Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Probiotics 101

You may have been hearing a lot on probiotics and their influence on gut health. With so much information out there, it can be confusing choosing foods or even supplements with the best probiotic source that will benefit you! My goal is that you will have a better understanding of what probiotics are, the benefits, and how to choose a supplement (if you go that route) after reading this post. So, let's get started!

What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. Probiotics allow healthy bacteria in your GI tract to thrive while inhibiting or destroying toxins released by other bacteria. The healthy bacteria in your gut help to digest food and also synthesize some vitamins.

Benefits of Probiotics
There are a lot of benefits associated with probiotics. They include: decreasing IBS symptoms (bloating, gas diarrhea, constipation), regulating intestinal transit, boosting your immune system, aiding in dairy digestion for those with lactose intolerance, restoring bacterial balance (especially after taking antibiotics), decreasing the amount of harmful bacteria in your gut that can cause inflammation, and reducing diarrhea associated with antibiotic use for acute illnesses.

Foods That Contain Probiotics
Probiotics are mainly found in fermented foods like miso, kimchi, tempeh, fresh sauerkraut, and kombucha. You can also find probiotics in yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, and some soft cheeses. Look for the phrases, "live and active cultures" or "contains probiotics" if you are choosing a dairy food. Not all yogurts will contain probiotics and frozen yogurts contain little to none. Some common probiotic strains include: Lactobacillus, Bifiodobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii.

What to Look for in Supplements
If you are going with a probiotic supplement, there are a few things you should look out for. First, is to avoid any probiotics that are not "live." Second, look for supplements that say the number of live organisms is guaranteed through the expiration date; if not, you may not know how much of the probiotic has already degraded. While there is no recommendation for probiotic intake, the general rule of thumb is to take at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFU) daily.

Daily consumption of probiotics is the best way to reap the benefits!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why Calories Don't Really Matter

One of the first things I hear when someone is trying to lose weight is that they need to start counting or watching their calories. It goes back to the the old saying of "calories in, calories out." If you eat less, and exercise more you'll lose weight guaranteed. Makes sense right? Well, not so much.

A calorie is a measure of energy and everything you eat has calories in it. We need those calories to survive. Most Americans are consuming way too many calories and they are mainly the heavily processed, refined types. I see so many food diaries that have a ton of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats in them. Let's face it, you can be eating a restricted diet of only 1,100 calories and still end up with Diabetes and Hypertension. Why is this? Because all calories are not created equal! It really boils down to the food quality. Let's say you have 100 calorie pack of baked chips and 100 calorie pack of roasted almonds. You would probably say that the almonds are better for you (and your right); however, would your answer change if I gave you a 150 calorie serving of almonds? Maybe. The reality is, your body processes these foods differently. Fat and protein are slower digesting, which means you stay fuller for longer (and more satisfied). Refined carbohydrates (like in the chips) have little to no fiber, minimal nutrients and basically just spike and drop your blood sugar levels leaving you hungry an hour (or less).

I often think of calorie counting as restriction, free-range to eat the overly processed food-like-products, and a band aid on the true issues. Let's explore those points. I have a lot of people tracking their intake for appointments**. One big thing I see with clients is that they get to the end of the day, have "no calories left" and end up going to bed hungry without eating dinner. Skipping meals and eating super low calorie won't help with continued weight loss. You are just slowing down your metabolism to compensate for the minimal calories, burning calories less efficiently, and probably making yourself miserable.

On to the overly processed food-like-products. Again, we are talking about food quality. Ever think or hear something like this before, "I have 100 calories left for the day. A piece of chocolate is only 40 calories. I can eat that instead of a medium apple, which has 120 calories and save myself 80 calories, while sticking with my recommended intake." Better yet, "I can eat a to go breakfast sandwich, a bagel with cream cheese and a frozen dinner meal AND stay within my calories." No. NO. NO!

Lastly, most clients I see are overeating from stress, boredom, or heightened emotions. Just counting calories and sticking to a magic number isn't going to fix these issues. Eventually, you may end up stopping the calorie counting and returning to your old habits. You have to focus on changing these behaviors first before any healthy eating plan can stick.

While you do want to watch how much food you are eating, think of calories as more of a reference than the end-all-be-all. So, ditch the calorie counters and go for the whole foods approach. Focus more on adding quality foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Skip the processed junk and your body will be sure to thank you later!

Click to Watch

**Food journaling and tracking your intake can be a great tool for identifying areas of missing nutrients, meal skipping, and overall food quality. I don't want this to be mistaken for the ridge calorie counts. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Tips for Mindful Eating

One big thing I have been talking about with my clients is the concept of "Mindful Eating". Mindful eating is about being present in the moment and stopping to think about your food choices. Mindful eating includes ideas like: tasting and savoring the food you eat, slowing down your meal time, and asking yourself if you are eating because you are truly hungry or just bored/stressed. Mindless eating can lead to weight gain because of the excessive calorie intake of mainly unhealthy foods. I mean lets face it, most people are not mindlessly snacking on carrots or celery, right?

There has been a lot of research about how your food environment influences your eating habits and affects how mindfully you eat. By food environment, I mean how your kitchen is set up or what you have on your table or the snacks you choose to keep at your desk at work. If you store unhealthy foods like chips or pretzels on the counter and bury the fruit in the drawer of the fridge, you are way more likely to choose the chips when you come in your house hungry. Same as if you have chocolate and candy in your desk drawer but left your roasted almonds in your car, you are way more likely to choose the candy when hunger strikes at work. How you set up your food environment can either help or hinder your chances at achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Below are some tips I have used with clients that can help improve mindfulness with eating!

Don't Leave Food Out
Avoid leaving high calorie snack foods on the counter. If you are putting anything out, make it fruits or vegetables.

Put Healthy Foods at Eye Level in the Fridge
Wash and cut produce and store in clear containers. When you open the fridge, make your fruits and veggies the first thing you see and you are more likely to eat them.

Hide or Eliminate Unhealthy Foods From Your Cabinets
You know yourself better than anyone else. If you can't keep chips hidden in the back of the cabinet without eating the whole bag at once, then don't buy them at all.

Don't Eat and Cook
I get so many people who tell me they snack while cooking! Chances are they end up forgetting how much they ate and being stuffed up on unhealthy foods before they even get to dinner. If your not snacking on veggies, then put away the munchies! Try chewing gum, using mouthwash, or sipping an unsweetened beverage instead.

Use Smaller Plate and Bowls
This is one of those things that everyone says; however, it does work!

Leave Leftovers on the Stove
This goes along with using smaller plates and bowls. I mean you may have a smaller plate, but still refill it more than if you just ate the regular size. By keeping leftovers away from the table, it forces you to get up for seconds. During that time, assess your hunger level and think about if you are truly hungry or just want more. You can also pack up the leftover before you eat, so you are less tempted to overindulge!

Turn off the TV
Watching TV and eating is one of the biggest drivers towards mindless eating. People end up eating more and again it is not normally the steamed broccoli when they do. So, turn off the TV and pay attention to what you are eating and maybe even the conversation at the table.

Force Yourself to Sit
Do you find yourself wandering around the kitchen munching? Or grabbing a bag of chips or crackers and eating right from there while standing? Instead of standing and eating from the container, which makes it easy to lose track of how much you consume, portion out your food and take the time to sit and enjoy it.

Hopefully, you find one strategy that can help you to eat more mindfully and improve your diet in a healthy way!

Watch "An Overview of Mindful Eating"