The Better Butter

The next time you reach for the butter to add to your bagel or toast, think again.  Why not use a healthy nut butter such as peanut or almond butter.

Nut butters are very healthy for a number of reasons:

  1. Contain mostly healthy fat (mono and polyunsaturated fats).
  2. Contain protein.
  3. Contain fiber.
  4. Contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Butter or cream cheese are both predominately unhealthy fat (saturated), have zero grams of fiber and contain little to no protein at all.

The benefit of swapping out your everyday butter or cream cheese, will mean your doing something better for your heart and it will keep you more full thanks to the protein.

Here’s the Peanut Butter I’m currently eating:

This is similar to any other smooth natural peanut butter you will find.

Here’s my label:

Nutrition Tidbit: Nut Butter

  • Read the ingredients.  You should find: nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc) and maybe salt (if you prefer it salty).
  • Avoid any nut butters with trans fat (partially hydrogenated oil) and/or sugar.
  • Many “natural” nut butters add palm oil, which is a saturated fat, to help prevent the oil from separating.  I recommend avoiding ones with palm oil since it adds unnecessary saturated fat.
  • Since there are no additives or preservatives, you must keep the nut butter in your refrigerator as nuts do go bad.

What’s your favorite nut butter and how do you like to eat it?

My favorite is peanut butter and I love it on a hot toasted whole wheat english muffin with sliced banana – yum!


A Healthy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving starts the holiday season, and I’m sure many people are worried about the pounds that they may pack on this holiday season.  However, this does not have to be the case, you can treat Thanksgiving like a normal day. Yes you can eat a little more and you may indulge in some foods that you wouldn’t normally, but it is not an excuse to eat your heart out.

I usually recommend weight maintenance during the holiday season.  Sometimes, losing weight is unrealistic, and can lead to feelings of deprivation.  However, the last thing you want is to throw in the towel and say “I will start on January 1st.”  If you do that, you will end up heavier on January 1st than you are today.  If you approach the holidays with a healthy mindset, and have your favorite foods in moderation you can stay at the same weight, and then if you need to lose you can buckle down a bit once the holidays are over.

So – how are you going to stay healthy on Thanksgiving?

  • Exercise. This is vital, since you will be eating extra calories, you want to make sure you are burning extra calories.  Hit up the gym firsts thing in the morning (check your gyms hours as they may be different).  If you are away without access to the gym, get outside for a long walk or jog, or maybe turn on Exercise TV on the television, or make up your own workout to do in your room: jumping jacks, push ups, sit-ups, planks, jumping rope (without the rope), etc.
  • Don’t Restrict. A lot of my clients ask if they can skip meals to “save up” for a big one.  The answer in NO! You will only overeat later on in the day.  Eat normally and do not skip any meals.
  • If you are Cooking the Meal you have complete control!  Make healthier versions of all the classics.  Use cooking light, eating well, and healthy cookbooks for recipe inspirations.  Add a side dish of green vegetables and include fresh fruit with dessert.  Give away all of the tempting leftovers.  If you know you will pick at the leftover pie for the rest of the week, make sure to get it out of the house!  Same goes for stuffing or other food that you have trouble limiting the portions.
  • If you are Attending a Dinner bring something healthy with you!  I usually recommend a vegetable side dish (roasted vegetables, kale salad, roasted beet salad) or a fruit salad for dessert.  This way you have something you know is healthy to add to your plate.
  • Choose your Favorites. Just because it’s Thanksgiving you do not need to give in to everything that is on the table.  Look at all the options, and choose small portions of the foods you know you cannot live without.
  • Get Right Back to Your Normal Eating. Thanksgiving should not last from Thursday – Sunday.  Friday morning get right back on track on Friday. One heavy meal will not cause weight gain (you need to eat an extra 3,500 calories to gain 1 pound).

What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?

Tuckered Out After Turkey? The Truth About Tryptophan and Tiredness.

This week is Turkey Week! Everyone is getting excited for family, food and fun, however it’s also the start of the holiday season which often means…weight gain! This week I will be posting important information about Thanksgiving and staying healthy.  Today’s post is brought to you by my fabulous intern: Ella Kenney.

We hear about it every time Thanksgiving rolls around: the reason you want nothing more than a snooze on the couch after your feast is because that mysterious little element in turkey – tryptophan has made you sleepy.

This urban legend is not completely without basis, but the finer details need parsing.  What is tryptophan, anyway?  It is an essential amino acid, which means that you must consume tryptophan in your diet because the body cannot make it. (The body makes many of the amino acids necessary to life.)  Tryptophan is found in a variety of foods, including dairy products, fish, pork, eggs, nuts and nut butters, seeds and soy products.

On to the question at hand.  Tryptophan is related to sleep in a way; the body uses it to make the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps calm you and allows you to sleep well.  However, tryptophan isn’t the culprit of post-prandial Thanksgiving stupor.  If that were the case, every time you ate a big bowl of ice cream or even an enormous pork chop, you’d be diving under your bed covers.  The amount of tryptophan in a typical Thanksgiving feast just isn’t enough to trigger a nap – you would need enormous amounts of it on an empty stomach to actually experience tryptophan-induced drowsiness.  The real cause of Thanksgiving lethargy is likely the combination of extreme overeating and the consumption of alcohol.  The body must work overtime to process your meal, pulling blood away from other organs and the nervous system in order to carry out the digestive process, which makes you tired.  And alcohol acts as a depressant, which also contributes to afternoon drowsiness.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving, and do indulge in turkey (tryptophan is an essential amino acid, after all).  But think twice before you blame drumsticks and dark meat for your sleepy urge to merge with your couch!

The Power of the Food Diary

If you want to lose weight, gain weight or improve your nutrition the most important thing you must do it keep a food diary. This is a crucial step to making changes.  If you are not willing to do so, it usually means you are not ready to change.  Many studies have shown that it’s hard to lose weight without keeping a food diary.

The food diary makes you accountable. It allows you to see your weaknesses. The diary will open up your eyes to things you may not even have noticed you were doing!  Most people think they eat a lot less than they do, but if you keep an accurate list of everything you eat, you may be surprised!  Count the milk in your coffee, the hard candy you ate in the afternoon, the few bites of your spouse’s or child’s dinner plate.  All of these small bites actually count!

Here are some ways to make the food diary work for you:

  1. Decide what will be the most convenient way for you to keep it: small notebook, word/excel file, online program, or cell phone program.  Think what you will have access to all of the time.
  2. Some excuses I hear are “I left the notebook at home so I forgot to write in it.”  “I like recording on the computer but I use a different computer at work and at home.”  “I keep forgetting and I go back and try to remember the last few days.”
  3. If you are a computer person, an online program might be right for you.  I really like the free site Fit Day.
  4. If you love your I Phone or Blackberry find a program (they each have) that allows you to enter in the food you eat daily.
  5. If you prefer the hard copy, buy a small notebook that will fit in your purse or pocket (if you’re a guy) so that you have it on you at all times.

The power is in you!  So if you are committed to making changes you have to be committed to keeping a food journal.  Honesty is key!  No one but yourself will suffer if you leave out crucial things, or if you skip the “bad” days.  Remember there’s no such thing as “bad” foods and “good” foods.  Yes some are more nutritious than others and some you should eat more often – but there’s room for everything!

So start your journal today!  And remember there’s no better time than now with the holidays approaching.

Choosing the Best Whole Grain Bread

The bread aisle can be a very confusing place, with so many choices and some deceiving labels.  So how do you choose the best whole grain bread?

Well, let me first show you my absolute favorite bread:

This is Eli Zabar’s Health Loaf and it is absolutely amazing!

Ingredients: stone ground whole wheat flour, water, natural sour, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, honey, yeast and salt.

Nutrition Facts: 1 slice (27 grams): 70 calories, 1 gram fat, 100 mg sodium, 12 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein.

I love the short ingredient list, it is full of seeds and has a slight sourdough flavor (natural sour) with a hint of sweetness (honey).  I enjoy it for breakfast toasted and topped with natural peanut butter, for a sandwich at lunch or dipped in hummus as a snack. 

You can find Eli Zabar’s bread throughout NYC, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else.  The good news is that I have seen similar breads around.  This is also a small slice, it’s much smaller than your average slice of bread, but it is more dense. 

However, I would like you to know that the nutrition label claims 1 slice is 27 grams.  I weighed one slice and it was almost 1 1/2 times this amount!  Therefore, instead of providing 70 calories each it was really 100 calories per slice.  I think this discrepancy occurs because they assume a thin slice and do not slice it themselves, my local supermarket slices it for me.  This just shows you cannot always assume that the portion size on the label is what you are consuming and the only way to verify this is to weigh it yourself! 

Nutrition Tidbit:  How to Choose the Best Whole Grain Bread

  • The first ingredient should say “whole grain/wheat flour”
  • Limit products with plain wheat or white flour.
  • Look for breads with a short ingredient list (warning they may spoil faster, so try freezing them!).
  • Look for bread with 2-3 grams/fiber per slice. 
  • Compare sodium & sugar, some breads add quite a bit of each for flavor. 
  • Avoid breads with high fructose corn syrup and functional fiber added.   
  • Just because a bread claims to be multigrain (twelve grain, nine grain, etc) it does not mean it’s whole grain!  It may be made of various grains that are all refined, so make sure to read the ingredients well. 

Healthy Football Spread

It is football season as we all know, which usually means unhealthy food.  Since I’m married to a Florida Gator, I have become a fan myself and watch them most Saturdays in the fall.  Thankfully, our group of friends is not into the bar scene, so I don’t have to navigate bar food.  However, we do meet at someone’s apartment.  This past Saturday we invited people over to our apartment.  The game was at 3:30, therefore I didn’t need a ton of food since it was not a meal time.  Since it was a last minute decision, I made a spread based on the food I had around, and I think everyone enjoyed it!

In the center you see homemade pita chips, carrots, celery, hummus, homemade yogurt dip. On the left is edamame and on the right is my homemade white bean salad.

To make the pita chips, I sliced the pita bread in half horizontally, to make them thin.  Then I combined olive oil with salt, pepper, rosemary, and basil and spread a very thin later on each pita before cutting them into 8 pieces.  I baked them in oven for 8 minutes at 400 degrees.  I thought they were great!

The yogurt dip was good, but came out too thin because I blended everything together which thinned out the thick greek yogurt.  Warning: do not blend greek yogurt unless you want it to become thin!  I added cucumber, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, salt & pepper to plain fat free greek yogurt.

My friend brought a huge fruit platter with honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberries and grapes it was delicious!

This should be a great example that you don’t need to eat unhealthy when watching football.  This spread was for 5 guys and 3 girls, and I would say the guys enjoyed it too!

How do I get Adequate Protein?

Recently I’ve been providing you with information on protein.  One day was about complete proteins, the next was incomplete proteins, and Friday was on how much is too much?  Today I want to show you where protein is found and in what quantities.

Animal Sources

  • Chicken: 3 oz: 21 grams
  • Beef: 3 oz: 21 grams
  • Fish: 3 oz: 21 grams
  • Yogurt: 6 oz: 6-8 grams
  • Greek Yogurt: 5/6 oz: 12-18 grams
  • Cheese: 1 ounce: 4-8 grams
  • Milk: 8 oz: 8 grams
  • Cottage Cheese: 1/2 cup: 13 grams
  • Egg: 1 medium: 6 grams

Vegetable Sources

  • Nuts/Seeds: 1 oz: 3-7 grams
  • Beans: 1/2 cup cooked: 6-8 grams
  • Vegetables: 1 cup raw: 1-3 grams
  • Bread: 1 oz: 2-4 grams
  • Grains: 1/2 cup cooked: 2-4 grams
  • Soy milk: 7 grams
  • Tofu: 1/2 cup raw: 10 grams
  • Tempeh: 1/2 cup raw: 15 grams
  • Seitan: 1/2 cup: 26 grams
  • Soy Beans: 1/2 cup cooked: 15 grams

If you remember the RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (for healthy, non-athletes) – however, most people consume almost double the RDA.  Some people require more protein and others less.  A 150 pound person requires 54 grams per day.  To reach this you could consume:

  • Breakfast: 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal (5 grams), 1/2 cup milk (4 grams), 1 cup fruit (0 grams), 1/2 ounce nuts (3 grams) = 12 grams
  • Lunch: Peanut Butter Sandwich on whole wheat bread (12 grams) Salad with oil & vinegar 2 cups (3 grams) and fruit (0 grams)= 15 grams
  • Afternoon Snack: 6 oz yogurt (7 grams) and fruit (0 grams) = 7 grams
  • Dinner: 3 ounces fish (21 grams), 1 cup grains (6 grams), 2 cups vegetables (3 grams) cooked in oil (0 grams) = 30 grams

The total protein for this day is 64 grams! Most people would look at this diet wondering if it contained enough protein.  Now it might not be enough, particularly for athletes, but it’s possible you are consuming twice as much as you need.  If you are consuming too much protein, you may be missing other important nutrients from your diet.  I find the average American diet is so high in protein because it is lacking in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  You may benefit from shifting your intake of the various food groups.