Wellness Superhero Turned Villain? Not Quite.

Setting the Record Straight on Coconut Oil

coconutRecently, the wellness community has been up in arms over the presidential advisory released by the American Heart Association (AHA) – it turns out coconut oil may not be the wellness superstar many people thought. The AHA advised that people limit sources of saturated fat, including coconut oil, because it may increase the risk of developing heart disease. However, the funny thing is – the news that sparked headlines and shook up the wellness community wasn’t really news at all.

Coconut oil is known to be a source of saturated fat. While it has been recommended for a long time to limit sources of saturated fat, the issue isn’t necessarily so clear cut. The AHA recommends limiting saturated fat to 6% or less of one’s daily caloric intake. Typically, it is recommended to consume approximately 30% of one’s calories from fat, meaning over 20% of fat consumed should be in the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated forms (although individual recommendations may vary). While saturated fat isn’t necessarily all bad (it does raise HDL cholesterol – the “good” kind of cholesterol, and we do need some in our diet because it plays an important role in the structural component of cells), it should be consumed in moderation, since it also increases LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are typically referred to as “heart-healthy” due to the cardio protective effect of these fats (for example: the Mediterranean style diet, which emphasizes leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil).

Coconut oil is touted to be helpful for weight management, digestive woes and everything in between. It’s known for it’s medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are digested and absorbed differently than other fats. MCTs are absorbed quickly and bypass the long process typically required to break down and absorb fats, so they may be used clinically for patients who have malabsorption and have even been used as an ergogenic aid for athletes due to it’s perceived quick energy. However, the research that supports the use of MCT oil typically has used an oil that is far more rich in MCTs than traditional coconut oil. While coconut oil contains more MCTs than many other oils, it is not pure MCT oil. Additionally, the link between coconut oil and weight loss is not causative – that is, we do not have any evidence that proves that increasing coconut oil intake causes weight loss. There are many confounding variables that prevent this conclusion from being drawn. It is most likely that people who start using coconut oil and lose weight do so because they are

a) making many other dietary and lifestyle changes, as well

b) feeling satiated from the calories provided by the coconut oil, which can also be provided by other fat and food sources, and possibly limiting their overall caloric intake, which can aid in weight loss.

So, to consume coconut oil or not consume coconut oil – that is the question. Coconut oil is one type of many oils that can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet. In moderation, it can certainly be enjoyed. However, do I recommend loading it up in all of your meals, snacks and coffee? No.

So, unless you plan to lather it all over your body and hair, enjoy it in moderation .

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Just BEET It!

beets

What’s the deal with beet juice? It’s being used as an all natural exercise supplement over recent years, but why?

Beet juice is a great pre-workout drink because it’s ability to enhance oxygen flow to the muscles translates to enhanced fuel utilization through aerobic metabolism (which requires oxygen to break down food into energy that can be used by the body). Enhanced fuel utilization may delay feelings of fatigue, as well as lactic acid buildup (the burning sensation often felt during exercise as a result of anaerobic metabolism), which can lead to stronger workouts.

Nitrate can be converted to nitrite by bacteria located in saliva via the enzymes called nitrate reductases. Nitrite can then be reduced to nitric oxide (NO) by a variety of enzymes, which remain to be the subject of study (and still remain controversial). NO then enhances vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) through signaling via soluble guanylate cyclase, which ultimately allows for increased blood flow and increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles. It should be noted that the existence of oral bacteria is essential for this conversion to occur, and so the use of antibacterial dental products (such as mouthwash or antibacterial gum) is not recommended directly before consuming nitrate-rich foods and beverages.

How do beets (and other veggies) get their nitrates?

While plants may receive small amounts of nitrates from the air and water, the majority of nitrates are usually delivered to the plant from soil. Specifically, nitrogenous sources in the soil can be converted to ammonia, which can then be converted to nitrates by bacteria. The plant can then absorb the nitrates to use for development and growth. High-nitrogen soils now exist in order to enhance nitrate absorption by the plant. Since the majority of nitrates used by the plant come from the soil, fruits and vegetables that grow in the ground (like beets!) generally contain a higher amount of nitrates.

I thought nitrates were bad for me? I’m told to avoid them in meat…

The difference between nitrates in processed meats and those found in fruits and vegetables has to do with other existing compounds in the food. Nitrates can be converted to small amounts of nitrosamines (carcinogenic compounds) in the presence of protein and heat (>300oF). However, fruits and vegetables do not contain the amounts of protein required for this reaction to occur. Additionally, veggies can also be consumed raw, meaning heat is not present, either. Regardless, both protein and heat are required for nitrosamines to form, so nitrates in fruits and veggies are safe.

So how do I use beet juice to my benefit?

Beet juice is generally used as an ergogenic aid (or an exercise supplement) prior to aerobic exercise (running, biking, etc.). Ideally, beet juice should be consumed about 15-30 minutes before the event (whether it is a race or training). This allows time for vasodilation to occur throughout the beginning of the exercise. Always remember to check regulations of your sport if this is not for recreation, to ensure that beet juice is allowed. Also, remember that consumption of beet juice does not guarantee an improvement in training or time – rather, the literature to date suggests that it may benefit the production of nitric oxide, which in turn could promote vasodilation and may lead to less fatigue during a workout.

*beet photo courtesy of: http://www.elizabethrider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/benefits-of-beets.jpg

Why Your Fridge Should Change With The Seasons

Eating Seasonally

Last week, I developed and promoted a seasonal recipe at Disney ABC as a part of my internship rotation. The recipe was simple, fresh, healthy and most importantly, it was delicious. In fact, it sold out at the company’s cafe that day! While most people were drawn in by the free samples, I got to chat to a number of employees about the benefits of eating seasonally and locally and it was so great to connect with individuals and learn about how other people prioritize nutrition and our environment to promote clean eating (for your body, as well as our home).

Serving up some free samples at Disney ABC!

Serving up some free samples at Disney ABC!

Spreading Local News

Since the recipe and the nutrition news were such a hit, I thought I would share it with all of you! Below are some of the reasons why eating locally and seasonally can be beneficial:

  • Eating seasonally means produce is often more nutritious, since it is at its nutritious peak, and less expensive, since it grows more abundantly  (a win win!)
  • Produce often tastes better when it is in season (which is why that watermelon tastes so amazing in July!)
  • Eating locally is often “greener”, since food spends less time in transit (meaning it takes less fuel to get it to its destination)
  • You can try all of the tasty treasures the season has to offer and learn how to prepare a new food that you wouldn’t typically purchase (bonus – if you purchase from a farmer’s market, they will often answer any questions you may have and explain how to prepare the food)
  • You can grow your own! Summer is a great time to grow cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries!
A close-up of the samples!

A close-up of the samples!

Local Kale Salad With Citrus Vinaigrette:

Kale is a nutrition powerhouse that grows well throughout the year in locations near New York City, since it can thrive in cooler environments, as well as during the summer months. This means that kale is widely available year-round near New York City. Since kale can be grown and sold locally, it is truly a GREEN veggie!

Kale offers a ton of nutrition packed in to each leaf, and comes in a variety of kinds! Make sure to try each variety, including Curly Kale, Ornamental Kale and Dinosaur kale (also known as Tuscan Kale)

Kale is a significant source of vitamins K, A and C, as well as calcium and potassium. Also, kale offers a hearty dose of fiber and is nutrient dense – meaning it contains a lot of nutrition for a small amount of calories.

All of the fresh ingredients for this salad (including the kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and lemon juice) were purchased locally – and this salad was a local hit!

IMG_3641

Ingredients (serves 2):

1 C Raw kale leaves, large stems removed

1/4 C cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 large cucumber (about 8″ in length)

1/4 oz feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 Tbsp)

2 Tbsp lemon Juice

½ Tbsp extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Tbsp red Wine Vinegar

Dash salt (to taste)

Dash pepper (to taste)

 Directions:

  1. Wash and dry kale. Place in large mixing bowl.
  2. Slice cucumber and cut slices into quarters. Set aside.
  3. Cut tomatoes into small pieces (approximately 1” in diameter). Set aside.
  4. Combine lemon juice, red wine vinegar and oil in a medium-sized bowl and whisk together until ingredients are well combined. Pour over kale and use gloved hands to massage the dressing into the kale. The kale should begin to look slightly wilted after about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add tomatoes, cucumber and feta cheese to salad. Sprinkle salt and pepper over vegetables and use gloved hands to mix ingredients. Serve chilled.

The Goods: Whats Inside?

Nutrient Analysis Per Serving:

Calories 87 calories, Total Fat 5 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 6 mg, Carbohydrates 9 g, Fiber 1 g, Protein 3 g, Sodium 175 mg, Calcium 96 mg

What Else Is In Season Near NYC In The Summer?

Below is a list of other fruits and veggies that will be fresh for summer – so have your pickings!

  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Kale
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Summer Squash (zucchini, yellow squash)
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnip Greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Many Herbs

Source:

GrowNYC. What’s Available. GrowNYC Website. 2015. Available at: http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/whatsavailable. Accessed June 8, 2015.

Food Myths: Debunked

There are a ton of rumors circulating about food and nutrition lately. It’s no wonder that all of these mixed messages – from reliable and unreliable sources – can cause confusion. I wanted to sort out a few food issues that I keep encountering over and over. After reading this, you will be able to sort fact from fiction and learn the truth about hot topics in food and nutrition.

Oats HeapMyth #1: All oatmeal is good for you

All oatmeal is not created equally. Many instant varieties contain a ton of ingredients that many of us can’t even pronounce. My rule of thumb is no one should need to be able to understand biochemistry in order to understand the ingredients listed on their food’s nutrition label (and if you do happen to have a degree in biochemistry, you would probably agree that many of those ingredients should not be consumed). Your best bet is to buy rolled oats that list only rolled oats as the sole ingredient. Craving more of an instant fix from a packet? I like Trader Joe’s Oats and Flax oatmeal, which has just four ingredients (rolled oats, sugar, flaxseeds and sea salt). Also, beware of flavored varieties, which tend to contain a ton of excess sugar and additives. Stick with a plain oatmeal and add your own toppings, such as fruit, nuts, cinnamon, or even cocoa powder.

Myth #2: Egg yolks are bad for you

I cringe when I hear this myth. In fact, egg yolks are the source of nutrients within eggs. While egg whites are a good option for those looking to decrease their calorie content, the whites offer little in the way of nutrition – just a small amount of protein and only about 20 calories per egg white, which is not very satiating. The egg yolk contains the lipids, vitamins and minerals that cause eggs to boast such great nutrition, and one large egg contains less than 80 calories. Also, egg yolks contain a substantial amount of choline, which is a nutrient that has been linked to enhancing memory. Start your day sharp and eat eggs (the entire egg!) and feel fuller, longer. Another great option? Combine one whole egg with two egg whites to shave off calories and fat while maintaining some of the nutrition of the whole egg. Also, that rumor about eggs being bad for cholesterol? False! Unless you already have high cholesterol, the cholesterol in eggs does not appear to raise one’s cholesterol. Now, no excuses!

My Green Eggs, No Ham! Avocado toast with sunny side up eggs - yum!

My Green Eggs, No Ham! Avocado toast with sunny side up eggs – yum!

Myth #3: Skipping breakfast is a good way to lose weight

My Very Berry Smoothie (just frozen berries, Greek 0% fat plain yogurt, ice and a touch of honey!)

My Very Berry Smoothie (just frozen berries, Greek 0% fat plain yogurt, ice and a touch of honey!)

Skipping breakfast is one of my biggest pet peeves. This myth is totally false. Want to hear a fact? Breakfast is actually the most important meal of the day. Overnight, we deplete our glycogen stores (our body’s storage form of glucose) and this stimulates a series of hormonal responses. Additionally, many individuals wake up with low blood glucose because of the lack of glycogen and exogenous fuel first thing in the morning. Eating breakfast (with some carbohydrates) helps to keep your hormones in check and replenishes your body with the fuel it needs to take on the day. Just like you would never drive a car without gasoline, you should never walk out your door in the morning without fueling up (properly). That being said, I even suggest that individuals eat a little bit of something (anything) rather than skip breakfast. People are often appalled by this, but I truly believe it is better to eat a half a bagel (or something else “shamed” by most) than skip breakfast entirely. Not hungry? That’s okay. Work your way to eating breakfast by beginning with something small (a few strawberries or a banana) and ultimately add in extras (add a piece of toast with peanut butter, or a small bowl of oatmeal). No time? I can solve that, too. Below are a few quick breakfast options. Again, no excuses!

  • Make some hard boiled eggs at the beginning of the week and store in a bowl in your refrigerator. Grab and go!
  • Make a breakfast smoothie the night before and store in your refrigerator, covered, until the next morning.
  • Make a piece of toast and spread with a nut butter  of choice. Add fruit (on the side or on top) to round out the meal.
  • Bring an apple (or another fruit, like a banana) and some peanut butter with you out the door.

Myth #4: You will undo your workout if you eat afterwards

After a workout, your body needs fuel. You just took your energy from earlier in the day (and from some body reserves) to produce work and now, your body needs fuel to recover. That being said, you don’t need to go overboard. Post-workout, your body needs protein and carbohydrates. Specifically, you should aim to consume about 25 grams of protein within the first 30-60 minutes post-workout. Great options include:

  • Chocolate milk (the chocolate adds extra carbohydrates, which your body needs to recover following a workout)
  • Greek yogurt with fruit (add your own fresh fruit to plain – you will avoid excess sugar and reap nutritious benefits from the whole fruit)
  • Fruit and nut butter
  • Healthy trail mix (I like to make my own with small handfuls of unsalted or reduced sodium nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews and peanuts, dried fruit, such as dried blueberries, and a small amount of dark chocolate pieces, such as semisweet chocolate morsels.)

apple pb

Myth #5: You need to take protein supplements if you are active

It’s true that active individuals may require more protein than non-active individuals. However, most Americans already consume more protein than needed from diet alone. It is recommended that adults consume 0.8 g/kg body weight protein per day. For a 70 kg male (154 pounds), this equates to 56 grams of protein daily. That is not that much and can certainly be attained (and often is exceeded) by an adequate diet. While active individuals may require more protein, many guidelines recommend 1.0-1.7 g/kg body weight, depending on the activity (and the duration and frequency of the activity). So, at 1.5 g/kg body weight (which would be toward the upper range of protein recommendations), a 70 kg male would require 105 grams of protein per day. That post-workout protein shake? It’s probably just going to add excess calories and should only be consumed every once in awhile, if there aren’t other food options to provide the carbs and protein you need to refuel after a workout. Also, it should be noted that protein does not get stored like carbs and fat do within the body. So, what happens to protein that’s consumed beyond your body’s energy needs? It will either get excreted or stored as fat.

my warm kale and butternut squash salad! A good source of carbohydrates!

my warm kale and butternut squash salad! A good source of carbohydrates!

Myth #6: Carbs are the devil

I like carbohydrates. Repeat: I like carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s main source of fuel – and they are everywhere (which is not a coincidence). It’s true that refined carbs are not ideal, as they offer little in the way of nutrients and are often enriched with vitamins and minerals that are taken out in processing, along with chemicals. However, eating whole grains, such as quinoa, whole wheat bread and pasta products and farro is recommended. Additionally, foods such as fruits (and many vegetables) offer carbohydrates – and there is no reason to run from them. Many of these foods also contain fiber, which many Americans lack in their diet. Also, your brain runs on glucose – about 50 grams of it per day. Without consuming glucose, your body converts fat to ketones, which your brain can use as a secondary fuel source  – as a last resort. Relying on ketones regularly puts your body in an unhealthy state and prevents your brain from obtaining the fuel it needs and creating an optimal environment within your body for necessary enzymatic reactions. Many individuals require between 250-300 grams of carbohydrates per day, with active individuals often requiring even more than that. Put this into perspective next time you see that a snack contains 30 grams of carbs – it is probably okay to consume.

The take-home message

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned that, while there are a ton of nutrition rumors out there, it is important to learn the facts and fuel your body right. Also, many fads do not hold up to the science and it is important to learn the science (or speak with someone who does understand and keep up with the science, such as a registered dietitian) to separate fact from fiction.

*oats picture courtesy of: http://www.babybulletblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/oats.jpg

**apple and peanut butter picture courtesy of: http://images.meredith.com/fitness/images/2008/12/ss_101159512.jpg

 

New Year, New Way To Think About Your Resolutions!

So it is three days into the New Year, which means it is the perfect time to re-evaluate those perennial New Year’s resolutions. Chances are, they look something like this: 1) go to the gym 6-7 days/week 2) cut out all junk food 3) lose weight. While it is certainly encouraged to have goals and make New Year’s resolutions, it is important that these goals are both attainable and sustainable. If you are new to working out and have previously worked out less than 1-2 times per week until 2014, chances are it is not going to be enjoyable or realistic to be hitting the gym 6-7 days per week. Also, cutting out all junk food is quite ambitious and, frankly, sets up unhealthy relationships with food. Food is meant to fuel your body and be enjoyed and it is important to understand that it is not the end of the world if you eat a cookie, as long as your diet is generally comprised of real, whole foods and offers your body the nutrition it needs to keep you moving, happy and healthy. So here are my guidelines to making  New Year’s resolutions that will stick.

runningshoes

1. Start Small

Be proud of your small accomplishments – they add up. Small lifestyle modifications = large results. For instance, weight loss is a result (not a behavior). It is often best to set behavioral goals and ultimately, these behavioral goals can add up big time to give you the results you want. Possible behavioral goals include things like taking the stairs when possible, getting off at an earlier subway stop in order to walk further, walking instead of driving or taking public transportation, eat 3 more servings of vegetables each day, eat breakfast each morning, etc. These all seem small, but they are behaviors that are part of a healthy lifestyle and will ultimately help you to reach your overarching goal of weight loss, weight maintenance, being more active, or whatever your personal goal is.

2. Don’t Make Too Manyweights

I bet all of those behaviors I listed above are enticing. However, if you do not currently do any of those things, attempting to start doing all of those is likely to be a set-up for failure. Making too many resolutions and goals at once can be overwhelming and ultimately, you will be less likely to do any of them. It is often better to pick just a couple of goals (I suggest starting with 1-3) and once these become routine, gradually add in more goals (who says you can only make goals on January 1st???) We are constantly evolving and should always be challenging ourselves and our goals should reflect this. So, allow yourself to start small, with just a few behaviors and allow yourself and your lifestyle to evolve gradually. Trust me, you will be much happier, healthier, and sane!

3. Keep Your Resolutions Realistic

Now is the perfect time for self reflection. You must meet yourself where you are in order to get where you would like to go. Currently going to the gym two times per week? Awesome! A perfect resolution would be to go to the gym 3-4 times per week, or to gradually add time doing cardio work, or gradually add more challenging workouts (such as planks and their many variations). Another great resolution would be to go to the gym at least two times a week (as you have been doing) and add in more activities of daily living, such as physical work (walking, taking the stairs, doing yardwork/housework, etc.) Or, my personal favorite, add in mini-workouts that do not include the gym or any equipment. Can’t stop watching your favorite show? Do mat exercises, such as crunches, squats, planks and push-ups during commercials. There, no sweat! (Well, a little sweat, but so easy to squeeze in!!!) While it would be awesome to tell yourself you are all of the sudden going to start going to the gym 4-5 times more per week than you already are, this is likely not realistic and not sustainable. Accept yourself, love yourself, and challenge yourself with realistic goals. That is how you will become stronger and reach your goals.

4. Do not (I repeat – DO NOT) focus on numbers

scaleSo many clients and friends talk to me about the scale. So many people base their success off of a number reported by the scale. Yes, the scale reports your weight, but this number can be affected by so many factors and neglects a lot of other valuable information. For instance, your weight could be influenced by water, muscle mass, and many other factors. Your weight is not simply a report of fat and when you lose weight, you are losing not just fat but also fat free mass (which is your lean body mass). Therefore, rapid weight loss can mean dehydration and rapid loss of muscle, which is likely not what you are aiming for! Additionally, the scale does NOT report the positive changes going on inside your body, such as the relative shift in  fat free mass versus fat mass, neural adaptations that occur with exercise regimens, etc. I always tell clients and friends to focus on fitness goals – these are the only numbers you should be focusing on! For instance, shaving off time from your pace per mile, adding time to your plank, adding weight to your resistance training – these are the numbers that are okay to focus on. Your weight? It is likely to fluctuate, plateau at some point, and drive you absolutely crazy! Focus on your performance and how you feel – the resulting weight (loss, maintenance, gain) will come as a result of these behaviors.

Hopefully this year, these new New Year’s resolutions will stick and inspire you to continue to be active, healthy and respectful of your body. It does a lot for you and a great overall goal would be to treat it well, in any way that you can!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy new year!

*sneaker photo courtesy of http://teambcspca.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/runningshoes.jpg

*weight photo courtesy of http://www.hitraveltales.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/weights.jpg

*scale photo courtesy of http://blog.withings.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/7-Wireless_Scale_Lifestyle_1.jpg

My Kale Commandments

kaleWhy Care About Kale?

Kale seems to be popping up everywhere lately – and with good reason! This green veggie is a nutritional powerhouse, packing in a ton of vitamins, such as vitamins A, K, E, C and folate, along with minerals, such as calcium. However, I think one of the most interesting things about kale is the fact that it can actually be a satisfying alternative to some foods that may not boast many health benefits, such as potato chips. Intrigued? Thought so! Read on to learn why kale is showing up everywhere, what to do with it and what you’ve been missing out on!

*photo courtesy of: http://www.muranakafarm.com/img/inside_products_kale.jpg 

Commandment #1: Try it, you just may like it! 

I get it, the green  veggie may have a bad rep since it is purported to taste bitter or chewy or my personal favorite, “leafy”. However, if you’ve had kale taste this way, it probably just wasn’t prepared correctly. When used correctly, kale can offer a heartier taste than many leafy greens and actually taste sweet. So, even if you’ve tried it, or smelled it, or looked at it, and decided that it wasn’t for you, just give this curly veggie another chance. In fact, it takes most people multiple exposures to a new food before someone actually enjoys the its taste.

Commandment #2: Replace your potato chips with kale chips

my homemade kale chips!

my homemade kale chips!

I know – a potato is a vegetable, too. Albeit, a starchy vegetable. Nonetheless, I am all for potatoes. But let’s not pretend that the potato chip has any semblance to an actual potato. I like my chips with my sandwich as much as anyone else, but not only do I know that eating potato chips everyday isn’t the wisest choice – I just don’t feel good about eating potato chips everyday. My body works hard for me,  and I like to treat it with respect. (Do I still eat potato chips, sometimes? Of course. But in moderation!) Enter the kale chip: crunchy, salty, tangy, and every bit as satisfying as a potato chip, but with way less fat, way more fiber, and a ton of nutrients. I like to make my own by simply drizzling olive oil (lightly) over kale leaves (stems removed), with some salt and pepper. You can also add garlic powder and cayenne if you like some extra spice. The kale chips bake at 350 degrees F for about 15-20 minutes. Not in the mood to make your own? There are a ton of brands that now sell kale chips. My favorite brand is Brad’s, which has a whole line of different kale chips (my favorite are the Raw Crunchy Kale Chips with vegan cheese). Just be careful when purchasing the kale chips (as opposed to making your own) since a lot of brands add a ton of fat and salt, so the nutritional value is trumped by the processing.

chips_0

*photo courtesy of: http://waly1039.com/sites/default/files/chips_0.jpg 

Commandment #3: Support Seasonality

In case you didn’t know, the reason kale is literally popping up everywhere now is because it is in season. That means that you can purchase kale at local farmer’s markets right now! While food that is in season simply tastes better (at least, I think so), it also is really helpful for the environment and your community. Eating locally and seasonally means you can support small farms and eliminate the carbon footprint that comes along with transportation. Think about it: when you eat food grown in another part of the country, or another country entirely, it has to arrive here (wherever “here” is for you – for me it is NYC). How does it get there? Well, I can promise you it doesn’t walk. Instead, it is usually by truck or plane. Shopping at farmer’s markets and supporting local grocers helps to decrease the carbon emissions that would normally accompany the traveling food. Not to mention, when you eat locally, you get the benefit of consuming that food soon after it has been harvested. This means better taste, longer shelf life and a better nutrient profile. As if that is not reason enough to eat locally and seasonally, it may also be of interest to you that some studies have demonstrated that farmer’s markets help to connect communities and increase the overall pleasantness of a task that is normally mundane – grocery shopping. By going to farmer’s markets, you can have conversations with the farmers and find out how the food was grown and harvested. Also, farmers at farmer’s markets often have free samples or recipe ideas and can help you figure out a tasty way to enjoy the food. Personally, I like to go straight to the source for my nutrition. Find out where farmer’s markets are near you and start reaping the benefits of fall by purchasing local, in-season kale. From the NYC area? GreenMarket NYC is in charge of organizing all of the farmer’s markets. You can log on to their website and find out when and where the farmer’s markets are!

Commandment #4: Don’t be a boring salad

my warm kale and butternut squash salad!

my warm kale and butternut squash salad!

I know, you like your spinach, or romaine, or arugula. But kale has an interesting taste as a lettuce, served hot or cold. Served cold, kale is crunchier than the other types of greens often used as lettuce. It has a heartier, crisp taste that is more satisfying and adds a little something extra to your plate of veggies. Served hot, kale tastes similar to spinach, but seems slightly heavier. It holds up well as a base for a salad, without overpowering the dish.  If you serve kale cold, you’ll want to use an acidic ingredient, so that the kale softens and tastes less bitter. This also allows the nutrients to be more bioavailable, since it initiates the breakdown of certain indigestible plant components. I like to marinate my kale with lemon juice for some time before I use it (usually about 30 minutes or so). You can also make a great salad dressing using lemon juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. In the mood for a warm salad? (In these chilly temps, why wouldn’t you be?) Check out my warm kale and butternut squash recipe (on my blog) and enjoy some of the best fall flavors offered. Looking for more of a side dish? Saute kale, like you would spinach, until wilted, except leave it on the heat slightly longer than you would to cook spinach. This prevents the kale from tasting bitter. Adding a drop of soy sauce or sugar can also help. I like to mix kale with spinach and chard for a side dish with more texture and flavor than your standard sauteed spinach.

slide07-kale-smoothieCommandment #5: Green-ify your smoothie or juice. 

Juicing has become a cult. No, not really, but I know that people love their juices. While juices are a great alternative to many other beverages, such as soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages, like sweetened tea and juice, many of them contain a lot of sugar, zero fiber and not much else. Adding some veggies, like kale, to your juices can deliver a hearty dose of vitamins and minerals. Just be aware that you are still not getting the fiber that you actually would from eating the whole foods that are juiced. My verdict? Great in moderation, or a good alternative to high-calorie, processed beverages (milkshakes, sodas, frozen blended concoctions) . But if you were drinking water and eating whole fruits and veggies before? Keep it up. Nonetheless, kale can amp up your juice (every once in awhile), and the addition of vegetables (as opposed to using lots of different fruits) doesn’t contribute as much to a high sugar content. Use the fruits sparingly, to add a light sweetness. Juice Generation has a great juice made with kale, lemon and watermelon. Keep it simple, light and slightly sweet! Want more of the health benefits of kale (and other fruits and veggies)? A smoothie may be the way to go. By blending the whole fruit, you reap the fiber and forgotten nutrients. Offset the vegetable-taste with natural sweetness, such as apples, mangoes, pineapples, watermelon or other sweet fruits. Craving a creamier smoothie? Add nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, rather than just ice, for some extra protein and creaminess. Going green just got really tasty!

*photo courtesy of: http://www.healthline.com/hlcmsresource/images/slideshow/healthy-smoothies/slide07-kale-smoothie.jpg 

Hopefully by now I have convinced you to keep an open mind about kale and experiment with the many ways kale can be enjoyed. I think you’ll find that after trying kale in some of these ways, you’ll not only be fueling your body well – you’ll enjoy doing it!

Let’s Talk About Snacks, Baby…

Why We Need “The Talk”…

I have noticed that many people I know are concerned about snacking. In fact, it seems as though salty-snackspeople are afraid of snacking, which is upsetting because eating (including snacking) should be a joyful experience. You are giving your body nutrients so that it can be strong for you and you are also enjoying the smell, taste and texture of the food (or at least you should be!) However, when it comes to snacking, I think some people are confused about which snacks are “good” or “bad”. I do not like to think of food in terms of “good” or bad”. Food is food. It can taste good or bad, but it is not, in itself, good or bad. Instead, I try to eat different types of food in moderation. For example, I often cook healthful breakfasts, lunches and dinners and usually eat fruit, vegetables or yogurt in between meals. However, if I want a cookie, or a muffin, or some other “treat” one day, I will likely have it – as part of a balanced diet. This concept seems to provoke a strong reaction in many people, as it seems many people associate foods such as cookies or ice cream with guilt. It is time to work on your relationship (with food) and befriend the enemy.

*photo courtesy of http://www.abetterbagofgroceries.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/salty-snacks.jpg 

Just Hear Me Out…

This is a break-up with your diet habits. Dieting does not usually lead to long-term weight loss. Skipping meals (and snacks) could cause binge-eating later, along with feelings of deprivation, guilt and behaviors associated with disordered eating. Instead, it is finally time to begin a new relationship with food – a healthy relationship, in which there is respect, peace and happiness. Now, I know many people want to enjoy snacking – who wouldn’t? However, confusion and anxiety about how to snack can certainly take the fun out of what is supposed to be both enjoyable and beneficial. So I am here to sort out fact from fiction, and offer up some of my favorite snack ideas, from whole foods to packaged goodies. After hearing my side, hopefully we can work it out.

Dark chocolateRumor Has it…

So, what is a “snack” and how does it differ from a “meal”? Truth is, depending on what works for you, a snack may not be any different from a meal. Many people find that eating multiple, small meals during the day helps to keep them feeling full and provides their bodies with adequate nutrition. However, if you are eating three meals a day (which, at a minimum, you should!) snacking is often a helpful way to keep your metabolism humming and tide you over until your next meal. Ideally, if someone is on a 1,800 calorie – 2,000 calorie diet (by “diet” I mean their average dietary intake, not a “diet” in the typical sense), meals should approximate 500 calories each, leaving 300 – 500 calories for snacking. (It should be noted that everyone’s caloric requirement is different and this is just an example). An ideal snack is typically thought to be about 150 – 300 calories, although this  can obviously vary from person-to- person and time-to-time. Snacks should usually consist of foods that offer healthful benefits, for example, a fruit that offers fiber along with vitamins and minerals. However, a snack can also be something that isn’t so much a contributor to your nutrient-dense calories, but rather, something you want to eat and can eat in moderation, knowing that your nutrients are coming from elsewhere in the diet. So it’s okay to break out the chocolate and ice cream every once in awhile – this is a break up after all. Just remember the foundations of good nutrition: balance, variety and moderation.

*photo courtesy of http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/8/17/1345200214609/Dark-chocolate-009.jpg

I Can See Clearly Now…

So, hopefully by now you are feeling that not only is it okay to snack – you are encouraged to snack. Just snack wisely (most of the time)! here are some of my favorite snacks, ranging from unprocessed fruits and vegetables to pre-packaged, store-bought convenience items.

Fruit:

This is an easy one. Need an on-the-go snack? Whole fruits that you can bite into, such as apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots and bananas are great, portable options. Additionally, you can cut up fruit when you do have the time so that when you are busy, you can just reach for the container (or bag, or whatever you choose to store your cut up fruit in) and bring it with you. Dried fruit is also a good option – just be aware of the sugar content. The process of drying is a dehydration process and usually sugar is used to attract water out of the fruit, increasing the sugar content of the fruit once it has been dried. If you’re at home, you can enjoy some of my favorite snacks and desserts: cut up grapefruit, broiled grapefruit with brown sugar, melted dark chocolate with strawberries and bananas, banana slices with peanut butter, frozen grapes or frozen dark chocolate-dipped bananas. Right now, clementines are also especially sweet!

07-Beautiful-Fruit-Wallpapers

*photo courtesy of http://picsmesh.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/07-Beautiful-Fruit-Wallpapers.jpg 

Vegetables, Beans, Legumes:

I like to bring sliced bell pepper, cucumber and carrots with me and usually I will bring a small container of hummus. The vegetables on their own do not contain many calories, but they offer a ton of vitamins and minerals and are full of water and fiber, which help to keep me full. Hummus helps to fill me up if I want a heartier snack and adds even more fiber. Edamame is another fun snack. A great tip is to sprinkle on the salt after you have heated the soybeans, since you will be able to taste the crystals that are on the surface and can use less salt. Edamame is also great on its own, eaten warm or cold. Also, I am unashamed to admit that I still eat ants on a log – more appropriately referred to at my age as celery with peanut butter and raisins.

originalOn-The-Go Bars and Treats:

I have recently become addicted to Larabars. These bars are minimally processed and contain very few ingredients (some bars only have 2 ingredients!), all of which I can pronounce and recognize as food items. While many granola bars and other on-the-go bars contain ingredients made in a laboratory and cheap, added fibers, such as inulin, which can often cause gastrointestinal distress, Larabars are made from dates and contain a few ingredients to enhance the flavor of the dates. The fiber and nutrients are all there, in a conveniently packaged bar that averages around 200 calories. My favorite flavor is peanut butter chocolate chip! I also make my own trail mixes, using individually packaged nuts, seeds and fruit. Here is my favorite combination: cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, dried blueberries, pieces of dark chocolate. Try to find unsalted or reduced-salt versions of nuts when making your own trail mixes.

*photo courtesy of http://s3.amazonaws.com/jo.www.larabar.com.2011/uploads/page/meta_social_images/15/original.png?1333057076

Creamy Deliciousness:total-0

My favorite go-to snack when I crave creaminess is Greek yogurt. I like Fage 0% plain, which contains few ingredients, among which are live, active cultures of beneficial bacteria that can colonize as microflora in the intestine and contribute to immune and digestive health. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus are the names of bacteria to look for when reading your yogurt label. I like to eat my Greek yogurt either with fruit, fruit and chocolate chips, fruit and honey, granola (usually my homemade granola, which can be found on this blog, although I also am a fan of Purely Elizabeth’s use of quinoa, chia, amaranth and other grains and seeds). I also like to put my Greek yogurt in a smoothie, whether it’s a light fruit smoothie (using REAL fruit) or a protein-packed peanut butter smoothie (which usually contains chocolate or a banana – or both!) If you’re craving ice cream, Breyer’s has a natural line that really hits the spot. I’m a fan of Breyer’s Natural Vanilla, which contains just four simple ingredients. I usually top my ice cream with some melted peanut butter to pump up the protein (and because I do not think there is any one food that I love more than peanut butter).

*photo courtesy of http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/cheese/yogurt/images/total-0.jpg 

Other Processed Foods:

My most recent find is Boom Chicka Pop popcorn, which has a “lightly sweet” flavor that tastes just like kettle-corn. This popcorn is only 35 calories per cup, or 120 calories for each 3 1/4 C serving. Also, this snack packs in 5 grams of fiber per serving and is surprisingly not high in sodium or sugar. I also like baked chips or cape cod chips, which have considerable less fat than regular potato chips. When it comes to cakes, muffins and cookies, I tend to bake my own, since I can replace oils and other fats with more healthful ingredients, such as Greek yogurt, swap out some of the all purpose flour for whole wheat flour and ensure that I am aware of the amount of sugar I am consuming (and making sure that it is as natural as possible). It should be noted that black strap molasses actually contains calcium, so this sweetener is a wise choice. However, if you do not wish to bake your own baked goods, my advice is to read the nutrition label. Many of these commercially-sold baked goods contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, trans fats and a labyrinth of an ingredients label. Try to focus on foods (processed or otherwise) that you can recognize as foods. If you do not recognize the ingredient (or can’t pronounce it, like many chemicals and food additives used), it is likely not worthy of entering your body.

boom pop

*photo courtesy of http://www.plummarket.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/8/9/892773000697_1_1.jpg 

Parting Words…

I hope I cleared up some of the rumors and preconceived notions about snacks. I like to follow the “80/20 rule” – make sure that 80% of your diet provides the nutrients you need and you can allow about 20% of your diet to be wiggle room. Your healthy relationship with food can involve snacking! In fact, snacking is a great complement to an active, healthy lifestyle. You must always remember to fuel your body – it works hard for you!