evidence to support these claims but it is limited at best. In addition, there is little evidence supporting the use of garlic as a supplement, and taking garlic supplements or eating large amounts of garlic can interfere with certain heart disease medications, namely blood thinners like aspirin, and increase risk of bleeding. Garlic supplements may also decrease the effectiveness of certain immuno-suppressants and birth control.
Kale is a cruciferous green vegetable thought to be high in antioxiants, play a role in lowering cholesterol, help fight cancer, and reduce inflammation. According to a 2009 review, green vegetables like kale contain glucosinolates, which have been associated with a reduction of risk for some cancers. Kale is a healthful, nutrient packed vegetable, low in calories but high in vitamin K which reduce blot clotting, and vitamin A which helps maintain eye health, promotes cell formation and is needed for the normal forming and maintaining of heart, lung, kidney, and other organ tissues. It is also a good source of fiber, calcium, and potassium.
Tart Cherries have been up and coming in the sports nutrition world as a recovery supplement. In fact, when I was in college we used to drink a Tart Cherry Juice with added protein after every weight lifting practice, and currently several collegiate athletic teams use tart cherry juice as a recovery beverage. Benefits are thought to come from anthocyanins, the pigment responsible for the dark red color of cherries. Research has associated anthocyanins with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and tart cherries have the highest concentration of the anthocyanins known to reduce inflammation. There is evidence that drinking tart cherry juice post workout can reduce inflammation and improve muscle recovery. In addition, one study found that drinking tart cherry concentrate may increase levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps maintain normal sleep rhythms, and improve sleep in healthy adults.
It is difficult to find in the average grocery store, although you can find dried tart cherries, which make a great addition to salad or trail mix.
Red Wine is everyone’s favorite “health food”. OK it’s not really a health food. But ever since the first large scale observational study, the Framingham study, found that people who drank moderately, 1-2 glasses of red wince per day, had a lower risk of heart disease, there has been interest. Specifically, a polyphenol called Resveratrol, found in the skins of grapes, has been isolated as the potential key compound in red wine that protects the heart. Some studies have been promising, but more research is needed to definitively conclude that resveratrol is the protective agent. In addition, the alcohol is also beneficial. Research has shown that moderate drinking of any type of alcohol (including beer and hard liquor) can help raise HDL cholesterol and reduce blood clotting. You can get resveratrol from red grapes, but there has been no study to determine if the health benefits are comparable to drinking red wine.
All of the foods (including the wine, in moderation) mentioned above are good for you of course, and will provide a nutritious addition to any healthful diet. Eating an adequate amount of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables has long been associated with lower cancer risk, although researchers have yet to successfully replicate that effect by supplementing individual nutrients. One study isolating beta carotene actually increased risk of cancer among the supplement group. To make a mid 90′s cartoon reference (or two), diet is much more like Captain Planet than Superman. There is no one “super” food, but the powers of quality protein, healthy fats, and plenty of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables combined will provide numerous health benefits, give you more energy, and make you a better athlete.
What is the Acai Berry and Are There Health Benefits?http://www.journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/yjada/article/S0002-8223%2809%2901606-X/fulltext
Effects of Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: a pilot study.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21569436
The impact of garlic on lipid parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19555517
E Med TV: Garlic Drug Interactions http://heart-disease.emedtv.com/garlic/garlic-drug-interactions.html
Vegetables, fruits and phytoestrogens in the prevention of diseases.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15235216
Cherry Health and Cherry Nutrition http://www.choosecherries.com/health/main.aspx
Anthocyanins – More Than Just Nature’s Colorshttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1082903/
Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22038497
The Mayo Clinic: Resveratrol: Good for your heart? http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-wine/HB00089/
I feel like every summer I write the obligatory “it’s so hot out, drink more water to replace lost sweat” blog post. But that post is just as relevant this time of year too, if not more so. We all know dehydration in the summer comes primarily from sweat loss, but in the winter a few things can cause it:
- Sitting in heated rooms can cause water to evaporate from the skin (and most of us probably spend a good deal of time around heaters)
- The body uses more water to regulate body temperature in colder climates
- More water is lost when breathing in dry, cold air (normally the average person loses about 500 ml, or 2 cups, of water per day simply breathing. And according to one study, you can lose 42% more water, or almost a cup, when you breathe through your mouth instead of your nose)
Hydration is good for your entire body, facilitating organ function and digestion, promoting heart health, maintaining skin health, promoting immune system function, regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, and controlling blood pressure. Dehydration – the loss of 1-2% of your bodes’ water, can be dangerous. To learn more about dehydration and find out how much water you should drink, see a previous post on hydration.
Of course, it can be hard to convince yourself to drink water when it’s -2 degrees outside and your heaters don’t work all that well. Below are a few tips for staying hydrated during the cold winter months.
- Drink hot water with lemon – I know it can make you feel 90 years old, but it’s actually pretty delicious.
- Keep enjoying your tea and coffee – while coffee often gets a bad rap for “dehydrating” you, it actually doesn’t impact hydration when consumed in moderate amounts (300-400 mg of caffeine or 2-3 cups of coffee).
- Find a container that works for you – sometimes how much you drink is related to what you’re drinking from. I rarely ever drink enough out big nalgene bottles, but will pound water out of a pint glass like nobody’s business. Find something that works for you and drink out of it.
- Set reminders or find an app that works. There are several free ones in the app store that help you track your fluid intake and remind you to drink.
I don’t know when the tradition started, but every year around this time everyone is either sharing their resolutions or asking yours for the new year. Resolutions tend to be big, sweeping statements like “I’m going to go to the gym” or “I’m going to eat better” or “I’m going to get better at saving money”. Now, I know we have a lot of smart people in this gym who will immediately predict where I’m going with this whole “resolution” thing. If you’re one of those people, feel free to skip to the end to share your New Year’s Goals!
For those of you who didn’t predict my post, or wanted to read my wisdom anyway, here is the problem: big sweeping statements often never get accomplished. They’re a good generalization, but you need to have a plan. HOW are you going to save more money? What outcome do you want from going to the gym more, and how are you actually going to do it? What does “eating better” mean? So, instead of setting a New Year’s Resolution, I challenge you to set a New Year’s SMART Goal. For a review, SMART goals are:
Specific – clearly define what you want to do
Measurable – how else will you know if you’re succeeding?
Attainable – something you can reasonably accomplish in the given time
Results Focused – measure outcomes, not activities (so just “going to the gym” doesn’t count!)
Timely – give yourself a target date
It’s also important as you form these goals to think about what challenges you might face, and how you’d overcome them. Planning is key, or you’ll just end up failing come February or March.
I’ll give an example using my own New Year’s
Resolution SMART Goal:
Resolution: to get better at mobility and improve core strength
SMART goal 1: To improve my hamstring mobility as evidenced by…. (still looking for an outcome measure and open to suggestions)
SMART goal 2: To be able to hold a plank for 3 minutes by September
Plan: Attend Jen’s mobility class or drop into a yoga studio for class 3-4 times per month, and add plank holds to my workout once a week.
Challenges: Making the time to attend yoga or mobility, getting my butt out of bed on a Saturday morning in the winter, motivating myself to do plank work after I’m tired from the WOD.
Plan to overcome those challenges: Go to bed early on Friday night and make plans with someone else going to mobility so they’ll hold me accountable, find a yoga studio I like and find a friend to go with me (anyone? Bueller?), add plank work to workouts where I’m not rushed – i.e. not the 7 am when I have to be at work by 9.
Alright CFB, what are your New Year’s SMART Goals?
Or a better question: is it even worth it? This past Sunday I woke up feeling like crap – nausea, fever, chills, body ache (although I am not sure how much of that “ache” was symptoms versus doing Friday’s WOD followed by Oly Saturday morning) and spent most of the day in bed (like I left my bed at 5 pm). Monday was better, but I still had trouble eating and had no energy (maybe eating only 200 calories the day before wasn’t so helpful). Since it sounds like a few other people in the gym caught a similar bug, I figured nutrition during a bout of cold/flu was a timely discussion.
My diet those two days consisted of water, Gatorade, toast, saltines, a few bites of soup, a few bites of Mexican plate with chicken and rice, and in a last ditch effort to get calories in, a vanilla milkshake. Basically, as far from a paleo, whole foods diet as you could possibly get. But I really couldn’t care less. I don’t know what I would have eaten were I trying to be strict paleo. I’m sure I would have figured it out – maybe some broth, potentially a banana or some applesauce. But at that point I was more concerned about getting nutrients in without feeling worse, and worrying about a healthy diet when I was well. However, if you keep a pretty dedicated paleo diet and have a strategy for managing sick days, please share!
As for non paleo, the best foods to overcome an upset stomach (symptom numero uno of this little bug) are the BRAT diet:
These foods are good because they are binding (make poop firmer) and bland, helping to ease the stomach back into normal eating. The bananas also contain potassium, which can replace nutrients lost from vomiting or diarrhea, or just give you nutrients you’re not getting because you’re not eating very much. BRAT food work best when you are done with your symptoms, though – if you are still experiencing vomiting or diarrhea stick to liquids like water or Gatorade until you can keep solid food down. You can learn more about the BRAT diet from FamilyDoctor.org.
- Stay hydrated – water, electrolyte beverages, and EmergenC all work great.
- If your stomach is upset, stick to bland foods like this on the BRAT diet until you recover.
10 Dec 2014
All joking aside, though, I think this is a great move. Last week the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) published the final rules about the new menu and vending machine labeling requirements. This requirement was originally mandated as part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) back in 2010, but is just being implemented fully now (although some establishments have already voluntarily done so, and some local governments had already made this requirement legislatively).
According to the FDA, the rule states
“Calorie and other nutrition labeling will be required for standard menu items offered for sale in a restaurant or similar retail food establishment that is part of a chain with 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and offering for sale substantially the same menu items.”
You should start to see labels on your restaurant menu sometime this year, and restaurants have to be in compliance by December 1, 2015.
What Does This Mean?
Basically, every time you pop into Starbucks, Panera, or Dunkin Donuts for a coffee or baked good, the calorie count will be on the menu. You’ll also see it at places like Chilis and Applebees, McDonalds, Chipotle, etc. You’ll also notice them on vending machines (the information has to be posted so you can read it BEFORE you make your buy), on Whole Foods Hot Bar or other grocery carry out foods, and on move theater snacks (yes including the infamous buttered popcorn). Conceivably you could see it on Tavern In The Square or J.P. Licks’ menu if they opened more than 20 restaurants (right now Tavern is at 8 and J.P. Licks is at 13).
The Good, The Bad, and The Guilty
Part of me likes this rule, probably the “RD-MPH who knows just how hard it is for people to manage their weight and calorie intake in America’s toxic food environment” part. The other part – the “athlete who does CrossFit and goes running so I can afford to crush a cheeseburger every now and then” side doesn’t necessarily want to know. So, here’s how I think this label is great, and not so great:
It’s great because…
- You can only estimate so much, and most people underestimate their calorie intake. This provides a helpful tool, and makes decision making that much easier for people who are trying to manage their calorie intake.
- It requires food companies to be transparent about what’s really in their food (not ingredients wise, but macronutrient wise, which is a start), and might might might just encourage them to produce something a little more healthful if the customer demands it.
- Speaking of the customer – this truly gives the customer the power to speak by choosing the healthier options and NOT choosing the less healthy ones. Taco bell isn’t going to offer the Chalupa anymore (I haven’t been there in ages so maybe they don’t even) if everyone is choosing the lower-in-calories tacos instead.
- It will inform the public of the real cost of eating out. Maybe seeing 800 calorie sandwiches everywhere will encourage more people to just spend $10 on a loaf of whole wheat bread and some deli meat instead (which will definitely be healthier and include fewer processed/refined ingredients than the eating out option).
It sucks because…
- It takes the fun out of a night out. Sometimes, a treat feels better when you don’t know it’s costing you 2000 calories. Then again, it might temper my “cheat meal” a little, which benefits me too, right?
- The consumer thing could backfire – everyone knows McD’s salads are higher in calories than their burgers (and Arby’s turkey on whole wheat is higher in calories than their roast beef and cheese whiz on white bun). So, if people use calorie info alone to pick the Big Mac over a salad, maybe McDonalds assumes people don’t want salad after all. But really, I’m no economist so I don’t know how this plays out.
- It could cause trouble for people struggling with an eating disorder. Which is not a huge portion of the population, but with obesity rising in prevalence and the media’s standard of beauty getting smaller in size, eating disorders are on the rise in both men and women.
- It’s pricy for restaurants to implement. Then again, it’s only required on those with over 20 locations. If you’ve got over 20 locations, you’re not a mom and pop and can probably afford a few new menus.
Ultimately, I think this is great. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, we should all agree as Americans that freedom of choice is a top priority. And I think this rule helps more and more Americans make better choices.
What do you guys think?
For more info, see a Q and A on the new rules.
03 Dec 2014
I feel like the question “why do we need to put a label on it?” is the purview of commitment phobic men in romantic comedies or friends in a sitcom storyline who’ve wound up in the sack together a few times. But I’m starting to feel that way these days – about food. Enough people ask “hey are you still Paleo” or wonder if I’ve gone vegetarian because I’ve opted for the quinoa black bean salad instead of the steak and potatoes. Or maybe if you’ve lost a lot of weight recently, and everyone wants to know what “diet” you were on.
Here’s the thing though: why are we labeling it? Why do we need to be “paleo” or “vegan”. Because, want to know what my diet is? I’ll tell you:
- I eat oatmeal for breakfast. But sometimes I also eat bacon egg and cheese sandwiches from home, or the deli in my office, who makes the best ones around.
- I try to mostly eat vegetables, grass-fed or humanely raised meat, and avoid additives I’m not familiar with. I definitely eat organic meat and dairy, but draw the line at produce because shits expensive yo.
- I avoid grains, because diabetes is hard and I’ve found that’s the easiest way to control my weight. But sometimes I eat sushi and I have a soft sport for a good cheeseburger and fries.
- I love beer but I try to keep it to Saturdays (but sometimes it gets into Fridays or Tuesdays, too. Hey, happy hour with girlfriends happens).
So, how do you classify that diet? Am I 80/20 paleo? Am I flexitarian? Honestly, I don’t even know. What I know is, i have energy. I feel good when I stick to this basic template (and go easy on the cheeseburgers and beer). I’m happy with my weight. I don’t need to count calories. So why label it? I’m happy.
PS I think it’s the same with exercise. I wouldn’t say I’m a runner, or a CrossFitter. I’m certainly not a pole vaulter anymore (very sad sad face for that fact). I play tennis and golf occasionally, but I’m not a golfer or tennis player. What am I? Maybe I’m just active?
So what do you all think? Am I being the nutrition version of Barney Stinson, or do I have a point going here?
19 Nov 2014
Last week, clinical psychologist and UMass medical school professor Sherry Pagoto wrote a great thought piece in Psychology Today on the idea that we avoid exercise because we don’t like to be uncomfortable. I thought it made a lot of sense, and then I started thinking about how it could apply to nutrition: do we struggle with sticking to a plan because we’ve gotten so used to being “comfortable”? Think about it. We’re used to grabbing a piece of dark chocolate when we crave it, used to having a snack ready the moment we’re hungry, used to having too much food rather than to little. It occurred to me how bad I am at being hungry, which made me think of the Hunger Games, and how the people form District 12 could survive hardship because they “knew how to be hungry” (because sometimes I think about how I would do if the Hunger Games happened to me). And I thought about the concept of being “hangry” – the idea that it’s socially acceptable to be mean and angry just because you are hungry, reinforced by the hilarious Snickers commercials (linking you to the one with Manziel, you’re welcome). I think some people go the whole day without being hungry, and we’re taught this is a good strategy for losing or maintaining weight.
But what if it’s not? What if it’s good for us to notice our hunger. To get comfortable being uncomfortable for a little while. And since I think some forms of intermittent fasting can be very helpful in rediscovering your hunger cues, I am re-sharing this post from last year.
IF comes in a variety of plans and structures. The most popular of these are:
Periodic Fasting – eat normally for 5 days of the week. For 2 non-consecutive days, reduce calorie intake, usually to 500-600 calories. You can spread out the calories into smaller snacks or eat one meal after 24 hours of fasting (so, say you started at 7 pm the night before, you could eat 500-600 calories at 7 pm the next day).
Restricted Eating Period – eat normally, but only for a set window during the day. Most people using this plan eat during an 8 hour window starting around 10 am – 12 pm and lasting until 6 – 8 pm. This essentially equates to skipping breakfast and making lunch your first meal.
Benefits of Fasting
Supporters of intermittent fasting have claimed a wide range of benefits from the practice, including
- Reduced inflammation
- Weight loss
- Faster metabolism
- Lower LDL and total cholesterol levels
- Improved blood glucose and insulin levels
- Protection against cardiovascular disease
- Sugar cravings. When you first start out fasting, the body will need to adjust between using carbs for fuel and using fat for fuel, during which time you may experience some cravings. However, this is common when starting any lower carbohydrate or reduced sugar diet.
- Blanket Prescriptions. Most alternate day fasts prescribe 500 calories for women and 600 for men on fasting day. But what about differences in energy needs among different people? If I’m a small woman doing little exercise, 500 calories might be about 1/3 of my usual daily needs. But if I’m a larger man doing high intensity interval training (like CrossFit) 5 times a week, 600 calories might be less than ¼ of my usual daily needs.
- Does It Make Sense? IF first reached the mainstream around 2003, when The Warrior Diet was published. The Warrior Diet basically prescribed fasting all day and eating one large meal at night because this is what Paleolithic man and Roman soldiers did. But just because Caesar’s army or Paleolithic man did something doesn’t mean we should be doing it. They ate the way they ate because it was all they had. Now we have the knowledge and ability to really optimize our diet. Let’s not waste it blindly copying our ancestors.
- Is There a Ramadan Bias? Many studies I found citing the benefits of fasting on health markers were based on studies conducted among observers of Ramadan, a religious fast during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. During Ramadan, observers do not eat or drink anything after sunrise and may eat again when the sun sets. However, many IF protocols look nothing like Ramadan. So, are the benefits the same?
After a brief review of PubMed (an extensive online research database), I came to the following conclusions:
A lot of the studies with drastic positive findings were conducted in animals – mostly mice, rats, and fur seals. While the physiological changes observed in these studies support the benefit claims, the findings have not been replicated on a large scale in humans.
A good portion of the human studies on intermittent fasting – especially in athletes – were conducted among people observing Ramadan. Research conducted as of 2012 indicates that the effects of Ramadan fasting are small if the athlete maintains energy and fluid intake during eating times, maintains a normal training schedule, and gets 8 hours of sleep. Studies have also shown that Ramadan fasting lead to decreased power and increased muscle fatigue in football players, decreased performance among middle distance runners, loss of sleep, and increase in subjective fatigue. In addition, most studies on Ramadan have been conducted when it took place during winter months – with shorter days and milder weather – and more research is needed for times when Ramadan falls in the summer.
As for the research on humans not observing Ramadan, the pickings were slim. One study found that both IF and continuous diet with energy restriction resulted in weight loss and improvements in insulin sensitivity, leptin, cholesterol and other health markers among obese women (Arqin et al 2012). Similar results were seen in obese, young women and men. (Harvie et al 2011). Another study found that calorie restricted IF, both with food and with liquid meals may help reduce CHD risk factors, although the IF with liquid meals resulted in greater results. It’s important to note, though, that the IF diet in this study was not compared to a similar continuous diet.
My Takeaway? Cutting out extra calories is a well-recognized strategy for losing weight and improving health overall. IF is just as good a strategy as a “normal” lower calorie diet for cutting back on calories.
So, Should You Try Fasting?
I don’t think you SHOULD fast, but I think you COULD fast. I always tend to recommend a stable diet consisting of quality foods, with intake based on hunger cues. However, the what, why, when, and how of eating is different for everyone. So if you wanted to try fasting as a way to lower calorie intake, then I think it is a good strategy worth trying.
There is one situation in which I would recommend IF – if you have lost your hunger. It’s easy in our American culture of food availability and glorification of “busy” to stop eating for hunger and start eating for a bunch of other reasons. You eat breakfast because it’s 8 am and you need to leave for work. You eat lunch because your coworkers are all going to that new Mexican place at noon. You eat a snack at 4 because you’re bored. And so on. In a case like that, a week or two of intermittent fasting can help reset your awareness of hunger and recognize the difference between actual hunger and other types of hunger. A great read on this is a recent blog post by Robb Wolf’s RD Amy Kubal, “What Kind of Hungry Are You?”
A few tips if you choose to fast:
- Make sure your “normal” diet is on track. Limited eating periods and non-fast days are NOT an excuse to eat whatever whenever. IF only works as a method for calorie restriction if you maintain healthy, moderate eating habits during non-fasting periods.
- Plan ahead. If you decide to do your long run or 2½ hour Olympic lifting class on a fast day, you might pay for it in the form of poor performance and fatigue. Especially when you’re starting out, plan fast days to coincide with lighter training days.
- Listen to your body. Don’t stick to IF because it’s supposed to have all these benefits if it doesn’t feel right for you. If you’re tired all the time, losing sleep, and not seeing results, it’s time to try a new strategy.
12 Nov 2014
I haven’t found a better way to completely fall off the healthy lifestyle wagon quite like traveling. Whether for work or vacation, extended time in an airport and hotels, and away from your kitchen and gym, provides numerous challenges to staying on track. This post outlines a few tips for keeping it together on the road.
1. Always be prepared with snacks. Pack nuts, trail mix, jerky, Lara bars, and other snacks to have in the airport, between work meetings (or sightseeing), and for late night cravings. Pack more than you think you’ll need, as healthy snacks can be hard to find in hotels and airports.
2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Breakfast). Unless you fork over $20 for the sit down breakfast, most hotels offer a continental breakfast comprised of cold eggs, processed bacon, pastures, bagels, cereal, and canned fruit cocktail. If you’re lucky, the eggs will be hot and there will be fresh fruit. Either way, the safest bet is often having something in your room you can eat, saving you money and keeping you on track. When I’m traveling I like to have a banana with peanut butter or oatmeal (you can usually find hot water) with dried fruit and nuts or nut butter. In a pinch, oatmeal from Starbucks isn’t the worst, and hard boiled eggs are becoming easier to find.
3. Do your homework. Look up restaurants that are near where you are traveling, and read over their menus before you go. Most places will offer some sort of meat/potatoes dish, or salmon and green vegetable. If you read up ahead of time, you can identify a few places you know you can find a healthy meal, and a few meals at each place. I find that having my mind made up before I get there helps me avoid the temptation to order something less nutritious.
4. Talk to your coworkers/travel mates. In the year 2014, I find it hard to believe that there isn’t at least one other person in your group who is trying to pay attention to health. I would say you are more likely to find other healthy eaters on a work trip, simply because on vacation people tend to care a little less about staying on the wagon (let’s just say when I traveled to Italy I was not worried about the pasta and gelato). For example, at my company there are at least 3-5 other people who are paleo or gluten free. I like going to eat with these people because I know they’ll be ordering something healthy, which encourages me to do the same.
5. Keep up the exercise. Sometime when you’re traveling, there’s not getting around a less than desirable meal. Your salmon comes with more sauce than you thought. There’s no other food available in the meeting besides pasta salad and sandwiches. Et cetera, et cetera. (And I haven’t even mentioned the booze yet…). Exercise can not only negate some of that damage, it can also give you more energy and motivate you to stay on track while you’re away. I travel to California every year for work, and try to take advantage of the time difference to get up and go running at least one morning. I’m also lucky enough to work for the fitness industry, so our work trip includes morning group classes (last year I went to a Piloxing class, and I was more sore after than I care to admit). If running outside or group classes aren’t an option, take advantage of what is. Use the pool in your gym to swim some laps. Look up hotel CrossFit workouts (or ask a coach for some ideas). Try deck of cards WOD (via the, app, or an actual deck of cards) in your hotel room. There are lots of creative ways to get 20-30 minutes of movement in during some part of your day. If there’s really not, try walking or taking the stairs as much as possible.
6. Go easy on the booze. Whether for work or play, traveling always seems to include healthy doses of adult beverages. When I travel for work, it’s cocktail hours with wine or open bar. When I travel it’s the booze of the land (bier in Germany, red wine in Italy…). Either way, try to aim for no more than one drink an hour, and mix in plenty of water between. Try to stick to one type of drink – wine, gin, beer, whatever. You can also order a vodka/gin and tonic for the first one, and quietly refill with just tonic or club soda the rest of the night. It’s important (at least at my work meetings) to appear social and participate in festivities, but I also need to have energy to get up and workout in the morning, so I aim for 1-2 drinks over the course of a five hour evening.
Any great ideas I missed?
05 Nov 2014
I started out writing about good calories vs. bad calories, until realizing that most of my blogs over the past year have had at least a little to do with weight loss. In the US, we’re so used to focusing on obesity and weight we sometimes forget there are other things to write about when it comes to nutrition and health. But I don’t want to be part of that problem, mainly because sometimes I’d like to read a Women’s Health article without having to select between “I’d like a FREE 20 week weight loss plan” and “I already have a bikini body”. So, this time I’m going a different direction, and addressing a question I’ve gotten from a couple of people: how to gain weight. Below are a couple of simple tips for gaining weight healthfully.
1. Add some fat (the good kind).
Fat is the most dense macronutrient at 9 calories per gram. Of course, fat is more filling, so too much of it can be counter productive. Still, try to up your fat content where you can. Whole or 2% instead of skim milk (organic/grass-fed, of course), nuts, nut butters, a little extra olive soil, avocados, some salmon, etc. The salmon (and other omega-3’s) have the added bonus of helping to counteract some of the inflammation from training.
2. Embrace the starchy carbs.
This one is going to be the key. Nobody puts on weight eating paleo unless putting on weight is something they do fairly easily. A lot of people have cut out or reduced grains in order to lose weight and improve their health but guess what? If you want gains, you should do the opposite! Grains like rice and pasta will add calories to your meals without being too filling, and more calories generally = more weight gain. Keep in mind that you still want to avoid junk like overly processed bread, cookies, crackers, etc. And of course, it’s still good to keep up variety and shoot for whole grains the majority of the time. There are lots of great ancient grains to try too, like farro, quinoa, and wild rices. See the end of the post for a great farro recipe I just made this week.
3. Pair your starch with protein, fiber, and fat.
Starchy, higher carbohydrate foods can lead to blood sugar highs and lows, which are associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. Paring starches like rice with meat, nuts, vegetables, or healthy fats is a good way to keep your blood sugar stable.
4. Keep eating your vegetables.
Putting on some extra weight shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of long term health. Keep adding green, purple, orange, and red things to your foods. Vegetables are great sources of all sorts of vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Farro With Squash and Kale Recipe
I can thank Pinterest for this one. Courtesy of Love and Olive Oil
This week I was handed the honor of writing my company’s monthly blog post on the Department of Health and Human Services Be Active Your Way Blog. I decided to write about health literacy month (that’s this month), and started thinking about ways to help people better understand nutrition information. Health literacy is often discussed in terms of medical diagnoses and clinical treatments, but I think it has relevance here too. I mean, if I discussed all that was wrong with the food label, I wouldn’t have any time to make my point. So I’ll just say that it is confusing to many Americans for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s actually very difficult for a lot of people to quantify calorie information. That 200 calories always looks so innocent on the food label until you realize you just wasted 10% of your calorie budget on 12 tortilla chips.
The FDA is working on updating the food label, with new features such as realistic portion sizes (unless you think eating 1/3 of a candy bar at a time is realistic) and a new “added sugar” line, so consumers could see how much sugar occurs naturally in an item and how much is added to
get you addicted to that food improve the product for consumers. But those changes don’t make calories on a label any easier to understand in real world context.
But there may be some new hope. This week a study published in the American Journal of Public Health used placement of signs in West Baltimore corner stores with messaging like “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?” or “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about five miles of walking?” to assess the impact of using exercise data on customer behavior. The signs worked, resulting in fewer purchases of soda or juice and more purchases of smaller portion sizes – meaning more people chose the 12 ounce can over the 20 ounce bottle. These findings corroborated other research (like here and here) demonstrating a similar effect. Brilliant! Help people understand the context of the food/beverage they are having by quantifying calories as the activity required to burn them off.
So what would happen if all food labels included a line on exercise? Well, I’d like to think this bonus information would translate to more people understanding their food label. I’d like to think that would lead to a decline in the portion and amount of sugar sweetened beverage, fast food, sweets, and junk food Americans ate. I’d like to think it would help them choose fruit, jerky, or nuts over other less healthful options. Or that more people would visit their gyms more often, as they make the informed choice to enjoy a cupcake at lunch and pay for it with an afternoon WOD or run or whatever activity they enjoy.
I also see problems with this idea. Namely:
- It would cost companies a lot of money to change their labels, and time to research the new information (and the companies would fight back viciously).
- Your body needs calories – not everything needs to be “burned off” with exercise (your body will take care of some of that by simply functioning).
- It could backfire in helping people choose healthy options – I certainly wouldn’t want someone to choose crackers over almonds for a snack because it takes less time to “walk it off” a portion.
- Implications for people with disordered eating or diagnosed eating disorders – this kind of information could compel someone struggling with their body image to feel as though they are being told “you must exercise more” whenever they eat something. And with eating disorders on the rise in young people, this is a big concern.
- These levels are just estimates – the amount of energy a person burns off doing a given activity varies by age, weight, and other factors. (The estimate used in the study were based on 15 year old boys weighing 110 lbs).
- This extra label does not provide any information about macronutrient makeup, vitamins, or other factors that make one food a healthier option than another.
So what do you think? Personally, if this was ever implemented, I’d really only like to see it on certain foods – like soda, chips, candy, etc. I think putting this information on bread, chicken breast, or frozen vegetables is over-kill. But in certain contexts I think this information could be very helpful – especially for those with minimal baseline nutrition knowledge, and kids and teens.
You can read my original post on the HHS Blog, and share your thoughts to comments!
Photo c/o Dave Whelan https://www.flickr.com/photos/djwhelan/