Frozen Foods: Off Limits or Fantastic Time-savers?

When we’re in a pinch for time, frozen foods seem to be the perfect answer: a full meal in a matter of minutes! But what do those time saving meals mean for your health?

I find that the freezer aisle is a very love-it-or-hate it area of the supermarket; either you can’t shake the image of a 1950’s family eating mushy TV dinners straight from the microwave and therefore won’t touch the stuff, or you adore the convenience of a pre-made, high-flavor complete meal that requires no prep (though you’ve probably never checked the label).

I fall somewhere in the middle. The health-food wave is slowly spreading throughout most supermarkets, and the freezer aisle is no exception! The trick to shopping here is to know what you’re looking for and how to compare products.

Here’s my Top 5 Freezer-Friendly Shopping Tips:

  1. Sodium Alert
    Salt has been used as a natural preservative since ancient times, which is why so many frozen (and canned) foods are packed with sodium! The American Heart Association recommends most people consume no more than 2000 mg sodium daily (the same as 1 level teaspoon), while those with a history of heart disease should aim for 1500 mg sodium.  For any large meal like a frozen dinner, choose meals with 600 mg of salt or less. Many popular brands have over 1500 mg in one serving, so definitely start eying the sodium before picking a meal!
  2. Well-Balanced Meals
    As tempting as it may be to purchase just frozen truffle macaroni and cheese, try to choose well balanced meals that have some fresh vegetables and whole grains. Many companies are creating more well-balanced meals using organic produce, ancient grains, and lean protein to help your meal be nutritious as well as delicious.
  3. Look Beyond the Label
    Perhaps more than any other aisle, the freezer is full of items marketed towards dieters. Just take a look at how many have words like ‘lean,’ ‘light,’ and ‘healthy’ in the brand name! While those foods very well might be great choices, a title alone doesn’t guarantee that. Always look at the nutrition facts before trusting the marketing, examining the calorie content (I’ve seen meals range from 200 to over 800 calories in a serving), saturated fat content (the goal is as low as possible here), and sodium amount to make sure your meal is actually a healthy choice.
  4. Bulk Up With Veggies
    Some meals look delicious on the cover but are far too small when you actually pop them out of the box (if you ever see a meal for under 300 calories, that’s a red flag that the portion will be petite). Instead of doubling up, bulk up your meal with frozen fresh vegetables! Frozen produce is often flash frozen right after harvest so the nutrients are preserved, and any vegetable on its own (without any sauce or butter added) is still very low calorie, high in fiber, low in sodium, and high in nutrients. You can add a lot of bulk to tiny but delicious meals this way.
  5. Be Adventurous!
    Take advantage of the wild array of recipes available at your fingertips! Food companies have recognized that consumers like to try foreign cuisines and complex meals that we wouldn’t cook for ourselves, so take a walk on the wild side and try some new flavors. I’ve seen Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican dishes as well as meals featuring ancient grains, unique herbs and seasonings like lemongrass, and flavorful curries.

 

Next time you think about ordering take out or driving through the fast food window, consider the freezer aisle for some potentially healthier alternatives. Do you have any brands or lines that are your go-to or that you’re looking forward to trying? Comment below!

 

Bonus: for some insight into frozen breakfasts, take a look at my Low-carb Breakfast post featuring a breakdown of some popular items!

Why Your Diet Doesn’t Work: The Imprecise Science of Caloric Balance

“Want to lose one pound of fat? Just cut 500 calories from your diet each day and you’ll shed one pound per week!” We’ve all heard that sensationalized claim before, and if it sounds a bit too good to be true, that’s because it is. This math is based on the premise that it takes exactly 3500 calories to burn one pound of fact, but that information itself is inherently flawed.

Weight maintenance is essentially a function of our basal metabolic rate, or BMR: the amount of calories your body burns daily just to survive. Just like it takes more energy to power larger machinery, it takes more calories to feed all of the cells in larger or heavier people– so they naturally have higher BMRs. If you were to lie in bed for 24 hours without any activity or intake, after fasting for at least 10 hours, your BMR is the number of calories your body would burn.

We can estimate our BMR with equations like the Harris-Benedict and Mifflin St Jeor equations, which take your height, weight, age, and gender into account. If you’ve ever tried to calculate your calorie needs online or via app, they probably use these equations.

The only way to actually measure your BMR, though, is through ‘calorimetry‘ (which literally means ‘calorie measurement’); direct calorimetry requires you to stand in a specialized chamber that measures how much heat your body is producing (impractical for most people), and indirect calorimetry can use respiratory tests to measure how much oxygen you inhale and carbon dioxide you exhale over a set period of time (somewhat more practical and actually available at some fitness and medical centers).

Of course we don’t just lie in bed all day. When we factor in our daily activities, we can find our Total Energy Expenditure (TEE), which means how many calories you burn on a typical day doing your usual activities. This is about 20% higher than your BMR if you are mostly sedentary to up to 90% higher if you are a professional athlete. Most people who are moderately active (1-3 days of intentional physical activity or exercise) burn about 38% more calories than their BMR.

This is where the error happens: It is very difficult to know how many calories you truly burn in a day. According to predictive equations, as a 5’4″, 27-year-old, mildly active, average weight female, my estimated BMR ranges from 1360 calories (Mifflin Jeor) to 1430 calories (Harris-Benedict), and my TEE should be about 1630 – 1720 calories daily.   I actually had indirect calorimetry done at a local gym last year, however, and my results showed that a better estimate for my BMR is 1123 calories and my TEE is close to 1350 calories.

That’s about 20% fewer calories fewer than traditional estimates- meaning that my body needs way fewer calories than the textbooks tell me.

Moving onto the second major issue: the 3500-calorie rule just doesn’t seem to be true.

This number came from a 1950s study by Max Wishnofky called “Calorie Equivalents of Gained or Lost Weight,” which posits that one pound of fat would require about 3500  calories to burn based on the scientific principles of fat. (If you’re interested in the gritty details: 1 pound (454 grams) of fat cells contains about 87% actual fat, and since it takes about 9 calories to burn one gram of fat, than a whole whole pound (454 grams) should burn up using about 3700 calories).  If you took a literal pound of fat and threw it into an incinerator to measure how much energy was required to literally burn it, that might be accurate. However, it doesn’t take our physiology into effect, and for better or for worse, our bodies are extremely adaptive at trying to preserve our energy stores.

Wishnofsky also examined a 1930s study by Strange, McCluggage, and Evans (“Further studies in the dietary correction of obesity”) which essentially starved for weight loss and found that they lost 0.6 pounds per day with a 2100 calorie deficit. How would one have such a severe deficit, you ask? They were put on a 360 calorie diet.

  • The diet: 360 calories made up of lean steak, fish, egg whites, whole milk, orange juice, yeast, minimal vegetables, and salt contributing ~58 grams of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of fat each day. By today’s medical standards this would be a study of intentionally invoking severe malnutrition.
  • The participants: only 13 patients participated, and they were all in a hospital setting. Their weight ranged from 180 pounds to 427 pounds at the start of the study.
  • The outcomes: everyone obviously lost weight – the average was 35 pounds over 59 days. This was VERY inconsistent, though: actual weight loss ranged from 5 pounds over 8 days to 104 pounds over 176 days. 

This very small data pool based on a severe starvation diet showed that people lost about 0.6 pounds with a 2100 calorie deficit each day – making the weight loss ratio 1 pound to every 3500 calories. The 3500 calorie rule is based on these 13 people, severe starved for anywhere from a week to 25 weeks. 

I think this just exposes a truth we all know deep down inside: it’s just not that simple. Reviews of studies indicate that we lose weight more slowly than the rule would predict because our body burns fewer and fewer calories as we lose pounds. If you’ve ever watched a season of The Biggest Loser, you’ve seen this reality in action. Contestants used to lose over 20 pounds per week in the beginning when they were larger and had more excess weight to lose, but by the final weeks, they were following severe diets and working out 10 hours per day only to lose 2 – 3 pounds per week. Over time, their bodies required fewer calorie per day to run, so that calorie deficit rule shifted for them.

The good news is that researchers are now starting to battle this well-known rule to promote more realistic weight loss attempts. Dr. Diana Thomas and colleagues are leading this crusade with a math-driven approach, modeling actual weight loss journeys to create calorie / weight loss curves showing significantly less weight loss than the 3500 calorie rule predicts. Though many weight loss apps still use standard formulas to calculate how many calories you need per day for weight loss, a much more sustainable method would be to try to improve the overall quality of your diet, monitor what you currently eat and try to implement a slight deficit, increase your physical activity, and adjust things your plan as you go.

There is one slight upside to the 3500 rule, which is that it is memorable enough to communicate that caloric deficit is needed to burns weight. The downside is that it dramatically overestimates the rate of weight loss and can inspire dangerous levels of calorie cutting. I would never recommend eating less than 1200 calories; crash diets slow down your metabolism as your body adapts quickly to its new low-energy state, and nearly everyone rebounds back to a poor higher-calorie diet later on. Emphasizing overall nutrition quality, seeking a registered dietitian for ongoing nutrition counseling and support, and focusing on nutrition as a health goal rather than a means to an end can help you actually achieve your goals and maintain them long-term.

 

The overall takeaway:

  1. It is difficult to calculate your accurate BMR.
  2. It is even harder to then calculate your TEE
  3. Even if you can figure out how many calories you need daily, it is difficult to know how steep of a calorie deficit you would need to burn 1 pound of fat as the 3500 calorie rule is unreliable and based on absolutely extremist, insufficient research.
  4. Focus on improving diet quality, achieving a mild but sustainable caloric deficit, and seek assistance from a nutrition professional if you feel lost!

 

 

Resources:

Wishnofsky M.  Caloric equivalents of gained or lost weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1958 Sep-Oct; 6(5):542-6.

Strang JM, McCluggage HB, Evans FA. Further studies in the dietary correction of obesity. American Journal of the Medical Sciences. 1930;179(5):687–693.

Thomas DM, Gonzalez MC, Pereira AZ, Redman LM, Heymsfield SB. Time to Correctly Predict the Amount of Weight Loss with Dieting.  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(6):857-861.

Top 5 Ways to Get Back on Track after Thanksgiving

We’ve officially kicked off the holiday season with Thanksgiving – and if you’re like most Americans, you ate several times the calories you normally would!  I’m a big believer in enjoying celebrations and eating guilt-free on those days, though even those who are normally mindful of what they eat can easily eat seconds and thirds of their favorite family recipes (followed by tiny portions of about 6 different desserts).

The key to surviving the holiday season from this point on while still adhering to your health goals is to take each day at a time- follow these tips to make it to New Year’s without backsliding into old habits.

  1. Leave the holiday splurges for the holidays.
    If you follow one tip all season, make it this one! Food traditions are at the heart of many holiday celebrations, so enjoy them on the actual day-of, but don’t carry those bad eating habits with you for the rest of the season!
    Whatever your major holidays are — Christmas Eve, Christmas day, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, a certain holiday party you’ve been waiting for — enjoy the food and drink on that day but go back to your normal eating routine once the event is over. If you carry out that celebration mentality every day until New Year’s and eat twice the calories you normally do, you can easily pack on the pounds or wind up with out of control blood sugars. This goes for leftovers as well; definitely enjoy those Thanksgiving leftovers, but serve yourself smaller portions so you don’t overeat like you may have while feasting with family.
  2. Listen to your Hunger Cues.
    If you’ve ever eaten to the point of becoming uncomfohunger scalertably full (a feeling very well associated with holidays), you probably ignored your hunger cues. Our bodies are great at telling us when we need to eat and when we can stop, but our love of flavor usually leads us to keep eating far beyond that point. Using a mental Hunger Scale can help you identify when you need to eat or wait so you can eat more intuitively. Throughout the season, ask yourself if you are eating because you are hungry (scale points 3 & 4) to the point of satiety (points 5 & 6) or beyond that (points 7 & above) so that you can enjoy your holiday treats without feeling stuffed.
  3. Don’t drink your calories.
        Alcohol is a major part of many holiday festivities, but it’s a two-fold trap when you are watching your health! First, alcohol is packed with calories – and the heavier the drink, the more calories it packs.  While a light beer or a 4 ounce glass of champagne has around 100 calories, a heavy winter lager or a martini can easily have over 200. Add creamy drinks like eggnog or dessert martinis and those drinks pack more than 300 calories each. The second trap here is that alcohol dulls your inhibitions and often leads to eating far more than you ever would while sober! This is especially true for anyone who restricts their eating on a daily basis, so if you tend to be a crash-dieter, you may find yourself eating twice what you normally would once alcohol silences that voice in your head. My tip is to cap yourself at once drink so you can enjoy yourself while still being able to hear your hunger cues rather than overindulging unintentionally.
  4. Plan ahead.
         This may be the least fun tip, but it’s the most practical. If you are going to a holiday party where you know your friend’s famous seven-layer dip or decadent dessert will be served, make a mental plan of how you will be allotting your calories. This can help you enjoy your favorite items without feeling guilt that you splurged all night long. A good rule of thumb is to try to divide your dinner into courses like you would at a restaurant: an appetizer, dinner, and dessert. Choose your favorite small app, a main course with protein and some vegetables if available, and one sweet plate (or drink) for dessert rather than grazing mindlessly all night.
  5. Stay mindful between meals.
    There are only a few actual holidays this season but many normal days with special treats lying around. If you love to buy seasonal snacks or work in an office with a constant supply of desserts, make a mental note of how often you are eating otherwise celebratory foods throughout the day. If you are having multiple sweets throughout the morning and afternoon, you are likely having way more calories and carbohydrates than you would eat any other time of year, and this can do a number on your blood sugars and waist line. Find a happy medium that works for you, like only eating workplace treats two times a week instead of every day or saving your treats at home for weekends.

If you find yourself struggling and need extra guidance on how to prioritize your health goals while still enjoying the holidays, nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian nutritionist can make a huge difference. I have a great holiday deal through the end of the year and an even better Black Friday deal through 11/26, so this is the time to book a session!

This weekend only!

**Now until 11/26- new client deal!** Get your first session for only $75!!

The Thanksgiving feast was just the start of the holiday food fest, so change your relationship with food starting TODAY with nutrition counseling! Why wait until New Year’s for a new you?

Meet online via video chat or in my Ramsey office- message or visit our website for details!

Promo code: BFDEAL

Dietitian-Approved Lower-Carb Breakfasts (Yes, they exist, and No, it’s not just eggs!)

Breakfast is the golden meal for many Americans, but one of the biggest complaints I hear is that our iconic breakfast foods are packed with carbohydrates. It’s a valid point: pancakes, waffles, cinnamon buns, croissants, coffee extra light and extra sweet, sugary cereals, grab-and-go granola bars… Your morning meal can easily turn into a landslide of sugar.

But let’s take a step back – don’t get frustrated and skip breakfast!  The word breakfast comes from breaking fast — it is a chance for your body to get some actual external energy to help fuel your day. Without it, your body will rely on your energy stores from the night before and, if those run too low, you may be sluggish and sleepy.

img_20181014_101240373
Kodiak pancakes (they’re made with extra protein and whole grains) plus fresh berries and a drizzle of syrup (about 1 tsp) – my go-to weekend breakfast

Research stands behind breakfast as an important part of your routine (check out the links throughout this article for the original studies). Consistent breakfast intake has been linked to maintaining weight loss and higher levels of a hormone called Peptide YY which helps decrease appetite and intake.

Skipping breakfast, however, may lead to higher blood sugar spikes at your next meal, insulin resistance, and larger intake later in the day- which major implications for anyone with diabetes!

The actual foods that you eat for breakfast also play a big role in how hungry you are later as well as how high your blood sugar will go:

Higher protein / lower carbohydrate breakfasts have also linked to lower blood sugar after breakfast). Choosing lower Glycemic Index (GI) foods — foods that impact your blood sugar less drastically — can help you predict your blood sugar response even more than the just carbohydrates counting alone (study here), which supports the choice of whole grains and high-fiber foods rather than refined sugars.  A clinical trial also supported Low Glycemic Index / High Fiber breakfast combinations as they led to lower blood sugar spikes and less required insulin than High Glycemic Index / Low Fiber breakfasts (think high in refined grains and sugar). For more info on glycemic index, check out my break down.

Okay- so what can I eat?!

I generally recommend around 30 grams of carbohydrates with breakfast, which should provide you with some wonderful energy without spiking your blood sugar too much.

Try any of these combinations to get a moderate amount of carbohydrates, adequate protein, and healthy fats:

  • 1 slice whole grain toast + 1 tablespoon almond / peanut / sunflower seed butter + 1/2 cup fresh berries
  • 1 cup cooked plain oatmeal + 1 tsp maple syrup + 1 tsp cinnamon + 2 Tablespoons of walnuts or almonds
  • 1 whole wheat pancake + 1 tsp light butter + 1 tsp maple syrup + 2 links turkey bacon or sausage (~1 oz)
  • 1 piece whole wheat toast + scrambled egg mix (Mix 1 egg + 3 egg whites together, or 1/4 cup liquid whites alone) scrambled with 1/2 cup chopped veggies.
  • 1 whole wheat mini bagel + 2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese + 1 piece of fruit
  • 1 6-oz flavored Greek yogurt + 1 tsp of flax seeds + 1 Tablespoon sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup bran flakes + 1 cup skim milk + 2 tablespoons of diced prunes or raisins
  • 3/4 cup cooked grits + 1/2 oz low fat cheese mixed in + 1 egg
  • 6 ounces plain yogurt + 1 tsp honey + 1/2 cup berries + 4 oz almond milk – blend for smoothie
  • 1 slice whole wheat toast + 1/2 sliced avocado (trendy but also healthy!)
  • 1/2 cup part skim ricotta + 1 tsp honey drizzled + 1/4 cup berries + 1 Tablespoon sliced almonds
  • 1 small apple + 1.5 Tablespoon almond butter 

If you have diabetes, you may want to substitute sugar-free syrup to minimize blood sugar spikes. For others, though, small portions of these items can still fit into a well rounded diet.

Bonus Round: Frozen Breakfasts

Are you used to grabbing something from your freezer before you hit the road each morning? Sometimes convenience is king, so I’d rather see you stock your freezer with healthy breakfast options than grab something high fat and high calorie from a fast food joint on the go. These are some of my top healthy options from the freezer aisle:

My main caution with frozen items is that they tend to have a ton of added sodium, so you may want to avoid these options if you are prone to hypertension. It’s also wise to eat lower sodium foods during the rest of the day if you rely on these quick and convenient breakfasts.  When looking at other options, I recommend avoiding anything with a croissant, biscuit, or texas toast (they tend to be both high fat and high carb). Anything made with whole grains, egg whites, and veggies is usually a decent option. If you’re choosing something with a breakfast meat, turkey bacon and sausage are leaner but higher in salt; bacon and regular sausage are higher in saturated fat.

Whichever breakfast option works best for you, remember to try to combine high quality carbohydrates from fruits, grains, and veggies along with lean protein and you’ll be setting yourself up for success! Choose one option here and make it your mission to try it out this week.

If you’re looking for more personalized nutrition advice, contact me for an appointment!

Why It’s Totally Acceptable (and Nutritious) to be Obsessed with Pumpkin

The air is getting cooler, the days are getting shorter– this can only mean one thing: Pumpkin Season is here!

Whether you love to pick ’em, paint ’em, carve ’em, or just admire ’em, pumpkins are the quintessential fall crop. Pumpkin spice has become the wildest autumn food trend, originally dominating our latte orders and muffin choices but now popping up in everything from cereal to twinkies to cheese (yes, pumpkin spice cheese).

The spice blend itself is a combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, which can be mixed into anything for a healthier autumn celebration. Try these tricks:

  • Mix 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix into your oatmeal with 1/2 tsp of maple syrup
  • Add 1 Tablespoon pumpkin spice mix directly into your coffee grounds when brewing your next cup – the flavor will infuse into the coffee– for the pumpkin flavor without the calories and sugar of a traditional latte flavor syrup.
  • Mix 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice, 1/2 tsp honey, and 2 Tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese or low-fat cream cheese for a dessert-like topping for toast or graham crackers

Pumpkin itself is a wonderful ingredient and is packed with beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gets converted to vitamin A in our bodies– so much, in fact, that a cup of cooked pumpkin provides twice your daily need for vitamin A. This helps protect your vision (a lack of A in the diet is linked to night blindness) and directs cell growth throughout your body. They’re also a great source of potassium, which essentially every cell in your body needs to function as it goes hand-in-hand with sodium. You’ll get a nice dose of vitamin C for immune function and antioxidation, too. Pumpkin is definitely deserving of the superfood title.

Pumpkin is not just for pie! You can add it into a huge range of foods with the goal of either rich pumpkin flavor or subtle vegetable addition. Since it’s incredibly low fat yet moist, it often replaces part or all of the fat in a recipe as well as eggs. You’ll often get a different consistency than you’re used to so I would play around your recipes to see the result, but you’ll get a much more nutritious baked good.

  • Have pancake mix on hand and canned pumpkin in the cabinet? Then you can make pumpkin pancakes easily! Try 1 cup mix + 1 cup water + 1/3 cup pumpkin, plus pumpkin spice if desired. For a Food Network semi-homemade version, check out Sandra Lee’s recipe.
  • For a sneakier pumpkin addition, take boxed brownie mix (to make fudgy brownies) or any cake mix (for a fluffier muffin consistency) and add 1 cup of pumpkin. For a family-sized mix (18 ounces or larger), use a full can of pumpkin. You’ll get a fun twist on dessert with less fat and more nutrients!
  • I will tell you that my personal favorite pumpkin recipe is these pumpkin breakfast cookies (check it out here) by Leealicious – I highly recommend them!

 

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe? Share in the comments!

Spaghetti Squash

 

Spaghetti squash is the trendiest new squash (sorry, butternut- we still love you) and is definitely worth adding to your fall dish repertoire. The first time I tried spaghetti squash was actually at my work cafeteria, and I absolutely loved the consistency and subtle flavor but didn’t quite understand how it came to be (Did the squash just have little strings inside? Did you have to press it through a grater?). If you’ve never tried it, imagine a truly spaghetti-shaped zucchini noodle that holds its bite a bit better but has the taste of a mild butternut squash.

img_20180923_1844294391312110323.jpgI bought one myself and cut it open only to see that it looked like a yellow cantaloupe, and my first instinct was that I bought the wrong squash. Trusty Google showed me that I had in fact bought a spaghetti squash and that it would be just as stringy as I hoped once I was through – and it did not disappoint!

I love anything that can increase the volume of a meal without adding too many calories, and this is where spaghetti squash shines; you can have a whole cup with only about 40 calories but good fiber and micronutrients including potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins.

Making spaghetti squash is incredibly easy (almost unbelievably so):

  1. img_20180923_183103_0061099019059.jpg
    Squash immediately post-baking but before spaghetti-ing.

    Cut squash in half vertically (like you’re splitting the stem).

  2. Remove the seeds and the pulp attached to them.
  3. Brush with 1-2 T olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt for a savory dish. Alternatively, brush with 1-2 T butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp syrup for a sweeter version.
  4. Place face-up on a baking sheet and cook at 380F for 60 minutes. It should be incredibly tender.
  5. Take a fork and use it to rake the flesh of the squash. The strings will naturally separate and pull away (I took a video below for you to visualize). Continue until you have pulled out all of the strings and you’ll have your ‘spaghetti’!

I’ve seen savory versions topped with parmesan and herbs, but I love the sweet version for a fall side dish. Either way, you’ll get a lot of volume and flavor without a ton of calories!

 

 

Just Keep Going: How Nutrition Really Works

I want to share my thoughts about one of the major misconceptions I hear about nutrition and health that I think it’s time we debunk: Health is not a linear path. The mental blueprint we develop of a cookie-cutter approach to health (diagnosis, treatment, cure) is not realistic. Ongoing wellness is a continually evolving experience which is often frustrating when we are looking for a specific positive outcome. In Western culture, our first approach is usually medical. We seek a physician’s advice; perhaps we incorporate alternative medicines; often we look to our friends and family for recommendations on which practitioners to trust. Each person’s goal will be slightly different, ranging from symptom management to total ‘cure’ to slowing the progression of something. Inevitably most people will experience a lot of trial-and-error with medication changes, second opinions, symptom management that improves or declines at different periods… and that is all part of the journey for overall health management.

Nutrition works the same way.  The path from goal to outcome is very rarely straight. Maybe you want to lose weight; maybe you want to gain weight; maybe your blood sugar is difficult to control or you have a family history of heart disease that you are trying to stave off. Our inclination is to seek the most direct path from point A to point B, so we often turn to whatever diet seems the most promising.  Sometimes the severe diets seem too overwhelming and we never make a change. Sometimes we decide we’re willing to count macros, eliminate entire food groups, drink ‘detox’ beverages, and google meal plans if we think it might get us the outcomes we are hoping for. The problem is that, inevitably, you’ll have days when those strict plans are not possible. You’ll get sick of drinking a shake for breakfast or avoiding your grandmother’s pasta or eating the same lunch five days a week. Maybe your triggers will be a bit stronger than usual — you’ll have an extra-stressful week at work or a sick child to take care of or a budget cut that will eliminate your gym membership. Whatever the cause, life will get messy and our food choices will become more complicated once again.

Our reaction at that moment is the deciding factor in our long term success.

I’ll say that again because it is the foundation of my entire practice: our reaction when life gets in the way (despite our best intentions) is the deciding factor in our long term success.

We can choose to give up. We can beat ourselves up over our decision to order take out instead of cook, skip yoga and binge a new show all weekend, stop carb counting during vacation, enjoy a late night bag of chips just because we want them. OR we can cut ourselves some slack and make a plan to move forward.

To focus on long-term quality nutrition, you have to make peace with your humanity. Eating is a social and emotional experience just as much as it is a necessity. Choose to improve your overall diet so that you can live an overall healthier life, whether that means weight changes or following a medically recommended diet. Aim to do that as much as possible, but recognize that you will not do it 100% of the time. Instead, find a personal degree of balance that will allow you to sustain your new healthy outlook for the long haul. Have the cake at a birthday party – but maybe skip the wine. Let Friday night be pizza night – but order a side salad for the table and eat one piece instead of two or three. Enjoy your late night chips after a particularly rough week, but don’t finish the bag. Or hey, maybe you DID have the wine and cake, three slices of pizza, and a bag of chips. These instances don’t derail your nutrition. They don’t stop you in your tracks. Just keep going. If you have a whole week or month or year where you stop caring about your nutrition at all, that’s okay. It’s life. Decide to keep going.

Maybe this sounds odd coming from a dietitian, but I’ve been down these same roads myself. It took a long time for me to realize that I would not always be able to ‘follow the rules’ so to speak despite my best intentions (I love to eat, and eating makes me feel good when life doesn’t, and that inherent emotional connection is not something you choose to just forget- it’s there and it’s very real). When I learned to shake off that feeling of defeat and approach each food choice as a blank slate, I found that I was able to sustain my healthy habits far longer.  I would rather make 75% of the best choices I can for the rest of my life than 100% for a month or two and then give up. 

This approach might look differently when you apply it. Maybe you are looking to make 90% ‘ideal’ choices and that’s a sustainable balance for you. Maybe choosing the healthier foods 50% of the time would be a huge change for you. Both are great goals if you’re making positive changes that you will be able to maintain. Whether you are looking to start with strict parameters and a drastic overhaul to break some bad habits or would prefer to gradually ease into healthier choices so that they become your new norm, you can do so while being mindful of what’s best for your body. In the long-run balance tends to be the best kept secret to sustainability. You will likely find that you can keep your new choices going much longer when you take that approach.

If you leave this website or my practice with one message and one message only, I hope it’s this: do the best you can as much as you possibly can, and when you hit a road bump, just keep going. 

 

If this sounds like a philosophy that might work for you as well, contact me about nutrition counseling.

Does your plate look like MyPlate?

  
The Food Pyramid (1992-2005)

I remember learning about the Food Pyramid in elementary school, and for myself and most of my generation, that was the only formal nutrition education I received. Eat healthy, follow the food pyramid.  I had no idea, however, how I was supposed to apply a pyramid to my actual food choices. I recall celebrating the recommendation that carbohydrates like bread should be the foundation of my diet and thinking that the little dots throughout the pyramid (meant to represent fats and added sugars) were just decorative polka dots, but that was the extent of my understanding. There were some lesser-known older recommendations from the USDA (you can find a full history of nutrition guidelines on the USDA website), but the Food Pyramid imagery took hold as the most recognizable symbol of ‘healthy eating’ for Americans.

MyPyramid (2005-2011)

By 2005, however, the USDA decided to give the beloved pyramid a makeover and created MyPyramid, which added the element of exercise, and peoples were less than receptive to the rebranding. While the overall message was good (fruits and vegetables should each be about as important as grains; exercise is a key component of ‘a healthier you’), the graphic came across as confusing and somewhat sloppy with its half-cartoon/half-photograph images of food heaped at the bottom like they had fallen onto the floor. Most people I know never even saw this image or perhaps simply blocked it from memory.

MyPlate (2010 to present)

In 2010, with the release of the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA launched an entirely new image with a non-pyramid campaign: MyPlate. This shift brought the dietary recommendations directly to Americans’ dinner plates and made the concept of ‘healthy eating’ more relatable.  For the first time, there was an image people could apply at each meal; where the pyramid was an abstract structure representing overall diet, the public could easily look at their plates and ask themselves: how does this compare to MyPlate?

The dietary breakdown of MyPlate matches MyPyramid but portrays the information as a clean visual: about 25% of your plate should be a protein, 25% should be grains (or a starchy vegetable), and the other 50% should be a combination of fruits and vegetables. Dairy is also shown as an add-on for meals (stuck on the side as a presumed glass of milk). Though every given meal obviously can’t fit this template, MyPlate’s greatest attribute is that it is simple to understand, making it particularly great for teaching children from a young age.

The resources that accompany MyPlate are phenomenal though perhaps not as well known. On www.choosemyplate.gov, you’ll find a hub of information like a MyPlate in-depth breakdown, printable handouts, meal plans, tip sheets, online quizzes, infographics, a BMI calculator, and more for a huge range of audiences including children, students, adults, families, professionals, and non-English speaking readers.

As a Registered Dietitian, my number one concern is always how I can best share healthy eating guidelines in a way that makes sense for patients and clients. I need to explain things in a way people can apply throughout their day without overcomplicating things and risking burnout. MyPlate does just that. While the guidelines are generalized and may need tweaking for individual needs, it’s overall a good mental image to keep yourself in check throughout the day. I highly recommend looking through the MyPlate site – and I challenge you to take the MyPlate quizzes and see how your knowledge stacks up.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

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Cauliflower is one of the few foods that I believe earns the term ‘super’: it’s high in vitamin C, incredibly low in calories and carbohydrates, and is part of the cancer-fighting veggie group Cassica (along with broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts — better known by the term ‘cruciferous’)

img_20180820_203508_6281132994166.jpg There’s no denying that plain riced cauliflower is visibly quite plain, and cauliflower on its own tends to taste bland — but this veg is a perfect blank canvas for bulking up recipes in a low cal, low carb way!

Although I am a long-time cauliflower lover, this was my first time experimenting with cauliflower rice, and since pork fried rice was a staple take-out food when I was growing up, I wanted to use those same savory flavors — but in a much healthier way.

 

The recipe I used is a loose one, meaning you can increase / decrease / omit / or adjust anything based on your own preferences!

 

Ingredients (Makes 2 large servings of ~1.5 cups)

  • 1 – 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 – 2 tsp rice vinegar (unsweetened)
  • 1 tsp Low Sodium soy sauce (low sodium is important- it cuts about 40% of the sodium!)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cups of riced cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1/3 cup green peas (I used frozen)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (I used Minute Rice Brown Rice with Quinoa mix)
  • Optional: 1 egg
  1. Saute the onions in ~1 tsp sesame oil; sweat until translucent. Add in rice vinegar.
  2. Add your cauliflower rice. Season with low sodium soy sauce. Allow to cook together in pan until cauliflower becomes fork-tender but before it gets mushy. You may find it helpful to steam the cauliflower a bit by adding ~2 Tbsp of liquid (chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water will all work) and covering with a lid.
  3. Add peas, sauteed mushrooms, and brown rice to saute pan.  That’s all there is to it!
  4. Optional: Scramble egg and serve atop rice bowl.

If you want to get fancy, here are some other fun add-ins:

  • Chopped scallions
  • Grated ginger
  • Water chestnuts
  • Shredded carrotts
  • Broccoli florettes
  • Snap Peas
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Sesame seeds or Black sesame seeds