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Calories, Carbs, Fats and Building Muscle from NYC Registered Dietitian

Balancing Your Diet for Maximum Efficiency

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Last blog, I discussed why protein is a critical component of strength training and how much somebody should have to maintain, and build, muscle.

There are other factors in the equation that many don’t pay attention to. Mostly, I think, because of the media and TV perpetuating the idea of hyper-protein diets in those who want to build muscle. Too much protein is not only not necessary (the majority of people I work with aren’t elite athletes who are competing in the Tour de France), but it is also unhealthy. Too much protein can cause many health problems including problems with our gut health, bad breath (ketosis), excess urination (to rid the body of ammonia, a by-product of protein metabolism), which is not good for the bones.

Like everything I discuss – from nutrition to movement – life is about balance.

Anybody who is active – everybody who walks the earth – needs sufficient calories, carbohydrates, and fats to build strength and function.

Muscle is harder to build, and maintain, as we age. After the age of 30, everybody begins to lose muscle. But with the right exercises, and right diet, we can maintain muscle and even build. Strength training is a critical piece of fitness, and everybody should work to build muscle at least twice/week. 

So, where do carbs, fats, and calories fit in this equation?

Carbs are critical for muscles. Again, the body is about balance. When we eat carbs (put down the donut!) – complex carbs, like whole-grain pastas and rice, quinoa, fruits and vegetables, pulses (like lentils, beans, and chickpeas ) – our muscles receive the necessary fuel they need to function. Yes, you use carbs to lift those weights not protein! Men and women who are strength training two times each week need at least half of their calories from carbs each day.  (Just a note: An hour before weight training, it’s a good idea to not eat too much of a high-fiber carb … for pretty obvious reasons.)

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Fats, too, are essential for the body to function well. Saturated fats (fats derived primarily from animal products but also coconut and palm oil) are fundamental in several body functions including the construction of cell membranes, organ padding, hormone production, immune function, and more. Unsaturated fats (like avocado, nuts, fish, the fats most common in the Mediterranean Diet), also build cell membranes, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and reduce inflammation. Fats should make up between 25 and 30% of your total calories each day. Steer clear of trans fats. Always!

And finally, we need to discuss calories.

A calorie is, simply put, a unit of energy. Each person’s caloric needs differ depending on their age, gender, size, activity level and metabolism. Basically, the body is a beautiful machine that uses only what it needs. Everything it doesn’t need gets used as energy or stored as fat. Too many calories cause weight gain. So, how much is too much? If you eat when you are hungry and stop when you start to feel full, you won’t eat too much. Yes, even if you only have 5 fries left and a bite of your burger, stop! Those extra calories add up over time and slowly increase your waistline. The more active you are, the more you’ll need. 

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Not all units of energy work alike. Every bite matters. If you fill your body with “empty” calories (fast foods, high-calorie coffee drinks that can cost you 1/3 of your caloric needs for one day), it puts into perspective what we’re putting on our plates, and in our bodies.  Choose your meals, and snacks, well!

Building muscle and strength training are critical to health – at any age. Fueling the body with the right balance of protein, carbs, fat, and calories is part of the equation.

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The Nutrition of Building Muscles from NYC Registered Dietitian

Strength Training, Protein, and Sports Nutrition

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There’s a growing popularity in strength training across the country – for every gender, ever age.

Strength is the new black.

Basically, strength training is the kind of exercise that uses resistance to build muscle mass, anaerobic endurance, and, in turn, strength. For top athletes, it’s critical to improve performance. But it’s not just for the elite. Strength training is one of the four pillars of a senior fitness program – to help prevent the loss of bone mass and density (and keep them independent). Everyone should participate in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice/week. And you don’t even need a gym! You can do squats, lunges, push-ups, crunches, planks and get a pull-up bar at home. Gardening, playing with kids, and carrying groceries are just a few everyday activities that build muscle.
Yoga Class

This begets the question: How strong should an individual be? There’s no right answer to the question, as it all depends on age, weight, gender, history of physical health, needs, ability and even interest level. To understand strength, professionals discuss the Strength-to-Weight Ratio (SWR). Utmost is a great blog to follow to understand more details about SWR, where athletes fall in on the spectrum, and what we should better understand about strength and building muscle.

As always, though, there’s a critical component to successful strength training that has nothing to do with the gym and everything to do with your kitchen. The nutrition of building muscles depends on getting the right number of calories, the right amount of protein, carbs, and fats. Building and maintaining strength, successfully, is an inside job as well. Today, I’m going to focus on proteins.

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Proteins provides the amino acids that our bodies need every single day. The amino acids provided by eating protein are imperative for almost all biological processes. While strength training, we create tiny micro-tears in our muscles. Our body uses the amino acids surround to and repair the tears. This process of breaking down and repairing makes the muscle bigger. A critical part of strength training and muscle building is getting enough protein.

Put down the Balboa-style breakfast of champions. The iconic scene of Rocky drinking a glass of raw eggs has inspired many a bodybuilder to chug the eggs. Ick.

Americans, on average, eat more protein than they need (in fact two times as much.). With the inundation of protein ads — shakes, bars, and powders – you’d think we were deprived. So how much is enough or too much?

To build muscle mass, the body needs its total protein intake to be between 10 and 35% of its total calories – preferably lean protein. Keeping muscle mass requires a lot less protein than building muscle mass. Let’s break down the numbers for a 2000 calorie/day diet.

  • To build muscles, 200 – 700 calories must come from protein (50 – 175 grams)
  • A sedentary adult needs .8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight – which translates to 60 grams of protein for an adult that weighs 165 pounds.
  • The middle-age muscle dive … Once we hit our 40s or 50s, we start losing muscle mass as we age. To help maintain muscle mass, you’ll want to increase protein intake to 1 gram per kilo of body weight.Chickpeas
  • What does this look like on the plate?
    • 3 ounces of skinless, baked chicken, lean ground beef, grilled salmon have 26, 22, and 21 grams of protein, respectively.
    • 1 cup of yogurt, ½ cup of cottage cheese, 1 cup of low-fat milk have 12, 14, and 8 grams, respectively.
    • ½ cup of cooked lentils, ½ cup of cooked black beans, 1 cup of cooked quinoa and 100 grams of firm tofu have 9, 7, 8 and 9 grams, respectively.
    • That egg? Has 6 grams!

So, for most adults, with the exception of high-performing athletes, those wanting to build muscle, vegans or those with specific dietary needs, choosing 6 servings from the protein foods listed above will provide sufficient protein. Most will never need supplements to build muscle.

Beware of portion distortion because a body is an amazing machine that will only use what it needs. The rest gets used as energy or stored as fat.

This is just a start. Next week, I’ll discuss the other nutritional needs for strength training – what our bodies need to build healthier muscles.

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5 Tips to Continue Healthy Eating Habits for Teens from New York Registered Dietitian

Support Healthy Eating in Teenage Years

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One day, we have happy, energetic kids who are ready to take on the world with sidewalk chalk and stuffed animals. The next, we have beings that eat all our food, want to huddle in their bedrooms with devices stuck in their ears, and roll their eyes at everything we say. What happens?

Teenagers happen.

The teenage years are tough (on everyone). And feeding teenagers can feel almost impossible. Here are some tips, though, to keep your teenager’s body healthy which, in turn, might help with everything else.

  1. Beware of diet fads. Teens are especially vulnerable to new diet trends they pick up from magazine racks and friends. I knew a friend’s daughter who once went on a tomato soup diet. Beware of disordered eating, look for the signs, and sit down and talk with your teens about their bodies and body-positive behaviors.

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  2. Social media beware! Teens are bombarded, daily, by social media influencers and so much negative, downright bad, information. It’s hard to counter all this misinformation with parental advice. A great way to steer teenagers in the right direction would be to provide them with accurate information from body positive influencers – talk to them in a language they understand. The Self Love Project,  Serena Williams, and Not Plant Based are just a few Instagram accounts that promote positive body behavior and ideas.
  3. Iron, calcium, folic acid and protein … oh my! Teens have those famous growth spurts and need a variety of nutrients to keep them healthy and strong.
    1. Iron is important for both boys and girls, though girls more after they begin menstruating. Good sources of iron include meat, fish, poultry, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
    2. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health. Low-fat milk, dairy foods, dark green vegetables, fortified juices and cereals are all great sources.
    3. Protein is essential for everyone. Proteins help maintain, repair, and rebuild healthy muscle and bone. The amount needed depends on a teen’s height and weight, activity level, and gender. On average, teenage boys need approximately 52 grams of protein each day, while girls need 46 grams. What does that look like?  A 3 oz. chicken breast, piece of meat, or fish has about 20 grams of protein – almost half of what teenagers need. It’s not hard to get enough! The key is focusing on lean meats. Other sources of complete proteins are eggs, milk, soybeans and quinoa. Try experimenting with vegetable-based proteins to change things up!

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  4. Beware of the lure of fast foods! The teenage years are notorious for kids falling into the fast food, soda trap. One fast food meal (a double cheeseburger, French fries, and a milkshake) is laden with sugar, sodium, hydrogenated fats, chemicals, and can have up to 2000 calories – all the calories needed in one day. Giving teens some simple tips to choose better food when going out – even when hitting some of those greasy-spoon joints – will help them stay healthier. Choose baked items over fried; avoid creamy dressings and bacon bits on salads; say “no” to supersizing; opt for water. Certainly we all go out for a favorite fast food treat once in a while. It shouldn’t be the norm.

    healthy.snack

  5. Make healthy eating a priority. Pack a healthy lunch the night before to avoid the “don’t have time” excuse. Make sure everybody is sitting down to eat a good breakfast. Taking time to eat as a family is the best way to model healthy eating behavior. So much is out of our control. Teenagers spend more time out of the house than in the house. Having a meal a day, together, is a great way to connect with our teens and get a gauge on eating habits.

Healthy eating habits don’t just “happen.” They are taught and learned from the time we’re born. Carrying those eating habits throughout the teenage years can be challenging, but with a solid base, teens will make good choices and be healthier!

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5 Nutrition and Exercise Tips for People with Fatty Liver Disease from NYC Registered Dietitian

A Common Health Problem Can Exacerbate Without the Right Care

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If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know I don’t even like to use the word “fat.” It carries a lot of baggage – more often unfounded than not. There is one thing, though, that is a red flag for health and many more Americans have it than they are probably aware: fatty liver disease. 

Many relate fatty liver disease to alcoholism. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), though, is the most chronic form of liver disease in the United States, affecting between 80 – 100 million people. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s the fastest growing liver disease in the Western World.  

In the most basic terms, NAFLD is characterized by having too much fat stored in liver cells. Something so seemingly basic can lead to heart disease. If left untreated, and in more serious cases, similar to alcoholic fatty liver disease, the liver can become inflamed followed by scarring and irreversible damage. It’s not something to take lightly. 

First of all, always consult with your health care provider. It’s essential to know the numbers. Those who are overweight or obese, have high triglycerides and/or cholesterol, have metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism, hypopituitarism, or Type II diabetes are most at risk. That said, with the right diet and exercise, those with NAFLD can stop the disease from progressing and, possibly, reverse NAFLD’s effects, which is of the utmost importance because there is no cure.

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What are you eating? Most of us aren’t aware of what we’re actually eating during the day. Start by doing a food log for five days. There are many apps to help you with this first stage of diet awareness. Once you have a clear idea of what you’re consuming, you can take the right steps to improve your health. These simple changes to your diet can make a big difference:

  1. Reduce sugars in your diet! 
    1. Read food labels and become label literate. So much of the sugars we consume are because we’re not aware of what we’re eating. Ingredients in food labels are listed from highest concentration to lowest. Watch out for words like fructose, sucrose, molasses, corn syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, barley malt, dextrin, dextrose etc.
    2. Good bye simple sugars!  Sugar has been on my watchdog list for many years now. By eliminating simple sugars from the diet, you’re giving your liver a break. So, it’s time to really cut back all those processed desserts.
    3. Reduce sugar intake on the whole. As well as cutting simple sugars, hopefully completely, from the diet, reduce sugars. This means, eating more vegetables than fruits. Restrict fruit intake to three cups/day. Be sugar-aware about your fruits. Berries and summer fruits are generally lower on sugar and give you the extra perk of high antioxidants. Beware of tropical fruits – in particular pineapple, mango, and bananas which are jammed packed with flavor and sugar.
  2. Cut back on alcohol.  And, when possible, cut it out of your diet completely.

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  3. Hydrate with water. For juice-lovers, it’s time to cut back and drink water. Lots of it. Juices are basically liquid sugar (even when they’re fresh). Store-bought juices can have the same amount of sugar as a Coca Cola. And great news for coffee and tea lovers! Drink three cups of coffee or tea each day. When our bodies intake caffeine, we make a chemical called paraxanthine that slows the growth of scar tissue involved in fibrosis. 
  4. Go Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). This means you want to amp up your complex carbs and restrict your fats intake. Replace saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 
  5. Get moving! Exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity which are all risk factors for NAFLD. So, get moving and get healthy!!

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Get tested. NAFLD can be a silent disease and many might not even have symptoms for it. Ask your doctor about your risk factors and connect with a registered dietitian to help you create a meal plan you can stick to. Awareness and education are half the battle. Being mindful of what you’re eating to make changes to your diet and exercise plan is the first step. Take charge of your health!

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10 Affordable Ways to Eat Healthy from New York Registered Dietitian

Cutting Ultra-Processed Foods out of Your Diet Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

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The last few blogs have been dedicated to how bad ultra-processed foods are for our bodies. Moreover, based on research, eating healthier comes with a higher price tag. It’s a double-whammy. 

But eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank. It simply takes a little more time and planning. Here are 10 affordable ways to eat healthy.

  1. Plan ahead. This is our fatal error when it comes to snacking. Mid-morning munchies creep up on us, and we have nothing but vending machines and convenience stores to go to. Worse yet, we go grocery shopping without a list while we’re hungry. The lure of the center aisles will suck us in! Pack a snack the night before. Take an inventory of fruits and vegetables, snack items, and make a grocery list. Don’t do last-minute shopping or snacking.

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  2. Slow down. Have you ever noticed we’re all in a hurry, all the time? The Slow Food Movement challenges the idea that everything has to be fast … and now. Returning to the slow pleasure of a good meal is a great way to avoid the heat-and-eat phenomenon we’re living today. 
  3. Make more. Sauces, soups, chili and stews – make more quantity and freeze for the next week. This saves time and energy!
  4. In-season fruits, vegetables, and seafood  are less expensive and more eco-friendly. Also, more variety in your diet provides your body with more needed nutrients.
  5. Waste less food by getting organized. Keep leftovers in clear Tupperware bins on a designated shelf. If there’s too much of one thing, freeze half of it (label and date it). Use food with a close expiration date first. When vegetables are getting older (broccoli and cauliflower, for instance), put them in a food processer and freeze them to add to sauces and soups later. Over 50% of all produce is thrown away in the United States (almost 60 million tons).
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  6. Re-invent the sandwich. Sandwiches have been given a bad rap. They can be, though, incredibly nourishing, healthy, and economical. Whole-grain bread, pita bread, tortillas and bagels are all good options for carbs. Roll a whole-grain tortilla with peanut butter and apples. Pile pita bread with roasted chicken, cheese, and greens. Include crunchy veggies, sprouts, and fruits on your sandwich for texture and an added punch of nutrients. Replace packaged ham with roasted chicken chunks.
  7. Replace packaged chips and crackers with delicious finger foods: cut up carrot sticks, jicama, celery, cherry tomatoes … all to dip in a yogurt sauce and/or homemade hummus.

    carrots broccoli

  8. Drink up! Forego the sweet stuff (which is costly and unhealthy) for a glass of water. Add lemon slices for a refreshing zing. Avoid bottled water – costly both on our budgets and the environment. Get your own water bottle and fill up. 
  9. Satisfy your sweet tooth and re-train your taste buds with these smart substitutions. 
    1. Replace ice cream with fruit salad.
    2. Cut the sugar in your baking recipes by a third.
    3. Go grainy – for waffles, French toast, and pancakes (or even with a big dose of pumpkin!)
    4. Bake favorite fall fruits with a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon, dollop with yogurt.
  10. Healthy eating has long-term benefits and savings. 
    1. The average cost of hypertension treatment for patients not covered by insurance is between $740 – $1,200 more per year.
    2. According to the American Diabetes Organization, those with diabetes have medical costs 2.3 times higher than those who do not.
    3. Chronic disease and cancer treatments are skyrocket high, including with insurance. According to the American Cancer Association, treatments add up to thousands of dollars each year.

We have to change our chip (pun intended … yes, groan!) for healthier eating options. Our future depends on it.

One of my favorite quotes is from Brian Andreas: “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” Make healthy eating one of those important things. 

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Deciphering Labels and What “Processed” Means from NYC Registered Dietitian

Understand What You’re Eating to Eat Healthier

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Last week I discussed two studies that proved ultra-processed foods can shorten a lifespan and make you gain weight. Over the years, convenience has been edging out nutritious choices. Convenience stores have popped up all over urban American, replacing supermarkets and Farmer’s markets, and the sugar industry pulled a doozy on us. Basically, we were misinformed for generations! Generations of people are paying hefty price for these lifestyle changes and bad information – our health.

So, let’s set the record straight on processed foods and unprocessed.

  1. Not all processed foods are bad. Processed simply means a food has changed from its natural state. Any processed food, then, has a label. Applesauce, for instance, is processed. Pasteurized milk, canned vegetables, feta cheese (unless you have a goat in your yard), are all processed foods.

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  2. Don’t believe them! I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe what the packaging is selling. This means we all have to become label literate. Reading nutrition labels is the first step to healthy choices. Ingredients are always listed from most predominant to least predominant. The more ingredients, the more processed. And once you start getting into unpronounceable ingredients, put the package down. It’s simply not healthy.
  3. Don’t be deceived. If you take a close look at the images from the NYT article, many meals look “healthy.” Turkey meatballs with marinara sauce, quesadillas, chicken salad sandwiches – all seem healthy. But understanding their origins, reading labels on the “heat-and-eat” packaging would tell a different story. Eating clean and ingredient awareness is key.
  4. What will the kids eat? Oh, the convenience of the kid’s menu … baskets filled with fried chicken and chips and a couple of limp carrot sticks. It’s time to retrain our taste buds, as families. Getting our kids to be adventurous with food starts with us. Trying new flavors and textures – instead of the go-to chicken basket – takes mindfulness and intention. And with summer, we’re in luck! What better time to kick bad habits than the season where fruits and vegetables abound? 
  5. Know your sugar names. Sugar has more aliases than Jason Bourne: brown sugar, corn syrup, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, syrup … oh my! The thing is, as Americans, we consume way too much sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six added teaspoons of sugar per day (for women) and 9 (for men). How does this translate on the food label? There are four grams of sugar per teaspoon. That means, women and men shouldn’t eat more than 24 grams/36 grams of sugar per day, respectively. What does this mean in our daily choices?

    mochaccino

  6. Beware of the beverage! It’s summertime, which has become synonymous with frappuccinos, mochaccinos, and sweet coffee drinks. If you’re not going black with chunks of ice, your body is in for a doozy of a sugar rush. Coffee drinks can have 2 ½ days worth of sugar for women if nothing else they eat has any added sugar. (Which is unlikely). 
  1. A Starbucks Bottled Mocha Frappuccino beverage has 31 grams of sugar. (7 grams over recommended DAILY consumption).
  2. A 16oz. vanilla Frappuccino has 67 grams of sugar (the light version has 39). 
  3. A bottle of chocolate milk has 26 grams of sugar.
  1. Visualize what you’re putting in your body. Sometimes numbers are hard to visualize. So, next time you eat or drink something with added sugars, add four teaspoons per gram in a glass or cup. Now, mix it with water and try to drink it. Yep. Try a sip of Coca Cola. You’ll see how the manufacturer alters the products so our taste buds can handle all that sugar. Your teeth will hurt doing it, but it’s a powerful, powerful way to visualize the sugar going into your body. 

Simply knowing what we’re eating will make a huge difference in how we shop, and what we choose to put on our plates and in our bodies. Educating ourselves is the first step to health.

 

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Prevent Weight Gain and Live Longer with This One Tip from NYC Registered Dietitian

Yes. It’s THAT Easy

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I feel a little like a snake oil salesman with that title, but it’s true. Just by making one significant change in your diet, you will live longer and prevent weight gain.

Ready?

Here it is: take those Frankenstein, ultra-processed foods off your grocery list and out of your diet. (We’ll get back to what this means in the next blog).

Now, you’re probably having a “no kidding” moment, but actually, what we’ve known intuitively for a long time has now been proven from some outstanding studies.

Harvard Health discusses a study by JAMA Internal Medicine which monitored the dietary habits of 45,000 adults 45 and older over a two-year period.

9 years later, “the researchers found a direct statistical connection between a higher intake of ultra-processed food and a higher risk of early death from all causes, especially cancers and cardiovascular disease.”

Moreover, it’s probable that these ultra-processed foods are key causes of weight gain. Again, dietitians, doctors, and nutrition experts have linked the obesity epidemic to highly processed foods for years. Foods with refined sugars and carbs and added fats can be addictive, causing people to overeat. But there was never a rigorous study to prove this … until now.

A New York Times health article discusses a study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism in which 20 weight-stable adults (10 men and 10 women) were put under the microscope. For 28 days, twenty adults received ultra-processed foods for 14 days and unprocessed diets for 14 days, to see how their bodies would react.  (The NYT article is fantastic, with images of meals, day-by-day).

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Interestingly, meals were matched by calories, macronutrients, sugar, sodium, and fiber. Subjects were instructed to eat however much, or little, as they wanted. Those who received the ultra-processed foods ate, on average, 500 more calories per day, with participants gaining and/or losing approximately two pounds, depending on the type of diet. 

Researchers also did the math. Eating an ultra-processed diet is less expensive. The unprocessed diet cost approximately $45.00 more, weekly, than the ultra-processed diet (about 40% more). (This adds up to over $2,300.00/year).

This is BIG NEWS. Ultra-processed foods put people on the road to weight gain and chronic disease. Period. But unprocessed diets are more expensive. The social, socio-economic, and medical implications are phenomenal.  There are a few basic things that local and national governments, the food and health industries need to address: 

  1. Access to affordable, healthy food options. Urban centers and even remote, rural areas are often considered “food deserts”.  This means that, geographically speaking, there’s no real access to affordable, healthy food options – particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. The Food Empowerment Project is fighting to change that and impact communities to provide them with this basic human right. There is an intrinsic elitism in healthy eating that must change.

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  2. School lunches gone wrong! Measures taken in 2010 in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act have been rolled back under the USDA Secretary, Sonny Perdue. The convenience trap of pizza with congealed cheese prevails and the childhood obesity epidemic is real – affecting mostly economically disadvantaged children.   Unfortunately, ultra-processed meals are big money for many.
  3. Nutrition literacy. As much as I love chemistry (it’s intrinsic in food science!) and Shakespeare, schools are missing a huge opportunity when they don’t teach nutrition literacy. Nutrition literacy is key to healthy living. It includes everything from learning how to read food labels, learning how to grocery shop, learning about urban gardens, making healthy snack choices, eating healthy on a budget. These are essential life skills. Any significant nationwide diet change can’t be made without accompanying education.

We’ve got a big task ahead of us, but it’s exciting. 

In the next blog, I’ll share how to avoid the Frankenstein food trap and how to make better choices. For now, next time you’re ready to grab that bag of chips, take pause. 

6 Tips to Bring the Mediterranean to Your Table

Get in the Mediterranean Mindset 

Mediterranean Foods

There are food and exercise celebrations every month of the year. And May is no exception. May is National Asparagus Month, National Barbecue Month, National Chocolate Custard Month, National Egg Month, and National Gazpacho Aficionado Month (Yes. This is a thing). 

I like this. In a world so focused on the negative, it’s fun to celebrate flavors and tastes. May also happens to be Mediterranean diet month!

When you think about the Mediterranean, it’s possible you dream about white-washed houses set against a deep-blue sea, sandy beaches, and Mamma Mia. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I think about Kalmata olives, feta cheese, fresh herbs, and olive oil drizzled over think slabs of multi-grain bread. 

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This month, celebrate your health and go to the Mediterranean … in your grocery store. (And, you don’t have to break the bank to do so!)

  1. Bring on the olive oil. Drizzle olive oil on toast. Use it to sautee your vegetables. Olive oil is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s the Mediterranean version of vibranium. Its beneficial properties include reducing the risk of cancer, Type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. It’s also got a hand in lowering blood cholesterol and pressure. 
    1. Check origin. The label might say Greek Island olive oil when it’s really from New Jersey. On the bottom of the bottle, look for origin.
    2. Check harvest date. Olive oil would not survive Spam. It will last, maximum, two years. But only in ideal conditions.
    3. Check the seal of approval. Knock-offs abound! You want olive oil that has been approved by an association (eg California Olive Oil Council).
    4. Avoid free fatty acids and look for high polyphenol content. If the fatty acids are not listed on the bottle, don’t buy it.
    5. The price depends on the use. Purchase extra-virgin for dressings and dipping and cheaper oil for cooking.
  2. Go nuts and clear out crackers and chips. Almonds, cashews, walnuts and Brazil nuts are chock-full of good fats – great for your brain. Nuts are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (which lower your bad cholesterol). They’re full of fiber, protein, and necessary nutrients.

    mediterranean proteins

  3. Change up your proteins. Cut back on red meat. Replace steak with grilled fish. Shredded beef with fish tacos. Use beans and lentils in your soups and sauces. The Mediterranean diet is surprisingly low in red meat. 
  4. Replace simple carbs (like white rice and pasta) with whole grains. Whole grain breads and crackers, pastas and rice, quinoa, chia, fruits and vegetables are complex carbohydrates that feed our brains, cells, and give us the energy we need. Don’t erase carbs from your diet, no matter what diet craze says you should.
  5. Pile your plate … with fruits and vegetables. Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption. Make fruit your go-to choice for snacks and dessert. Add vegetables to everything (meatloaf, spaghetti sauces and more). Find ways to sneak fruits and vegetables into every meal, every snack.
  6. Get in a Mediterranean mindset. Enjoy the flavors, the meal. Be mindful of what you’re eating. Involve family and friends in shopping and preparation. Make meals matter. Find space to sit and eat and share and enjoy and celebrate together, whether it’s a picnic lunch at the park or a full-blown Sunday family meal. And if you dine alone, enjoy the time, the food, and the ritual of sitting down to a lovely meal. How we eat is just as important as what we eat.

In a month of food celebrations, go Mediterranean! Treat yourself, and your health, to a seaside diet that includes incredible flavors and nutrients.

Fathers Day

10 Tips to Get Moving and Get Heart Healthy from NYC Registered Personal Trainer

Weight is Not Always an Indicator of Health

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Do not be deceived! A healthy weight combined with unhealthy activity levels (meaning a sedentary lifestyle), might keep you at risk. A recent Harvard Health article, discusses the weight deception – how people think that if they’re at the “normal weight,” they’re not necessarily in the clear for heart problems. In fact, about 30% of normal-weight people were just as at risk for heart disease and heart problems as their overweight counterparts, simply because they weren’t getting enough exercise.

The focus on exercise in this country oftentimes is on losing weight and weight in general, but a healthy weight isn’t an indicator, necessarily, of a healthy body. There are healthy bodies at every size. 

So, what do we need?

Doctors recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week for adults, and 60 minutes/day for young people ages 6 – 17. 

How do we cram so much exercise into an already jam-packed week?

150 minutes isn’t all that much. It’s 22 minutes/day. And consider the average child spends approximately 7.5 hours each day in front of a screen – watching TV, surfing the Web, or playing video games. Finding time to move is more important now than ever.

To celebrate National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, I’m going to give you 10 tips to help you increase your physical activity so you can get out and #MoveInMay. By developing some healthy habits, get moving, get heart healthy. 

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  1. Fall in love with movement. Everybody has something they love to do. Find yours!
  2. Take the stairs. Yes. Always, always, always.
  3. Can you walk or ride a bike? Do it. Our knee-jerk reaction in the States is to hop in the car. Re-program your brain to think muscle-powered first.
  4. Get off the bus early. Get off one or two stops before your destination and speed walk the rest of the way.

    Fathers Day

  5. Make it a family affair. Take after-dinner walks. Play Frisbee, baseball, or tag in the park. Create a family step-challenge, tracking steps during the day. There are so many ways to involve the family and develop healthier habits.  
  6. Think outside the house. Join a weekend hiking club. Take dance classes. Sign up for swimming lessons. Get involved with the local YMCA. 
  7. Replace coffee time with a walk. Instead of meeting friends at a coffee shop, go for a walk together. 
  8. Talk to schools. For some reason sports and the arts are getting cut in many school districts. Stand up for your kids’ right to stand up and move. Physical activity reduces depression, improves cognitive function, and makes for healthier, smarter kids.
  9. At the office convince your human resources department to look for ways to work with local sporting goods stores, gyms, and indoor pools. 
  10. Hold yourself accountable for the exercise goals you make. Tell someone. Write them down. Make sure you’re reaching goals you set for yourself. 

Developing habits that include daily physical activity will positively impact your health, brain, and quality of life. #MoveInMay and the rest of the year!

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NYC Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer Discusses Being Under the Influence

Big Concerns About Social Media Influencers Providing Bad Weight Management Information

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Follower beware!

Ten years ago, we couldn’t have imagined the power of social media. Now, we know social media can influence everything from election outcomes to how we raise our kids. Google has over 130 trillion websites. Facebook has over 2.3 billion users, Instagram 1 bn users, and the beast just keeps growing. The buzz word now is influencer. Charisma, likeability, and popularity have replaced credibility. 

With hundreds of thousands of followers, top social media influencers are providing really bad weight management information. Weight loss is a billion-dollar industry. Before, profits were relegated to trendy diets, books, gym memberships. Now weight-obsessed celebrities and unqualified “nutritionists”  are cashing in via blogs, YouTube, and Instagram. Bad advice is just a click away. Before and after pics abound with meticulous documentation of weight loss tactics.

Followers who adhere to this bad advice – much of it is not only bad but downright dangerous – are paying a pretty hefty toll. Their health.  So, how do we know who to trust? I’ve created a litmus test on how to determine whose advice to follow.

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  1. What are their credentials? Would you sky-dive with somebody who’s never done it before but just watched a lot of videos and had one successful diving experience? Ask yourself, then, why you’d put your health in the hands of someone without the right credentials. What to look for:
    1. Nutritionist is a non-accredited title. Basically, “anybody” can be a nutritionist. Look for “registered nutritionist”. Ask about coursework and accredited qualifications. Anybody can slap “nutritionist” on their name after a six-week online course.
    2. A registered dietitian is a nutrition and food specialist with a bachelor’s degree who is licensed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not vice-versa.
  2. Check sources. Is nutrition advice backed by credible sources? Some solid ones to look for are Nutrition Action, Harvard Health, peer-reviewed nutrition journals including American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Annual Review of Nutrition among others. Popular magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and Women’s Health are not places to get solid information about nutrition unless said articles are backed by sources mentioned above. Hold your influencers to a high standard. Sloppy research = sloppy advice.
  3. No Diet IconIs the focus weight loss? Diet fads and focusing on weight loss is simply bad nutrition advice. You all know how I feel about “diets”. Any good advice will focus on building a healthy relationship with your body and food.
  4. What is their bias? Kim Kardashian purportedly gets $500,000.00 US for any kind of product push on her social media accounts. Which products are influencers pushing? Why? Weight watchers? The Keto Craze? Detox teas? Juice cleanses? Shakes? What’s their agenda? They’re not just flashing brands because they really love them. They get paid A LOT to endorse products. Remember The Truman Show? Got it? Again, follower beware. 
  5. No skipping meals, cheat days or the famous 52. Our bodies need fuel. Our brains need fuel. As soon as someone brags about cleansing for a week to fit in a dress or indulging in a “cheat meal” … that’s a red flag. Unfollow! Not only are they not smart (buy a bigger dress!), they’re spreading dangerous ideas and body hate. Influencers should be building people up, not tearing themselves (and others) down.
  6. Beware of “onesize-fits-all” advice. It’s simply bad. Everybody’s body is different. Everybody’s needs are different. Not one thing works for everybody. If so, this wouldn’t be a billion-dollar industry.
  7. Do not follow any celebrity weight-loss advice. None. Zero. Zip. Period. (Unless, of course, they are your personal registered dietitian, have done an individualized evaluation for you, and created a nutrition and exercise plan based on your individual needs.)

When our kids are sick, we don’t scour Instagram for advice. Why, then, have we left the most important thing in the hands of others that simply are not qualified – our health? Always consult with your healthcare professional before diving into any radical nutritional and/or exercise changes. Your health depends on it.