Main Nutritious Intent Website

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Dos and Don'ts

Pumpkin spice gets a lot of publicity this time of year – both good and bad.  But whether you’re a pumpkin spice lover or not, it’s estimated that this food trend is more than a $500 million dollar industry.  
While the actual spices themselves can boast all sorts of health benefits from reducing inflammation, to helping with blood sugar control and digestion, and we all know that pumpkin is loaded with all sorts of vitamins that help reduce blood pressure and improve eye health, the reality is that consumers need to beware of the health halo on that autumnal packaged flavor combination.  
A donut, cookie, latte, cake, or candy is still just that – an occasional food that should play only a cameo role in your diet – whether or not it is pumpkin spiced or not.  

So how does one get this seasonal flavor fix in a more moderate, healthful way? 

  1.  Be a label reader.  Watch out especially for excess calories, lots of sugar (more than 9 grams added sugar for most slightly-sweet foods), and keep an eye on portion size. 
  1. Be picky.  Just because it comes in a festively decorated package with those magic words “pumpkin-spice” doesn’t mean it will appeal to you.  Life is too short and health is too important to waste the calories on foods that you consider mediocre.
  1. Pay attention to and assess your craving.  First, make sure you’re not just thirsty or bored.  If hunger really does play into the equation, then decide what will truly satisfy. If you’re wanting something sweet, don’t plow through loads of savory before you eat that one pumpkin cookie you’ve been wanting all week.  If crunchy is really what you want, then don’t down ice cream, yogurt and a latte before you get it right with a little crunchy granola bar or nut mix.
  1. Bake savvy.  Consider making your own pumpkin spice foods.  In 3 easy swaps, you can transform your favorite banana nut bran muffin into a pumpkin spice muffin.  
    pumpkin for the banana
    pumpkin spice for cinnamon  
    pumpkin seeds for walnuts  

And don’t hesitate to be bold and try something a bit more exotic like a pumpkin spice hummus or curry. 

Just use the same common sense that applies to most food choices to help you navigate the ever growing wave of pumpkin-spice products and you’ll be able to keep your calorie intake from growing just as steadily.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Eating and Anxiety

Keep an even keel with carbohydrates.

  • Whole grains and complex carbohydrates found in foods like whole wheat bread, whole grain pastas, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal not only help keep your energy level stable (and that plays a large role in anxiety, but are also high in B vitamins.  Deficiency in some B vitamins can serve as a trigger for mood disorders in certain individuals, so you’re better off keeping your bases covered with good sources of B vitamins.
  • Avoid candy and simple, processed sugars– it gives a quick surge of energy, but then leaves you tired and low. The good news is that dark chocolate is actually beneficial in small doses as it contains some tryptophan, and also contains other components that improve mood. 
Protein foods play a prominent role in reducing anxiety.
  • Tryptophan-rich foods such as poultry, cheese, nuts and seeds contain a precursor to serotonin – the neurotransmitter that keeps you feeling calm.
  • Beef, dried beans, nuts and eggs are also high in B vitamins and will help avoid the mood pitfalls of deficiency.
  • Greek Yogurt and other high protein foods cause the brain to produce norepinephrine and dopamine.  These are neurotransmitters that help boost mood, and improve mental alertness and reaction time. 
  • Salmon and other fatty fish provide omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked to improvements with depression, plus they keep your heart healthy as well. 
Avoid caffeine as it interferes with your body’s natural serotonin production and alcohol since it acts as a depressant. 

Don’t underestimate the power of your attitude about food.  Fear and guilt sell and the dieting industry is cashing in at the expense of not only our physical but mental health.  Food is food. It is designed to be savored and enjoyed.  So keep mealtimes regular, pleasant and free from guilt or judgment.

The take home message is that a delicious and enjoyable diet balanced with complex carbohydrates, high quality protein foods and heart-healthy fats will help keep your mood level and anxiety at bay.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Diet-free Holiday

With the holiday season comes the fear of imminent weight gain and the dreaded d-word (diet) looms ugly and fierce on the horizon.  Here are some ways to put those fears to rest and enjoy a diet-free holiday season. 
Stay active.  Crazy weather and schedules may force you to become a bit creative with your physical activity, but MAKE IT A PRIORITY!  Keeping an exercise routine will not only help keep your metabolism going, but it will help your commitment to healthful, balanced food choices as well.

Veg-out.  No, this is not the call of the couch, but rather a call to take advantage of all the tasty, nutrient rich dishes that are traditional with the holidays.  Veggies are one of the most effective ways to keep nutrition high and calories low since they are naturally high in water, fiber and low in calories.  Don’t hesitate to get your veggies from a variety of sources. 

Don’t skip meals.  Skipping lunch in order to save up for a holiday dinner party means you’ll hit the buffet starving and most likely overdo it on higher fat, appetizers and simple carbohydrate traps like the dessert table. If you know you have a festive eating event coming up, make sure that your breakfast and lunch have a good balance of protein, produce and whole grains to help keep you nourished and satisfied so that you can approach the buffet table with a level head and choose reasonable portions of the foods that mean the most to you.

Be picky.  With the exception of being backed into a corner with Aunt Mae and her fruitcake that, “you absolutely must try,” we generally have control over our food choices during the holidays.  If you don’t absolutely love it, don’t eat it. 

Be portion aware and pay attention! Go with a sliver instead of a slice, and slow the whole meal down.  If we actually paid attention to and heeded our hunger and fullness cues, our bodies would be able to self-regulate towards health.  If you’re not that hungry, take tiny portions, wait and re-evaluate how full you are.  If you’re really hungry, start slow, and check-in while you eat to see if you’re filling up so that you don’t overshoot the full mark and end up miserably stuffed.  And if you’re not hungry at all, don’t eat.  

Chances are you’re tired, thirsty, bored or lonely.  So drink some water, put on your favorite holiday tunes (who can resist Johnny Mathis?), fit a puzzle, soak in the tub, or call/text a friend.  Eating mindfully now will stave off the need to diet come January.

Controlling the Candy Craze

It’s on your co-worker’s desk, the stash in the break room, it’s in your kid’s backpacks and probably clogging up your pantry, to say nothing of calling your name from the grocery store aisle.  Candy is everywhere this time of year, so how do we navigate this real-life candy land?  You have to be proactive and intentional. 

Placement – if you’ve already stocked up for the holiday, where are you keeping it? Keep it stashed out of sight or reach.  I like the freezer since that really requires some real drive to get your candy fix. 

Replacement – instead of a candy dish, fill your bowl with sweet cherry tomatoes, or nuts.  Keep that fruit bowl out on the counter and make healthful choices convenient and appealing. 

Prioritize – If you don’t absolutely love it, don’t eat it.  Life is to short, and blood sugar too tenuous to waste it on mediocre sweet.  I much prefer a little bit of dark chocolate to an entire milk chocolate candy bar.  If it’s not your favorite, don’t waste calories on it. 

Plan – decide when and where you’ll enjoy your Halloween candy fix.  It might be a better idea to include one piece of Halloween candy in your lunch each day, than thinking about it all day long, and diving head first into the bag when your get home.  Take advantage of the small, portion-appropriate package size to help you moderate and quench those cravings in a small but satisfying way.

Candy isn’t evil, it just needs to be kept in the cameo category – making small occasional appearances in your diet instead of stealing the nutritional show. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cold-Weather Calories

On average, people eat 86 more calories in the fall than in the spring, consume more saturated fat (processed foods), and are more sedentary.  So how can you enjoy your favorite cold-weather comfort foods without the extra cold-weather calories?

Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water.  If you’re not a water drinker, choose your flavor wisely.  Avoid drinking sweet as it feeds your body’s sweet tooth – that addiction center of the brain.  If you struggle with plain water, try a sparkling water. 
Remember that a typical can of soda has 40 grams of sugar, so switching your beverage can make a big impact on your health habits. And with holidays around the corner, it makes a tasty way to serve a festive beverage without adding excess calories into your party. Try a splash of lime juice over ice, a few pomegranate seeds, mint leaves and top it off with a flavored sparkling water. And if you crave the soothing effect of a hot beverage, keep it simple and stay away from the caloric add-ins (cream, sugar, etc).

Be mood aware.  Shorter days mean less sun exposure and whether you are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder or just miss the light and warmth of spring and summer, food cravings – especially simple sugars and processed carbohydrates may crop up.  How can you combat this? Be sure to get plenty of Vitamin D, and then keep your serotonin levels up with whole grains and complex carbohydrates.  The good news is that seasonal foods we naturally gravitate to this time of year like yams, sweet potatoes and squash are great ways to keep those serotonin levels up. 

Take time to cook.  It may feel like your entire day is gone when you leave for work and return home in the dark, but you still have the same 24 hours.  Use them wisely – 20 minutes in the morning to put something in the crockpot before work will save you money and calories by keeping you out of the drive thru on the way home (plus you’ll have delicious leftovers you can have for lunch, saving even more money and calories). 

Keep seasonal produce on hand to make meals and snacks more balanced, flavorful and nutritious.  Nothing boosts your immunity quite like a regular healthy dose of fruits and veggies.  Don’t forget the freezer section if the fresh produce gets a bit pricey.  The vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants found in fruits and veggies will go along way to keeping your immune system as healthy as possible.

With all these healthful habits in place, the occasional seasonal treat or dessert won’t derail your efforts at keeping those cold-weather calories in check.