Sunday, March 27, 2016

Tips for Choosing Protein Supplements

While I love protein bars and powders for convenient on-the-go snacks or meals, let's face it, a lot of what is out in the market is, dare I say it, pure junk. My main issues with most bars/powders are the laundry list of filler ingredients and high sugar content. Below are some tips for choosing the best protein supplement for you and a no-bake protein bar recipe I love, love, love to make!

Check the Protein
The first thing you want to do with any protein bar is to of course, check the protein. If you are going for the bar as a snack, aim for around 7-10g of protein. If it is a meal replacement, try to look for more than 10g. Protein helps to stabilize your blood sugar, which is great for not only Diabetics, but also, those who just want to keep their hunger levels at bay. I use a plant-based powder with a blend of brown rice, hemp seeds, pea protein and chia seeds for a great amino-acid profile. If you use milk products at home, look for a whey protein and/or whey isolates for good quality.

Check the Sugar
I can't stand when I look at a bar and see 20g of protein and then 20g of sugar. Really? I'm not going to mention any names, but I even saw a company use the disclaimer of, "Not recommended for Diabetics." Unless you are a marathon runner or some other super high intensity athlete, never choose a bar with that much sugar in it, especially if the third ingredient is cane syrup and not even a naturally occurring sugar. So, what should you look for then? You want less than 10g of sugar if it is a bar and less than 5g if it is a powder. Most of my clients (and myself) use the powders in a smoothie with fruit and a type of milk (almond, coconut, cow's). You are already getting the sweetness from the fruit, so you really don't want a ton more in the powder.

Read the Ingredient List
If you look at the ingredient list and see added sugar as one of the first 3 ingredients, you might want to think about choosing another bar. Ingredients are listed by weight, so the first few are the most prominent in the item. Added sugars would be things like: brown rice syrup, honey, cane syrup, cane sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, etc. These are different than natural occurring sugars like dates or raisins, which are typically less refined, with a slower effect on your blood glucose. They also come packed with other vitamins and minerals that your refined sugars will not. This same idea also goes with healthy fats. Try to aim for bars that use whole foods like almonds, chia, flax, coconut, etc, instead of oils. Again, you will get more nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber) with the whole food source.

Almond Protein Snack Bars
Yield: 10 bars

1 cup raw almonds, reserve 1/4 cup(I used slivered - easier to food process)
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups quick-cook oats
1.5 scoops vanilla protein powder (you can use chocolate too)
2 tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons SunButter (sunflower seed butter)*
2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips, melted (optional)

1. Spray an 8 by 8 inch square pan with cooking spray.
2. Food process 3/4 cup almonds.**
3. Add remaining ingredients, except the chocolate chips. Food process until smooth.
4. Using your hands, press the mixture into the prepared pan. Top with chopped almonds and drizzle with optional dark chocolate.
5. Let pan sit for about 15 minutes in the fridge before cutting. Once cut, store in the fridge for up to 1-week. Enjoy!!

Additional Notes
*I used the sun butter as a little added flavor. You could also use almond or peanut butter. If you notice your mix to be a little dry and not sticking together, add a little more of the nut butter.
**If you want to skip this step, simply use 1/2 cup almond butter. I also didn't food process my almond to a butter, but left it a slight bit crumbly. You can do either or for your recipe at home!
***You can also use dates or raisins instead of the honey/maple syrup. Try adding in chia, flax, or hemp seeds for a fiber, protein, omega 3 boost too!

Nutrition Facts (1 bar): 170 calories, 8g fat, 54mg sodium, 88mg potassium, 18g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 7g sugar, 8g protein

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Common Weight Loss Issues

Being a dietitian, I get a ton of clients who are trying to lose weight. I would say 90% of them have tried some sort of diet before (most being a short-term crash diet type) and about 80% ended up gaining back the weight they lost (plus some). Losing weight and changing your eating habits is not easy. Anyone who says that it is is either lying to you or trying to sell you a supplement (and also lying to you)! It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to change your diet and really stick with it.

Most people that approach me about weight loss are facing the same questions: what should I do, how should I do it, and how long will it take! For starters, DO eat more fiber (fruits, veggies, whole grains). One of the first things I ask any client or potential client is, "What do you eat during a typical day?" Almost none of them are eating enough fruits and vegetables. I would say the average is 1-2 fruits and 0-1 veggies per day. Fruits and veggies are packed with fiber and nutrients. Add fresh fruit to your cereal, add a side salad to dinner or pack some hummus and veggies. There are tons of ways to add in the fruits and veggies, it just takes a little planning and effort.

Limited water intake is another huge issue I see with clients trying to lose weight. Most Americans are just not drinking enough water. It's usually high calorie beverages or little to no fluid at all! For those of you who hate the taste of water, try seltzer water or adding fresh fruit to plain water. I love the combos lime, mint, and cucumber or strawberry basil.

Healthy food tastes bland. Ever heard that statement before? I get it all the time! "I can't eat healthy because healthy food just doesn't taste good." Another favorite of mine is, "I hate fruits" or "I hate vegetables." First off, make the healthy food taste better! Most people think you need to steam vegetables and not add anything else. Think again! Add some lemon, herbs, spices, etc. Roast your veggies! Make a fruit smoothie! Try a new recipe! Healthy food only tastes bland if you make it that way. Get creative in the kitchen and don't be afraid of trying new things. Side note here, don't think that you need to cook everything from scratch or use only fresh options for a meal to be healthy. I love using frozen veggies instead of fresh because they are way more convenient to use and I don't have to worry about them going bad quickly.

Try not to fool yourself when you are trying to lose weight. I don't know how many clients say to me they are so frustrated with their lack of weight loss and they just want to give up. Had it not been for me (or someone else pushing them along) they may have just walked away from it all. Again, honest moment to yourself, are you really trying that hard? Did you go overboard with the weekend festivities? Are you sleeping enough? Drinking the right kinds of stuff? Eating the right foods? You get where I am going here. I would say 99% of the time, there is ALWAYS something more you can do if you feel like your weight-loss just isn't going the way you planned. Take the time to assess what you are eating and drinking and what your activity looks like. Also, when you start to change your eating habits, don't expect to see the pounds melting off of your body in 1 day or even 1 week! I always say to my clients, "You didn't get to this point overnight." A good weight-loss goal is 1-2 pounds per week. Any more than that and I question whether or not your eating enough and if it is another one of those "fad diets."

So to sum this all up, be honest with yourself and take the time to really change those habits for the long-haul and finally get off the weight-loss, weigh gain wagon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Conventional Vs. Organic Produce

One of the debates going on now is whether or not organic produce is more nutritious than conventional produce.

As per the USDA, "Produce can be called organic if it's certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for 3 years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include more synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.""Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used." Organic farms and processors support animal health and welfare, do not use genetically modified ingredients, separate organic food from non-organic, and preserve natural resources.

There are some minimal differences in the nutritional profile between organic and conventional produce with organic being higher. This difference, however, is not substantial enough to fully say that all organic is better than conventional. There is some alarm being raised with the pesticide use on conventional produce. Pesticides are regulated by the EPA and are mainly used to protect the produce from bugs and extend their shelf life. There has been some links in research from exposure to pesticides to cancers and brain/central nervous system defects.

Before you start throwing away everything in your fridge, know that there is a threshold for the amount of pesticides you can consume safely. Also, different fruits and vegetables have varying levels of pesticide residues. I love the Safe Fruits and Veggies pesticide calculator because you can see how much of the item you would need to eat in order to see any negative effects from the pesticides. For example, a woman would need to consume more than 2332 servings of kale in one day to have any sort of effect of the pesticides even if the kale had the highest levels of residues. For women and potato consumption, the amount is more than 7379 servings in one day to see any harmful effects.

Check out the link below for a complete list of the dirty dozen (produce with the highest level of pesticide residue that are best to buy organic) and clean fifteen (produce with the lowest level of pesticide residue).
-->Dirty Dozen (best to buy organic) --> LINK
--> Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen Cards --> LINK

One of the biggest complaints about buying organic is that it is more expensive than the conventional. While this may be true, think about how much of the produce you consume that is on the dirty dozen list and if you could spend a little bit more money in this area than in other areas (like on snacks or treats). I don't want those of you reading this to think that if you can't afford organic, that means you should avoid fruits and vegetables. That is certainly not the case! Fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of so many diseases. Also, it is way better to eat a conventionally grown apple than it is to eat potato chips or donuts.

One way to keep your produce safe is to make sure it is washed thoroughly. For conventional or organic produce, the FDA recommends washing fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating or cooking, using a brush to scrub produce with hard surfaces, and cutting away any damaged or bruised areas. If you buy lettuce or greens in a bundle, the recommendation is to toss the outer layer. By following these steps, you can decrease, if not eliminate, the pesticide residue on your produce.

Below are some other great links I discovered for pesticides and safety levels along with organic practices and standards!

Risk Level Calculator --> LINK
Research on Pesticide Residues --> LINK
Organic Standards USDA --> LINK
Introduction to Organic Practices --> LINK

Eating fruits and vegetables (conventional or organic) is way better than eating the processed junk foods. Finally, organic chips and pretzels are still just chips and pretzels. So, don't be blinded by the use of the word organic for covering up junk!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Health Benefits of Chocolate

I am sure many of you reading this post have heard about the health benefits of chocolate. Does this  mean you have free reign to eat as much as you want? Let's slow the wagon down for just a second.

I'll start off by saying that while chocolate can be good because of the antioxidant content, I wouldn't go as far as saying it is "healthy." Depending on the type of chocolate you get, you are still looking at something with a higher content of calories, fat, and sugar. Also, I would much rather someone aim for getting their antioxidants from berries (that have fiber and other nutrients) than a piece of chocolate.

Indulging in the occasional piece of dark chocolate can definitely be something that fits into your diet; however, there are some tips for choosing the right kind of chocolate to reap the benefits. Let's break down the research to see what benefits (besides good taste) chocolate has to offer.

Dark chocolate can decrease your risk of stroke, lower the "bad" LDL cholesterol, and decrease your risk of heart disease. Some studies have been showing that continued consumption of chocolate decreased the risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. There are also some suggestions that cocoa flavanols may reduce some measure of age-related cognitive decline. Most of these health benefits can be attributed to the flavonoids, which help repair damage from environmental toxins and antioxidants, which help to decrease inflammation and fight free radicals in the body. The antioxidants may also help to lower blood pressure. These antioxidants and flavonoids can also be found in fruits and vegetables, with high concentrations in apples, cranberries, and onions. Tea and red wine also contain flavonoids.

In terms of which chocolate is better, you want to aim for a minimum of 60-70% dark chocolate. One ounce of dark chocolate with 60-69% pure cocoa contains a good source of manganese, copper, and magnesium. There are also trace amounts of phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, calcium, and B vitamins. There is no recommendation for the amount of chocolate per day; however, keep the maximum to 1-ounce per day to avoid spiking the calories and saturated fat. If you are wondering about white chocolate, it contains zero cocoa solids and cocoa powder (ground cocoa solids), so it really isn't considered chocolate at all. Basically, it is just a combination of sugar, cocoa, butter, milk and soy lecithin. This pales in comparison to dark chocolate which is at least 35% chocolate liquor (cocoa solids + cocoa butter).

While chocolate has been showing some promising health benefits in the research, it is important to remember that the type and quantity does matter. So, stick with at least 60-70% dark chocolate and limit yourself to 1-ounce per day. If you don't think that you can stick with a small amount, aim instead for getting your antioxidants and flavonoids from fruits and veggies!