October 30, 2010

Clean Eating #2: Getting Started

To get started to eat a cleaner diet, begin by reading the labels not only in your own food pantry, but also when shopping to acquaint yourself about what is actually in your food. Once you have a good idea of what you are currently eating you can decide what you want to change. When reading labels I look for:

Nutrient content claims. I use this to quickly identify healthier options, such as "no added sugar", "100 percent Natural", "Whole Grain." While I use them to find healthier foods, I always check the rest of the label to see if their claims are accurate and if it meets my standard of healthy.

Ingredient List: Not only will you want to look at the nutritional breakdown of the product and what the portion size is, but you will want to pay particular attention to the ingredients list as well. First off, the fewer the ingredients the better; optimally there should only be one or two. Your goal is to get as close to the original, whole food as possible. Specific things to look for in the list include:
  • Added sugar: The "sugars" listed on the nutrient fact panel of the label under "Total Carbohydrates" is the sum of all naturally occurring and added sugars in the product. Some foods such as milk, fruit and grain contain natural sugars, while helpful for managing carbohydrate intake, the listing for sugars won't  tell you much about how much of those grams of sugar are added. Until labels show the amount of these added sugars you will need to estimate how much added sugar is in the product by reading the ingredient label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Look for foods where sugar is not among the first few ingredients. Look for words ending in "ose" (suffix meaning sugar) and other names for sugar:
    barley malt, beet sugar, brown sugar, buttered syrup, cane-juice crystals, cane sugar, caramel, carob syrup, confectioner's sugar, corn sugar (high-fructose corn syrup), corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn sweeteners, crystallized cane sugar, date sugar, dextrin, dextrose, diatase, diastatic malt, erythritol*, ethyl maltol, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, glucose solids, golden sugar, golden syrup, grape sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, isomalt*, lactose, malt syrup, maltodextrin, maltinol,* maltose, mannitol*, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, refiner's syrup, sorbitol*, sorghum syrup, sucralose (Splenda), sucrose, sugar, syrup, turbinado sugar, and yellow sugar , xylitol* (*sugar alcohols, while low in calories, they are highly processed and while some might be "found" in whole foods, they are not natural).
    • Whole grains. The FDA recommends that at least half of the grains we eat should be whole. Look for the words "whole" and/or "100% whole" before the name of the grain, such as "100% whole wheat", "100% whole grain oats." Just because the product says "whole grain" on the label does not mean it is entirely made of whole grains: it could be a blend of whole and other grains. Likewise watch for the words "whole grain blend" as this is also a combination of grains. When a package lists multigrain, wheat flour, bran, semolina, etc, these are not whole grains. Only whole grain, by FDA definition, contains the 3 main parts of the kernel of grain in the same proportions as they are found naturally (bran, germ and endosperm). The best grains to buy and eat are whole grains you need to cook before eating, such as quinoa, oatmeal (not instant), brown rice, wheat berries, whole barley and amaranth.
    • Fats.  Do not choose foods that contain trans-fats. Trans fats listed on the label should be "0". But even if the label says 0, the food, by law, may still contain .5 gram per serving and still be listed as 0 trans fat, so look in the ingredient list for hidden trans fat. Any fat listed on the label as partially-hydrogenated is a trans fats. For more guidelines on trans fats see Know Your Fats (Am. Heart Assoc.). Avoiding hydrogenated oils is also preferable, as they are processed manufactured fats and saturated, the worse kind for your heart! Choose foods made with vegetable oils, such as canola and olive oil. 
      Once you have acquainted yourself with what is in your pantry and grocery store shelves go through your pantry and toss out what you no longer want to eat. Yes food is expensive, but your health is priceless! But don't get rid of anything you aren't comfortable parting with, the best way to make lasting changes in your diet is to gradually ease into it.

      Next post: tips on transitioning into a cleaner diet.

      American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide

      October 18, 2010

      Clean Eating #1: My Definition

      In the genetic game of life I rolled a snake eyes with hereditary conditions of both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Since a healthy diet is helpful in managing both, I researched and read about what I could do and what might work best for me. What I settled on is a way of eating best described as Clean Eating. Eating this way makes the most sense to me among a sea of nutrition debate--meat or not meat, dairy or no dairy, carbs or no carbs, etc. Not to mention all the ambiguity about what nutrients we need, how much we need and whether they are good or bad!

      Simply put, clean eating to me is eating real food. Food that is not some concocted substance created in a factory. Clean eating is avoiding processed foods and all the artificial ingredients, unhealthy fats, refined grains, preservatives, chemical additives, sugars and salt they contain. It is buying foods in their raw state, or as close as possible to how they are found in nature. Clean eating is preparing at home and eating:
      1. Whole grains
      2. Fresh fruits and vegetables
      3. Lean meat, mostly fish and poultry, minimizing red meat
      4. Healthy fats such as olive, and seed oils
      5. Nuts and legumes
      6. Eggs and reduced fat dairy
      When purchasing these foods I try to buy as much of them as I can organic. If I want a processed food, I look for those with ingredients I would keep on my own shelves (or at recognize the name!), with the fewest amount of ingredients and with the least amount of added sugar, salts and fat.

      It is a habit on mine to always read labels and don't assume that if it's organic, vegetarian or vegan it's healthy. A processed food made with organic ingredients is still a processed food; as is fake cheese and meat-like products made from soy or grains (such as seitin, or gluten).  While it can be argued that eating a vegie burger is preferable to eating a hamburger made from regular ground beef. I'd rather have a burger made with very lean beef, turkey breast, or mashed beans than from soybeans over-processed into a food-oid product. The same goes for other imitation foods such as margarine, non-dairy topping, many non-fat dairy products, and most foods you can find a coupon for or listen on sale in grocery store fliers.

      It is also a goal of mine to limit sugars--ALL sugars including: honey, agave nectar, maple sugar, raw and plain old white sugar, and artificial sweeteners. If sugar is listed among the first few ingredients on a packaged food product it usually goes back on the shelf. I try to satisfy my sweet tooth with fruit, eating fresh fruit for snacks and using dried fruits and juices in baked goods.

      One of the best books on this eating lifestyle is
      Michael Pollan's book Food Rules: an Eater's Manual.
      It is a concise handbook with simple guidelines
      on what to eat and what to avoid.

      Am I perfect at eating this way, heck no! One of the joys of eating is breaking the rules now and then and not obsessing over them. But by striving to eat this way on a daily basis means the occasional times I don't won't impact my health and happiness.

      Upcoming Post: How to get started eating clean.

      Clean Eating Magazine
      Dash Diet to lower blood pressure and cholesterol
      Michael Pollan

        October 4, 2010

        The Secret to Weight Maintenance: Top Ten Tips

        If you know please tell me! Honestly and seriously, if there is one thing I've learned in maintaining my weight loss for over 5 years is that there is still much to learn. This is an ongoing journey of trial and error, of committing every day to do the best that I can to maintain. I am far from perfect from it, but there are a few things I've learned along the way:
        1. This is a practice, there is no cure or "magic bullet" mistakes will be made, but most important is to forgive myself and get back on that healthy lifestyle train ride as soon as I can.
        2. And since there is no "magic bullet" there is no secret formula or combination of foods that yield easy weight loss or keep that weight off. It's hard work, I won't lie. It's not as hard as dieting, but it takes just about as much vigilance, perseverance and dedication. (It's just a heck of a lot more fun in a slimmer body). For me it boils down to simply calories in/calories out. There may be no easy answers, but there are things that can make it easier among them:
        3. Learn mindful eating. I will talk more about this in a future post, but what I mean is I learned to tune into the difference between physical eating and eating for other reasons, such as boredom, stress, fatigue, frustration, or any other myriad ways we can eat other than to meet our bodies need for fuel.  I also try to be mindful of my body's cues of hunger and fullness and eating just the right amount to feel satisfied, but not more than I need. 
        4. Manage eating triggers and crossed wires. I learned what my eating triggers are and how to manage them. I also learned to identify my crossed wires, those conditions of stress, fatigue, etc. that produce cravings to eat when I'm not hungry instead of taking care of my needs in more fitting ways. For this I use EBT training. 
        5. Monitor eating. When I first started loosing and maintaining I found it very useful to use a computer program to keep track of my calories (I used Fitday). Now I use that program mostly to figure out calories in recipes or new foods. What works best for me is eating similar types of foods and amounts daily. And that leads me to another tip--
        6. No one knows me better than myself. I tailor my eating and exercise plans in ways that suit me and my preferences. I know I would never be happy eating a diet that is high protein/low carb or that tells me what to eat, so I didn't follow that kind of diet. Instead, I eat as few processed foods as I can and lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with a bit of lean meat and healthy fats.
        7. Make every bite count. I know on average how many calories I need to maintain my weight and tailor my diet accordingly, packing as much nutrition as I can my daily calorie budget. Some people think that because I run I can eat whatever I what--oh how I wish!
        8. Exercise regularly for not only the calories it burns, but feeling the joy of a body that is vibrant, toned and full of energy. Feeling that motivates me to keep it feeling that way! I explore what works best for me. 
        9. I changed my lifestyle to support my new weight. That included making my workout time a priority. People who know me know that I exercise in the morning, go to dance club on Friday nights and do a long run on Saturdays, and know better than to expect me to do otherwise! I also make sure I try to get enough sleep and practice stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation.
        10. Create a supportive environment. I made friends with people who support my goals and inspire me. I also cleaned my family's diet preparing for them the same delicious foods I prepare for myself.
        I'm sure I could think of 100 tips if I gave myself the time, but these are the core I strive for every day. I have been asked to to post more on this topic, weight loss, nutrition and exercising in general and my goal is to do so in a frequent and informative manner. Please send me your comments and suggestions!