Posts Tagged ‘protein’

How To Read A Nutrition Label

September 21, 2015

 

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Many of us know it is prudent to read nutrition labels to see what exactly our packaged foods consist of. Very few of us really know what all those numbers, percentages and descriptions really mean for our health.

Here is a comprehensive guide to deciphering those labels and why it is important to do so:

Serving size: This denotes how many servings the package contains, according to the manufacturer.  This number can be very decieving, since the entire contents may be easily consumed in one sitting by yourself, yet the package lists it as 3 servings. The FDA sets the serving sizes. All of the information listed on the label refers to one single serving. If you eat the whole package, you must multiply the calories and fat by the amount listed. For example, a bag of potato chips states one serving as 1 oz. and lists the servings per container as 14. If you can get 14 servings from one bag of chips, congratulations! You have amazing will power. For the rest of us, get out your calculator and start multiplying.

Percentage of Daily Value: This is calculated based on someone who eats 2000 calories per day as their normal diet. For most women, this is more than they need to maintain a healthy weight. For highly active women, and many men, this may not be enough. Take this number with a grain of salt, (something we will discuss later in this post.)

Fats: Recent research points out that eating fat doesn’t make us fat. In fact, we need fat in our diet for optimum wellness. Certain vitamins are fat soluable, meaning they need to dissolve in fat to be carried through the body. They also help us maintain our body temperature, and provide insulation for our organs. That said, there are many different types of fat, and choosing the right type is critical to our health. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, and are known to raise cholesterol, and could also increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. Trans fats are mostly made from processing oils using a method called partially hydrogenating. This makes them more shelf stable, but it also makes them artery cloggers. Trans fats are also attributed to an increase in unhealthy LDL cholesterol, and lower the more desirable HDL cholestoral. Most saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Better choices are unsaturated fats, which include many liquid oils, such as olive oil, safflower oil or corn oil. Many fish are also high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Plant based sources of fat, including nuts and seeds and avocado are also good for providing protection to your heart and lower blood pressure. If the label lists a high level of saturated fats, partially hydrogenated oils, or any trans fats, it is best to put it back on the shelf and explore other choices.

Beware of labels that boast “fat free.” Generally speaking, when the fat is removed, it is replaced by something else, often sugar. Fat free doesn’t equate to calorie free. Just sayin’.

Sodium: Sodium = salt. Pure and simple. It makes our food taste great, but it also raises blood pressure when consumed in high quantities. Our recommended daily consumption of salt is set as less than 2.300 mg. It is suggested that no single food should contain more than 805 mg. per serving. Check the label carefully for how many servings are in the package. Often, there are several, making the facts a bit decieving. High sodium also means highly processed. Most canned or packaged foods have a much higher sodium content than the freshly made counterpart. Look out for canned soups, jarred sauces or lunch meats. They tend to be sodium bombs.

Fiber: When looking at grain based products, such as bread, look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Labels will often describe the fiber as soluable, or insoluable. Sources of soluable fiber include oatmeal, barley and dried beans. This type of fiber can be helpful in lowering cholesterol. Insoluable fiber protects against bowel disease, and is found in whole grains, fruit and vegetables.

Sugars: Sugar can crop up in all kinds of foods which are not associated with being sweet, like crackers, or cereals that market themselves as healthy. It is often listed as glucose, sucrose or fructose, among others. If it ends in “ose,” it is a type of sugar. Sugar substitutes might have the ending “tol,” such as malatol,or sorbitol. These are sugar alcohols and are associated with causing digestive issues. If your artificially sweetened foods send you racing to a restroom, you might want to avoid them in the future.

Protein: Our bodies are made of protein, and it is often referred to as the building blocks of life. We need protein to repair and make new cells. Protein is found in animal products, as well as soy, nuts, and beans among other plant based sources. The rule of thumb, is to eat .45 grams of protein per day, for every pound of body weight. That means a 150 pound person should consume about 68 grams per day.

Total Carbohydrates: This number could come from healthy sources, such as whole grains or even vegetables, or it could come from the “white stuff,”such as processed white flour and sugar. Cross reference this number with the sugar and fiber numbers to get the full picture.

Vitamins and Minerals: This lists the vitamins and minerals that are both naturally occuring, and those that are added. The percentages are often most helpful in determining just how much of these are in any given food. Remember, these are often based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you only eat 1500 calories per day, these percentages will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Ingredients: This is critical information. All ingredients are required to be listed on the label, in order of quantity. To me, this is the most important information on the label, as it tells me exactly what I am eating. When I began doing my Whole 30 elimination diet, I realized that most packaged foods had lots more in them than one would think. Almond butter for instance, should contain almonds, and possibly salt. Sugar, or additives are uneccessary and can be avoided if you are a savvy shopper. If there is a long list of ingredients on a simple food, it might be one to avoid. If you can’t pronounce some of them, that too is a danger sign that the food might not be very good for you.

Knowing what we are putting into our bodies is key to good health and weight control.

There is a great app from food expert Marion Nestle, called Fooducate, which allows you to scan a food’s barcode and get a letter grade on the healthiness of the product, right there in the grocery aisle. While the foods that don’t contain a barcode or a package are usually the best for us, this is an invaluable tool to help you navigate the vast array of foods available to us.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Unrecipe of the Week: Honey Roasted Chickpeas

February 9, 2015

 

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I am always looking for a snack that is healthy, not processed, and low in calories and carbs to satisfy my crunchy, salty, sweet cravings.

I’ve spoken before about my addiction to Trader Joe’s trail mixes. They almost fit the bill. That is, if I could stop at just a tiny little handful. I cannot. They are my crack.

Chickpeas are an often forgotten health food. They are high in protein and fiber, and are iron rich. One half cup of chickpeas contains 134 calories, and 7 grams of protien.

This recipe takes these little gems and roasts them up to a delicate crunch. The spices add a little heat, and the honey provides just a touch of sweetness. While chickpeas do contain a reasonable amount of calories, they are filling enough to allow me to stop after just a handful or two. They are easy to make and keep well in the refrigerator, so you can grab a few when the afternoon munchies take hold.

Spicy Honey Roasted Chickpeas

Rinse a large can of chickpeas and spread them on paper towels to dry. They need to be dry before cooking or they will stay soft.

Mix 2 tablespoons or so of cumin, garlic salt, and paprika together in a large bowl. Add about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, depending on how hot you like things. Add a couple of tablespoons of a nuetral flavored oil, such as canola, grapeseed or sunflower seed oil, and 1 large tablespoon of honey. Mix well. Stir in the chickpeas and toss to coat.

Spread the chickpeas on a rimmed baking sheet covered with parchment paper and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 or 40 minutes until crisp. Shake the pan every 10 minutes during baking to roll the chickpeas around, allowing them to brown more evenly.

Allow to cool slightly, and enjoy!
Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator if you are not going to eat them right away.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Turning a New Leaf

January 21, 2015

This year, kale has been touted as a superfood that is nutritionally superior to all others. It’s popularity has reached a fever pitch, to the point that it’s trendiness is starting to wear on us.

kale

kale

For those of your kale obsessed foodies, we have some big news.

The Center for Disease Control just released a ranking of 47 fruits and vegetables based on their nutritional value. The CDC took into consideration the amount of fiber, protein, potassium and vitamins.

I’m sorry to tell you that kale ranked 15th on the list. I know you’re devastated. But, alas, there are even healthier greens to explore. It’s ok. You might find one you like better, and you can start a new trend of your own.

watercress

watercress

Watercress took the #1 spot, with Chinese cabbage, chard, and beet greens coming in next. Spinach ranked #5 followed by chicory, leaf lettuce and parsley. Romaine lettuce is 9th and the #10 spot goes to collard greens. With leafy greens taking the top 16 spots, it seems you can’t go wrong if you go green.
Of the foods tested, 41 of the 47 were classified as “powerhouses”, which are strongly associated with reducing chronic disease.

chard

chard

Those that did not make the list are garlic, onion, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries and tangerines. While still healthy choices, they failed to meet the team’s criteria for classification as a powerhouse fruit or vegetable.

See the complete report here.

photos: Glasshouse Images

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Unrecipe of the Week: Perfect Chicken Breasts

December 3, 2014

This week, I am atoning for the not so healthy eating I did last week. My body tends to let me know when I have over-indulged, and when I need to clean up my act. I tend to do something drastic and unsustainable for a couple of days to shut off the cravings and debloat. This week, I am eating a very lean, high protein diet, and need to have the right foods on hand, ready to go when I am hungry.

I stumbled on this method of cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts, that filled the bill. They came out moist, tender and flavorful, without adding a lot of excess ingredients. It’s the perfect method to cook chicken breasts to add to salads, or use in sandwiches. Give it a try, and tell us what you think! Warning: patience is required!

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Perfect Pan Chicken Breasts:

Season the skinless, boneless chicken breasts however you wish. I marinated mine in some herbs, lemon and a little olive oil. If the breasts are large, pound them down a bit so that they are uniform in size, and about 1/2″ thick.
Heat a large sauté pan with a lid on the stove, and add a little oil or butter. Allow it heat and cover the entire pan lightly.

Add the chicken breasts and cook 1 minute without touching them, so they begin to brown. Flip them over, lower the heat to medium and cover the pan. Allow them to cook for 10 minutes while resisting the urge to peek. At the end of 10 minutes, turn the burner off, and allow it to sit covered for another 10 minutes, without lifting the lid. It is important that you let it cook unfettered to seal in the juices and allow the steam to build up inside the pan. At this point, double check to insure that the chicken breasts are fully cooked, and enjoy!

photo: glasshouse images

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Challenging Math and Science

September 29, 2014

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am not a doctor, or a nutritionist. I am not good in science and I absolutely suck at math. Therefore, please take this post with a grain of salt, or better yet, skip the extra salt completely and just keep reading.

Conventional wisdom states that 3500 calories make a pound. A pound is a pound, whether it is fat, muscle, butter or carrots. It is presumed, that if you reduce your calorie intake by 3500 calories over a period of time, you will lose 1 pound. If you over-consume by that much, you will gain. Makes sense,right? Well, not so fast…

What you eat, and how you burn it off is as important as the elimination of those 3500 calories. Case in point:

I am admittedly obsessive about food and fitness, hence the premise of this blog. I keep a food and activity journal, and try to be as accurate as possible. Based on my current size, if I only consume 1,110 calories per day, I will lost 1 pound per week. Before you all go crazy and think I starve myself, when I enter activity, it adds those calories burned back to my daily food quota. Because I am so active, I am able to eat more than that and still be on target to lose a pound per week.
I take hardcore cycling classes four times per week, I weight train, do weight circuits and toss in a Pilates class when I can for good measure. I also walk 1-1/2 hours per day on average, as transportation. In most people’s eyes, that should be a free pass for the all-you-can-eat fish fry, with extra dessert, right? WRONG!

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According to my Lose It app, I have saved 5369 calories over the last 4 weeks, over and above the 3500 per week deficit built in. That would mean I lost 5.5 pounds. According to the scale in my bathroom, I have gained almost that much. Say WHAT?

The big differential for me these last few weeks is not the amount of food I am eating, but the type of food I am eating.  Based on my personal experience, here are the cold, hard realities of healthy eating and exercise, according to me:

Just because it came from Whole Foods, or is organic, low fat, gluten free or whatever else the package says, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Sorry, but real healthy food does not come in a package, and therefore does not state it’s virtures.

I do not have a gluten allergy or celiac disease, and gluten does not make me sick. Foods that contain it however (with the exception of french fries, that would be all the really delicous ones!) make me fat. And by fat, I mean bloated, and thick around the middle. Maybe it’s not the case for you, but for me, if I want a flat belly, I need to lay off the white stuff, most of the time. And while we’re at it, the whole grain goodness of whole wheat isn’t any better on my middle.

For many, many years, I avidly avoided sugar. Not even a bite of a cookie, or a lick of ice-cream. Now, if I have a little sweet something, it makes me want more. Like a junkie, that bite becomes the whole thing. And then I have a stomach ache. My body is trying to tell me something. Why don’t I listen to it? Do you listen to yours? You really should.

Protein is the building block of muscle or something like that. (See disclosure above.) I am clearly not eating enough of it lately. I don’t like meat, so getting to the fish market has to be a priority, otherwise I just eat fruit and vegetables, and later become ravenous and down half a bag of  trail mix or something else masquerading as “healthy” in a  package in my pantry. It’s important to fuel properly during the day to avoid the ravenous binge, especially post workout.

My exercise routine is intense, followed by long stretches of sitting on my butt in front of a computer or drawing table all day. I get out of my chair sometimes and can barely move I’m so stiff. Studies show that even a couple of  hours a day of physical activity cannot offset being sedentary for the rest of the day. I need to get up and move around every few hours, to rev my metabolism and stretch my sore limbs. Perhaps a stroll to the nearest fish market would solve multiple issues?

While we are on the subject of walking, I regret to inform you that walking does not burn very many calories. For those of you that think walking for 30 minutes per day a few times a week is exercising, you are wrong. It is better than not moving at all, but it doesn’t do much for increasing your heart rate or decreasing your fat rate. Lose It says that I burned 69 calories during a 30 minute walk, or the equivalent of  1-1/2 tablespoons of trail mix. And that’s not the kind with M&M’s in it. Bummer, right?

This is the calorie equivalent of a 30 minute brisk walk.

This is the calorie equivalent of a 30 minute brisk walk.

The media touts salt as an enemy. It’s not the salt that we sprinkle on our home cooked meals that is the problem. It’s the huge amounts lurking in those bags and tetra packs, and glass jars (no plastic please! ) that is the issue. That organic, gluten free, low fat, high fiber soup my be a BPA free sodium bomb. Making soup is so easy and tastes so much better. It’s time to get off my duff and make a few different kinds to put in the freezer in individual containers so that I can have homemade convenience foods at the ready. While salt doesn’t cause fat gain, that jump in the scale after consuming large quantities of it is due to good old bloat. Drinking a lot of water can help to eliminate the retained water in a day or two.

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The bottom line is that whole foods; the kind that are produced by nature, not factories, are the best for us. There is no debate there. Eating the freshest, highest quality foods, without added chemicals, additives and flavorings will produce the best results in terms of health, fuel and weight management.

Moving throughout the day is important for your health, but adding bouts of high intensity activity ( intervals for example,) will yield you better results.

It’s true what they say: You can’t out train a bad diet, and abs really are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.

No Yolk

November 7, 2013

4093602642For many years, we have been led to believe that egg yolks are our enemy. They are fattening and harbor all the nasty cholesterol that clogs our arteries and leads to heart problems, right? WRONG!

The American Heart Association recommends that we limit our cholesterol intake to 300 mg, per day. One egg yolk contains 185 mg, and who really eats just one egg? One egg contains approximately 72 calories, while the white contains only about 17 calories. It seems like a no-brainer to skip the yolk yet nutritionists are beginning to think differently.

Almost 90% of the nutrients in an egg are found in the yolk. What’s a little cholesterol, when you can get calcium, iron, folate, zinc and vitamins A, D and E, just to name drop a few?

Cholesterol is determined more by your genetics, fitness habits and stress levels, and less by the amount of animal fats you consume. Your cell structure is dependent on it, and it’s a precursor to your sex hormones and essential for growth.

They are better than a bagel for weight loss. Studies show that those individuals who ate eggs for breakfast, lost more weight than those whose breakfasts were made of white carbs. The high protein content also kept the subjects satiated for longer periods of time.

So, toss the old conventional wisdom out the window, and try eating the whole egg. You might just find it’s the healthier alternative.

No yolk. (bad pun intended.)

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Peas Please

July 8, 2013

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It’s pea season, and the farmer’s markets are brimming over with shell peas. Pop the pods open and roll out the tiny green peas nestled inside. Each pod only contains a few, so if you are thinking about peas for a crowd, invite someone else to join in the task.

Lots of pods...

Lots of pods…

There are lots of reasons to eat your peas. They are high in protein, vitamin C, fiber and other healthy micronutrients and antioxidants.

Once extracted, the peas can be eaten raw, boiled for 20-30 seconds just to soften them slightly, or quickly sautéed. They are great as a side dish, with just a little butter and salt, or tossed into a salad. Peas are versatile, and can be used in pastas with a creamy or lemony sauce, or pureed into soups, and spreads. Add them to risotto, or grind them into pesto. There isn’t much these little green wonders won’t work with.

Not so many peas...

Not so many peas…

Feel free to share your favorite pea recipes in the comment section!

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Bro-gurt

April 10, 2013

In a society where woman are still second-class citizens, this one takes the cake.

All we ask for is equal pay for equal work, and the opportunity to make our own decisions where are bodies are concerned. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it? Just when we think we are making a little headway, this happens:

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Introducing Powerful Yogurt for Men. Yes, a men’s only yogurt, created “by men, for men.” Brogurt, if you will. Seriously? Now we need gender specific yogurt?

This 0% fat Greek yogurt claims to have more protein than it’s less butch counterparts, and comes in a manly 8-ounce portion size.

The container is sleek black, and bears the slogan “find your inner abs.”

It purports to address the unique needs of the male population, and is all natural, and void of artificial sweeteners or hormones.

Um, don’t other yogurts make this claim? My unisex fat free Greek yogurt (Fage) also has about 3 grams of protein per ounce and about 16.5 calorie per ounce vs. 17.5 calories per ounce for the manlier type. It’s in a plain-ish white container that holds a more delicate 6 ounce serving.

Will something happen if women accidentally partake in this men’s only ritual? Will we grow facial hair and start farting in public? Or is it just a marketing ploy to get “real men” to eat yogurt?

What do you think?

Milking It

October 9, 2012

Recently, a friend asked my opinion on alternative milks. There are so many options out there right now, that it is hard to figure out which is the right milk for your diet.

Cow’s milk is the first type we think of. Even that comes in a variety of versions, from skim, 1% and 2% milk fat, lactose free, and regular, not to mention, organic, conventional and antibiotic and hormone free.

Cow’s milk contains high levels of calcium and vitamin D, which are essential to bone health. It is also a good source of protein.

Regular milk contains about 150 calories per cup, and half of those calories come from fat, and cholesterol. Skimmed or fat free versions, offer the same benefits, and significantly fewer calories; about 86 per cup.

For those who are not on a dairy free diet, or are lactose intolerant, fat free or 1% milk seems the way to go. Antibiotic and hormone free is a non-negotiable in my book.

Soy milk gained prominence several years ago, as a good plant based alternative to cow’s milk. It is fortified to have the same levels of protein, calcium, vitamins A and D, and potassium. Because it is a plant product, it has no cholesterol and is usually low in fat. However, many soy milks are artificially flavored, which means there is a wide swing in calorie and sugar counts. While the plain versions pack only about 70-80 calories per cup, the flavored and sweetened types can have as much as 160 calories per cup and 19 grams of sugar. It is a great alternative for those who cannot tolerate dairy, or are vegan; just beware the artificial sweeteners or high sugar contents.

Almond milk seems to be the current milk option of choice. It contains no cholesterol, or lactose. It also contains much less protein and calcium than the other milks. It is a great source of iron, vitamin E and omega 6 fatty acids. Nuts have been linked to lower cholesterol and reduced risk of heart disease. However, not all commercial almond milks are filled with almonds. There are also lots of sweetened and flavored versions on the market that add calories and sugar. The average cup of unsweetened almond milk has only 30-40 calories. It is a good option for those looking to avoid lactose, or dairy in general, or use a lower calorie, vegan substitute for cow’s milk.

Coconut milk is another vegan choice that is gaining popularity. It has only 50 calories per cup and no cholesterol. It does not contain the same amount of protein and calcium as cow’s milk, but does have some healthy fatty acids not found in other milks. It is dairy and lactose free, and like the others, comes in a variety of flavors.

Rice milk is another alternative, with lower levels of protein and calcium than cow’s milk. Its relatively mild taste makes it less necessary to buy a flavored variety. Plain rice milk contains 113 calories per cup, making it the most caloric of the plant based milks. It is good for those who have allergies to soy, dairy, or nuts, and cannot tolerate some of the other options.

When looking for the perfect type of milk, choose something that tastes good and suits your dietary concerns. Remember that while cow’s milk is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, there are lots of other ways to get those elements in your diet. A balanced diet gets its nutrition from a variety of sources, and is not reliant on one food group to provide the healthy daily requirements that are a key to a good diet.


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