It seems like everyone has a food sensitivity these days. However, there is an increase in individuals who are self-diagnosing their food allergies and intolerances, or even worse, using a food sensitivity as an excuse to restrict important foods from their diet.
Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under 18. However, an expert-led survey found that almost 50 million people THINK they have one. This number was after the survey’s strict criteria for labeling a food allergy as well as its exclusion of food intolerance symptoms from the study.
In order to determine whether someone truly has an issue with food it is important to first understand the distinction between a food sensitivity/intolerance and an allergy.
A food sensitivity (or intolerance) = a symptomatic response to a food that is usually caused by a digestive issue, such as not producing enough of a certain enzyme to properly break down a food. This can lead to symptoms such as: bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or gas, but is NOT an immune response. (i.e IBS or lactose intolerance)
A food allergy = an adverse immune response to a dietary protein within a food. Basically, the body thinks it is being harmed from the particular food and causes a range of symptoms from mild (rash or itch) to more severe, life-threatening reactions such as difficulty breathing/anaphylaxis. (i.e Celiac Disease or nut allergy)
The major difference is that with a food sensitivity/intolerance you may be able to eat small amounts of the problematic food without trouble or mild symptoms, whereas with a food allergy you may be at a risk of a life-threatening reaction.
If you suspect you have a problem with a particular food(s), it is best to see an allergist or gastroenterologist. Never self-diagnose or remove key foods from the diet without consulting a Registered Dietitian first.
Cereal still remains one of the most popular breakfast (or snack) options across all age groups. In fact it is estimated that 50% of Americans eat cereal for breakfast daily.
After milk and carbonated beverages, breakfast cereal is the third most popular item sold in grocery stores. With hundreds of options to choose from, it can sometimes be overwhelming to select the right variety for your health goals.
Here are some helpful pointers to assist you the next time you hit the cereal aisle:
Read the food label! The food label provides you with all the pertinent nutrient and ingredient information needed to determine whether a product is in fact healthy.
Choose whole grain options. To know if a product is made with whole grains check the package for a) the words “100% whole grain” or b) the ingredient list to see if the first one listed is: whole wheat flour, stone wheat, durum wheat, or wheat flour. If you see “enriched white flour” the product is a refined (less healthy) grain.
Go for the fiber. Select a cereal that provides 3 grams or more of fiber per serving.
Be careful of the sugar. The cereal industry in the U.S. uses over 882 million pounds of sugar per year in its production! Aside from weight gain, added sugar contributes to many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. To check for grams of added sugar, look under “total sugar” on the food label. For example, the label will read 30 grams of total sugar, 20 grams of added sugar. That means 20/30 grams of sugar were added by the food company. Don’t be fooled by the bright packaging or your favorite cereal mascots. The sugar is everywhere!
Healthier cereal options provide important key nutrients such as fiber and B vitamins. However, like any food, it is very important to watch portion sizes. Typically, 1 serving of dry cereal = 1 cup.
Now you are ready to take on the cereal aisle like a pro! Which cereal do you like to eat?
Not only do artichokes make such beautiful centerpieces with their unique texture and flower-shape, but they also provide several health benefits.
History: Artichokes are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. They originate from the Mediterranean and Northern African regions and have been harvested since the 5th century BC. It takes 6 months for the buds to be ready to eat, however they can be harvested as many as 30 times a season, with their peak season being in both the Spring and Fall.
Nutrition Profile: Artichokes are high in fiber and are loaded with vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, and magnesium. In fact, a medium artichoke contains almost 7 grams of fiber, which is a whopping 23-28% of the reference daily intake (RDI). They are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, which is particularly important with both corona virus and flu season upon us. Additionally, artichokes have been shown to: reduce both unhealthy (LDL) and total cholesterol, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, lower blood pressure for those with pre-existing elevated levels, and improve digestive issues such as bloating flatulence, and constipation.
How to Eat: Artichokes can be eaten both warm or cold. The heart, which is fully edible, is a culinary delicacy and is known for its smooth and nutlike flavor. The smaller heads, or buds, are usually the most tender and are typically served as a warm vegetable with a sauce or as a cold salad or appetizer. They can be steamed whole, cooked in a microwave, baked, roasted, grilled, or sautéed.
Additional Tips: Artichokes are typically served with butter, cream, or mayo-based sauces. Because these options are high in saturated fat, be mindful of portion sizes. For healthier options, prepare a sauce with: nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, lemon juice, dijon mustard, garlic powder, and a pinch of salt or tahini with lemon, garlic, and salt.
With over 10 varieties to choose from in the U.S. and 3,000 varieties worldwide, pears are a perfect seasonal fruit for this time of year. Their crisp, soft texture and sweet taste make them versatile in many dishes.
History: The common pear is probably of European origin and has been cultivated since ancient times. The pear was introduced into the New World by Europeans as soon as the colonies were established.
Nutrition Profile: Pears are roughly 100 calories each and provide fiber, Vitamins C, K, potassium, copper and tons of antioxidants. One medium-sized pear provides 22% of your daily fiber needs. Pears contain a soluble fiber called pectin, which is a prebiotic that nourishes gut bacteria and improves gut health. Because they have a high water content, they also help keep stools soft while flush toxins from the digestive system. Pears, particularly the skin, contain a variety of polyphenols, which help fight against oxidative or cellular stress inside the body. Vitamins C, K, copper, and copper help reduce inflammation and protect against certain diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, assists with muscle contraction, and promotes kidney function.
Additional Tips: Since several health benefits are found in the skin, so be sure to include the skin in your eating and preparation methods.
Healthy Recipe Ideas: They can be eaten on their own, cut up onto a salad, made into a sauce, jam, or spread, baked into a dessert, mixed in with alcoholic drinks, topped onto a crostini, or roasted with vegetables. Popular cooking methods include roasting and poaching. They pair well with chicken, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, cheeses like Gouda and brie, and ingredients like lemon and chocolate.
History: Quinoa originates from South America, specifically Peru, Bolivia and Chile. It is often considered to be in the grain category, however it is actually a seed.
Nutrition Profile: Quinoa is not only packed with fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, but it also contains high amounts of protein and is gluten-free. It is one of the few plant foods that has all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein and a great protein source for vegans and vegetarians. Quinoa has twice the amount of fiber compared to other whole grains and is a much healthier alternative to white rice. Fiber helps lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and promotes both heart and gut health. Quinoa can be found in different colors and varieties, however they all offer the same health benefits.
Cooking Instructions: Quinoa can be prepared over the stove top or in a rice cooker. Use the ratio of 2 cups of liquid per 1 cup of dry quinoa. One cup typically cooks in about 20 minutes and yields about three cups cooked.
Additional Tips: Quinoa has a bitterness to it, which is mainly due to its outer coating. One way to get rid of this is to rinse it in a mesh strainer under cold water prior to cooking. In order to add some additional flavor, you can replace the water or add low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth as the main liquid. Additionally, you can try adding other spices, garlic, or salt and pepper to it.
Cranberries are often known for being made into sauces and juices, but in reality fresh cranberries are extremely tart and are nowhere close to the sugary levels you may be familiar with.
History: Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to the swamps of northeastern North America. Native Americans used them as a staple beginning in the 1550s. By the 1620, the Pilgrims learned from the Native Americans how to use cranberries in their cooking. They are now one of the many symbols of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.
Nutrition Profile: Cranberries are low in calories and are packed with fiber, Vitamin C, and tons of antioxidants. With both corona virus and flu season upon us, cranberries are great to incorporate into your diet to help support your immune system. If you are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs), 100% cranberry juice can help reduce your risk and serve as a natural way to reduce severity of symptoms. Additionally, cranberries have been shown to prevent stomach cancer and ulcers, reduce unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, and promote heart health.
Additional Tips: When drinking juice, only drink 100% Cranberry Juice and do not have >8 fl oz. All other cranberry juice products are simply cocktails, blends, or only contain 10% juice. The rest is plain old sugar! Cranberry products contain high amounts of oxalates, so for those prone to kidney stones, be mindful of portion sizes.
Healthy Recipe Ideas: Add sliced raw cranberries to a spinach salad. mix them with vanilla yogurt, use them to top sirloin steak, salmon, or chicken, and use them as a dessert topping for angel food cake with cool whip.
Mindful eating is the act of creating awareness of the food and beverages you are putting into your body while acknowledging your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations surrounding taste, satisfaction, and fullness. Mindful eating involves: (1) using and recognizing all of your senses to find pleasure in your food, (2) chewing, swallowing, & savoring each bite, and (3) having a non-judgmental awareness of external & internal cues influencing the desire to eat, food choice, the quantity of consumed, and the setting in which food is consumed.
When you are more closely in tune with your internal hunger cues as well as your external environment, you can better control portion sizes, know the exact moment you are satisfied from eating, and better manage your weight.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
A non-diet, non-judgmental approach to eating
Increases awareness of portion sizes eaten to reduce likelihood of overeating
Reduces stress & alleviates health problems
Enhances the entire eating experience
Helps you recognize differences between emotional & physical hunger
Helps you learn to control the urge to eat when you are emotionally hungry
Fun Fact: It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register the chemicals released by your stomach that indicate when you are full.
Most of us eat our meals on the-go, in our cars on the way to work or school, at our desks, or distracted in front of the TV or computer. Feeling full is a result of your brain registering the chemicals that are released once you put food and drinks into your stomach. When we eat our meals in under 20 minutes, we are not allowing the brain-stomach connection to occur. This diminishes our ability to recognize our true fullness levels and could potentially lead to overeating. Once you complete your meal, chemical levels continue to rise over the next 10-30 mins and stay elevated for about 3-5 hours. This helps keep you satisfied until the chemical levels fall again, yielding the return of hunger.
To determine how long it takes you to finish your meal, set a timer and put it face down. Eat your meal like you normally would, without peaking at the timer. If you finish your meal in under 20 minutes, you ate too fast.
Here are some helpful tips to help you slow down your eating: sip water in between bites, put your fork down between bites, eat with your non-dominant hand, eat with chopsticks instead of a fork or spoon, and chew your food thoroughly before going for the next bite. If you still do not feel full directly following your meal, the best thing to do is wait. The level of chemicals will increase with a little extra time making your hunger fade.
First Step in Mindful Eating: Assess your Hunger Levels
When practicing mindful eating, it is important to first differentiate between emotional vs. physical hunger cues. Signs of physical hunger include: headache, dizziness, stomach growling, feeling faint, lightheadedness, irritability, or a gnawing in your stomach. Emotional hunger includes eating when
bored, happy, stressed, angry, anxious, depressed. Once you have determined you are physically hungry, assess your hunger level using the hunger scale. It is always best to keep your hunger levels between 3-7 so that you don’t end up in cycles of under eating or overeating. A good rule of thumb is to always eat in order to feel “satisfied” not “stuffed.”
Second Step: Establish Awareness
Establishing awareness helps you build a connection between your hunger and your environment in order to help control possible episodes of emotional eating. Use the awareness checklist to help guide you through the process. I recommend printing and hanging it either in your desk drawer at work or on the inside of your snack cabinet at home for when you have any urges to emotionally eat. You can also keep a screenshot on your phone for those difficult times when you feel a lack of control. The awareness checklist is also a helpful tool for guiding you through mindful eating.
Third Step: Be Present
After you have determined that you are in fact physically hungry and you have established awareness of your environment, it is time to practice being present. Shifting out of auto-pilot can be very difficult, especially when we are all so busy. However, mindful eating cannot be practiced without attentiveness. Take some time to look at the texture of your food and soak up each unique scent. With each bite, savor the flavor. If someone was to ask you what you had to eat, are you able to describe to someone each spice detected, each flavor tasted, and what it looked like? If not, then ensure you are in an environment free of distraction.
Mindful eating takes time to master so do not be discouraged if you have difficulty in the beginning. Your practice will certainly pay off as your portion sizes decrease while your ability to control hunger levels increases. Continue to utilize these tips and tools and eventually you will be an expert.
Water is necessary for our survival. About 60% of the human body is composed of water.
Water serves many purposes in the body including:
It serves as a vital nutrient to the life of every cell
Helps deliver oxygen and nutrients all over the body
Regulates our internal body temperature through sweating and respiration
Helps metabolize carbohydrates and proteins from food
Flushes waste through urination, sweating, and bowel movements
Acts as a shock absorber for the brain, spinal cord, and fetus
Dehydration can lead to a number of serious conditions such as: kidney failure, seizures, shock, and death. But how much water do we actually need to prevent dehydration?
Water requirements are highly dependent upon the individual for factors such as exercise, environment, overall health, pregnancy, and medical conditions (i.e. kidney or heart disease), can all influence your exact needs. You have probably heard the advice, “Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.” While this is a good starting point for healthy individuals, it may not be enough for some or it may be too much for others.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men & 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a total of:
13 cups (about 3 liters) of fluid for men
9 cups (a little over 2 liters) of fluid for women
10 cups of water daily for pregnant women
12 cups a day for breastfeeding women.
You may notice that both of these recommendations are higher than the recommended 8 cups a day. The reason is because they include fluids from all other beverages, such as tea, coffee, and juice, and foods such as soup and produce. Vegetables and fruits (cucumbers, lettuce, watermelon, citrus, berries), have a high water content and can help you stay hydrated. While caffeine in coffee and tea can make you pee more frequently, the water from these beverages still leads to a net positive contribution to total fluid consumption. Juice, sports drinks, coffee drinks, and smoothies are packed with sugar, so be mindful of those calories when counting them toward your fluid needs. Water is calorie-free.
It is certainly harder to track your water intake when you count foods in the mix so to know if you are truly meeting your fluid needs, check your urine. The darker the urine = the more water and fluid you need. The clearer it is = the more you are hydrating properly.
Did you know that potassium is listed as a “nutrient of public health concern” in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans? ⠀ Potassium is an essential mineral that has many functions in the body including: helping with muscle contraction, regulating fluid balance in and out of cells, supporting proper nerve transmission, and promoting kidney function. Potassium also plays a role in maintaining normal blood pressure by limiting the effects of sodium as well as helps prevent against bone loss. ⠀ Have you ever experienced muscle cramping, kidney stones, high blood pressure, or bone loss? Eating potassium-rich foods can help with that. ⠀ Adults ages 19+ need 2,600-3,400 milligrams/day (depending on gender, pregnancy, or breastfeeding). Potassium-rich foods include: apricots, lentils, squash, potatoes, kidney beans, soybeans, bananas, avocados, dairy milk, yogurt, cooked spinach, raw carrots, cooked broccoli, chicken breast, and salmon.
As people around the world cope with the coronavirus pandemic, we find ourselves asking whether there are any particular foods we can eat to boost our body’s natural defense system. While regular hand washing and self-isolating have now become part of our daily routines, there are several key nutrients we can focus on, which support a strong and healthy immune system.
Amino acids (the building block of protein), play an important role in immune response by activating the “killer” cells that destroy bacteria and harmful cells
Amino acids regulate the production of antibodies, which are proteins in the blood that bind to specific invaders, such as germs, viruses, or tumor cells. Without antibodies, bacteria and viruses would be free to multiply in the body
Recommended Daily Amount (RDA):
Adults 18+ years: 0.8 grams/kg body weight
More is needed during pregnancy, lactation, illness, sports, and advanced age
Plant-based (missing 1 or more essential amino acid): Nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, lentils
Protein supplements are generally not needed because most Americans consume more than the RDA
Ensure you eat a variety of protein sources from the options listed above
Our bodies cannot make the vitamin; therefore, we must obtain it from food
Serves as an antioxidant that fights against free radicals in the body
Stimulates white blood cells at the site of infection and enhances microbial killing
Helps prevent or delay certain cancers and heart disease, promote healthy aging, and prevent and treat respiratory and full-body infections
Vitamin C intake cannot prevent a common cold; however, some evidence shows that doses of >200 mg/day may decrease the length or severity of symptoms by >1 day. Taking Vitamin C after symptoms begin does not appear to be beneficial
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA):
Men 19+ years of age: 90 milligrams
Women 19+ years of age: 75 milligrams
Dietary Sources of Vitamin C:
Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, red/yellow bell peppers, papaya, strawberries, berries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, broccoli, cherries, guavas, spinach, kale, kiwis
Make sure to look at the labels of Vitamin C boosting products such as: Emergen-C, Ester-C, and Airborne. They often contain syrups, added sugar, dyes, and other additives
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning the body does not store it. This is particularly important for those who overload on supplements, for the body will just excrete any excess via the urine
Always ensure you obtain Vitamin C through food sources first, before resorting to a supplement
Live microorganisms or “good” bacteria that support a healthy microbiome
Inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms in the GI tract, neutralize toxins, produce cytokines(messenger molecules that help immune cells work together against an infection)
A 2015 evaluation of 12 studies with 3,720 total participants found that people taking probiotics may have fewer and shorter upper respiratory infections. However, the quality of evidence was low. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have the strongest antiviral activity against respiratory viruses, particularly influenza virus type A
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA):
More research is needed on the recommended dosage, however 1 – 10 billion colony-forming units (CFU)— the amount contained in a capsule or two — can be safely taken several days per week
Dietary Sources of Probiotics:
Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and fermented foods such as: kimchi, kombucha (a fermented tea), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), miso (a fermented soybean-based paste), and raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar
Always ensure you obtain probiotics through food sources first, before resorting to a supplement
Supplements can be found in different forms. Ensure the supplement has a variety of bacterial strains and does not include any additives
A fat-soluble vitamin that helps protect against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant which protects cells from free radical damage
Involved in the production and function of white blood cells, which help capture and clear bacteria and other pathogens from your bloodstream
Recommended Daily Amount (RDA):
Men 18+ years of age: 900 micrograms
Women 18+ years of age: 700 micrograms
Dietary Sources of Vitamin A:
Sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes
Always ensure you obtain Vitamin E through food sources first, before resorting to a supplement
A fat-soluble vitamin naturally produced in the body via sun exposure
Can help reduce the risk of acute respiratory infections, including colds and flu, particularly among people who are severely deficient or those with little exposure to sunlight
Immune cells (B and T cells) from multiple autoimmune diseases appear to respond well to Vitamin D
Recommended Daily Amount (RDA):
Adults 19-70 years of age: 600 IU
Adults 71+ years of age: 800 IU
Upper limit: 4,000 IU/day
Dietary Sources of Vitamin D: there are very limited food sources of Vitamin D, so it is important to incorporate them as frequently as possible
Fatty fish such as: salmon, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, cod liver oil, dairy (choose non-fat options): milk, yogurt, cheese, beef liver, mushrooms exposed to UV light for at least 10 minutes, and fortified non-dairy milks and 100% orange juice
Vitamin D is made from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to the sun’s UVB rays. Spend 10-30 minutes in the sun daily without sunscreen, then immediately apply sunscreen. The best time of day to get sun is midday 10AM-3PM
At nutritional doses Vitamins D2 and D3 are equivalent, but at higher doses Vitamin D2 is less potent. If you need purchase a supplement, choose Vitamin D3
Always ensure you obtain Vitamin D through food sources first, before resorting to a supplement
A mineral that helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses
There is no evidence that zinc doses >100 mg/day leads to better treatment of the cold. However, taking zinc at the beginning of a cold may shorten its duration
Zinc is best absorbed from animal sources. Foods such as whole-grains and legumes have phytates, which bind to zinc and inhibit its absorption
Aside from vegetarians and vegans, most Americans get enough zinc in their diet
Supplements may interfere with certain medications and could cause side effects such as loss of taste
Long-term zinc consumption over 40 mg/day for adults can result in copper deficiency
Always ensure you obtain zinc through food sources first, before resorting to a supplement
Other nutrients that support a healthy immune response include: Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, copper, folate, selenium, and iron. Several herbs have also been linked to an increased immune response including: ginger, ginseng, elderberry, turmeric, and garlic. In addition to eating a diet rich in the immune-supporting nutrients listed above, ensure you sleep 7-9 hours a night and keep your stress levels to a minimum. By following these recommendations, you can help reinforce your body’s fight against infection and foreign invaders.
We have all heard the old adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Life is challenging and with that, we can experience misfortune and adversity. However, trying to take a sour experience and turn it into something sweet can have a profound effect on many areas of our lives, including our health.
Starting a nutrition-counseling program can be a scary and difficult step for many. The first word that appears in peoples’ minds when they think of a “Registered Dietitian” is “diet.” They are worried they will be told to restrict, eliminate, and give up the foods they enjoy; while also being told to eat more foods they dislike. Worst of all, they are fearful that they will not be able to experience life to the fullest because they have to alter their eating habits.
What if I told you could have a glass of lemonade every day? What if I told you the sour taste of lemons does not match their sweet nutritional value? While metaphorical lemons are obstacles that bring us down both mentally and physically, real life lemons are nutritious and offer several health benefits. Lemons are low in calorie but high in Vitamin C and fiber. They can be used in multiple ways including: flavoring beverages, flavoring meat such as chicken and fish, flavoring baked goods or bars, and used as salad dressing. Lemons help lower cholesterol, reduce risk of heart disease, help absorb iron, help keep skin looking vibrant, help slow the digestion of sugars and starches, and help improve digestive health. Even though lemonade does contain high amounts of sugar, an 8-ounce glass can easily fit into an overall healthy diet. Try preparing the lemon juice with a more natural sweetener such as honey instead of table sugar. If you need a sugar substitute, use stevia and prepare the recipe using less than half the amount.
Part of my mission as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Certified Personal Trainer is to help people enhance their current diet rather than hit a total reset button. Through a non-judgmental yet effective approach, you can create a more balanced life full of moderations rather than eliminations. By helping you shift your belief system and attitudes towards eating in a more affirmative light, you can create a more symbiotic relationship with healthy food.
Now I challenge you to shake that lemon tree, grab those lemons from the ground with confidence, and make some sweet lemonade. Don’t let life’s obstacles or nutrition challenges get in the way towards a healthier you. Cheers to a new, positive mindset and a higher quality of life!
It is that time of year again. The time when you hear the marching band play loudly to the crowd, the time when you see the cheerleaders wave their pompoms high in the air, and the time when you wait in anticipation for the referees to blow their whistles indicating the start of the game.
Fall marks my favorite time of the year. No I’m not talking about pumpkin spiced lattes or oversized sweaters…I’m talking about the return of football season!
Whether you root for your favorite college team or you only focus on the pros, the game is the same. No matter where you view your sporting events – at the sports venue itself or watched at home – they all have one common denominator: food. Tailgating (or pre-gaming as college kids call it) is meant to be a fun event shared with family and friends. However, often times these events pose a major roadblock for those of us who want to stay on track with our health. The following tips can help ensure that you are adequately prepared to tackle the tailgate without compromising your ability to maintain healthy eating habits in social events. For those of you who prefer baseball, hockey, soccer, or basketball to football, have no fear because these tips can be applied to any sporting event!
Make the Play Call and Plan Ahead
Before going to a tailgate or hosting one of your own, the first step is to plan ahead. Ask yourself “will there be healthy options where I am going?” If not, offer to bring items such as: cut-up vegetables, a fruit salad, vegetable chili, ground turkey burgers with whole wheat buns, grilled vegetable kabobs, baked chips, guacamole, hummus, or air popped popcorn as your contribution to the tailgate. If you are hosting your own game watching party, you’re in luck because this means you have full control of the menu. By hosting, you can ensure you have healthier options on hand for both yourself and your guests.
Avoid the Hunger Blitz
This tip particularly applies to afternoon and evening games. Avoid skipping meals before the tailgate to save room for calorically dense food and beverages. The skipping approach will inevitably back fire for two reasons: 1) you will over indulge at the tailgate/game watching party due to increased hunger, ultimately leading to an avoidance of portion control and 2) frequent episodes of under-eating and overeating can slow your metabolism. Be sure to eat regular meals and snacks (breakfast, mid-morning snack, or even lunch) on the day of the event. This will keep your hunger hormones remain regulated and keep the starvation blitz in check. Choose pre-tailgate foods that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fat so that you will be less tempted to overeat when you arrive.
Defend Against Added Fat, Sodium, and Sugar
Most foods for sporting events are high in fat, sodium, and sugar. There is usually no green in sight (except for that 1 piece of lifeless iceberg lettuce on your burger…yikes!). In these situations, practice the act of “swapping.” Swap fried wings, potatoes, meats, chips, and vegetables for foods that are baked or grilled. Swap the fatty dip for a healthier one like Greek yogurt ranch dip (see recipe below), guacamole, salsa, or hummus. Swap chips for whole-wheat crackers, roasted, unsalted almonds, baked pita chips, or air popped popcorn. Swap beef burgers, hot dogs, and wings for salmon, lean ground turkey or skinless, boneless chicken breast burgers on whole-wheat buns. Swap large pizzas for mini vegetable pizza bites baked on cauliflower or whole-wheat crust. Swap baked goods for fruit salad or fruit kabobs. If you are watching the game in a sports venue, try your best and look for a concession stand that offers vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein options. Perhaps the venue offers fans a burrito bowl, wrap, or salad. Remind yourself that you are the one and only defender for what foods go into your body. Will it be something you will regret later on or will it be something that is nutritious?
Intercept Large Portion Sizes
Tailgates and game watch parties can often lead to increased portion sizes of foods such as chips, pizza, wings, and beer. One way to intercept the incoming portion sizes is to eat from a plate instead of continually grazing from the buffet, snack table, BBQ, or kitchen. This will help you keep track of how much you are eating. Prepare a plate containing half vegetables and fruit, ¼ protein, and ¼ grains. Fill up on those healthier items first so you are not as tempted to overdo the portions of foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to receive the signal from your stomach that you are full. This means wait at least 20 minutes to assess your hunger before going for second helpings.
Ice the Kicker, Not the Beer
Sporting events often revolve more around alcohol than they do food. However unlike food, alcohol does not contribute any nutritional value. Alcohol has “empty calories” for it provides more calories per gram (7) compared to protein and carbohydrates (4) and does not provide any vitamins, minerals, or other important nutrients that your body actually needs. Additionally, alcohol impairs your judgment and may cause you to make poor dietary decisions such as forgetting how many times you stuck your hand in the chip bowl or how many wings you had (oops!). If you want to indulge, choose light beer varieties or mix hard liquor with sparkling soda (naturally fruit flavored or plain). Stay away from sugary beverages like soda, punches, cranberry cocktails, margarita mixes, and non-100% juices. If the game is stressful and you need that alcohol to get through, a good rule of thumb is to have at least 8 ounces of water between drinks. You can even get creative and make spa water using colored herbs, vegetables, and fruit of your favorite sports team.
Use Halftime to Get Moving
Halftime is typically 30 minutes, which means this is a perfect time to get out of your seat at the stadium or get your booty off the couch and get moving. Climb up and down the stairs from your seat or take a walk around the neighborhood or venue. There is probably a football, Frisbee, soccer ball, or corn hole set-up laying around waiting to be used. Use this time to clear your mind, unwind from the stress of the game, enjoy a breath of fresh air, and most importantly keep you away from the readily available concession stands and snack bowls.
Celebrate a Touchdown in the End Zone
Overall, tailgating is about having fun with friends and family. Make your focus about watching your favorite team versus the food. Practice balance and moderation – especially if you tailgate at every home game. One unhealthy meal or alcoholic beverage does not ruin everything, but an entire day of unhealthy eating and drinking may throw you off course. If this happens, pick yourself up the very next day and do not wait until the week starts to get back on your A game. Whether your team loses or wins, always remember to celebrate your efforts staying healthy during a sporting event. Now go get ‘em tiger!
Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip Recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 ½ tsp dried dill
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried chives
1 tsp salt (optional)
Ingredients for Base: 1-16 oz container plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
Whisk all spices together until well blended.
Mix 3 tbsp of the spice mixture into the Greek yogurt base (save remainder of spice mix in sealed container for future uses).
Refrigerator or serve immediately.
Nutrition Facts: Serving Size: ¼ cup dip Calories: 33 Total Fat: 0g Sat Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrates: 2g Fiber: 0g Protein: 6g Sodium: 166mg
Fiber is one of the most important nutrients for your body, yet most Americans do not meet the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA). In fact, dietary fiber is so important, that the most recent 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans list it as “one of the nutrients of public health concern because low intakes are associated with health concerns.” A national survey found that the average dietary fiber intake for all individuals 2 years and older was 16 grams per day, with males averaging 18 grams per day and females averaging 15 grams per day. This is certainly something to talk about considering the RDA for women 19 years and older is 25 grams of fiber per day and the RDA for men 19 years and older is 38 grams of fiber per day.
Fiber has countless health benefits including: reducing blood sugar, total cholesterol, heart disease risk, colon cancer risk, managing diverticular disease, ensuring transit within the gastrointestinal tract, and managing loose bowels. Additionally, fiber aids in keeping you full after meals and snacks, which is particularly helpful for those trying to manage their weight. So if you need a reason to increase your fiber intake, you just got a nice long list.
Fiber comes in two different forms: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, helping food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. It is found in foods such as wheat bran, whole-grain flour, potatoes with the skin, root vegetables, cauliflower, dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, nuts, seeds, and beans. So, if you are feeling bloated, backed up, and constipated reach for insoluble fiber foods. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, attracts water and turns to a gel-like substance during digestion. This in turn helps slow down transit in the gastrointestinal tract. So, if you feel you are visiting the bathroom more often than you would like, reach for the following foods: oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, flaxseeds, carrots, apples, strawberries, apricots, psyllium (fiber supplements), and citrus fruits.
While insoluble and soluble fiber can easily be obtained through food sources, several people take a supplement in the form of a pill, chewable tablet, capsule, or powder. Popular products such as Metamucil, Benefiber, FiberCon, and Citrucel do contain fiber, however they also contain additives, dyes, and synthesized forms of chemicals. Therefore, if you are unable to meet your RDA of fiber with food and need to head the supplement route, be sure to check the label to ensure you are getting the least processed product.
By eating a diet rich in whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes you will ensure to meet your insoluble and soluble fiber needs while also reaping the many benefits this nutrient has to offer. So, if you are not part of the fiber tribe yet, consider becoming a member. Your body (and bowels) will thank you later.
Some things like water and liquor are meant to be bottled, while other things like emotions, crackers, and green beans are not. In recent times, nutrition is increasingly being sought after in bottle, powder, and bar-forms, rather than through naturally occurring forms (also known as food). Bottled versions of vitamins and minerals clutter our kitchen countertops and cabinets so much so that the lyrics of “99 bottles of beer on the wall” should be changed to “99 bottles of supplements in the kitchen.”
The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that Americans spend over $30 billion annually on dietary supplements. This converts to >$100 spent monthly on dietary supplements by every man, woman, and child in the United States. Dietary supplements can be found at a variety of locations including: supermarkets, drug stores, specialty stores (Vitamin Shoppe, GNC), warehouse stores (Costco, Sam’s Club), and large commercial stores (Target, Walmart). They are sold in different elemental forms, amounts, colors, and brands, making it difficult for us to know what it is we are actually purchasing. As a consumer, it is important to ask yourself why you are taking a particular supplement and whether you truly need it.
In order to understand the truth behind dietary supplements, we must first define what they are. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a dietary supplement as any dietary ingredient (including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs and botanicals) taken by mouth “that can be used to supplement the diet.” Supplements also include protein powders and energy bars. Simply put, a dietary supplement is intended to “supplement” the diet when something is missing rather than replace real food. So, if you eat a balanced diet containing a variety of foods from all five-food groups (grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy) you will essentially meet your nutrient needs, making it unnecessary to take supplements. In cases where we may eliminate specific foods or food groups due to a special diet (i.e. vegan/vegetarian, food allergies or intolerances) or we have a specific disease/health condition (epilepsy, kidney disease, GI diseases, cancer), supplements may be warranted for use. It is important to meet with a Registered Dietitian and/or get a blood test to check for any specific nutrient deficiencies before reaching for your wallet.
Americans are all about getting their hands on the latest food trend or product when information circulates about its benefits. For example, one day we hear that garlic is all the rage and the next thing we hear is that everyone and their mother, brother, sister, father, and neighbor are deficient in Vitamin D. We are results-driven, which often times puts science and safety in the passenger and back seats respectively. Unlike the food and beverages that you eat, the FDA does NOT regulate dietary supplements on the same standards. Federal law “does not require dietary supplements to be proven safe to FDA’s satisfaction before they are marketed…[additionally] the law does not require the manufacturer or seller to prove to FDA’s satisfaction that the claim is accurate or truthful before it appears on the product.” This means there may be ingredients that could cause unwanted side effects and/or interfere with prescription medications you may be taking. Many supplements contain ingredients that have strong biological effects, and such products may not be safe for all people. Because the FDA does not regulate supplements, scientific and evidence-based studies are not required to show the effectiveness of taking them. Therefore, you may be taking a bunch of capsules, powders, and chewables that do not even give you the result you are looking for. Next time you consider buying a dietary supplement, ask yourself, would you want to ingest something that has not been proven to be safe, proven to work, and may contain unsafe ingredients? My guess is that most of you would say “no” to all these questions.
There is some relief for consumers when it comes to evaluating the contents and safety of supplements. Third party companies, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) and NSF, are hired by manufacturers to test and evaluate the ingredients of their products for consumer safety. Remember, this service is not required of dietary supplement makers and serves as an extra step they voluntarily take to prove to consumers that their products do in fact have the exact ingredients in the specific amounts as advertised. So when you are selecting the best supplements, look out for the USP or NF seal to ensure the company went the extra mile to test its products.
Each nutrient is sold in a variety of elemental forms, making it difficult to identify the differences between them. For example, calcium supplements come in the following forms: calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium phosphate, calcium orotate, calcium gluconate, and calcium lactate. And this is just one single nutrient! It is important to know which form you specifically need because not every form absorbs the same in the body. For most consumers, this information would have to be researched prior to making that trip to the store. Even though dietary supplements contain ingredients found in foods, you have to remember that they are still manufactured forms of nutrients and may not always mimic the exact chemical structure and elemental form of that nutrient as it occurs naturally in foods. Under the U.S. Dietary and Health Education Act 1994 (DSHEA), “nutritional supplements are regulated under ‘food’ good manufacturing practices, which means “absorption rates do not have to be tested.” There are several factors that determine the bioavailability, or the amount of the active ingredient that is actually absorbed by the body. However, without science-based studies to back up products, we are left somewhat in the dark. The key thing for consumers to understand is that the ingredients and amounts of each found on a supplement label is not a realistic indication of the amount that actually makes it into your bloodstream for use in your body.
When it comes to meeting your nutritional needs, always think food first and dietary supplements second. Dietary supplements serve as your back-up source of nutrients when you are deficient or eliminate foods from the diet. They should only be used to complement a balanced diet once it is determined that you actually need one or more particular nutrient. We each spent $1200 annually on supplements, which means you could be saving hundreds of dollars and loads of time driving to stores and reading labels that don’t make sense. To find out if those many bottles of vitamins, minerals, protein powders, botanicals, and herbs on your kitchen counter are necessary, meet with a Registered Dietician. Let them help you sort out the facts and take your nutrition to new heights so that you can elevate your plate!