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Put Your Best Fork Forward
In A Nutshell: Your Nutrition Cheat Sheet
It’s pretty awesome that food and nutrition have become hot topics we hear about every day. With all of that news though, it becomes challenging (even for me!) to sort out the details, distinguish nutrition science from a passing fad, and not feel overwhelmed with all the possible changes you should have made (like yesterday?!). Here are 5 FAQs to help you sort it out and “put your best fork forward” during National Nutrition Month this March:
Q: If I want to improve my nutrition with a couple changes, what can I do?
A: Mindfulness. More veggies, less packaged foods.
Chowing down on your way to work or having lunch at your desk may seem super convenient with a go-go lifestyle, but this can be very distracted eating. When we pay attention and are mindful to our food while we eat (like thinking, "Mmm, this is a really great flavor combo"), we are creating an environment for healthy eating. This practice helps us become more in tune with our hunger and end up feeling very satisfied with our meal, snack, beverage, you name it. Simply by creating a moment to focus on your eating or at least when you take a bite (by not doing anything else), our mind-gut connection can process what’s going on and possibly prevent snacking/overeating later down the road.
On top of being mindful, challenge yourself to incorporate more vegetables into your day. It doesn’t have to be a huge shift, a little here and there can go a long way. Maybe that means sneaking some spinach on your pan as you sauté an egg or packing a snack that includes a veggie (hard boiled egg + veggie (avocado, tomato, carrots…). Start finding ways to get more vegetables in your day and less foods that require you to open a box/bag/wrapper.
Q: Are grains bad for me?
A: Not all grains are equal.
“Grain-free” is becoming a popular eating trend because it can often lead to weight-loss and possible digestive comfort from eliminating them. Does that mean they’re bad? Not at all. Grain-free eating really challenges people to get their food from other sources like fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat/fish, or dairy. It eliminates most store-bought baked items like cereals, cookies, and breads. Yep, that will definitely help you lose weight. However, there are some grains that can be a great source of fuel and fill your belly, without setting you back. Think, grains that are intact, minimally processed, and not filled with additives. Quinoa, millet, rice, farro, barley, and whole oats are all examples of these type of grains. Also, it is important to realize that grains are a dense source of carbohydrate. This doesn’t haven't to be a bad thing! By pairing grains (or any carbohydrate) with protein/good fats you can help your body better respond to the carbohydrate sugars in grains so to not elevate your blood sugar as much. Having a stable blood sugar helps to prevent the up and down energy crashes that can result from eating carbohydrates by themselves, which can lead to overeating and a loss of your hunger cues. So eating grains in moderation, balanced on your plate, and in a less processed form can be part of a healthy lifestyle!
Q: What’s the best diet?
A: There is none.
Of course I would say that! The best diet probably shouldn’t feel like a “diet” and more of a lifestyle, forever way of eating. What we do know is that a good diet is one full of plant-based, whole, nutrient-rich foods that are minimally processed. A good diet is filling your plate so that it is colorful with a variety of foods, while also eating the foods that mesh well with your body and energy needs.
(What's the best diet continued)
For example, just because Greek yogurt is deemed as a healthy food, doesn’t necessarily mean your body functions best when you eat it, perhaps you have an intolerance to the lactose sugar in dairy. Identifying foods that may be causing GI distress or any inflammatory response can help make your diet that much stronger. To find your way to your best diet try staying on the perimeter of the grocery store when you shop, buy foods that have identifiable ingredients, and listen to how your body responds to what you eat. If I had to mention an existing diet, I would say a good diet may mimic a combination of the Mediterranean diet mixed in with a bit of Paleo and Vegan too!
Q: Is counting calories important for weight loss?
A: Yes and no.
I don’t think counting calories is crucial for weight loss. In fact, it can be a crutch to really listening to your body’s hunger cues because your mind is trying to reach a certain number. Also, not all calories are metabolized the same inside your body. A 200 calorie candy bar will cause a series of events inside your body much different to eating 200 calories of almonds. However, I do think it can be helpful to have a rough understanding of many calories come in certain foods so you that you have a benchmark to measure and understand how dense a food may be in comparison to how hard you have to work to use or “burn” that number of calories. I think it is helpful to realize you have to work really hard on a spin bike for over half an hour to burn 200 calories. Knowing that may help you think a little bit differently when you are looking at a nutrition label and understanding how calories are used to fuel you.
Q: What should I eat around my workouts?
A: It depends on your goals, but I do encourage real food vs supplements.
Everyone’s body functions uniquely. And every workout is totally different. What works for one person, might not work for someone else. Carbohydrates are the best fuel for working muscles, and they also give that sense of energy for a workout. Incorporating natural sources of carbohydrates sometime before/after a workout is an option. So, if you were working out after breakfast let’s say, I would encourage you to have a little carb, maybe that looks like a ½ a banana or dried fruit. Eating carbohydrate alone though won’t leave you satiated or help you make it through your workout. Pairing that carbohydrate with protein to give you a more sustained energy is a great way to balance it. You can have this carb/protein ratio via a meal (around 1-2 hours before a workout) or through a snack closer to your workout. As for recovery nutrition, for the average workout of about an hour or less, a balanced meal will do just fine around an hour after the workout. If you don’t have a meal coming up, a balanced snack of protein and carbohydrate will also work. More protein/carb may be something to consider if you are doing something vigorous or training for something. Getting these nutrients through food that is already woven into your day (vs supplements) will help you get you what you need without worrying about any sugar or packaged additives that may be unnecessary for you.
Jessica Sol Ismert, RD, LDN
your neighborhood dietitian