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I have to apologize for such a late post. I am out in California for work and got caught up enjoying the sunshine (OK, OK I was working). 

I recently contributed an article to Box Pro Magazine on the 7 mistakes you might be making in the box. Some of these are things I’ve seen in our box, and some are just things I’ve seen around CrossFit. I’ll let you read more about the problems and my suggested fixes over at Box Pro. 

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I have written two meal plans in my 5 years as a dietitian (excluding hospital menus, of course). I wrote the first one because I thought it was a good way to expand what I was able to offer, and help people in a different way. The second one was more of a diet template, written for a friend. Based on my experience with the first one, I decided this was not something I wanted to offer. Why?

For starters, it’s a lot of work if done right. There are numerous factors that determine the best diet for someone to follow, including:

  • Past medical history
  • Current lifestyle
  • Client goals
  • Diet history
  • Fitness capabilities
  • Dietary preferences 

When creating a meal plan for 30 – 90 days (the length of time I usually see them offered), you need to make sure they are meeting their calorie goals, getting all the right micronutrients, eating foods they like at times convenient to their lifestyle, all while making sure there is flexibility because life happens. I just wrote the first draft of May’s CFB programming, and that was a walk in the park compared to writing a 30 day meal plan. I spent about 10 hours doing this, which makes it either expensive for the client or not that profitable for me. The only way to make money off of a meal plan is to create something completely generic at a couple of different calorie levels and sell it to as many buyers as possible. 

Second, buying a meal plan is like paying the smart kid in class to do your homework for you. You might pass algebra that month, but what happens when you can’t rely him anymore? If I write out everything you should eat for an entire month, you will see results if you follow it. But you won’t gain much else, like knowledge of how to read labels, find recipes, plan your own meals, adjust your diet based on goal and lifestyle changes, etc. Meal plans make you the client reliant on me for guidance. I don’t want anyone relying on me. I don’t want to give you a fish, I want to teach you how to fish. 

My point is, if someone wants to sell you a meal plan, think twice. Sometimes, meal plans can be useful (as discussed below), but all too often “gurus” out there sell you the nutrition and fitness tools that work for THEM. And while they may work for you in the short term, ultimately you want to find what works for you long term (and be knowledgable enough to make adjustments on your own with occasional guidance from a professional). Imagine what the gym would be like if coaches only programmed what worked for them, ignoring the needs and wants of our community. I can tell you there’s be a lot of running and pull ups in May (OK there is a good amount of running in May but that’s because it’s finally going to be WARM out!). 

Sometimes, Meal Plans Can Help

I feel like I can’t conclude without pointing out a couple of the times meal plans are pretty useful. If someone is completely new to healthy diet and exercise, a generic hypocaloric diet (providing fewer calories from food than is burned by exercise and metabolism) can be a beneficial kick start. A one week sample plan can help someone starting a new specific diet – like gluten free, paleo, or vegan – to understand what a healthy version of that diet looks like. They can also be helpful for someone following a complex clinical diet, like the renal diet. 

What do you guys think of meal plans?

Photo c/o Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing 

A few years ago, when I was drinking the paleo kook-aid (yes, I drank it, yes I know “paleo kook-aid” is an oxymoron), I used to bristle at the advent of plant based diets and things like “Meatless Monday”. I felt tired of people pushing the no meat thing, annoyed that vegetarian diets are always deemed healthier despite the fact that studies on them are essentially comparing a group who has made a conscious decision about their health to a wider group of many who haven’t, and that many people do it wrong and just eat lots of pasta, rice, and bread. And THAT IS NOT HEALTHIER, I ranted. 

The Plant Based Diet 

Given that I’ve just written much of the above paragraph in the past tense, most of you have correctly guessed that my attitude has changed. The more I look at my own diet, at the paleo diet, and at research, the more I’m convinced that plant based diet IS the way to go. But what is a “plant based” diet? Based on a Google search, “plant based diet” is poorly defined (kind of like “fitness” before CrossFit). So, I’m making one up. According to the dictionary of Alexandra Black MPH, RD, LD, a plant based diet is:

A diet in which plant are the foundation of the diet. This diet consists primarily of non-animal nutrient sources. This includes vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and grains, although some animal foods – meat, eggs, dairy – can be included from time to time. 

Of course, as with any diet, there are healthy and not-so-healthy plant based diets. Eggo waffles with Aunt Jemima syrup for breakfast, vegetable pizza for lunch, and a rice and beans Lean Cuisine for dinner is plant based, but not so healthy. Whereas a banana with peanut (or almond) butter for breakfast, vegetable stir fry with quinoa for lunch, and grilled chicken with vegetables and baked sweet potato for dinner is much healthier. 

Plant Based V. Paleo

The thing is, right now the consensus among experts is that eating meat at every meal increases your risk for heart disease, among other things. Right now there isn’t enough good research contrasting the “meat eating diet” (which, in most studies, is anyone who eats anything) compared to meat eaters who choose predominately organic or grass-finished animal products. There also isn’t any good research I”m aware of comparing vegetarians to the organic meat eaters. So it’s kind of a “what we know right now says X but we think it might say Y if research was different”. 

Another point I’d like to make is that most of our paleo ancestors also likely ate a plant based diet. Excepting the northern populations like those on the Aleutian Islands, most paleolithic people ate a lot of plants. They couldn’t go into the supermarket and buy all the meat they needed for the week at anytime. They had to hunt and kill their meat, so they only got it when they were able to do that. Otherwise, they ate plants and fruits and whatever else they could gather. 

So yes, plant based diets and paleo diets can – and should – live in harmony. Paleo is not supposed to be an excuse to eat bacon everyday, it is supposed to be one of many ways to find a healthful, sustainable diet. 

Photo c/o Marco Bernardini

Yes, you heard right. After 40 years of warnings that the amount of cholesterol in the American diet was a public health concern, the nation’s top nutrition advisory board is this year planning to do away with that warning. Because what fun would it be if we weren’t changing our minds about what’s healthy every other decade? You can read a little more about the announcement in the Washington Post.

Does This Mean All The Eggs And Bacon You Can Eat?

No, this does not mean you can pull a Ron Swanson. Basically, they’re saying the concern is less about dietary cholesterol itself, which isn’t really linked to blood cholesterol levels, and more about too many portions of foods high in saturated fat. The nutritionists list whole milk and butter as concerning, but I disagree a little bit.  As I said in an earlier article on saturated fat, some of the traditionally forbidden foods – red meat, butter, whole milk, can have nutrients if you’re getting them from the right source. I am far more concerned about saturated fat from processed foods than I am about organic, pasture raised cream in your coffee. As an example, one serving (4 oz) of 85-15 lean ground beef has 6.6 grams of saturated fat. That’s comparable to 12 Oreo cookies, 5 Eggo waffles, and 2 hostess cupcakes. While 5 waffles or 12 oreos sounds like a lot, they’re not completely unreasonable portions for the average American. But while the ground beef has nutrients like protein, zinc, and iron, the other foods just offer sugar and and refined carbohydrates (not that carbohydrates are not a nutrient, you just don’t need that many poor quality ones). 

So, enjoy your eggs and bacon. In moderate portions. And maybe lay off the Oreos :)

Photo c/o GmanViz

I normally like to write my own blog posts, but I saw this post by Eat This, Not That, and it was so damn perfect I had to just re-share it here. The article highlights six foods we normally think are “healthy” (OK, maybe four, because I know you guys knew all about the Egg Beaters and grains), and what we should eat instead.

In the article, ETNT targets:

  1. Dried fruit
  2. Low fat PB
  3. “Made with” whole grains
  4. Ett Beaters
  5. Skim milk
  6. “Protein packed” foods (ok, you should know about the one too, because I already wrote about it)

Read the full article. Anything missing from the list?

Image c/o Battlecat 

Walgreens, GNC, Walmart, and CVS don’t always sell supplements. But when they do, they’re fake. Oh wait, they actually DO always sell supplements. And they’re still fake. At least according to New York’s Attorney General (aka my new favorite politician), who is going after these fraudsters. My previous rants on supplements and GNC have focused on the fact that a teenager making minimum wage with no nutrition experience or education can advise you on dietary supplements that are very poorly regulated by the FDA if he happens to work at GNC (or Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, etc).

This time though, the focus is on the fact that not only did these four retailers try to sell you poorly regulated crap you don’t need, they also lied about the crap that was in it! According to a write up in the New York Times:

“The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.”

In addition, some supplements at Target also tested negative for the herbs on their label. Basically, those ginkgo baloba pills you bought for “vitality” were really powdered garlic and powdered rice. Hell, I could have just made you some stir fry! 

The New York State AG sent cease and desist letters to those four retailers. And of course industry reps are trying to pass this off as “bad practices from fringe companies”. Sorry guys, CVS is not a “fringe” company. 

The morel of the story (rant)?

If you put it in your mouth, it should come from a trusted source (I know, I know, that’s what she said). Don’t get me wrong, I like CVS and shop there often for anything from bandaids to makeup to all of my life saving insulin prescriptions (although if you’ve read my blog long enough you know I can’t stand GNC and Vitamin Shoppe). I just don’t think you should be getting your supplements there.

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Think You Need A Supplement? Follow these steps:

  • Identify exactly what problem or deficiency you are addressing with it, and if you can reap the same benefit from a dietary change. For example, if I am tired all the time and find I have low iron, I may choose one of the following: take iron supplements, increase my intake of iron rich foods, or take iron supplements for a few weeks to replete my stores, while increasing iron intake from food over the long term. 
  • Do your research, to make sure that supplement actually addresses your problem. To use the iron example above, it is pretty well established that taking an iron supplement improves blood iron levels. It is not as established that garlic pills promote weight loss, that a cranberry supplement can prevent UTIs (there is some evidence this works for some women, but nothing is concrete), or that ginkgo paloba will increase your vitality.
  • Make sure you get it from a safe, quality source. Third party tested products are best, and NSF tends to be the cream of the crop of that testing. If a supplement is tested, it will have a label on the bottle indicating so. You can also search the NSF International Directory for certified products. 

You can read the full article about what the NY AG is doing in the New York Times.

Photo 1 c/o Adam Jackson Photo 2 c/o Health Gauge 

If you can think of a better blizzard food than chili, I’ll be surprised. And with a few months left of winter to go, there’s bound to be a few more snowed-in days like yesterday. Everyone seems to have their own chili recipe, perfected over many tries and prepared when the weather starts getting chilly and football games begin to dominate Sundays (or Saturdays, if you’re one of the rare college football fans in the Northeast). Below is my (OK, Pat’s) go-to Chili recipe and as a bonus, a few paleo game day snacks. Share your favorite chili recipe in the comments OR your favorite Super Bowl snack (preferably that is Whole Life Challenge Compliant). 

PAT’S PALEO CHILI 

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Ingredients

  • 2-3 pounds of lean ground beef (90-10)
  • 2 green peppers
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 orange peppers
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cubanelle peppers
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 15 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 8 oz can of diced tomatoes with green chilis
  • 1 16 oz jar of chunky salsa
  • 2 tsp each of: hot Hungarian paprika, cumin, cayenne, ground coriander
  • 1 TB each of: garlic powder, onion powder
  • 3 TB chili powder

Chop bell peppers and onions. Finely chop cubanelle and poblano peppers and set aside in a large bowl. 

Cook bacon in bottom of a large pot until browned to your liking. Remove, chop, and set aside. While the bacon is cooking, brown meat in a separate pan, drain, and set aside. Add onions and peppers to bacon grease and saute until soft, stirring frequently.

When veggies are cooked, mix in ground beef, bacon, and spices until well blended.

Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and salsa. Cover and simmer 2-3 hours. Enjoy!

GAME DAY FAVORITES

Bacon and Guacamole Sammies from Nom Nom Paleo (just be careful to make them right before game time, or you’ll be battling enzymatic processes all afternoon). http://nomnompaleo.com/post/2538959456/bacon-guacamole-sammies-dont-these-bacon-and

If you’re eating dairy… goat cheese stuffed, bacon wrapped jalapeños http://brittanyangell.com/bacon-wrapped-goat-cheese-jalapeno-poppers-glutengrainegg-free/

Other easy ideas include veggies with guacamole and deviled eggs. I don’t have a great deviled egg recipe, so someone please share theirs!

Feature image c/o Karen Eckberg

I know a bunch of people in the gym are either doing the Whole Life Challenge or a variation of cleaner eating to kick off the new year. While this is all good news, it can also lead to some pitfalls. One of these, as I’ve mentioned in Paleo posts before, is carb intake and bonking. What is bonking? It’s basically hitting the wall in a workout. It’s not fun.

Why Do We Bonk?

Bonking generally results from not having enough energy to finish your workout (or feeling that way). When you are eating your “standard” non-challenge diet, you’re likely eating some grains, potatoes, etc. Your carb intake is definitely higher than it is when you’re in challenge mode unless you eat a lot of bananas and sweet potatoes. Your body is used to working out at that higher carb intake, and can take a while to adjust. And when you start a paleo or clean eating challenge, your diet usually ends up being low carb (at least at first) even if you don’t mean it to be. The change can be especially drastic coming off of holiday food and cookies. Your body will adapt to the lower carb intake over the next few weeks as the sugar withdrawals subside and blood sugar levels normalize. But still, keeping up a consistent carbohydrate intake is important if you want to get the most out of your workouts. I’m not saying you need to eat 60% of your calories in carbs, I”m just saying you need to get enough for YOU to feel good during workouts and have energy throughout the day. 

Tips To Avoid It

  • Make sure you’re getting enough carbohydrates throughout the day. Unless you’re into doing ketosis, you need roughly 130-150 grams of carbohydrates a day for basic brain function. Obviously you need more than that if you’re coming into the gym regularly. 
  • Time carbs to the workouts, and bring backup. While your body adapts, it helps to consume more carbohydrates around your workouts. If say, you have a banana for breakfast and still feel like you hit the wall, bring some juice (I would imagine 100% juice with no sugar added in very small amounts is OK, but I have not double checked the rules), coconut water, or dried fruit to nibble on between the strength and WOD part of the workout. You could also eat a Fuel For Fire (again, if compliant). A little bit of glucose here will go a long way. 
  • Get a good night’s sleep. I’ve already said a lot about sleep during the last challenge so I won’t bore you further.

How’s The Whole Life Coming?

Sometimes eating clean with no cheats for a long period can get rough. Here are a few recipes I like, as well as where to get a good lunch in downtown Boston.

Paleo Lunches in Boston

Pulled Pork, Sweet Potato, and Pear Stew. A friend made this but added cumin, which sounds awesome.

Fig and Apple Butter. Modified from Pale-OMG (I used no sugar in mine). Great for a pre/mid workout boost.

Grain Free Spaghetti With Bison Meat Sauce . Adapted from my granddad’s meat sauce. 

Any favorite recipes to share? 

Image c/o Louish Pixel

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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.

6828593967_5b72d1e0f9_zAcai 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.

4505297355_886bc13511_zKale 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.

Sources

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/

Photo 1 c/o Eli Duke  Photo 2 c/o Elana Amsterdam Feature image c/o Brian Garrett 

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. 

 


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