Monthly Archives: April 2012

Basic Nutrition I – Carbohydrates

Recently, a friend posted his status update on Facebook as “starting my zero carb diet today, hope it works!”. This got me thinking; first off, aren’t we all over the zero carb thing yet?. Second, how is it that people have difficulty making wise food choices? I’m astonished at how little most people know about food considering how closely connected it is to our health and well being.

In the next three posts I plan on giving a very basic primer on three basic nutrients necessary for health to help get you started making better food choices and hopefully avoid fad diets, or diets at all for that matter. There is a lot of good information out there. Lots of great books (What to Eat – Marion Nestle, Good calories, Bad Calories – Gary Taubes, etc..) and great websites (Livestrong.com, the Mayo clinic website and Dr. Andrew Weil’s website and many other great blogs). The problem is that you have to actively be searching for the accurate and helpful information. Most of the information offered and most easily accessed is information from the food companies themselves, who do NOT have your best interest in mind. Even what you see on T.V. is sponsored by some large food company paying whichever T.V. personality nutritionist to say what they are saying.

The first nutrient I’ll discuss are carbohydrates. The function of carbohydrates is to supply energy for your body. They are broken down in your body to form glycogen, which is the fuel your body uses to create energy for your muscles to move and your organs to function. Carbohydrates can be classified into complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates are sugars (fructose, glucose, lactose, etc) and refined flour and grains (white bread, cookies, most cereals, pastries, etc). These types of carbohydrates are absorbed by your body very quickly, giving you that sugar high then sending you crashing down, craving more food to provide more energy for your body. This process puts an enormous strain on your pancreas in producing insulin so that your body can process this influx of glucose. This process, over time, can cause type II diabetes. It is also a cause of weight gain. When not readily used or consumed in excess, carbohydrates are stored as fat. Another problem in this way of eating is that you are causing a feast or famine regimen in your body, flooding it with easy energy then dropping down over and over again wreaking havoc on your metabolism. By doing this your body becomes less efficient metabolizing calories and you  wind up as gradually gaining weight. Over the past 50 or more years, several studies have been done showing, quite clearly, the increase in societies consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugar have paralleled the increase in cancer, diabetes, and weight gain. A very good reason to cut down on simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates do the same in that they provide energy for your body but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Complex carbohydrates break down in your system much, much slower, providing a constant supply of energy for your body. Adequate carbohydrates consumption is necessary to maintain energy, strength and for sustaining lean body mass (LBM is what gives your body definition and shape, not bulk). It is also an important part of your diet if you are trying to lose weight. Constantly providing your body with an energy source will help control appetite, avoid fatigue, and help to build lean muscle thereby increasing metabolism.

So really, the problem is not carbohydrates but the type of carbohydrates. This is a very important distinction. Right now, the average person consumes about 70% of their diet in carbohydrates, most, if not all, in the form of refined flours and sugar. The perfect recipe for obesity and diabetes. The recommended ratio for maintaining health is between 50% – 60% carb, 30% fat, and 10%-20% protein.  When choosing your carbohydrates steer clear of processed foods, white flours and sweeteners. DON’T avoid fruits and vegetable because they are carbohydrates or sugars! They are “good carbs” and the naturally occurring sugars in fruit are not as concentrated as added sugar in processed food. A word to the wise: be careful when looking for whole grain products. Many manufacturers are aware of the fact that consumers lack reliable  information about nutrition or at best have a confusing array of information gleaned from the news and magazines, and will pray on this by advertising something as being made from “whole grains” to boost sales but the product will contain huge amounts of sugar. This is the case with most breakfast cereals. Buyer beware. Some information to be armed with: one teaspoon of sugar is about 4.2 grams, it is recommended we should not be consuming more that 10 teaspoon of added sugar a day (the naturally occurring sugar in fruit is A-OK!!). That’s 42 grams. Consider that many cereals, granola bars and other snacks have more than 25 grams per serving. Most sodas have somewhere around 40 grams and sports drinks have approximately 30 grams for 16oz. That’s a whole lot of sugar and a whole lot of extra pounds! When choosing carbohydrates, choose whole grain breads, grains, beans, fruit, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Keep check of all those added sugars.

Here is a quick reference to help you understand what your caloric intake of each nutrient might be:

Lets say your calorie requirement is 1,800 calories per day and you want to eat 50% carbs, 30% fat, and 20% protein.

Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram Fat = 9 calories per gram Protein = 4 calories per gram

50% of 1,800 = 900 calories 900/4 = 225 grams

30% of 1,800 = 540 calories 540/9 = 60 grams

20% of 1,800 = 360 calories 360/4 = 90 grams

Recommended reading: Good Calories, Bad Calories – Gary Taubes

(not an easy read – you have to really be interested in the subject to get through it but so worth it!)

Basic Spanish Rice

1 Medium Onion – Chopped

1 Bell Pepper – Chopped

1 Clove Garlic – Minced

1 Medium Fresh Tomato Chopped or ½ Cup Canned Diced Tomato, Drained

1 Cup Long Grain White Rice

1 ¾ Cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock – heated

½ Tsp. Paprika

½ Tsp. Cumin (optional)

½ Tsp Chili Powder (optional)

1 tsp. Salt

Ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350

Heat olive oil in an oven proof skillet or casserole. Add onions, garlic and peppers. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add tomatoes and spices. Stir to combine. Add rice and stir to coat rice. Add hot stock and bring to a boil. Distribute the rice evenly in the pot after adding stock but do not stir. This will make your ice turn out sticky. Immediately upon boiling cover and place in oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. Remove from oven, uncover and let stand 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving.

Thinking out of the Box

We’ve all been sold on the idea of not having enough time to cook. Marketing agencies for big food companies have worked very hard over many decades to do this with the goal of selling lots and lots of poor quality packaged convenience food. They have been very successful and have convinced us, miraculously, that it tastes good and is healthy, or at least not harmful. That’s all we have to do is look at the poor state of the average Americans health to determine how wrong the health claim is. The fact that most of it is unhealthy is a no brainer but the fact that we think it tastes good is a matter of altered palettes. The fact is, the convenience food industry grew out of the war ration industry of the 1940’s. Basically, our taste buds have been trained to like, if not even crave, the salty poor quality fake food that was made to last months and years during world war II when folks may not have access to food at all. All well and good for the war years, but now?

Back to the ad agencies successfully convincing us we have no time. I’m skeptical of that. How can we have no time to cook healthy meals for ourselves and our families yet have on average 4-1/2 hours per day to watch T.V.1? And that is a modest statistic, some claim we watch even more. We’ve been told we have no time and we’ve believed them. We’ve been told cooking is a drag and it’s difficult. We’ve been told healthy is expensive (it’s not when you know how to shop for these types of items). We’ve been told so many destructive lies that undermine our health for the profits of large food companies it’s hard to wade through them all. But I’ll get off my soapbox and get down to what I’m doing here.

What I plan on doing in the “Get out of the Box” series is to share with you some of my favorite recipes that I’ve discovered, through trial and error, do a great job at replacing those processed box products we’ve been sold. Overall, they don’t take all that much more time and in the long run cost a whole lot less too.

The food industry is interesting and, in my opinion, very important to be aware of. Whatever your opinion is, whether you care or not, that’s fine with me. I’m not preaching. BUT, it is important to be aware of what is going on with the food you put into your body. I imagine many of you are familiar with Fast Food Nation and/or Supersize Me least of all you’ve heard of them. It’s a good start. Here is a list of some great resources to learn more. This is in no way all the books I have read or recommend, just a primer.

The Omnivores Dilemma – Michael Pollen

Food Rules – Michael Pollen

In Defense of Food – Michael Pollen

Food Politics – Marian Nestle

What to Eat – Marion Nestle

I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Eat It Anymore – Christina Pirello

Fast Food Nation – Eric Schlosser (also a documentary)

Movies:

Food, Inc.

Supersize Me

Forks over Knives

Footnotes:

Starting a Cardio Program

Resistance training is an important part of your fitness training. It builds lean muscle that give your body the tone and shape you love. It also improved your metabolism along with a slew of other great benefits. Where I have observed problems when beginning a fitness program is not the resistance training, but the adherence to a cardio program. I know plenty of people say the hate it. They hate to sweat, they think its boring, you name it. So often I watch people come into the gym and spend 30-45 minutes on a decent weight training routine but never do a second of cardio and wonder aloud why they aren’t seeing any definition. The fact is, you need to get that fire stoked with cardio to burn the calories and burning more calories than you consume is what leads to loss of fat. As an added benefit, by working your heart you are doing one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of many cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and diabetes. How’s that for a good reason to start liking sweat, or at least tolerating it. For an average healthy adult, you should be engaging in your chosen aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) per week, which is just 30 minutes per day. That can be 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening. Easy right?!

I’m convinced that for many people it may not be that they don’t like any sort of aerobic exercise, it is because they haven’t found one that suits them. So what I’ve done is compiled a list of basic workout formate with their pros, cons, equipment and some tips on getting started. I hope you find one that fits!

 Walking

Pros: Easy to start, accessible, low impact, studies show that regular brisk walking can have the same benefits as jogging

Cons: Well, the only one I can come up with is perhaps if you don’t have access to a safe place to walk. However I don’t think that is something many people will run into.

Equipment: Nothing but a good pair of walking shoes needed. Please don’t wear your casual shoes. I recommend finding a comfortable pair of shoes that are made for light workouts or walking specifically that have proper arch support.

Getting Started: Start easy. Especially if you have been inactive. Try starting with short sessions, 10 to 15 minutes, 5 days per week. Then gradually increase you time as you feel comfortable. Try to reach for at least 30 minutes 3 days per week of brisk walking. 5 days per week is ultimately the goal.

 Running/Jogging

Pros: Easy to start, accessible, efficient workout

Cons: Same as above

Equipment: A good pair of shoes. This is your most important purchase and can make or break your experience. When you buy shoes I recommend going to an athletic store or, if you have one nearby, a store specifically for runners. The prices shouldn’t be much higher, if at all, so don’t worry. You will find a wide variety of shoes and expert advise, which is worth the extra buck or two. Go try shoes at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swelled. Your feet naturally swell slightly during the day and when running. Make sure to bring the socks you plan of wearing when you run to ensure a good fit. Have your feet measured and try a few shoes. Don’t just go for the first pair or the one that looks the best.

Getting Started: Start slow. A common mistake for beginners is to go too fast push too hard and become fatigued, frustrated and quit. It will take some time to find your pace but it’s best to start very slowly at first, its OK! Walk if you have to. Again, its OK! Try to track your runs based on time rather than miles. Running is very individualized and you’ll have to experiment to find your starting point. You may have to start by walking more than jogging. Over time, your pace will improve and you’ll find yourself running farther and enjoying it more. You can’t beat a workout that burns an estimated 200 calories in just 20 minutes.

 Cycling

Pros: Low impact, Great way to commute to work if you have a bicycle safe route – save gas!!,

Cons: Can be costly depending on equipment

Equipment: Bike – doesn’t matter what kind, as long as it is in safe, working condition. Helmet. The equipment from that point depends on your riding preference, road bike, mountain bike or casual.

Getting Started: If you haven’t been on a bike for a while it’s best to find a traffic free place to get comfortable again. Once you are comfortable get out there. There are so many options from riding clubs to using your bike for commuting. There are many wonderful bike rides in cities, suburbs and rural areas alike, there is bound to be one near you. If you will be riding in an area with vehicle traffic, be sure to understand how to keep yourself safe on the road. Always ride with traffic, obey traffic laws, wear reflective clothing, always wear your helmet, and watch for turning traffic.

 Swimming

Pros: Low impact, good for pregnant women, those with arthritis and older adults, great full body workout

Cons: Chlorine may be irritating, finding a pool or other place to swim may be either expensive or difficult.

Equipment: Bathing suit, goggles, kick board (optional)

Getting Started: Think about taking a swim lesson. Even if you know how to swim it is important to have proper technique to gain the most benefit.

 Cardio machines/gym example: stationary bikes, elliptical, stair climber

Pros: Low impact, easily accessible, since your workout is indoors you can continue your workout throughout the winter and hot summer months comfortably. You can read or watch T.V.

Cons: Can be monotonous, machines tend to be one size fits all so machines may be too big for some (primarily elliptical)

Equipment: Gym membership or home equipment

Getting Started: Again, as with all cardio workouts, start slow. Machines will track your time, calories, distance or METS which can be a bonus. It can also be a con as you will tend to be counting down the minutes till you’re done.

 Videos example: P90-X, Insanity

Pros: Privacy of your own home. Can be done late at night or very early in the evening when you may not want to go out for a walk or run. Like machine workouts, you can continue your workout throughout the winter since you are indoors.

Cons: Easy to skip or put off. Can become monotonous after a time.

Equipment: Varies. Some require specific equipment like resistance bands or weights

Getting Started: Couldn’t be easier, order the video and follow the directions. If you are someone who feels uncomfortable in public or at a gym this is a good option.

Willpower

Ah, willpower. We blame our lack of it for so many shortcomings in life. It is one of the most difficult things to muster as you strive to reach your goals. And doesn’t it always seem that the harder you try to avoid something the more certain it is you will give in. Turns out there is something to that beyond some sort of unfortunate personal shortcoming. There is some interesting research being done telling us it is likely chemical.

Enter the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. This book is so chock full of great stuff I urge every one of you to read it and take notes. What I’d like to specifically share with you in this post is the link between low glucose levels and willpower. Since nutrition and wellness are my passion I was intrigued by the discoveries concerning dieting and willpower. So here it is: the less you eat, the less willpower you have to resist the things you want to eat. In the end..giving in! This fact has a pretty bad ring to those who are trying to lose weight or dramatically change there diet. The simplified scientific explanation is that your body, including your brain, uses large amounts of glucose to function. Glucose is the fuel your body uses to produce energy, it is what we get from food in one form or another. When your brain is deprived of adequate glucose it is unable to function optimally which leads to poor decision making. It’s a one-two punch in that first your brain is using glucose rapidly to maintain willpower to resist whatever delicious temptation you are avoiding, then, as your body needs glucose to maintain energy you start to crave sweets (sugar is the fastest source of energy for your body). Weakened willpower + craving for sweets = donut! OR such a hankering for one that you are in such a crappy mood you can’t even see straight.

The way to avoid or at least minimize this when you are dieting is to maintain a consistent source of carbohydrates for your body to use and maintain glucose levels. That involves eating more frequent but smaller meals through the day made up of complex carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats. You’ve seen this advise before, this is just another good reason to take it. Choose foods that burn slowly providing a steady supply of glucose for your body to use as energy and foods that are low on the glycemic index so to avoid sharp spikes in your blood sugar only to send you crashing down and craving sugar. When you maintain a constant supply of energy for your body you will be maintaining the necessary fuel for keeping that willpower strong.

Very short sample of foods low on glycemic index:

  • Yogurt

  • milk, soy milk, almond milk

  • whole grains – ie: rice, barley, quinoa, oats. Most can be made into wonderful salads or breakfast cereals

  • Most fruits and vegetables (bananas, kiwis and sweet potatoes tend to be on the higher side)

  • Multi-grain breads/bagels

  • nuts

  • wheat thins

  • graham crackers

  • pasta, esp whole grains

  • oatmeal

Note: there is plenty to be learned from various books and websites about GI. Please take your time to read up. I’ll be updating to include books and sites to help you.

What the Hell…

We all know cutting calories promotes weight loss. Dieters watch their food intake, count calories and watch the scale for results. But how about that day when its someones birthday at the office and you have a cupcake or you’re out to dinner and you just can’t resist that warm Italian bread with butter. Oh well – right? Diets blown may as well eat what I want and start over tomorrow. Well folks, that’s a terrible idea. In fact the worst thing you can do for your diet! You can take a 200 calorie mistake and make it into a 1600 calorie nightmare putting yourself at a severe disadvantage the next day when you resume you diet. Just because you go over your caloric goal it does not give you license to go crazy!

We all slip up and honestly, a cupcake here and there isn’t so bad. But what we need to do is be forgiving of ourselves and rather than give into failure (for lack of a better word) we can merely look at it as a momentary lapse. Get yourself together and come up with a plan to compensate rather than drowning in a calorie, fat and sugar attack on your poor body. A cupcake, slice of pie or warm bread is easy to compensate for (calorically anyway) but a cupcake, milkshake, big mac and bag of chips is another story altogether. You see, your diet is not actually blown. There is a lot of push/pull involved in changing our habits and patterns. We are going to move forward then slide back a little. It’s all part of the process as long as you see it that way. Keep at it!