Are You Being Seduced by Fad Diets? 3 Ways to Know

Have you ever seen those commercials in which a beautiful, scantily clad woman suggests you ask your doctor about Viagra? I’ve been thinking about those a lot. As a dietitian, my job has very little to do with erectile dysfunction. So what do these commercials have to do with my job? Fad diets, my friends. 

Obviously, no one is asking me for professional help in achieving liftoff. But I am receiving more and more requests for diet prescriptions (you know, the whole "ask your doctor..." angle). Here's an example, which is a composite of several inquiries I’ve received: 

Prospective client: “I’d like your help in designing a keto meal plan for weight loss, optimal energy, and peak athletic performance.”

Me: “Thanks so much for your interest in working with me. I’d love to help you, but I don’t feel comfortable writing keto meal plans at this time. Until strong evidence proves me wrong, I’m simply not convinced that it’s sustainable or effective for performance and long-term weight loss. But I’d be happy to discuss my approach with you.” 

From here, I’ve seen a couple of different outcomes: 

  1. radio silence
  2. a reply filled with pro-keto propaganda (because that will change my mind after five years of dietetics school and a couple of years in practice). 
  3. (the most common) a request for a dietitian that will make all the prospective client’s keto dreams come true. Because prospective client has seen so many people just like him on the internet who've gotten ripped on keto. 

This scenario is not exclusive to keto—I’ve received inquires from prospective clients asking me to co-sign a variety of fad diets ranging from lectin-free to the cabbage soup diet. I’m not likely to do that (sorry). In private practice dietitian world, that scantily clad Viagress is a sexy fad diet that keeps popping up in your news feed, promising quick weight loss and boundless energy. 

Fad diets are the bane of an RD’s existence. To be clear, I’m not blaming those prospective clients. I’ve had times when I’ve been up a few pounds, and a quick fix sure is tempting. Fad diets RARELY WORK (at least, long-term)! Yet, it blows my mind how quickly they become popular. 

How does that happen? How do fad diets come to be? In this post, I’ll discuss three ways in which diets become fads.

1. Sources of (Mis)information

Have you seen this meme circulating around instagram? 

Help Wanted

 

I chuckle a bit every time I see it because it is SO TRUE! 

Most Americans turn to mass media for nutrition information. A 2011 survey (n=754) conducted on behalf of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that:

  • 67% of respondents turn to television for information about diet.
  • 41% of respondents obtain diet information from magazines. 
  • 40% of respondents look to the internet (I’d guess this has increased quite a bit).
  • 20% of respondents learn about nutrition from newspapers. 

Want to know how many of the respondents in that survey solicited diet advice from a dietitian or a doctor? One percent and 16%, respectively. But here’s the thing. Nutrition can be really freaking confusing and, unfortunately, the rabbit hole of internet searching rarely brings clarity. 

Take the PURE study. Since it’s publication in 2017, thousands of articles and blog posts have proclaimed that we’ve been getting diet wrong for all these decades—that high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets are to blame for disease and mortality worldwide. 

There are a couple of problems, though: 

  1. Most of the people in the study were from low-income countries 
  2. Most of the people in the study ate very high carbohydrate diets (much higher, in terms of percentage of calories from carbohydrates, than recommendations for healthy Americans). 
  3. Not only did participants consume very high carbohydrate diets—the bulk of their diets were low-quality, highly refined carbohydrates that are known to cause health problems.
  4. PURE is an observational study, which looks at correlation and not causation. In other words, the data from PURE can’t prove that high carb diets increase mortality.

Yet, if you Google “PURE study” some of the top headlines seem to advocate for lower carb, higher fat diets:

  • “PURE Shakes Up Nutritional Field: Finds High Fat Intake Beneficial” 
  • “PURE Investigators: Rethink Diet Guidance to Plug More Fats, Fewer Carbs”

So why do many bloggers and reporters take this angle?  In part, because a healthy diet—one that promotes health and supports your long-term goals—isn’t sexy. Readers like novelty. Headlines that flip conventional diet wisdom on its head attract readers! These ideas only spread like wildfire among nutrition hobbyists and bloggers. 

Read with caution, friends (or even better—go straight to trained professionals). 

2. Big Promises (Sometimes Based on Pseudoscience)

“Lose 50 pounds or more without feeling deprived!” 

“Drop 3 pants sizes in 2 weeks!”

“Get the body of your dreams on DietX!”

I want the body of my dreams as much as the next girl. But fad diets consistently overpromise and underdeliver. 

You may lose some weight at the beginning of your fad diet. Consider diets that have low-carb “induction phases” or jumpstarts. These induction phases exist, in part, so that followers see quick results. Success begets success, and quick results breed enthusiasm for the diet. 

Consider low-carb approaches. A lot of fad diets are lower carb by design, especially in the beginning. If you reduce your daily carb intake, you probably will lose some weight! This is because the body hangs on to about 3 grams of water for every gram of glycogen (which is the storage form of carbohydrates). When you eat fewer carbohydrates, you store less water in your muscles. Thus, some or all of the weight you are losing is water weight. Sadly, it will creep back on if you increase carb intake. 

And even if you lose some fat on a lower carb diet, it’s not because carbs are the devil. Water weight dissipation aside, there’s no magic to low carb. The weight loss happens because there is a calorie deficit. It’s no better than a “boring” old low-fat diet for weight loss. 

named diets

To be clear, I’m not necessarily endorsing a low-fat diet over a low-carb one. The best diet for a normal, healthy person is the one he can stick with long-term. Just keep in mind that many fad diets (keto, Paleo, etc.) tend to be lower carb by design, because lower carb diets shed water weight. 

Similarly, there's no specific magic to most diets that cut out entire classes of foods. You just eat less. Diets that promise rapid weight loss, Herculean strength, and pure magic are probably too good to be true. 

3. A Rabid Following

By virtue of point one and especially point two, many fad diets develop a zealous fan base. A fan base is the scantily clad woman in those Viagra ads.

I’m not going to name any diets. But a couple, in particular, have online communities that are very interesting for a dietitian who wrote a rhetorical criticism for her master’s thesis. 

Sure, these communities provide support. But they’re sometimes dangerous and/or downright vicious.  I’ve seen frustrated posts that a diet isn’t delivering on its promises, with curt replies questioning the poster’s commitment/dedication/intelligence (I always wonder if these respondents are hangry). 

starving.png

A quick scroll through those forums often yields at least a few posts from people who’ve “messed up” a meal or, worse, completely “fallen off the wagon.” Certain programs require that you completely start over…for one little slip up! And boy, do the people in these communities let you know about it. 

Look. You don’t win a goshdarn prize for having a perfect diet. It doesn’t win you friends, or influence, or make you a better person. Yet, fad diet forums are often populated with people who play high and mighty about their dietary compliance. Reading through them can make you feel like crap, if you’re someone who likes to live a little.  It’s really, really easy for some people to fall into a diet community—particularly those who are perfectionists or who have a desire to belong to a group. 

A boring, healthy diet is an act of rebellion in a time of fad diets with rabid followings. Find something that works well for you, stick with it, and give yourself some grace when you have an off day! Invest time in making simple changes that promote long-term health—not on scrolling the internet for quick fixes. 

Hopefully this post will make you think twice when you're being seduced by a fad diet. Be leery of big promises, read news stories with a careful eye (here is some great advice!), and find what works best for you! Or, even better, seek out a dietitian or a doctor who can help you meet your goals. 

Hide and Sneak? The Case Against Hiding Vegetables.

Have you ever played hide and seek...with vegetables?

If you’re a parent, perhaps you’ve played without even realizing it. Your fearless kid, who barrels down the tall slide head first at the playground, hides under the table the second a single green bean hits her plate. You’ve been patient. You’ve tried other vegetables. You’ve begged. Maybe you’ve even bribed (I don’t recommend that, but I certainly get it).

carrot.jpg

 

Out of pure love for your little booger, you resort to hide and seek. You sneak a little pureed zucchini into her favorite soup. You hide shredded carrots in her hash browns.

Believe me, I understand. Because I’m an RD mom, people often assume that my kids nibble away at kale and salmon three times per day. This could not be further from the truth. I work very hard to promote healthy eating in my home. Do I struggle at times? Heck yes. Have I ever broken child feeding “rules” out of desperation? You know it.

Friends, please heed my advice. You may not see the harm in sneaking some veggies into a sauce. But don’t make that your only strategy for getting your kids to eat veggies. Because let me warn you: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In this post, I’m going to share why your strategy of hiding vegetables in “safer” foods may backfire. I’ll also share some tips for promoting veggie intake in picky kiddos.

WHY WON’T YOUR KID EAT HER FRICKIN’ VEGGIES?!?!?

Do you want your kid to eat the rainbow every single day? Don’t we all?! The first step is understanding why she is being so darn picky.

It’s possible that your little peanut doesn’t like the flavor or the texture of the vegetable you’re offering. But often, it has nothing to do with the vegetable in question.

Pickiness is often one of a child’s first acts of autonomy. Don’t take it personally—it’s not you, and it’s not your cooking. Your little rebel is showing her first signs of independence (I’ll pause so you can wipe those tears)!

So what does this mean? For one, little bits is growing up!

And second, your kid is pretty darn smart. So smart, in fact, that she may discover that you’re hiding her veggies. She may begin to wonder why you’re hiding veggies. Is there something wrong with them?

Friend, you've just created a negative association with veggies, which may make her less inclined to accept them down the road. It may also make her reject the foods that you use as vehicles for veggie smuggling—ones that used to be her favorites. Finally, the strategy of hiding all the veggies doesn’t give her the full opportunity to experience new flavors and textures—which is key to becoming an adventurous eater.

Now, you may be asking yourself if it’s ever okay to add veggies to sauces, soups, and smoothies. The answer is yes, sort of. But there is a difference between adding vegetables to boost a dish’s nutritional profile and hiding vegetables to avoid drama at the table. If you add veggies to boost nutrition, make sure to frequently offer veggies in plain view as well. And don’t lie about it! If your kid asks why her smoothie is green, tell her it’s the super spinach!

But let’s say you’ve been playing hide the veggie a little too often. There are a few tried and true strategies to help your little muffin eat her greens. No trickery required.

Five Strategies to Turnip the Beet

1. Let Her be the Boss (Within Reason)

You can throw your hands up in frustration when little bits is being picky. Or you can appeal to her growing sense of autonomy.

Seek her input as you’re planning meals. Let her know that you expect her to eat her veggies, but let her decide which ones. You might say: “Lucy, we are having chicken tonight. Would you like broccoli or cauliflower for our vegetable?”
 

veggie tales.jpg

This one little trick has significantly cut down on food-related tantrums in my home.

Be sure to switch up the veggies you offer, as opposed to offering the same two every night. This will ensure that your family is eating a variety of nutrients. It also helps develop your family's palate for veggies.

2. You know what they say about assuming…

Have you ever said, “There’s no way my kid will eat that”…about a food she’s never tried?

I hear this quite often when working with families. Of course, no one knows your kid better than you do. But how many times per day does your little one surprise you?!? Food is an adventure! You’d be AMAZED at some of the things kids love, if you give them the chance.

Serve a small portion, and see what happens.

3. You will eat it, and you will like it.

Parents, I’m referring to YOU. You can’t expect kids to accept foods that you shun. Set a good example. Sit at the table with your kids. Eat your frickin’ veggies. Rave about how delicious they are.

Little eyes are watching.

4. Variety is the spice of life.

For years, I thought I hated Brussels sprouts. I’d only tried boiled Brussels sprouts, which smell like butt and taste even worse (I'd imagine).

I was shocked when I fell in love with Brussels after eating them charred at a restaurant. I’ve since learned that I also enjoy them crunchy in slaws and oven roasted. I didn’t hate Brussels—I hated boiled Brussels.

Say your kiddo detests cooked carrots. Try serving them crunchy next time. Make a salad out of shredded carrots and raisins. If you want to get wild, serve a duo of carrots—two different preparations of carrot on the same plate! Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavor and texture.

5. Let Them Get Their Hands Dirty

Children who garden and cook are more likely to accept a variety of vegetables into the diet. If you have the space, help your little one plant a small veggie garden and let them dig away. My kids like decorate our veggie garden with little toy trucks, dinosaurs, and fairies. But even more than that, they are so proud to harvest our veggies and sample the crops!

Look at my handsome little garden helper! 

Look at my handsome little garden helper! 

No green thumbs in your household? That’s okay! You can also encourage veggie intake by giving kids age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen. Even little ones can pluck stems off of cherry tomatoes or wash cucumbers. It all makes a difference!

6. Patience is a Virtue

Above all, don’t give up. Studies have shown that children may need up to 20 exposures to a food before accepting it into the diet.

Don’t stress out if your little one rejects her peas at dinner. Wait a few days, then offer peas again, right alongside foods that she likes. Over time, she may grow to love them.

Parents, have you ever dealt with veggie hate in your home? What struggles have you had, and how have you handled them? I’d love to know your thoughts!

4 Feeding 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. But most of the time, this is a normal phenomenon in otherwise healthy kids. In fact, we could even learn a few feeding lessons from our children!

Let’s talk about that for a bit! Read on for 4 feeding lessons you can learn from your kiddos. 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. But first, a little background. 

If you know my family, you may 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.As you can see, she was a very enthusiastic breastfeeder. But once we transitioned to solids, girlfriend just would. Not. EAT.

My pickiest eater--the early days.

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 because their bodies need the energy. Fast forward a few years. My daughter still eats like a bird sometimes, only to be followed by stretches when I am sure she is going to eat us out of house and home. 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 feeding lessons can we learn 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 should be doing 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. Moreover, the large bowl group believed they were eating less than the small bowl group.

Serve your meals on smaller plates--ones that are 9 inches in diameter (the size of a standard paper plate) or smaller. Feel free to serve your veggies on large plates, though! We could all stand to eat more of those. Feel free to pass that feeding lesson along to your kids--they'll love it :). 

3.         Slow down.

I admittedly get frustrated when we are in a hurry to get somewhere and my kids are taking FOREVER to eat their breakfast. But 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 earlier in the morning, or dialing back the clock on dinner hour. If this seems like a pain, keep in mind that it may make you more likely to share family meals, which is a healthy eating practice itself!

4.         Stay busy. 

Have you ever told your kiddo, “You need to eat lunch before you play!” en route to a birthday party? 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!

This is one of the great feeding lessons you can learn from your kid. Find something else to do. If you are at a social engagement, see if you can help with something. If you're 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. Here are some behaviors that warrant a call to the pediatrician:

1.         Low appetite in an underweight child.

I can 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 silver linings 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 any clever feeding lessons from your kids?

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.