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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

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

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

Caffeine Free: Breaking the Habit

GettyImages-911432182.jpgLike most people, I’m busy: full-time job, kids, a house… and in my “spare time,” I’m a high school tennis coach and play a lot of tennis. A few years back I started having issues with exhaustion (go figure). Right around 4pm I would just be overcome with complete, hit-the-couch, exhaustion. The only way to make it through the rest of my busy day seemed to be one more caffeinated drink.

I’m not a coffee drinker, so my drink of choice to get going in the morning was an AdvoCare energy drink called Spark®. I loved my Spark®, probably as much as most people love their coffee. I personally had no issue with using stimulants to keep me going through my day, but that changed one day recently on my drive home from work.

The Impact of Stimulants on the Brain

While listening to Fresh Air on NPR, I heard a discussion on sleep with sleep scientist Matthew Walker. Part of the talk discussed the effects of caffeine on the brain and how it alters the natural functions of the brain, including the buildup of adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical in the brain that builds up throughout the day, edging you to sleep. Caffeine comes into the brain and masks the effects of adenosine on the brain so that you are fully awake. One problem is that adenosine continues to build up, so when the caffeine wears off, you have additional levels of adenosine in your brain. This creates the effect we know as caffeine crash.

This made me think about what I had been putting in my body and the fact that I was using caffeine to mask the real issue I was having: not enough sleep. This one show made me rethink how I was treating my brain and how I had allowed caffeine to creep solidly into my everyday habits. It also reminded me that I was disregarding the need for one of the most critical things needed by the body and brain, sleep.

Giving Up Stimulants and Getting More Rest

Three months ago, I quit caffeine drinks cold turkey: no Spark®, colas, or energy drinks. In addition, I put the theory to the test and began carving out eight hours for sleeping each night. At first it took a bit more structuring, but now I don’t allow myself not to get a full night’s rest.

The results have been pretty amazing to me. In the first few weeks after quitting caffeine, I can honestly say that I was not tired. My energy levels were good all day and I was tired at the right time in the evenings, leading up to a decent bedtime and better sleep. I have also lost the cravings I had for those caffeinated drinks, which is an added bonus since I didn't have to worry about ordering more Spark® each month.

Many will tell you there are pros and cons to quitting caffeine but for me its one of the best things I have done for my health recently. Cutting caffeine has allowed my brain to function the way it was meant to, without a stimulate to interfere. For me, that is a step in the right direction.

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This blog was written by Trudy Coler, NIFS Communications and Social Media Director. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: healthy habits nifs staff sleep energy caffeine brain

Wakey Wakey: Why Waking Up Right Is Just as Important as Sleeping

Since the dawn of time (I’ve always wanted to start a sentence like that), humans have slept for a little while, and then were awakened by something or someone that told them it was time to start the day. We know now the huge roles that sleep plays in so many aspects of our health:ThinkstockPhotos-453226511waking

  • Physical recovery
  • Healthy hormonal environment
  • Stress regulator
  • Cognitive retention and memory
  • Appetite regulation
The list can go on and on. (For more reasons why sleep is essential to your overall health, check out this article from Precision Nutrition.) Bottom line is that we need ample and quality sleep to be at our best every day; I don’t think anyone can argue against that. But there is a pretty important aspect of our daily ritual of rest and recovery that is not always worthy of the front page, and that is how you WAKE UP. 

The Science Behind Sleeping and Waking

We have circadian rhythms that act as an internal clock of sorts, which usually run on roughly a 24-hour cycle. Researchers have identified that circadian rhythms can influence our sleep-wake cycle, and abnormal circadian rhythms have been associated with obesity, diabetes, depression, and other disorders. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, your circadian rhythms are produced by natural factors in your body, but can also be influenced by the environment. Light is the major cue influencing the rhythms that turn on or turn off genes that control your internal master clock. Having a normal, healthy circadian rhythm can be the difference between waking up ready to conquer the day or having to hit the snooze button a hundred times. 

Using Light to Wake Up

So if light is one of our biggest cues to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, use it! My beautiful wife gave me a gift on my birthday recently that I have found to be so helpful in waking up and feeling rested and ready to go. It’s a Phillips Wake-up Light, and it allows you to wake up naturally with the warm glow of the sun-like light that radiates from this futuristic-looking alarm clock. I absolutely love it! 

The light will begin to glow anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes prior to your set time to wake up (how hard you sleep will determine how much time you should have the light begin glowing). The light begins a reddish color to simulate the sun rising, and gradually becomes brighter and brighter until you wake up and turn it off. And if you were to sleep through the 20-minute light glow, you would be awakened by birds chirping. 

I have definitely noticed a difference in my energy level when I wake up these days, as well as my attitude and mindset heading into a tough day. I was experiencing some not-so-positive reactions to my alarm clock, which really set me up for rough start to the day, which in turn affected me throughout the entire day. Now that I am waking up naturally, and not shot out of a cannon to the sound of the buzzer, the morning is much more pleasant and meaningful.

Other Benefits of Waking Up Naturally

Some other fantastic benefits of waking up naturally include the following:

  • Improved insulin regulation. This is important in managing body weight and body composition.
  • Improved parasympathetic response. Instead of waking up in a “fight or flight” sympathetic response, which will result in elevated resting heart rates affecting many other aspects of health, we stay in a calmer state, allowing the internal environment to adjust appropriately to stress.
  • Decreased muscle tone. I am not talking about losing muscle tissue. I am referring to “turning down” the tone of certain muscle groups that can be putting you into less-than-optimal body positions. For example (and one of the most common), toned-up lats will cause you to be in extension, which can lead to lower back pain. When we are calmer, and not so jacked up, we can allow the body to tone down when needed to improve positioning and movement patterns.
  • Better mood! Life is way too short to be miffed all the time, and it just causes problems in so many facets of our lives. Most of this bad mood is communicated nonverbally, which in most cases is so much stronger than anything you could say. Take my word for it, be happy in both your message and how you deliver it. This can be greatly improved if you feel good and not groggy, which started hours earlier with the whack of the snooze button. 

I highly recommend implementing some sort of a natural wake-up process that works for you. Most of us have smartphones. There are plenty of apps out there that can do the same thing as the wake-up light I describe above. Many of the newer fitness trackers such as a FitBit can also be set to gradually wake you up. Give it a try and let me know what you think, but have a back-up just in case it doesn’t work for you right away—don’t be late to work on my account!

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress attitude sleep technology energy