Breakfast Cereal

Cereal: It is the “go-to” breakfast. Whether you pour a bowl at the table in the morning or dump some in a bag as you are running out the door, it is a pretty classic breakfast. In fact, grain-based breakfasts have been found to help people lose weight better than those who eat a traditional eggs, sausage, and toast breakfast.

Unfortunately, those grain-based cereals can be more like sugar-based cereal. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Coco Puffs, and Lucky Charms and even cereals like Kellogg’s Smart Start, Kashi, and Raisin Bran that are all marketed as “healthy” have heaps of sugar in them… sometimes more than a chocolate chip cookie!

I know that makes finding a healthy cereal very confusing, so here are my top 4 tips for choosing a healthy cereal to start your day with.

  1. It should have less than 10g of sugar per serving
  2. At least 3g of fiber per serving
  3. At least 5g of protein per serving
  4. The first ingredient should start with the word whole (ie. Whole wheat, whole grain, etc.)

If your cereal box doesn’t meet all 4 of these, put it back on the shelf and try another one of the other 500 cereals in the aisle. The one exception is protein. If your cereals falls a little short on protein, that is fine, but I would recommend having a side of eggs or low sugar Greek yogurt on the side.

I’ll also mention that portions are a big deal with cereal. The serving size is usually ¾ to 1 cup but we often dump 2-3x that in the bowl. Try measuring out your cereal for a few days. You might be shocked by how much you are actually eating.

Here is a list of some good cereal options:

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Whole Grains

Five weeks (holy cow-I can’t believe it has already been 5 weeks!) of my DI complete and I am finally getting into the swing of things. I have my daily routine down, feel a lot less overwhelmed, and still have time to explore Cleveland and spend a few hours at the grocery store ;).

The highlight of last week was working an outreach table at the outpatient pediatric clinic in the hospital. I spent the day educating patients about the importance of whole grains. I made a poster (which I don’t think I have done since high school), a handout, compiled some recipes, and played a whole grain game with some of the kids. Having quality conversations with some of the parents definitely made me feel like I was making a difference, but playing games with the kids continuously put a smile on my face throughout the day. And even better, not only did I have fun playing with them, they were also able to learn what whole grains were and be introduced to new food items to try! Win-Win!

Since I had the opportunity to teach so many people in the clinic about whole grains, I thought I would share the knowledge here.

Whole grainFirst off…What is a whole grain? You have probably heard of them, but do you really know what they are? A whole grain means that the product contains all three parts of the grain- the germ, endosperm, and bran. White or refined grains only contain the endosperm. The bran and germ are important because they have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats, whereas the endosperm is made mostly of starch.

Whole grains have also been found to prevent stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and constipation. I don’t know about you, but I think those reasons alone are enough to want some whole grains in my everyday meals.

Ok, now that I hopefully have convinced you to eat some whole grains, you have to find them at the store. This can be the tricky part. Lots of packages slap phrases like “100% wheat” and “multi-grain” across the front to pull you in, but these phrases do not mean it is a whole grain. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Check the ingredient list on the box. If a food is a whole grain, the very first word on the ingredient list will be “whole” (ie. Whole wheat flour, whole grain oats, etc.).
  • Words like “brown rice” “bulgur” “quinoa”, “oats” and “wheat berries” listed first in the ingredients also always mean it is a whole grain.
  • Even if the front of the box says “5g of whole grain”, check the ingredients. While it might have some whole grain, if it is not the first ingredient, then the majority of the product is a refined grain.

There are lots of other whole grains including bulgur, millet, farro, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, and rye, which are great for adding to soups and salads or as a side dish. Those sound a little foreign? Try oatmeal or whole grain cereal (like Cheerios) for breakfast. Air-popped popcorn and whole grain crackers (like Wheat Thins) are perfect whole grain snacks. Even using whole grain bread on your lunch sandwich is a step in the right direction.

Making the switch to whole grains can be hard, but small steps can make it easier. A good rule of thumb is the make at least half of the grains you eat each day whole grains. You can also use this as an opportunity to try some new foods!

Here are some pictures from my outreach in the clinic!

Fail to Prepare = Prepare to Fail

With midterms in full swing, my calendar is packed with classes, meetings, field trips (yes, I guess going to the farm is still a thing in college), and research. There is barely enough room to squeeze in my daily sweat session at the gym. Whether you are in high school, college, or in the work force, there never seems to be enough time in the day, and that is when planning becomes imperative. Yes, you have to plan how you are going to get everything done in the day, but I am talking about planning your food for the day. When time is of the essence, convenience is key. It is human nature to do (and in this case eat) what is most convenient. When I have two papers due and a test next week, I’m not spending hours in the kitchen preparing a healthy gourmet meal, nor am I driving to Whole Foods (although I would love to) to get some organic, non-gmo fruit. In order to eat healthy under the pressure of time, planning will keep you on track and save you time in the long run.

Of course meal planning for the week is important to make sure you have healthy food handy (read more here) but also preparing food ahead of time is crucial. I don’t mind eating leftovers and reheating so I like to cook a lot of my meals for the week over the weekend (especially when I know the upcoming week is busy) so every lunch and dinner is in a nice Tupperware that I can quickly eat between classes, meetings, and homework. Having everything pre-made also makes packing lunches (and sometimes dinners for long stays at the library) a breeze. In the morning, I can just grab my Tupperware and a fork and I’m ready to go…well almost ready to go; you can’t forget snacks! If I meal planned correctly for the week, I have tons of healthy snacks like protein bars, nuts and seed, and veggies with hummus that I can put in my backpack.

Having all this healthy food with me at all times makes it 1000 times easier to eat healthy. Instead of running to Einstein Bagels or Jimmy John’s, I have a whole lunch bag full of food when I get hungry. I am also a big snacker, especially when I’m at the library for hours, so having munchies with me prevents me from going for an ice cream run or hitting up the vending machine for some snacks. Not only are those not the healthiest option, but they also aren’t the best brain food to help me study.

Tomorrow I have class from 8:30am to 2:15pm with no break and then I have a meeting with a professor immediately after so here is what I’m packing in my Lululemon lunch bag:

Apple and cheese stick for mid morning
Black bean burrito bowl with guacamole for lunch
Dried Edamame or Crunchy Larabar for an early afternoon snack (I usually bring one extra snack in case I need it)
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All of this is to show you that it can be fairly simple to eat healthy even when you don’t have much time; it just takes a little planning ahead. You have to prepare for your long and busy day ahead otherwise you are setting yourself up to eat convenient and usually unhealthy food (like McDonalds or Starbucks pastries). Making the healthier option the easier option will make you much more successful in eating healthy.

“Real Food” Bars

While I know most people do not enjoy grocery shopping, I am quite the opposite. Walking through aisles of the grocery store (especially at Whole Foods) for me is like a kid in candy store. All of options blow my mind. I could spend hours and hours reading every label and spend way too much money trying the new and crazy products on the market. One that I have recently become obsessed with is the snack bar whose only ingredients are fruit, nuts, and spices-nothing else (no chemicals, no preservatives, no added sugar, no nothing-only real food!).

I first tried the Raw Bite brand when I was studying in Copenhagen. Denmark has a 7/11 store on every corner filled with healthy snacks, pre-made salads, along with the usual candy bars and chips you find at 7/11 in the U.S, so finding the Raw Bite bars was a piece of cake. Pretty much all of the flavors are made of dates, raisins, nuts, and cashews, plus whatever gives it a distinct flavors (cocoa, peanuts, etc.). After coming back to U.S., I was on a mission to find a replacement for the Raw Bite bars I ate in Europe; the closest things: Lärabar.

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The main ingredient in Lärabars is dates and then each flavor has different fruits and spices to make them unique. Unfortunately they aren’t sold on every street corner 7/11 like in Europe, but I have been able to find them pretty easily at the grocery store (and not just at Whole Foods). My favorite flavors are Coconut Cream Pie, Apple Pie, Coconut Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Cookie- each with no more than six ingredients. Because they are made of mostly fruit, they are high in sugar (natural sugar, that is) and low in protein. This makes them a good snack, but they shouldn’t replace a meal like breakfast. I snacked on these all summer and are great during my back-to-back classes, but one of my favorite times to have them is a few hours after dinner when I need a little something sweet while working on my homework (the new Mini Lärabars are perfect for this!). The sweetness from the dates hits the spot when I don’t want something too dessert-like.

While Lärabars are my all-time favorite of the “real food” bar brands, more and more have been popping up recently. Kind makes Pressed by Kind bars that are just fruit (and depending on the flavor they also have vegetables and chia seeds). So far I have tried and enjoyed the Cherry Apple Chia and the Pineapple Banana Kale Spinach. There are also That’s It bars that are made of apples and one other fruit. They are sold at Starbucks so they are my go-to if I forget to bring a snack with me during the day. Because these two bars don’t have nuts in them like Lärabars, they are lower in fat and calories but aren’t as filling.

 

I’m always on the look-out for new products (especially snacks with no artificial ingredients) so if you have any recommendations, please send them my way!

 

Back To School: Senior Year

Happy hump day! It has been a while since my last post, so here is a little life update. Monday marked the first day of classes for this semester…well for most people. I, somehow, got lucky enough to only have classes on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s this semester! It might should like I have quite the relaxed semester, but don’t worry. I will be keeping busy with my senior capstone project, an independent study literature review research paper, applying to grad school/Dietetic Internships, and my new student research position at the Cleveland Clinic. My research job doesn’t start until next week, but I am super excited to explore the research side of nutrition. I will be working with patients who have Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, teaching them how to comply to a Mediterranean diet, and doing some data collection.

Yesterday was my first official day of class so I got to meet all my professors and read several pages of daunting syllabi with all my assignments and exams to look forward to…NOT. My classes this semester are Community Nutrition, Child Nutrition, and Guided Study in Nutrition Practice. While the first day isn’t a great indicator, my favorite class so far is Guided Study. I am going to learn how to talk to patients, ask relevant questions, and figure out how to come up with a proper nutrition diagnoses and action plans based on the patients needs. This class is bringing my Registered Dietitian goals to life; it showed me that the information and skills I am learning will actually be relevant to my job in the future (who knew? J).

On another note, back to school means back to meal planning and packing lunches. I made my meal plan and prepped my meals over the weekend before I got busy with classes, but I am going to have to get back into the groove. I have to remember to be thorough in my planning because popping over to the grocery store is not as easy on campus as it is living at home (learned that the hard way after I forgot eggs this weekend). This week my typical oatmeal is on tap for breakfast, quinoa with ground turkey and sweet potato for lunch, and veggies burgers (recipe coming soon) with guac for dinner.

Since I haven’t been at school since last December because of my study abroad trip, I forgot about all of the free food around campus that can be so tempting! Free donuts if I join the Chess Club, a mini cupcake if I sign up for the Math Club, and even free candy for walking past the Student Dietetic Association table (this one has never made sense to me, haha). I will definitely be arming myself with lots of healthy snacks tomorrow (including apples, string cheese, trail mix, and Skinny Pop) to keep me satiated and to have a healthy alternative when walking past the sugary bribes on the way to class.

I hope to try out some new recipes this weekend and learn some fun nutrition facts in my classes to share next week!

Peanut Butter Energy Balls + Olympics

I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen the past few days testing out some new recipes so expect lots of yumminess soon. Today I thought I would share one of my favorites: Peanut Butter Energy Balls. They are perfect to grab as a quick snack or to enjoy when you need a little sweet snack after dinner. They are incredibly easy and fast (and don’t require any baking). Just mix all the ingredients together, roll ‘em into balls, and enjoy!

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In Other News…

Guess what today is?! The opening ceremony of the Olympics (aka my favorite time of every other year); in fact, I am watching them as I type this! Seriously, I am obsessed with the Olympics. I have already downloaded 5 iPhone apps to make sure I’m always up to date on scores and medal counts, and my butt will likely be glued to the couch for the next few weeks watching everything from gymnastics to synchronized swimming to beach volleyball.

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Olympic Training Center 2010

On a more serious note, I attribute my love for the Olympics to my involvement in sports throughout my life. If I had not been an athlete myself, I would not have the same appreciation for all the athletes competing in the Olympic games. As a rhythmic gymnast, I learned the importance of being healthy a living a balanced life. I saw first had how eating habits could impact my energy and performance at practice and competition. These experiences are really what have guided me on my path in college to become a dietitian. Whether I work with athletes in the future, that is tbd.

Enjoy the games and go team USA!

Mixing and Matching Food Groups

Balance. That is pretty much they key word that people use to describe a healthy diet since there is no real consensus on what a healthy diet exactly is. But, I know that that is a little too vague and some more guidelines are helpful for creating well-balanced eating habits. It is impossible to tell you exactly what and how much to eat since that varies too much person to person, but there is a good way to keep the daily balance when it comes to snacks and meals.

This guide to balance refers to food groups. Remember that famous food pyramid? Yep, those are the food groups I am talking about. While that pyramid has now been redesigned into a plate (which I don’t really like, but that is for another blog post), the idea is still the same. The main food groups you should incorporate into your diet are grains, protein, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and fats. Fats are left off of the plate because most foods that I would consider healthy fats also fall into other categories (e.g. avocado could be classified as a fruit and nuts could fall into the protein category).

Food pyramidmy plate

Snacks
The key here is to incorporate two to three food groups into each snack. This allows the body to get nutrients from different sources and digest at different speeds. One food group will usually digest faster (giving you more immediate energy) and the other will digest more slowly (keeping you full longer).

Want some snack ideas?
-Yogurt and granola (dairy and grain)
-Apple and peanut butter (fruit and fat/protein)
-Hummus and celery or carrots (protein and vegetable)
-Cheese and crackers (dairy and grain)
-Avocado Toast (fat and grain)
-Oatmeal and berries (grain and fruit)

Meals
For meals, you want to combine three to four food groups (you could even try to do all five!). This allows for lots of variety (which means lots of different nutrients) and helps you meet your daily servings of each food group. It can also prevent over eating by helping you fill up on foods like vegetables before digging into the main, usually more calorically dense, part of your meal. Plus, it is important to get all the vitamins and minerals in vegetables that are sometimes forgotten during typically protein and grain rich meal times.

Need some meal inspiration?
Breakfast:
-Eggs and avocado toast (protein, fat, and grain)
-Yogurt with berries and granola (dairy, fruit, and grain)
Lunch:
-Sandwich with protein (egg salad, turkey, tuna salad) and veggies with hummus (grain, protein, and vegetables)
-Grilled chicken salad with quinoa and an apple (protein, vegetables, grain, and fruit)
Dinner:
-My favorite black bean burrito lettuce wraps with brown rice (protein, vegetable, and grain- also add avocado/guacamole for a healthy fat)
-Baked salmon with whole-wheat pasta and a side of edamame (or other vegetable) (protein, grain, and vegetable)