Food as Fuel: How to Maximize Your Workouts with Proper Meal Planning

In our last post, we encouraged you to get up and get moving; but, much like how a car can’t run without fuel, your muscles can’t function if you’re also on empty, so this week, we are going to teach you how to keep your “engine” running properly so that you can exercise at your optimal level.

One small note before we dive into our discussion: the recommendations we provide below are for pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition for a healthy, active, adult population, and protein needs are increased for people that are consistently active. Individuals with chronic health conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease) or at certain life stages (pregnancy, adolescence, the elderly) should speak with their doctor and Registered Dietitian first to find out their individualized nutrition needs based on their specific health status before beginning any form of physical exercise.

Diet-Plus-Exercise

(image credit: Health and Exercise Coaching)

Pre-workout

“Should I eat before my workout?” This is a common question that someone has when they begin exercising and the answer is often debated as there’s not a clear-cut rule; it depends on the individual. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends you should eat a small meal or snack consisting of proteins and carbohydrates about 1-3 hours pre-workout, depending on how your body tolerates food.Carbs give you energy to exercise, while proteins provide your muscles with the right amino acids (the building blocks) so they can perform at their peak. It is best not to eat immediately before or too close to your workout because you may experience some gastrointestinal discomfort since your body is trying to digest the food while your muscles are engaging in the exercise.

If your workout is of low-moderate intensity and for a short duration (less than an hour), you may be fine with skipping out entirely on eating before exercising. However, you should bring some carb-rich snacks with you during the workout in case you feel tired or weak so you’ll have something easy to eat that gives you a quick shot of energy. It is especially important for people that exercise in the morning without eating breakfast to pack some snacks, since their bodies are in the fasted state and without food for many hours.       

Some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:

  • A peanut butter and banana sandwich (with whole wheat bread)
  • Whole grain cereal or oatmeal (choose one that’s low in added sugars) with low-fat milk and fruit
  • Scrambled eggs with whole wheat bread

Lighter pre-workout snack options (or to bring with your during workout):

  • Plain greek yogurt with berries or other favorite fruits
  • Apple with nut butter
  • Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts), or nuts and dried fruits
  • 1-2 hard-boiled eggs
  • Granola bar (choose one that’s low in added sugars and saturated fats)
  • Whole grain crackers with peanut butter

Stay Hydrated!

Exercise causes an elevation in body temperature, which results in your body producing sweat in order to get rid of the excess heat. When sweat evaporates, it allows your body to cool down resulting in substantial water and some electrolyte loss during exercise. It is very important to stay hydrated during your exercise to restore the water loss!

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(image credit: Shift)

Listed below are guidelines from The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) regarding hydration and exercise.2

Hydration before exercise:

  • Drink 2-2.5 cups (16-20 fl oz) of water at least four hours before exercise

Hydration during exercise:

  • Drink about 1 cup (3-8 fl oz) of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising for less than an hour
  • If you’re exercising for more than an hour, drink about 1 cup (3-8 fl oz) of a sport drink (with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes

Remember to drink water throughout your workout and try to avoid drinking water only when you feel thirsty. Thirst signals that your body is headed toward dehydration and is not suggested to be used to monitor hydration status. The above fluid intake guidelines may vary based on factors that affect your level of sweating such as air temperature, intensity of your workout, and body size; thus, be aware of your fluid loss and hydrate accordingly. Also, make sure to drink adequate amount of water after exercise to replace your fluid loss as well.

Post-workout

To help your muscles recover and repair after an intensive workout, it is recommended by the AND and ACSM for you to eat a post-workout meal rich in high-quality proteins and carbs within two hours of completing the workout.Your body uses stored energy (glycogen) in your muscles during your workout, so eating carbs help to replenish the nutrients that were lost. Consuming proteins post-workout is essential to rebuild and repair your muscles.

Some suggestions for post-workout fuel:

  • Homemade post-workout smoothie (with a high-quality protein source, and a good ratio of fruits and other ingredients like the combinations in this guide)
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • Plain greek yogurt with berries or other favorite fruits
  • Whole grain wrap with turkey (or egg) and veggies
  • Pita bread and hummus
  • Small bowl of rice and beans
  • A plant-based protein source with some whole grain carbs

Though it is important to consume more protein when you’re active, eating extra protein than your body needs does not help increase your muscle mass and strength. So, be cautious of consuming protein shakes or protein supplements; they are not necessary if you are consuming adequate amount of proteins from your diet. Not only can excess protein intake cause weight gain, but it could be harmful to your body, as it puts more stress on the kidneys to eliminate the waste products of protein metabolism. Also, there is no evidence that show protein supplements are superior to foods that contain high-quality proteins.

Food table

(image credit: Health Wealth)

Beware of the post-workout treat.

Some people feel hungry after their workouts and may be tempted to reward their hard work with a big meal or sweet treat. But be careful of what you’re eating after your physical activity, as the calories can add up. Also, individuals often overestimate the number of calories burned via exercise and end up consuming additional calories, which may end up promoting unwanted weight gain.4 For example, walking one mile might seem a lot to some people that have just started exercising, but it only burns around 100 calories. If you want to reward yourself after a challenging workout, get a manicure/pedicure or skincare treatment, watch a movie, or splurge on something nice for yourself. It is best to stick to having a nutrient-dense post-workout meal in an appropriate portion size. And if you were planning to eat a regular meal shortly (2-3 hours) after the completion of  your workout, just skip the post-workout meal or have a small snack instead.

How are you currently fueling your workout? Are there any changes you would like to make? Share with us in the comments below.

References:

  1. Timing your pre- and post-workout nutrition. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/timing-your-nutrition
  2. Selecting and effectively using hydration for fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-hydration-for-fitness.pdf
  3. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2016;48:501 https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2016/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.25.aspx
  4. 3 Basic Tips to Avoid Weight Gain with a New Exercise Regimen. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/3-basic-tips-to-avoid-weight-gain-with-a-new-exercise-regimen

Helen bio pic

Guest post by Helen Cheng, Dietetic Intern

Squash That Couch Potato: 6 Simple Ways to Stay Young and Healthy

The Fountain of Youth may never have been found, but one of the secrets to staying young and healthy has long been discovered––regular physical activity! Along with following a nutrient-dense and varied diet, exercising consistently not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but research has consistently shown that it reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases, slows down the aging process, and helps your brain function optimally.1 Yet, regular exercise is often neglected due to hectic lifestyles and long work days.

GroupFitnessClass-outdoor

(image credit: Center for Health Equity Research)

In a recent study, researchers examined the immune systems of middle-aged and elderly adults over the age of 55 who regularly exercised by cycling for the majority of their lives. They looked for markers of T cell production in the blood (T cells have a variety of roles in the immune system, such as killing foreign invaders). The researchers then compared the cyclists’ immune systems to similar aged, healthy people who were sedentary, and a group of young adult that didn’t exercise.

The surprising results showed that the levels of newly made T cells were about the same in the older cyclists group as those found in the young adults group, suggesting that regular exercise protects against a critical aspect of aging, the loss of immune system protection. Thus, being physically inactive––not merely aging––may lead to the deterioration of your immune function. The cyclists also didn’t lose muscle mass (a major concern as we get older), had healthy cholesterol levels, and didn’t gain as much body fat than their sedentary peers.

Senior Cycling

(image credit: Senior Cycling)

Engaging in physical activity is important for mental health as well as it has been shown to elevate mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep, leading to better cognitive functioning.The parts of the brain that control thinking and memory appear to have greater volume in individuals that are physically active versus those that are not.

Regular physical activity can also reduce your risk of developing diseases and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancers, and obesity. Exercising on a consistent basis over time can improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, and lower your blood sugar level.

Lastly, incorporating strength-training activities also helps increase your muscle mass and strength, and slows down the loss of bone density that results as you get older. Elderly people are at a higher risk for falls and hip fractures, but adding balance and strength-training exercises to your daily workout routine can help anyone reduce their risk.

Heart Health

(image credit: MedExpressRx)

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults should do at least:

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking, dancing, or bicycling, or
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or bicycling uphill, and
  • strength-training exercises on 2 or more days each week3

With all these great health benefits, it is important for everyone to be active, regardless of age, health status, or size (but be sure to get your doctor’s OK before you engage in any new fitness regimens).

Consider the following:

  1. Move a lot and oftenEven if you lead a sedentary lifestyle due to having a desk job or if you travel regularly, find ways to include the following “NEAT” (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) activities as often as possible throughout your day:
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevators within buildings and public transit stations
    • Stand or walk when doing tasks if possible
    • Do stretching exercises at your desk during breaks
    • Walk outside to get lunch or take a short walk after meals
  2. Forget the treadmillNot everyone likes going to the gym or is able to join one, and that’s okay. There are many forms of cardiovascular exercise you can enjoy such as brisk walking/running in the park, dancing, swimming, or playing a sport. Even shopping at the mall, walking your dog, or doing household chores for a period of time counts!
  3. Take a classYoga, Zumba®, pilates, barre, hula hooping…the list of exercise classes that are available to join seems to be endless! Find one that piques your interest. Many places offer a free trial class for new students, so ask if you can check one out before committing. For New Yorkers, Shape Up NYC is a free, drop-in fitness program with many locations throughout the five boroughs that offers various fitness classes. Individuals living in other cities can research what might be available (for free or low-cost) at local community centers.
  4. Grab a buddyNot only can someone motivate you on the challenging days when you don’t feel like moving, but socializing and spending time with a friend, family member, or co-worker might make the actual exercising seem much more fun as well.
  5. Set goals and track your progress. Start small and work your way up. If you’re just starting out or have an erratic schedule, it might be best to spread out your exercises throughout the week, and slowly reduce the length of time spent being sedentary.  For example, try walking 3,000 steps every day for one whole week or running for 30 minutes once a week, then add a component of intensity, duration, or frequency the following week. Keep track of your progress…before you know it, you may need to set new goals!
  6. Have fun! Find a fitness routine that you enjoy doing and let it become a normal part of your life. It is much easier to stick to something you like than force yourself to do something you don’t.

What physical activity are you already doing regularly? What would you like to start doing? Share with us in the comments below and keep an eye out for our follow-up blog post where we will be discussing what to eat to fuel your workout and how to reap the most benefits out of your exercise routine.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity and Health
  2. Godman, Heidi. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Health Blog.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

 

Helen bio pic

Guest post by Helen Cheng, Dietetic Intern

10 Vegetarian Protein Sources…and How to Eat Them

A recent market study found that American meat consumption has decreased 19% since 2004.1 Perhaps that’s because reducing intake of meat has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.2 If you’re someone who has been cutting back on meat lately––whether for health reasons, environment concerns, or animal rights––it’s still important to include protein in your diet.

Why? Because protein is the building block of muscles, bones, skin, and blood. It is required to make hormones and enzymes, and necessary for tissue repair. It is also a component of every cell in your body. Finally, protein helps promote fullness and should be included with every meal and snack.

Here are a few of my favorite non-meat protein sources along with ideas on how to include them in your diet.

1. Chia Seeds

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(image credit: The Pioneer Woman)

Chia seeds are known as a superfood because of their nutrient-rich profile which, in addition to protein, includes omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One serving of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains 4.5 grams of protein and a whopping 10 grams of fiber. They are easy to eat and can be mixed into baked goods, added to smoothies, and are also the perfect topping for yogurt. There are many chia seed brands on the market; I like The Chia Company.

2. Lentils

lentils

(image credit: Italian Food Forever)

Lentils have been a staple to Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines for thousands of years. They are filled with fiber and protein and are a great substitute for meat. One ½-cup serving of lentils has 9 grams of protein. Lentils can be added to soups or tossed into salads like this one. You can even make vegetarian meatballs with them! For snacks, I love SimpleSuppleFoods crunchy roasted lentils.

3. Peanut Butter

PB

(image credit: Pixelated Crumb)

Peanuts are actually a legume (not a nut) and are filled with healthy fats and protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams of protein. If you’re tired of the traditional PB&J sandwich, try adding peanut butter to yogurt and smoothies, or even use it as a dip for carrots (trust me; it’s delicious). I like to keep these Justin’s single-serve peanut butter packets on me for a quick snack.

4. Greek Yogurt

greekyogurt

(image credit: Dr. Oz)

Greek yogurt is low in calories and loaded with protein and gut-healthy probiotics. One cup of plain Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein. While many people think of Greek yogurt as a breakfast or snack food, it’s actually very versatile. One of my favorite ways to use it is as a replacement for sour cream on tacos and quesadillas or as a dip for roasted vegetables. I also swap it for milk in pancake and smoothie recipes.

5. Quinoa

quinoa

(image credit: Genius Kitchen/DianaEatingRichly)

Quinoa is considered to be a grain, but technically speaking, it’s actually a seed. It cooks quickly, only taking about 10-15 minutes to prepare. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein. Quinoa makes a great grain salad, can be stuffed in vegetables, or substituted for oatmeal at breakfast, with an egg on top for even more protein, or topped with fruits and nuts.

6. Chickpeas

chickpea

(image credit: Eat This Much)

Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are a type of legume and are a complex carbohydrate, meaning they are digested slowly, giving sustained energy and thus preventing spikes in blood sugar. One ½-cup serving of chickpeas has over 19 grams of protein, which for many people is almost half of their daily protein needs! Chickpeas can be added to salads, soups, or made into hummus. There is even a brand called Banza that makes pasta out of chickpeas, and it is delicious!

7. Peas

fresh green pea in the pod isolated

(image credit: Backyard Gardening Blog)

Peas are part of the legume family and a one-cup serving contains about 9 grams of protein. Frozen peas can be added into rice, soups, and stews. Pea-based protein powder is becoming a widely available alternative to traditional whey-based powders. Bob’s Red Mill makes a version with 21 grams of protein per serving. Feel like a snack? Try Harvest Snaps for an on-the-go way to get your pea fix. Bonus: they taste like potato chips!

8. Eggs

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(image credit: Health.com)

Hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled. or over easy, eggs are a quick, easy, and affordable protein source. They are also low in calories and a great source of fat-soluble vitamins. One egg contains 6 grams of protein. I suggest trying some non-traditional ways to eat eggs, such as over lentils (even more protein!) or baked eggs to change things up!

9. Almonds

almonds

(image credit: Nuts.com)

Almonds are one of the highest protein-containing nuts with 22 almonds providing about 6 grams of protein. Almonds are a great snack option. They can also be added to salads for a nice crunch. Most recently, a new company called Noosh has made a line of almond-based protein powder, nut butter. and even almond oil that can be used for cooking.

10. Edamame

edamame

(image credit: Organic Facts)

Edamame (soybeans) contain all 9 essential aminos acids, meaning they are a complete protein source. A ½-cup serving of edamame contains 11 grams of protein making them a great substitute for meat-based dishes. Try this Asian quinoa edamame salad for a double dose of plant-based protein!

So, now that you’re an expert on protein sources, you may be wondering how much protein you need. The average protein requirements of a healthy adult are between 46-56 grams per day (or 0.8g/kg body weight).3 However, protein needs depend on age, gender, and activity level, so consider working with a Registered Dietitian (like DishWithDina) to learn more.

What are your go-to protein sources? Has the list above given you any creative ideas on how to incorporate vegetarian protein options into your usual meals or recipes? Comment below!

References:

  1.  Strom, Stephanie. Americans Ate 19% Less Beef From ’05 to ’14, Report SaysThe New York Times, 21 Mar 2017.
  2. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Eat Right.org website.12 Dec 2016.
  3. National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application. 2 Jan 2018.

bertolami

Guest post by Isabelle Bertolami, MS, Dietetic Intern

Lettuce Turnip the Beet: Veggies (and More) for Heart Health

NNM imageDid you know February was American Heart Health Month and March is National Nutrition Month? With cardiovascular disease continuing to be the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s important to continue spreading awareness and staying mindful of the steps we can take to reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke, not just during official awareness months, but year-round. Some of the easiest and most effective ways of reducing your risk involve dietary and other lifestyle changes. These don’t need to be extreme, nor immediate; every small step counts towards keeping your heart healthy and strong!

Keeping your heart healthy starts with maintaining a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Many people find consuming enough fruits and vegetables in a day to be expensive and time consuming. It doesn’t have to be! Below are some easy tips to include plant-based foods in your diet no matter how hectic your lifestyle.

1. Keep It Simple

It’s easy to get caught up in the social media hype to create the most visually stunning, balanced plate out there, but when it comes time to make your meals, it might not be feasible to create picture-perfect dishes. That’s okay! Instead of striving to live up to unrealistic standards of eating a beautiful, colorful salad for every meal, try to stick to the basic guidelines of overall healthy eating (like those found at MyPlate.gov) and slowly work your way towards your goals!

2. Know What’s in Season

One of the easiest ways to keep your fruit and vegetable budget down is to shop for in-season products. Not only will these items be freshest and tastiest, but they usually don’t have to be transported for long journeys to your supermarket, allowing the prices to remain affordable. As an added bonus, since these products are usually fresher, they will last longer in your fridge. This can also help cut your food budget by reducing food waste!

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(image credit: Produce for Kids)

3. Frozen Is Your Friend

Not only are frozen fruits and vegetables convenient, but they are generally more cost-effective than fresh, out-of-season products. Also, fresh produce is not necessarily healthier than frozen! Evidence suggests that in some cases, frozen foods have even more nutrients than fresh ones do.1 That’s because most frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at peak times during the season in which they grow best. Additionally, they are most likely to be frozen within the first 24 hours after picking, before the nutrients have a chance to start breaking down. As long as you are buying high-quality vegetables with minimal additives like salt, sugar, or preservatives, you can always have fruits and vegetables on hand for a quick smoothie or side dish. How’s that for heart healthy?

4. Snack Smart

When reaching for a snack, many of us are in the habit of grabbing a bag of chips or chocolate bar. While these high-calorie foods can curb hunger fast, they are mostly devoid of beneficial nutrients and contain large amounts of sugar and fat. Opting for some fruit or vegetable-based snacks––like an apple and peanut butter or a handful of carrots and hummus––can easily increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and reduce consumption of processed, high-sugar, high-fat foods, killing two birds with one stone!

5. Any Amount Is Beneficial

Of course, the more fruits and vegetables you have, the better. However, sometimes it can be discouraging to hear recommendations that seem unattainable. The current recommendations by the USDA call for 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily, depending on age and gender. While this may seem like a lot, these amounts can be consumed in any sized portions you like. For some people, it is easier to consume 4-5 small handfuls of fruit and veggies periodically throughout the day. For others, having a large bowl of fruit for breakfast and a large salad for lunch is easiest. Find what works for you, and keep in mind that any amount counts. Being mindful of your intake is the first step!

6. Find Fun Variations to Classic Dishes

Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to mean giving up your favorite dishes. If you cook at home, changing up a recipe to incorporate more nutritious vegetables is a breeze! For example, when making lasagna, you can blend sautéed vegetables into the sauce for a heartier taste and texture. Rice dishes can be replaced with riced cauliflower, which really does mimic white rice well and provides more than triple the amount of fiber and a fraction of the calories! Additionally, adding some vegetables like artichokes or peppers to a baking dish while cooking your protein is a quick and easy way to have a serving of vegetables incorporated into your meal.

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(image credit: Feeding Your Beauty)

7. Embrace the Three S’s: Soups, Smoothies, and Salads

If you would prefer to pack in as many servings of fruits and vegetables as possible during one sitting, a good strategy is to choose one of the Three S’s: soups, smoothies, or salads. You can have one of these during each meal––like a smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, and soup for dinner. This way you can choose a combination that best fits your taste or choose one to pack in a majority of your servings of vegetables for the day. These foods are great in that they can allow you to cover many servings of fruit and vegetables all on one plate. Additionally, they can be made ahead and stored in portable containers for easy transport. Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to be expensive or inconvenient; it just takes some creativity!

One-week challenge

With these tips in mind, you might be up for a challenge since reading about some tips won’t do you any good until you get started on seeing what works for you:

  • For one week, try to follow one or more of the above tips each day, to include more fruits and vegetables in your daily routine.
  • Post your experiences in the comments below and get a discussion going about how easy (or difficult) making these changes has been for you.
  • With the right strategies in place, you can reach your health goals. Your heart and body will thank you!

References:

  1. Miller, SR, Knudson, WA. (2014). Nutrition and Cost Comparisons of Select Canned, Frozen, and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. Sage Journals.

Rosy Husni headshot

Guest post by Rosy Husni, MS, Dietetic Intern

4-Week Fast Track: Taking Off the Pressure

Join us for our next 4-Week Fast Track program: Taking Off the Pressure.

From 1/31/18 – 2/21/18, we will host a private Facebook group* and launch a weekly live video (which will be archived on the group wall) to help you take the pressure off your blood vessels, manage hypertension, and regulate your sodium intake.

Take Off the Pressure

The program is 100% online and you can work at your own pace. You will have lifetime access to the videos, downloadable materials, and the private Facebook group.

Program agenda:

  • Week 1: Welcome & introductions. Know your numbers & habits (establish a baseline).
  • Week 2: Nutrition education. Habit-building and goal-setting.
  • Week 3: Cook/prep skills and strategies, including recipes.
  • Week 4: Wrap-up. Track performance. Set up future goals.

Investment: $28 for 28 days. Click here to register by Mon, 1/29/18 (we will send you a payment request for $28 once we receive your registration which you can remit via Facebook Messenger, Venmo, or Paypal).

*You do not need to have a Facebook account to participate as video links and downloadable materials will be made available to you regardless.

Worth Your Salt

I recently divulged on social media that my blood pressure (BP) had been consistently quite high, to the point where I thought I’d either soon be hospitalized or have to start taking meds. While I’m not opposed to conventional pharmaceutical methods to manage a particular health condition, I was adamant that I would be able to resolve this issue on my own, so I worked with my doctor and tracked my blood pressure multiple times over the course of about two weeks, while paying closer attention to my food intake and physical activity to see if any lifestyle adjustments would be able to correct this issue.

BP Before

Before I share the outcome of my story, let’s first discuss what may or may not be known about sodium and high blood pressure.

Sodium is both an electrolyte and a mineral and is found in about a 40:60 ratio in table salt, aka sodium chloride (or, scientifically, NaCl). Sodium plays a role in what’s called the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, where it helps maintain our body’s fluid balance and nerve and muscle function. People with a high-sodium diet, suffering from dehydration, or diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome among other conditions can become hypernatremic while anyone experiencing excessive sweating, severe vomiting or diarrhea, recovering from burns, or diagnosed with underactive adrenal glands, thyroid gland, or other illnesses can become hyponatremic.

Salt shakerAccording to the USDA, one teaspoon (about 4g) of salt provides an entire day’s worth of sodium for a healthy adult at about 2,300mg; and, even then, this is considered an upper safe limit, not a recommended daily allowance. The average daily sodium intake of Americans is actually 3,400mg, or nearly 50% more than the limit. Higher-than-recommended intakes of sodium are known to raise blood pressure and may pose other health risks like heart disease and stroke, the first and sixth leading causes of death in NYC, respectively.1 Interestingly (or maybe not so interesting if you’ve heard me say this before), over 75% of American sodium consumption comes from “outside” foods: packaged, processed, and take-out/dine-in items.2 Salt added during cooking at home doesn’t factor in nearly as much, so if you’re considering cutting back on the sodium intake, re-assess your sources before taking away that salt shaker.

(image credit: Harvard Health Publishing)

When it comes to high blood pressure (or hypertension), the kidneys are unable to filter extra sodium in the body. As the sodium collects, the body holds onto its water content (fluid retention) to try and dilute the salt, thereby increasing both the amount of salt and the amount of water in the body. This results in increased blood volume, which means the heart has to pump harder and puts more pressure on the blood vessels. This situation is no joke and why hypertension has been coined “The Silent Killer.” Over time, if the high-sodium effect becomes the norm in your body, and you end up with chronic hypertension, you may, ultimately, suffer a heart attack, stroke, or worse.

As a Registered Dietitian, my approach to helping people with any of the issues noted above usually involves teaching them how to read the Nutrition Facts label on the back of packaged foods and introducing them to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, which, contrary to popular belief, is NOT a reduced-sodium diet, but instead focuses on nutrient-dense foods that are rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and encourages whole foods over processed ones. This shift alone brings with it options that are naturally low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt––a win-win even for those not necessarily dealing with hypertension.3

In my case, I had to admit I was eating out way more often than I was cooking at home and, even though I was ordering from “healthy” or “natural” restaurants, I was not in control of my sodium intake and we all know that the way eateries make foods palatable is by adding fat, sugar, or salt. Since that revelation, I’ve switched back to eating more at-home meals and, when I do eat out, I ask for a low-sodium version of whatever I order or put in a special request in hopes the restaurant would so graciously accommodate me (which it usually does). With my doctor’s approval, I also added regular physical activity to my daily routine––I tend to be quite desk-ridden––and started noticing improvements in my blood pressure readings in just a few weeks.

BP After

My suggestion to you is to put this information into action ASAP:

  • Purchase an affordable blood pressure monitor and check your BP a few times a day for about a week to get an average reading for yourself. (NOTE: New blood pressure guidelines were released in November 2017 and are reflected below. What once used to be “normal” is now listed as “elevated.”)
  • Keep a log of meals during that same time period so you can cross-check if there’s a correlation if and when you get an uptick, especially if you often eat outside or packaged foods.
  • Consult with your doctor if you skew higher than normal more often than not during that test period.
  • Work with a Registered Dietitian (like me!) to help get you back on track, give you recipes to try at home, and/or teach you basic cooking skills to prepare healthier meals.

basic_blood_pressure_chart

(image credit: American Heart Association)

References:

  1. Health Department Announces 5 Year Results of National Salt Reduction Initiative. New York City Department of Health.
  2. Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet. FDA website.
  3. Soltani, S.,Chitsazi, M.J., Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2017). The effect of dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) on serum inflammatory markers: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Clinical Nutrition; S0261-5614(17).

Think Outside the Cereal Box

When it comes to the first meal of the day, it seems the easiest go-to food, especially if you’ve inadvertently smacked the snooze button one too many times, is cereal or a muffin…unless you’re one of those people who skips breakfast altogether (in which case, please come see me after class). Instead of reaching for a plain bowl of whatever’s in the cabinet, consider first food that will nourish you and set the tone for the rest of your day.

Scramble2_Veg

Recent studies have shown that regular breakfast consumption can have an impact on overall health, specifically decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes––since insulin sensitivity appears to be higher in the morning than other times of day––and conditions associated with metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol).Additionally, since protein increases satiety, starting your day only with carbs––especially if high in simple sugars––may work to your disadvantage, leaving you ravenous before you even get to the office or run your first errand.2,3

Add in some healthy fats and even a very busy and important person like yourself can begin the day with a high-quality, protein-rich, nutrient-dense meal. To start, let’s review protein foods:

  • Animal-based protein includes eggs, yogurt/dairy, meat, poultry, fish.
  • Plant-based protein includes legumes/pulses (e.g., beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas), nuts, seeds, soy meats/products (like tempeh), seitan. Keep in mind that all veggies and grains have some protein in them.

For busy mornings or if you have less than 10 minutes to get your breakfast act together, the following might be your best bets:

  • Oatmeal (or another grain, like quinoa) with 1 T peanut butter or 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Avocado toast

Oatmeal_V

Avo Bagel_Veg

If you have some time the night before, consider these make-ahead options:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Smoothies (click here for a mix-and-match guide to help you balance the right ratio of fruit:veg:protein:fat)
  • Overnight oats

HB eggs_Veg

Smoothie_V

If you have about 20-30 minutes:

  • French toast with 1 T real maple syrup, 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Pancakes with 1 T real maple syrup, 1 T peanut butter and 1/4 c cottage cheese
  • Veggie omelet or scramble

French Toast_V

Pancakes2_Veg

Scramble_Veg.jpg

Note: When preparing meals, a good rule of thumb is that 100 calories should give you enough energy to last about an hour. In the case of breakfast, for example, something like a bowl of oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter added will total approximately 300 cals, so you shouldn’t feel yourself getting hungry again until about three hours later; a single hard-boiled egg, on the other hand, will only provide you with 70 cals and might be better as a grab-and-go snack until you can eat something heartier.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please feel free to add below.

References:

  1. Maki, K.C., Phillips-Eakley, A.K., & Smith, K.N. (2016). The Effects of Breakfast Consumption and Composition on Metabolic Wellness with a Focus on Carbohydrate MetabolismAdvances in Nutrition, 7(3): 613S–621S.
  2. Missimer, A., DiMarco, D.M., Andersen, C.J., Murillo, A.G., Vergara-Jimenez, M., & Fernandez, M.L. (2017). Consuming Two Eggs per Day, as Compared to an Oatmeal Breakfast, Decreases Plasma Ghrelin while Maintaining the LDL/HDL RatioNutrients, 9(2): 89.
  3. Chandler-Laney, P.C., Morrison, S.A., Goree, L.L.T., Ellis, A.C., Casazza, K., Desmond, R. & Gower, B.A. (2014). Return of hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir. Appetite, 80: 236–241.

January Is Thyroid Awareness Month

When is the last time you thought about your thyroid? Perhaps you heard someone mentioning having a sluggish thyroid or you know iodine has something to do with the thyroid, but not sure what.

Your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck, uses iodine (a mineral) to produce hormones and is involved in many of your body’s functions, including metabolic rate and regulating your heart beat.1,2 Iodine is essential for normal thyroid function and iodine deficiency is the main cause of thyroid dysfunction worldwide. (The United States fortifies its salt with iodine purposely to thwart deficiency.)3 Diseases of the thyroid stemming from under- or overproduction of hormones can cause some unremarkable symptoms—like fatigue or weight gain—or more noticeable ones (like goiter), but become serious conditions like Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, or thyroid cancer, which is why it’s important to support your thyroid health.

thyroid

(image credit: Medicina Online)

In the U.S., the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iodine in adults is 150μg—which is easy enough to meet if you use table salt in your food—and increases to 220-290μg for pregnant and breastfeeding women, respectively. Women, especially older women, tend to have more issues with their thyroid than men.4

The following is a list of some of the foods and nutrients that may help promote a healthy thyroid, along with providing many other health benefits; however, if you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, be sure to consult with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian first as some of these items might exacerbate an existing condition.5,6

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds, and leafy/cruciferous vegetables. Click here for some great recipes that focus on omega-3s.
  • Selenium from nuts (Brazil nuts, specifically). Click here to learn more about selenium-rich foods.
  • Iodine from basic table salt (“iodized” salt) or seaweed/sea vegetables and dairy foods. Click here to learn the difference between table salt (sodium chloride) and other types of salt.

To learn more about thyroid health, nutrient deficiencies/toxicities, and related diseases and conditions, please visit the American Thyroid Association’s website.

References:

  1. Thyroid disease. Women’s Health.gov website.
  2. Thyroid disorders. Medicinenet.com
  3. Leung, A.M., Braverman, L.E., & Pearce, E.N. (2012), History of U.S. Iodine Fortification and SupplementationNutrients, 4(11): 1740–1746.
  4. Harvard Women’s Health Watch (2013). Could you have a thyroid problem-and not know it?
  5. Theobald, M. (n.d.). 7 Hypothyroidism-Friendly Foods to Add to Your Diet. Everyday Health website.
  6. James, D. (n.d.). What You Should Eat To Improve Thyroid Health. mbghealth website.

A Garden of Eating

There’s no escaping the “New Year, New You” phenomenon that happens every January. From productivity gurus talking about resolutions and goals to the onslaught of health and wellness professionals (present company included) telling you what to eat, what not to eat, how to diet, how not to diet, and why you need to start working out right now.

It can be overwhelming.

But new habits don’t have to start on the first of the year, or on a Monday, or as soon as you perfect the last new habit. They can start any time and they can be flexible.

Case in point: If you’ve been wanting to learn more about plant-based foods and incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and/or grains into your weekly meals, you can start small and make changes as you determine your taste preferences, learn about the availability of seasonal and local produce, or experiment with flavors and cooking methods.

(image credit: D. Leonis)

It’s no secret that plants benefit our health. The phytonutrients found in vibrant fruits and veggies help keep our body functions working and disease at bay in a way that animal foods don’t; but that doesn’t mean both categories can’t find harmony on your plate.

One-week challenge

At your next meal or snack, count up the colors or the food groups in front of you to get a feel for what your normal eating patterns are like and if you think there might be room for improvement or variety. If so, for one week only, add some plants to your plate. That’s right. I said “add.” No need to get rid of anything you’re already eating; just start including some new items off the “plant” list below.

Food Groups

Pick a few of your favorites and toss them into as many of your meals or snacks as possible for one week. Depending on your location and what’s in season, you might be able to find fresh citrus fruits or berries (or use frozen, if preferred), packaged, pre-washed veggies like baby spinach or mesclun mixes are convenient and usually available year-round, and you can always find bagged or canned plant-based proteins like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds in the grocery store. At the end of the week, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Was this easy?
  2. Did I enjoy this?
  3. Could I do this again?

If yes to all three, then keep going! If no, then decide if you want to try a different item, method, or stop altogether and re-assess at a later date.

If you’re not sure where to begin, click here or here to learn more about adding plants to your meals, or follow me on Instagram for some easy-to-make, colorful and flavorful dishes that revolve around plants.

After your challenge is over, stop back here and leave a comment to let us know what worked or what didn’t work, and drop a line at any time if you need help moving forward.

‘Tis the Season

The DishWithDina crew is taking a break to enjoy the holidays, be with friends & family, and gear up for all the fun, fab things coming in 2018. We will be back on January 3 with new blog posts, online promotions and webinars (both free and fee-based), individual/group nutrition counseling sessions and educational programs (available in-person and virtually), and much, much more!

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Until then, merry and happy whatever you celebrate. Be well, be kind, and remember to eat your veggies!