It’s Time To Eat Ugly

I have a new favorite Twitter account, and it’s called @UglyFruitAndVeg. In addition to advocating for less food waste, they post hilarious pictures of “ugly” fruits and vegetables – such as thumbs up strawberry and batman kiwi.

About that food waste…. most people know Americans waste a crap ton of food. Be it from restaurants over serving to leftovers forgotten in the back of the fridge to a slightly browned banana being tossed, industrialized nations (the US, Canada, Europe, etc) waste more food than sub-saharan Africa produces each year, according to United Nations Environment Programme. In addition to wasting what we’ve already bought or made, we also waste about 26% of fruits and vegetables produced because they don’t meet the aesthetic standards of the supermarkets. That’s a quarter of the produce grown in our country, unused because Safeway, Stop and shop, and Wegmans think it’s too ugly to sell in their stores.

How Can We Fix It?

A few ways.

  • More people growing their own produce or buying from a farmer’s market. The farmer’s markets are much less finicky about the aesthetics of their produce, and most people won’t throw away a vegetable they’ve grown unless it actually went bad.
  • Copy the French. The video about French grocery chain Intermarche and their initiative “Les Fruits et Legumes Moche” or the “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” made waves on social media last year. If you missed it, essentially the supermarket bought ugly produce that would have been tossed and sold it for 30% cheaper. You can watch a recap of the launch and how it worked on vimeo.
  • Advocate for different policies. End Food Waste has a petition out. If you’re so included, find it here.
  • Choose ugly. Sometimes, I try to choose the ugliest piece at the market because I worry it won’t get chosen by others. Am I the only one who worries about ugly produce being wasted?

Continue reading It’s Time To Eat Ugly

What Does Vitamin C Actually Do?

We see vitamin C a lot these days, mostly in the context of cold prevention (or treatment). Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin found in certain foods and added as fortification to others. Humans don’t synthesize vitamin C, so it’s essential that we include it in our diet.

Roles of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen, L-Carnitine, and some neurotransmitters, and is also involved in some protein metabolism. It is also an antioxidant thought to help regenerate other antioxidants like vitamin E, helps the body absorb non-heme iron (meaning iron from plant based foods), and plays an important role in immune function. Vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy (often linked to pirates and sailors, who went long periods without fresh produce), which causes fatigue and connective tissue weakness.

Collagen synthesis and immune function are the most notable and widely recognized roles for Vitamin C. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, found in muscle, bone, and tendons among other important tissues.

When Do You Need Vitamin C?

Vitamin  C has been linked to a few conditions over the years. Continue reading What Does Vitamin C Actually Do?

If You Must Fast Food, Choose These 4 Go-Tos

Typically, I don’t endorse fast food. It’s generally of poor quality, low in nutrients and high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. But sometimes you just have to eat and the only options are quick serve joints such as these. When I get stuck, there are my top go-to options. Remember that none of these are nutritionally ideal – most are still pretty high in sodium and can involve processed ingredients. But eating fast food isn’t about ideal nutrition, it’s about doing the best with what you have where you are.

1. The Burrito Salad

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 12.02.59 PMYou can actually get this at a number of places – Chipotle and BoLoco for starters – which is why no restaurant name is included. Choose the salad option and top with vegetables, meat of your choosing (preferably grass fed/free range if offered), salsa, guacamole, and beans if you eat them. This will run you in the range of 400-600 calories and provide a filling lunch. The typical chicken salad at Chipotle will also provide 110% of your daily vitamin A, 94% of your daily vitamin C, and 23% of your daily iron needs.

Continue reading If You Must Fast Food, Choose These 4 Go-Tos

I Don’t Write Meal Plans. Here’s Why.

I have written two meal plans in my 5 years as a dietitian (excluding hospital menus, of course). I wrote the first one because I thought it was a good way to expand what I was able to offer, and help people in a different way. The second one was more of a diet template, written for a friend. Based on my experience with the first one, I decided this was not something I wanted to offer. Why?

For starters, it’s a lot of work if done right. There are numerous factors that determine the best diet for someone to follow, including:

  • Past medical history
  • Current lifestyle
  • Client goals
  • Diet history
  • Fitness capabilities
  • Dietary preferences

When creating a meal plan for 30 – 90 days (the length of time I usually see them offered), you need to make sure they are meeting their calorie goals, getting all the right micronutrients, eating foods they like at times convenient to their lifestyle, all while making sure there is flexibility because life happens. I wrote a draft of one month of programming for CrossFit Boston, and that was a walk in the park compared to writing a 30 day meal plan. I spent about 10 hours doing this, which makes it either expensive for the client or not that profitable for me. The best way to make money off of a meal plan is to create something completely generic at a couple of different calorie levels and sell it to as many buyers as possible.

Second, buying a meal plan is like paying the smart kid in class to do your homework for you. Continue reading I Don’t Write Meal Plans. Here’s Why.

Can “Paleo” and “Plant Based” Diets Live In Harmony?

Confession: a few years ago, I jumped on the paleo bandwagon. During that time, I used to bristle at the advent of plant based diets and things like “Meatless Monday,” mainly because they became so conflated with the vegan diet. I felt tired of people pushing the no meat thing, annoyed that vegetarian diets are always deemed healthier despite the fact studies supporting this diet are essentially comparing a group who has made a conscious decision about their health to “everyone else” – a wider group of many who haven’t. I was (and still am) also concerned that many people do it wrong, substituting meat with things like pasta, rice, and bread. And THAT IS NOT HEALTHIER, I ranted.

The Plant Based Diet 

Given that I’ve just written much of the above paragraph in the past tense, most of you have correctly guessed that my attitude has changed. The more I look at my own diet, at the paleo diet, and at research, the more I’m convinced that plant based diet IS the way to go. The key question here is what is a “plant based” diet? Based on a Google search, “plant based diet” is poorly defined (kind of like “fitness” before CrossFit). So, I’m making one up. According to the dictionary of Alexandra Black MPH, RD, LD, a plant based diet is:

A diet in which plant are the foundation of the diet. This diet consists primarily of non-animal nutrient sources. This includes vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and grains, although some animal foods – meat, eggs, dairy – can be included from time to time. 

Of course, as with any diet, there are healthy and not-so-healthy plant based diets. Eggo waffles with Aunt Jemima syrup for breakfast, vegetable pizza for lunch, and a rice and beans Lean Cuisine for dinner is plant based, but not so healthy. Whereas a banana with peanut (or almond) butter for breakfast, vegetable stir fry with quinoa for lunch, and grilled chicken with vegetables and baked sweet potato for dinner is much healthier (and still plant based). Continue reading Can “Paleo” and “Plant Based” Diets Live In Harmony?

Are You Bonking During Workouts?

Why Do We Bonk?

Bonking generally results from not having enough energy to finish your workout (or feeling that way). When you are eating your “standard” non-challenge diet, you’re likely eating some grains, potatoes, etc. Your carb intake is definitely higher than it is when you’re in challenge mode unless you eat a lot of bananas and sweet potatoes. Your body is used to working out at that higher carb intake, and can take a while to adjust. And when you start a paleo or clean eating challenge, your diet usually ends up being low carb (at least at first) even if you don’t mean it to be. The change can be especially drastic coming off of holiday food and cookies. Your body will adapt to the lower carb intake over the next few weeks as the sugar withdrawals subside and blood sugar levels normalize. But still, keeping up a consistent carbohydrate intake is important if you want to get the most out of your workouts. I’m not saying you need to eat 60% of your calories in carbs, I”m just saying you need to get enough for YOU to feel good during workouts and have energy throughout the day.  Continue reading Are You Bonking During Workouts?

How Do You Eat Healthy When You’re Sick?

Or a better question: is it even worth it? This past Sunday I woke up feeling like crap – nausea, fever, chills, body ache (although I am not sure how much of that “ache” was symptoms versus doing Friday’s WOD followed by Oly Saturday morning) and spent most of the day in bed (like I left my bed at 5 pm). Monday was better, but I still had trouble eating and had no energy (maybe eating only 200 calories the day before wasn’t so helpful). Since it sounds like a few other people in the gym caught a similar bug, I figured nutrition during a bout of cold/flu was a timely discussion.

My diet those two days consisted of water, Gatorade, toast, saltines, a few bites of soup, a few bites of Mexican plate with chicken and rice, and in a last ditch effort to get calories in, a vanilla milkshake. Basically, not so much my normal whole foods diet. But I really couldn’t care less. I don’t know what I would have eaten were I trying to be strict paleo. I’m sure I would have figured it out – maybe some broth, potentially a banana or some applesauce. But at that point I was more concerned about getting nutrients in without feeling worse, and worrying about a healthy diet when I was well. However, if you keep a pretty dedicated paleo diet and have a strategy for managing sick days, please share!

As for non paleo, the best foods to overcome an upset stomach (symptom numero uno of this little bug) are the BRAT diet:  Continue reading How Do You Eat Healthy When You’re Sick?

Government Walks Back Cholesterol Warnings

Yes, you heard right. After 40 years of warnings that the amount of cholesterol in the American diet was a public health concern, the nation’s top nutrition advisory board is this year planning to do away with that warning. Because what fun would it be if we weren’t changing our minds about what’s healthy every other decade? You can read a little more about the announcement in the Washington Post.

Does This Mean All The Eggs And Bacon You Can Eat?

No, this does not mean you can pull a Ron Swanson. Basically, they’re saying the concern is less about dietary cholesterol itself, which isn’t really linked to blood cholesterol levels, and more about too many portions of foods high in saturated fat. The nutritionists list whole milk and butter as concerning, but I disagree a little bit.  As I said in an earlier article on saturated fat, some of the traditionally forbidden foods – red meat, butter, whole milk, can have nutrients if you’re getting them from the right source. I am far more concerned about saturated fat from processed foods than I am about organic, pasture raised cream in your coffee. As an example, one serving (4 oz) of 85-15 lean ground beef has 6.6 grams of saturated fat. That’s comparable to 12 Oreo cookies, 5 Eggo waffles, and 2 hostess cupcakes. While 5 waffles or 12 oreos sounds like a lot, they’re not completely unreasonable portions for the average American. But while the ground beef has nutrients like protein, zinc, and iron, the other foods just offer sugar and and refined carbohydrates (not that carbohydrates are not a nutrient, you just don’t need that many poor quality ones).

So, enjoy your eggs and bacon. In moderate portions. And maybe lay off the Oreos :)

Photo c/o GmanViz

Buying Supplements from CVS? You’re Probably Getting Hosed

Walgreens, GNC, Walmart, and CVS don’t always sell supplements. But when they do, they’re fake. Oh wait, they actually DO always sell supplements. And they’re still fake, well maybe some of them. At least according to New York’s Attorney General (aka my new favorite politician), who is going after these fraudsters. My previous rants on supplements and GNC have focused on the fact that a teenager making minimum wage with no nutrition experience or education can advise you on dietary supplements that are very poorly regulated by the FDA if he happens to work at GNC or a similar outlet.

This time though, the focus is on the fact that not only did these four retailers try to sell you poorly regulated crap you don’t need, they also lied about the crap that was in it! According to a write up in the New York Times:

“The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.”

In addition, some supplements at Target also tested negative for the herbs on their label. Basically, those ginkgo baloba pills you bought for “vitality” were really powdered garlic and powdered rice. For that I could have just made you some stir fry!

The New York State AG sent cease and desist letters to those four retailers. And of course industry reps are trying to pass this off as “bad practices from fringe companies”. Sorry guys, CVS is not a “fringe” company.

The morel of the story (rant)? Continue reading Buying Supplements from CVS? You’re Probably Getting Hosed

Tips For Healthy Travels

I haven’t found a better way to completely fall off the healthy lifestyle wagon quite like traveling. Whether for work or vacation, extended time in an airport and hotels, and away from your kitchen and gym, provides numerous challenges to staying on track. This post outlines a few tips for keeping it together on the road.

1. Always be prepared with snacks. Pack nuts, trail mix, jerky, Lara bars, and other snacks to have in the airport, between work meetings (or sightseeing), and for late night cravings. Pack more than you think you’ll need, as healthy snacks can be hard to find in hotels and airports.

2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Breakfast). Unless you fork over $20 for the sit down breakfast, most hotels offer a continental breakfast comprised of cold eggs, processed bacon, pastures, bagels, cereal, and canned fruit cocktail. Continue reading Tips For Healthy Travels