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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Lindsey Hehman

Recent Posts by Lindsey Hehman:

Nutrition Label Reading 101: How to Read Your Food’s Package (Part 2)

GettyImages-165661895In part 1 of this blog, I showed you how to interpret the nutrition information on the front of your favorite packaged foods. Now let’s get into the back of the package!

Serving Size and Servings Per Container

This doesn’t necessarily tell you how much to eat, but all of the values on the label apply to this chosen serving size. You might be surprised to see that many items you thought were individually packaged really are telling you that two cookies are 160 calories. Let’s say you eat the entire package (it happens!). You can take the “servings per container” and multiply that by all of the listed values. If two cookies are the serving, but you actually ate the entire bag, just take your 10 servings and multiply it by 160 calories to calculate that 20 cookies would be 1,600 calories.

Calories

For anyone trying to lose weight, it helps to cut back on calorie content, especially calories from packaged foods because they are often empty calories: the food gives your body a lot of calories but provides very little nutrition.

% Daily Values

Unless you are sticking to a strict 2,000-calorie diet, these numbers might not be very helpful for you, so don’t look into these values too much. For instance, 5% DV of fat provides 5% of the total fat you want to eat on a 2,000-calorie diet. In some areas you may need more or less than the 2,000 calorie % Daily Value. Low is 5% or less—aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. High is 20% or more—aim high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Total Fat

Total fat sums up all of the following values. Type of fat is extremely important. Often, items that are “reduced fat” end up increasing your sodium and added sugar to make up for what fat would have brought to the table—taste and body. So don’t shy away from fat completely. Just be mindful that fat packs a punch in terms of calories, so you want to practice everything in moderation.

Saturated Fat

The American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat to less than 5–6% of your total caloric intake. This means that if you eat about 2,000 calories per day, you will want to keep saturated fat at 13g or less per day. In general, about 3g of saturated fat per serving is a good goal to aim for, but make sure to try and stick to no more than 13g per day. The majority of saturated fat comes from animal products such as beef, pork, poultry, butter, cream, and other dairy products.

Trans Fat

The goal is 0g of trans fat. Keep an eye out in the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. A trans fat ban is going into effect; however, the grace period means you may still have to watch for this harmful type of man-made fat. If a small enough amount exists, the serving size can be altered, and manufacturers may list trans fat as 0g even if there is a tiny amount of trans fat in the product.

Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fat

The “healthy fats!” These fats may not always be listed. There isn’t a big reason to limit them other than they can add a large amount of calories fairly quickly and contribute to weight gain. However, these healthy fats don’t raise cholesterol like the saturated and trans fats do. These fats are found in nuts, nut butters, olive oil, fish, and vegetable oils. We won’t put a limit on these healthy fats because, in general, the more the better because they help increase your good cholesterol (especially if you are replacing an unhealthy fat with a healthy fat—think olive oil for cooking instead of butter).

Cholesterol

The body is capable of making its very own cholesterol from dietary fat intake, so current nutrition recommendations do not emphasize limiting dietary cholesterol; rather, they talk about limiting saturated and trans fat (dietary cholesterol is seen as impacting body cholesterol levels less so than dietary fat does). However, because the science is always changing, try to keep cholesterol to no more than about 200–300 mg/day because any dietary cholesterol is ingested and taken in as simply cholesterol.

Sodium

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends sticking to 1,500mg or less.

Total Carbohydrates

The sum of your starches, fiber, and sugar (added and natural) [see below]. Carbohydrates have somewhat of a bad reputation, but you ideally want most of your diet to stem from carbohydrates. So don’t shy away from these just because you might see a number you think is too high. Carbs provide your body with most of its energy needs, give your brain all of its energy supply, decrease chronic disease risk (fiber!), are key for digestive health (more fiber, yes!), and help with weight control (complex carbs!).

Dietary Fiber

Most experts agree that the average American should aim for a minimum of 25–30g of fiber per day. On average most of us come in at around 12g/day. See if you can get your 1–2 slices of bread to come in as close to 5g or more of fiber if possible!

Sugars

We aren’t sure if these are natural sugars (natural fruit sugars we don’t worry about!) or added (cane sugar), but we can sometimes deduce from the ingredients list whether most of the sugars are added or natural. If you see high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar/juice, honey, or maple syrup (there are many different names for added sugar!) near the top of the list, the sugar value is likely all added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that men keep daily added sugar intake to less than 36g (9 teaspoons) and that women aim for less than 25g (6 teaspoons) daily. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines are more lenient and recommend 48g or less daily for adults and 30–35g or less for children.

Added Sugars (optional)

Again, somewhere between 25-48g of added sugar daily or less is recommended (see above).

Protein

In general, the recommendation (dietary reference intake) is to consume about 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight daily. Anywhere from 10–30g of protein per meal is a good number to aim for. If you weigh 150 pounds, this means that you will want about 54g of protein daily (about 18g at each meal).

Vitamin D

600 IU or 15 mcg for most adults is recommended (aim for a higher %DV).

Calcium

1,000mg/day for most adults; women age 50+ 1,200mg/day.

Iron

Adult males and women over age 50 need 8mg per day. Women age 19–50 need 18mg. Pregnancy increases this need to 27mg daily.

Potassium

Aim for about 4,700mg of potassium per day (Dietary Guidelines for Americans).

Ingredients List

Pick items that have fewer ingredients—this usually means that they are less processed. Or bonus if the first three ingredients are whole foods. Ingredients are listed from highest weight to lowest weight. When it comes to crackers or bread, look for “WHOLE wheat” as opposed to “enriched flour” to pick breads that contain the entire grain. Whole grain, whole wheat, whole [other grain], brown rice, oats/oatmeal, or wheatberry means the grain is WHOLE. Wheat, semolina, durum wheat, and multigrain mean you might be missing some parts of the grain. Enriched flour, wheat flour, bran, and wheat germ mean there are no whole grains.

***

It’s no wonder that we are so confused by labels—there is a lot of information to try and remember and process! The best way to avoid being misled is to avoid most processed foods. With most whole foods (apples, potatoes, oats, etc.), we can be certain that we are not getting too much or too little of any one nutrient. But even dietitians enjoy the convenience (and taste) of packaged foods every now and then, and we hope that the tips in this article help clear up some confusion for you.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories fiber whole foods carbs sodium sugar fat carbohydrates food labels

Nutrition Label Reading 101: How to Read Your Food’s Package (Part 1)

GettyImages-955049998Standing in the bread aisle, flipping over the seventh loaf of bread, scanning the fine print, asking yourself which brand is best… Giving up trying different bread after five minutes and just picking what we usually go for—we’ve all been there! I want to help clear up the confusion by offering some recommendations on what numbers to look for and the most important places to look on the label to decide what brand is healthiest, whether that be crackers, bread, peanut butter, granola bars—you name it!

Whole Foods Are Best When Practical

I do recommend, if possible, trying to avoid packaged foods because they generally are more processed or refined than alternative options. For instance, veggie “straws” may be a good option every so often or for packing a quick side option in a lunch. There are some really great packaged options like Larabars that are often less than 7 ingredients and provide a really easy and filling snack, too. But try to make the most of your meal and opt for the real deal: baby carrots, celery, slices of bell pepper, etc.

Being realistic, however, how many of us will actually make the effort to make fresh, homemade bread every day? Of course it’s easier to just pick up this staple at the store and put your time to even better use by going for a walk or spending more time with family and friends, right?

The Front Label

Let’s take a look at the front of the package. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama invited the Grocery Manufacturers Association to introduce Facts Up Front. This voluntary labeling system takes a few key components of the larger nutrition facts label on the back and makes it easier for people to take a quick glance and decipher what they need to.

The Facts Up Front Label displays PER SERVING how many calories and how much saturated fat, sodium, and sugar is in each serving. Some labels may have other nutrients listed such as fiber, calcium, and potassium. Everything that we will discuss about the back of the package (in part 2 of this blog) applies to the front—this just breaks down everything into an easy-to-find, “per-serving” layout!

Nutrition Definitions

There are also a few definitions that are clearly laid out by the FDA that you may see on the front of the package:

  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
  • Low cholesterol: 20 milligrams or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • Reduced: At least 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product.
  • Good source of: Provides at least 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving.
  • Calorie free: Less than five calories per serving.
  • Fat free/sugar free: Less than .5 grams of fat or sugar per serving.
  • Low sodium: 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
  • High in: Provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value of a specified nutrient per serving.

In part 2 of this blog, I’ll go into detail about the information on the back of the package.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories whole foods sodium sugar fat food labels

Is Butter Really Better for You?

GettyImages-1078201394There is good reason for confusion surrounding what might arguably be one of America’s favorite spreads, topping everything from toast to popcorn to potatoes. The butter-versus-margarine debate has been a hot topic for the last several decades and is still a slippery subject. We have begun to understand the possible dangers of our high saturated fat consumption to our health. However, at the same time we are told that margarines are “artificial,” while butter is the all-natural choice. Which do we choose?

So Tell Me: Is Butter Actually Healthy?

In short, no. Saturated fat (found in high concentrations in butter) has been shown to raise “bad” cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. Saturated fat content may not be helpful in judging healthfulness of foods (coconut oil presents conflicting research), so we need to prioritize foods that we know improve health—and butter is not one of them.

We have enough evidence to know that high saturated fat content in foods definitely doesn’t help us—especially when we get it from the food sources that we do (a high intake of processed meats, cheese, and butter followed by too few fruits and veggies). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we aim to keep our saturated fat intake to less than 5–6% of our total calorie intake—meaning if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, you should be consuming 13 grams or less of saturated fat daily. Foods higher in unsaturated fat lead to lower risk of heart disease, so placing most of our focus on these foods like nuts, avocados, fatty fish such as salmon, nuts/nut butters, and olive oil is extremely important.

Note: The saturated fat content in just 1 serving of butter (1 tablespoon) puts the saturated fat intake at 7 grams. The AHA recommends 13 grams or less on a 2,000 calorie diet.

What About Margarine/Vegetable Oil–based Spreads?

While these options may have less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat (making them slightly more “healthy”), they are still very high in calories and we need to be extremely mindful of how much we are using. Excessive energy consumption will lead to weight gain and chronic health conditions. However, replacement of saturated fat in butter with more unsaturated fat does lower your risk of heart disease.

Try using a little olive oil, canola oil, avocado, hummus, or nut butters in place of your usual butter. Check your ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated” oils on any butter alternatives that you are using. If you see anything that is partially hydrogenated, it means that it contains what is called trans fat—a definite avoid-at-all-costs ingredient. Most food manufacturers have transitioned all of their products away from trans fat.

Note: 1 tablespoon (Earth Balance Original Vegetable Oil Spread) has 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, and 7.5 grams of unsaturated fats.

Saturated fat is found not only in butter but also in meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, and vegetable oils. Each food has a unique nutrient profile that has a different effect on heart disease. The deeper issue, beyond news headlines and the ever-changing results of various studies, comes down to an obsession with nutrients instead of focusing on foods. We become convinced that we need more fish oil supplements, vitamin C, or collagen. When we try to decrease our “bad” fat/saturated fat intake, we need to make sure we are replacing that high-saturated-fat-content food with something healthy.

Your goal should be to focus on ways to minimize packaged foods and maximize whole foods. Currently, our diets are high in processed meats, sides of fries, loaves of white bread, cereal, chips, cookies, and crackers along with soda and a daily dessert, which has made the US one of the least healthy countries in the world with one of the leading rates of obesity. We do know that large amounts of plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts in the diet are beneficial despite the seemingly endless supply of perplexing research in other areas, and so the focus is to try and shift the plate toward an eating pattern that emphasizes these plant foods.

We fall back on the idea that more fruits and vegetables can only help us, and this is an area that even dietitians have to remind themselves to work on every single day. Butter is just an addition to a diet that is generally already very calorically dense and high in saturated fat—something we get too much of in our day-to-day diets. Does half of your plate consist of fruits and veggies at every meal? When we create variety in the diet, we minimize the risk of “doing it wrong.” We can be certain that if we are filling our bellies with exactly what Mother Nature provided us, we can avoid falling into an eating pattern that sets us up for an unhealthy life and be even closer to getting nutrition “right”—setting us up for a lifetime of good health and happiness.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating calories fat plant-based

Get an A+ in Back-to-School Nutrition

GettyImages-1026132188Whether you are starting your first year in college, sending your kids off to school, or are teaching classes this school year, make sure that your nutrition stays at the top of your priority list. It can be easy to get bogged down in your day-to-day routine and quickly lose sight of your goals. Follow these steps to help you stay on track this year.

1. Eat Breakfast

It’s okay to be a creature of habit and eat the exact same meal every morning, as long as it is nutrient dense and keeps you satisfied throughout the morning. Pair a little protein (about 15–20 grams) with a carbohydrate. This gives your brain the boost it needs, but also helps keep you full so that you don’t arrive at lunch with a growling belly.

A few ideas to try:

  • Oatmeal with berries and a spoonful of peanut butter (try making overnight oats for easy grab and go).
  • Scrambled egg with sautéed veggies and whole-grain toast.
  • Banana or apple slices with a thin layer of almond butter on whole-grain toast.

2. Take Snacks

Your body needs a little fuel throughout the day to keep energy levels high and keep you focused. Just like breakfast keeps you full throughout the morning, you want to make sure you aren’t arriving to your next meal famished—otherwise, people have a tendency to eat too much, too quickly. Keep the pantry and fridge stocked with healthy and easy snacks so you can grab one and go in the morning.

A few ideas to try:

  • The original fast-foods: bananas, apples, oranges.
  • A variety of nuts such as pistachios, almonds, and pecans.
  • Granola bars such as Larabar or KIND snacks.
  • Hummus and veggies.
  • Whole-grain crackers and guacamole.

3. Practice Smart Hydration

Skip high-calorie beverages and aim to increase your intake of water. Opt for alternatives like flavored sparkling water, unsweet tea, or fruit-infused water to mix up your choices. (Here are some more tips for proper hydration.)

4. Make a Meal Plan

Just like you plan a time to do homework, work out, or go to sports practice, don’t put your nutrition on the back burner to everything else. Sit down as a family or roommates and write out your plan for the week. Start with breakfast—this is often the easiest. Next, plan dinners—dinner often will help you fill in your lunch plans with leftovers. From here, make your grocery list. This not only helps keeping you out of the closest fast-food joint, but it also helps with budgets—a win for everyone!

Meals do not need to be complicated. Keep the Plate Method in mind. Simply try to make half of your plate fruits and veggies, keep protein portions to one quarter of your plate, and make the other quarter of your plate whole grains.

5. Allow for Splurges

After a long day of exams, helping with book reports, or grading papers, everyone deserves a little treat, right? Try to avoid rewarding yourself with food at the end of every day, but also know that if you plan for some of your favorites you will be less likely to over-eat these items when you “cave” at 3 AM on a Tuesday! Take the kids for Friday night ice cream every week, hang with your friends and enjoy a slice or two of your favorite pizza, and then plan to get right back on track with healthy eating after that. One meal or snack will not throw you off track.

Sweet alternatives:

  • Chocolate hummus with fruit
  • Dried and pitted dates filled with almonds or dark chocolate
  • “Nice cream” (frozen banana blended with peanut butter)

***

We at NIFS hope your school year gets off to a great start. Best of luck in the 2019–2020 school year!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition snacks lunch breakfast hydration school meals meal planning

The Carb Conundrum: Avoid Them for Weight Loss and Healthy Eating?

GettyImages-902999388In recent years, carbohydrates have seemingly been blamed for our health problems. Many of us now shun potatoes, rice, and even fruit in fear of the dreaded pounds that could come with eating carbohydrates. While many diets demonize carbohydrates, others preach the benefits of higher-carbohydrate diets. Through all of this confusion, I will try to set the record straight.

No single food or food group should be blamed for weight gain or credited with weight loss. Carbohydrates span a broad range of foods, from beans, fruits, and veggies to pizza, pasta, cookies, and French fries. While we hate to oversimplify the equation, weight gain does come down to calories in versus calories out. If we eat too much of anything—even fruits and veggies—we will gain weight. The caveat is that fruits and veggies are nearly impossible to eat too much of because they are rich in fiber and low in calories, while other foods can pack a calorie-dense punch in a very small serving.

How easy is it to eat an entire bag of Chex Mix while you might struggle to eat half a cup of carrots?

Carbohydrates and a Healthy Diet

Carbohydrate-rich foods form the foundation of a healthy diet. The National Academy of Sciences recommends people consume 45–65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. In a 2,000-calorie diet, this is equivalent to 225–335 grams daily. Carbohydrates are crucial for energy production in the body for working muscles, fuel for proper mental function, supplying vitamins and minerals, as well as providing large amounts of fiber for decreasing risk of chronic disease like heart disease and cancer. Many foods contain carbohydrates: whole grains, fruits, starchy veggies, milk and dairy, pasta, beans, and refined/processed foods.

Should I Avoid Carbohydrates?

In recent years, many have found lower-carbohydrate, higher-protein diets to be beneficial in weight loss. However, the long-term effects of such a diet are not well studied. Many “low-carb” diets can lead to an increase in foods like red meats, processed meats, and saturated fat–containing foods like cheese, butter, and cream. Carbohydrate-rich foods provide numerous health benefits and you should not avoid them. Certain areas of the world called Blue Zones offer an interesting look into the benefits of a higher-carbohydrate diet. They have not only the highest rates of longevity but also very low rates of chronic disease. Blue Zone populations consume 95% of their calories from vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes and eat meat sparingly.

“Good” Versus “Bad” Carbohydrates

But it is important to think about the types of carbohydrates you are consuming. Unrefined carbohydrates are unprocessed, whole foods that are high in fiber (and many other nutrients) and digest more slowly. Unprocessed, whole-food carbohydrates help you feel fuller and get you through the day feeling less hungry. Processed carbohydrates lack fiber and may have added oils and sugar—they can leave you feeling low on energy as they are quickly digested and burned for fuel. Unprocessed carbs are key to long-term health and can help with weight control. They also guard against type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular problems. Try to limit most processed carbohydrates because they are low in nutrients and high in calories.

Unprocessed Carbohydrates

  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Fruit
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables

Processed Carbohydrates

  • Soda
  • Baked treats
  • Packaged sweets/snack foods
  • Fruit juice
  • Breakfast cereal
Did you now that in 1915 the average American consumed 17.5 pounds of added sugar in a year? As of 2011, the average American consumed over 150 pounds of sugar annually!

In summary, carbohydrates should be welcomed to not only help with weight management but also prevent disease. Make most of your carbohydrates whole, unprocessed foods for a balanced, healthy diet while enjoying the processed/refined carbohydrate foods in moderation. And if you’d like some help with figuring out what to eat, look into Nutrition Coaching at NIFS.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: weight loss healthy eating calories endurance disease prevention fiber energy whole foods carbs fruits and vegetables carbohydrates longevity

Macronutrients: The What, Why, and How of Tracking for Healthy Eating

GettyImages-1133846218 newA diet that is balanced in its macronutrient distribution can help reduce the risk of disease and help with lasting weight loss. You might have heard of others tracking their “macros” and wondered if this is something that you need to do. So, why and how do you do this tracking?

What Are Macronutrients?

The major macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. All are essential to health and well-being. Since 1941, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has reviewed the latest science and pulled together a group of experts to make recommendations to the public. The latest recommendations were published in 2005. Some foods provide a mix of macronutrients (beans provide protein, carbohydrates, and sometimes a very small amount of fat), while others provide only one type of macronutrient (olive oil provides just fat). Whether they are a mix of macros or one type, they all serve a purpose.

Protein

Protein provides four calories per gram. Protein is vital for immune function, building and repairing tissue, cell signaling, hormones, and enzymes. Protein-rich foods include eggs, poultry, fish, tofu, lentils, and beans.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide four calories per gram as well. In your body, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, a type of sugar that your body uses for immediate energy or stores in your liver and muscle for later use. Carbohydrates are found in almost all foods with the exception of oils/fats and meat—items like grains, starchy veggies, beans, dairy, and fruit contain carbohydrates.

Fat

Fat has the most calories at 9 calories per gram. Your body needs fat for energy, hormone production, and nutrient absorption. Fat is found in oils, butter, nuts, meat, and fatty fish.

What Is an Acceptable Distribution of Macronutrients?

The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) is the range associated with reduced risk for chronic diseases while providing essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. NAS has classified the following AMDR for adults as a percentage of calories as follows:

Protein: 10–35%

Fat: 20–35%

Carbohydrates: 45–65%

For example, an individual consuming 2,000 total calories per day will aim for approximately:

2,000 calories x 10 to 35% = 200–700 calories from protein OR  200–700 calories / 4 calories per gram = 50–175 grams of protein

2,000 calories x 20–35% = 400–700 calories from fat OR 400–700 calories / 9 calories per gram = 44–78 grams of fat

2,000 calories x 45–65% = 900–1300 calories from carbohydrates OR 900–1300 calories / 4 calories per gram = 225–325 grams of carbohydrates

How to Track Macros

  1. Determine your calorie needs (many formulas online, RMR testing at NIFS, and various apps will create calorie recommendations as well).
  2. Determine your macronutrient breakdown ( for example, if you’re very active, you may need more carbohydrates and protein).
  3. Log food intake into a journal like My Fitness Pal, Lose It, or My Macros+ app.

Keep in mind you might not always hit your goals precisely and the tools we have to calculate calories are not perfect. Food tracking is great for helping you get closer to your goals; but our bodies are not calculators, so give yourself a little “wiggle room” in your tracking.

Benefits of Tracking Macros

  • Improves diet quality: Instead of focusing on calories, where a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and fruit may be equal to a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, you will focus on nutrients.
  • Helps with weight loss: Those who track food tend to lose more weight than those who do not track food intake.
  • Helps with specific goals: Those who are endurance athletes may need more carbohydrates than athletes who are lifting weights multiple times per week.

When Is Tracking Useful?

Those who thrive on structure may find tracking macronutrients to be something they enjoy, and very beneficial. It can help to increase your awareness of the quality of foods you are eating and the amount of healthy foods you are eating. (Those with a history of disordered eating should not track food intake.)

When first starting, you may find it overwhelming, but over time you find the foods and healthy eating patterns that help you hit your macronutrient goals. When tracking macronutrients, it is important to focus on a mainly whole-foods diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and protein. The benefits come from making adjustments as needed—not finding the perfect ratio from the very beginning. Many can eat a well-balanced diet without tracking intake—there is no one-size-fits-all plan—but rest assured: if most of your food was grown in the ground and everything else is included in moderation, you are giving your body just what it needs.

Contact Lindsey Hehman, RD, at lhehman@nifs.org for questions or to come up with more specific macronutrient goals.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss healthy eating protein technology carbs fat

The Keto Diet: A Registered Dietitian’s Review

GettyImages-1134020458The “keto diet,” which is short for ketogenic diet, is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that is similar to the Atkins Diet, and is one of today’s most popular diets. The goal of a low-carb diet is to reduce carbohydrates and replace them with fat. This puts your body into a state of ketosis. When this occurs, your body breaks down fat into ketones for energy. The main idea here is that by starving the body of carbohydrates, you will force it to break down fats, which proponents of the diet suggest results in the best weight-loss results.

There are different versions of the keto diet. Some allow for added carbs around workouts, or some keto days followed by high-carb days, high-protein keto diets, and a standard keto diet of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs. It usually includes meat, eggs, cheese, milk, nuts and seeds, oils and fats (like avocado, coconut oil, ghee, butter, and olive oil), vegetables (limited to dark leafy greens and mushrooms, and fruit (berries in moderation). Generally the diet does not include starchy veggies (potato/sweet potato, pumpkin, legumes, etc.), grains (oats, rice, quinoa, corn), or fruits (banana, mango, pineapple, apples, oranges).

Why Is This Diet So Popular?

Keto diets have become increasingly popular in the health-conscious community for a few reasons:

  • Weight loss: How many fad diets have you tried over the past few years that promise hitting your weight-loss goals in just a few weeks or even less than 6 months? Often weight loss is “water weight”: as stored carbohydrates are utilized, water is lost.
  • Reinforcement of getting to eat what we thought to be “bad” foods.
  • No calorie counting—however, many of us create a calorie deficit that results in weight loss without thinking about it when we are no longer eating favorites like pizza, donuts, cookies, chips, etc.

How Healthy Is the Keto Diet?

As a registered dietitian, my goal in nutrition counseling is to help people establish lifelong sustainable habits, and the research points us in a different direction than keto. But first, kudos to anyone who is trying to modify their lifestyle with any diet. Low-carb diets may be useful in the short term for weight loss, but in the long term (longer than a year), there are no documented benefits.

Take a look at the following research on some other healthier eating patterns.

Plant-Based Diets

A study of the eating patterns of more than 15,400 adults in the U.S. and another 432,000 people around the world found that restricted-carbohydrate levels replaced or supplemented by animal-based protein and fat sources could lead to a higher risk of premature death. The study suggests that plant-derived protein and fat such as vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, and whole-grain breads were associated with lower mortality.

Low-Carb Diets

A second study examined the relationship among low-carb diets, heart disease, cancer, and all-cause death in 24,825 people. Compared to those in the high-carbohydrate group, those who ate the lowest carbohydrates had a 32% higher risk of all-cause death over 6 years. Risk of death from heart disease and cancer increased by 51% and 35%, respectively.

The Secrets of the Blue Zones: Living to 100

What do Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica all have in common? These places are called Blue Zones. Blue Zones are isolated areas of the world where researchers have found populations that contain a surprisingly high percentage of centenarians—people who live to age 100+. Not only are these individuals living longer, but they are doing so in phenomenal health without problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes. Here’s what researchers have found when it comes to their diet:

  • Stop eating when your stomach is 80% full to avoid weight gain.
  • Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially beans. Eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
  • Alcohol in moderation (no more than 1-2 glasses of wine per night).

The Conclusion: High-Fiber, Low-Calorie Diets Are Best

There is evidence that ketogenic diets help with conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy, but for the majority of the population, I encourage you to eat a well-balanced diet that emphasizes plant foods. Think of cheese, butter, and meat as garnishes to your meal and shift your plate from a high-calorie, high-saturated-fat meal to a high-fiber, lower-calorie, and nutrient-powerhouse meal!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss healthy eating protein fiber carbs dietitian ketogenic diet keto

The Nutritional Benefits of Eating Breakfast

GettyImages-155392951Start your day off right by nailing breakfast with a healthy, nutrient-rich meal. Breakfast helps kickstart your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day. Eating breakfast tells your body there are plenty of calories to be had throughout the day. When you skip breakfast, the message is clear: conserve calories rather than burn them. Those who skip breakfast may eat fewer calories but still tend to have higher BMI.

Other studies have found more benefits to breakfast, including:

  • Consuming less fat.
  • Meeting fruit and veggie recommendations.
  • Higher daily calcium intake.
  • Higher daily fiber intake.
  • Better memory and improved attention span.

Skipping breakfast leads to:

  • Higher likelihood of being overweight.
  • Less likely to meet recommendations for fruit and veggie consumption.
  • More likely to consume unhealthy snacks.

So, a Pop-Tart a Day Will Mean Improved Health?

Not quite! Try to choose a breakfast that is unrefined/unprocessed and moderate in calories, high in fiber (5 grams or more), nutrient-dense, and has some protein (about 10–15 grams to help with keeping you full).

A sugary breakfast option like Pop-Tarts, donuts, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch lacks the fiber to keep you full throughout the morning and can pack a punch in terms of calories. Have you checked the serving size on the back of a cereal box? Unfortunately, people usually go way over that ¾ cup recommendation, and a bowl of cereal can sometimes max out at roughly 2,000 calories. A 16-oz. bowl holds about 6.5 times the serving size of Frosted Flakes. Add the milk and that can get you even closer to 2,800 calories! This can equate to relatively quick weight gain, especially if you find you are hungry again by 10am.

Some Good Breakfast Options

So what are some good choices for breakfast?

  • Oatmeal with fresh fruit and nuts
  • Whole-grain toast with avocado
  • Fruit smoothie with protein powder or nut butter
  • Egg scramble (or try tofu!) loaded with veggies
  • Whole-grain bagel with nut butter and slices of banana
  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Piece of fruit and handful of almonds
  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • Overnight oats
  • High-fiber cereal with fruit and low-fat milk or plant milk (try Barbara’s, Nature’s Path, or Kashi)
  • KIND Bars, GoMacro bars, RXBars (high protein, low sugar)

Here are a few recipes for healthy breakfasts you can make quickly and take with you on a busy morning.

Breakfast Is on NIFS, June 25 and 27!

Check out our breakfast table in the Fitness Center hallway to sample a few of these breakfast ideas on June 25th and 27th from 11am to 1pm!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories breakfast weight management fiber energy

Are You Eating Enough Fruits, Vegetables, and Other Whole Plant Foods?

GettyImages-1142790917“Aim to consume a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables.”

“Make half of your plate a fruit and vegetable.”

“Consume 5 to 6 servings of vegetables and fruits every day.”

This nutrition advice has been the standard from physicians, food and nutrition scientists, and even dietitians. However recent research is revealing that just as important as quantity may be the diversity of your diet. What fruits and vegetables do you pick up from the store on a weekly basis? Do you spend a significant amount of time in the produce section and fill your cart with plant foods? Or do you end up lingering for half an hour in the center aisles and packing your cart with processed food products?

The SAD Truth About the Standard American Diet

Check out these scary statistics… The standard American diet (termed the “SAD diet”) is often very high in animal protein, saturated fats, added sugar, and refined/processed foods. In fact, it is estimated that the average American consumes 32% of their calories from animal foods, 57% from processed foods, and only 11% from whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts (Source: USDA). Three out of four Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit in a given day, and nearly 9 out of 10 don’t reach the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables (Source: National Cancer Institute)!

Promote Gut Health with Whole Plant Foods

To create a healthy gut microbiome (meaning the trillions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract), increase the variety of whole, plant foods in your diet. The American Gut Project found that individuals who ate 30 or more different types of plant foods every week had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plant foods every week. A healthful plant-based diet improves the health and diversity of your gut microbes and may help prevent conditions like obesity, heart disease, inflammation, and diabetes by turning the genes on and off that affect these conditions.

How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

I often find myself picking out the same fruits and veggies every week, and this has made me stop and think about what’s in my shopping cart—if I bring it home, I will usually eat it! Freezing fruit and veggies is also a great way to make sure nothing goes to waste before it’s used. Below I offer some advice on how to add more plant foods into your weekly routine. I would also like to challenge you to see how many different fruits and vegetables you can eat this week—anything that is a whole plant food and that you eat a decent portion of counts. The goal is to not only increase plant foods in your diet, but also the diversity.

  • Aim to include a piece of fruit and one vegetable at every meal—including breakfast! Instead of a fried egg on a piece of bread, scramble the egg with spinach, mushrooms, or onions. For an even bigger impact, replace your egg with soy and make a tofu scramble.
  • Eat two meatless meals during the week. Replace your animal protein with beans or lentils, or try making your own veggie burger.
  • Make snack time a chance to shine. Skip the vending machine and bring carrot sticks with hummus, a piece of fruit, dehydrated fruit, or mixed nuts.
  • Try smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to disguise vegetables if you have trouble hitting your goals. Add spinach, kale, avocado, or celery to a smoothie. The strong flavor of the fruit hides most of the flavor of these greens and eliminates issues with texture many people face with avocado.
  • Ditch refined grain products like noodles, white bread, and white rice. Try spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles in place of spaghetti noodles, or try cauliflower “rice” in place of white rice. Instead of crackers or bread, use sliced cucumbers for crackers or Portobello mushrooms, peppers, apples, or lettuce for wraps/bread.

What I’m Eating

Here’s peek at my list of plant foods consumed over the course of three days. You’ll notice a lot of repetition, so by midweek I am still only at about 15 different types of plant foods. I have 15 more to go by the end of the week!

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Apple
  • Lunch: Lettuce, veggie sushi (asparagus, cucumber, avocado rolls)
  • Dinner: N/A (no veggies! Even dietitians sometimes eat just a bowl of cereal—oops!)

Monday

  • Breakfast: Rolled oats, banana, ground flax
  • Lunch: Roasted asparagus, grapes, avocado (on toast), roasted chickpeas
  • Dinner: Kale, red bell pepper, cherry tomato, carrots, roasted chickpeas (all combined as salad and topped with olive oil and lemon juice)

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Rolled oats, strawberries, ground flaxseed
  • Lunch: Apple, kale, red bell pepper, cherry tomato, carrots
  • Dinner: Roasted asparagus, grapes

Stay tuned for updates on the “30 Plant Foods Challenge” here at NIFS—can we find a member who eats more than 30 plant foods weekly? Do you think you can do it?

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition gut health whole foods fruits and vegetables plant-based