Spinach for Breakfast

Let’s talk about breakfast. Why is it sooo many of you don’t eat breakfast!? I guess I can’t relate because hunger comes simultaneously with waking up for me. But still, after all the excessive research (good luck with the thousands of articles there), people still struggle.

{Key high lights of the research include:}

breakfast jump starts your metabolism

breakfast increases focus and concentration at work and school

breakfast can promote good blood sugar control

breakfast is associated with fewer calories consumed over the day

breakfast can add more energy throughout the day

breakfast can control excessive hunger, etc

It’s not really news that when you skip breakfast or wait until the afternoon to eat, you will likely over-eat to compensate for the missed meal. Breakfasts skippers or two-meals-a-day-ers almost always eat more for lunch and dinner or from the handful of snacks in between then they would have otherwise if they just ate a good breakfast.

But let’s talk about the quality of breakfast as well. Say you are in a hurry to get to work, and low and behold sitting right on your counter in front of you is some left over lemon cake from the night before. So you crab a slice and chug down some o.j. (at least you were thinking of Vitamin C). By about 10-10:30 you start to feel a little sluggish. You’re even starting to feel hungry and some unknown gravitational force is pulling you towards the vending machine. The problem here is, although you ate breakfast and got a pretty good amount of calories down, the nutrients in your breakfast = straight sugar. Sugar or simple carbohydrates digest in your body very quickly and leave your stomach empty and feeling hungry in about 2 hours. Typically, when eating a healthy balanced diet, we should feel satiated for around 4 hours post meal. Feeling hungry so soon will cause snacking and/or starving and then binging at lunch.

So what’s a healthy breakfast? Anything that has some complex carbs -which take longer to digest because of the ridiculously long carbon chains- or protein and fat which slow gastric emptying and digestion. It also doesn’t hurt to get some fruits or veggies (yes I said veggies) in at breakfast because if you need >5 servings a day, you better start packing them in! What I really encourage people to do though, is get protein in first thing in the morning. It’s the only way I ever make it to lunch time without collapsing in hunger.

Breakfast ideas:

  1. Scrambled eggs– Although I am not a huge egg fan and this sounds boring, I have found this to be the golden breakfast. For one you get the good protein, but also it’s the best way to use up your left over produce! Throw in some spinach or leefy greens, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, peppers, potatoes, you name it. Scramble it all up with a little cheese and s&p and you have a healthy recycled breakfast!
  2. Green smoothies- I am all about this trend. No you do not need a Vitamix or crazy expensive utility, I use my $30 hand-me-down Oster blender. Throw in any leafy greens you have (expect maybe not ice berg lettuce…) some milk or juice, berries, bananas, oranges, some greek yogurt or protein powder, some peanut butter, some flax, etc and blend a delicious breakfast together.
  3. Oatmeal– high fiber= feeling full for a while! Add berries, milk, and nuts to add some extra something something. Instead of brown sugar try some agave, a little goes a long way.
  4. Left Overs- This isn’t a joke. When you are in a hurry, why not have left over salad or soup for breakfast? I have even had cold chicken breast and potatoes (something about not reheating it makes it seem more breakfasty). Try it sometime- I dare you.
  5. Greek yogurt and fruit- there are a million varieties on the grocery store shelves these days. Greek yogurt provides more than double the protein content as your regular yogurt. This stuff is designed to keep you full and focused. And definitely satisfied because it’s delicious!
  6. Protein bars- this is my go to when I am in a hurry. Take one on the road or snack on it throughout the morning. My favs are Cliff bars, Balance Bars, and Think Thin bars.
  7. Breakfast salad– a little combination of all the above. Combine fruit (apples are a really good one to have for this), some nuts, some sprouts, and a dollop or two of greek yogurt to make a fruit salad of sorts.

Now that you have some recipes to get you through the week, go out and do it! IMG_2933** cut down the time it takes to prepare your green smoothie- chop up all the ingredients before in individual baggies, freeze, and add to the blender with milk and juice and you’re on your way!

IMG_2934I am pretty serious about my protein bars!

Coconut Oil

coconut-oil-2Coconut oil is a tropical oil made from the dried fruit (or nut) or coconut palm tree. It has been a topic of controversy for a while now. Up until a couple of years ago it was labeled as one of those “bad fats”. It is a saturated fat which we all know is the type to be avoided, or at least consumed from < 10% of our daily fat allowance. So why all the talk about the coconut oil miracle and the newest “good fat?”

Let’s review some of the supposed benefits easily found searching the www:

  • Coconut oil may prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease
  • Coconut oil can relieve symptoms of hypothyroidism by boosting metabolism and raising body temperature to support a healthy thyroid
  • Coconut oil can support weight loss
  • Coconut oil can support healthy hair and skin
  • Coconut can be beneficial for insulin resistance and supporting healthy blood glucose
  • Coconut oil can support a healthy immune system by resisting viruses and bacteria and fighting off fungus and candida
  • Coconut oil can raise “good” HDL cholesterol
  • Coconut helps digestions of fat-soluble vitamins

So, I use the word supposed because most of these points have caveats or are not thoroughly proven or reviewed. For example, Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is like cancer, in the fact that there are so many possible etiologies and treatments. The reason coconut oil is said to be beneficial is because it supports healthy blood glucose and resistance to insulin dysfunctions. Alzheimer’s is sometimes referred to as type 3 diabetes because the root may come back to our bodies ability to maintain healthy blood sugars and insulin function. Coconut oil is a fat, and if you remember, fat and protein help to slow the digestion of sugars and provide a steady release of glucose into the blood stream rather than a quick spike when sugar is digested alone. But in that case, any sort of fat or protein could be considered beneficial against Alzheimer’s disease. I guess I just need to see more research and specifics before I go crazy over coconut oil to preserve my memory.

Coconut oil is a Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil. This is a unique quality because in normal fat digestion, our bodies need bile (released from the liver) to coat the triglyceride chains in order for them to be packed into micelles and absorbed across the intestinal wall. However, because MCT chains aren’t as long and complex, they can be absorbed whole into the inner intestinal wall and eventually into the blood stream. This  is beneficial especially for those with liver disorders or other upper intestinal illness, because MCT oils can still be absorbed even when the liver or pancreas are unable to produce bile or the appropriate enzymes, respectively, to start the absorption process.

And then there is weight loss. If you pop into a health food store, any associate will be quick to direct you to coconut oil supplements if you inquire about weight loss solutions.  This probably has to do with coconut oils role in boosting metabolism, especially in the abdominal region. MCT oils cannot be stored in adipose tissues (aka “fat cells”, like the kind that contribute to body fat). However, according to the Mayo clinic, coconut oil has only been proven to reduce waist size, not BMI or actual pound loss. So don’t get too excited about popping a couple of pills a day and watching the weight melt off. It won’t most likely. And don’t forget, fat grams = 9 calories each, so that’s something to keep in mind when considering calories in/calories out.

Coconut oil contains lauric acid which is a fatty-acid that raises both HDL (good) AND LDL (bad) cholesterol. That isn’t the best news, but there are few proven ways to actually raise HDL cholesterol (exercise and red wine) so it isn’t something to so easily dismiss. If you are able to watch and maintain your LDL levels, coconut oil may be great to help you raise your HDL. In the end LDL:HDL ratios are the important thing to look at when considering risk for coronary artery disease.

The Huffington Post posted this cool article about using coconut oil for beauty. I am pretty excited about using coconut oil as a natural moisturizer. By all means, don’t be afraid to use coconut oil for your hair and skin, it’s rich in Vitamin E and moisturizing components.

So at the end of the day, I do personally like coconut oil- in moderation. It has a sweet and nutty flavor. It is perfect for curries and fish, and I’ve even substituted it for butter when baking. It’s solid at room temperature and when you heat it up in the pan it starts to melt and give off a nutty coconutty heavenly scent that is so yummy! I recommend picking some up at the grocery store. Look for extra-virgin and try these brands:

coconut-oilSPE-11201-1They’re just the ones I like best. Check out this book for much more detail, but remember keep a moderate midset. And don’t miss the new recipes in the recipe tab using coconut oil!

Werk it

That’s right put in werk, move your bum, go wizzerk,

Eat your salad, no dessert, get that man you deserve.

-Kanye West

Well, despite what judgement I may have cast here, I know a lot of people really are interested in getting into shape for summer. The weather is nice, and people are out running, biking, hiking, climbing, and all that good stuff. So I have decided to do a little segment highlighting physical activity, weight loss, and sports nutrition! Hurray! Everyone’s favorite topic! I am mostly excited to include lyrics from The Black Eyed Peas, Pink, and the Ying Yang twins that are relevant and inspirational.

Today I thought I would start out by discussing fitness and it’s health implications. As we all know a calorie is a form or expression of energy. We need to consume calories daily to maintain a balance for the calories our bodies expend each day. Our bodies expend calories in 3 areas: basal metabolism, thermic effect of food, and physical activity.

Here is a helpful pie chart to help you understand what percent of energy is used where. Basal metabolism or resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy our body needs to function. Ya know, like to allow your heart to beat, kidneys to flush, lungs to expand, liver to detox, and eyelids to blink. Typically this takes about 800-1200 calories. Thermic effect of food is the amount of calories needed to digest and break down your meals. Did you know you technically burn calories (aka use energy) to digest what you eat? Nifty! And then there is physical activity, no brainer here, you burn calories when you work out. So can you guess which area is variable? If you guessed physical activity you are correct and please message me your address to redeem your prize! This folks, is why physical activity is important when it comes to weight maintenance. If you are in the market to loose weight, or eat more delicious foods because you love it and don’t want to gain weight, then learn to expend more calories through physical activity!

Some other benefits of physical activity include:

  • More restful sleep. I think more than half of people have sleep problems, so check you PA levels! (physical activity)
  • Nutritional health. Obviously
  • Optimal bone density and body composition
  • Resistance to colds and infectious diseases
  • Strong circulation and lung function
  • Lower risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers
  • Lower incidence and severity of depression and anxiety
  • Stronger self-image
  • A longer quality life!

And if that list isn’t convincing enough, do it for the endorphins. Hormones are the real drugs, let’s get high on life! But seriously, it’s amazing how many people recognize that a good work out is the cure for unhappiness, stress, and anxiety, every single time.

Please visit my favorite website that I have linked to at least 3 times on this blog : choosemyplate.gov/physical-activity to learn more and find out different types of activities from moderate to heavy. The old MyPyramid program also gave these great tips to help you achieve fitness:

EVERY DAY – Be as active as possible

  • Use the stairs
  • Mow grass, rake leaves, garden, shovel snow
  • Walk or bike to class, work, or shops
  • Scrub floors, wash windows (yeah guys, you really should be doing this everyday..)
  • Walk your dog, cat, rabbit, or snake
  • Wash and wax your car (again, this should be a daily routine anyway)
  • Play with children

4-6 DAYS/WEEK- Engage in moderate activity

  • Aerobic actives such as: running, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, dancing, power walking, jump roping, roller-blading, rowing, curling, rigorous canoeing, fencing, Insanity©
  • Sports activities such as: soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball, tennis, football, racquetball, softball, etc.

2-3 DAYS/WEEK- Engage in strength and flexibility activities

  • Sit-ups, push-ups, curl-ups, pull-ups
  • Weight lifting
  • Stretching and yoga
  • Leisure activities such as golfing, bowling, table tennis, horseback riding, dancing in your bedroom, and leisure canoeing

DO SELDOM- Limit sedentary activities

  • Watch TV or movies
  • Leisure computer time
  • (Reading was not on this list, so I guess do that as often as you want…)

Good luck getting started on your fitness ventures! Consider making a SMART goal for yourself and check back often for more sports nutrition tips!

I’m so glad I am an army wife, cuz this is exactly what I look look like…

The Fat Truth

Despite popular belief, losing weight is not a matter of cutting out all the fattening foods in your diet. It’s a simple calories in and calories out balance. If you eat more calories than you burn then you will likely gain weight. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will sometimes loose weight (I say sometimes because it doesn’t always work like that, and that’s a story for another day). But eating fat in your diet does not mean fat on your belly.

Fat has more than double the calorie amount per gram than carbohydrates and protein. 1 gram of fat totals 9 calories where 1 gram of carbohydrate or protein equals 4 calories. And because of this fact, a lot of people choose to cut out fattening foods when dieting because it tends to be an easier way to reduce unwanted calories. Which is true, and great work figuring that out, but why do we even need fat then if it tends to be the first thing to go?

Well it shouldn’t be. The truth is, we need fat. Fats (or lipids as we tend to call them once they are inside and apart of our body) do the following wonderful things:

  • Insulate and protect our organs
  • Provide structure to all our cells (aka a cell wall is made of lipids. I know everyone took 9th grade biology here, do you remember the cell mosaic and these little guys? Yep, phospholipids are fats! So unless you want all your cellular contents spilling out all over the place, you need to eat some fat!)
  • 60% of your brain is made up of fat. Good luck being a smarty pants with only 40% of your brain…
  • Fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, E, K, and D require fat to be absorbed in our bodies.

Even those who have diabetes or insulin resistance who try to combat their condition by switching to low fat or fat-free diets have found adverse effects. Low fat just simply isn’t always the way to go.

So now that you are all convinced that fat is good for you, let’s talk about which food sources really are the best for you. Unsaturated fats are fats that have a double bond break in their carbon chain structure. Notice the double lines between the 6 and 7th C? These fats help to lower risk of heart disease by reducing LDL (the bad cholesterol) and raising HDL (the good cholesterol). Foods would include olives and olive oil, canola oil, avacado, and nuts such as cashews, almonds, and pistachios.

We usually hear mostly about omega-3 oils. (Hint the picture above is an omega-3 fatty acid because the double bond occurs at the third carbon from the “omega” end which is the CH3 end, if anyone cares about organic chemistry…) Omega-3’s are essential, meaning our bodies cannot produce it on it’s own, we must consume it. Omega-3’s can protect your heart from disease, modulate inflammation, support brain function, focus, and memory, alleviate depression, and increase sleep even. Not to brag or anything, but I participated in a omega-3 study evaluating the effect of supplements in reducing pain and promoting happy thoughts. Unfortunately I can’t stick to pill regimens very well and dropped out after 27 days. But I was pain free for 27 days!

Anyways, from unsaturated oils we get ALA, EPA, and DHA. Please don’t ask me to spell out or ever say aloud the full names of these acronyms, thank you. You may have seen DHA on baby formula and supplements. That’s because it is the byproduct from omega-3’s that promotes brain and nervous system development. We get EPA and DHA from fish and other omega-3 products. ALA is a byproduct of omega-6 oils. You can find that in flaxseed oil or meal, pumpkin seeds, tofu, and walnuts.

So if you are confused by all these terms and chemistry jabber, just remember to use olive oil or canola oil for cooking or salad dressings, sprinkle pumpkin seeds or flaxmeal over your oatmeal, smoothies, or soups, have an avocado on your salads and sandwiches, and snack on nuts!

No that we have talked about the good fats, I will hurry up and finish with the not-so-good fats. Saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol, but saturated fats are found in animal products naturally like meats, milk, and cheese. Even the lean varieties have a bit of saturated fat. But we would never want to recommend cutting out animal products, because we should all know that’s how we get the best protein sources, so eat lean cuts and feel fine about having a little bit of saturated fat in the diet. In fact the recommendation is to have about 10% of your fat from saturated sources.

Trans-fats on the other hand is a synthetic fat made from hydrogenation to make foods more shelf stable. You will find these fats in your bakery items, bagged cookies, fast food, some margarine (please read the label) , and hostess pies. These are totally unnecessary in our diets and in fact, harmful. Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. So the recommendation here is, try your hardest to never eat these fats. If you are insistent in cutting our fat from your diet, here is where you do that.

Goodby forever McDonald’s Apple Pie!

If it’s brown…

True or false: If a grain is brown it is whole grain?

False!

To get our plates into shape, we need to have a little chat about whole grains. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting half your grains as whole grains. This would mean whole grain rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, whole grain cereals, etc. I think it’s safe to say we are all pretty much aware of the benefits of whole grains, but in case you aren’t let me give you a quick run down…

Whole grains and fiber can support healthy cholesterol levels, maintain an appropriate blood pressure range, contribute to healthy blood sugars, and may help with weight loss.

Hurray!

So now that you are all convinced you want to make the switch to whole grains lets do some some shopping! So let me run over to the store to pick up my Granny Sycamores wheat bread. I’m set right?

Wrong!

Here we must learn a lesson about reading labels. If you read the label of Granny Sycamore bread the first ingredient is wheat flour. Does this mean it’s whole grain? Not exactly. The tricky thing is when bread is processed certain parts of the grain are removed and may or may not be added back.

This picture gives you a good idea of what a whole grain looks like and what nutrients we get where. During processing of refined grain products (poptarts and white bread) everything is removed but the flour. But if you notice it is the bran that gives us the fiber that contributes to all those amazing benefits of eating whole grain!

So what you would like to see when shopping is a label that looks more like this:

You can see there the second ingredient specifically says 100% whole grain. So moral of the story: read labels and look for that 100% part.

So are multi-grain, 7 seed, or stone ground breads whole grain? I don’t know? You read the label and you tell me! Every brand can vary so don’t assume just because it is brown or looks healthy that it is really the best choice.

Final tip for getting our plates into shape is pay attention to fiber content in foods. If you are a white flour lover and the thought of eating whole grain makes you cry, make a gradual switch and pick your battles.

  • Brown rice vs white rice: There is only a 1 gram difference in fiber content and cooking the two rices are different so don’t try combining the two or plan some extra time to cook your brown rice.
  • Whole wheat pasta vs regular: Depending on the brand, the fiber difference can be up to 5 grams! This is a switch I would highly recommend making. Cooking whole wheat pasta is exactly the same so if you have stubborn eaters, cook half and half. Good health requires compromise sometimes!
  • Whole wheat bread vs white bread: Fiber content can vary 2-4 grams. Check labels and try to buy loaves with at least 3 grams of fiber. 4-5 would be ideal though!
  • Whole wheat cereal vs. regular cereals: This is another one where the fiber difference can be up to 5 grams. However the switch is great with Chex or other grain cereals, just because Trix and Lucky Charms are now made with “whole grain” doesn’t mean they are good for you!