Posts Tagged ‘Nutrition’

Calling a food “healthy” is loaded. Everyone has a different opinion about what is healthy. Low carb. Low fat. Vegetarian. Standard American. Mediterranean. But one thing is true, no matter the source: whole, real food.

An example is breakfast this morning.

1. Three farm fresh eggs from humanely raised chickens from my friend’s local farm. (The chickens live in what she calls “the chicken mansion” and they eat the best fruit!)

2. Cooked in extra virgin olive oil.

3. Sprinkled with turmeric, which is savory and reduces inflammation (which is the root cause of many diseases and problems).

4. Sungold tomatoes, organically grown in my back yard.

5. Plus 2 leaves of basil and some pinches of sorel, both grown on my deck in pots.

Delicious. Nutritious. Simple. Enjoy!


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I am teaching a class at New Milford Adult Education in March. Come join me!
Resolve to be healthy in the New Year! Good nutrition is vital to a healthy life. With so much conflicting information, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Taught by a Certified Health Coach, this program simplifies eating healthfully. It is ideal for anyone who is tired of dieting and wants to establish a new and healthier relationship with food. Keep your New Year’s resolutions by learning how to feel better, have more energy, and even save money by getting and staying healthy in 2013.
5 Mondays: 3/4, 3/11, 3/18, 3/25, 4/1 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. (4/1 class 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.) $90
Find more info and register here.

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I thought this article was helpful and contained some great tips on nutrition to help ward off cold & flu this season. It’s at Scholastic magazine and lists superfoods, including (my favorite) sweet potato, salmon, broccoli, milk, oatmeal, and more.

sweet potato

Photo by Mark Lund at http://www.Scholastic.com

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I really like the Eating Well blogs; I always find helpful information there and I almost always agree with the advice. Today is no exception. Brierley Wright has a great article on chronic inflammation, what it is and how to avoid it. All the tips are simple changes to your diet and guidance for an exercise regime. Her ten ways to beat inflammation are:

  1. Increase Omega-3 fatty acids and reduce Omega-6 (i.e. add salmon and olive oil to your diet)
  2. Practice yoga.
  3. Consume soy.
  4. Get a massage.
  5. Limit trans-fats and saturated fats.
  6. Eat green leafy vegetables.
  7. Keep stress at bay.
  8. Sleep at least 6 hours each night.
  9. Exercise often.
  10. Drink green tea.

Read the entire post here.

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Two weeks ago I posted on how to determine the right kind of food for you. I hope that you were able to keep your food diary and experiment and that you learned about what kinds of foods work best for you. Whether you learned that you need lots of protein or a lesser amount, here’s helpful information about why protein is important, how much to eat, and from which sources to get it.

Photo of food groupsWhy Protein is Important

Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of the human body.  These “building blocks” repair the body and largely control how you feel – both mentally and physically – on a daily basis.

For example, protein increases focus and energy by causing the body to produce dopamine and norepinephrine, two substances that make you feel more alert and full of energy.

Protein also causes the release of the hormone glucagon to regulate glucose (blood sugar) levels for proper brain function, which also regulates hunger and energy levels.

And because protein is more difficult to digest than carbohydrates and fats, its lasts longer in the body, suppressing hunger and satiating the appetite so you feel full after you eat and maintain that feeling for longer.

Understanding the importance of protein helps us to begin to understand how consuming inappropriate amounts of protein might lead to symptoms and problems that negatively affect us on a daily basis.

Symptoms and Problems Associated with Inappropriate Levels of Protein

The most common problems associated with a diet that is too low in protein are low energy, cravings for sweets and fats, constant hunger, and even emotional instability and depression.

Fatigue and emotional instability can be caused by inadequate consumption of protein because the muscles weaken and the immune system functions less effectively.  This weakened state causes the body to work harder to perform basic bodily functions.  This inefficiency leads to always being tired, feeling out of balance and unstable, and getting sick more easily.  This state of low energy and general unhealthiness can lead to depression.

Cravings are another tell-tale sign of inadequate protein in the diet.  For example, cravings for sweets plus fats can mean too little protein.  Similarly, feeling hungry less than 2 hours after a meal is also a symptom of eating too little protein.  Without adequate protein, your body is unable to maintain blood sugar levels, causing you to feel hungry no matter how much you eat.

It is clear that eating too little protein can cause serious problems, but too much of a good thing is not any better.  To the contrary, eating too much protein can cause constipation and sugar cravings (as opposed to sugar plus fat cravings).

Consumption of too much meat, a primary source of protein, can cause sugar cravings because meat is high in protein and fats but has no carbohydrates.  Sugar is the exact opposite: it is only carbohydrates.  The craving for sugar is the body’s attempt to balance.  But consuming lots of animal protein and sugar, neither of which contains water, can lead to constipation.

It should be clear to us now that eating the correct amount of protein is critical to our everyday health and success.  But how do we know what is the proper amount of protein?

The Proper Amount of Protein on a Daily Basis

There appears to be disagreement in the health community regarding what is the proper amount of protein on a daily basis.

The USDA recommends only 50 grams of protein per day.  Dr. Barry Sears, author of A Week in the Zone and the popular Zone Diet, disagrees and instead recommends a minimum of 75 grams per day for women and 100 grams per day for men, which should be part of a diet with a proportion of carbohydrates to fat to protein of 40%-30%-30%, respectively.  Yet, the accepted nutritional standard ratio of carbohydrates to fats to protein is 65%-15%-20%, respectively.

It would be easy to throw our hands up in frustration at this point, stating, “well, I might as well eat whatever I want since everyone disagrees as to what is a healthy diet.”  But if we look closely, we see that there is common ground: the correct daily amount of protein lies somewhere between 50-100 grams and 15-30% of our daily calories.

A range such as this is exactly as it should be.  As Dr. Frank Lipman states in his book Total Renewal, everyone has a distinct genetic make-up called “biochemical individuality,” which means variations in our metabolism and biochemistry differentiate us.  Because each person is different, no one diet or amount of protein is right for everyone.

In order to determine the proper amount of protein for your “biochemical individuality,” experiment with protein by increasing and decreasing the amount you consume for a week or two.  Pay attention to the impact on your body, energy, mental state, hunger, and sustainability.  Observe how your body responds to the food you eat and how you feel after you eat certain amounts of protein.  Again, keep your food diary, making sure to track your protein even if you aren’t recording the other foods that you eat.

The Proper Portion of Protein per Meal is Approximately the Same for Everyone

While the proper amount of protein on a daily basis may vary widely, the “per portion” amount is approximately the same for everyone: 4 ounces of meat/6 ounces of fish for men, and 3 ounces of meat/4.5 ounces of fish for women, per meal.  The body cannot utilize more protein than this at one time, unless you are very active (e.g. a serious athlete).

The easiest tool for determining the proper portion size is with you at all times: your hand.  Dr. Barry Sears recommends eating a piece of lean animal protein no bigger and no thicker than the palm of your hand to constitute the proper portion size of protein.

Sources of Protein

Now that you know how much protein you should eat at each meal, let’s discuss the great variety of protein sources and the approximate number of grams of protein in each of those sources so you can begin experimenting and ultimately determine the daily amount of protein right for you.

There are two sources of protein: animals and plants, and each has its benefits and disadvantages.

Animal-Sourced Protein

In The Zone Diet, Dr. Barry Sears advocates lean protein in the form of skinless chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, fish, eggs and egg whites, and low-fat dairy (unless you have a diary intolerance).  Joshua Rosenthal of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and author of Integrative Nutrition, adds that all such sources should be organic and recommends that you “vary your protein routine.”  So, if you are going to consume animal protein, branch out and try duck, pheasant, buffalo, and lamb.

While animal-sourced food is high in protein, it has its disadvantages.  For example, meat is often full of saturated fat which can increase cholesterol, cause heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.  Because animal protein has no fiber or water in it, it is difficult to digest and spends a long time in the digestive system, which can lead to cancers of the intestines and colon.  Meat can also be problematic because, unless it is organic, it likely contains hormones and antibiotics, which are toxic to the human body.

Plant-Sourced Protein

Many people completely forget that plants are a source of protein.  Beans and nuts are legitimate sources of protein.  Soybeans and soy products also provide a hearty source of protein.  Even whole grains and vegetables contain some protein.

All legumes are very high in protein on the plant-food scale.  Legumes include all beans and peanuts.  (Peanuts are not nuts; they are legumes.)  While beans are a great source of protein, many people have a hard time digesting them.  You can help remedy this problem by soaking the dry uncooked beans overnight in water, draining them, and cooking them longer than the recommended cooking time.  This process starts breaking down the beans.  When you eat beans, be sure to chew very well, another process in the break down that is digestion.

Of all legumes, the soybean is the highest in protein and is sometimes referred to as the “vegetable cow” because its proportion of amino acids is close to that of animal products and is thus considered to be a “complete protein” like meat.  Unfortunately, soy is the second most common food allergen behind wheat, and can be difficult to digest, except for edamame.  (Edamame is the young whole soybean and is relatively easy for the body to digest and assimilate.)  Try soy for yourself and see if it is a good choice for your body.

Because the protein found in plants is less “useable” by the body, it is beneficial to consume “complementary proteins.”  AnneMarie Colbin explains in her book Food and Healing that complementary proteins provide a higher amount of useable protein than merely eating the two sources of protein separately.  For example, wheat with 30 grams of protein and beans with 70 grams of protein, when combined, makes 133 grams of useable protein, not the 100 grams if eaten separately.  Common examples of complementary proteins are rice-and-beans, lentil-and-barley, cous-cous-and-chick-peas, and fava-beans-and-millet.  The traditional proportion is one part beans to two parts grain.  These are great sources of protein if you are vegetarian or are trying to cut back on your consumption of animal protein.

Nuts are also a good plant-source of protein.  Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios, contain good fats in addition to protein, but because they are rather high in fat, they are also high in calories, so you may want to limit your consumption of nuts if you are watching your weight.

Another easy source of protein is isolated protein powder.  It is primarily available as soy and whey.  Either is good (unless you have an allergy to milk products; if so, you should avoid whey).  They both have a long shelf life and can be added to many foods that would not otherwise contain much protein.  For example, shakes and smoothies, soups, oatmeal, stew, flour to make pancakes, muffins and cookies, and cake mixes.

Protein Calculator

In order to calculate how much protein you are eating each day, follow this guideline:

– 4 oz. meat or 6 oz. fish (again, use the palm of your hand to determine this portion size) = approximately 30 g protein

– 3 oz. meat or 4.5 oz. fish = approximately 20 g protein

– 3.5 oz. hard cheese = 21-26 g protein

– 3.5 oz. cooked red beans = 7-8 g protein

– 3.5 oz. milk = 3.5 g protein

– 3.5 oz. cooked brown rice = 2.5 g protein

So start experimenting with your protein.  Vary the amount of protein.  Vary the kind of protein.  Analyze your diet, and make changes if needed.  It just might change your life!



Atkins, Robert C., M.D., Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution: The Amazing No Hunger Weight-Loss Plan That Has Helped Millions Lose Weight and Keep It Off; Avon Books, 1992.

Colbin, AnneMarie, Food and Healing: How what you eat determines your health, your well-being, and the quality of your life, Ballantine Books, 1986.

Lipman, Frank, M.D., Total Renewal: 7 Steps to Resilience, Vitality, & Long-Term Health; Penguin, 2003.

Rosenthal, Joshua, Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health & Happiness; Integrative Nutrition Publishing, 2008.

Sears, Barry, Ph. D., A Week in the Zone; Harper Torch, 2000.

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Two weeks ago, I posted on how you can figure out the right amount of food to eat. Simply speaking, it was about determining the correct amount of calories for you to reach your health and weight goals. That post was a follow-up to an earlier post on the importance of keeping a food diary. I hope you were able to experiment with your caloric intake, using your food diary, and that you were able to determine the right amount of food for you on a daily basis.

Different foodsThe next building block on your path to healthy eating and reaching your health and weight goals is this: determining the right kind of food. By this, I mean figuring out how carbohydrates, protein, fats, sugars, etc. make you feel.

Consider these examples:

One day, I made food choices that worked for me. For breakfast I had egg and cheese on an english muffin. I know that I need protein at every meal, or I am hungry about an hour later, so the egg and cheese sandwich fit the bill, and for 280 calories with protein, the sandwich was the “right” choice for me. About three hours later, I had a mid-morning snack of six medium-size strawberries, which was an excellent choice because I was planning to eat an early lunch around 11:30 a.m. I ate a sensible lunch of fish with mustard greens and sweet potatoes, which was approximately 400 calories, but was rich in protein and good fats, so it sustained me until around 4:00 p.m., when I needed a mid-afternoon snack. Then I ate a sensible dinner. All told, I came in with 1850 calories that day, never felt tired or hungry, and ate balanced meals and snacks.

The very next day was not a successful food day. I did well with breakfast, having an egg sandwich on whole wheat bread and then strawberries again for a snack. But I got lunch all wrong. I had a whole wheat wrap with only eggplant, tomato, and olive oil, and some cole slaw. Sounds healthy, but it was protein-deficient yet high in calories because of the fat in the oil (good fat, but still high in calories) and cole slaw.  An hour later, I was starving and went for a snack. Because I was famished and lacking energy due to my protein-deficient lunch, I ended up with a small piece of pecan pie for a quick-fix sugar rush! This was not the “right” choice for several reasons: one, it was loaded with calories and offered no nutritional value; second, it wasn’t sustaining because it was mostly sugar.  Ultimately, the pie compounded my problem since I had eaten, once again, high calorie/low protein foods that don’t sustain me for more than an hour or so. By my evening commute, I was sitting on the train, writing this article, and feeling very hungry even though I had consumed 1500 calories – before dinner! My target calorie consumption for that day, where the only exercise I got was the sprint to the train, was 1850 calories, so I had only 350 calories left for dinner. And I knew that was going to be difficult, not to mention disappointing and unfulfilling, given the state of my stomach (growl)!

Use these next two weeks to keep your food diary and experiment with the kinds of food that you are eating. Here is a Sample Food Diary Page.

See how they make you feel, whether they sustain you or leave you feeling drained, how long it is before you want to eat again, and what you want to eat at that time. Experimenting like this for two weeks will enable you to start taking control over your food and energy, rather than feeling at the mercy of your hunger.

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So how did you do with your food diary? I hope that you were able to learn something about what you eat, when you eat, why you eat (not just because you’re hungry, right?), and what you are doing well and where you could improve. Now that you are getting a grip on what you are eating, let’s talk a bit about how much you should be eating. This is the next step in any health and fitness goals supporting or sabatoged by food.

CaloriesThere is no magic quantity of food that is right for everyone.  While counting calories is not something that everyone will want to practice, it is the best, most straight-forward, and most accurate tool for determining the right quantity of food for each person.  The bad news is that it involves some math and actually counting every calorie that you consume. The good news is that you only need to do the math once, and you only need to count calories meticulously for about two weeks in order to gain a basic understanding of the amount of calories you need.  Plus, since our diets are generally repetitive, after a few weeks of counting, you will be able to accurately estimate the number of calories in most of your foods.

So how do you Estimate Your Caloric Needs?

Using the Harris-Benedict principle, you can estimate your BMR, or basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy that your body needs to function.  This number is influenced by the number of calories needed for basic bodily functions, and by height, weight, age, and gender.

Using this number, you can estimate your daily caloric needs in order to maintain your current weight.

Calculate your BMR

655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)

When I do this calculation, I get 1347.6 as my BMR.

Now Calculate Your Activity Number. 

If you are sedentary: BMR x 20 percent

If you are lightly active: BMR x 30 percent

If you are moderately active (exercise most days a week.): BMR x 40 percent

If you are very active (exercise intensely on a daily basis or for prolonged periods.): BMR x 50 percent

If you are extra active (hard labor or are in athletic training.): BMR x 60 percent

I do two calculations because some weeks and months I am lightly active and others I am moderately active.  My two numbers are 404.28 (1347.6 x 0.3) and 539.04 (1347.6 x 0.4).

Add this Activity Number to your BMR.  When I add these numbers to my BMR, I get approximately 1750 and 1885.

The result of this formula is the number of calories you can eat every day and maintain your current weight. If you want to lose weight, then you will need to either reduce your caloric intake, or burn more calories by exercising, or both. So, for me, based upon the Harris-Benedict calculation, in order to maintain my weight, I want to eat between 1750 and 1885 calories per day.

Of course, this is only one method of calculating caloric intake.  There are many online calculators as well.  For example, there is a great, and simple, online calculator at www.shapefit.com.  When I enter my information (gender, height, weight, age, activity level), I get 1995 per day for weeks that I am moderately active and 1725 per day for weeks that I am lightly active. I can average those out to approximately 1850 calories per day and try to stay within 150 calories on either side of that number.

There is a similar online calculator at www.NutritionData.com that gives me a number of approximately 2100 calories.  And another one at www.CalorieKing.com that calculates my daily caloric intake at 1625.

Then Experiment! With all these differing numbers, how do you know which number is the right one for me?  Experimentation.  I have to try out the varying amount of calories over the course of a few weeks and see how it makes me feel, and if I gain, lose, or maintain weight.  I have done this and know that if I eat 2100 calories per day, I gain weight, but if I only eat 1625 calories, I am hungry, tired, and lose weight.  Between 1750 and 1900 calories per day works for me as a maintenance diet.

Experimentation is what you need to do as well. Use the Harris-Benedict calculation or the online calculators as a guide on where to start in determining the right quantity of food on a daily basis for your body, metabolism, and lifestyle. Keep up your experiments for two weeks. Then we’ll discuss how the kinds of foods you eat can help you reach your goals without feeling deprived or hungry!

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