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.

 

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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Back in Action

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Needless to say, blogging has been the pot relegated to the back burner among the other pots and pans on the range of life at the moment (how’s that metaphor feel going down?)

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After finishing the marathon, I admit I was ready to take a break from structured running and the recaps that went along with it. It was nice not to attach any extra accountability to my running, and to be quite honest, I didn’t do a whole lot of running at all. Of course, the first few weeks were full of recovery and taking it slow, walking mostly and doing quite a bit of easy yoga. But soon I got antsy to work out. My first real run after the marathon felt AMAZING despite only running a short 30 minutes and not even making it fully across the Mass Avenue bridge. My ankle and foot had calmed down quite a bit since the full 26.2 jaunt, and I wanted so badly just to jump back in to a casual running routine, but they weren’t fully back to complete painlessness and I had to remember that I couldn’t expect to just jump back in to where I started pre-marathon training. My body had endured quite a bit of stress, more than I’d ever put myself through at one time before, and I would just have to be patient and avoid making anything worse for myself. Easier said than done.

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Working at the spin studio was a cursed blessing at that time, and I was all to easy to tempt right back into taking classes since they were free. I took a bootcamp class that left me sore for a full week before Thanksgiving. But I did enjoy the flexibility that having no real training plan afforded me and went to spin classes and yoga classes whenever I so pleased.

I didn’t run too much.

Coming off of race day, Heather agreed to put in some training notes in for the rest of the month, which I mostly followed 🙂 During my Thanksgiving trip back to family in Wisconsin, I had agreed to run the 2-mile Turkey Trot with my parents and brother. 2 Miles was what I knew my body could handle, and a totally appropriate effort to be comfortable with. But of course, I couldn’t just sit there and only run 2 miles when there was a 10k option that I had run the year earlier and I knew I’d be vegging out the rest of the day watching football and eating sweet potato casserole. So as anyone probably could have predicted, I ran the 6.2 miles of the 10k, and by mile 4 knew I had bit off more than I could chew. My legs still felt weak and finishing that race brought back memories from mile 24. It felt fabulous to be done, and I’m glad I had that learning lesson that yes – I had to be taking things slower and that would have to be OK with me. I ran a few more times that week – little ones – that still felt a little questionable but overall good just because I had run.

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That was pretty much the peak amount of running I’ve done. After getting back from Thanksgiving, coursework amped up as the semester came to a close, I started working on my new internship with the undergraduate athletic department at Tufts, and work at the dietary assessment unit was as busy as ever. It was nice not to have the added pressure to need to fit in this or that workout in to my day – I could take a rest day and it would be totally fine. I battled a few colds and bouts of the flu that couched me, but a few key yoga classes served as my life elixir, and overall I think just have enjoyed a little less intense exercise regimen over the past month and a half.

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That being said, I am more than ready to start adding some structure back to my running routine. I’ve decided on a spring half marathon with a few friends up on the coast of Maine that I can only imagine will have the most gorgeous sea views. I’ve been off a training plan for the winter, but will start back with Heather in her Spring Training group using a 14-week plan and as a part of a support group of other runners also training for spring races. It won’t be as individualized of training as I had over the summer, but it will be a great middle ground between me just doing what I think I should do to train and having a daily dialogue with a coach to plan each week. I’m hoping to maybe PR the race …?? but really not going into it with any super serious goals. It’s honestly hard to imagine running a PR after growing so accustomed to this 9:30ish comfortable pace that is a full minute per mile slower than my first two half marathons. I haven’t really tried pushing myself or incorporating any true tempo runs into the runs that I have managed – I’ve mostly stuck to easy runs at a low heart rate just to keep my aerobic fitness in check, and build up even more of a base for the future marathon on my horizon… Hoping that these spin classes and bootcamp HIIT classes I’ve been jiving on are building some extra oomph in my runner-muscles and maybe can bring back some speed. To be determined!

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Week 12 NYC Marathon Training + Fundraising Update

Hello friends! Wanted to get this post out there before I head back to the Midwest for a very-end-of-summer trip to Marry my best friend (I am not getting married; I am MARRYING my best friend and her fiance. Right?!) More on that later. But first…

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It really feels like the weeks are flying by. It’s always been crazy to me how slowly some days seem to crawl by, but looking back at the weeks and months it feels like time passes in the blink of an eye. The next class of dietetic interns at MGH graduated this week, which means it’s officially been a year since I graduated and have been living life as an RD (well, plus the one month of studying I did for the exam… but who’s counting that?)

A combination of things last week left me feeling pretty tired overall. Ending week 11 with that killer run on tired legs made for a body very much in need of recovery. I tried to pay attention to this and stay on top of stretching, doing the targeted strength exercises and sleeping… but the sleeping part seemed to fall to the end of the priority list with this week packed full of new/fun things that I don’t regret whatsoever, but by Thursday  I was very much in need of an afternoon of naps, and decided to take the afternoon to myself which ended up being an excellent decision.

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Got beets? Got ginger? Got this smoothie. Beet + Beet Greens + Fresh ginger + Fresh lime juice + Greek Yogurt + Frozen Blueberries.

Week 12 NYC Marathon Training Recap

A little note here on my training plan. I am posting the week as it is planned for my own journaling but want to give credit where credit is due. My coach Heather Caplan puts together my weekly training plan fully customized to my needs. THANKS HEATHER. I’m absolutely loving having her guidance, and following such a well thought-out plan each week takes so much stress out of the equation.

Monday: Easy 45 Minutes + Hip Work

Worked in the AM and the temperatures didn’t get crazy high on Monday so I fit this guy in in the afternoon, running around the neighborhood. I quickly remembered why I don’t make it a habit to run in the afternoon, and even though it wasn’t as hot and humid as it had been, the sun was still pretty strong and more oppressive than I find enjoyable. The annoying afternoon heat and end-of-the-day bloated feeling was probably accentuated by the fact that my headphones died and I was left just running alongside my thoughts for the majority of the 4.6 miles I ended up covering. Thank goodness for the hip exercises (and so glad I was honest with myself and told Heather about my discomfort) because I’m already feeling much more balanced and can finally do pigeon pose again without being stopped by pain.

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Life is good when you can stretch on a pier.

Tuesday: Spin Class + Bodyweight Core Work

Made it to an AM spin class at the studio near my apartment which happily focused a lot on core and hills – truly the best kind of cross-training work out you could ask for. Followed this up with the traditional core exercises which I have officially memorized but haven’t grown to love any more. Mountain climbers still kill me every time I have to do them and I just don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

Wednesday: MAF Run (1 hour)

Had originally planned to run this on the Harvard track, but when the day came I really didn’t feel like making the full trek over there since the mile splits weren’t necessarily built into the run and I just needed to run somewhere relatively flat and consistent. It oddly took a long time for my heart rate to get up to speed – I was mostly running at a warm up pace of 10 min/mile and my heart rate stuck right around 135 BPM which is pretty low for me. I felt like I had to push my pace quite a bit to get up to 150-155, my calculated MAF heart rate, which seemed counterintuitive since MAF is supposed to be more lightly aerobic than high-effort… but once I did reach 150 I tended to hover right around there with a consistent 9:10 min/mile pace which was happily much faster than my previous MAF test. According to my coach, my lower heart rate could be due to any combination of increased fitness or stress, and it’s hard to know which of these it truly was since I had been feeling like my body was stuck in a bit of a stress-mode with the previous days of higher-intensity work outs and busy working schedules/minimal sleep. Also fair to expect a lower heart rate since the temps are finally starting to settle down and my body seems to be responding better with the dry air and cool breeze in the morning. OR perhaps I am indeed building my fitness up and my heart is responding with a higher pace threshold at my MAF heart rate. Time will tell with a repeated test!

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Lots of veggies including one new potato + Chicken sausage + Puttanesca sauce + Feta = great night-before-a-run fuel.

Thursday: Yoga + Bodyweight Exercises

I had planned to go to another Wellness in Motion yoga class during the day but was seriously dragging during the morning and all I wanted to do was go home and nap. I was able to leave work a teensy bit early and headed straight home instead of over to the yoga studio. I napped for a solid two hours and lounged around for the rest of the afternoon. Much needed. I ended up doing two yoga videos from Yoga by Candace on Youtube, which ended up providing just the perfect amount of balancing and inversion practice, as well as an opportunity to work on my hip/leg imbalances. I held Crow for 15 seconds! And am getting a little closer to be able to do a headstand. Little victories. Headed to bed super early Thursday night to catch up on allllll the sleep.

Friday: Easy 30 Minute run

Ended up running 2.95 miles before heading in to work, because I had to leave the PM open for the KENNY CHESNEY CONCERT AT GILLETTE! Nothing really to report here. Nice morning, beautifully cool, easy easy run.

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Yes Kenny was wearing a Patriot’s Bro Tank and Yes he sang for 2 hours. No regrets.

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Weird Snacks. Grilled chicken wrap with some sort of tomato salsa and spicy mayo + French fries. Ended up feeling pretty nasty during Kenny because of this so would not follow my footsteps. Also shout out to the weird stains on my boots. #concertlife

Saturday: Active Rest – Beach day + Walking errands

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Sunday: 2:45 long run (no more than 16 miles)

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Hit the 16 mile mark! My longest run to date actually felt pretty dang good. Coach Heather moved it to Sunday since I had the concert on Friday (very happy about the scheduling because I ended up not getting home until after midnight Saturday morning and there was no way I’d be wanting to run 16 miles after that). I decided to run a different route and felt like heading backwards down the Boston Marathon course towards Chestnut Hill. Most of my warmup ended up being on cement sidewalk which wasn’t an ideal surface to pound out a ton of miles on, and it didn’t help that I wiped out about 1.5 miles in scraping my knee in the process. There was nothing to do but keep going, though, and thankfully it was just a little surface scratch that I ultimately ended up forgetting about. Ran two laps around the Chestnut Hill Reserve pond before heading back to the river to finally finish the 16 miles close to home. When I saw my watch buzz that I had passed 14 miles and was still running at pace, feeling good, I knew I would hit 16 within the time I had left. I think the rest day before and the tough run last week really helped prepare me for these miles, and it’s finally setting in that I might really be able to finish the full marathon and not die/feel horrible. Doing 16 miles in 2 hours and 35 minutes, I could potentially run the last 1o miles in 100 minutes and finish around 4 hours?? Not that I have any time goals whatsoever for my first 26.2, but as with everything TIME WILL TELL. For fuel on this run I brought along another KIND pressed bar but didn’t enjoy this one as much (Apple, beet carrot I think it was?) It was just a little bit too hard to chew, and I’ll definitely want something that takes less energy to get down in the future. Also brought along the margarita clif blocks and had one any time I started to feel my energy levels dip – ended up taking two total. Ultimately feeling strong with this run and so happy that all the training is really starting to pay off.

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Total Miles = 30.0  Nice.

Fundraising Update

I AM OFFICIALLY HALF WAY! Soooo many thanks are necessary to those who have been generous with their donations and support of my fundraising efforts with Action for Healthy Kids. Since I have a donor who is willing to match donations up to $1,500, I technically could stop here and be done with it – but I am so motivated by the enthusiasm and support I’ve received I think I can continue to reach up and raise more money on my end before I have my very generous matching donor take on the rest. I have a charity yoga class in the works (coming in October) with my good friend and fellow dietitian colleague, who happens to also be a yoga instructor. There have been a few bumps in the road and lessons learned during this fundraising journey, and had I been writing this post a month ago my tone might have been a little different, but at this point I have been so impressed and motivated by the support I’ve received from friends and family that have donated. It is humbling to remember that I’m running this race for more than myself. It’s an honor to be able to raise money for Action for Healthy Kids and spread awareness of their mission around my social network.

Week 10 NYC Marathon Training + Life Update + Bonus Recipe

 

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Here we are — 10 weeks in, 11 to go. Almost half way! I’ve been feeling super motivated (and also very much in awe) watching all the insanely athletic olympians kick ass in Rio. Sportz!

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Rio-Inspired Breakfast Scramble

This heat. Needs. To. Go. Away. I’m so tired of constantly sweating and sticking to furniture, not being able to breathe, etc. etc. On Friday my thermostat in my apartment read 94 degrees. Inside. WHAT. Needless to say there has been a lot of non-cooking going on, lots of fruit, salads, ice cream, and literally anything that takes no heat to make. Even pantry snacks like nuts seemed too hot to eat sometimes. So far, my mileage hasn’t been that crazy so my appetite has been pretty much where I started at baseline (besides my long run days where I feel like I could literally eat all day), though this past week I’ve had more than a few bottomless pit episodes…runger here I come. You can bet it’s gonna be out in full force once the cool air of fall hits…. (If it ever comes… please come back, fall!)

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Training Recap (Credit to Heather for the Plan)

Monday: Spin Class + Core Work 

Took my workout back to Turnstyle for a morning spin class that was full of leg-burning hills and perfectly high energy. I always leave these classes on some kind of high. I love it. Followed up with a 30 minute core workout at home.

Tuesday: Group Run + Yoga

Nope. Got stuck at work on a phone call that kept me downtown until 7:15pm and the run was all the way up in Cambridge at 7:30pm. No-can-do. I had planned to leave work just before 7 and hop on the T to make it in time, but ended up feeling pretty burnt out by the end of the day anyway. Thought about just running on my own back at home, but figured I’d be in better shape if I just took the day off and saved my legs for tomorrow’s hills. Did a lovely Yoga With Adrienne stretching routine for Sore Legs which was perfect.

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Uh oh, I bought some crack at the grocery store…. Vanilla Life were $1.99 and yes, they are very tasty

Wednesday: Hill Repeats

Luckily my neighborhood is known for its hills, so finding a good one was not such a hard task. Started with a 20 minute jog to warm up and completed 6 runs up a residential hill, with light jogging/walking down it between each set. The Hill was about 1/4 mile long and each round up I focused on engaging my core, legs, and glutes to push me ahead with strong strides. Even though it was tough work, it was one of those workouts that felt super rewarding. Each round up was short – about 2-3 minutes, so I was able to push myself hard with comfort in the fat that I would have an easy jog back down. I felt like the training I had already done, spinning and strength and running over moderate hills during all of my runs, definitely prepared me here and I actually enjoyed the burn. Felt fine all day but damn when I woke up the next morning my booty was definitely feeling sore.

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Another fav. Made a batch of tuna with just a few tablespoons of this dressing mixed in and it added some bomb flavor. Delicious on crackers, with pepper slices, or in a pita pocket!

Thursday: Crosstraining

Did 45 minutes of easy cardio on the elliptical, increasing resistance from 11-15 over the course and pedaling to the beat of the music while watching the olympics!

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The perfect no-heat recipe: Tilapia Ceviche with Avocado, Cilantro and Green Pepper on a bed or crisp romaine lettuce. With corn chips on the side for scooping!

Friday: Easy 45

Took this one inside to the treadmill because remember what I said about it being 94 degrees INSIDE? yeah, apparently on Friday the heat index was upwards of 110 degrees with all the humidity so there was no way I was wasting energy and life slowly dying for an easy run. Ended up being a pretty solid decision because it’s a lot easier for me to control my heart rate on the treadmill and keeping it under 155 was no problem. I also was able to watch most of the Women’s Olympic Soccer match between USA and Sweden before the tragic ending – so this one was a win!

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Drinking this stuff like it’s going out of style. Heat and humidity life saver if you like bubbles like I do.

Saturday: Long Run, 2 hours 15 minutes

This was a first for me – ran with a running buddy! Somehow, after Friday’s oppressive heat, the heavens opened up and graced the city of Boston with temps in the low 70s. I was almost shocked leaving my house, which was still about 20 degrees warmer than outside, in a tank top. Couldn’t have asked for better weather for this run, really. It was a little humid but definitely a small price to pay for being able to run a little later in the morning (read: not at 5am) and not melt in scorching heat. I met my running buddy, who happens to be moving down to Knoxville, TN TODAY, in Harvard Square and we headed north to one of my new favorite paths — super shaded and woodsy for most of the whole way. Of course, he is a good FOOT taller than me so I felt kinda bad dragging him along (lol Will if you’re reading this, hey!) at my slow warm up pace, and definitely could tell that I was running a little faster than I would have if I were solo. Tried soo hard to slow down and keep my HR under 155 like I was supposed to, but stayed right between 155 and 160 for most of this leg. He was great enough to stick with my pace basically the whole way and it was awesome to be able to spend a sweaty couple hours getting a good run in for his send-off from New England. BUT I don’t think I’ll be running many of these long runs with a partner again because it’s just too hard for me to truly check in with my body and respond. I felt more burnt out from this run in my legs than any of my previous long runs which weren’t all that different, and I think it’s because I ran too hard during the first hour. After that first hour, we did 3 x 15 minutes of half-marathon effort, which I think I again overshot – especially the first one. Finished up with 20 minutes of cool down by the Charles where I really started to feel the lactic acid in my legs. I had a 30 minute walk home from saying goodbye which helped loosen up some of the tightness — motion is lotion, as they say. Got home and rolled out some of the tough spots right away. I had a pint of Arctic Zero in my freezer (going back to the dark side here but so far so good…) that was calling my name. It ended up being the purrrrfect refueling immediately post run – super cold, super refreshing, and full of a decent balance of carbs and protein. Definitely not the most wholesome post run option but it did the trick and honestly felt amazing.

For fueling during the run, I brought along my usual 20 oz water bottle with a full scoop of Skratch and brought a packet of the high sodium clif chews since I figured I’d probably be sweating buckets in the humidity. I ate one every 30 minutes up until the cool down, 3 total. Before leaving, I made sure to get a bit more energy in me than last weekend and toasted up a slice of whole grain bread with some homemade cashew butter and half a banana and ate it about 1.5 hours before the run.

I am feeling inspired to try my hand at maybe making some running fuel to bring with me on runs? Something along the lines of energy balls or easy-to-chew dried fruit snacks, instead of leaning on all this refined sugar every Saturday. Hopefully with this much time left before race day I can come up with something my body likes and that also keeps my blood sugar from going to whacko.

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I prefer salads the size of my head, please and thanks. This one had fresh romaine, watermelon, feta and mint with raspberry vinegar drizzled on top. Super satisfying and hydrating. (Clothing is obviously optional in my apartment these days)

Sunday: 45 minute Jog/Walk

I ended up walking all of this because after the first 10 minutes of walking my heart rate was already at 150. What?! I was so confused, and thought maybe my watch was going on the fritz – since it’s already having trouble with my manual laps. But it’s possible there’s a physiological reason here too — maybe I was still dehydrated from yesterday, though I didn’t feel thirsty and made sure to drink lots of fluids on Saturday. Maybe since my run was particularly hard, my body was still under stress and was trying to recover and my heart rate reflected that. Whatever the case, I did not run and kept my HR right around 150-160 which it did on its own while I walked at an easy pace. CRAZY. and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad sign but we’ll see how it looks tomorrow.

Total Miles = 27.3

So far still so good! My legs are still holding up, feet feeling tired after long runs but better with rest. My glutes and lower back always seem to tighten up so I am continuing to focus on these areas with foam rolling and yoga, and strengthening my core and glute muscles with crosstraining. Thanks to my glorious A/C unit that I finally installed in my window, sleep has been no problemo.. though I am really looking forward to the nights where I can leave the window open and let the fresh air lull me to sleep…

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So excited to make some of these delicious recipes!! Some really great ideas in here (full review coming soon!)

Life Update!

Wait, I do things besides run? Haha. Sometimes. I forgot to mention this a few weeks back (and shoot this is also running related…) but I ended up registering last minute for the BAA Half entry lottery and got in! So I have that to look forward to on my calendar on October 9th – just about one month before my marathon. I’m probably not going to PR in this one as I’m going to use it to practice my marathon pacing, and will most definitely be running slower than my previous races. But it will be great to have a day to practice pre-race and during-race fueling, pacing, music vs. no music… all that jazz. Plus, the BAA Half is lots of fun and they have a great medal and shirts so I’m glad it worked out! I wanted to try to get into a half that I hadn’t already done, but it was so hard to find one at a good time that wouldn’t require a bunch of travel and lodging arrangements. Even though the bib price of the BAA half is higher than a lot of other races, I’ll end up saving a bunch of money not having to pay for somewhere to sleep, a car rental for a full weekend, and a lot of stress associated with all of the above.

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Haha I WISH I was eating gelato for breakfast at work. I had fun pretending with this batch of oats and chia soaked in milk with a half scoop of protein powder – Kept me full for hourssss which is always nice when talking about the weird and delicious food people ate all day at work.

I also have some random news… I am now an ordained minister! Anyone want to get married? I can do that for you! My best friend from college recently got engaged and is planning a small ceremony at the end of the month with her Fiance, and they asked me if I would officiate the ceremony with one of the groom’s best friends. Before this summer, the thought of getting ordained seemed way out there – but my friends who got married earlier this summer had the groom’s dad get ordained to officiate their ceremony, and my cousin is having her brother get ordained to officiate her ceremony next year. Hopping on the new trend, I guess! But I am SO excited, and so honored to have such a major role in the start of their life together ❤ I’ll be flying out to Chicago and Madison at the end of the month for a last minute vacation before school starts up again in the fall and am so grateful I’ll get to see all my most special friends again!! I miss them out in Boston every single day. My official ordination materials are apparently in the mail, and now I have to start figuring out what I’m going to actually say during the ceremony…. EEP

Bonus Recipe!

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I have always loved sweet potatoes, and normally just steam them up in the microwave to cook them, cut em open and stuff them full of lots of goodies like black beans, other veg, greek yogurt, apples, berries, peanut butter…. all the things. Sweet potatoes are a great vehicle for many flavor combos. But recently I started seeing these sweet potato breakfast bowls popping up – almost like oatmeal. I knew I wanted to give it a try because hello sweet potatoes are BOMB and the idea of having a starchy veg be the base of a breakfast meal is something I can definitely get behind. Well, it ended up being a major success. Definitely adding this to my breakfast repertoire and breaking it out frequently during cooler mornings. I’m sure you could make this ahead of time and stick it in the fridge and eat it cold like an overnight oats deal – that is going to be the next thing I test. This is another recipe that literally comes together in minutes, but I think you’ll get the best success if you take the time to fully bake the potatoes in the oven so they get nice and soft inside and the skin is easier to remove. I like to wrap my potatoes in foil and stick them in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Bake a full batch and you have breakfast ready to go for the whole week!

Without further ado, here is how I pulled this beaut together:

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium or 2 small sweet potatoes, baked and skins removed (feel free to save the skin for something else, don’t waste all those nutrients!
  • 1/2 scoop (15g) protein powder of choice* – I used PEScience Select Protein Blondie flavor
  • 1/2 cup milk of choice – I used 1% dairy milk
  • Cinnamon
  • Toppings of choice: Banana, berries, apple, peach, chia seeds, cacao nibs, dark chocolate, coconut, nuts, nut butters, coconut oil; the base of this is primarily starchy carbohydrates and protein so feel free to add some healthy fats here

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Directions:

  • In a bowl, mash baked sweet potato into a mush.
  • Add protein powder and milk, and stir until completely combined
  • Microwave for 2-3 minutes, stirring every minute or so
  • Top with cinnamon, toppings of choice and enjoy!

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*If you don’t have protein powder at home, you could easily sub in one egg white here – just make sure you really stir to combine so the egg is completely mixed in and you don’t end up with bits of egg white scramble mixed in with your potato bowl!

Not a fan of bananas and nut butter? (Who are you!?) Here are a few other flavor combos that sound absolutely delicious

Pumpkin Pie: Pumpkin pie spice + Pecans + Apples (try microwaving them with cinnamon for 30 seconds before adding to the mix!) + Vanilla yogurt

Tropical Vaca: Coconut Flakes (unsweetened) + Mango slices + Cashews + Coconut milk

Mexi-Cali: Make it savory and omit the flavored protein powder. Add black beans + avocado + sautéed peppers + greek yogurt + chili powder and lime juice

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I’m so excited just to have this day to lounge around and watch the olympics, make some food for the week and reset.

Have you guys been watching Rio? What has been your favorite event to watch? Anything you guys are still looking forward to?

Do you tend to prefer sweet or savory for breakfast? I tend to prefer sweet but there are definitely days when nothing but savory will do. Luckily, sweet potatoes fit both of the bills!

HELP ME REACH $1,500 BY SEPTEMBER 1ST!

 

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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