Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best Choices at the Airport

I found myself hungry, in the airport on the way back home from a conference in sunny San Diego. I was so hungry, but now that I am studying nutrition I am practicing mindful eating. I collected myself and thoughtfully considered my options. This exercise made me realize how much we operate on auto-pilot when we are hungry, especially when we have waited a little too long to eat. When we are hungry in the airport, and maybe we even have our kids running around, we can't leave our stuff, we've been waiting forever and a day to board our plane, we choose convenience and what would we think would taste good in that moment. This usually results in a slice of crappy pizza, some kind of really gross fast food like McD's, or some other place that serves the same quality food as your basic fast food chain -- but markets themselves as a step up (you know the ones I mean).

The reason I am even posting this at all is so the next time you find yourself in the same situation maybe you will remember a little bit of what you have read here and perhaps make a better choice. Why make a better choice? Because eating more nutrient-dense and efficient foods makes you feel better, gives you lasting energy, and you feel better about yourself for striving to take care of your body.

This is what I found to be my best options:
  • Cup of fruit from Starbucks: gives you quick energy + fiber (if you get a fruit cup from another source, please check that there isn't any added sugar)
  • Small bag of mixed nuts: protein and fat, long-term energy, filling (make sure there isn't any added oils!)
  • Whole wheat bagel - toasted, with nothing on it, or butter if you prefer
  • Grab a banana and a hard-boiled egg, or even better, a whole grain bagel and a hard-boiled egg!
A lot of folks think a salad is a good option. Although they aren't particularly bad for you, they tend to be very nutrient vacant. The lettuce is usually crappy and mostly water, the vegetables are packaged and have been around for a very long time (and there are few of them), and who knows what's in that dressing! Probably rancid or poor quality oil, which can actually make you feel ill or cause you to be more hungry because you aren't getting the kinds of fats your body actually wants. Yes, there is often times some chicken on that salad, which is good, but without some good complex carbohydrates you increase the chance of the protein being stored as fat, proteins are hard to digest and the carbs actually help you digest the protein.

Here is an interesting article on the MSNBC website about
healthiest restaurant choices if you and the family intend to sit down for a meal, or need to grab something more than a bagel.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Fat Summary

Fats are important in the diet because they have two main functions: they help repair tissues and provide a concentrated source of energy. They also help transfer fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) through the body, and form protective pads around delicate organs. The essential fatty acids are omega-3's and omega-6's, not made by the body on it's own and must be consumed through food.

Best sources of omega-3's: flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and cooked soybeans. Find the complete list with percentages here.

Sources of omega-6's: seeds, nuts, nut oils, refined vegetable oils, soy oil, and many other places. Omega-6's are also essential, but most processed snack foods contain high amounts of refined vegetable oils throwing the balance way off. Reducing the amount of processed foods and increasing consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, is a great place to start working towards a healthier diet.

Fact: A healthy diet should contain 2-4 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. The standard american diet (SAD) contains roughly 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3's!

The exact percentage of fats you should consume depends on your constitution, and your specific caloric needs. The most important thing to remember is to eat a variety of fats, from a variety of sources. If you don't know, stick to the 30% of calories from fat as a general rule, and don't avoid all saturated fats, stick to coconut oil, butter, ghee, and animal fats for cooking. Use olive, flax, and nut oils for cold dishes and store in the refrigerator. If an oil smells rancid, THROW IT OUT!

Stay away from transfats. These fats can be natural or artificial, natural sources in small amounts contained in beef and dairy products. These fats have a terrible effect on cholesterol levels, and increase the risk of heart disease. These are stiffer, harder, artery clogging fats that are best avoided. Artificial sources are mostly snack foods, cookies, microwave popcorn, etc... It is now required that products list if they contain transfats.


What is the problem with rancid oil? May cause oxidative stress and free radical damage in your body. Here is a great resource for understanding what oils to use for what purposes: spectrum organics.

Vegetable oils: soybean, canola, safflower, corn.The good: considered heart healthy, may help lower cholesterol. The problem: they are highly processed and very perishable, become rancid easily

Sesame oil: good choice for cooking. mostly monounsaturated fats (heart-healthy), rich in antioxidants, very stable. Contains high amounts of vitamin E, copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6.

Olive oil: not a good choice for cooking, great choice for cold dishes such as salads and dipping sauces. Rich in monounsaturated fats, but very perishable.

Coconut oil: a very saturated fat, but is special because it is very stable and contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT's). MCT's are not stored in the body as fat, and have been found to be antimicrobial and antibacterial. The use of coconut oil has been controversial, and you can read more about it here.

Want to know more? Here are some links that will give you more information on the subject of fats:

If you REALLY want to know the whole story, read Mary Enigs book: Know Your Fats.

And now, what you know you have been waiting for! A delicious holiday cookie recipe from Eating Well Magazine:

Spiced Pumpkin Cookies
2/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup canned plain pumpkin puree, (See Ingredient notes)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar, (or sucanant see note)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 cup raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 3 baking sheets with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk pumpkin, brown sugar (or Splenda), eggs, oil and molasses in a second bowl until well combined. Stir the wet ingredients and raisins into the dry ingredients until no traces of dry ingredients remain. Drop the batter by level tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies 1 1/2 inches apart.
  4. Bake the cookies until firm to the touch and lightly golden on top, 10 to 12 minutes, switching the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. TIPS & NOTES: Make Ahead Tip: Store in an airtight container, with wax paper between the layers, for up to 2 days or freeze for longer storage.
As a replacement for refined brown sugar, try sucanant as a replacement (1 to 1 ratio with
brown sugar). Contains iron, calcium, potassium, chromium, and B vitamins.
  • Ingredient Notes: As you might suspect from its orange color, pumpkin puree is an excellent source of beta carotene.


Per cookie: 68 calories; 2 g fat (0 g sat, 1 g mono); 12 mg cholesterol; 12 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 67 mg sodium; 76 mg potassium.

source: Eating Well Magazine, November/December 2009 issue

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Nutrition?

In thinking about how to start off this blog, I realized that it might be beneficial to begin with explaining why I think nutrition is important. I can start off by saying something cliche like "you are what you eat", or "an apple a day", blah, blah, blah. My view is that nutrition is just one piece of the whole pie (oh wait, that's sort of cliche). Anyway, when you eat the right diet that is custom built for you, it resinates in everything else in your life. You sleep better, have more energy, fight off disease, heal, look better, think more clearly, and become generally happier - why in the world wouldn't you spend what little free time you have seeking out this state of existence? Oh, because it takes some extra thought and effort? It is so worth it.

I have gone through this transformation, experimenting on myself with what works and what doesn't. How do I know what works? If I feel good, it's working. I have become a more patient wife and mother, better at my job, feel more rested and clear headed allowing me to figure out how to return phone calls and make grocery lists, squeeze in some exercise, find some down-time, and prepare as much nourishing food for myself and my family as possible. It is a busy life, but it is full of good things. I feel alive and happy and want others to feel this way too. I want my son to experience all kinds of foods in life, have the foundation he needs to grow up taking care of his body so he can experience all life has to offer him, help my husband eat in a way that minimizes the effects of his type 1 diabetes, and honor my mother's life who I lost to breast cancer by taking care of myself and hopefully never having to experience that type illness.

Once you have gone through a "nutritional transformation" yourself you feel so good and receive such positive responses that you want others to be able to feel the way you do. Not everyone knows how to eat well, and more importantly, how to eat well for their specific needs. It takes some learning, paradigm shifting, and behavioral changes. Isn't it so strange that we have become so accustomed to the over-processed, nutrition deficient, cheap, fast foods that we have access to today that we actually have to re-learn what is good for us? We have to make food and what we put into or bodies a little more of a priority than last on the list.

If that isn't enough reason to care about nutrition even just a little, take a look at some of the older generation, folks in their 60-90's. I am only 35 and I feel my body changing and growing older all the time. I would like to grow old gracefully, and to minimize potential complications. If eating well means better digestion, more energy, better health, and less problems in 20 years, sign me up!

This is "why nutrition" for me. I would love to hear "why nutrition" for you, and if you think nutrition doesn't matter, I would be interested in understanding why.