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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Getting Geared Up for Cold Weather Wellness

GettyImages-1179065933As winter approaches, don’t let it discourage you from reaching your full potential and goals you’ve set for yourself. 2020 has definitely been a trying year, full of new normals. Continue to use exercise and strength training to keep your body healthy.

Keep Setting Fitness Goals

Continue to set goals; goal-setting will help you stay the course. Setting goals gives you purpose and meaning, and a reason to come to the gym. Set small goals and watch them turn into big ones. If you feel you’re plateauing, get a personal trainer to help you push past your threshold. They will keep you accountable as well as push you to new heights in your fitness journey.

Focus on Nutrition and Healthy Eating

Use the cold months to really focus on your nutrition. Winter months can lead to more relaxation since outside activities are not as prevalent. Keeping good nutritional habits will help you achieve your goals. If you need help with nutrition, utilize a dietitian to help you find the right foods to eat. Meal prepping and eating real foods will be key during the winter months—not getting set on carryout food and outside dining. Although every once in a while it’s okay to eat restaurant food, you want to focus on eating clean and getting proper nutrients into your body. Especially now during COVID-19, you want to make sure you’re staying as healthy as possible.

Maintain Safe Practices in the Pandemic

Speaking of the pandemic, continue to practice safe distancing while out in public. That way, you’ll keep your family safe and those around you. Try to minimize large gatherings. If you have to be with friends and family, make sure everyone does the proper things to keep everyone healthy and safe, including wearing masks. Use your best judgment while out and in social gatherings. Continue to wash your hands and sanitize equipment and any object that has been touched or will be touched.

Stay Busy and Keep Planning

Find new hobbies. If you’re able to get outdoors, enjoy that time with family and friends. If you’re not fortunate enough to be able to be outdoors due to the cold weather, find indoor activities to pass the time, but keep yourself busy. Don’t let the winter months bring you down. Continue to plan daily to attack the day and stay motivated. Stay busy and stay healthy!

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This blog was written by Michael Blume, MS, SCCC; Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: winter fitness nutrition healthy eating winter strength training cold weather wellness goals pandemic

Fitness Professionals Aren’t Perfect, Either!

GettyImages-685849082nThere’s always an assumption that fitness professionals work out 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. They eat healthy all day long and never have any junk food. Basically people think that we are perfect and never make mistakes. I have been in the health and fitness industry for more than 10 years now and I can honestly say that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Now, before anyone thinks I’m ratting out other trainers or telling you all we don’t practice what we preach, let me explain.

We Are Actually Humans, Too!

I know it’s hard to believe, but we are human; we make mistakes, we have cheat days, we indulge a little, and we even skip workouts from time to time.

Take a look at a conversation I had with one of our trainers at NIFS:

Ashley: How often do you work out?
Lauren: About 5 days a week.
Ashley: How long do you work out for?
Lauren: Anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. If it’s conditioning, it’s much less.
Ashley: Do you have cheat days? Exercise or nutrition?
Lauren: I try to have cheat meals or situations. I try not to have it be the whole day. In the past, I would have cheat days, but they would turn into a stream of days. So I basically try to allow myself to have something sweet occasionally, so that I don’t fall way off the rail. And there are days where I fail at that, but that’s the goal.

We Aren’t Perfect in the Kitchen

I know this might come as a shock to some of you, but the truth of the matter is, we aren’t perfect when we eat, either. As if the world and our lives aren’t filled with striving for perfection as it is, why would we want to make the kitchen another stressful place?

I say all that to tell you this: it’s okay if you have a little extra of something one day. It’s okay if you have that piece of cake when you are celebrating yourself or someone special. It’s okay to have a “cheat meal.” It’s okay to NOT BE PERFECT.

If it happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. Be aware of it; Learn from it; and move on! The next snack, meal, and day will be better because you came out of the previous situation aware and stronger.

Tips for Staying on Track

Consider the following tips to help you take it easy on yourself, but also keep yourself motivated to stay on track.

Use a Planner

If you are someone who needs to stick to a schedule, plan it out. Write down your meals for the week, plan your schedule around when you can work out, and write down the day and time you will be able to work out. Keep on a schedule!

Provide Rationale

Understanding your “WHY” should be your biggest motivator. I encourage you to write down your reasons why you want to eat healthy and exercise, and keep it someplace where you will see it and can refer back to it for a motivational reboot.

Build Accountability

There is strength in numbers! Try creating more accountability. Tell family, friends, or coworkers about your goals. If you’re out to lunch with them, they can help remind you of what your goals are. They may even join in with you, and you will have created a community that’s trying to become healthier!

***

We would absolutely love to see you at our fitness center and set up an appointment with you. There are so many tools to assist in your training, nutrition, weight loss, and strength training goals! We aren’t perfect people, but we do have the tools for greatness and want to share them with you.

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, NIFS Program and Weight Loss Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercise nutrition motivation weight loss accountability NIFS programs

Should You Take CoQ10 for Heart Health? A Look at the Research

GettyImages-940463278Coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone, is a commonly used supplement by those with cardiovascular risks and disease, and especially those using statins. CoQ10 acts as a carrier in our cells to assist in oxygen utilization.  It also assists enzymes in the mitochondria. This allows the production of energy in a cycle referred to as the Krebs Cycle, and hints at why the mitochondria are the “powerhouse of the cell.” Some believe that those with heart failure have a buildup of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can lead to adverse effects. Furthermore, they suggest CoQ10 antioxidant properties can combat the buildup of ROS. Additionally, CoQ10 is thought to balance calcium-dependent ion channels within the heart, which is critical for heart function. As far as supplementation with statins goes, people are led to believe that supplementing CoQ10 is essential because statins block the pathway that leads to CoQ10 production.

Researchers looked into these claims. Some found many studies that showed CoQ10 had no clear effect on how much blood the heart was able to pump (left heart ejection fraction), and other studies were inconclusive with poor research design. On the other hand, a Large study (a meta-analysis of clinical trials) revealed that those who supplemented CoQ10 had lower risk of death and increased exercise capacity, but no correlation between CoQ10 and how much blood the heart was able to pump. Lastly, another study observed those with heart failure receiving medical therapy. In addition to medical therapy, some of the participants received a placebo and some received Coenzyme Q10. Although the concentration of CoQ10 in the blood serum increased dramatically, those patients saw no greater effect in ejection fraction, peak oxygen consumption, and exercise duration. 

Drug Interactions and Additive Effects

CoQ10 has been known to interact with Vitamin K Antagonists, such as warfarin, a commonly prescribed drug in cardiovascular disease cases. Some cases have shown that CoQ10 blocks the anti–blood clotting (aka anticoagulant) effect of Vitamin K Antagonists, especially warfarin, which can lead to fatal blood clotting (according to Lexi-Drugs Online). On the other hand, some studies have shown that CoQ10 has done the complete opposite to Vitamin K Antagonists and actually enhanced the anti-blood-clotting effect, which leads to excessive bleeding.

Side Effects

Some side effects reported include severe gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, allergic reactions, headaches, vomiting, urine discoloration, and abdominal pain.

Further Research

Much of the research that shows a positive outcome when supplementing CoQ10 had small trial groups (not enough people). The number of participants in the trials, known as sample size, is too small for the evidence to be conclusive. Moving forward, is it possible to get a bigger sample size that can give conclusive results? As of now, many are torn on this topic.

The Clinical Bottom Line

There is not enough evidence to support the use of CoQ10 for treating heart failure or even lessening the risk of muscle weakness (myopathy) in those taking statins. Until more research emerges, I would suggest those with cardiovascular disease not take CoQ10, especially if they are taking a Vitamin K Antagonist. If you are torn about taking CoQ10, consider speaking with your Primary Care Provider and Registered Dietitian to see if it's right for you.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition cardiovascular supplements drugs heart health dietary supplements cardiovascular disease

Choosing and Using Probiotics for Gut Health

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 12.20.41 PM“Take a probiotic; it helps with your gut.” We have all heard it from friends, doctors, and Registered Dietitians. Is it really that simple, though? It is no secret that probiotics really do help with a variety of gastrointestinal (GI) issues. However, did you know that there are specific strains of probiotics that help with specific symptoms, and while one strain may help with one GI symptom, it may not help with another? Not all probiotics are created equal, and not all supplements labeled “probiotic” will yield health benefits.

What Are Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (tiny living things), mainly bacteria and sometimes yeast, and are intended to have health benefits when ingested. They are similar to the helpful microorganisms naturally found in the gut. Probiotics are found in supplements and fermented foods, such as Greek yogurt with added Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, kombucha, tempeh, kefir, and sauerkraut.

Do not confuse these with prebiotics, which are the food source for the “good” bacteria in our GI tract. Prebiotics are “a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon the host’s well-being and health.” They are carbohydrate compounds, primarily oligosaccharides, that withstand digestion in the GI tract and reach the colon where they then are fermented by the gut microflora, helping the good bacteria to grow. In short, they fall under the categories of soluble fiber and fermentable fiber. This is important, because even if you are taking a probiotic or eating foods rich in probiotics, you may not be receiving the maximum amount of benefits if you are not eating enough prebiotics (soluble and fermentable fiber). Foods rich in prebiotics include green bananas, onion, garlic, asparagus, artichokes, and leeks.

How Do Probiotics Work?

The human GI tract is colonized by many microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and protozoa. The totality of these organisms is known as the gut microbiota, microbiome, or intestinal microflora and can affect the health and disease state of a human. Probiotics typically work in the GI tract to alter the intestinal microflora, adding good bacteria to the microbiome. The mechanism of action depends heavily on the species and strains because different species and strains have different effects. Some of the known mechanisms include the following:

  • Inhibit the growth of some pathogens (microorganisms causing disease or sickness).
  • Help with vitamin synthesis (B vitamins and vitamin K).
  • Increase absorption of protein.
  • Reinforce the gut barrier, keeping food and other GI contents from leaking into the bloodstream.
  • Neutralize toxins.
  • Lower the pH in the colon, which could help speed up stool for those who are constipated.
  • Replenish good bacteria after taking antibiotics, which may help resolve diarrhea from antibiotics.

Probiotics and Gut Health

The gut microbiota is the center of much current research. Researchers are suggesting that an imbalance in the gut microbiota could lead to several health issues including immune dysfunction, infection, obesity, and GI problems. The imbalance can come from medical conditions, stress, and antibiotic usage (which destroys bad and good bacteria).

Using a probiotic to restore balance has been shown to alleviate symptom persistence in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by 21% using both single-strain and multiple-strain supplements, with the mixtures being most effective. Studies also found symptom relief in ulcerative colitis, reduction in acute diarrhea duration and frequency, and lower risk of diarrhea from antibiotic use by 51% or clostridium difficile infection.

A healthy gut with plenty of good bacteria has also been shown to improve the immune system, combat inflammation, and potentially reduce bad cholesterol (total and LDL cholesterol).

Picking Probiotic Supplements

Remember, not all probiotic strains and species are created equal. Trying to figure out exactly what strain, species, and genus of probiotic will work for you and your needs can be tedious, because there are thousands upon thousands of variations. It may take some trial and error to finally find a probiotic that meets your needs.

The good news is that both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most studied probiotic genera. There are several studies of strains from these two genera that have produced positive results. Below is a list of conditions with the genus and strain of probiotic that has shown promise in helping with the condition.

  • Acute diarrhea: Lactobacillus paracasei or Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea: Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Overall symptoms of IBS: Bifidobacterium bifidum, Escherichia coli
  • Abdominal pain: Bacillus coagulans, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Bloating/distention: Bifidobacterium animalis, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Constipation: Bacillus coagulans, Bifidobacterium animalis, Oligofructose (prebiotics)
  • Lactose maldigestion: yogurt with Lactobacillus delbruecki susp bulgaricus and Strepococcus thermophilus
  • High Cholesterol and LDL: Lactobacillus acidophilus, a mixture of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus plantarum (more research is needed here)

If you are struggling with GI symptoms and considering a probiotic supplement, it is important to talk this over with your Registered Dietitian (RD) and primary care provider. They can help to identify the correct genus, strain, species, and dose you need.

Feed Your Gut

For those healthy individuals, you most likely do not need a probiotic supplement. If you really want to help your gut, follow these tips:

  • Eat foods rich in probiotics. When seeking foods with probiotics, the product must have active and live bacterial culture and indicate that on the label. A good rule of thumb is at least 1 billion colony-forming units or 1 billion CFUs, containing the genus Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or Saccharomyces boulardii. Probiotic-rich examples include Greek yogurt, kombucha, tempeh, kefir, and sauerkraut. Be sure to check the label for the specific genus of probiotics(s) in the products, as they will differ. Also note that the starter cultures in Greek yogurt are Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, but these are often destroyed by our stomach acid and offer no benefits. Get the Greek yogurt brands that add extra bacteria to the starter cultures (check the label).
  • Feed your probiotics with prebiotics to help the probiotics multiply in your microbiome.
  • Sleep at least 7–8 hours each night.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and body fat percentage.
  • Manage stress.
  • Balance your diet, keeping it loaded with fruits, veggies, lean proteins, fiber, and whole grains.

As always, reach out to the NIFS Registered Dietitian for nutrition help, including nutrition management of gut-related issues. We are here for you.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition digestion gut health supplements dietitian probiotics dietary supplements

Taking Dietary Supplements Safely: Advice from a NIFS Dietitian

GettyImages-505820296Dietary supplement usage is reaching an all-time high. The 2019 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements revealed that 77% of Americans consume supplements. This is a dramatic increase from the 53% reported by the NHANES in 2010. Americans are spending $38.8 billion a year on supplements, with more than 85,000 supplements on the market. Reasons for consumption are widespread, ranging from athletes hoping to boost performance to people who need more Vitamin D for bone health.

With the rise in supplement usage, it is important to be an informed consumer. While there are numerous reasons for this, one of the biggest is that supplements are loosely regulated by the FDA, meaning labels may not display what is truly in the supplement. Also, claims marketed about the benefits of a supplement may be false because companies are not required to obtain authorization from the FDA prior to making such nutritional support claims.

How can you know whether what you’re taking is safe and effective? Let’s dive in!

What Is a "Dietary Supplement?"

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), a dietary supplement means “a product (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following ingredients:

  • Vitamin
  • Mineral
  • Herb or other botanical
  • Amino acid
  • A dietary supplement used by man to supplement the diet by increasing dietary intake
  • A concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any ingredient described in the above.”

Are Dietary Supplements Regulated? Can Supplements Be Trusted?

Technically, yes, supplements are regulated by the FDA under the DSHEA. However, there are loopholes to consider:

  1. The FDA does not inspect products before they are sold, nor do they require registration unless the supplement contains a new ingredient not yet on the market.
  2. The only formulation standard is the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP); however, 2013 report by the FDA revealed that 70% of inspected manufacturers were in violation of GMPs. Not all products even get inspected after being on the market. The FDA states the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring safety and quality, but clearly some manufacturers are doing a poor job, and the FDA is only catching some.
  3. Nutrition supplements may not claim to diagnose, cure, prevent, or treat diseases. Sure enough, some manufacturers have managed to ignore this. A 2003 study found that 81% of 338 herbal supplement retail websites made one or more health claims, and 55% claimed to diagnose, cure, prevent, or treat specific diseases.

What Can You Do to Be Safe When Taking Supplements?

Blind trust in supplements is unwarranted; however, there are steps you can take to ensure your safety while taking them.

  • Check the label for a stamp indicating third-party verification. Independent third parties are hired by manufacturers to thoroughly test products, ensuring accuracy of ingredients, potency, and amounts; absence of toxic compounds; and production in compliance with FDA GMPs. Credible third parties include NSF International and US Pharmacopeia (USP).
  • Athletes: look for the NSF Certified for Sport stamp. The USA Doping Agency (USADA) has recognized this program as best suited to assist athletes in choosing supplements that do not contain banned substances for sports.
  • Download the NSF International App. It shows which products are NSF approved—right at your fingertips anytime, anywhere.
  • Check out the Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets published by the National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. This government agency has quick fact sheets about a variety of dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, probiotics, botanicals and herbs, and more.

Speak with a Registered Dietitian for supplement guidance and which supplements may (or may not) be right for you. NIFS Registered Dietitians are available to help you!

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS nutrition supplements dietitian drugs sports nutrition dietary supplements registered dietitian

How a Hoosier Went Vegan: A Dietitian’s Experience

GettyImages-1147252758A few years ago, I made it my New Year’s Resolution to completely cut out animal products from my diet. I had played around with a couple variations of diets for a few years in college while competing in a Division 1 rowing program—cutting out all red meat, processed meats, and chicken, and only eating fish. Essentially the only things left were the eggs, milk, and cheese. I had been hesitant because cheese was my absolute favorite thing to add to every meal. I dreamed about doing a cheese and wine tour of Europe one day—I was really in love with cheese.

Why and How I Did It

My motivation to go completely animal product–free stemmed from the obvious health benefits that I was learning about so quickly as I finished up my degree to become a dietitian. But it also was influenced heavily by my love for the planet (plant-based diets have an extremely low carbon footprint) and all animals (even the ones that most people consider to be food and not pets).

As you already know, the transition was very slow… over several years. I didn’t go from steak, cheesy potatoes, and a side of green beans with bacon to a full-on Buddha Bowl tofu smoothie overnight! I also researched and talked to fellow dietitians as I made the switch to make sure I was taking the appropriate steps to ensure a healthy transition as well (please don’t hesitate to reach out).

My Top Tips for Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet

For those who are considering going plant-based, here are my tips that I’ve learned throughout the years.

Start with One Meal at a Time

Pick just one meal a day to make mostly plant-based—don’t worry about the rest of your meals and snacks yet. Instead of a fried egg and bacon breakfast sandwich, replace your bacon and egg with your favorite greens, caramelized onion, sautéed peppers, etc.

Make Your Favorite Meal Plant-based

Do you love spaghetti and meatballs and eat it multiple times a week or a couple of times a month? This is the meal to focus on! Spaghetti and the red sauce are fine as is. Now you just need to find a delicious “meatball” recipe that uses things like beans and lentils and spices and freeze some to save time for the next meal. Pizza can be delicious on its own without cheese, but you can consider adding dairy-free cheese.

Find Your Favorite Brand of Store-bought Dairy-free Cheese

My favorites… and I’ve tried them all!

  • VioLife Feta Cheese (delicious on a cheese board with apple slices)
  • SoDelicious Cheddar (good for pizzas)
  • Miyokos (Whole Foods carries wheels of this delicious brand)
  • TreeLine (small tubs of herbed cheeses that are delicious on crackers)
  • Daiya Pepper Jack cheese block

There are dozens more, and many folks try making their own cheese, but if you can find just one, this makes the transition 100 times easier.

Be Prepared for Restaurants

This might mean expanding your palate and trying new places. Indian, Thai, and Ethiopian are prime examples of cuisines that highlight plant foods over animal foods. But even our favorite fast-food chains have vegan options:

  • Chipotle offers sofritas (tofu).
  • Burger King and White Castle offer Impossible Meat Burgers (remember, moderation is still key).
  • Noble Roman’s offers vegan cheese on pizzas.

As “vegan” continues to be rather trendy, the options are endless. Don’t be afraid to create your own dish and ask for substitutions or leave things off the dish. The Happy Cow app lists vegan options all over the city.

Be Open-minded

Change is hard, especially when it comes to food. Food is something we have a strong connection to. We associate different meals with happiness, sadness, a certain holiday, or a family favorite that has been a go-to every Monday night. My family did our first entirely vegan Thanksgiving two years ago. Despite the fact that the entire immediate family had gone vegan a few years ago, many of our extended family members were not on board with this move. Expose friends, family, and new acquaintances to some of your new favorite dishes at various gatherings and you just might end up with another buddy to swap recipes with!

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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 vegan dietitian plant-based

Keeping Engaged and on Top of Healthy Habits During the Pandemic

GettyImages-1053860992These past few weeks have been trying times for not only our families and friends, but also for the athletes we engage with on a daily basis throughout the year. In our position we must stay in a lead-by-example mentality. If we let ourselves go during this time, our athletes will notice and do the exact same thing. This is definitely a time of uncertainty and there are a lot of unknowns. Controlling what we can control on a daily basis is what will help not just us personally, but also those around us, to get through and come out of this on top.

Start by Continuing to Practice Good Morning Habits

It’s easy during this time to sleep in and relax the majority of the day. That’s why it’s essential to keep as close to a normal schedule as you can. There is nothing wrong with sleeping in sometimes, but don’t make a habit of sleeping into the afternoon hours. Keeping a schedule will make it easier to get back into the swing of things once the world starts moving in its true functioning fashion again. Try to continue to start your morning with a well-balanced breakfast. Incorporate meditation or read a book or article. If you are used to working out in the morning, continue to keep that same routine. Read more about these and other healthy habits here.

Lean on Your Coach for Ideas for Working Out

Always remember that NIFS is a phone call, text, or email away to give you ideas for different daily workouts or activities. It’s still our jobs to help you get a quality workout. Not everyone is equipped with a full gym; and if you are, take full advantage. But at this time you might need to be creative, and if you need ideas (such as using objects from around your home as weights), reach out and get the help you need.

Technology is a great tool. Zoom and FaceTiming or videoing your workouts will give you something fun and exciting to do throughout the day.

Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition

You can’t out-train a bad diet! If you get off track nutritionally, you’re going to have an extremely hard road trying to get it back once we are able to meet as a group. Don’t let something as simple as nutrition mess up what you work for throughout the year. Keep it a top priority. This is a great time to do research and read more about nutrition and better ways to go about it. Reach out to the Teams Nutritionist to find new recipes and food ideas. 

Learn a New Skill and Have Fun with Your Teammates

Don’t let this time go by without learning something new. Read more books and learn new hobbies. Most important of all, continue learning. There are great podcasts to listen to and daily roundtable discussions to tune into. Keep exercising fun! Invite your teammates to do a Workout of the Day over Zoom or Skype to keep it fresh and fun. It will also hold you and your teams accountable during this pandemic. Daily or weekly challenges are great for continuing team-building.

Embrace the time. Control what you can control. Don’t let this pandemic move you to the back of the bus once we are clear to get back to work.

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This blog was written by Jason Quarles, IUPUI Athletic Performance Coach. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS nutrition healthy habits exercise at home sleep athletes pandemic

Meal Prep Made Simple…and Delicious!

GettyImages-95618113When I say “meal prep,” do you picture hours upon hours in the kitchen, a stockpile of containers, and food that you are sick of by week’s end? PAUSE right there! I am here to tell you that meal prep does not have to be that way. It does not have to be too time-consuming or hard, and you don’t have to eat the exact same meal over and over.

What Is Meal Prep?

For those new to meal prep, it is essentially precooking and preparing foods in advance so that you have less to do during your week, but still have your meals ready to go. The weeks get busy and tiring, especially when work picks up or the kids’ extracurriculars start. The last thing anyone wants to do after work is cook. So, if food is not prepped or the fridge is empty, we find ourselves ordering takeout for the third day in a row. Who can relate? My hand is up! Regardless of our busy lives, we still need to find a way to maintain a healthy nutrition regimen because doing so carries over into the rest of our lives. Meal prep is the key to helping you stay nourished even when life gets busy.

Meal prep is not rocket science, but it does require effort and is not the easiest thing in the world. After years of prepping for myself, husband, and even my family when I was younger, along with guiding my clients and patients, I can say there are ways to make meal prep simple and easy while still making enjoyable meals.

Meal Prep Cooking Tips

Here are my tips for you!

Make a Plan

It’s always a good idea to start with a plan. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Take a few moments to plan and write out the menu for the week.

  • Consider the number of servings per meal you need, the budget, and food preferences.
  • How many meals and snacks will you be serving?
  • Look at your schedule to consider the obligations you have. It would be a waste to prepare food for an evening that you will not be home.
  • What are your health goals? Are there specific suggestions by your primary care provider or Registered Dietitian that you need to consider when planning your meals?

Think “Single Ingredients”

Prepare single ingredients, such as vegetables, proteins, and starches that can be used in a variety of ways. This can keep you from getting bored with the same meal over and over. For example, prepare a bulk batch of chicken. That one batch can be used for BBQ sandwiches alongside some steamed veggies, as a main entrée tossed in marinade with a veggie and starch of choice on the side, or thrown into a soup like chicken noodle or chicken chili. The same can be done with a starch, such as brown rice. Prepare the rice and use it for a stir-fry with veggies and protein of choice (tofu, chicken, or turkey are good options); a Tex-Mex bowl with rice, beans, lean protein, veggies, and guacamole; or alongside grilled teriyaki chicken. You get the picture.

Prepare Two Proteins, Four Vegetables, and Two Starches

This is a pretty good rule of thumb because all of these single ingredients can be combined in a multitude of ways to make different meals. Pick two proteins that you can use throughout the week, such as chicken, lean turkey or beef, tofu, beans, cod, or salmon. Cook them based on the meals you’ve planned. Maybe that means half of the chicken is boiled and shredded for BBQ sandwiches and your lunch salads, while the other half is tossed in marinade to be grilled, or cooked in the air-fryer or oven in the next day or two. Then, pick out four veggies that go with your proteins and that can be easily accessible for snacks, including salad mixes, roasted veggies, and cut raw vegetables. To balance out the meals, prepare two starches in bulk. Consider mashed or roasted potatoes, rice, or whole grains of some sort.

Add in Spices, Seasonings, Sauces, and Marinades

Now that you have prepped single ingredients, be sure to have spices, seasonings, sauces, and marinades on hand to pack the meal with flavor. On the stir-fry night, be sure to portion out your meal serving of rice, turkey, and veggies that you cooked in bulk. Then top with the stir-fry sauce. For the shredded chicken you prepared, be sure to mix a meal’s worth with a low-sugar BBQ sauce when the sandwich night rolls around. When you go to eat the veggies, use an Italian seasoning combo on spaghetti night but a garlic and pepper combination on the tofu and rice night.

When picking your sauces and marinades, be sure to watch for high sodium (if you have high blood pressure) and added sugar content. Sometimes those sauces will be packed with added sugars, fats, and sodium. Pick low-fat, lite, sugar-free, and low- or reduced-sodium options when available.

Try One-pan Meals, Air Fryers, Pressure Cookers, or Slow Cookers

The methods listed above are easy and still produce a delicious meal. Some of my favorite one-pan meals include chicken with peppers for fajitas, steak strips and sweet potatoes with broccoli, and garlic tofu with veggies. Toss the prepped raw veggies lightly in oil and place on a baking sheet alongside a protein, and then roast it all together. You can make these vegetarian friendly as well!

The air fryers, pressure cookers (such as Instant Pot), and slow cookers (such as Crock-Pot) are all appliances worth considering. My household loves marinating chicken and tossing it in the air fryer, along with sweet potato fries. While that is cooking, we throw a steamable bag of veggies in the microwave. Crispy chicken, fries, and veggies that are so nutritious; very little work; balanced and customized portions to meet our nutrition goals—easy peezy.

The Instant Pot and Crock-Pot come in handy when you want to throw things into an appliance and let it do all the work for you. We use the Crock-Pot for shredded chicken, chili, soups, slow-cooker lasagna, and so much more. Also, did you know there are Facebook groups, such as an Instant Pot Recipe group, that consist of people sharing recipes utilizing these appliances? That is where my sister found the protein bagel recipe that I adapted. 

Consider Pre-prepared, Precut Ingredients, and Steamables to Save Time

There is absolutely no shame in needing convenience. Grocery stores these days have raw and chopped vegetables, fruit trays, fresh salsa, premade guacamole, and more in the produce section. In the freezer section, you can find chopped onions, peppers, and celery for some of your recipes as well (because who has time to chop all those veggies…not I). You can also find steamable bags of rice, quinoa, and vegetables if you need a quick side to toss in the microwave or do not want to make these things in advance.

It’s Easy—But NIFS Can Help If You Need It!

Meal prep can be simple and not always keep you bound to eating the same meal over and over throughout the week. Once you get past that initial push to do it, the process becomes a habit and part of your weekly routine. Then, once you do it enough, the process will be faster and easier. It is worth the time and effort. I promise. If you still feel that you could use more help with meal prep, reach out to the NIFS Registered Dietitian for one-on-one nutrition counseling or join the NIFS Nutrition and Lifestyle Facebook group.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating kids cooking time management meal planning meal prep

Cheat Meal Is a Garbage Term—Strive for a Healthy Balance

GettyImages-492321666Can we just cut out the term “cheat meal” already? This fuels the idea that foods are “good” or “bad,” and, in turn, our food choices then become this reflection of us, as humans, being “good” or “bad.” News flash, you are not “bad” for eating a specific food.

Balancing Physical, Mental, and Social Health

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, “is the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” When we pursue our health goals, we need to consider all three aspects. Often we only think of the physical, such as disease state, body composition, and weight. While we are consumed in fixing the physical, we neglect the mental and social aspects, or the very methods to “fix” the physical start to interfere with our social and mental health.

For example, have you met the person who won’t enjoy an occasional outing with friends because they are on a diet? Goodbye social health. Or have you met the person who is restricting the foods they love, such as bread or chocolate, because they hope to meet some type of health goal? Goodbye mental health (let’s be real, chocolate is good for the soul). Nine times out of ten, what ends up happening? People quit. They binge and give in to whatever they have been restricting. Well, goodbye physical health. Repeat cycle.

Let’s break the cycle. Let’s throw away that “cheat meal” mentally and explore ways to shift your mindset.

Indulge Your Cravings

Denying your body the foods you crave leads to obsessing over that food and/or constantly eating other foods to fill the never-ending void. If you have a craving, give yourself permission to eat and plan it into your regimen. Let’s say you have a caloric goal of 2,000 calories per day, and you have been craving chips. Incorporate 1–2 servings of chips into your daily snack or a meal. Read the nutrition label, account for the calories in the serving(s), and apply them to your daily calorie goal. Then, ensure that the rest of your meals include high-quality, nutritious foods that fuel your body’s needs. This is called balance.

Enjoy Special Occasions

If you are going out for a date night or meal with your friends or family, ENJOY THE OCCASION. On the day of the event, try to eat lighter meals before and after, filling up on protein-rich sources. During the event, be sure to eat, laugh, and soak in the moment. Feed your social health. Then, move on with your life. Do not stay hung up on that one night, because one night will not derail your physical health progress. It’s the foods we eat consistently over time that matter.

Find Nutritious Swaps

Food swaps usually come in handy when preparing recipes. Identify the foods you love the most, such as pizza, brownies, tacos, dips, etc. Replace ingredients with choices that are lower-calorie or better for your specific health goals. For example, instead of high-fat red meat for tacos, try lean turkey. Instead of a pizza crust made with refined flour, try a crust made with whole grains. Swap the high-fat cheese for cheese made with skim or 1% milk. Like ice cream? Consider making ice cream out of frozen fruit or trying a frozen yogurt bar. Give Greek yogurt a try for the base of your dips. The possibilities are endless. This won’t work on everything, but it can for some food choices. Pinterest will come in handy here.

Honor Your Health

I will leave you with this final thought, because it is the most important concept: Honor your health. Registered Dietitian Evelyn Tribole says it best: “Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.”

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating calories mindset cheat days emotional

Staying on Track with Your Healthy Routine During Quarantine

GettyImages-1215666910Take these next few weeks or so and use them to your advantage. We know this is an extremely challenging time, and we want to make sure you feel like you are taken care of. Circumstances are tricky right now, so even if you adopt one new technique, consider that a win! Don’t expect yourself to “eat the rainbow” every day, feel like you fall asleep easily at night from a relaxing day working at home in your pajamas, or get in a 10-mile run each morning. While you shelter at home and stay healthy, keep these tips in mind.

Create balanced meals with shelf-stable products.

Use fresh produce first, and if you feel like you won’t finish your fresh produce before it spoils, freeze it. Try to make half of your plate produce such as spinach, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, or cauliflower. Add some protein like beans (canned or dried) or tofu, and quality carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, potatoes, or quinoa. Remember, beans and grains will get you all of the essential amino acids you need, so don’t shy away from trying shelf-stable beans in place of your usual fresh meat. (Here are some meatless meal staples to look for.)

Have a plan for your meals.

Think “first-in, first-out” and make sure to use your fresh produce and proteins first in order to prevent spoilage. Create a meal plan list for the week and utilize one meal’s leftovers to create the next night’s meal to avoid wasting food. For example, if you had plain white rice to add to a veggie-stir-fry on Monday, consider keeping some white rice on the side to make rice and bean burritos for dinner the next night!

Keep food fun!

Get the family together and have fun experimenting during the week to see who can come up with the most creative meals. It’s like an episode of “Chopped” in your kitchen! You never know what some instant mashed potato flakes mixed with some flour and spices could turn into—potato pancakes perhaps. And make sure to not only keep healthy snacks in the house like nuts, carrot sticks, or apples for nourishment, but some of your favorite comfort foods will go a long way in lifting everyone’s spirits. We have had a lot of fun making popcorn in a pan and homemade bread this week.

Line up activities to do.

Plan a play date for the kids via FaceTime or Zoom. Schedule a remote “girls’ night out” and chat in the basement while watching the same TV show. Don’t go more than a few days without checking in on your friends.

Try meditation and stress-reducing activities.

There are several apps on the market that aim to help you meditate and fall asleep at night. It’s worth a try just to download one and listen while you are in bed at night. Coloring, doing puzzles, going for walks, and virtual therapy sessions with a counselor are other ways to put your mind at ease.

Stay healthy, stay calm—we’ve got this!

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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 stress attitude wellness meditation illness prevention meal planning quarantine covid-19