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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Vitamin C: How Much and Which Sources Are Best for Boosting Immunity?

GettyImages-993119894During cold and flu season, we try to do all we can to prevent illness or speed up how fast we recover from illness. One such strategy many employ is the use of Vitamin C for a natural remedy. Several products are marketed as immune system boosters because they contain large amounts of Vitamin C. Do these products really work? We set out to investigate!

What Vitamin C Can Do for You

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is not made by our bodies. We must take in this vitamin in our diet. It is needed for not only immune function but also for these uses:

  • Form collagen (skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels),
  • Repair and maintain bones and teeth
  • Heal wounds and form scar tissue
  • Aid in iron absorption

It can also help prevent cancer as an antioxidant by blocking damage that we are exposed to from air pollution, cigarettes, and UV rays from the sun.

Vitamin C deficiency is extremely rare today, but in the mid-1700s scurvy in sailors was very prevalent. Those at risk of low vitamin C intake are smokers, those with medical conditions that affect absorption (cancer cachexia), and individuals with little variety in their diets.

How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?

The recommended Dietary Allowance for men is 90 milligrams per day and 75 milligrams per day for women. Fruits and veggies are the best source of vitamin C—especially citrus fruits. It can be destroyed by heat, so cooking slightly reduces your intake. However, most of our best sources of vitamin C are consumed raw naturally, and we usually do not have to worry about this. To get a better idea of how to meet your daily requirement with food, here are the vitamin C contents of some common fruits and vegetables that are good sources:

  • Red bell pepper (½ cup, raw): 95mg
  • Orange, 1 medium: 70mg
  • Green bell pepper, ½ cup raw: 60mg
  • Broccoli, ½ cup cooked: 51mg
  • Cantaloupe, ½ cup: 29mg

In short, you can skip the megadoses of Vitamin C at the pharmacy.

Can Vitamin C Treat or Prevent the Common Cold?

In the 1970s, research was released that suggested Vitamin C could successfully treat or prevent the common cold. Several studies since then have been inconsistent and have resulted in some confusion and controversy. To date, the most compelling evidence comes from a 2007 study that showed preventative treatment in the general population did not affect cold duration or symptom severity. However, in the trials involving marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers exposed to extreme physical exercise or cold environments daily as well as the elderly and smokers, there could be somewhat of a beneficial effect. It was concluded that taking Vitamin C after the onset of illness did not appear to be beneficial. Furthermore, at doses above 400mg, Vitamin C is excreted in the urine. A daily dose in the 1000–2000mg range can cause upset stomach and diarrhea.

If you want the benefits of Vitamin C, it is best to consume the recommended Dietary Allowance daily, before the start of symptoms. Ideally, you will get Vitamin C from your food instead of a supplement; you will also get several other important nutrients in addition to your Vitamin C. Remember to make half of your plate fruits and veggies at every meal or blend up a quick smoothie for an easy on-the-go snack, slice up peppers and dip in hummus, or ask for extra veggies on that sandwich, pizza, or salad.

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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 immunity vitamins supplements fruits and vegetables viruses Vitamin C

Pump Up the Produce Power in Winter Meals

GettyImages-485131020-1We’ve all been here before: When it seems the long, gray winter will never end and you make one more pot of hearty vegetable soup or another casserole; or when the lackluster tomatoes and almost pinkish-white strawberries just aren’t cutting it. It’s time to get creative!

As a Hoosier native myself, I long for the tastes of summer more often than not, especially this time of year. What are some ways to get more variety into your diet in late winter? Look no further: we’ve got some ideas to tide you over until you can get your hands on some summertime Indiana-grown treasures!

Breakfast

It’s smoothie time! Smoothies are fantastic because they are nutritional powerhouses, can disguise fruits and vegetables that you might be on the fence about, and never require a recipe. To keep it simple, use frozen-fruit mixtures and rinse out your blender as soon as you are done to avoid having to scrub off dried-on fruit fibers later.

A basic guide on where to start: Combine 1 cup of frozen fruit with about ¾ cup liquid (I personally love vanilla-flavored soy milk). Optional add-ins could include a handful of kale or spinach (what better way to hide those greens than a sweet smoothie?), a spoonful or two or chia seed or ground flaxseed, a little peanut butter or almond butter, rolled oats, or even a banana to add a little extra creaminess. Top with a drizzle of honey or a little granola.

Lunch

A light and citrusy dressing is a refreshing way to beat the winter blues! A favorite dressing in my house is this orange tahini dressing. It tastes delicious on any leafy green, so if you aren’t a fan of kale, just top your spinach or romaine lettuce with it instead. Whisk together the following ingredients in a bowl:

2–3 tablespoons orange juice (fresh-squeezed preferred)

2½ tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons orange zest

Salt and pepper to taste

Massage dressing into kale and top with chopped apple, grapefruit (peeled and sliced), and pepitas or nuts of your choice (walnuts are my go-to).

Dinner

I’m not sure about you, but if something requires a recipe, there’s a big chance I might never get around to making a dish—we all have our reasons, right? Roasted cauliflower and chickpea tacos are one entrée that requires no real recipe to follow. Trust me, it would be really hard to mess this one up, even if you consider yourself a novice in the kitchen!

  1. Toss chickpeas (from a can!) and chopped cauliflower on a baking sheet with a little olive oil and a variety of spices like chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt.
  2. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees until chickpeas are crisp and cauliflower is tender (about 30 minutes).
  3. Take a corn tortilla and place cauliflower and chickpeas on top. Top with chopped cabbage, jalapeño (if you like spice!), avocado/guacamole, and cilantro. Drizzle with lime juice. Sour cream and cheese are optional.

This recipe will deliver that healthy and refreshing dinner entrée you’ve been longing for since Thanksgiving!

Eat in Season and Use Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Use these in-season veggies to avoid breaking the bank—broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, parsnips, kale, potatoes, sweet potato, butternut squash, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Use in-season citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, clementines, and tangerines.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are an absolute must! They are more nutrient-dense than their produce section counterparts because they are picked and frozen when they are at peak ripeness.

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

Topics: healthy eating lunch breakfast winter fruits and vegetables seasonal eating produce

Diversify Your Diet: Try Some Healthy New Ingredients

GettyImages-641965214Do you feel like you get stuck in a rut eating the same things from week to week? On one hand it makes life a lot easier, right? You don’t have to scour through recipes, find that one illusive ingredient on the top shelf in the last aisle you looked in, or put the effort into prepping a meal that claims “30-minute prep” but in fact took you two hours. I completely understand!

What if instead of a total diet makeover you just try a few small things—that might in fact add up to a more diverse diet? And it just might end up being healthier!

Flaxseed

Bob’s Red Mill sells whole flaxseed and ground flaxseed (called “meal”) at most stores—usually next to the baking items or in the cereal aisle by the oats. Flaxseed is so versatile. It’s full of healthy fats and fiber. It has a subtle taste that many won’t notice, especially in small amounts. Flaxseed is great for putting on top of oatmeal, adding to a fruit and yogurt parfait, and even substituting in a recipe as egg (flax egg)! Just make sure to grind the whole seeds as you use them to obtain the freshest healthy fats, or keep your flaxseed meal in the fridge because the fats do start to spoil at room temperature after a few months.

Bananas

Top your toast with something besides butter. Spread a thin layer of nut butter like peanut butter or almond butter on top of toast and add thin slices of banana. It’s a great way to get your protein and healthy, fiber-loaded carbohydrates every morning. Not willing to part with the usual breakfast? Freeze your ripe bananas and blend them with a little peanut butter, milk of your choice, and chocolate chips for a sweet treat similar to ice cream!

Applesauce

Keep unsweetened applesauce in the fridge for occasions where you are baking. Applesauce is a great substitute for oil or eggs. One tablespoon of applesauce is equivalent to one egg, and you can substitute equal amounts for the oil.

Tofu

Trying Meatless Mondays in the New Year? Substitute tofu for any of your go-to meats. But if the texture is an issue, here’s what you do: Grab an EXTRA FIRM block of tofu (usually found near produce), cut into small cubes about half an inch or less, spread on a baking sheet with parchment paper, and bake at 375 for 25–30 minutes or until the tofu is golden brown and crispy. You can then easily toss your tofu into your stir-fry or fajita pan, or toss it onto your salad and avoid that soggy, wet mess that tofu can easily turn into.

Chickpeas

This little legume, also known as a garbanzo bean, is protein-dense and nutrient-rich. Pick up a super-cheap can of these beans in the canned goods aisle and add them in for snacks and meals. Simply toss in a little bit of olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper, and bake in the oven on a baking sheet for 20–25 minutes at 375 until they are crispy. Toss on salads, mix in with quinoa, and top with your favorite sauce (we love a little citrus–olive oil mixture or even a soy-ginger dressing!), or eat them all by themselves.

Try just one of these new ideas this year—you might just find it becomes one of your go-to foods that you’ll grab on a quick weeknight trip through the grocery store.

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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 protein fiber whole foods whole grains fats

Turn Your Healthy Eating and Nutrition Resolutions into Habits

GettyImages-154906518How many of us are guilty of making a New Year’s resolution and then struggling to stick to it by the time February rolls around? Even with the best of intentions, most of us have trouble maintaining the changes that start off so strong on January 1st. Often these promises to ourselves are centered around our overall health and well-being.

As a dietitian, I see people’s January nutrition goals come and go. What is the reason for this? Practice makes perfect! Recent research has shown it can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit—66 days on average! We can’t just jump into a marathon and expect to win. We have to take small steps to get to where we want to be.

The Top Resolutions for 2020 Money and Healthy Habits

A survey of 2,011 U.S. adults (Ipsos, 2019) found that “manage finances better” and “eat healthier” come in at a tie for top resolutions heading into 2020—just in front of “be more active” and “lose weight.” Other resolutions scoring high included “improve mental well-being,” “improve social connections,” “learn a new skill,” and “be more eco-friendly.” Each of these resolutions comes across as somewhat daunting, right? Even as a dietitian, “eat healthier” is somewhat overwhelming to me! What exactly should you do to eat healthier and where do you start?

Let’s make 2020 a great year! Instead of biting off more than you can chew, resolve to tackle a few smaller goals that will help you achieve a bigger goal down the road. Pick just one or two smaller actions to take and solidify those habits before moving on to the next step.

Steps to Keeping Your Healthy Eating Resolution

I’ve put together a few ideas on how to help keep that healthy nutrition resolution going strong throughout the year—check them out below!

In 2020, I resolve to

  • Eat dinner at home three times a week.
  • Eat dessert twice a week—instead of every night!
  • Split entrees with a friend or family member when out to eat.
  • Find an alternative to my usual favorite Frappuccino.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle and drink 64 oz of water daily.
  • Eat a piece of fruit at every meal.
  • Opt for a glass of wine only on the weekends.
  • Bring healthy snacks to work.
  • Create a healthy grocery shopping list and stick to the list.
  • Cut out red meats and processed meats (bacon, lunch meats, sausage).
  • Create a support system—they often have good ideas on how to manage family gatherings, restaurants, new foods to try, etc.
  • Make each Monday a Meatless Monday!
  • Cut out added sugars.
  • Fuel up with a healthy snack before a workout and recover with a healthy snack.
  • Get an air fryer and make your own “chips” and “fries” at home.
  • Recruit a workout buddy.
  • When going out to eat at your favorite chain restaurant, look up the menu and nutrition facts before you go and decide what you’ll have before you arrive.
  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Go to bed an hour earlier than you usually would.
  • Try a new food every week. Swap chickpea pasta for your normal pasta, try using olive oil in place of butter for cooking, or sample a plant-based milk in place of heavy cream in your coffee.
  • Recreate your plate and make veggies and fruits the main component of your meals—second helpings are a must!
  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast: opt for a little protein with a carbohydrate, like oatmeal with peanut butter.
  • Skip the soda!

Write down the one or two actions from this list that you would like to tackle. And keep in mind, if you start working on those actions on January 1, you will have to actively think about this on a daily basis before it becomes habit—remember, 66 days! Keep in mind that you may need even more time than the other person who picks the exact same goals to get into that healthier habit. Move at your own pace. If something isn’t working, ask for help. And persevere—when you slip up (we are all human), just hop right back into the swing of things. You’ve GOT THIS!

Happy Holidays!

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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 habits resolutions healthy eating

10 Simple Ways to Stay Healthy While Celebrating the Holidays

GettyImages-1056454610’Tis the season for swapping Christmas cookies, candy bowls, Hanukah dinners, holiday parties, and New Year’s Eve libations. We’ll take this month to refocus on a 10 simple ways to keep your body properly nourished and healthy this holiday season while keeping in mind that it is okay and certainly encouraged to partake in the 2019 holiday season festivities. New Year’s Resolutions are a great time to start new habits, but why not get a head start?

  1. Embrace seasonal foods. Your favorite strawberries may now be upwards of $5 for a small container, but December is a great time to try out pomegranate and pears. Root veggies, squash, and kale are also easy on the budget and packed with nutrients. (See some recipes here.)
  2. Fit in a body-weight workout. If you can’t make it to the gym, create a circuit at home, or take along some simple workout equipment for travel when visiting friends and family. Head out for an unofficial 5K run, run up and down your stairs, take the dog for a snowy walk, or take commercial breaks to a new level by doing squats and push-ups for the entire break. Alternatively, make a plan to carve out just 15–30 minutes per day to get in a walk around the neighborhood—no matter what the weather might bring!
  3. Start your day off right with breakfast. Front-load your nutrition at the beginning of the day—often the easiest meal to focus on and one that can stay consistently healthy. Oatmeal, yogurt with fruit and nuts, egg (or tofu) scramble, and smoothies are great “go-to” meals.
  4. Try the Plate Method. While you fill your plate with holiday favorites like green bean casserole or mashed potatoes (made with a generous portion of heavy cream and butter), make sure that half of your plate always has some type of vegetable on it. Try roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, or green beans for easy sides.
  5. Observe bedtime. Try and stick to a normal sleep routine to give yourself energy to tackle your holiday parties, keep your focus on your health goals, and avoid snacking at 3 a.m.
  6. Have a game plan. What was your biggest obstacle the year before in sticking to your goals? Holiday parties? Make sure to take your own healthier sides. Are there Christmas cookies on the counter and you’re grabbing one every time you walk by? Make a small batch this year and plan to keep them out of sight. Also try portioning out ahead of time. Wrap up each cookie and label it with the day of the week you plan to eat it.
  7. Give healthy stocking stuffers. Give the gift of healthy eating—stuff kids’ stockings with items like clementines or Cuties, nuts, and popcorn instead of Reese’s Cups, M&M’s, or fun-size chocolate bars.
  8. Focus on the moments. Put down your phone at mealtimes and any “down time” you might have. Put together a puzzle, go for a relaxing walk, read a book, and make conversation at mealtimes.
  9. Stay hydrated. 8-12 cups of water/day is recommended. Carry a water bottle around with you—it’s easy to forget to hydrate during the cold months, but it’s crucial to helping control those cravings and to keep your body running in tip-top shape.
  10. Pick a habit. Pick one specific habit to choose and one to lose! Focus on a specific goal. Instead of the more general “lose 10 pounds,” focus on action steps to get there like “Work out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 30 minutes at the gym” or “Plan to make at least HALF of lunch and dinner at every meal a type of vegetable.” Instead of cutting out sweets completely, make a plan that says, “ice cream happens on Friday nights only.” Or focus on physical activity habits, screen time habits, etc.

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

Topics: winter fitness healthy eating holidays circuit workout Thanksgiving traveling christmas seasonal eating

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

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

Tips for Making Healthy Choices in the Face of Decision Fatigue

GettyImages-506139898It’s the end of the day. There was a string of meetings to attend, a pile of emails to answer, an argumentative colleague to work with, maybe even kids yelling for pizza when you had chicken planned for dinner instead. By the time you get home, you’ve already made a plethora of decisions, from how to approach a problem at work to what shoes to wear on your way out the door. You told yourself you would exercise when you got home, but now the couch looks a lot more enticing. All those decisions you made have taken a biological toll on your motivation and self-control, whether you realize it or not.

Decision fatigue, or the deteriorating quality of decisions after making numerous previous choices, happens to even the most rational and strong-willed of us. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder it is to exert self-control and make better decisions later. So no, your choice to binge-watch Game of Thrones with a pint of ice cream in hand after a particularly decision-heavy day isn’t necessarily because you lack motivation or willpower. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks that you can employ to hack decision fatigue and help boost your willpower.

Here are four ways you can help combat decision fatigue in your day.

Make Repeated-Daily Decisions the Night Before

Some of the most draining decisions are the ones that you make again, and again, and again. Blocking off time the night before can save tons of mental energy the following day. It’s the outfit you’re wearing to work tomorrow, the lunch you will eat, and even which KCup to choose for your morning buzz (very crucial, I know). All of these take less than a few minutes to decide and even complete, so tackle them the night before to set yourself up for success tomorrow.

Attack the Most Important Task First

Willpower is somewhat like any muscle in your body: it fatigues with use. The brain will start to look for shortcuts if decisions pile up. Namely, it will either a) become reckless and impulsive (hello bag of chips for lunch), or it will b) become the energy saver and do nothing (where my fellow procrastinators at?). If you have something that you are trying to prioritize and work on, put your best foot forward and attack it first while you have ample attention and energy to do so. Maybe it’s improving your body composition, maybe it’s starting a side business, maybe it’s beginning a daily mindfulness habit. Whatever it may be, start your day by working on the most important thing in your life.

Schedule Your Success: Don’t Leave It to Chance

We all have great intentions when we start the day. But its not enough to hope that you’ll have the energy to go to the gym after work. Or that you’ll be disciplined enough to choose a serving of vegetables over that nighttime Nutella binge (can you tell I’m a bit hungry writing this?). Making ourselves a schedule takes out the decision-making process and eliminates another opportunity for our brain to check out and give in to impulses. If making exercise a habit is a priority for you, physically put it on your calendar and weekly agenda. Now hoping that you’ll have the willpower when you leave work won’t be the problem; you’ll just know that NIFS is where you’ll be heading on Tuesdays at 5:30pm.

Eat Something First if You Have to Make Good Decisions Later

In a study by Danziger et al. (2011) published by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed over 1,100 judicial rulings for parole hearings over a 10-month period. Judges had a favorable ruling to start the day 65% of the time. As the day progressed, and more decisions were made, that percentage gradually dropped to nearly zero. The only exception? When the judges returned from lunch break, a ruling’s favorability jumped back up to the same 65%. Moral of the story? If you have an important decision to be made, but you realize that it won’t be approached until later, try eating a small snack beforehand. Being hangry can make it easier to be impulsive. So while you should try to tackle the most important tasks and decisions first, it might not always be realistic or possible to do so. Have that healthy snack at the ready (or packed the night before) if you know that your day calls for willpower later.

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The average person makes more than 30,000 decisions daily. And the more decisions that we make, the more difficult subsequent choices become. Try a few of these techniques to help streamline your day and keep your willpower intact and refreshed going forward.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits healthy eating healthy lifestyle healthy living decision-making