Probiotics

Last Wednesday the nutrition department at school had their annual symposium. This year’s topic: the gut microbiome. The microbiome is a pretty hot topic right now. There is so much interesting research on how it affects our health so there is no way I could share everything with you in one post (or even a few!). If you aren’t familiar with the microbiome, it is the collection of the billions of different bacteria (both good and bad) that live inside our guts, and the composition (both the type and number) these bacteria play a role in our health. They can influence whether or not we get certain diseases, how efficiently our metabolism runs, our hormone levels, our immune system, and much, much more. And guess what? Diet is the #1 factor that determines which bacteria live in our gut!

So how do you make sure your microbiome is in tip-top shape? Well, there are many different things to think about, but I am going to just focus on 1 here today — probiotics.

Most of us have probably heard of probiotics in a few contexts – supplements and yogurt. Probiotics are actually live, good bacteria that help create a good balance of the different bacteria in your gut. In other words, they help improve your microbiome, which is good news for your health and digestion.

How much do you need? Taking 1 probiotic supplement every day or consuming 2-4 tablespoons of fermented foods every day is optimal.

If you are going to take a supplement, you want to pay attention to the strains and the CFUs.

  • Strains are the number of different types of bacteria in the supplements. Try to find a supplement with at least 5 different strains to get the most benefit (the more the better).
  • CFUs are the colony forming units or the actual number of live bacteria in the supplement. Aim for a supplement with 25-30 billion CFUs. Some people can benefit from up to 900 billion CFU’s, including those with IBD and celiac, but 25-30 billion is typically enough for healthy individuals.

Sound too science-y and confusing? Eating 2-4 tablespoons of probiotic containing foods is just as good! Probiotics are found in fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut (the stuff you find in the fridge), kefir, yogurt, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, and tempeh. Getting probiotics from just one of these foods is great, but mixing up your sources of probiotics is extra helpful.

Interested in knowing more about the microbiome? Ask me your questions and I would love to share more!

Top 5 Healthy Springtime Tips

Even though spring has barely sprung outside, the spring semester is coming to an end. Tomorrow is my last day of class for the semester! Thankfully I don’t have any final exams, just one presentation on Wednesday and then I will no longer say that I am in school and working at the hospital at the same time. Now I’m taking a week of rest and relaxation until I hit the books again to start studying for my RD board exams (it makes me nervous just thinking about it!).

Since we are well into spring, I thought I would just share some of my 5 favorite things to do in the spring to stay healthy and happy!

1. Go outside! I know the cold weather is still lingering (especially up here in Cleveland), but getting fresh air and sunlight has been found to increase energy, decrease stress, improve digestion, and give your immune system a boost. Going for a walk is a great way to try to hit your 10,000 steps for the day and soak up some vitamin D.
2. Clean! Throwing out all the unnecessary stuff in your house/apartment/room has some surprising benefits. Living in a clean and uncluttered space decreases stress levels and makes you more productive. Not to mention, people who live in clean spaces are more likely to eat healthy, and cleaning can be a bit of a workout 😉
3. Check out a farmers market! The growing season is in full swing and farmers markets are the perfect for stocking up on produce. They are a great way to try out a new fruit or vegetable, see what is in season, and support local farmers. Plus you get the great to know exactly where your food came from and how it was grown.
4. Socialize! The longer days and rooftop restaurants & bars are the perfect excuse to spend time with friends and family. Spending time talking with other people can boost mental health and reduce your risk for dementia.
5. This is a big one…get ready…Put your phone down! It is so easy to get caught up in the virtual world of work and social media that it can be hard to disconnect (I’m guilty of it too), but try to unplug for at least an hour every day. Maybe put your phone in airplane mode an hour before bed, don’t check email or social media for at least an hour after you wake up, or leave your phone at home while you do my first four tips. It will help you be less distracted, more productive, more present, and you might even talk to someone and make a new friend.

Happy spring!

It Isn’t Only About Calories

What is the first thing you think about when it comes to health or weight loss? I am pretty sure I can guess that it is either diet or exercise. Did I guess correctly?

While diet and exercise both play very critical roles in health and body weight, there are many other things that people tend to forget about. Yep, it more than just calories in versus calories out than can impact how you feel or how much you weigh.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Sleep –Not only can lack of sleep leave you with brain fog and feeling tired, it can also make it difficult to lose weight. Here’s why: lack of sleep increases a hormone in your body called ghrelin- your hunger hormones that tells your brain it is time to eat. Therefore, lack of sleep can cause you to eat more calories and have more cravings. Also, just like a lack of sleep makes your brain feel tired, it makes your metabolism feel tired too. That means your body doesn’t function as efficiently and you aren’t burning calories the same way as you would if you were well rested. Not to mention, it is difficult to get in a good workout in when you’re tired.
  2. Stress – When you are stressed, your body goes into the “fight or flight” response (also called “survival mode”). Just like the name, your body is doing everything it can to survive; your cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase and your body stops using your fat stores for energy. Why? Because your body thinks it needs to hold on to and use all of its energy to deal with the stress. Think about it…in evolutionary history, stress use to mean running from a dangerous situation, which does in fact require lots of energy, but now our stressors (like work and school) don’t require the same amount of energy as running from animals does. High stress and cortisol levels also cause you to crave energy dense/high calorie foods because, again, your body thinks it needs lots of energy to handle the stressor.
  3. Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural way the body protects and heals itself, but excess inflammation can cause weight gain and increased risk for chronic disease. Sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat are all pro-inflammatory foods (aka the bad guys), and more and more studies are showing dairy, artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives, and white flour are also culprits of inflammation. This means that even if you are only eating 800 calories per day worth of these foods, you are unlikely to lose weight (and you might also find yourself with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and increased risk for heart disease and cancer).

While I am the nutrition guru and wish that all problems could be solved with nutrition, it is important to remember that there are other factors that control our weight and overall health. Try getting an extra hour or two of sleep, doing some relaxing activities (like yoga, reading, listening to some music, or taking a walk outdoors), and cutting out some of the pro-inflammatory foods and see how you feel. You might be surprised by the results after just one week!

My Experience on Whole30

Don’t mind me just sitting over here indulging in a big bowl of ice cream.

The cycle of restricting foods (and dieting) and then binging on “unhealthy” or “forbidden” foods has never been as clear to me as it is right now. That’s because I just completed day 30 (the last day) of the Whole30 diet.

After my experiment as a vegetarian for a month, I thought I would try out another diet. The lucky winner- Whole30. Whole30 is a diet designed to “end unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system”. Sounds great until you hear what is involved. On Whole30 you aren’t allowed ANY grains, legumes, sugar, sweetener (including things like honey), dairy, soy, or alcohol. What does that leave you ask? I have pretty much spent the last month eating only meat, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. It got real boring, real fast to say the least.

If you catch my drift, it was not an enjoyable experience. If you have read many of my previous posts or know me well, you know that I am not one to cut any foods out of my diet – you name it, I’ll probably eat it (yes, even as a nutrition student and future dietitian I eat (and love) chocolate, ice cream, buttered popcorn, and even a loose with chili cheese fries from Detroit’s Lafayette Coney Island), so having to cut so many things out of my diet was a challenge.

In theory, sticking to a diet made up of whole foods is great, but not allowing any wiggle room leads to overeating all of the “forbidden foods” later on (aka the big bowl of ice cream I am having). Cutting out foods can create an unhealthy relationship with food, it is restrictive, not sustainable, and most of all, it isn’t fun.

So, how was Whole30?

Like I said before, it is really boring because there wasn’t a lot of variety. It was also very difficult to go to restaurants or gatherings with food since there were so many things that were off limits.

Do I feel better?

Honestly, I don’t feel any different – aside from the fact that all I want to do is eat dessert, bread, and a big chipotle burrito bowl. But also remember, my diet was pretty rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins before. It wasn’t like I was starting out eating McDonald’s on the daily.

Would I recommend Whole30?

That would be a big fat NO! I see no reason why you have to cut out things like whole grain bread that is packed with fiber, beans that are a good source of plant based protein, and dairy products that are full of calcium and protein. I actually think you end up in an even worse situation after Whole30. Think about the restricting and binging cycle I mentioned — after 30 days of restricting, all you want to do is overeat/binge on the foods you avoided for a month. (It has even been difficult for me, someone who is very aware of these restrict and binge patterns, to resist eating an entire pint of ice cream and a loaf of bread right now.)

On the other hand, I do think the emphasis of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is great! Everyone could benefit from eating a few more of these and a few less sugary and starchy foods (since they make up the majority of a standard American diet). Note that I said “a few less”, not “eliminate” the sugary and starchy foods. There is no reason why pizza and chocolate can’t make there way into a healthy, balanced diet.

I think this pretty much sums up my thoughts on Whole30. Have you done Whole30? If so, what are your thoughts?

Coconut Oil

This week’s topic brought to you from the family dinner table last weekend.

It seems like coconut oil is everyone’s favorite oil right now. It is encouraged by the recently popular clean eating, paleo, and ketogenic diets. Why is it so popular? There may be some great health benefits of coconut oil, but there are still some fuzzy areas that need more research. When asked, most coconut oil users can’t tell you why they use it or why they think it is healthy, so I thought I would share some insight.

Cholesterol

There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is considered the bad kind of fat which increases our LDL (bad) cholesterol. Unsaturated fat is known as the good or healthy kind of fat, which can decrease LDL cholesterol. Both saturated and unsaturated fats can boost your HDL (good) cholesterol a tiny bit, too.

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat (which is more than the 65% saturated fat in butter!). Therefore, coconut oil, just like other saturated fats, increase that bad LDL cholesterol (not good!). However, coconut oil is unique in that it seems to give your HDL a little extra boost compared to all other fats.

This is where it gets confusing. Right now, when you go to the doctor, they test your blood for the amount of LDL particles and the amount of HDL particles in your blood, but they don’t look at the size of those particles. There has been some new research showing that the size of these cholesterol particles might be a more accurate measure of heart disease risk rather than the number of particles.

Here is where coconut oil comes in…while coconut oil increases the number of LDL particles (just like other saturated fats), it might increase the size of these particles, which could mean good news for your heart disease risk (the bigger the better!). But remember, this is still new research and we don’t consider this 100% fact yet.

MCTs

Then there are the infamous MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) that coconut oil is known for. MCTs don’t need to be digested the same way as other fats and are a readily available energy source for your cells. For this reason, they have historically been used as a therapeutic agent in people with fat malabsorption, cystic fibrosis, and epilepsy.

Most fat digestion requires the fats you eat to be transported to the liver via triglycerides in order to be used, but because MCTs don’t go through the normal digestion process, there are some studies showing they can decrease triglycerides and aid in weight loss. MCTs also have some anti-inflammatory properties, which is also good news from a health perspective.

Conclusions

While all of this sound great, I would still be a little skeptical. Much of this is just preliminary research, there are few research studies, and the results are inconclusive. So while coconut oil is fine every now and again, choosing oils high in unsaturated fats, like olive, sunflower, and avocado oils, are definitely the best choice as far as we know.

When you are stuck in a rut…

When I was planning my blog post for the week, I had in my head that I was going to do a Dietetic Internship update and talk about all of my exciting National Nutrition Month activities from this month. I’ll definitely do a post on this but it is going to sit on the back burner until next week.

As I have shared here on my blog several times, I have a lot on my plate working as a Dietetic Intern and going to graduate school. Between work, school, assignments, papers, and everything in between, it feels like this semester has sucked the lift out of me. I felt like my mantra was “work, sleep, homework, repeat”. I wasn’t feeling like myself and I even skipped out on going to the gym for two full weeks (which is 100% not like me- exercise is my stress reliever and boost of energy)

This lack of motivation and “blah” feeling really hit me a few weeks ago. I had to get back to my workouts to relieve some stress and give me a jolt of energy. Clearly my typical routine of going to the same gym everyday after work and doing my Kayla Itsines BBG circuit training wasn’t working so I decided to try something new.

In the past, I have found group fitness classes are much more motivating than working out alone. The energy of all the people around me always motivates me so I thought this would be a good place to start. I frequent yoga and spinning classes, but in order to pull me out of my rut I had to jump outside my comfort zone. The solution: find every fitness studio in Cleveland that offers a free first time class and give it a shot.

…And that is exactly what I have been doing. In the last week I went boxing for the first time (something I never thought I would do) and tried out a climbing class on a versa-climber (which, holy s***, was the hardest 30 minutes ever!). Since the weather has been a little bit nicer this week (ie. The sun made a few appearances), I have also been able to go for a few runs outside. Boy, does fresh air do wonders for your mood and energy.

To be completely honest, the last week has been amazing. I feel like a new person, I have so much more energy, my friends can’t get me to shut up about my new favorite workout classes, and I also happened to get some exciting news this week (tune in to next week’s post to find out!).

What is the point of all this and why should you care about my rut?

Well, because I think I can confidently say that everyone falls into a rut at some point. We are all busy with dozens of responsibilities being pulled in dozens of directions that sometimes cause us to get burnt out and lose motivation. Maybe you lose motivation to workout (like me), but maybe it is your schoolwork, job, or something else.

If you get stuck in a rut, don’t just sit down there. Figure out how to pull yourself out. There is no way that we can all be motivated all the time. Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. If what you are doing now isn’t working then try something new…something that excites you or makes you feel good. Even just stepping outside for 30 minutes a day to get some fresh air can completely change your mood. It might not be easy to step outside your “normal” but it can definitely be worth it!

Being Vegetarian

Exactly four weeks ago I decided to become a vegetarian…temporarily. Yep, I have officially been a vegetarian for one full month. I had been pondering the idea for a while and I had finally used up all the chicken and turkey in my freezer, so I thought it would be a good time to start. (Oh, and I guess I should include that I just cut out all meat and fish. I still ate eggs and dairy.)

By no means did I plan on being a vegetarian forever, but as a future dietitian I thought it would be a good experience to walk in the shoes of vegetarian patients and clients that I will work with.

Anyways, I thought I would share some things I have learned from my experience with you this week.

The good, the bad, and the indifferent

The first question I have gotten from all my friends and family is, “how do you feel”, and honestly, I can’t say that I feel much different. Prior to my vegetarian experiment, I didn’t each much red meat at all; I mostly stuck to chicken, turkey, tuna, and salmon. Research has shown that there are a lot more benefits to cutting out red meat compared to other lean meats, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with the lack of change I have felt.

People are also very concerned about protein, so I’ll also mention that I was keeping track of my food intake using MyFitnessPal at the beginning to make sure I was getting enough protein. While I could easily meet my protein needs for the day, I had to be a lot more conscious of including it at every meal and snack than I was before.

With that being said, eating out was a struggle– not because there aren’t any vegetarian option (you can get pasta and potatoes pretty much anywhere), but because restaurant menus lack vegetarian protein sources. I especially had a hard time in the cafeteria at the hospital. After the first week I started bringing a container of tofu and beans to add to salads and soups to make sure I got my protein in.

So while it may have been a little difficult at times, I actually am really happy that I gave vegetarianism a shot. I had to get super creative in the kitchen, and find new ways to incorporate tofu, tempeh, beans, and eggs into my meals to make sure I got enough protein in for the day (which means lots of new vegetarian recipes and food combination to share in the coming weeks!). I also now have a good basis of vegetarian recommendations for any patients or clients who come to me with questions.

And finally (skip this section if you don’t want to hear about flatulence and bowel movements), vegetarianism has made me very regular. Vegetarian diets tend to be a lot higher in fiber which kept everything moving smoothly. The first week I was a little gassy (probably due to all the beans I was eating), but my body got use to it and I have been fine ever since.

Overall thoughts

I think a lot more good came out of this experiment than bad. I have cooked up some new things in the kitchen and have had experiences that will help me be a better dietitian. Meeting protein needs can be tough but definitely manageable if you plan ahead.

While I think going completely vegetarian isn’t really necessary (unless you would like to, of course), there are lots of benefits to being a vegetarian. Plant-based diets usually have a lot more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. There is also lots of research showing that decreasing meat intake can help prevent chronic diseases, aid in weight loss, and save the environment.

If I were to give any recommendations, I would say that it is always beneficial to cut back on red meat intake (Eat it no more than 1x per week) and increase you fruit and veggie intake. You can also try Meatless Mondays or another modified version of being a vegetarian to get some of the benefits (such as meatless lunches during the week).

Looking forward

This week I am planning on including a lot of fish and meat to see if I feel any different (I give you any updates in next weeks post). After that, I’ll definitely be adding fish and meat back into my diet but probably not in the same quantities as before. I am going to continue to include vegetarian meals on a regular basis because they both healthy and – more importantly – they taste good!

Considerations

If you are or decide to become a vegetarian or vegan long-term (longer than 1-2 months), I suggest seeing a dietitian (or sending me an email, I’m happy to help!) since there are some vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can occur if you aren’t taking supplements.

Go Further with Food

Happy National Nutrition Month! March is National Nutrition Month and every year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics decides on a theme – this year it is “Go Further with Food” and they are focusing on reducing food waste.

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Now, some people think that I take my eco-friendliness a little too far (it takes me over a month to fill up 1 garbage bag), but over the past few years I have been trying to create as little waste as possible.

Did you know that food makes up more of our landfills than any other product (even more than plastic), and American’s throw out about one third of all food produced an purchased. Think about that…What is 33% of your last grocery bill? Now imagine throwing that chunk of change in the trash!!

So, in honor of this year’s National Nutrition Month theme, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips for reducing food waste:

  1. Plan– I know I have said this before, but planning before grocery shopping makes the world of a difference. You can figure out exactly what you have and what you need so you don’t end up with any extra (which means no food waste and no extra $$ spent).
  2. Freeze– Your freezer is your best friend when it comes to reducing food waste. Bread nearing its expiration date? Freeze it! Strawberries getting a little mushy? Freeze them! Leftovers from dinner that you don’t want right away? Freeze them! Get my drift? Even fresh herbs can be frozen in ice cube trays to be used for cooking later.
  3. Use all parts of a food – Keep you skins on potatoes and cucumbers and don’t even think about cutting off the broccoli stems. There is no reason to throw these veggie parts into the landfill. Not only are they edible, they also add tons of nutritious value.

I challenge you to reduce the amount of waste you create in the kitchen. These tips can help you reduce your food waste, but reducing waste from other sources is good too. Use rags instead of paper towel, stop buying paper plates/plastic silverware and use real dishes, and switch from plastic bags to reusable containers. Every little bit helps keep our planet greener, cleaner, and healthier.

Organic vs. Natural – What do they mean?

Walking up and down the grocery aisles, boxes and packages are covered with health claims and catchy words to suck you in, but they can get very confusing. Most people have a vague idea of what an organic apple is, but organic cookies…not as straight forward.

Here is a break down some of these catchy health words to help you understand what they all mean.

Organic

  • When it comes to produce, organic products are grown in soil that has no prohibited substances (including synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) for at least 3 years prior to harvest.
  • Organic meat and poultry have to meet 3 criteria – (1) they are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, (2) they are fed 100% organic feed, and (3) they cannot have any antibiotics or hormones administered to them.
  • As for processed, multi-ingredient foods, they can only be labeled organic if every ingredient is organic, there must be no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and no GMO ingredients are used.

Organic products are very highly regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The government goes out to farms, tests soil, evaluates feed, and examines animal living conditions to ensure they meet all of these specific criteria.

 

Natural

  • Right now, the term “natural” seen on food labels means absolutely nothing.

Yes, you read that right. There are no rules that regulate what items can use this term in their labels, which means technically anything from apples and cucumbers, to ding-dongs, and ho-hos are all “natural”. Pretty scary, huh? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on some guidelines for what products can use the word natural, but right now, there is no regulation.

organic-vs-natural-chart_0

Did you find any of this shocking? I know the “natural” one continues to blow my mind – especially because people tend to value natural products more than regular ones, and they usually cost more!

 

Want more info? These links might help!

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm

Protein!

From protein bars, protein pancakes, protein shakes, protein peanut butter, and giant chickens breasts, I was originally planning on writing this posts about the potential risks of a high protein diet. In school we learned that high protein consumption could damage the kidneys and lead to bone disease, health disease, and possibly cancer. But, when I started digging through the research to write this blog post, I was kind of shocked to find out that none of these side effects of high protein intake were really proven.

The research shows that high protein diets can be harmful to the kidneys, but only in people who already have kidney problems (which are usually caused by high blood pressure and diabetes). High protein diets might also increase the amount of calcium we lose in urine, but it hasn’t been found to have an effect on our bones. In fact, more protein can actually prevent bone fractures.

As for heart disease and cancer risk, we should really be focusing more on where our protein comes from. Many protein rich foods, like beef and red meats, are also high in saturated fats. This saturated fat is actually what has been found to increase risk for heart disease and cancer, not the protein. That means, we should focus on eating proteins lower in saturated fat, like lean meats, low fat dairy, and fish.

So now that we have busted some of the myths, here are some benefits of protein for healthy sources:

1. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks for cells, muscles, and tissues in the body. Therefore, more protein can help build/preserve muscle mass and repair damaged tissues.
2. Protein tends to be very satiating, which can lead to fewer calories consumed from other foods and weight loss.
3. The jury is still out there on this one, but some research shows that high protein intake can increase your metabolism (that means more calories burned while you sit on the couch!).

How much protein should you eat?

In order to prevent deficiency, you should have 0.35 grams of protein per pound of your body weight, but in reality, most of us can benefit from more than that. I suggest 0.5g-0.75g per pound (I wouldn’t go much higher than 0.90g/lb – there isn’t enough research to know the long term effects anything higher than that). Most of us typically land in this healthy range every day just by eating everyday foods, but like I said before, it is important to focus on those lean, low fat protein sources to meet your daily goals.

And remember, just because protein has the spotlight doesn’t mean you can eliminate carbs and fats – they provide lots of important nutrients we can’t live without!