6 Tips To Stay Healthy Through The Holidays

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With the holidays right around the corner, I thought I’d put together a list of things you can do to stay healthy while still enjoying the holiday season. So, without further ado, here are the top 6 recommendations I would make:

  1. Stick to your normal eating habits. Don’t try skipping meals or eating less as this may lead to over-consuming snack foods and holiday treats.
  2. Build meals around protein and veggies while minimizing starchy or sugary carbs such as fruits, grains, legumes, and potatoes. Always opt for more vegetables and protein to feel full.
  3. Avoid liquid calories such as juices, milk, and mixed drinks. Get your calories from whole foods!
  4. Once you are full from your meal, then indulge in whatever holiday treat you like most. My favorite is chocolate peanut butter balls! It’s a lot easier to enjoy one or two treats, rather than a dozen, after filling up on healthy food during mealtime.
  5. Exercise whenever possible! This will mitigate stress that occurs during the holidays and protect your body from the damage of the indulgences. Exercise can be as simple as sprinting up a flight of stairs, going for a walk after meals, or performing a few sets of body weight pushups and squats.
  6. For those that plan to consume alcoholic beverages: drink on an empty stomach. When alcohol is ingested, all other calories are sent to fat storage so the body can break down the alcohol as fast as possible. Pick drinks lower in sugar such as dry wines, champagnes, and hard liquors. Forgo the prepackaged sugary mixers and try flavoring with a lime or lemon. My approach is to have a NorCal Margarita (2 shots tequila, juice from an entire lime, ice, and club soda) a few hours before dinner. Finally, make the following meal high in protein and healthy fat. This will help blood sugar levels, protein synthesis, and hormones return to normal.

I personally choose to consume a whey protein shake and digestive enzymes before any meal that is high in processed carbs and low in nutrients, such as pasta or pizza.

Finally, don’t stress about indulging! The holidays should be about family, relaxation, and a change in routine. Sure, under-consuming protein and vitamins while over-consuming sugar and anti-nutrients isn’t going to improve health – but allowing stress levels to increase will only exacerbate fat storage and skew hormone levels.

Make the best choices you can as often as possible, but plan to enjoy yourself and have some indulgences. Then jump right back into clean eating and living on in January.

Hope these tips help everyone enjoy their holidays while staying healthy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Stay Healthy During the Holidays

With the holidays right around the corner, I thought I’d put together a list of things you can do to stay healthy while still enjoying the holiday season. So, without further ado, here are the top 6 recommendations I would make:

  1. Stick to your normal eating habits. Don’t try skipping meals or eating less as this may lead to over-consuming snack foods and holiday treats.
  2. Build meals around protein and veggies while minimizing starchy or sugary carbs such as fruits, grains, legumes, and potatoes. Always opt for more vegetables and protein to feel full.
  3. Avoid liquid calories such as juices, milk, and mixed drinks. Get your calories from whole foods!
  4. Once you are full from your meal, then indulge in whatever holiday treat you like most. My favorite is chocolate peanut butter balls! It’s a lot easier to enjoy one or two treats, rather than a dozen, after filling up on healthy food during mealtime.
  5. Exercise whenever possible! This will mitigate stress that occurs during the holidays and protect your body from the damage of the indulgences. Exercise can be as simple as sprinting up a flight of stairs, going for a walk after meals, or performing a few sets of body weight pushups and squats.
  6. For those that plan to consume alcoholic beverages: drink on an empty stomach. When alcohol is ingested, all other calories are sent to fat storage so the body can break down the alcohol as fast as possible. Pick drinks lower in sugar such as dry wines, champagnes, and hard liquors. Forgo the prepackaged sugary mixers and try flavoring with a lime or lemon. My approach is to have a NorCal Margarita (2 shots tequila, juice from an entire lime, ice, and club soda) a few hours before dinner. Finally, make the following meal high in protein and healthy fat. This will help blood sugar levels, protein synthesis, and hormones return to normal.

I personally choose to consume a whey protein shake and digestive enzymes before any meal that is high in processed carbs and low in nutrients, such as pasta or pizza.

Finally, don’t stress about indulging! The holidays should be about family, relaxation, and a change in routine. Sure, under-consuming protein and vitamins while over-consuming sugar and anti-nutrients isn’t going to improve health – but allowing stress levels to increase will only exacerbate fat storage and skew hormone levels.

Make the best choices you can as often as possible, but plan to enjoy yourself and have some indulgences. Then jump right back into clean eating and living on in January.

Hope these tips help everyone enjoy their holidays while staying healthy. See you all next year!

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Chocolate!

Due to the positive feedback from last week’s post discussing coffee consumption, this week I’ll do a similar analysis of another dark and flavorful food – chocolate!

Chocolate, as we know it, is much different than the cocoa bean that grows in nature. The beans are roasted, de-shelled, and ground into a paste. From there, sugar, cocoa butter, and emulsifiers (usually soy lecithin) are added. Finally, it is refined, treated with an alkalizing agent to reduce the acidity, and often combined with dairy.

The darker the chocolate you consume, the less inputs are added. For the sake of discussion, let’s look at the health benefits of 100% raw cocoa:

  • It has more antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, than any other substance. These help the body maintain healthy cardiovascular function by improving endothelial function, blood lipid levels, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.
  • It is predominately saturated and monounsaturated fat, the safest and most stable forms of fuel for the body.
  • One ounce (less than a single square from a bar) fulfills the listed percent of recommended daily values for the following minerals:
    • 50% Copper and Manganese
    • 35% Magnesium
    • 25% Iron and Phosphorus
    • 15% Potassium and Zinc

These are minerals that most people are deficient in…particularly when you consider the anti-nutrient content, and resulting absorption issues, of the foods they are predominately found in (nuts, seeds, and grains).

I would list the following facts as downsides of cocoa:

  • One ounce contains 65mg of caffeine (not nearly as much as coffee but on par with black tea).
  • One ounce also contains 200-500mg of theobromine – another stimulant that takes the body longer to process than caffeine.
  • As mentioned above, it is usually processed with sugar, dairy, and soy.

Again, all these facts are for 100% raw cocoa, often sold in the baking aisle of grocery stores as baking chocolate. In this form, it is very bitter and difficult to over consume.

I’d recommend buying the darkest chocolate you can still enjoy. Most people can find a 75%-85% dark chocolate bar that they like…just experiment with different brands!

I personally buy 100% raw cocoa and melt it into smoothies or shave it on top of yogurt and homemade ice cream. When mixed with other foods, particularly sweeter foods, I find the bitterness of the 100% dark to be perfect.

I use 1-2 ounces (one square from a full bar) on each day of the weekend. I personally would not want to consume cocoa on a daily basis due to the stimulant properties. However, if you are consuming 85% or darker cocoa, there is no reason not to enjoy one square a day (just try to eat it earlier in the day due to the stimulant properties). Be on the lookout for bars loaded with sugar, milk, or other inputs that could lead to over consumption.

One separate matter worth mentioning, that I unfortunately did not touch upon in my last post, is the environmental and humanity issues involved in the production of cocoa. Very often, child slaves and impoverished farmers are subject to terrible treatment. Also, deforestation is a major concern when growing and harvesting cocoa beans.

Try to find cocoa that is certified Fairtrade. This implies that a certification body has approved the environmental, labor, and developmental standards involved in the production of a food. Like many other bureaucratic systems however, this certification is far from perfect and does not guarantee fair treatment of every person involved in the cocoa trade.

In closing, I would like to reiterate: check the list of ingredients on the back of whatever you buy. Find a product with the shortest list that does not contain any ingredients you could not find in nature. And also, consume in moderation. Just because a food has more benefits than detriments, doesn’t mean more is better.

Enjoy!

Review of New York Times Article

How has your sleep been in the past week? Any of the tactics from my last post help?

This week I’ll review an article I came across on the New York Times website.

Initially, I wanted to post a lot more news articles. I also wanted to include a lot more in-line citations and references. I tried this in earlier posts but, ultimately, scrapped those attempts. I found it led to biased cherry-picking of studies and data.

Obviously I have my opinion, and I’m sure that comes through at times but, ultimately, I want to provide reliable and verifiable information for everyone…not convince people that what I do is best.

The news article, titled “Dietary Report Card Disappoints”, discusses many of the shortcomings of our nation’s health. The real thing that stuck out to me (maybe because of my opinion! haha) was the following quote:

 “There’s been a huge increase in grains in the last 30 years — bread, cereal, pasta, rice, burritos, pizza crust, panini, muffins, scones — mostly made from white flour,” she said. “We’ve been blaming the obesity epidemic on sweets, and we are eating too much sugar, but we need to pay more attention to grains.

“It would not be great to simply replace refined grains like white flour and white rice with whole grains,” she added. “We need to cut back on grains, period.”

This is the first time I’ve seen a mainstream source acknowledge our nations over-consumption of grains.

This report also discusses over-consumption of sugars, primarily high-fructose corn syrup. The article recommends fruit which is a perfect, more nutritious alternative to fulfill a sweet-craving.

Early on in this piece, saturated fat is lumped into the same category as “heart-damaging trans fats” and lists margarine and shortening as sources of saturated fats. Fortunately, we all know that saturated fats may be the safest for the heart and that margarine is dangerous because of its trans-fat content (occurring through the process of hydrogenation).

Another flaw is when the nutritionist quoted in the article, Liebman, reports that consuming beef and pork, as opposed to chicken and fish, is a problem. Fish is certainly the best protein source but, believe it or not, beef is preferable to chicken. One ounce of chicken has 8 grams of fat (1500mg Omega 6 and 100mg Omega 3), while one ounce of grass-fed beef only has 3.6 grams of fat (120mg Omega 6 and 25mg Omega 3). Crunching these numbers, the O6/O3 ratio of chicken is 15/1 while beef is 5/1. Clearly beef is leaner and has an O6/O3 ratio closer to the optimal 2/1 range.

One protein source the article recommends is frozen fish and farm-raised mussels…a timely callback to my recipe post two weeks ago!

Dairy is discussed within this article but again, critical details are overlooked. Liebman approves of the “decline in whole milk consumption and the booming popularity of mostly low-fat yogurt”. However, dairy is problematic for many people due to lactose intolerance and the inflammatory nature of its primary protein – casein. Also, the majority of dairy in the U.S. is pasteurized and homogenized. This means that a raw food, with living enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, is heated and processed into a dead substance. Manufacturers must then add synthetic vitamins and minerals and stamp it with a short shelf life.

The final topic covered is portion sizes, particularly in restaurants. This is a very valid point. Restaurants, along with food processing companies, have increased the palatability of certain foods. By tinkering with man-made forms of sodium, sugar, and fat, they have found a way to completely override our bodies natural hunger signals. An interesting comparison: one 16-ounce soda contains the same amount of sugar as FOUR FEET of the sugarcane plant. Imagine how much fibrous and inedible plant matter you’d have to gnaw through to ingest that amount of fructose naturally.

To limit my intake of unhealthy portion sizes of processed food, I merely treat eating-out as an indulgence. Also, considering the cost of one meal at a restaurant, I cannot frequently justify going out to eat. By eating nutrient-dense, homemade meals 99% of the time, going out to eat every month or so is far more enjoyable and doesn’t negatively affect my health and performance.

Well, that’s all I have for my review of this New York Times article. If you ever see reports, studies, or anything else you’d like me to break-down for you, don’t hesitate to e-mail me directly…it’s always fun for me. Thanks!