Loco For Coco(nut oil)

Is coconut oil healthy?

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After the most recent advisory report released by the American Heart Association (which addressed a wide array of dietary fats, not just coconut oil), you or your friends might be rethinking your assumptions when it comes to the buttery tropical fat.

I’ve already seen many people simply rejecting the newly released statement because it is pretty shocking and very much NOT what the health food industry has been selling us for years.

Coconut oil is supposed to be a miracle food – keeping us young, our skin glowing, and our arteries inflammation-free. Right?!

While the American Heart Association has come under scrutiny for its demonization of saturated fat that was largely behind our catastrophic adoption of trans fat, margarine and sugar-filled (but fat free!) processed foods, it is still one of the biggest, most highly regarded and influential health organizations in the country. Respect the information it makes public.

Critics of the article will complain that it does not contain any new research. This is not itself really a weakness in the article as much as it’s a weakness in what we’ve let the health food industry ignore. Coconut oil has always been shown to increase cholesterol. (Source, Source) It has always had more saturated fat than butter.

But now we do have a bit more of a nuanced understanding of the role of fat, particularly saturated fat, in our diets and how it affects our bodies. It is, unfortunately, not simple.

Some saturated fat, it seems, is not so bad.

Most of the time, eating other types of fat instead of saturated fat is better.

Usually, when we are avoiding saturated fat we are eating refined carbohydrates, which might be worse.

Quick lesson on fats:

Fat exists in molecules containing three fatty acids: so-called triglycerides. The fatty acids on each triglyceride range in length from short, to medium, to long. When the fatty acids are bendy because of double bonds in the carbon chain (the part that can be either long or short) they are called unsaturated and don’t fit tightly together. This is why we find oils, filled with unsaturated fat, liquid at room temperature. When fatty acids contain no double bonds, the carbons are bonded in a straight line and it’s easier for them to stack together in a sturdy piece – this is saturated fat and it’s why butter, beef fat, and cheese is solid.

Now what about chain length? Well, it all relates to how those fatty acids are absorbed into our body and used. Our bodies use fat for MANY reasons: cell membrane structure (hello skin), hormone production, happy environments for our neurons, transport and storage of essential nutrients like vitamin A, D, E and K, and production of energy (all those carbons!). Before they can do any of these things, they must get into our blood stream. Short (we don’t get many short chain fats from our diet, mostly these are produced by bacteria in our gut from fiber!) and medium chain fats are directly absorbed through the intestinal lining, and can be shuttled directly for use in the cells. Long chain fatty acids must be incorporated into a transport molecule called a chylomicron (a predecessor to cholesterol), and delivered to the liver first. It is this distinction that has isolated coconut oil as a potentially “healthier” fat, because of it’s higher-than-average concentration of medium chain fats.

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But, coconut oil isn’t 100% medium chain fatty acids. Most of the studies looking at the different health effects of medium chain fats have used MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, which does not contain any of the other types of saturated fatty acids that coconut oil does.

There is definitely a lack of research looking at the use of coconut oil as a fat in the diet, specifically. If there were more to look at, it would likely be as inconclusive as much other nutrition research looking at the effects of single foods, because at the end of the day, it’s about the bigger picture (read: what else you’re eating with your coconut oil).

But the stuff that IS out there is pretty clear –> coconut oil seems to raise LDL cholesterol like other saturated fats. LDL has been the target of cardiologists for decades because of its apparent association for the risk of heart disease. LDL is more inflammatory than HDL cholesterol, and the more LDL you have, combined with other sources of inflammation (stress, poor insulin sensitivity/high blood sugar, allergies and illness), the worse off your arteries will be.

That’s definitely a simplification, and there is still a lot we are discovering about the nuances of cholesterol and if it is truly a good predictor of heart disease. We still know that high HDL seems to be a good thing, and high triglycerides seem to be a bad thing, but high LDL doesn’t seem to always predict heart disease like we thought it did for so long.

In the mean time, we need to understand that we aren’t eating fats in isolation. A fat in and of itself is neither healthy nor unhealthy. WE are either healthy or unhealthy. We can choose to protect our health by thinking about the bigger picture.

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Dried coconut on a super-satisfying bowl of sweet potato porridge with nuts, seeds and berries

What does our whole diet look like? We can choose to eat butter on top of vegetables or on top of pancakes. We can top a veggie scramble with cheese or drown our pasta in Alfredo sauce. We can put coconut oil in our black bean brownies.

Populations that consume coconut oil regularly are also usually those with a largely vegetable-based diet, low in animal fats and dairy. The more plants in your diet, the better your health, research shows. So this in itself is protective of health, and the amount of saturated fat in the coconut oil doesn’t seem to be enough to counteract that effect. Zip over to Western civilization and you will not find the same plant-based diet. Adding coconut oil to your coffee in the morning, unfortunately, probably won’t offset the cheese on your hamburger at lunch or your pepperoni pizza at dinner.

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Dried coconut on a warming bowl of breakfast quinoa with alllll the berries and almonds from Mother Juice

If you enjoy coconut oil, no need to cut it out entirely. Just realize you are eating a saturated fat. I’m all for everything in moderation. All foods fit, including coconut oil and butter and cheese. Personally, I don’t typically include coconut oil in my diet. I find it expensive and I prefer whole milk yogurt, cheese, nuts & seeds and avocados. Eat whatever makes your food more satisfying and enjoyable – fats like coconut oil might make you feel more full during the day. Eat them with your whole grains, your starchy vegetables, your rainbow of fresh produce and your proteins of choice. Just like no one food is going to be the root of all of our problems, no one food will cure us of them either. While I’m not wholly against or for the AHA report on coconut oil, I am thankful that it is out there. Let us be reminded that foods are not healthy or unhealthy – we are made better or worse off because of the ways we eat them, and balance, while unsexy, is k-e-y.

 

It’s not a goodbye…

Running and I are taking a break.

Not breaking up, not divorcing, no one is moving out.

We are just going to be giving each other some space.

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After finishing the Maine Coast Half Marathon with a personal PR and feeling the strongest I’ve ever felt during a race, this sucks. I’ve been back and forth and on various stages of the grieving cycle regarding this decision but I know deep down it’s one that needs to be made. Since devoting much of my life to running (hello, I made a blog and turned down multiple nights of pizza for it) taking a step back is far from easy. Running has unsuspectedly become so much a part of my identity that looking at a summer without it is almost like looking at my reflection without a nose. Still recognizable, but odd – and kinda freaking scary.

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Feeling strong running 13.1

You’re probably confused. No kidding! I haven’t been super transparent on the blog about my personal history. You can read a snapshot that I wrote of it here, for The Lane 9 Project. Sparknotes version: I haven’t had a natural period (one that came without the help of some kind of birth control) since I was ~16. That’s almost 10 years at this point. Though I know I reached a healthy weight in college and had what I’d consider a normal relationship to food and exercise, there’s no way for me to know if I would have been getting a period at that time. Sparing actual numbers for the sake of NUMBERS AREN’T IMPORTANT, I ultimately weigh 20 pounds less than I did when I graduated college in 2014. Over the course of ~3 years, I’ve slowly and steadily been underfueling. That was a hard pill to swallow, but explains a lot when thinking about why it’s taken so long for my cycle to come back.

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Celebrating PR’s at the Maine Coast Half

Amenorrhea is gaining traction in the media. (See HERE, HERE and HERE) Or at least it seems like it is. I joined The Lane 9 Project because I identified with its mission, have listened to podcasts featuring Dr. Nicola Rinaldi, author of the book No Period Now What, and have been following Tina Muir on her journey to get her period back to start a family with her husband. I found Robyn’s blog and she became a huge role model for me.

I had no idea amenorrhea was common. I thought I was an anomaly – some girl with a crazy irregular cycle that would have to endure the rest of her life with no real certainty whether or not she’d be able to have kids of her own. No one I knew seemed to be struggling with this, and we were all bandaged with birth control so it wasn’t on my radar for many years, either.

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Eno River State Park, North Carolina

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) is a condition in which a women’s reproductive system, namely the menstrual cycle, shuts down because the body does not prioritize making babies when it only has enough energy to keep all other vital systems running. A combination of energy deficiency (eating too few calories for the amount of activity or calories burned), sleep deficiency, chronic stress and overexercise catapult the body into a frantic “survival” state in which non-essential systems are shut down in favor of shuttling any available energy to those that truly keep us alive.

Why is it important to maintain a cycle? I have had multiple doctors tell me that I’m probably fine. That I don’t need to try to get my period back until I want to start having kids. I took the bait for years. But always wondered, “why?” Why should I settle for one of my body’s systems not functioning correctly? I had most of my hormones checked, and since they were within the normal (super wide) ranges, my physicians assumed I was fine. Funnily enough, I never had my estrogen checked until this year. What do you know? It was crazy low.

Symptoms of low estrogen via Healthline

  • painful sex due to a lack of vaginal lubrication
  • an increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to a thinning of the urethra
  • irregular or absent periods
  • mood swings
  • hot flashes
  • breast tenderness
  • headaches or accentuation of pre-existing migraines
  • depression
  • trouble concentrating
  • fatigue

HA doesn’t just show up when a women drops into the underweight BMI zone. According to Dr. Rinaldi, she’s found that most women maintain their cycles at a BMI of 22-24, but everyone is different. Some women will lose their period at a higher BMI, some will maintain it at a lower one. Everyone tolerates a different level of exercise. There are thin marathoners who have kids – we all see this.

I just turn out to be someone who is particularly sensitive. Whether to stress, lack of sleep, overexercise, or undernutrition it’s not exactly clear. In some way, I think I’ve been experiencing all of this since I moved to Boston for my dietetic internship. I’ve pushed myself to work hard, talked about the benefits of sleep but pushed it aside in favor of building my portfolio and network. I used running as a means to escape and re-charge, but ultimately probably only made it harder for my body to rest.

I’m on a mission to get my menstrual cycle back (inspired by others like Brittany and Robyn), and I’m starting with running. I’m hoping that it’s not a forever goodbye. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to slow down, fuel myself properly, let my body realize that I’m not under attack and that it can devote energy to ALL my body systems. Then, I’m hoping I can start running (or doing intense exercise in general) again – while prioritizing sleep, recovery days, and always always always fueling properly.

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Pomegranate and Mimosa Donuts, The Holy Donut, Portland, ME

I’ve spent a good part of the last (few) month(s) generating mental lists like this and forging battles between the shoulds and should-nots.

Reasons Why I Should Take A Break

  1. I haven’t had a real period since high school. My just-measured estrogen levels are lower than that of a women in menopause and there is no sign that it’s going to return to normal unless something gives.
  2. Even though I’ve healed my relationship with food I can’t argue away the fact that I’m still 20 pounds lighter than my college-aged self and that ultimately reflects the fact that I’ve been burning more energy, however slowly, than I’ve been taking in.
  3. There’s no denying I live a stressful life, and running/training placed additional stressors on that, even though it made me feel good in certain respects I hardly let my body have a chance to “come down” for an extended period of time.
  4. I know I’m injury-prone, and I should devote more time to strengthening other parts of my running system besides the lace-up-and-run part.
  5. The fact that I’m so torn up about simply taking a BREAK seems to indicate that I’m using running for more than just joyful movement. I am hesitant to identify any habit as an addiction, per se, but I know I sometimes feel compulsive about running, have ignored a few rest days or had a little too much emphasis on the “active” part of active rest for the balance to be surely weighted in the direction of more is better. My logical self knows more is not always better.

Reasons Why I Shouldn’t

  1. Physically, I feel great. I am at the weight I always dreamed of and it’s comfortable for me. I KNOW I shouldn’t be motivated by the appearance of my physical body but it’s still a fear barrier that stands in the way of taking a step back. Something I will need to work on.
  2. I just joined the Oiselle Volee this year and was excited to become more a part of that running community. I know I can still be involved while running less, but it’s hard to make myself believe it would still be as fun.
  3. I freaking love running – it’s so accessible and simple and my favorite way to jaunt around Boston, especially in the summer. I feel so accomplished after a good run, and love pushing myself to become a better, stronger runner.
  4. What’s the point of trying to get my period back, anyway? It’s not like I’m trying to get pregnant any time soon. At least birth control sort of puts a bandaid on my low estrogen levels and prevents my bones from totally eating themselves away. Thinking about gaining weight as providing nourishing ground for a baby to grow isn’t exactly motivating now, though having kids EVENTUALLY is one of the main reasons I want to avoid infertility.

Disturbed my the mental war zone? Inner arguments like this were a constant during the worst of my eating disorder and even as I moved into recovery. Constantly battling, coming up with reasons why and just as quickly a reason why not. Letting fear hold the steering wheel for a little too long. Thankfully, my logic muscle is stronger now. I can step back and realize when something is not healthy – not serving its intended purpose in my life.

Even now, as I go back and read through the posts I wrote during my marathon training season last summer, I see a recurring theme: power through it. You are stronger than you know. Get through the mud. Work. Work. Work.

I never told myself to slow down, or even allowed that to happen. Rest days were written in to my schedule and I probably abided by one or two of them as they were truly intended.

Now more than ever it’s time to give myself a break. For my own health. For my future.

It’s a see you later.

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Shipyard Brewing Co., Portland, ME

If you identify with anything here, I highly recommend joining the conversation with The Lane 9 Project ladies. We would love to have you, support you, and walk with you (literally). I will be hosting events in the Boston area as an ambassador, but am happy and proud to come alongside any women in similar shoes as we rediscover and embrace our true strength.

Email me: hannahmeier25@gmail.com

 

5 Reasons the Whole30 is Not the Anti-Diet It Claims to Be

This post is also an article I wrote for my grad school’s student-managed newsletter, The Friedman Sprout, and is also published on their website. Head on over there to read more nutrition folks’ writing about topics they’re passionate about, from policy to agriculture to delicious recipes. I am among a wealth of talent and experience at Tufts, that’s for sure!

————- Published March 1st, 2017 ————-

I’m calling it: 2017 is the year of the non-diet.

As a dietitian who ardently discourages short-term dieting, I was thrilled to read many articles posted around the new year with titles like “Things to Add, Not Take Away in 2017,” and “Why I’m Resolving Not to Change This Year.” Taking a step more powerful than simply abstaining from resolution season, influencers like these authors resolved to embrace the positive, stay present, and not encourage the cycle of self-loathing that the “losing weight” resolutions tend to result in year after year.

Right alongside these posts, though, was an overwhelming amount of press exonerating the Whole30—a 30-day food and beverage “clean eating” diet.

The founders of the Whole30, however, adamantly claim it is not a diet. Even though participants are advised to “cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days” (including legumes, dairy, all grains, sugar, MSG, and additives like carrageenan), followers are encouraged to avoid the scale and focus on learning how food makes them feel rather than how much weight they gain or lose.

But our culture is still hungry for weight loss. The possibility of losing weight ahead of her sister’s wedding was “the deciding factor” for my friend Lucy (name changed for privacy), who read the entire Whole30 book cover to cover, and fought her “sugar dragon” for 30 days in adherence to the Whole30 protocol (only to eat M&M’s on day 31, she admits).

“Whole30 focuses on foods in their whole forms which is positive for people who are learning how to incorporate more unprocessed foods in their diet,” Allison Knott, registered dietitian explains. “However, the elimination of certain groups of foods like beans/legumes and grains may have negative health implications if continued over the long-term.”

Diets like these trick consumers into thinking they are forming a healthier relationship with food. Though weight loss is de-emphasized, a trio of restriction, fear, and control are in the driver’s seat and could potentially steer dieters toward a downward, disordered-eating .

I still think 2017 is the year of the non-diet, but before we get there we need to unmask the Whole30 and call it what it is: an unsustainable, unhealthy, fad diet.

 

1: It is focused on “can” and “cannot”

The Whole30 targets perfectly nutritious foods for most people (grains, beans and legumes, and dairy) as foods to avoid entirely, relegating them to the same level of value as boxed mac and cheese, frozen pizza, and Kool-Aid. And most bodies are perfectly capable of handling these foods. They provide a convenient, affordable, and satisfying means of getting calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, and nutrient-dense protein. The Whole30 eliminates almost all the plant-based protein options for vegans and vegetarians. While the point of eliminating these foods, creators Hartwig and Hartwig explain, is to reduce inflammation and improve gut health, nowhere in the book or website do they provide scientific studies that show removing grains, beans and dairy does this for most people. But we’ll get to that later.

The Whole30 also instructs that participants not eat any added sugar or sweeteners (real or artificial), MSG (monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that has been weakly linked to brain and nervous system disruption), or carrageenan (a thickener derived from seaweed and is plentiful in the world of nut milks and frozen desserts; conflicting evidence has both suggested and refuted the possibility that it is associated with cancer and inflammatory diseases), sulfites (like those in wine), or alcohol. Not even a lick, as they are very clear to explain, or you must start the entire 30-day journey from the beginning once more.

“I couldn’t go longer than 30 days without a hit of chocolate,” Lucy told me, explaining why she was dedicated to following the program exactly.

Why take issue with focusing on “good” and “bad,” “can” and “cannot” foods? As soon as a moral value is assigned, the potential for establishing a normal relationship to food and eating is disrupted. “The diet encourages following the restrictive pattern for a solid 30 days. That means if there is a single slip-up, as in you eat peanut butter (for example), then you must start over. I consider this to be a punishment which does not lend itself to developing a healthy relationship with food and may backfire, especially for individuals struggling with underlying disordered eating patterns,” Knott argues.

How will a person feel on day 31, adding brown rice alongside their salmon and spinach salad after having restricted it for a month? Likely not neutral. Restrictive dietary patterns tend to lead to overconsumption down the road, and it is not uncommon for people to fall back in to old habits, like my friend Lucy. “People often do several Whole30 repetitions to reinforce healthier eating habits,” she explained.

Knott relates the diet to other time-bound, trendy cleanses. “There’s little science to support the need for a “cleansing diet,” she says. “Unless there is a food intolerance, allergy, or other medical reason for eliminating food groups then it’s best to learn how to incorporate a balance of foods in the diet in a sustainable, individualized way.”

While no one is arguing that consuming less sugar, MSG and alcohol are unsound health goals, making the message one of hard-and-fast, black-and-white, “absolutely don’t go near or even think about touching that” is an unsustainable, unhealthy, and inflexible way to relate to food for a lifetime.

2: It requires a lot of brainpower

After eight years of existence, the Whole30 now comes with a pretty widespread social-media support system. There is plenty of research to back up social support in any major lifestyle change as a major key to success. Thanks to this, more people than ever before (like my friend Lucy, who participated alongside her engaged sister) can make it through the 30 days without “failing.”

But the Whole30 turns the concept of moderation and balance on its head. Perfection is necessary and preparation is key. Having an endless supply of chopped vegetables, stocks for soups, meat, and eggs by the pound and meals planned and prepared for the week, if not longer, is pretty much required if you don’t want to make a mistake and start over. The Whole30 discourages between-meal snacking, (why?) and cutting out sugar, grains, and dairy eliminates many grab-and-go emergency options that come in handy on busy days. So, dieters better be ready when hunger hits.

Should the average Joe looking to improve his nutrition need to scour the internet for “compliant” recipes and plan every meal of every day in advance? While the Whole30 may help those unfamiliar with cooking wholesome, unprocessed meals at home jumpstart a healthy habit, learning about cooking, especially for beginners, should be flexible. It doesn’t have to come with a rule book. In fact, I think that’s inviting entirely too much brain power that could be used in so many other unique and fulfilling ways to be spent thinking, worrying, and obsessing about food. Food is important, but it is only one facet of wellness. The Whole30 seems to brush aside the intractable and significant influence of stress in favor of a “perfect” diet, which may or may not be nutritionally adequate, anyway.

The language used by Whole30 creators to rationalize the rigidity of the diet could make anyone feel like a chastised puppy in the corner. “It’s not hard,” they say, and then proceed to compare its difficulty to losing a child or a parent. Okay, sure, compared to a major life stressor, altering one’s diet is a walk in the park. But changing habits is hard work that requires mental energy every single day. Eating, and choosing what to eat, is a constant battle for many people and it doesn’t have to be. Life is hard enough without diet rules. The last thing anyone needs is to transform a natural and fulfilling component of it (read: food) into a mental war zone with contrived rules and harsh consequences.

3: It is elitist

When was the last time you overheard a stranger complain about healthy eating being expensive? Most likely, the protester was envisioning a diet akin to the Whole30. Grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, clarified butter, organic produce…no dry staples like beans, rice or peanut butter. Healthy eating does not exist on a pedestal. It does not have to be expensive, but it certainly can be depending on where you choose to (or can) shop. Let’s set a few things straight: You don’t need grass-fed gelatin powder in your smoothies to be healthy. You don’t need organic coconut oil to be healthy. You don’t need exotic fruits and free-range eggs to be healthy. Maybe these foods mean more than just nutrition, signifying important changes to be made within our food system. But it terms of nutrition, sometimes the best a person can do for himself and his family is buy conventional produce, whole grains in bulk, and Perdue chicken breast on sale because otherwise they would be running to the drive thru or microwaving a packet of ramen noodles for dinner. A diet like the Whole30, which emphasizes foods of the “highest quality,” does nothing more than shame and isolate those who can’t sustain the standard it imposes, further cementing their belief that healthy eating is unattainable.

 

4: It is socially isolating

Imagine with me: I am participating in the Whole30 and doing great for the first week eating fully compliant meals. Then comes the weekend, and “oh no” it’s a football weekend and all I want to do is relax with my friends like I love to do. For me, that typically involves a beer or two, shared appetizers (even some carrots and celery!) and lots of laughs. The Whole30 creators would likely laugh in my face and tell me to suck it up for my own good and just munch on the veggies and maybe some meatballs. (“But are those grass-fed and did you use jarred sauce to make them? I bet there’s a gram of sugar hiding in there somewhere.”)

But it is just a month—certainly anyone can abstain from these type of events for a mere 30 days (remember, “it’s not hard”)—but then what? Do you just return to your normal patterns? Or do you, more likely, go back to them feeling so cheated from a month of restraint that you drink and eat so much more than you might have if you’d maintained a sense of moderation?

Of course, there are people comfortable with declining the food-centric aspect of social life, for whom turning down a glass of wine with cheese in favor of seltzer and crudités is no big deal. And perhaps our social events have become a bit too food centric, anyway. Either way, using food rules to isolate one’s self from friends and family sounds an awful lot like the pathway to an eating disorder, and the sense of deprivation most people likely feel in these situations can snowball into chronic stress that overshadows any short-term, nutrition-related “win.”

Although, maybe we should get all our friends to drink seltzer water and eat crudités at football games.

 

5: It is not scientifically sound

Most of The Whole30’s success has come from word of mouth, stories, and endorsements from those who successfully made it through the program and felt “better” afterwards. The website, dismayingly, does not house a single citation or study referenced in creation of the diet.

It’s important to note that the Whole30 did not exist 20 years ago. The Whole30 is not a pattern of eating that is replicated in any society on earth, and it doesn’t seem to be based off any research suggesting that it is indeed a superior choice. At the end of the day, this is a business, created by Sports Nutritionists (a credential anyone can get by taking an online test, regardless of one’s background in nutrition—which neither of them has) part of the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Pinpointing three major food groups as causing inflammation and hormonal imbalance is quite an extreme statement to make without any research to back it up.

What does the science actually show? Knott, who counsels clients in her Tennessee-based private practice reminds us that, “consuming a plant-based diet, including grains and beans/legumes, is known to contribute to a lower risk for chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Grains and beans/legumes are a source of fiber, protein, and B vitamins such as folate. They’re also a source of phytochemicals which may play a role in cancer prevention.”

The Whole30 proposes eliminating grains because they contain phytates, plant chemicals that reduce the absorbability of nutrients like magnesium and zinc in our bodies. While it’s true that both grains and legumes contain phytates, so do certain nuts and some vegetables allowed on the diet, like almonds. It is possible to reduce the amount of phytates in an eaten food by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains and legumes, but research from within the last 20 years suggests that phytates may actually play a key role as antioxidants. In a diverse and balanced diet, phytates in foods like grains and legumes do not present a major micronutrient threat. Further, new findings from Tufts scientists provide more that whole grains in particular improve immune and inflammatory markers related to the microbiome.

Legumes in the Whole30 are eliminated because some of their carbohydrates aren’t as well-digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Some people are highly sensitive to these types of carbohydrates, and may experience severe digestive irritation like excessive gas, bloating, constipation, etc. Strategies such as the FODMAP approach are used with these folks under professional supervision to ensure they continue to get high-quality, well-tolerated fiber in their diets, and only eliminate those foods which cause distress. For others, elimination of these types of carbohydrates is unsound. Undigested fibers like those in legumes are also known as prebiotics, and help to feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. Eliminating this beneficial food group to improve gut health goes directly against the growing base of scientific evidence surrounding the microbiota.

Dairy, for those without an allergy or intolerance, has been shown to provide many benefits when incorporated into a balanced and varied diet, including weight stabilization and blood sugar control. The diet also fails to recognize the important health benefits associated with fermented dairy products like yogurt.

In terms of the diet’s long-term sustainability, Knott adds, “There’s plenty of research to support that restrictive diets fail. Many who adopt this way of eating will likely lose weight only to see it return after the diet ends.”

 

Let’s not forget its few redeeming qualities

For everything wrong with the Whole30, there are a few aspects of the diet that should stick. The concept of getting more in touch with food beyond a label, reducing added sugars, and alcohol is a good one and something that everyone should be encouraged to do. Focusing on cooking more from scratch, relying less on processed foods, and learning about how food influences your mood and energy levels are habits everyone should work to incorporate into a healthy life.

Knott agrees, adding, “I do like that the diet emphasizes the importance of not weighing yourself. We know that weight is a minor piece to the puzzle and other metrics are more appropriate for measuring health such as fitness, lean muscle mass, and biometric screenings.”

Improving the nutritional quality of your diet should not eliminate whole food groups like dairy, grains, and legumes. It should not have a time stamp on its end date, and rather, should be a lifelong journey focusing on flexibility, moderation, and balance. Lower your intake of processed foods, sugars, and alcohol and increase the variety of whole foods. Et voilà! A healthy diet that won’t yell at you for screwing up.

—–

Thanks to Allison Knott MS, RDN, LDN for contributing expertise. Knott is a private practice dietitian and owner of ANEWtrition, LLC based in Tennessee. She graduated from the Nutrition Communications program at Friedman in 2012.

Turmeric Rice Pudding

turmericI’m not sure if this qualifies as a recipe or just a fun idea for using up leftover rice, but either way it makes a delicious snack and was particularly wonderful on this gloomy New England Wednesday.

Sidenote -> the weather here in Boston is throwing me off so much. It cycles between freezing and 60 and sunny within a week, and now we’re facing a week of January rain. There is nothing more depressing to me than January rain. I am obviously not built for the pacific northwest (which is what I fear New England is turning in to with all this global climate change).

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Turmeric is gaining speed in the food and health world these days thanks to it’s solid reputation as an immune-boosting and inflammation-reducing herb. Turmeric is a primary component of curry powder, and its yellow tint, which comes from the antioxidant component called curcumin, is not only great at staining fingers but coloring foods. It’s actually now used as the primary coloring agent in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese– go figure!

It’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat illnesses such as pain, fatigue and rheumatism, and is commonly taken as a supplement today to treat inflammation, arthritis, stomach, liver and gallbladder conditions, among others. Few strong scientific studies have indicated that turmeric actually reduces inflammation in the human body, though like any nutrient or plant chemical, but remember it’s hard for even the strongest and most well-designed studies to truly prove cause and effect. More research is always warranted in the field of nutrition, and there’s lots currently happening with this lovely yellow spice.

Some interesting things in the literature that have been associated with turmeric intake:

  • Reduced number of heart attacks after bypass surgery
  • Controlled osteoarthritic knee pain as effectively as ibuprofen
  • Reduced skin irritation after radiation treatments for breast cancer

The University of Maryland Medical Center has a great resource available of the current Turmeric research in case you’re interested in learning more.

Personally, I love the color that turmeric provides. I find that it has a very mild flavor and gives food just a little bit of smokiness and warmth. For this recipe, I added about a teaspoon of turmeric to the water that I cooked the brown rice in, but you could also add the turmeric to the rice after it is cooked. I used leftover rice to make this, but you could verywell cook up a batch of rice just to make this darn recipe if you so please.

This quick little recipe is a great pre-workout snack to have about 1 hour-45 minutes before activity. The rice and dates provide a quick source of carbohydrates, while the nuts and cinnamon will help to buffer an intense spike in blood sugar and sustain that energy out for a longer duration during a workout. Use brown rice to get the full benefit of the grain, but white rice can be helpful if wanting to limit fiber (ie. right before a run or long workout). Shorter grain rice is better at soaking up liquids and makes more of a pudding-like consistency when cooked here, but all grain lengths will work.

This would also be a delicious side dish to some baked chicken or curry-spiced fish. I might even have it with my leftover peanut stew for dinner tonight.

Ingredients for one serving

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I cooked mine in turmeric. If you didn’t, add about 1/2 teaspoon to the rice)
  • 1 medjool date, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1.5 tablespoons chopped pecans (or nut of choice)

Mix all ingredients together in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for at least 3 minutes until milk is absorbed into rice and has softened the nuts. Fluff with a fork and enjoy!

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Step one: Add one pitted and chopped medjool date per half cup of cooked rice.

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Step two: Add a sprinkling of cinnamon to suit your taste (I like a lot of cinnamon), about 1.5 tablespoons of chopped pecans (or whatever nut you have on hand), and about 1/3 cup of almond milk (or whatever milk you have on hand)

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Step 3: Microwave for at least 3 minutes, until the milk boils and softens the rice and nuts.

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Step 4: Fluff with a fork, and enjoy!

 

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(Lazy) Day (Off) in the Life // Jan 12, 2017

So I know this is kind of a weird concept, but I secretly love reading these type of blog posts and watching others’ “Day in the life” vlogs on youtube. There is just something exciting about seeing someone else go about the mundane routine of life, and often I’m inspired to try on certain things I see others do in their lives in my own. Nothing like some good ol’ social learning, right? Haha, let’s not make this more academic than it needs to be. I’ve been thinking about jumping on the bandwagon with a day in the life post, showing how I deal with life as a real-live-human and not some ball of perfection and still maintain sanity and health. IT IS POSSIBLE. Health does not equal perfection. Okay, end rant. Let’s get into it. Here’s a “Day in the Life” of me, one day after getting gum graft surgery. I took the day off from all work activities and thought I would be in a lot worse shape than I actually was. Oddly enough, I still haven’t experienced any major pain associated with the procedure. I just have this weird putty stuff over both of the incision points in my mouth that is there to protect the stitches. It’s gross and tastes like rubber and I constantly want to take it out, but I guess I’d rather have that discomfort than any amount of pain. I’m happily able to eat a lot more foods than I thought I’d be able to. This is cake compared to my wisdom teeth removal recovery a few years ago. Definitely do not want to go back there any time soon.

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2:00am-7:30am – toss and turn despite taking an emergen-ZZ melatonin before bed. Not sure if the asprin was wearing off from the day before or if I just had some unresolved anxiety, but I kept waking up and wanting to get the day started only to realize it was still the middle of the night. By 7:30, I of course felt like I could continue to sleep in bed forever but decided to get moving.

7:30am – Day 11 Yoga Revolution with Adrienne. This 30 minute practice focused on aligning breathing with movement via lots of sun salutations. I was glad that I decided to do it right in the morning, because it was a great gentle wake-up, and transition into the day.

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8:00am – Breakfast + Coffee + Gut Shot (this was on sale at WF so I splurged – I actually really love the taste, I’m on a major ginger kick these days. Plus I like the thought of getting in a few extra probiotics while I’m on this short stint of antibiotics). I went back and forth between doing a yogurt bowl and a smoothie bowl, and I finally decided on the smoothie bowl just so I could sneak some greens in. My mouth was feeling surprisingly normal. Like, zero pain. I decided not to take another asprin and just let it ride. I discovered that I can actually chew some medium-soft things (like sweet potato skins, perfect bars, bananas) so that has made me feel a lot better. I was afraid this recovery was going to be similar to wisdom-teeth surgery and have me unable to handle anything with more texture than a smoothie. Not the case!

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Might come as a surprise, but I’m really not much of a smoothie person. I definitely remember a phase of my life about 5 years ago when I would be happy having a smoothie for every meal of the day, but over time I’ve just come to really appreciate texture and variety in my meals and just don’t get the same satisfaction out of smoothies. I definitely need to eat them with a spoon and usually like to put a bunch of toppings on them to get that texture factor. I do think smoothies are a perfect way to get in a lot of nutrients when you might not feel like eating (immediately post-workout, as a breakfast for people with subdued morning appetites, or when chewing power is limited), but it’s important to think about balancing what you throw into the blender. Even though smoothies are great because they retain the fiber of whatever ingredients you use (as opposed to juices, where the fiber is discarded), blending up a lot of fruit without thinking about protein or fat will result in a quick dose of carbohydrates (and depending on how much fruit you blend up, possibly a whopping amount of sugar) but not much staying power.

This bowl of sunshine included:

  • 2 Leaves of curly kale (stems removed)
  • 1 Frozen Banana
  • ¾ of the container of Kite Hill Almond Milk yogurt in vanilla flavor (used ¼ of the container last night to top a sweet potato)
  • ½ tbsp. of chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flax
  • 1/8 cup raw oats
  • A little water to blend

Because this was a meal, I made sure to put in a good portion of natural protein and fat, poured it into a cute bowl, topped with a few easy to chew toppings, and felt very satisfied when it was gone.

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9:00am – 11:00am – Calls and emails. Started writing a bit of an educational piece for the Tufts Athletics department but got distracted by a call to catch up with my mom. After hanging up, realized I was pretty hungry for a snack and ready to get out of the house for a trip to the grocery store. It was a whopping 60 degrees today in Cambridge and the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in the house. Also finished off the rest of this kombucha-type tonic drink leftover from yesterday. Again with the ginger!

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11:15am – Nosh on half of some lemon-blueberry chia pudding I had put together the night before. I added a sample packet of hemp protein so it was very filling. Ate the rest of the banana I had used to top the smoothie bowl earlier. Felt revived and ready to take on Trader Joe’s! Since it was so nice out, I didn’t need to take a coat and just enjoyed the walk listening to the audiobook version of Big Fat Surprise. Have any of you guys read this? I am behind the curve on this one but I finally decided to take the plunge since this whole saturated fat thing has been the prize of nutrition media lately, and back in October at FNCE an equal amount of dietitians surveyed in one presentation said they did not believe saturated fat was the strongest predictor of heart disease in the diet. OI times are a ‘changin

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12:00ish – scavenge Trader Joe’s and enjoy a rare not-so-busy trip since it’s smack dab in the middle of the day Thursday. This is good, because it’s less stressful, but also notsogood because I have more time to mull over “do I need this?” and end up saying “why not, you’re here just get it!” for lots of items. Including THE LAST BOX of Pumpkin O’s. PRAISE! I thought they would have stopped selling these long ago. I’m not sure if I scored the last box of the season or if they will be restocking soon, but either way I felt like that was enough of a win for the day. Walk out of TJ’s with a bulging backpack. a huge KIND reusable bag and a little bit of a hole in my pocket.

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1:00pm – after putting away all the groceries, I decided to get right into making one of the fun foods I had been considering whipping up during my time off. Beet hummus! I love working beets in to my diet, especially while training since I like feeling that they might be helping build my endurance (beets and beet root juice have been linked to increased VO2 max when taken regularly). I also love hummus. So this works since I’m not training. It’s also pink, which is happy and fun. The hummus turned out a little less bright pink than I’d hoped and a little more…. Cat vomit pink but I tried to put that out of my mind when I sat down to eat it a little later with the fluffiest Trader Joe’s whole wheat flatbread. These things are SO GOOD. Ate it with a dollop of Cedar’s Zesty Lemon hummus on the side as well.

I used the recipe straight from the Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook, but really you don’t even need a recipe to make good hummus. Just add a can of chickpeas into a food processor, add beets if that’s the kind you’re making (I used 3 of the pre-cooked variety because they were small and I was too lazy to roast my own beets), and add tahini if you’d like (it’s optional – sometimes I don’t add tahini and up the garlic flavor and I absolutely love it), garlic, salt and olive oil and voila!

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2:00pm – Think about working more on the Athletics piece but feel uninspired and decide to watch a few episodes of GIRLS while eating above hummus and flatbread snack. I recently discovered that I can watch past episodes of GIRLS on demand fo’ free with our cable package so that’s been happening a lot…

2:45pm – remember that I wanted to bake some bread/muffins and head back into the kitchen to get started. I open to the Run Fast Eat Slow ginger molasses bread and the recipe comes together super easily. I was glad that I got a knob of fresh ginger at Trader Joe’s and was actually using it because too often I feel like I buy fresh ginger and never touch it only to let it turn woody and inedible. Realized I did not have any golden raisins that the recipe called for, but I did have some dried Naturebox peach slices that I thought about using instead. I chopped them up super-fine since they are pretty dry and added those in, with a few extra slices on top for the prettiness factor. Pop the bread in the oven at 350 and wait wait wait. Watch some Gilmore Girls (the new one on Netflix that I kind of hate but can’t stop watching). Work a little bit more on the Athletics writing piece, follow up with a few emails.

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3:30pm – bread is done and out of the oven and I think I overbaked it a little, whoops! I of course have to try a piece right away and it’s very molassessy and kind of dry. Not very sweet, which makes sense since the only sugar in there is the molasses. I feel like it will be good as a breakfast bread, warmed with some cream cheese on top. Or maybe with some almond butter if I had any (oh no, more grocery shopping ideas, make it stop!)

4:00pm – Lay in bed a bit to take a breather and realize I’m kind of wiped out. End up napping for a good 45 minutes. Oops.

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The rest of the evening was a happy blur of making Katie’s delicious African Almond Stew, (which I turned into a peanut stew) and making my kitchen smell amazing, watching more Gilmore Girls and eventually enjoying the stew with a cheap bottle of Chardonnay + some quality company from my man. We went between watching the Wild absolutely CRUSH the Canadiens (HELLO) to watching the Netflix documentary about General Tso’s Chicken (so odd, don’t really know if I learned anything, though our conversation tended to veer off into the political landscape once or twice so who knows, might have missed some main points). Finally topped off the night sharing spoonfuls of Coconut Almond Chocolate Chip Talenti (girls, find someone who will bring you Talenti after you have gum surgery à keeper) and a whole bottle of lemon-infused water before bed. (nerdy me is excited to have another Talenti container to use for overnight oats when it’s all gone)

Yesterday was a verryyyy unusual Thursday and it is RARE for me to spend so much time at home, lounging around and cooking things. It felt so weird, and uncomfortable sometimes, to not have anything to do. I often find myself reminding myself to take it easy – that it’s OK to not be going full-speed ahead every second of the day. It’s OK to not be totally inspired to write an education piece today because one of these days I will be and it will turn out fine. I am so grateful for the yoga practice that I’ve started and maintained this year not only for helping me maintain physical flexibility, strength and openness, major support systems for preventing injury while running a lot. But more that it has taught me to slow down and focus on the moment. It sounds SO cheesy but it actually is so helpful. I realized how often I would tend to think about what was next on my list and feel so behind. Focusing on breathing and how it feels to be alive and awake in the present moment helps put everything in perspective, and makes you realize that it’s OK if things don’t go according to plan because life isn’t necessarily linear and each development in life takes it’s own sweet journey that can move up and down, slow and fast, and we aren’t in control of so much of it. Really, it’s just taught me to be more OK with imperfection and taking my hands off from time to time.

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If you haven’t already started Adrienne’s 31-day yoga video series, it’s not too late! I so highly recommend it and I think starting to practice yoga at home, as opposed to starting with public yoga classes, is so wise and really helps you focus on your own body. I started one of these in the middle of February last year and it set me off on such a great path. When I miss a day, sometimes I do two the next day. Sometimes I just skip and come back to the ones I’ve missed later. But I find that I’m so much a better person when I find the time to fit 25-35 minutes of this into my day. Usually in the morning or right before I go to bed, but sometimes it’s right when I get home from work, or before I run an errand, or after a spin class. The best part is that you can do it anywhere, it’s approachable, and it makes a difference.

Namaste, folks and happy FRIDAY!

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What is Intermittent Fasting, and Does It Really Work?

Because I am knee deep in an article assignment that I really should be working on as opposed to putting together a blog post, read instead a quick little piece I put together for an earlier edition of my Graduate School’s student-run monthly newspaper The Friedman Sprout this semester.

Cheers to two weeks until race day.


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The newest diet to gain popular attention isn’t much of a diet at all. It is something that most people who adhere to a traditional sleeping and waking cycle are already primed to do—and, proponents would argue, is something humans have been doing successfully for centuries. Intermittent Fasting (IF) has garnered support in the fitness community as a weight management tool for bodybuilders and other fitness enthusiasts. Recently, a growing portion of the scientific community has begun to also regard IF as a feasible way to improve metabolic health and perhaps even extend one’s lifespan.

Instead of eating many times throughout the day, between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm for example, Intermittent Fasters will couple periods of extended fasting (from 14 to 24 hours) with shorter periods of eating. This can be achieved by a change as simple as lengthening the overnight fast by a few hours each day. Different variations of IF propose reducing intake to 500-600 calories for just two days of the week; others recommend one full, 24-hour weekly fast. There are no particular restrictions on the type of foods allowed to be consumed, as long as meals are kept within the “eating window” and consumption does not surpass the feeling of comfortable fullness.

Experimental studies in rats have suggested that providing the body with an extended fast (up to 24 hours) is physiologically beneficial, potentially improving insulin sensitivity, decreasing resting heart rate and blood pressure and reducing body wide inflammation—all of which could contribute to a longer expected lifespan. Further, adapting to a shorter eating window may help to moderate overall calorie intake. Randomized controlled trials demonstrating benefits in humans have yet to be published. Because humans share an evolutionary adaptation to generations of unpredictable periods of fasting and feasting, however, scientists are eager to tease out this connection in future studies.

Still, many nutrition professionals are hesitant to advocate IF as superior to other diets or as a safe and effective approach to weight loss. At the end of the day, reducing calories consumed and increasing energy expended through physical activity is what matters for losing weight, and there are many ways to achieve this goal that do not require adopting a rigid eating schedule. It is important to consider your lifestyle, motivation, and sacrifices you are willing (or not willing) to make in order to reap the potential benefits of intermittent fasting. Like any diet, adherence is key to success. Here are six common mistakes to avoid if you think intermittent fasting sounds like something you want to try.

Six Mistakes Most People Make When They Begin Intermittent Fasting

  1. Giving up too soon

It is normal to feel more irritable or sluggish as the body adapts to a longer fasting period and adjusts its hormonal signaling (most scientists believe this adaptation underlies many of the health benefits of IF). Intermittent Fasters will likely find that true hunger feels different than the hunger pangs and uptick in heartbeat associated with fluctuating blood sugar, which we experience when we are used to frequent eating—learn to recognize it.

  1. Forgetting about quality
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The USDA’s “Basic 7” food groups from 1943-1956

Even though IF does not restrict the type of foods allowed to be consumed during the eating period, it’s essential to maintain proper nutrition. Metabolic improvements like insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation could very well be negated if fasters neglect nutritional balance and decide to eat foods high in salt, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates exclusively, avoiding fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. You may still lose weight if you’re consuming fewer calories overall, but the efficiency of your body systems will suffer—and you probably won’t feel too well, either.

 

 

 

  1. Forgetting to hydrate

Hydration is key, especially during periods of fasting. Adequate hydration is necessary for pretty much every function in the body and will keep you feeling energized and alert. During fasting periods water, tea, coffee and no- or low-calorie beverages are allowed (just watch out for added cream and sugar). Keep tabs on the color of your urine as a gauge for hydration status: if it is darker than the light-yellow of hay you need to drink more fluid.

  1. Exercising too much

Some athletes swear by intermittent fasting as a means to improve performance, burn more fat, and even increase endurance. However, none of these benefits have consistently been backed up with controlled human studies. In fact, many observational studies of Muslim athletes during Ramadan show evidence of decreased performance (some athletes practicing IF might not maintain a fasting pattern requiring them to train during a fasted state, so these experimental differences could be important in interpreting results). Moderate and consistent exercise is encouraged for general health, but excessive exercise on top of prolonged fasting may send the body in to a state of chronic stress which can lead to inflammation, lean tissue breakdown, insulin resistance and injury.

  1. Not working with your schedule

There are different variations of IF and the only thing that makes one program more effective than the next is whether or not you can stick to it. For example, don’t decide to fast for 24 hours if you know missing your nightly family dinner will cause mental and social strain. There are many methods for reducing calorie intake for weight loss, and intermittent fasting may not be right for you if it leads to feelings of isolation and reduced quality of life.

  1. Believing that if some is good, more is better

Just because a little bit of fasting may be healthy does not mean that a lot of fasting is healthy. Going too long without food can lead the body into a state known as “starvation mode,” which greatly slows the metabolic rate, begins breaking down muscle for energy, and stores a greater majority of consumed calories as fat. Further, fasting for too long can lead to severe feelings of deprivation and preoccupation with food, culminating in uncontrollable or disordered eating behavior including binging and even anorexia. If you sense your relationship with food is becoming abnormal because of IF, make necessary adjustments and seek help if needed. 

Because IF can represent a major shift in metabolism and routine, most nutrition professionals are hesitant to recommend it as an intervention for just anyone. It is important to work with a licensed professional who understands your needs and who can help you maintain optimal nutrition, physical activity, and mental health during periods of prolonged fasting. Preliminary studies show that IF, when done right, may be a great tool for improving health, but it is not the only option to boost endurance and lose weight.

Balancing The Plate

As a dietitian, it’s about time I posted a nutrition-related topic on the blog, don’t you think?

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Running dominates the blog these days because I’m constantly learning new things and am definitely not an expert at it yet, so writing about it helps me process the journey of becoming stronger in the sport. It’s too easy to take the nutrition side for granted since it’s the one thing I’m the most comfortable with. But anyone who knows me know I can talk your ear off about nutrition so let’s get started.

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As much as I like the word “Balance” because it encompasses my approach to pretty much all aspects of life, I think it gets thrown around a lot and is quickly be coming the new “Moderation” (ugh). Like any word, it needs to be defined to have a meaning. In life, balance to me means taking the good with the bad, accepting imperfection and approaching life holistically. Balance means being okay with taking one step backward in your journey forward, because at the end of the day you still made progress. Balance means getting a little bit of everything and not too much of one thing. It’s about the big picture, but the beauty is in the details.

Nutrition-wise, it’s a little less poetic. Balance doesn’t mean eating burgers and pizza at every meal, but it does leave room for those things when life happens. It’s about fueling your body with valuable nutrition for the majority of the time and not stressing out over having  a not-so-nutritious meal on occasion, or a glass of wine with dinner every evening. Overall, having a balance of food is important because our bodies work best with a mix of nutrients and lots of variety. We don’t just require one nutrient or super-doses of any one thing. Any time we eliminate entire food groups from our diet, or avoid certain foods, we run the risk of depriving our bodies of valuable nutrients and developing unhealthy relationships with food. Our body systems are complex and work best with a little bit of everything. As a result we FEEL the best when we fuel ourselves with a little bit of everything. And hello food is a lot more satisfying, and nutrition a lot less complicated, when we allow ourselves to eat everything.

There are many different dietary patterns that allow you to achieve balance – it’s totally possible to be vegan, vegetarian, paleo, whole30, sugar-free, WHATEVER suits your fancy, and have a balanced diet. But, it isn’t always very straightforward –even if everything on your plate seems to pass the “healthy” test.  Just as important as it is to make sure you give your body a mix of nutrients every day, keeping each meal and snack balanced in nutrients is the most effective way to keep our bodies functioning efficiently. Of course, these recommendations are for most generally healthy people and those who are managing specific diseases like diabetes or healing from severe injury have different requirements. The ratios of the different food groups can be adjusted depending on specific needs, but overall, EVERYONE benefits from getting a balance with every bite. Let’s start with the big 3 (macronutrients, that is).

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1. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, carbs, CHO, however you like to call ’em, are the preferred energy source of muscles, the brain and our heart. (Did you know that the brain can ONLY use glucose, the breakdown product of carbohydrates, for energy?). It’s recommended that roughly half of our calories come from carbohydrates every day. Realize that “carbs” don’t only come from pasta, bread and rice — fruits, vegetables and dairy products also contain carbohydrates and these bring along a wider variety of nutrients like vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and water for each gram of carb they provide. Whole grains like brown rice, wheat, barley, oats etc. offer a concentrated source of carbohydrates with an extra boost of protein and fat that refined carbs (think white flour) lack. Whole grains also retain a host of micronutrients that are lost in the refining process. 

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2. Protein

Protein, another macronutrient, is important to include at meals and snacks not only because it provides the building blocks for just about every structural and functional element in our bodies, but because it helps slow the digestive process so we stay satisfied longer and benefit from more stable energy levels. The reason we suffer from “sugar highs” and “sugar crashes” is because our bodies don’t have a protein buffer to keep from burning through the easily available fuel right away. With a bit of protein in the mix, our cells get a slower, more steady stream of energy and our brains don’t scream out in hunger just hours after we finished a meal. Protein is everywhere these days. And while part of me is grateful it’s easier now to find traditionally carb-heavy options like oatmeal and bread with a boost of protein, it’s really not necessary to aim for super-high protein intakes that are often recommended by those who don’t really know what they are talking about. Generally (again, for those who aren’t recovering from serious injury or illness), we should aim for .8-1.7 g of protein per KILOGRAM of our body weight. For Americans who aren’t used to referring to their weight in kilos, this often gets mistranslated as .8-1.7 g per pound, which ends up being a considerable difference. To get your weight in kilograms, divide pounds by 2.2. Then multiply by .8 if you are on the smaller side and have a low activity level for the grams of protein you should generally aim to get each day. Multiply the number by 1.7 if you have more body mass and if you undergo intense exercise and need to rebuild broken down tissue every day. Shoot for somewhere in the middle if you fall somewhere in between. Protein really deserves a post all to itself, so I’m going to stop here to keep it simple.

3. Fat

Fat! Fat is fun. Fat is necessary. Fat is back as they say. Fats are the cherry on top of the carbohydrate and protein sundae, and they serve a major role in transporting and storing vitamins A, E, D and K. Without fat, we don’t absorb those nutrients! Fats also slow the emptying of our stomach, so like protein, they help us feel satisfied with a smaller amount of food. Like anything, some is good but more is not always better. Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient, meaning each gram of fat provides the most amount of calories — 9 calories to be exact (more than double that of carbs and protein). Overdoing it on fat often leads to overdoing it on calories because it’s difficult for our brains to keep up with the high doses that come from fat-heavy foods, like fries and pizza, to tell us when enough is enough. Current recommendations for most healthy adults are to consume about 30% of calories per day from fat. For a long time, Americans have been afraid of incorporating fat into a healthy diet because it had been so often associated with gaining weight. And because we group a whole bunch of different types of fat together under one label, it can be confusing to distinguish between some fats that are worse for us than others. It is true that high intake of some fats has been associated with increased risk of chronic disease (KEY WORD: HIGH INTAKE). The “bad fats,” as they are commonly termed, are the solid fats that come from animal products, and they seem to raise the risk of heart disease when they are consumed in excess. The research in this area is so difficult to tease apart because humans don’t eat just fats — usually the people who eat a lot of animal fats also eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, sweetened beverages, and not a whole lot of fruits and vegetables, which makes it hard to determine whether the fat itself is the problem (less likely) or the diet as a whole (more likely). When we took out fat from a lot of the products in the food supply in the 90’s, we replaced it with sugar, which led to a whole lot of imbalance in the favor of refined carbohydrates and was notttttt such a great move for our overall health. One thing that is clear is trans fats should be avoided at all costs. Nothing good comes from these artificial fats, and they are slowly being removed from the food supply. Best to avoid commercial fats in packaged and refined products altogether, and look to incorporate more unsaturated fats found in plants and fish. Fat from dairy products and eggs seems to be relatively neutral and is probably fine if not consumed excessively.

What does this actually look like? How can you really get a balanced bite at every meal and snack? Here are a few of my favorite examples – all of which you can probably tell make use of simple cooking methods and affordable ingredients –> I am in grad school after all.

Breakfast:

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Whole Grain Toast + Egg + Avocado + Grapes and a little low-fat Cream Cheese

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Smoothie made with blueberries, banana, spinach, almond milk and whey protein powder + 1/2 a banana, hemp seeds and dried fruit with nuts

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Greek yogurt, banana, and mixed nuts

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Oatmeal made with one egg white, peanut butter, mixed berries and walnuts

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One egg, one banana, one rice cake and some peanut butter

LUNCH

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Whole Grain Toast + Avocado + Chicken Sausage

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Salad Greens + Sweet Potato + Salmon and a little tahini dressing

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Shrimp Spring Rolls in Rice Paper with spring mix, broccoli slaw, radish and avocado

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Chicken Black Bean and Corn Enchilada Stew + Avcocado

 

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Quinoa, Kale, Broccoli and Buffalo baked Chicken Breast with a little Low-fat Cheese

 

 

DINNER

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Roasted Root Vegetables (Carrots and Potatoes here I believe) + Salmon + Kale + Salsa and Guacamole

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Pizza! On Whole grain crust, topped with marinara sauce, lots of veggies, and part-skim mozzarella cheese

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Baked Salmon on top of Avocado, Roasted Corn, Black Beans, Blueberries + Lime juice

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Sauteed Kale and Broccoli, Roasted Potatoes, and Baked Fish

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Roasted Parsnips and Potatoes, Carrots, Beets, and Kale + Egg with a little Goat Cheese

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Turkey Taco Salads + Avocado + A little low-fat cheese

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Steamed Sweet Potato + Black beans, Salsa, and Broccoli + Cheese

My favorite balanced snack options:

Fruit + Nut Butter or Strong and KIND Bar

Yogurt-based dressing or Hummus + Fresh Veggies

Homemade Trail Mix (I love dried chickpeas, nuts, whole grain cereal, dried fruit and a little dark chocolate)

Plain Greek Yogurt + Picky Bar

RX Bars

The concept of nutritional balance at meals and snacks is useful for anyone. The exact ratios of carbohydrates, to fats, to proteins can be individualized to your specific needs. I’ve tracked my intake for a while and found that I function best day-to-day with about 50% of my calories from carbohydrates, 35% from fat, and 15% from protein and try to get a little bit of each in with every eating opportunity.

Diets that promote very low or high intake of any one of these macronutrients are not balanced and because of this are usually not sustainable in the long-term.

Resources

https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

Trumbo, Paula, et al. “Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102.11 (2002): 1621-1630.

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