The Way to the Heart? 20 Ways to Show Love (that Don't Involve Food)

Is there such a thing as a Grinch for Valentine’s Day? 

I’m kind of meh on it. I think we put way too much pressure on ourselves to make magnificent demonstrations of affection for one day, when really we should just try a little harder to show love every day. 

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And putting on my dietitian hat, I think the holiday revolves way too much around food. I love chocolate as much as the next girl, but how did eating cookies larger than our heads become a symbol for romance? 

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Anyway. Before you think I’m a hater of love (or a big ol' grump), let me clarify. 

  1. If both you and  your partner love covering your house in rose petals and chocolate fondue, then please enjoy it! You do you!! Don't let my irritability bring you down.
  2. I think it’s adorable when my kids come home from school with little handmade Valentines (duh). 
  3. I absolutely do my best to make the day special for my loved ones, many of whom do look forward to Valentine’s Day. I just try to find ways that aren’t 100% food-related, and I try to spread the love throughout the year. 

To that end, here are 20 ways to show the love on Valentine’s Day (and every day!) that don’t involve food. And stay tuned for a followup post about healthier indulgence on V-Day. 

For your Kids: 

  1. Give the gift of time. Volunteer at your kid’s classroom Valentine's party, or spend some time partaking in your kid’s favorite hobby with her.
  2. “Sometimes, when you least expect it, love finds you.” Have you ever read Love Monster? Gets me right in the feels, EVERY TIME. Pick up a sweet book about love for your little one. We also love Hug Machine in our house. 
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3. Stick a little note in your kid’s lunch box or snack bag.
4. Smile when they walk into a room.
5. Pay them compliments!
6. Say yes! How many times do we say no with no good reason (totally guilty of this one)?
7. How cute are these little love letter necklaces? I found them at ArtMart, but they're available on Amazon as well. My kids are younger, but they love tiny things and mail so these are just perfect. 
 

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For Your Partner:

  1. Plant a big kiss on your partner the second he/she walks in the door. Bonus points if you gross your kids out—it’s good for them to see you being affectionate. 
  2. Does sleep come at a premium in your house? Take the early shift. Don’t complain or make a big show of yawning all day.
  3. Do a job your partner hates, like the laundry (remember, bras and sweaters don’t go in the dryer ;)). 
  4. Snowy or icy? Wake up early and scrape your partner’s windshield. 
  5. GIVE YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION! I am very guilty of this myself. Put the phone down, close the computer, and really hear what your partner is saying.

For a Friend: 

  1. Send a letter via snail mail. 
  2. Call, just because! 
  3. Take a few minutes to write dates important to your friend (like the date of a test, or a job interview) in your planner. This will make it easier to check in and send love and well-wishes when your friend needs them most. 

For the World: 

  1. Pick up litter when you see it. 
  2. Be extra kind to someone who is extra grumpy (especially when it’s hard). 
  3. Walk down the street with spare change, and feed parking meters that are expired (my kids loved this when we did it once). 
  4. Smile. Say please. Say thank you.
  5. Pay a compliment! 

Whether you get down on V-Day or just aren't feeling it, I hope all of your days are filled with love. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Holidays: Kid-Tested, RD-Approved Holiday Gifts

When I was a young kid, I dreamed of becoming an aerobics instructor. I idolized Jane Fonda, tagged along with my mom to Jazzercise each week, and begged for Get in Shape Girl sets each birthday and Christmas (which, in my case, are one and the same!). 

 Children of the '80s: Any other GISG fans? 

Children of the '80s: Any other GISG fans? 

Get In Shape Girl lost its appeal to me around, I dunno, adolescence. But in recent years, my love for fitness-related gifts has been rekindled! 

Now that my kids are a little older, I absolutely love giving them gifts that get them off their cute lil’ butts, and sometimes even into the kitchen. Some of these gifts have been so well-received that I've given them to other little ones in our life. 

In the spirit of the holidays, I'll share my secrets  ;). Here are 7 RD-approved suggestions for wellness-related gifts for young kids (think 10 and under). 

1. Organic Cotton Teethers Veggie Crate
$36, Uncommon Goods

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Send the message early on that veggies are fun to eat with this adorable teething set! Babies will love the smiling faces and the bright colors. Caregivers will love that these teethers are soft, easy to grip, and machine washable.

Fresh Organic Fruit Basket ($36) also available. 

2. Lettuce Turnip the Beet Shirt/Onesie
$21.95 and up, Etsy.com

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Let your babes proclaim their love of veggies to the world! From my experience, people love starting up conversations about this darling onesie (which is also available in older kid and adult sizes, if your kids aren’t mortified by the prospect of dressing like their parents yet).

3. LeapFrog LeapBand
$44.99, Amazon

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Santa has brought each of our three kiddos a LeapBand over the years. The kids love it because it encourages silliness and creativity, using animal movement challenges and other fun games. I love it because its customizable controls allow parents to limit access during school and at bedtime. Parents can also set daily usage limits. 

4. Little Partners Learning Tower
$159.99 and up, Amazon
 

 MaeMae, using her Learning Tower to make "Carrots a la MaeMae"

MaeMae, using her Learning Tower to make "Carrots a la MaeMae"

Yes, it's expensive. But this tower is a workhorse. We bought this more than 6 years ago and it's still going strong. Our kids started using this as young toddlers for water play at the sink (which is fantastic when you have a busy little one and need to get dinner on the table). But it's still useful for older kids. Our 5-year-old can't quite reach the stove and countertop safely when cooking, and this tower provides just enough of a  boost. 

5. NoCry Cut Resistant Gloves for Kids
$10.99, Amazon

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Do you know what's terrifying for a mother? Letting kids play with knives! The best protection against cuts and kitchen accidents is teaching proper knife technique. But these gloves offer some extra reassurance that precious little digits will be safe. They're a great stocking stuffer for kids who've graduated to adult knives.

6. Curious Chef 3-Piece Nylon Knife Set
$8.91, Amazon

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Let's just say you don't yet trust your kids with grown-up knives (even with cut gloves). This set teaches knife skills in a safe and age-appropriate way. My son started using these just before his second birthday, and he happily sits at the table (or stands on his Learning Tower!) with fruits, vegetables, herbs, and cheese so he can help make dinner. Full disclosure: They're not great for crunchier foods, like carrots. Think cucumbers, berries, bell peppers, peaches, etc.

7. Teeter Popper
Fat Brain Toys, $36.95

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Have you ever coveted your kids' toys? I secretly get kind of jealous when I see my kids play with their Teeter Poppers. They just look so fun! Younger kids can sit and rock in their poppers, while older ones can stand and twist. In the process, the kiddos build up balance, as well as core and leg strength. 

What about you? Have you found any awesome wellness-related kid gifts this season? 

Monday Must-Haves

Hey friends! It's been a while!

Lots of good stuff going on over here lately. I haven't written much on the blog because, well, I've been busy writing for other people!

When I started dietetics school, I always said I wanted to split my time doing PRN work (which is fancy medical speak for "as needed") at the hospital, plus writing. I've reached that spot in my career and I'm really enjoying it! It's definitely been a balancing act as I figure out how to manage my random hospital shifts with writing projects and home responsibilities, but it's well worth the effort. 

At any rate, I've been on a tear recently of finding new products/services that I love. Isn't it the best when that happens? It'd be selfish of me not to share my findings, right? 

So today I'm going to share a few of my new favorite health and fitness-related things. Without further adieu...

1. Ozuke Citrus and Ginger Kraut

I've never been a huge sauerkraut person, but I get such wicked cravings for this stuff. Seriously, I'd worry I was pregnant if I didn't know better.

 

This kraut has a tangy, light, and fresh flavor and is seriously filling. But the benefits extend beyond taste.

Like all true krauts, it's a fermented food. Fermentation encourages the growth of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria. Among other perks, kraut and other fermented foods promote healthy digestion.  

Just based on taste, I could eat an entire jar. But one serving (1/3 cup) does the trick for me at only 10 calories! I love to snack on it if I need a little somethin' somethin' to hold me over until dinner. 

I've also used it as a topping for street tacos or as a side dish for Asian-inspired meals. 

Ozuke offers krauts in several other flavors, but to be honest, I've been so stuck on this one I haven't tried the rest. 

2. PLNK

Crossfit will always be my first love. But I do enjoy mixing it up every now and again. 

Recently, I dropped into PLNK on a whim. PLNK teaches the Lagree Method, which involves 50 minutes of painfully slow movements on this death machine:

 

 If you're not familiar, it's become quite popular among celebrities.

I cruised into PLNK on my first day feeling pretty confident. I'm not crazy athletic, but I have a respectably heavy deadlift and have completed a few Spartans. 

I'm not exaggerating one bit when I say I almost cried 3 minutes into my first class.

It. Was. AWFUL!

And I'm completely hooked. I've been going twice a week since that first day and love love love what it's doing for my body (especially my mom belly). 

More importantly, I truly believe it's helping me with my other fitness pursuits. Since starting PLNK, I've made progress on several Crossfit moves that have always given me trouble. It's so different from anything else I normally do, and I think it's a great complement to other sports. 

While PLNK is exclusive to St. Louis, Lagree classes are available nationwide. Click here to find one near you. 

3. Flavor God Ranch Seasoning

I have a probably irrational fear of most packaged seasoning mixes. 

For some reason, some of the most popular taco and ranch packets gross me out. What is some of that stuff on the ingredients list? 

I've been pretty vocal about my love for King Seasoning. It's a great all-natural alternative to taco seasoning mix. 

Recently, I added Flavor God to my seasoning arsenal. 

Flavor God Ranch includes just 8 natural ingredients and tastes pretty baller (just as good as big-name Ranch seasoning). I love it on popcorn or mixed into my Buffalo chicken. It also plays nicely with King Seasoning. 

As is the case with most packaged seasoning blends, sodium can creep up on you a bit if you eat this in copious amounts. But it packs a huge flavor punch, so a little goes a long way. 

4. Daily Harvest Carrot + Chia Glow Smoothie

Are my kids the only ones who go on serious breakfast strikes? 

Some days, they scarf down a couple of eggs apiece. And others, it's like pulling teeth to get them to eat at all. 

A few days ago, I hesitantly shared a few sips of my favorite Daily Harvest smoothie with the kiddos (because 2-year-old Calvin reminded me, "Sharing is caring and caring is love."). They went crazy for it. 

And really, what's not to like about that? Daily Harvest makes it pretty easy to serve a healthy breakfast on days when I just can't even. 

If you're not familiar with Daily Harvest, they bring conveniently packaged soups and smoothies to your doorstep. You simply pop the lid, add a liquid (almond milk is my favorite for the carrot+chia), throw it all in the blender and give it a few seconds. Easy peasy. 

The carrot+chia tastes like a delicious pumpkin pie/carrot cake hybrid. Ingredients include banana, sweet potato, carrot, walnut, ginger, chia, date, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. 

Each package makes 2 servings, so I'll often divide a serving or so among my kiddos and then add a little protein powder to the blender for myself. This makes a healthy and satisfying breakfast that keeps me full for several hours. 

5. Insight Timer

If you've been following my blog (hi mom), you know that mindfulness is kind of a big deal for me. 

There are so many awesome health benefits to incorporating daily mindfulness practice into your lifestyle. From a nutrition standpoint, it can help you control weight and avoid stress and emotional eating. And in general, it's associated with lower risk for many common diseases. 

But sometimes, I'll admit, it's hard to fit it in the day. 

Recently, the teachers at my kids' school (we have free weekly mindfulness lessons after school--how cool is that?) introduced a group of us to an app that helps make mindfulness meditation easy. 

Insight Timer is free and offers a huge variety of guided meditations, ranging from just a couple of minutes to half an hour or more. It is highly effective in bringing about a state of relaxed clarity.

Lately, when I feel crazy busy and have a to-do list a mile long, I make an effort to stop the panic and do a short meditation instead. This is really helping me to manage my stress and be more productive throughout the day. 

What am I missing, friends? Any great new health or fitness finds you've come across recently? Sharing is caring, I'm told. 

4 Lessons You Can Learn from Your Dainty Lil' Eater

One of the most common questions I hear when people learn that I am both a mom and a dietitian is, “Should I worry that my kid doesn’t eat very much?”

Friends, I have been there.

It can be scary when a little one develops a dainty appetite. You worry about her growth, and (if you tend a bit toward extremes, like me) whether there may be some illness keeping her from eating.

Sometimes, these concerns are very valid (see below). But most of the time, this is a normal phenomenon in otherwise healthy kids.

In fact, we could even learn a couple of things from our children about how to eat.

Let’s talk about that for a bit! And for you parents that are a little nervous about your child’s small appetite, I’ll give you some behaviors to watch out for and nip in the bud.

So if you know my family well, you know that my firstborn is my picky eater. She’s made tremendous strides in the past year or so, but I used to be terrified that she would starve to death.

Girlfriend just would. Not. EAT! I should say, she would eat like a bird once we transitioned to solids. As you can see, she was a very enthusiastic breastfeeder.

 My pickiest eater--the early days.

My pickiest eater--the early days.

I raised this concern with my pediatrician at little bit’s 2-year checkup (this was at the very beginning of dietetics school, before I learned all this stuff). He gave me some excellent advice:

“It’s not a big deal if she eats. It’s also not a big deal if she doesn’t eat.”

My initial reaction was, “WTF?!? How can it not be a big deal if she doesn’t eat?”

Then it dawned on me. She will eat when she is hungry.

When you think about it, babies are some of the most intuitive, mindful eaters out there. For the most part, they will let you know when they are hungry and will eat just enough to satisfy that hunger.

If you’ve ever had babies, you know that they tend to eat every 20 minutes during growth spurts.

Similarly, even my dainty eater sometimes goes through times when I am sure she is going to eat us out of house and home. Then two weeks later, all of her pants are too short.

My point is, some kids are more attuned to their natural hunger cues than adults.

So what can we learn about eating from those smart little cookies?

1.         Stop eating when you are no longer hungry.
Did you grow up in a household in which you were encouraged to clean your plate? This mentality sends the message that one should eat beyond the point of satiety (which means satisfaction, by the way).

I recently noticed that my 4-year-old will eat a few bites and they tell me she’s not hungry.

This is what you want to watch out for as well! Rather than eating to the point of fullness, eat until you no longer feel hungry.

This is a skill that takes a lot of practice. You may find that it’s easier to undershoot and have to eat a little bit more later. That’s okay—it’s worth it! It is a mindful eating practice that leads to better physical health, as well as a better emotional relationship with food down the road.

2.         Eat on kid plates.
Still having trouble quitting Clean Plate Club? Steal your kids’ plates!

A often-cited study of plate size showed that people eating cereal out of larger bowls ate 16% more cereal than those who ate out of smaller bowls. Disturbingly, the large bowl group believed they were eating less than the small bowl group.

I get it--it feels more satisfying to eat off a full plate.

The authors of the above study had a suggestion I love (but some kids might not)—serve your veggies on large plates! We could all stand to eat more of those.

3.         Slow down.
Admittedly, I get frustrated when we are in a hurry to get somewhere and my kids are taking FOREVER to eat their breakfast.

Guess what—they are doing it right!

Receptors in the stomach communicate with the brain when the stomach is stretched. In turn, the brain releases hormones that signal satiety and fullness. This process takes time!

If you tend to overeat and have kids that dilly dally, try to match their pace for a meal or two. This may mean getting up a bit sooner or having dinner on the table earlier.

For many, it also means you are more likely to share family meals, which is a healthy eating practice itself!

4.         Stay busy.
Have you ever been en route to a party and told your kiddo, “You need to eat lunch before you play!”?

Yep, guilty.

One of the reasons why mindful eating can be so difficult is that we place so much emotional value on food!

We save ourselves from being outcasts at parties by migrating toward the buffet. The party MVP is always the one who brings the best dip. Heck, we plan entire holidays around food!

Take a cue from your kid. Find something else to do. If you are at a social engagement, see if you can help with something. If you are at home, play with your kids or tackle a small project you’ve been putting off.

It could save you from eating when you aren’t truly hungry.

See how your kids may be outsmarting you in the eating department (in a good way)?

Now, sometimes parents have legitimate reasons to be concerned about how much their child is eating.

While this post has focused on healthy kids that are dainty eaters, there are many who do not follow this pattern. Hopefully, it goes without saying that regular checkups allow your doctor to keep an eye on any eating changes she (or you) finds concerning. 

That said, here are some behaviors that warrant a call to the pediatrician:

1.         Low appetite in an underweight child.
I can definitely appreciate your concern if your kid has a small appetite and your doctor (as opposed to a nosey auntie) has indicated he is underweight for age and height!  

Once your pediatrician rules out any underlying health issues, she may refer you to a dietitian to suggest some more energy-dense (but still healthy) foods to move toward a healthier body weight. This might help your child to increase calories while taking in the amount of food he desires.

2.         Excessive weight gain.
While this post has highlighted some of the potential benefits of a seemingly low appetite, some kiddos do tend to overeat.

If your child has a very healthy appetite and is overweight (or seems to be gaining significant weight), it is definitely worth mentioning to a doctor. She can monitor growth, and she or a dietitian can help your family to make a plan to prevent further gain.

3.         Concerns about body image.
It makes me so sad to hear children of any age express concerns about “being fat.”

In both my dietetics education and my previous career in nutrition community outreach, I have been surprised by the prevalence of low body image in kids of all age.

If your child isn’t eating much and is also making concerning comments about her body, PLEASE seek help from your pediatrician. It is very important to address these concerns as early as possible.

4.         Low appetite with other physical symptoms.
Finally, if your kiddo isn’t eating much and has a fever, complains of aches or pains, seems tired or lethargic, or just isn’t himself, definitely give your doctor a ring! He may have an infection or virus that needs attention.

What do you think, parents? Have you ever picked up on some clever eating behaviors from your kids?

P.S. Stay tuned for an upcoming post, in which I turn the tables and discuss what your kids should be learning about healthy eating from YOU (or, as Missy Elliott once said, “I put my thang down, flip it, and reverse it.”)

Gold Medal Finds: Four Items that Help My Family to Eat Healthier

What is it about the Olympics that makes a person just want to go out and rule the world? 

Sure, the ripped bodies and awe-inspiring performances are sights to behold. But I think the athletes’ stories are incredible. As I get older, I am especially inspired by some of the mature athletes. 

How about Ruth Beitia, the 37-year-old high jump champion from Spain, who also serves as a politician?

Or how about freakin’ Kerri Walsh Jennings, the 38-year-old beach volleyball phenom and mom of 3? Kerri Walsh Jennings won gold in London while 5 weeks pregnant and brought home the bronze last week in Rio. 

My point is, if watching the Olympics for two straight weeks doesn’t inspire you to live your best and healthiest life, then I don’t know what will. 

Case in point: Last week, I completed my second Spartan Super race (recap coming this week!), and after a long hiatus from road racing, I've decided to do a half marathon in October. And while I'm generally a very healthy eater, I've noticed that I have cleaned up my diet even further during the Summer games. 

For those who don't get the itch to go out and sprint after watching the track finals, or for those who want to carry the torch of healthy living long after the Games, I do have a few suggestions for items to make your life a little healthier!  

Lately, I’ve come across a few items that I am really digging, and that help my family and me to be healthier eaters. Please note that these are not official endorsements—I get nothing in return for spreading my love of these miraculous creations. I just think it would be selfish to not share my favorite, RDN-approved products and events. 

Without further adieu (queue the Olympic theme song):

1. The Yeti 30-ounce Rambler
Am I the only one who is a sucker for a cool drinking container? Yeti's super-cool branding strategy lured me into dropping $40 for one cup on a late night Amazon sesh. You know what? It is worth every penny. 

Last weekend, I left my Yeti full of iced water in a very hot car for more than 5 hours while I completed my Spartan and hung out on the grounds. I came back to--wait for it--a cup full of iced water. The ice had barely melted! And this was no fluke--the Yeti has gotten me through a sweltering STL summer, including 4 Crossfit workouts a week in a gym with no air conditioning. 

And I don't know if it is its amazing insulation or just the fact that it looks cool (especially since I started hitting it with my awesome sticker collection), but I drink a LOT more water with it in my life. To me, that is a win. 

2. Marguerite's All Natural Mexican Seasoning
Eleven years ago, when I first started on my weight loss journey, I really struggled with some of the recipes I tried to cook. I am a Midwestern girl, and our cuisine is heavy on the cream-of-whatever soup casseroles with heavy sprinkles of cheese on top (my mouth waters just thinking about them). I made the rookie mistake of trying to recreate these dishes, only to be sadly disappointed by lack of taste and satiety. 

A couple of years into my new lifestyle, I realized that simply prepared fresh foods are the way to go. Much better to eat a small portion of a quality meat with some in-season produce, in my opinion, than to try to trick your tastebuds with ingredient substitutions. 

The key to making these more simple preparations more exciting is seasoning. With a few spices, you can transform meats, vegetables, and grains into flavorful entrees. The best part: Most spices add very few calories!

My new favorite spice blend is Marguerite's All Natural Mexican Seasoning. I put this stuff on EVERYTHING! I sprinkle it on my eggs in the morning. I add a little to my avocados. I put it on meat and fish. I sprinkle my popcorn with Marguerite's and a little bit of nutritional yeast. I coat chickpeas with it and roast them until they are crispy. You know how mass-produced taco seasoning has 100 mystery ingredients? You'll never need to buy taco seasoning again once you try this stuff. 

You get my point. 

Marguerite's is available here and here. Make sure you get the 11-ounce size. You'll thank me later. 

3. Bravo Tomato Mucho Gazpacho
This is a brand new discovery for me--I found it today while searching for a grab-and-go post-run lunch at a local market.  

I tried the original recipe; however, the brand offers a greens recipe and a beets recipe as well. The original recipe includes just tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, olive oil, vinegar, and salt. One bottle comes in at 115 calories and 10 grams of healthy fat (if this seems high to you, keep in mind that just one tablespoon of olive oil contains 14 g of fat). 

The texture of this is thicker than a V8. It is refreshing and satisfying. I added hot sauce, as I like my gazpacho spicy, although next time I'd hit it with some Marguerite's. I often grab lunch on the run, and this would be a perfect light meal with my favorite gluten-free crackers, as well as either a string cheese or a hard-boiled egg. 

Please note that this may not be a suitable choice for you if you are on a dietary salt restriction. One bottle contains 485 mg sodium, which is high for the calorie payoff. For reference, in my hospital rotations, we always advised those on salt restriction (2 g/day is most common) to keep all meals to 500 mg sodium or less. While this is filling, it needs a protein and perhaps a healthy carb to be a satisfying meal.  

4. Apple Picking Season!
Holy moly, I love Fall. It's still pretty warm in STL, but yesterday I got my first hint of Fall when I received an email that it is apple picking season!

Every September, my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, husband, kids, and I make the 40-minute drive to our favorite farm in Illinois for our annual apple picking mission. We ride hay wagons into the orchards and run through the rows of trees, picking bags and bags of apples. 

All apples are good apples, but we usually wait until both Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp are available. While we all love them plain, my favorite use of the apples is homemade crockpot applesauce. Look for a recipe here in the coming weeks, after I bring home my haul. 

So what about you, friends? Anything I should know about that helps y'all to be better eaters? 

Pass the Peas (Just Add Some Corn): Protein Quality 101 for Vegetarians

I am a failed vegetarian. 

I gave it a good 10 months, but my effort was doomed from the start. I was still exclusively breastfeeding my oldest daughter, getting no sleep, and did very little research before embarking on my meatless lifestyle (this was before dietetics school, obviously). 

Note to nursing moms: Never read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma when you are sleep-deprived and emotional unless you are ready to go veg. You may never want to eat an animal again. 

I have total respect for vegetarians and may give it another try at some point. I think a well-planned vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest and most environmentally sustainable ways to eat. 

Lately, I’ve had many questions related to quality protein sources for vegetarians. Because of the circles I run in, most of these inquiries have come from either athletes or concerned parents, which is interesting because these are two populations that often need more protein than the standard recommendation for healthy adults. 

I do Crossfit, which often includes heavy weightlifting, 4 times per week. Protein is key in muscle building, recovery, and adaptation to exercise. Protein needs for athletes vary depending on the frequency and intensity of their workouts; however, many athletes need 1.2 grams or more of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (compared to 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for most adults).

Children often need a bit more protein than adults to support growth. Protein needs among healthy children are highest in infancy and decrease per kilogram of body weight gradually as the child ages. 

So here is the protein pickle vegetarians (and especially vegans) may encounter: The highest quality proteins are found in animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. Quality proteins are those that include all nine essential amino acids—which are the building blocks of protein—in adequate amounts. 

The good news for vegetarians is that you can pair plant-based protein sources in specific ways to ensure that you are not missing out on essential amino acids. Proteins that are combined to create a quality protein source are called complementary proteins.

For example, white rice is too low in the essential amino acid lysine to be considered a quality protein. If you eat it with either corn or Cremini mushrooms, however, that combination of foods would yield a quality protein and better meet your body’s needs. 

So how do you know if a food is a quality protein? Magic? Telephone psychic? 

The internet, silly! I am a big fan of Self Magazine’s NutritionData website, which gives very detailed analysis of protein quality. Here’s how to see how your favorite plant proteins stack up: 

  1. Navigate to NutritionData
     
  2. Type in the food you want to look up in the search field located at the top right of the screen. Be as specific as possible. In this example, I will use frozen green peas. 
     
  3. Click on the option from the list that is closest to the one you are planning to eat.
     
  4. Scroll down to the box that says “Protein Quality.” The nine spokes represent each of the nine essential amino acids. If one of the spokes is not completely filled, then that amino acid is deficient in that food. A food that has an overall score of 100 or more is considered a complete or quality protein.
     

Our frozen peas have a score of 84, which indicates that they are not a complete protein. The limiting amino acid is methionine + cystine. If you are not familiar with the abbreviations on the graph, you will learn what they mean in step five (so read on!). 

5. This is where the site is really nifty. Rather than making you guess as to which foods might complement the food item in question, NutritionData makes it easy for you. If your food’s score is less than 100, just click on the link that says “Find foods with complementary profile.” At the top of the list, NutritionData provides the full name of the limiting amino acid. 

You can filter the results at the top to include only vegetable-based items, or to include dairy or egg products if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian. If you create an account, you choose to show only items that meet your dietary preferences. 

hoosing a food from the complementary protein profile can help fill the gaps in your diet and ensure that your body has the tools necessary for growth, muscle development, muscle retention, etc. Just to finish out our example, one of the veggie options that NutritionData lists for peas is corn, meaning that if you mix your peas and corn, you will have a higher quality protein. 

retty cool, huh? 

Vegetarian readers, what are your favorite sources of protein? Did you learn anything about them by plugging them into NutritionData? Do you use another method to determine protein quality?

Back on the Horse (After Finishing My Course)

Several years ago, one of my physicians had a nurse who always smelled very strongly of cigarettes. Every time I saw her, I wondered how she could smoke when she worked in healthcare (yes, I know that many healthcare professionals smoke). She is well aware of the health consequences of smoking, right? And isn’t it part of her job to be a positive example of healthy living to her patients? 

A couple of weeks ago, I finally fulfilled my goal of becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). This required nearly four years of online coursework, followed by an 8-month internship and a comprehensive exam. It was such an educational and fulfilling experience; however, I would not say it was the healthiest time in my life. 

Going to school full-time with three young kids is a lot of work. While I did my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the process of becoming credentialed, stress often got the best of me. As a result, I placed some of my habits on the back burner. Handful of chips to get me through a study sesh? Yes, please. Sacrificing sleep in pursuit of an A? You betcha. 

I found myself thinking again about my old nurse friend, and about how I could, to some extent, understand how she could partake in such an unhealthy behavior. Here I was, training to educate people about how to nourish their bodies in the most healthy way, sometimes engaging in behaviors that I would not recommend to my future clients.

Now that the dietetics school pressure valve has been released, I am looking forward to relaxing a bit and working on being my healthiest possible self (and raising my healthiest possible family, of course!). 

Here are my priorities for getting back on track: 

Cleaning my kitchen. 

 My cluttered kitchen counters. 

My cluttered kitchen counters. 

 

Do you ever overeat when you feel like aspects of your life are out of control? Recent research from Cornell University discussed the link between overeating and clutter. Researchers in the study compared snacking behavior among female participants who were offered crackers, cookies, and carrots in a messy, chaotic kitchen, compared to female participants who were offered the same snack foods in a tidy kitchen. In this study, participants in the cluttered, noisy kitchen ate 65 more calories from cookies than those in the calm eating environment. (1)

Sixty-five calories may seem insignificant; however, if a person ate 65 extra calories per day for one year, she could gain up to 6.8 pounds, depending on other factors like exercise! The researchers suggest that disorder and chaos create a sense that a person is not in control, and that some people tend to indulge more when they perceive that a situation is not within their control.

I admit that decluttering was not high on my priority list during my internship. My kitchen is always a little cluttered and very, very noisy, with three little ones running around. If cleaning it up a bit will help me to be a healthier eater, then that will be time well-spent. Plus, it will help with the second item on my to-do list... 

Planning and preparing. 

Pre-dietetics school, when I lost close to 40 pounds, one of my keys to success was to plan my meals. A 2011 study supports this, and indicates that planning meals in advance is a strong predictor of intake during the meal. (2) In other words, making decisions on the fly about what to eat and how much may come back to bite you in the you-know-what. 

Cleaning out the kitchen allows you to better know what ingredients you have available, so that you can begin building your meal plan. Here are some tips to get you started on meal planning. 

Measuring it out. 

As a nutrition practitioner, I am very familiar with the recommended portion sizes for a variety of foods. Theory and practice, however, are two very different things. If you put a massive bag of Cheetos in front of me, do you think I can eat just 21 of them? No way, dude. On the flip side, if I walk past the fridge and grab a small handful of baby carrots, does that count as one serving toward the recommended 5-9 servings a day? 

Research strongly supports portion control as a means of controlling weight. Measuring portions can also help ensure that you are getting enough of the right nutrients in your diet each day. 

Do you have to measure everything you eat every time you eat it? Not at all. But it is very helpful to measure your foods for a couple of weeks to see what a proper portion looks like, and to revisit this strategy every so often so that you stay on track. 

Unwinding.

Stress is such a doozy. In addition to making you feel terrible in general, it has the potential to seriously mess up your metabolism. Research suggests that stress increases cravings for sugar and fat (3), slows the metabolism (4), and increases insulin resistance (4). 

Now that I have more time and fewer responsibilities, I am working on dialing back the stress level by getting plenty of sleep, doing the workouts that I love (Crossfit, trail running, and rock climbing), and building in downtime away from the computer and phone. 

Focusing on progress, not perfection. 

There is an old saying that perfect is the enemy of good. As a perfectionist, I sometimes struggle to make changes in my life because I fear that I will not do it just right. I’ve come to realize there is no “just right” in healthy living, and that making a few small positive changes is far superior to doing nothing at all. 

Do you feel like you need to become healthier but don’t know where to start? Just set one achievable goal. Decide to exercise for 30 minutes a day, or to eat 5 servings of vegetables, and stick with it. You will be better for it, and your success in making that change will empower you to make other healthy choices. 

What about you? What do you do when you feel like you’ve gotten off track? 

Sources: 

1. Vartanian LR, Kernan KM, Wansink B. Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments.Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments. 2016. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2711870. Accessed June 20, 2016.

2. Fay SH, Ferriday D, Hinton EC, Shakeshaft NG, Rogers PJ, Brunstrom JM. What determines real-world meal size? Evidence for pre-meal planning.Appetite. 2011;56(2):284-289. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.01.006.

3. Harvard Medical School. Why stress causes people to overeat - Harvard Health. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat. Published February 2012. Accessed June 27, 2016.

4. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Habash DL, Fagundes CP, et al. Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity. Biological Psychiatry. 2015;77(7):653-660. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.05.018.

Vegging Out After Vegging Out

Note: This post originally appeared March 24, 2014, on a blog that was a project for dietetics school. In order to consolidate my writings, I will be moving several posts from that site to this one. 

Last week, my husband and I took our crew on to sunny southern California. We had a great visit, but I am happy to be home and back in my routine. Even though we rented a house with a full kitchen (which I highly recommend for parents of young children), I ran into the same dietary problem that I have on most vacations—I ate very few vegetables, other than fries and the occasional salad.

Now that I am home, I have stocked up my fridge with produce and am ready to return to my normal, veggie-heavy routine.

Most people could stand to eat more vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control and the Harvard School of Public Health report that Americans eat an average of just three servings of fruits and vegetables per day; yet, a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day should be eating closer to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day (1, 2).

Veggie consumption has extra health benefits during pregnancy, including the following:

  • Moms who consume more fruits and veggies may be less likely to develop preeclampsia (3).

  • Veggies are high in fiber, which can help ward off pregnancy constipation (3).

  • Vegetables are full of vitamins and nutrients that help ensure your baby has what it needs to grow.

  • Veggies are good sources of antioxidants, which fight oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is associated with infertility (4, 5), miscarriage, preterm labor and low birth weight (5).

Pregnant or not, I crave fruit and never have trouble working it into my daily diet. Though I like many vegetables, I really have to make an effort sometimes (and especially when pregnancy-induced nausea sets in) to work them into my diet. Here are some of my favorite ways to load up on vegetables at all times of the day.

Breakfast:

  • Veggie hash! I chop up, season and sauté vegetables, then throw a couple of scrambled eggs on top. My favorite combos include shredded sweet potatoes with turkey sausage, pepper and cinnamon, or shredded Brussels sprouts with onions, salt and pepper.

  • For breakfast on the run, I like smoothies with almond milk, bananas, almond butter and a couple of handfuls of spinach (you won’t taste it, I promise!)

Lunch:

  • I love topping a baked sweet potato with protein and other fixings. Leftover taco meat is great with lettuce, cheese and salsa, and I am trying this Thai-chicken stuffed potato recipe for lunch today!

Dinner:

  • Replace all or some of your pasta noodles with cooked, shredded spaghetti squash.

  • Start each dinner with a veggie soup or salad

Snacks:

  • Nibble on carrots with a tablespoon of almond butter, or on chopped veggies with guacamole or hummus.

Sources:

1. Grimm, K. A., H. M. Blanck, K. S. Scanlon, L. V. Moore, L. M. Grummer-Strawn, and J. L. Foltz. "State-Specific Trends in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Adults --- United States, 2000--2009." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

2. Harvard School of Public Health. "Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day." The Nutrition Source. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

3. Brown, Judith E., and Janet S. Isaacs. Nutrition through the Life Cycle. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, CENGAGE Learning, 2011. Print.

4. Agarwal, Ashok, Sajal Gupta, and Rakesh Sharma. "Oxidative Stress and Its Implications in Female Infertility – a Clinician's Perspective." Reproductive BioMedicine Online 11.5 (2005): 641-50. Print.

5. Al-Gubory, Kaïs H., Paul A. Fowler, and Catherine Garrel. "The Roles of Cellular Reactive Oxygen Species, Oxidative Stress and Antioxidants in Pregnancy Outcomes." The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 42.10 (2010): 1634-650. Print.