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/
22 Oct 2014
I realize I (and many others in the health/wellness field) talk about fiber a lot, usually in general terms. We say things like “fiber is important for weight loss/maintenance because it helps keep you full” and “fiber helps you stay regular”.Supplements like Metamucil and benefiber and food brands like Fiber One capitalize on the health effects of fiber (although as a side note I wouldnt recommend Fiber One bars be your main source of it). But fiber can be a little more complex than that.
The Two Types of FIber
There are two types of five – soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber – this type of fiber that slows digestion and may help lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber attracts water and becomes a gel during digestion. You can find it in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables, fiber supplements.
- Insoluble fiber – this type of fiber adds bulk to stool and helps move it through the digestive system. Insoluble fiber also attracts water, and is the fiber that “keeps you regular”. People who are constipated would benefit from more insoluble fiber. You can get insoluble fiber from wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grain.
How Much Do You Need?
The recommended in take is 38 grams for men under 50 and 25 grams for women under 50. Men and women over 50 need 30 and 21 grams respectively.
If you’re eating a healthful diet high in fruits and vegetables and mostly whole grains over white grains, you are likely getting enough fiber. For example, eating a banana (3 g), 2 cups of broccoli (5 g), 1 sweet potato (5 g), an apple (4 g), oatmeal with dried fruit (6 g), and an ounce of almonds (3 g) in a day, you’d exceed the recommendations for women.
15 Oct 2014
Do you eat food? Do you want to get stronger? Good, then I should see you tonight!
At 7:30 pm (after the 6:30 class) I will be covering what you need to know to optimize your strength gains and performance. Topics include:
- The Macros (A Quick Review)
- Strength Training & Your Body – the role of glycogen
- Eating before, during, and after workouts – checklist of qualities
- Suggested Options – examples of whole foods and products you can try before, during, and after workouts
- Real world examples – we’ll do some calculations that will help us get comfortable calculating our dietary needs around workouts
- Supplements – which ones do you need?
- A look at the evidence on caffeine use and performance
- Other Lifestyle Factors
Dan from RacePak will also be joining us with some free samples of products you can use before, during, and after a workout.
Here is the condensed info:
Fuel For Strength: Nutrition Strategies for Strength and Performance
Where: CrossFit Boston 114 Western Ave; Allston, MA
When: Wednesday, October 15th 2014 at 7:30 pm
Cost: Free for strength challenge participants or $12
There will be a sign in sheet at the door, or you can REGISTER HERE.
08 Oct 2014
Different seasons mean different things to everyone: fall is college football, summer is beach season, and winter is marked by the Holidays (or if you’re a Floridian in Boston, by infinite cold and misery with skiing mixed in). Food used to be the same way. Have you ever noticed that Strawberries are best in the summer, that all of a sudden come September there are about 10 more varieties of apples available in the super market, and that there are tons of fun and weird looking gourds from October through February? Nowadays you can get most fruits and vegetables year round, imported from almost anywhere in the world, but once upon a time different seasons meant different fruits and vegetables, and if you wanted Strawberries in December, you had to can them. Here are a few reasons why the old way was better, why eating seasonal produce, preferably locally grown, is better for both you and the environment.
- Nutritional value – Fruits and vegetables have the most nutritional value (i.e. vitamins and minerals) when they are ripened on the stem and then picked. However, when they come from places far away, they are picked before ripeness and ripen along the way. So while they may gain color and size, they won’t gain nutritional value. This is one reason many people argue that fruits and vegetables don’t have the same nutritional content as they did 50 or 100 years ago.
- Cost – Seasonal produce is often cheaper for two reasons. For one, it grows more naturally in season and so requires less labor intensive care. Second, it often comes from a source closer to home. It’s easy to find USA produced strawberries and cherries in the summer for instance, but in February they all come from Mexico or Chile, which also adds the cost of transportation and gas to your grocery bill.
- Flavor and Taste – Fruits and vegetables taste better when they ripen on the stem versus in the back of a refrigerated truck. Buying seasonal produce means you get the most flavorful and tasty produce.
- Sustainability – This is a big buzz-word lately. But buying local, seasonal produce cuts down on the environmental impact of shipping food several thousand miles. It will also support your local farmer, keeping him in business to continue producing delicious fruit and vegetables.
What’s in Season Now? Right now it’s fall, so that means apples, squash, cherries,
broccoli, endive, cauliflower, garlic, pear, parsnips, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, butter lettuce, grapes, and turnips. Visit the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters website for a complete list of spring, summer, fall, winter, and year round vegetables and fruits.
Find a Farmer’s Market! Nearly every city and town in America now has a farmer’s market. In Boston, there’s one at Copley Square Tuesdays and Fridays, one at South Station on Thursdays, one in Allston Village on Saturdays, SOWA on Sundays in the South End, and one right at the corner of Western and North Harvard ave on Friday afternoons.
Or, you can do a Google search or visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Marketing Service Web Page for a searchable directory of farmer’s markets. Just enter your zip code and search! Markets in Boston should be open another few weeks, usually until November 1.
01 Oct 2014
One of the more popular food tips out there these days is “shop the perimeter of the grocery store”. This makes sense on some level – most of the meat, vegetables, and dairy are on the perimeter of the store, while the not so great stuff like Cheez-Its, Oreos, boxed rice, canned soup, and additive riddled salad dressing are all in the aisles. But if you’ve read this blog before, you know nothing irritates me more than a nutrition platitude (like “drink 8 glasses of water a day” or “only eat the most colorful foods”, but I can go into why those are wrong another time), so I’m going to go ahead and debunk this one for two reasons:
1. There’s healthy stuff in the aisles
Now, I realize that the aisles are full of junk, and really the intended benefit of the “shop the perimeter” advice is to help shoppers get what they need without being tempted by what they don’t. But you can get to a lot of good stuff on the inside without walking past 18 flavors of Doritos and 10 different Oreo variations. Why? Well, usually the healthy stuff is down slightly less tempting aisles than the cookie/cracker and chip aisle. For example, coffee, tea, and nut butters are in the cereal aisle. Canned tuna is near the condiments and pickles. Olive oil is in the aisle with pasta and sauce. Beans are with canned vegetables. Usually last minute grab purchases are on the snack aisles (I have never passed a box of Barilla penne, canned string beans, or mayonnaise and thought “OOH that looks delicious I must buy it right now!” as I have done with Stacy’s Pita Chips or Ginger Snaps, or those sneaky chocolate covered everythings at Trader Joe’s). The point is, there is convenient, healthy stuff on the inside if you know where to find it.
2. There’s unhealthy stuff in the perimeter
Now, if you compared all things perimeter to all things aisle you’d probably win. But if I shop the perimeter at my local Star Market (the one in Porter Square), I can still buy:
- Fried chicken
- White baguette
- Tortilla chips
- French onion dip
- Flavored dairy creamer
- Cranberry cheese log
- Caramel dip for fruit
And, if we were in a state that doesn’t have silly laws about selling beer in the grocer store (or frequent Trader Joe’s), you’d also find beer on the perimeter. Now, I don’t remember this always being the case, so my guess is the food industry caught on to this little trend and started trying to tempt you out in the perimeter too. Either way, my point is this: sticking to the perimeter doesn’t remove temptation. And it’s not guaranteed that everything there is better for you.
The hands down BEST way to walk into the grocery store and walk out with bags full of healthy loot is to do the following:
1. Plan ahead – think of what you’d like to eat for the meals and snacks in the days between this and the next grocery shopping day.
2. Make a list of everything you need. Now, it’s fine if you just write “fruit” or “salad greens” and decide which kind at the store. It’s unlikely you’ll be standing in the produce section and find an unhealthy type of salad green. But if you just write “snacks” and wander down the snack aisle…well that’s another story.
3. Start with the stuff that takes deciding. For me this is usually the produce and anything that requires label reading. I find that patience runs low by the end of the grocery trip, and I like to just knock the last row of items off my list quickly without having to read 8 salad dressing labels (before deciding to google a recipe and make my own anyway). If you’re losing patience and have to read a lot of labels, it’s more likely you just pick up the first thing that looks good.
4. When you list is done, don’t think. Go pay the cashier and get out!
What’s your grocery shopping strategy?
24 Sep 2014
It is only the third week of September, and yet so far I have seen the Pumpkin Spice Latte return early, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin beer… you get the idea. And don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin thinks – pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin beer is one of my favorite parts of fall (although if you guys could wait until it was actually a little cool, that would be great -I do not want to drink pumpkin beer in a sundress. End rant), and pumpkin seeds toasted with a little bit of salt and cinnamon are the best fall snack. And pumpkin is pretty good for you, as it is:
- High in key vitamins like vitamin A, C, and B complex
- Low in calories and fat but high in fiber and antioxidants
- Rich in minerals the body needs like copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous
- Seeds are a good source of heart healthy fats
- Seeds are also high in zinc (important for wound healing and immune system strength) and iron
Pumpkin Spice V. Pumpkin
The thing about pumpkin is, it’s not all that delicious raw. It usually needs some salt, sage, or other herb, or on the flip side some cinnamon, sugar, and/or pumpkin pie spice, which is made of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice to make all the delicious pumpkin-y things we love. Which is totally fine – I have no problem with pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, or roasted pumpkin because they actually CONTAIN PUMPKIN.
My philosophical beef is with the pumpkin posers – most importantly the Starbucks “pumpkin spice latte”. The PSL contains espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream, pumpkin pie spices atop that whipped cream, and pumpkin coffee syrup, which contains pure cane sugar, water, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness), and caramel color. Of course I don’t know what these “natural flavors” are, other than that natural flavors are generally any product of or derived from spices, herbs, vegetables and other things found in nature. So, the only pumpkin thing about the PSL is the pumpkin pie spice on top of the whipped cream, and maybe some derivative of pumpkin or pumpkin pie spices hiding under that “natural flavors” moniker. The PSL is also 380 calories and 49 grams of sugar for a 16 ounce serving. Ouch.
As for pumpkin beer, that’s somewhat in the gray area. According to Beer Advocate, some brewers hand cut pumpkin and drop it in the mash, or use pureed pumpkin, and most brewers use the pumpkin pie spices. It seems other brewers may opt for flavorings instead of real pumpkin.
Get Your Pumpkin On The Right Way
There are lots of delicious and healthy things to make with pumpkin. I have a pumpkin soup recipe that I love making every year. There is a whole Pinterest thread dedicated to paleo/primal things one can make with pumpkin, and as a bonus, roasting the seeds after you’ve used the rest of the pumpkin makes a very tasty snack (there are too many great recipe variations to link to just one, so Google it yourself). Just remember:
- Make it with a real pumpkin
- Avoid adding too much sugar
What pumpkin-y things do you like to make?
17 Sep 2014
I’m generally a little sad this time of year, as summer and warm weather turns to crisp mornings and changing leaves. But there are enough things about fall that I love to help me get by. Chili is one of those things. I love my mom’s chili as a kid, I loved when she made a whole batch, froze it, and drove it to Gainesville on track meet weekends to put in my freezer. And now I love having a meal that, while a bit laborious, gives me lunches and dinners for days.
A few great thing about home-made chili:
- All those vegetables! My pot of chili has 5 bell peppers of varying colors, 4 hot peppers, 2 onions, as well as a bunch of tomatoes in different forms (sauce, salsa).
- Iron – chili is generally made with red meat (we made ours with grass-fed beef, but you can also use bison, humanely raised sausage, venison, etc). Most red meat has iron, a component of hemoglobin, which is responsible for transportation of oxygen throughout the body.
- It makes your house smell awesome – I don’t think I need to explain this.
- It’s super adaptable – in its normal state, chili is basically paleo. But it’s easy to adapt for vegetarians, vegans, those avoiding red meat (just add turkey), etc.
How do you make your chili?
Patrick and I made chili last night, using his recipe, which I’ve posted on my Wicked Good Nutrition Blog. Lots of vegetable chopping but totally worth it!
How do you make your chili? Post your recipes!
10 Sep 2014
Since half marathon/marathon/spartan race season is upon us, I thought a little post on running and GI issues was in order. I think many habitual, sometimes, and “only if a bear is chasing me” runners alike probably know the feeling of having a perfectly beautiful run (or 5K test, whatever), and then BAM you gotta go. I have even heard the joke that you’re not a real runner until you’ve gone to the bathroom in public. But why does this happen?
More often than not, the source of stomach pain and bathroom breaks on a run is because of food choices, and the biggest culprit is sugar. Many runners use sugary chews, goos, or snacks to stay fueled during the run. This is smart, obviously – readily available carbohydrates at periodic times during an endurance activity will help you maintain the activity longer. So what’s the problem?
Osmosis is the problem. Remember from biology class that osmosis is the movement of water molecules between a semi-permeable barrier to the side with higher solute concentration so as to equalize the concentration on both sides. Your body likes to maintain a particular balance – known as homeostasis – and osmosis helps it do this. So when that high carbohydrate, low everything else fuel item of choice is digested very quickly in the stomach, it moves to the intestine. Now the intestine has a high concentration of “solute” (the sugar. Osmosis kicks in, and water is drawn into the intestine, which makes stool (that’s health professional speak for poop) looser. And I think we all know where this is going.
How Can You Fix It?
There are a few ways you can try to fix this. Of course, everyone is different, so it will likely come down to some self experimentation.
- Avoid corn sugar. According to a blog post on constipation by Dr. Reddy, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine, corn syrup – along with apple, pear, and prune juices – is not absorbed very well by the intestine, and have a stool loosening effect.
- Space our your fuel – intend of eating a whole bag of chews (for some, up to 45 grams of sugar) all at once, eat 2-3 chews (or about 10-15 grams of carbs) every half hour. This will result in slower infusion of sugar to the intestine, which will avoid the large osmotic response.
- Don’t over hydrate – it’s good to drink water, of course. But water IN the intestine is kind of the problem. So having a lot of water at once, especially with your fuel, could cause the same issue. Try to sip water throughout the run/race, aiming for about 8 -16 ounce an hour.
03 Sep 2014
I’ve noticed that diet has become quite political these days. Many people feel very strongly about their chosen diet, and love to share news articles and studies supporting their particular view. And boy was everybody tweeting about that low carb v. low fat diet study yesterday.
I hadn’t had time to read the study, but I did get to read Dr. David Katz’s take on it (he’s the Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, so I guess he’s kind of smart) and I’m glad that was the first thing I read. It highlights how important it is for us (well, our journalists should be doing this but they sadly rarely bother) to read these studies. Nutrition science is still new and there are still a lot of challenges, but we don’t need to muck it up further by conducting and publishing truly crappy studies.
Since Dr. Katz essentially wrote everything I would have – and likely better – I’m going to yield the floor to him now. From Dr. Katz on LinkedIn:
Diet Research, Stuck in the Stone Age
You cannot get a good answer to a lousy question.
The current diet study making headlines purportedly asked, and answered this question: which is better for weight loss and improving cardiac risk, a low-fat or a low-carb diet? For starters, that is a truly lousy question, resurrected from something like the Stone Age. I doubt even the Paleo clan find the question attractive, since they like prehistoric food; not prehistoric research questions about food.
Why prehistoric? Because it is long known and well established that dietary fats run the gamut from good to bad to ugly. No good diet should willfully exclude the monounsaturated fats and omega-3s in nuts and seeds and avocados; I’m pretty sure everybody not stuck under a boulder knows that.
There is on-going debate today about specific effects of specific fats, but the wholesale cutting of dietary fat intake was pretty much yesterday’s news yesterday. The relevant concept today would be plant-based eating, which at the extreme of veganism, tends to be low in fat- but as an effect rather than an objective. This was not a study of a vegan diet.
The concept of low-carb is also terribly outdated, and was silly when it was first spawned. Everything from lentils to lollipops is carbohydrate; why on earth would anyone want to treat such a vast expanse of the food supply as if it were just one thing? Sillier still, all plant food is a carbohydrate source. A truly “low carb” diet is, of necessity, low in all plant foods- including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils along with whole grains. This is directly at odds with everything we know about diet and health across the lifespan.
PS If you like reading about a common sense approach to health and would like to read about it more often than my once weekly blog, use the link above to follow him on LinkedIn.