Digest Thiswith Sara Kosick, CPT, NTP
In the ever-changing world of nutrition, we are constantly having to decipher which vitamins we'd benefit from, and what foods provide the best overall nutrient quality. Magazines, newspapers, TV shows, and book authors are giving their opinions of "perfect nutrition" on everything from the ideal weight loss regimen to the latest research on Vitamin D.
I have decided to give you another perspective; that of a holistic nutrition therapist. If there is an article you'd like my opinion on, please the link and I'll provide my holistic view. I appreciate your insights, questions, and comments with regards to these controversial topics.
Nutrition is your journey to a healthier, happier, more successful, more energetic, and better YOU.Improving your nutrition does not simply mean cutting the calories; improving your nutrition means taking an active part in what you eat and why you eat it. Every body needs a different formula of nutrients and exercise to perform at its best; we are not one size fits all. As something that you do multiple times a day every day of your life, you owe it to yourself to be educated and knowledgeable about what is going in that body of yours!
Digesting Nutrition LabelsReading food labels can be a chore; fat-free, low-fat, organic, whole grain, sugar-free, natural, free-range, grass-fed, etc. Hopefully this information will help you break down the facts behind the nutrition facts!
1. Remember that eating whole, natural food is the goal to any healthy diet.
This means eating food as close to the way it is in nature as possible.
• Baked or roasted chicken vs. battered and fried chicken nuggets
• Fresh or frozen (no added sugar) fruit vs. canned
• Brown rice or other whole grain vs. bread & crackers
Eating whole foods actually eliminates the need to read food labels, as fresh produce does not have a "label". Focusing mostly on these foods and lean healthy proteins ensures that you're getting the healthiest foods possible.
2. When choosing any packaged foods, always look at the back of the label under Nutrition Facts. This panel, and the ingredients listed below, tell you what is in the food product. Relying on the front of the package will only give you what the marketer wants you to see in order to get you to buy the product. Statements such as "lite," "natural," "low-fat," or "wholesome" do not necessarily mean it's a health food!
What to look for:
• "100% Organic" means ALL the ingredients are organic. Also ensure that none of the ingredients are genetically modified. (Watch out for soy products.)
• "Organic" means that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic.
• "Made with organic ingredients" means that less than 70% of the ingredients are organic.
• "Non-GMO" means none of the ingredients were genetically modified.
• "Natural" means the product does not contain any artificial ingredients, that doesn't mean they weren't processed. For chicken "all natural" says nothing about how it was raised or fed.
• "Free Range" means the animals were allowed to roam and feed on grasses for at least some part of their lives. This is the best option and you want to look for "100% organic" as well.
• "Grass-fed" means these animals were allowed to roam and feed on grasses for at least some part of their lives. This is the best option when looking for beef or buffalo.
• "Multi-grain bread" only means that it contains more than one type of grain, not that it is a whole grain. The first ingredient in these breads is often "enriched or unbleached wheat flour" which is simply refined wheat flour thus containing less nutrient value.
3. Navigating the Nutrition Facts Label:
• Make sure to check the serving size. This is often deceitful as the nutrition label reads 150 calories per serving but there are 2.5 servings per bag.
• Read the entire label. Usually the ingredients list contains more information than the Nutrition Facts itself. Keep in mind two things when looking at the ingredients label: if you can't pronounce it or wouldn't know how to use it in your kitchen; and if a product contains more than 5-10 ingredients it is probably not a healthy food.
• Consider your fat/pro/carb ratio, but make sure to consider the ingredients as well. For example: Justin's Natural Almond Butter contains 17g of Fat, 8g of Carb, and 6g of protein per serving. On first glance this may seem like a fattening food, when really it is full of heart healthy nutrient rich almonds, honey and organic oils, a health food!
4. Completely avoid if the product contains.
• Hydrogenated Oils. These are the source of trans-fats and are commonly found in low-fat foods, packaged baked good, margarines, tortillas, etc. These oils interfere with fat metabolism.
• High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). An artificial sweetener, usually made from corn, which alters our taste buds and makes our brain crave sugars. Additionally these sweeteners affect our ability to regulate appetite, and increase our desire to eat. Others to look out for: artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, MSG or Monosodium Glutamate, Nitrates or Nitrites (found in processed meats).
Eating healthy doesn't have to be difficult, you just have to be conscious and aware of what you're putting into your body. Luckily we can shop at natural food stores like Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods, and Sunflower Market where they take some of the busy work out for us by not providing unhealthy options. Remember to shop the parameters of the store (health food or not) where you find your produce, meats, dairy, and bulk items.
Your Food-Based MoodFeeling depressed, anxious, or stressed is an all too common complaint in our American society. With extreme work-related stress, relationship hardships, family stress, and environmental stressors, our bodies are overworked and experiencing extreme fatigue. Instead of going to the doctor for a prescription of Prozac, Valium, or Zanax, why not take a look at the things you can control in your life that will make a huge difference in your ability to cope with and reverse your stress patterns. Let's start by taking a look at your diet!
Detrimental Foods Affecting your Mood
1. Sugar and White Flour
These two foods can be argued as the most important substances that effect your negative mood. White sugar is one of the most addicting substances on Earth and refined sugar alone is not a necessity for your body to function properly. What's even worse is that sugar is usually paired with another bad mood food, white flour. Made from processing and stripping the nutrients from the whole wheat grain, refined white flour is converted into sugar so quickly once in the system that it acts almost exactly like sugar with regards to your blood sugar response. Summary: You don't need them; cut them out of your diet completely.
2. Wheat, Rye, Oats And Barley
You may be surprised to hear that these items are causing your mood swings and upsets during the day, but it is the gluten in these products that is causing the problem. Gluten causes irritated and inflamed villi in your digestive lining which prevents you from absorbing essential nutrients to improve your mood. These grains have been associated with depression, anxiety, Tourette's syndrome, ADD, epilepsy, and other neurological problems. Summary: Get your fiber, B vitamins, and grain protein from gluten-free sources.
3. Vegetable Oil And Bad Fats
The vegetable oils I'm referring to here include: soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, canola oil, sesame oil, and corn oil. Though these are polyunsaturated fats and include your healthy omega-6 fatty acid chains, they are extremely unstable and thus subject to rancidity. When a fat goes rancid it means it has oxidized (got too much oxygen), and this cause damage to your cells once in your body. Oxidation happens quickly with these oils, and as easily as being exposed to light, heat, or oxygen for too long. This is where butter, coconut oil, and palm oil (your saturated fats) are truly a better option. Butter is packed with natural antioxidants which prevents it from oxidizing; you can even leave it on your kitchen table for a few days as long as it's not hotter then 72 degrees in your house. Vegetables oils are free of that rancid smell because they've been deodorized during processing, which requires more damage to the fatty acids and more damage to your cells. Summary: Stick to the fats our ancestors ate: olive oil, butter, coconut oil, and palm oil. Get your healthy fats from food (i.e. farm-fresh organic fish, meat and poultry).
4. Soy & Soy Products
The soy bean has been publicized as the one vegetable source that is a complete protein (contains all essential and non-essential amino acids). What is not widely marketed with the soy craze food industry is that soy contains a protein that is so hard to digest that it can cause mal-absorption of the other mood enhancing amino acids. This protein can also damage the digestive tract and cause further absorption problems down the road. Soy also has a depressing effect on the thyroid gland which is why I highly suggest those with hypothyroidism avoid soy completely as it will not help their situation. From a hormonal level, soy contains phyto-estrogens which increase your natural estrogen level and can thus throw your hormonal balance out of whack. It can be beneficial for a woman with low estrogen levels get ½ cup to a cup of soy milk daily, however excess is not the answer and especially not for men. Summary: Use soy in moderation, not to exceed one serving a day. (1 cup of milk, 2 oz. tofu, 1/2 cup soybeans)
Now that you have the basis for the foods you should avoid, there are plenty of yummy foods you should include in your diet to improve your overall mood and overall health.
Encouraging Mood Foods
1. Protein, Protein, Protein!
Without protein you cannot feel optimistic, excited, calm, or reassured. There are tiny neurotransmitters that are responsible for getting these positive feelings to your brain, and they cannot do their job without adequate protein. The more you can get the better, with a the rule of thumb being a protein source the size of the palm of your hand with every meal (3x/day). The protein pyramid would begin with fish, followed by poultry, eggs, beef, buffalo, venison, pork, dairy products, and end with vegetable proteins. If you are a vegetarian or vegan you will need to include supplementation to your mood-enhancing dietary plan, as vegetable proteins are extremely difficult to get in the proper amounts of amino acids. Summary: The more protein the better! But know your sources, look for farm-fresh, cage-free, organic, grass-fed, and/or farm-raised on the label.
2. Healthy Fats
Did you know that your brain is made up of mostly fatty tissue? In order to feel your best you need to support your mood-enhancing brain functions with healthy fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are your brain's power mood food. By simply adding more omega-3's to your diet you can raise your dopamine level by 40%. (Dopamine is your brain's natural antidepressant.) This goes without saying that getting enough omega-3 will greatly improve your mood; however we have to be careful you are not weighing down these fats with too many omega-6's. The food industry has gotten rather omega-6-happy because of the good polyunsaturated fatty acids benefits. It is omega-6's that are in the vegetable oils mentioned earlier, which are causing depression, heart disease, and cancers at unprecedented rates. Stick to your grass-fed animal products, and fresh seafood for the highest amounts of omega-3's. Next we have your scary fattening saturated fats. The truth is these fats are extremely beneficial and necessary, especially when speaking to improved mood. Your butters, creams, and coconut oils actually improve the function of omega-3's in your brain, reducing the negative effects of too many omega-6's. Summary: All things in balance, eat more fish and don't be afraid of butter!
You were wondering when this would make it to the list, and here it is. These amazing treats from Mother Nature are both calming and energizing and will help to greatly improve your mood. Packed with essential vitamins and minerals that assist your proteins and fats in metabolism, they're the only carbohydrate that won't effect your blood sugar (due to their high fiber and water content). Be ready to shop the produce section of your natural foods store, because you will be increasing your vegetable intake to 4-5 cups a day! It may sound like a lot, but if you can get one cup in before lunch, a hefty salad at lunch, and another cup at dinner you are good to go. The best options for mood enhancing and nutrient density vegetables include but are not limited to leafy greens like spinach, chard, kale, and beet greens, and tomatoes, yams, and squashes. The more colorful the better, and the more raw vegetables you can get the more efficiently you will absorb these essential nutrients. Summary: Vegetables are your new favorite mood food.
4. Fruit, Legumes, and Grains
Unprocessed carbohydrates give us clean-burning fuel and supply our bodies with more gradual energy, thus do not spike your blood sugar levels. Fruits are easy to digest, and contain enzymes and vitamins that may be destroyed in vegetables by cooking. Fruit also contains fiber that gets out bowels moving efficiently, and provides us with natural sugar for quick energy. Remember that fruit is still all mostly sugar and this is not a free pass to eat as much as you want in a day. Keep your fruit in balance with all the other mood-enhancing foods we've discussed, and keep your servings to 1-2 a day. Beans and grains can be great sources of fiber and B vitamins, but they can also be hard to digest and allergy causing. Experiment with portions of these foods and figure out what works best for your digestion and your mood. Summary: Fruit, beans, and whole grains in moderation.
Mood Food Sample Menu
B: 2-3 Eggs cooked in butter served over steamed spinach
L: Chicken breast with large mixed greens & vegetable salad (olive oil & lemon juice dressing)
Snack: Banana and handful of almonds
D: Grilled Salmon with sautéed summer squash, chard and onion, and small serving of whole grain
My TOP TEN ways to improve your nutrition:
- Drink 8 ounces of water upon waking.
Start your day off right! Water helps hydrate your bowels in the morning to get things moving after a nights rest. And stay hydrated throughout the day, if you are thirsty you are already dehydrated.drink up!
- Alternate your morning coffee for green, herbal, or black tea.
Like all things in life, too much of any one thing is never a good thing. Give your body a break from the demands of high levels of caffeine and sugar in the AM, with a switch to the tea of your choice
- Eat breakfast!
It is not an option to skip breakfast, and your 500 calorie venti-mocha- carmelato-jamoacha-whatever latte does not count. There are a million options for healthy breakfast choices, like a bowl of oatmeal, or low-sugar yogurt and granola. Pick something that works for you and don't back down.
- No more refined carbs.
Sorry ya'll, the white breads, pastas, croissants, white rice, and sugar have got to go. Read your labels, ask the waiter questions, and find whole grain and no sugar added options wherever, and whenever you can.
- Try a new vegetable today.
Vegetables are mother nature's vital gift, the perfect nutrient-laced foods that encourage every metabolic process in our bodies to happen. Pick out a new one at the store today, and throw it in your dinner tonight.who's up for roasted kohlrabi and beets?
- Opt for mixed nuts and fruit.
Plan for your day away from home, and always keep mixed nuts and/or fruit with you. When you need a quick snack you're prepared instead of rushing to the vending machine.
- Hold the bad fat.
Hydrogenated fats are poison, and I'm not exaggerating. Again, read your labels and cut out your chips, candy, and baked goods and you're half way there. Opt for grilled chicken instead of fried, and ask for grilled veggies instead of fries. Safflower, sunflower, soybean, and vegetable oils are all OUT! Your primary cooking oil should be olive oil. Vegetables oils go rancid very quickly, and most likely are already rancid when you buy them off the shelf at the market. Sesame and flax oil may be used for salad dressings, but should not be heated and should be kept in the refrigerator.
Fresh cold water fishes offer your body a health balance of omega-3 fats and proteins. Let's add in fish at least twice a week; this could be a can of tuna for lunch, and a piece of grilled salmon for dinner.
- Make dinner the last supper.
This may be the most important key to success. Your body needs time to digest before a long night of rest. Leave at least 2 hours between your last meal and bed time, and if you weren't hungry for breakfast before, you will be now!
- Cut out the alcohol.
An empty calorie, meaning there is no nutrient value! This is an easy way to cut out 200 calories a day, and save your liver the trouble of extra toxic elimination.
These general guidelines are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to designing a healthy nutrition program. Each individual person has different dietary needs dependent upon metabolic type, blood type, dietary intolerances, etc.