A Salad a Day

Eating healthfully does not have to be a difficult feat of strength and will. In fact, I encourage you to create a simple salad every day based solely on ingredients you have in your house or can easily grab at your local grocer and dump into a bowl.

I have been having so much fun with Mason jar salads lately. (Yes, food nerds like me think salads are fun.) Originally, my meal planning and prep work used to take up half a day every Sunday. I would divide all my ingredients into their own containers so I could mix and match and assemble a variety of veggie-friendly meals for myself during the week. But, lo and behold! I became a Mason jar salad convert.

Mason Jar Salad

My Mason jars are extra large (32 oz) and light green, but you could go for the clear, smaller version if you’re slowly working your way into the meal prep and veggie lifestyle. Assembly is easy, but requires some thought as you don’t want your fragile, leafy greens sitting in a puddle of dressing for three days. HurryTheFoodUp shows you how to properly structure your salad and TheMuse gives you lots of ideas about the kinds of foods you can integrate into your salads, so play around and experiment with different flavors each week. Try to always have a protein (chicken or chickpeas), a carb (sweet potatoes or carrots), and a fat (avocado or walnuts) in your combo. When you’re ready, you can simply shake up your salad and eat directly out of the jar or shake, dump everything into a bowl, and toss in a handful of croutons. Ta da!

Mason Jar Avocado

For more information and ideas about how to get lots of veggies and other yummy, good foods into your daily meals, check out my previous blog post “It’s Easy Being Green…” And please leave a comment below and share with us what’s been working for you or what you’re struggling with. We’re here to help make healthful eating as easy as possible!

Things We Don’t Talk About at the Table

Ah, poop. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last four-plus years of studying nutrition, it’s that Registered Dietitians loooooove to talk about poop.

And why shouldn’t we? It’s the one way to determine how healthy our clients are eating––whether they’re getting enough fiber in their diets, if they’re drinking enough water––and how healthy they are in general1. The color and consistency of someone’s bowel movements could help diagnose everything from stomach ulcers to celiac disease to colon cancer.

If you didn’t already know, there is a ginormous amount of evidence that the gut and mind are very much connected, so it makes sense that April is not only Stress Awareness Month, but it’s also IBS Awareness Month. (I could write about and discuss mental health and all facets of gut physiology every day for an entire year and wouldn’t make a dent in the amount of topics that can be covered under these categories.)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of those elusive gastrointestinal conditions that seems to get diagnosed only after other conditions can be ruled out, which can be frustrating for the person with IBS because there are sometimes no physical signs and no specific cause for it. People with IBS usually experience abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea (IBS can be considered IBS-C with constipation, IBS-D with diarrhea, or IBS-A when alternating with both), and/or bloating, among other things, and may also have some sort of sensitivity to stress and diet. None of these triggers may seem consistent during each flare-up, so it’s important for anyone suffering from the condition to jot down the what, when, where, and how an episode occurs to help recognize if there’s a pattern they can relay to their doctor.

Thankfully, once diagnosed, people with IBS can manage their diet, lifestyle habits, and stress to keep their pain and discomfort under control. Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) also helps as we understand how to incorporate a healthy, balanced diet and other treatment guidelines, based on scientific evidence, to manage the condition2. An issue with looking online for self-treatment of IBS is that it can be quite confusing and, because the human body is so magnificent, there is no general rule that applies to anyone suffering with IBS. Instead, it will most likely be a trial-and-error approach in adjusting one’s intake of fiber, carbohydrates, and fat to determine what alleviates or exacerbates the symptoms. The good news is that researchers continue to study nutrition therapy for IBS, so expect to see even more information on this issue in the very near future3.

If you think you might have IBS, please meet with your doctor first and request a referral to a gastroenterologist and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. It’s no fun being in pain, but it’s less fun having your condition worsen because you don’t understand what role your diet and lifestyle might play in it.

References:

  1. Greenfield, P. (2014). 7 Things Your Poop Says About You. Prevention website.
  2. Palmer, S. (2009). Soothing the Symptoms of IBS With Diet Therapy, Today’s Dietitian, 11(6), 34.
  3. Gibson, P.R. (2017). The evidence base for efficacy of the low FODMAP diet in irritable bowel syndrome: is it ready for prime time as a first-line therapy? Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 32(S1), 32-35.

Get Your Macros Here!

Macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fat—are vital to health and well-being. Regardless if you are a meat-eater or follow a plant-based lifestyle, it is important that you get the full range of what your body requires to function properly.

Macronutrients

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) create dietary guidelines for Americans, listed on the Nutrition Food Labels on packaged foods and also found online at Health.gov. These amounts are fairly arbitrary—not to mention often confusing—and do not take into account a person’s life stage, level of physical activity, or existing chronic conditions, so understanding your own habits will help you make the eating choices that are best for you.

Proteins, which break down into amino acids when eaten and serve to function in metabolism and immunity, are critical components of all tissues in the human body. Protein is in everything from lean, ground beef (22g/serving), skinless chicken breast (29g), and plain yogurt (13g) to tempeh (18g), kidney beans (8g), and oatmeal (6g). Diets with too little protein can lead to low energy and illness; too much protein may worsen chronic diseases like osteoporosis and kidney failure. Protein functions best with adequate amounts of carbohydrates and fats.

Carbohydrates are mainly found in plant foods and break down into sugar molecules (most abundantly, the monosaccharide glucose) during digestion. Carbs are the primary source of energy for the body’s red blood cells, brain, and other nervous tissues. They also deliver fiber, which may reduce the risk of some cancers, prevent digestive problems in the colon, and provide satiety. Fiber can be found in foods like navy beans (10g/serving), blackberries (8g), broccoli (6g), and whole-wheat bread (2g). Too few carbs in the diet can lead to ketosis, an unhealthy metabolic state; too many carbs—especially if the food is considered “high-glycemic” as in white starches, candy, and dried fruit—may cause spikes in blood sugar levels, especially detrimental for anyone with diabetes.

Fats (and oils) turn into fatty acids when digested, provide the body with energy, transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to cells, and are found in everything from butter to walnuts. The main issue with a low-fat diet is that the fat, which contributes to the flavor and texture of food, is usually replaced with sugar or salt to make the food more palpable. High-fat diets, especially in saturated or trans fats, can lead to obesity and heart disease.

Consider the following:

  • What are the primary foods you’ve been eating? Were there plenty of proteins, but not enough nutrient-dense carbs? Did your lunches consist only of what was in your office mate’s candy bowl.
  • Check your plate and be sure each macronutrient group above is represented in some way. Add what’s missing or include it as a snack in between meals.
  • Every season, replace the foods you seem to be eating most often with others that you haven’t tried yet.

Everything you eat plays a role in running—or ruining—your body. Incorporating varied, balanced, and high quality forms of energy is the best path toward a long and healthful life.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 28, 2014.]

Image credit: Fitnut