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Why #noexcuses is not healthy

Knowing that I’m opening myself up to criticism here, I’m going to share something with you. Back in August, I completely stopped working out and didn’t start back up again for about 3 months. At first, it just kind of happened, – I would skip a fitness class here or there. But then I made a conscious decision and said “I have too much going on right now. I’m going to stop working out for a bit.” At the time, to say that I had a lot going on would have been a massive understatement. I was barely keeping my head above water and I knew that what little time I had I needed for rest… at least for the time being. Long story short, I only started putting together a regular workout schedule again nearly 3 months later.

I’m not perfect (far from it) and I share many of the same struggles my clients work through. That gives me a very important perspective: I get it.

I hid this fact about me and I felt embarrassed about it and even ashamed of it. Who would want to work with a health coach who wasn’t even forcing herself to work out? The more I thought about it, though, I realized I would want to work with that coach because they’re a real person, too. I’m not perfect (far from it) and I share many of the same struggles my clients work through. That gives me a very important perspective: I get it. So I’m OK with my decision and with my struggle to get back into it.

One thing I noticed while I was making that decision not to work out is that I was literally being bombarded by an Instagram feed full of gym pics and #noexcuses. And if I logged into Pinterest, it would have been the same thing. I realized that I really freakin hate that hashtag and I’ll tell you why.

To say #noexcuses implies that there is never a reason not to workout. It then follows that, if there is never a reason not to work out and you come up with one, then you are somehow failing or being lazy. How is that healthy? Spoiler: it’s not.

#noexcuses is part of that fitness extremism known as fitspo or fitspiration – pictures of thigh gaps, gym selfies, and fad diet miracle before-and-afters. In general, this trend creates a constant striving for largely unattainable physical perfection characterized by extreme behaviors and unhealthy habits. The focus is entirely on looks. It engenders self-hatred and depression because it pushes constant comparison to others. What makes #noexcuses even more destructive as part of this paradigm is that it is based on blame and inferiority. To say #noexcuses implies that there is never a reason not to workout. It then follows that, if there is never a reason not to work out and you come up with one, then you are somehow failing or being lazy. #noexcuses also implies that whatever reason you have to skip your workout is unimportant, insignificant, so just get over it. How is that healthy? Spoiler: it’s not. #noexcuses is the stuff unhealthy body image and disordered eating and exercise habits are made out of.

Life is not all black and white. Fitness doesn’t have to be either/or. It’s not that either you work out every day or you’re lazy. That’s just not how it works, regardless of what the #noexcuses crowd would have you believe.

Your body needs rest just as much as it needs movement. Obviously, there is a difference between a reason and an excuse. That I’m mentally and physically exhausted and I don’t have the time are reasons. That I can’t find a hair elastic is an excuse. But on the days when you need a rest, take a rest and don’t feel guilty about it. When you don’t have time, don’t make yourself crazy trying to find time. Sometimes, it’s just that simple – there is no time.

Here is the truth. No one is perfect and even those #noexcuses people skip their workouts. They also drink beer and eat pizza. But they don’t tell you that because they need you to believe that they are perfect. Maybe some of them are good-intentioned and hope that their perfect image will somehow motivate someone. And I’m sure there are some folks out there who do find it motivating. But, in reality, it’s likely that it’s making more people feel like garbage.

There are excuses, there are reasons, there are needs. What is more important than hitting the gym without exception is listening to your body and what it needs. What’s important is that when you get out of your workout habit, you find a way to get back into it. That right there is often the hardest part. And that’s OK and that’s normal. You are not defective if you struggle to get back to the gym. You and your body are capable of amazing things. Listen to your body. Take what you need. Do what you need. And don’t let the Internet dictate your worth.

What to do with the Halloween candy scaries

If the thought of storing several jumbo bags of “fun-sized” candy in your house for the next couple weeks has your despairing, if you’re wondering how you’re going to resist eating your child’s candy loot, if you’re thinking of just skipping Halloween for the sake of your diet altogether, then read on. If not, power to you, but read on anyway in case you know someone this would be helpful to 🙂

Halloween is just the first of several upcoming holidays known to fill our homes with less-than-healthy temptations. From the giant bags of candy you buy to pass out to the trick-or-treaters to the orange bucket of candy your own child brings home, this can be a tough time for those of us looking to watch our waistlines, reduce our sugar intake, or just eat healthier in general. So here are my tips for having fun this spooky season without going off the rails completely.

1.Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Once you’ve bought your stock of candy to give out on Halloween night, don’t keep it out in the open or in an easily accessible location. Each of us probably knows all too well how easy it is to pop open one of those bags for “just a few” pieces of candy and have that turn into needing to go buy more candy. It’s not you and it’s not all just a lack of willpower. Our bodies are programmed to crave those caloric, sugary, fatty foods, especially this time of the year and junk food companies known exactly how to capitalize on that from the ingredients they use all the way down to the packaging.

Take those bags of candy and store them somewhere out of the way and out of your sight until Halloween night (make sure you remember where you put them, of course). It has been proven that when junk food is within our vision or easily accessible to us, we will choose that over healthy options most of the time (even if we don’t really want to). Putting those bags of candy away will help keep you on track and eliminate that extra temptation.

2. Participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project

If candy is your arch nemesis and you would prefer to just not have it in the house at all, then grab a teal pumpkin and hand out non-candy items (like glow sticks, bookmarks, funky erasers, etc.) on Halloween to help include children with food allergies in the spooky fun. This will keep your stress about overindulging at bay and will also benefit kids with food allergies who just want to trick or treat like their friends. Learn more about the Teal Pumpkin Project and register your address online here.  

3. Have some fun and then be done

Life is all about balance and you should absolutely get a chance to enjoy some sweets this Halloween season. The key is setting a stopping point and sticking to it. One of the best parts about Halloween as a kid was always bringing a piece or two of candy with you to school in your lunch box. So I suggest keeping the candy around for just one week after Halloween. Allow yourself and/or your kids, just one or two pieces a day (assuming they’re the “fun size”) and stick to that. Once that week is up, get rid of the candy. You can throw it out (I know, I know) or you can donate it, which is what I recommend because it’s also a great way to teach your kids about helping others and sharing. There are loads of veterans organizations that collect leftover candy to send to troops overseas in their care packages. A simple Google search should point you to one near you.

4. Hand out healthier snacks instead

I know that neighbor tends to get a bad rep, but you could hand out healthier options such as mini boxes of raisins, snack bags of pretzels, or clementines to toss out just a few ideas. Doing this will keep more sugar out of your house and you might actually be doing another parent or child a favor as well.

5. Don’t beat yourself up

Most importantly, if you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. Getting down on yourself is a recipe for a downward spiral and kicking your own butt at the gym isn’t going to undo it. The best thing you can do for yourself in situations like that is to own that you didn’t do what you had hoped you would and resolve to do better going forward. This is important not just for yourself but for your kids who, whether you know it or not, watch your every move and hear your every word. This is a chance to teach them how to love themselves and have a healthy relationship with food.

 

Bonus advice:

While we’re on the topic of setting an example for our kids, watching the language that you use around food is also really important. Dubbing some foods “bad” or saying they’ll make you fat can very adversely affect your child’s relationship with food going forward and can create feelings of shame around it. So when you’re talking to children about why you’re giving away the leftover candy or limiting how much you eat, I suggest using language along the lines of: this isn’t everyday food so we are only going to have a little and then share with some other people. Foods like fruits and vegetables help keep us from getting sick and help us do better in school, but candy doesn’t do any of those things for us so we don’t need to eat a lot of it. Instead we have a little and we focus on eating more of the foods that help us grow bigger and smarter.

 

Have a Healthy Freshman Year

The first year in college is a very exciting time, but it is also an enormous adjustment for many college students. The lack of parental/caregiver oversight, freedom to set your own schedules, competition, stress, and having the ability to choose when and what you eat can often mean that health takes a backseat to other priorities, particularly during that first year of college. I can tell you based on my own personal experience that the dreaded “Freshman 15” is just the tip of the iceberg since eating habits are strongly linked to other factors, such as stress. So here are my tips for keeping healthy when you head out to college.

Eating Healthy

1. Keep healthy snacks in your dorm room

In college, I lived next door to the Mediterranean-themed dining hall, which, for me, meant bringing back tupperware containers full of baklava to snack on when I was studying later on at night during my first semester. That went as well for my waistline as you would think it did. When we are stressed out or up late, we are particularly susceptible to binging on unhealthy foods. Those foods actually increase the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies. So it is super important to make sure that these foods are an occasional treat and not a study-time staple. Keeping healthy snacks handy in your dorm room and back pack will help make sure you avoid this too-common pitfall.

2. Plan ahead

At most schools these days, you can check what the dining hall is serving online before you walk over for dinner. This is awesome because it allows you to plan your meals ahead of time and strategize around those temptations.

3. Hit the salad bar

A healthy plate should be at least 1/2 vegetables and hitting the salad bar can make sure you hit this benchmark. Starting your meal with a salad is also a great way to make sure that you don’t overeat more caloric or unhealthier foods later on in your meal. It has also been shown to buffer against the blood sugar spike we experience from simple carbohydrates and could mitigate some of the effects of fatty meats on our circulatory system as well.

4. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is critical for your health in so many ways. Drinking enough water keeps your skin healthy, keeps your joints working properly, helps cleanse out your body, promotes cardiovascular health, helps you absorb nutrients from food, and can keep you from overeating.

5. Be present at meal time

It is so easy to eat a whole meal and hardly even notice it when you’re super distracted my homework, friends, etc. You will enjoy your meals more and feel more satisfied as well as diminish your likelihood of overeating if you pay attention to your eating.

6. Don’t wait until you’re starving to eat

When you’re really cramming or trying to meet a deadline, it can be easy to skip eating until you can’t ignore those hunger pangs any more, but you’re not doing yourself any favors this way. You will work better and more efficiently if you eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re starving. When you wait that long, you often end up opting for something unhealthy or inhaling way too much food. You’re better off having a snack or taking a meal break – chances are you weren’t getting as much done as you could anyway because you were being distracted by hunger and your brain was starving for the nutrients it needs to function properly.

Healthy Movement

1. Find a fitness routine that you actually like

It’s no secret that if you hate something, you won’t do it. Once you have your schedule down, finding some type of physical activity that you like – whether it’s playing a sport or going to the gym or taking a fitness class – is key to keeping physically active, especially when student life is often so sedentary. It’s also important to know yourself and what it takes for you to make something habit. Are you easily self-motivated so setting your own schedule works for you? Do you need external accountability so registering for a class or being part of a team is a must for you to stick to something? Asking yourself these kinds of questions will help you find what works for you.

2. Find a fitness buddy

Having a fitness buddy is a great way to keep yourself motivated and active. It’s also a great way to build a good new friendship.

Feel Healthy

1. Get enough sleep

College students are incredibly sleep-deprived. This can negatively impact academic performance, can increase stress levels, has been linked to higher body weight, can increase inflammation, and can contribute to depression. Practicing good sleep hygiene and getting a good night’s sleep (8 hours) is critical to overall health. Make sure that you have enough time to sleep for 8 hours. Keep electronics and their blue light out of your bedroom. Use sleep masks and ear plugs if you need to – even a little light can disrupt our sleep.

2. Find your stress relief tricks and make time for them

College is stressful. Period. And stress can have some very negative effects on our health, including weight gain, decreased immune system function, sleeplessness, and hypertension. It is so, so important to have healthy ways to manage your stress at your disposal, especially when it can be very easy to turn to unhealthy ways of coping. When I was in college, exercise and coloring were my go-tos when the stress got to be too much. I also had a great group of friends to turn to when I needed them. Try to have a variety of stress relief techniques you can use depending on what your situation is.

3. Use the school’s resources

From one-on-one therapy sessions to support groups to student mentors, there are a number of resources available to college students these days to support your mental and emotional health. If you are struggling – no matter what with – these resources are there for you to use and I guarantee you are not the only one to use them.

 

 

My 5 Favorite Food Shows

I decided to write fun blog post! Food and cooking shows are super popular right now and everyone’s got their thing. So I thought it would be fun to share my top 5 and I would love to hear from you what yours are in the comments! So check these out and then let me know what I’m missing out on!

1. A Chef’s Life

This show is on PBS (WGBX44 in Boston) and it follows Chef Vivian Howard, who owns the Chef and the Farmer and the Boiler Room in North Carolina. First off, NC has a special place in my heart as my boyfriend (or do you become a manfriend after the age of 30?) is originally from there and my father currently lives there – so that was my initial hook. What kept me hooked is that I absolutely LOVE traditional Southern cooking – not just the food, but the stories behind it, the traditions. I think that’s what makes southern cuisine unique. This show really gets to that. Each episode focuses on either a specific ingredient or a specific dish and Chef Vivian takes you through her childhood experiences with it, then she takes you to the farm she sources it from, and then she makes it with her own spin on it. I just love her appreciation for and connection with the food and I love that her prep really just lets the ingredients speak for themselves.

2. The French Chef with Julia Child

Disclosure: I share an alma mater with Julia Child, so I’m a little biased. But really, Julia Child is timeless. You can catch episodes of The French Chef in syndication on PBS from time to time and I always try to watch it when it’s on. My favorite part about this show is the way that Julia was so authentic and anything but perfect. She had no issues being silly on camera, mistakes were kept in the final episode, and sometimes her dishes were just not pretty but all of that is what makes this show so great. She made French cooking accessible and I think that watching reruns of this show is really refreshing in this TV era where everything is fabricated perfection.

3. Mind of a Chef

This one is on Netflix so you can watch it any time. Mind of a Chef introduces you to some of the most successful, highly respected, and/or innovative chefs from all over. I like this for the same reason as A Chef’s Life – the stories. I just really like getting a glimpse into their lives and learning about the stories behind their creativity.

4. The Great British Baking Show

I don’t think I know anyone who hates this show. It’s just fun and British.

5. Lidia’s Kitchen

Lidia Bastianich is the adorable Italian grandmother you wish you had. There’s just something really wonderful and comforting about watching her make classic Italian dishes in her kitchen with a big pot of herbs growing behind her. What I like best is that she actually DIGS IN to the food she makes once it’s done. In a world of TV chefs who don’t touch their food or who just taste a crumb, we need more Lidia Bastianich.

Product Review: Explore Cuisine Organic Edamame Spaghetti

Pasta is a staple for many of us and our families – it’s easy, quick, convenient, and yummy. But white pasta is full of “bad” carbs and empty calories and the whole grain versions are still quite calorie-dense and easy to overeat. Plus, if you’re sensitive to gluten, neither of those are a good option. For these reasons, I’m always looking for new pasta alternatives. One that I am a big fan of is the Ultra-Grain pasta from Hodgson Mills, which is a whole wheat & quinoa blend. I’ve tried rice pastas before and am not really a fan of the texture – they tend to be kind of gummy. I’m also not really a fan of black bean pastas because you can taste the bean flavor and the texture is off to me as well. This week I decided to give Edamame pasta a try.

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Nutrition

Explore Cuisine’s edamame pasta has a lot going for it nutritionally. The first thing that I noted was that it is organic and non-GMO. If you are not familiar with edamame, it is a soy bean and 93% of soy sold in the US is genetically modified. If it is not labeled organic or non-GMO, you can bet that your soy is genetically modified. So that earned this pasta it’s first point from me.

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Explore Cuisine Edamame Spaghetti dry

The second major eye-catcher is that it contains 24 grams of protein per serving. That is huge and, coupled with the 13 grams of fiber per serving, means that this is a very filling pasta that will leave you feeling sated for a long time after. It also makes it hard to overeat it because you start feeling full very quickly.

 

This pasta is also pretty low-calorie at just 180 calories per serving. This means there is wiggle room for the calories added by what you top it with (check out my veggie-loaded pasta sauce recipe here or give a cauliflower alfredo sauce a try). Another perk: this paste is a great source of calcium, iron, and potassium.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking at this point “OK but how big is a serving?”. According to the box, a serving is 2 oz, but it doesn’t indicate whether that is dry or prepared. It does say that there are 4 serving per box, so I would say just take 1/4 of the prepared box. Trust me, it will fill you up.

Ease of Prep

Some non-flour pastas are kind of high-maintenance when it comes to prep; not the case with this spaghetti. Your bring the water to a boil, dump it in, and it’s done in 3-5 minutes. This is faster than many pasta varieties so I really liked that. It’s definitely a quick and easy dinner option.

Taste and Texture

OK but what is it like?! I really, really like this spaghetti. It has just a very light, savory flavor to it so it can work with pretty much any sauce/topping. The texture is very satisfying. It’s definitely different from a flour pasta’s texture, a bit chewier, but in a good way. Especially where it’s a fine spaghetti, the chewy, almost meaty texture is nice and give you that full mouth feel.

I had just one serving and it left me feeling very satisfied and full for the rest of the night. The best part was probably that I didn’t experience that awful bloated feeling that I often get after eating a regular pasta. I just felt well-fed! We prepared it as a sort-of shrimp scampi with olive oil and lemon juice plus shrimp and sautéed onions and peppers. I was worried that doing such a light sauce meant its flavor would be drowned out by the taste of the pasta, but that was not the case at all! It turned out delicious.

Overall:

I would give Explore Cuisine’s Edamame Spaghetti 5 stars.

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Our version of shrimp scampi that we made with the edamame pasta

 

Serrano Honey Shrimp & Avocado Summer Salad

One of my favorite things about summer is the crisp, fresh, and delicious foods we New Englanders are finally surrounded by. This summer salad is a bit of a riff off of ceviche with the exception of the fact that I cooked the shrimp. It combines fresh vegetables, like peppers and onions, with fresh fruits, like avocado and pineapple, with seasoned chili-seasoned shrimp for a refreshing and simple dish. What really added depth and outstanding flavor to this dish was the addition of Serrano Honey Balsamic Vinegar from The Branch Olive Oil Company in Peabody, MA. In addition to the acid of the vinegar, this balsamic brings with it the sweetness of honey and just a little heat from the serrano chiles. It’s the finisher that really makes this dish pop. If you have a cookout coming up and want to bring something that really stands out and is completely different, this is the dish to go with.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole avocado
  • 12-15 shrimp (size 16/20), rinsed and tails removed
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 orange bell pepper, diced
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen pineapple, diced
  • 1.25 oz The Branch Serrano Honey Balsamic
  • Chili powder
  • Garlic powder
  • 1/2 lime
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp EVOO or EV, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil

Instructions:

  1. In a skillet, heat about 1 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil over medium-low heat. Sprinkle both sides of the shrimp with chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Place shrimp in the pan and cook 2-3 minutes on each side until firm and cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
  2. While the shrimp is cooling, begin prepping the chopped fruits and vegetables for the dish and combine them in a large bowl with the chopped cilantro.
  3. Once the shrimp is cooled, cut it into small pieces and add it to the bowl. Add the balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of lime juice. Stir to coat everything.
  4. Cover and place the mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

This dish is great to eat on its own or you could serve it in lettuce wraps, with tortilla chips, or over cooled rice or quinoa. I served mine over brown rice with a side of roasted broccoli as shown below.

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If you haven’t been to The Branch yet, I highly recommend you check them out. If you go in person, you can taste pretty much everything in the store and the employees there are super helpful. If you order online, they offer free shipping which is awesome, needless to say.

Product Review: Boozy Seltzers

Ok. You might be thinking “um, a health coach is reviewing alcohol?” Yes, I am, because I think balance is very important when it comes to health and wellness and, if you want to enjoy a drink occasionally, you should. And so, with that, I give you my take on boozy seltzer.

I’m sure you’ve seen them in the package stores by now, thin, classy-looking cans of spiked seltzers advertising how low-calorie and low-carb they are. I also couldn’t resist and tried them out.

Overall, the alcoholic seltzers out there are typically lower in calories and carbohydrates than the average beer or wine. However, there is a good amount of variation amongst the different brands. I tried 3 of the most popular brands and will tell you about each in order of my least favorite to best.

Truly – least favorite

The Truly brand ranks at the bottom of the boozy seltzers. In terms of nutrition information, Truly are similar to the White Claw brand: a 12-oz can (5% ABV) contains Trulyjust 100 calories, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of carbs, so they really are a low-cal, low-carb option. I also really love that they don’t contain any artificial sweeteners, which have been link to numerous health problems, the full extent of which we still don’t know.

I’ve only had their citrus flavors and I do like the taste. They’re not super sweet or super tart and don’t taste like fake flavoring. What I don’t like about these, and what put them at the bottom for me, is that they are extremely acidic. I actually couldn’t finish the package I bought because every time I drank one I ended up with such awful heartburn that was really difficult to cure. I don’t really have a sensitive stomach and I’ve eaten my share of horrifying food combinations, so this was surprising to me. Seltzer is an acidic drink to begin with so this one is that much more. If you have a sensitive stomach or sensitive teeth, this is something you want to be aware of.

Spiked Seltzer – Runner Up

The runner up in the seltzer game is Spiked Seltzer. These are a bit heavier than the Spiked Seltzerother 2 brands reviewed here. A 12-oz can (6% ABV) contains 140 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates (sugar info is not listed on their website). This makes it more caloric than a Bud Light (110 cal) and about on par for carbs (6.6 grams). It’s also more caloric than a glass of white wine (120 cal on average) and contains more carbs (4 grams on average). So, really, if you’re looking for a adult beverage with less calories and carbs, this one really isn’t the one you want to go with…at least not if you like Bud Light or white wine more.

In terms of overall yumminess, my favorite flavor is the cranberry. I’ve also had the lemon, lime, and grapefruit. I cared least for the lemon as it tasted kind of fake to me, although there are not any artificial flavors in it. Just not my flavor. All of the flavors are a nice balance between sweet and tart.

White Claw – The Winner!

The White Claw brand is hands-down my favorite. A 12-oz can (5% ABV) contains 100 White Clawcalories and 2 grams of carbohydrates and sugar, making it a nice, light option. Of the three brands, I like the taste of this one the best. The black cherry flavor is my favorite and the lime flavor is a close second. They all taste natural, aren’t super sweet, and don’t have a harsh, acidic bite. Like the other two flavors, White Claw contains no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives. This is the brand of boozy seltzer you will find me sitting around the campfire with.

As a health coach, I have to say that, if you want to have a little boozy indulgence, alcohol-spiked seltzers are a good option to go with without tipping the scales. Cheers!

Tips to Help You Eat More Plants

We have a plant problem in the US today and I’m not talking about marijuana. By and large most Americans aren’t eating enough plants in their diets in spite of volumes of studies showing that eating plant-based diets is key for lasting health and weight management because they are loaded with so many vital nutrients our bodies depend on. Part of the issue is that we are a very meat-centric society and many of us just don’t know how to work more vegetables into our cooking routine because we are so used to meals consisting of a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. However, there are many plants that are great sources of protein and can easily stand in for that meat on your plate. Here are some tips to get you started on eating more plants.

Eat something green with every meal

This one is a great rule to live by and will instantly get more plants into your diet. Just add a green vegetable to every meal. This could mean adding spinach to your eggs in the morning, throwing some greens into your sandwich at lunch, and having some kale or green beans with dinner. Having green vegetables with your meals will help fill you up and can buffer against the effects of high-fat meals to a degree.

Practice Meatless Mondays

Commit to eating vegetarian one day a week. This one will require some work on your part because it’s very easy to just resort to carbs, like pasta and bread, and you may need to search for some good recipes. But it’s worth it!

Eat more quinoa

Quinoa has become a wellness buzz food and for good reason. This little seed is a complete protein and is a good source of calcium, lysine, B vitamins, and iron. It’s also gluten free. Prepared like you would rice, quinoa can be flavored pretty much any way and is versatile for use in meals. I’ve used it like rice, made pizza crust with it, made meatless meatballs with it – lots of things!

Make friends with cauliflower

Cauliflower is another versatile plant food that can be used for a large number of things. For example, you can make pizza crust with it, puree it to make an alfredo sauce, or use it as a substitute for rice. These recipes are super easy and are a great way to eat more veggies!

Give vegetable noodles a try

Don’t have a spiralizer? That’s OK! Most grocery stores now carry a variety of vegetable noodles, from squash to zucchini to sweet potato to beets. And the internet is loaded with different recipes for every type of vegetable noodle. You could use spaghetti squash instead of regular noodles as well.

Load your pasta sauce

Marinara and pasta sauces are a great place to hide vegetables, especially if you have picky eaters. You can load your sauces with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, squash – you name it. Keep it chunky or puree it for a smoother sauce. Either way, you just ate way more vegetables!

Drink more smoothies

Smoothies can be another good way to increase the amount of plants you’re consuming on a daily basis. Using fresh or frozen fruit and adding some vegetables like spinach, kale, or cucumber, you can make a powerhouse of a smoothie. Just be careful not to overload your smoothie so you end up with a high calorie treat rather than a healthy snack or meal.

Replace those chips and crackers

There are many healthy plant options you can choose for snacks on the go other than chips and crackers. Nuts, for example, are a great source of protein and fiber. Crunchy chickpeas are also a yummy plant snack on the go and can be bought or made in a variety of different flavors. Carrots, celery, and sugar snap peas are also taken on the go very easily and are great for dipping.

Treat yourself to the cut fruit plate

Many of us balk at the pre-cut fruit platters they sell at the grocery store because they really charge you for the convenience. But, in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile investment if it will make it easier for you to eat healthier.

Replace your bread with greens

Replace your wraps with collard leaves and your tortillas with lettuce cups. You could also use slices of sweet potato or cucumber instead of bread for your sandwiches.

It may seem like a lot of work at first, but it is actually quite easy to get more plants into your daily diet. Once you find some recipes you like and work them into your routine with some minimal prep, you’ll be eating plants like you’ve been doing it all along.

The Skinny on Fat

This blog post is another National Nutrition Month request. If you’re interested in joining the conversation or asking your health and wellness questions, join the Live Your Best Life Wellness Community on Facebook. 

Fat is a very confusing topic for a lot of people and for really good reason. In the 80s and 90s, we were inundated with messaging that fat is bad for you and the source of the American obesity epidemic and chronic illnesses. However, in recent years, it’s come to light that fat isn’t the evil we once were told it was and that sugar is actually a bigger problem (in spite of the sugar industry’s relentless lobbying efforts). But, it seems that some have taken advantage of this change in the tides and have taken the fat message in the opposite direction, creating diets that claim that eating lots of fat is healthy and will help you lose weight. And then there are the different kinds of fat with vague names that make it hard to keep them straight – saturated, unsaturated, trans, omega-3s, polyunsaturated, omega-6s…it’s dizzying. In this post, I’m hoping to clear things up for you.

Saturated Fats

Before we can talk about good fats vs. bad fats, we should cover what their names mean.

The dietary units we call “fats” are actually fatty acids which are made up, in part, by a chain of carbon atoms. When every carbon atom in the chain is bonded to a hydrogen atom, it is called a saturated fat. I remember this by thinking of the hydrogen as saturating the fat like water saturates a sponge so that every bit of the sponge is soaked.

Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature – so foods like butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter – these are saturated fats.

Saturated fats are often thought of as unhealthy fats, but that is not necessarily the case. Here is where it gets a little complicated: within the saturated fats category, there are short, medium, and long chain saturated fats. There is an important role in our diets for short and medium chain saturated fats: they help stabilize our cell membranes, help us convert Omega-3 fatty acids into usable forms, have antimicrobial properties, and have anti-inflammatory properties. Coconut oil falls into the medium chain category and that is the root of what makes it a healthy fat option. The health concerns come from overconsumption of the long chain saturated fats, such as animal fats, dairy fats, and cocoa butter. These are the fats whose excess consumption is linked to high cholesterol levels and heart disease. They also are higher in calories and are stored in our adipose, or fat, tissue. Unsurprisingly, Americans in general eat too much of the long chain saturated fats and not enough of the short and medium chain ones.

So what does this mean the fat in your diet should look like? This means eating lean cuts of meat (beef, pork, poultry, etc.), low-fat dairy products, and minimizing our consumption of things like butter. When it comes to the short and medium chain saturated fats, they do play an important role in our diet, but we don’t need to be eating a lot of them to derive the benefits and it’s important to remember that fat is a calorie-dense food. Therefore, moderation really is the key.

Unsaturated Fats

Since we now know that saturated fats have all of their carbon atoms paired with hydrogen atoms, we can guess that unsaturated fats have one or more carbon atoms not paired with a hydrogen atom. Instead, those unpaired carbon atoms form double bonds with the carbon atoms next to them. This chemical structure makes unsaturated fats less stable than saturated fats so they are liquid at room temperature. Examples of unsaturated fats are olive oil, flax seed oil, and fish oil. These are fats that are more vulnerable to going rancid and becoming carcinogenic when cooked to temperatures too high.

Unsaturated fats play very, very important roles in our diet, including: brain development and energy, maintaining healthy body tissues and skin, regulating our hormones, assisting in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and cushioning our organs. These are very healthy fats that we should consume regularly.

Within the unsaturated fat category, there are two types: monounsaturated fats have one double bond between carbon atoms while polyunsaturated fats have multiple double bonds between carbon atoms.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fall into the polyunsaturated fats category and are often considered the healthiest fat. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish, like wild salmon, flax seeds, and Omega-3 eggs. While Omega-3s are found in plant sources such as flax seeds, it’s important to note that the form those fats take in plants are not a form that the human body can readily use (ALA). This means that our bodies must first convert them into usable forms (EPA & DHA) before they can be used. Unfortunately, after that conversion occurs, our bodies’ absorption rate of those fats is less than 5%, so it’s more efficient to consume Omega-3s from fish sources than plant sources.

The health benefits of consuming Omega-3s include: building healthy brain cells, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, lowering the rate of certain cancers, elevating our mood, and improving our learning, attention, and vision. In general, we Americans do not eat enough Omega-3s.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are also a form of polyunsaturated fat that are very good for us. They play a critical role in our brain function and normal growth and development, among other roles. They are found in vegetable oils, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, edamame, and sunflower seeds. In general, Americans consume plenty of Omega-6s. The ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3s in our diet is 2:1.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are the bad fats. These are fats that do not occur naturally; rather, they are created by taking an unsaturated fat and adding hydrogen molecules to it, a process called hydrogenation. This was a profit move by the food industry in the early 1900s to stabilize vegetable oils so they would have a longer shelf life (the invention of Crisco). Trans fats have become very common place in prepackaged foods these days although there is a perception that they have fallen out of favor since the backlash against them. However, this is the food industry being sneaky. Legally, if a food contains less than 1/2 gram of trans fat per serving, they can put “0 grams trans fat” or “trans fat free” on a food package label. The lesson here: you can’t trust what the front of a package says. Instead, what you need to do to determine whether a food contains trans fats is to look in the ingredients list for the word “hydrogenated.” Hydrogenated oils are trans fats.

There are a number of compelling reasons to avoid trans fats: their consumption has been linked with low birth weights, high blood sugar, increased LDL (“bad” cholesterol), a decrease in nutrition density levels, a decrease in visual acuity, a decrease in Omega-3 levels in the brain (which we now know play a critical role in brain function), and a decrease in HDL (“good” cholesterol).

What About the Keto Diet?

The recent rage in fad diets has been putting your body into a state of ketosis by decreasing our carbohydrate consumption to very low levels and increasing our fat consumption to force our body to burn fat for energy. There are a number of problems with this diet craze.

For one, our bodies don’t burn fat for energy anywhere near as efficiently as they burn carbohydrates for energy. So by cutting our bodies primary fuel source drastically, we are depriving ourselves of the energy we need. Many on keto diets will experience low energy levels and mood levels because of this.

Secondly, you can overdo it with fat. The saying “too much of a good thing” really applies here. Yes, fat plays an important role in our diets but eating too much saturated fats (long chain), for example, can increase your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. Furthermore, on high-fat diets such as this, you can’t be just indiscriminately eating loads of fats. The healthiest way to to eat is to focus on fish and plant sources of food. You want the majority of the fats you eat to be unsaturated, particularly polyunsaturated. Cutting carbs and eating loads of meat and butter and dairy may help you lose weight for a little while but it can have negative long-term health effects.

Finally, and perhaps more practically, this diet is not sustainable. Keto dieters may lose weight for a period, but they will crave carbohydrates and will swing back in the other direction and gain that weight back. This is simply what happens with deprivation in humans. This can contribute to a pattern of yo-yo dieting which has been shown to contribute to a slower metabolism over time and higher weights.

Bottom Line

When it comes to fats, high fat or low fat isn’t answer. Right fat is the answer. If your focus is on eating healthy fats, omega-3s, omega-6s, and other unsaturated fats like olive oil with a balanced diet, then you are eating a right fat diet, supplying your body with the fats you need without negative health impacts.