To Paleo or Not To Paleo…

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What is Paleo?

The diet encourages the consumption of what our ancestors were believed to have eaten as hunters and gatherers, such as meat, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, etc.  The diet discourages the consumption of foods that are considered to be primarily part of the modern day, post-agricultural “westernized diet” or “SAD” diet (Standard American Diet,) such as milk, grains, refined sugars and legumes.  Promoters of the Paleo Diet believe that these are the primary foods that have led to an overweight country, which have burdened us with an ever growing health care crisis.

Followers of the Paleo Diet claim that by eating the foods we were evolutionarily developed to consume, we can lower our risks for developing chronic diseases while also improving digestive problems, eliminating acne, increasing energy levels, etc.  They further claim that we can lose excessive body weight, thanks to the fact that we’ll be eating the foods our bodies have been programmed to fully digest and absorb.

Diet Do’s and Don’ts…

Do Eat…

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits (in moderation)
  • Nuts and Seeds (in moderation)
  • Wild Meats (grass fed beef, chicken, venison, etc.)
  • Eggs
  • Coconut, grass-fed butter, avocado, etc.

Do Not Eat…

  • Refined, Processed Foods (chips, donuts, soda, cereals, candy bars, snack foods, etc.)
  • Refined sugars
  • Juices
  • Grains and breads (quinoa, oats, bread, barley, etc.)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, soy, peanuts, etc.)
  • Dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese, etc.)

Nutritional Basics…where do my calories come from?

Paleo Diet:

  • 30-40% Fat
  • 20-30% Carbohydrate
  • 35-45% Protein

…vs…

2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • 20-35% Fat
  • 45-65% Carbohydrate
  • 10-35% Protein

Behind The Research…

Despite what some will tell you, research surrounding the Paleo Diet is still in its infancy stages.  While some research has pointed to low carb, paleo style diets possibly improving blood insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and improved lipid profiles, we do not yet know the long term effects.

However, in the research article Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that refined grains such as white pasta, white breads, etc. have more of a negative effect on our arteries than does saturated fat.  Whether or not we should be eating like a caveman, it’s important to realize that refined grains just aren’t good for our overall health.

The Diet’s Health Advantages:

  1. Excludes sugary and processed foods.
  2. Reduces sodium intake.
  3. Encourages produce consumption.
  4. Encourages weight loss.  By avoiding sugary, processed junk, you’ll inevitably shed some excess pounds.
  5. Focuses on real, whole foods.

The Diet’s Health DIS-advantages:

  1. May be difficult to maintain for a lifetime.  If the thought of giving up cheese forever and ever and ever sounds horrendous to you, this diet plan may be a flop.
  2. No large studies done to analyze long term effects.
  3. Contradictory evidence.  We’ve known for quite some time, the health benefits of following a Mediterranean Diet, full of fish, fruits, veggies, healthy fats and…YES…whole grains, legumes and some dairy!
  4. Possible nutrient deficiencies, such as calcium.  Paleo promoters claim that we don’t need as much calcium as once thought.  However, there is no evidence to back up this claim and it’s important that anyone going on the Paleo Diet be smart in choosing the right foods.

The Bottom Line…

The Paleo Diet does offer some health benefits.  However, it also requires some professional guidance in order to avoid nutritional deficiencies.  In addition, it is unknown what health effects the diet has over a lifetime and it may be difficult for many to follow for long periods of time.

Research is important in helping us unlock the secrets of health, but it was never meant to be the ultimate decision on how and what we eat.  There will always be conflicting reports, and it is important that we not base our diet solely on a trendy diet or on the newest research study. In finding that so-called “perfect” diet, we still need to remember the importance of making changes that will last, while also finding a lifestyle that will feel balanced and satisfying to us as individuals.

QUESTION: What do you think of the Paleo Diet?  Have you ever or will you ever try it?  Why or why not?

Currently Eating.

I slept like a baby last night.

All this fresh air and gardening has me plain tuckered out.  Thank goodness for HUMP day!

Thank goodness, also, for larger than life salads, which fills me up and helps me get all my veggies in.

I always layer the usual lettuce, tomato, cucumber.  But lately, I’ve also been adding…

  • avocado
  • broccoli
  • vidalia onion
  • fresh salsa
  • feta cheese
  • big ol’ scoop of hummus!!!

Eaten like so…

I’m a fan of these trader joe’s whole wheat pita breads.  They do get a bit crumbly by day 4 or so, but they honestly don’t usually last that long in this house anyways!

QUESTION: What are you eating a lot of these days?

3 Labels That Drive A Dietitian Crazy.

1. “Gluten Free.”

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (and most oats which have been cross contaminated with wheat.)  Unless one has celiac or a wheat allergy, in which going strictly gluten free is imperative for one’s health, foods containing gluten do not need to be completely avoided.

Some people state that they feel better since going gluten free.  That they bloat less, have more energy, etc, etc, etc.  Then, by all means, go for it!  But be warned of the placebo effect, which can can be caused by expecting to feel differently with a certain diet.  And don’t expect that going gluten free will cure all that ails you.

The simple truth is that many gluten free products contain little fiber and less nutrients than their wheat containing counterparts, which is not helpful for weight loss/maintenance.  Unless going “gluten free” is due to health implications (e.g., celiac,) enjoy your whole wheat sandwich at lunch.  Guilt free!

2. “All-Natural.”

From eggs to crackers to salad dressings.

People everywhere are looking for “all natural” products.  Have you ever wondered what this really means?  Yeah.  Me too.

There’s actually no formal definition for this term.  The USDA and the FDA allow the term to be stamped on packages as long as there is no “misleading” information and is “minimally processed.”  If the product has no “artificial ingredients” or “added color,” it will probably have an all natural stamp next to its name.

The simple truth is…this tells you nothing.

For example.  An “all natural” package of eggs does not tell you what the chickens are eating or how they were raised.  An “all natural” package of chicken breast does not tell you if the chickens were treated with hormones or injected with saline solution.  An “all natural” flavoring in your salad dressing could very likely have been made in a factory by a group of scientists.

Don’t let yourself buy into the “all natural” craze.  If you’re looking for “all natural,” know where your meat comes from and get to know what those ingredients are in your products.

3. “Fat-Free.”

This is my favoritest of my least favorite label list. 😉

Crackers, breads, cookies, you name it.  They all have this stamp of approval (FAT FREE,) as if to lure you in as being “healthy.”

The simple truth is what we’ve known for quite some time…that there are good fats and bad fats.  If a salad dressing is made with canola or olive oil?  Good fat!  If a box of cookies has trans fat (or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list)?  Bad fat!

Many products that boast being fat free are loaded with sugars and funky ingredients in order to make up for the lack of flavor.  This tends to bring the caloric level right up to the same level (or more) of its full fat friend.  Yikes!

Do yourself a favor and include a little fat in your life.  We all need a little fat in our diets for nutrient absorption and for overall health.  Not to mention flavor.

QUESTION: Do you look at labels on the outside of packages?  What lures you in to buy a product and what turns you off?

Weight Maintenance: The Incredible, Edible Balancing Act…

…Or…

“How To Say Goodbye to Diet Monday.”

You know the drill.  You plan on eating “good” all week, but then someone rolls out the birthday cake and you tell yourself you’ll give in just this one last time (and then you’ll be “good” once again on Monday.)  This is what we, of course, know as Diet Monday.  Before you know it, the scale starts creeping up and you find yourself wondering why maintaining your weight is just so gosh darn hard!

Let me introduce you to what has worked for me.  What I fondly refer to as The Incredible, Edible Balancing Act.

First an explanation of what this roughly drawn map of my life actually means…

The middle line represents absolute, 100% balance.  The place where I am eating exactly the same amount of calories that I burn (through exercise and/or just my average, daily activities.)

The middle line is, actually, a totally unrealistic place.

No two days are ever exactly alike, after all.  Some days I eat cookies and pizza (note: the dotted line goes up.)  Some days I forgo dessert in favor of orange slices (the dotted line goes down.)  The important thing is balance.  If I eat a lot for a couple of days, I’ll make it a point to eat a little less for a day or two afterwards.  If I know a party is coming up and I’ll be enjoying some wine and appetizers, I might skip my nightly chocolate for a couple days ahead.

I mentally try to keep myself as close to the middle line as possible, but since the middle line is (in all actuality) completely unrealistic, I allow myself to veer off now and then.  As long as I have a few low days to make up for the high days, everything evens out.

How to make this work for you…

  • It’s important to never let the dotted line go so low that you find yourself entering starvation mode.  Starving = overeating.  The point is just to shave off some excess calories here and there.  Repeat after me:  Do NOT enter diet mode.
  • Don’t use this concept so that you can binge one day and under eat the next.  The underlying principle is balance, health, and happiness.
  • In figuring out which excess calories to shave off on “low” days, cut out calories that you could care less about.  For example, use 1 Tbsp. dressing on your salad instead of 2.  Have 1 medium scoop of potatoes with dinner instead of 2.  Etc, etc, etc.  Don’t let yourself feel deprived!
  • Don’t focus on the logistics of this principle.  Just understanding the idea behind it and then implementing those ideas will go far in helping you maintain your weight.

QUESTION: What are some tips that have worked for you in maintaining your weight?

A “Healthier” Cookie.

I had a hankering to bake today.

To blend and mix and whip.

With butter and sugar and that kind of thing.

I think people are often surprised to learn how much many dietitians enjoy baking (and eating said baked goods!)  Many of us are foodies by nature, and so we jump at the chance to bake whenever we can.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we add a gazillion calories to every single baked good that we make (although there is a time and place for that too!)  I often like to put recipes to the test with some of these subtle little tweaks.

My Top 4 Ways To Make a “Healthier” Cookie:

1. Cut the sugar in half.

Unless your recipe is already “healthier” to begin with (say, from Cooking Light or Eating Well), you can easily cut the sugar in half without noticing any changes.

2. Substitute half of the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour.

Whole wheat flour has a nice nutty texture that pairs perfectly with many cookies (especially chocolate chip!)  You can try different proportions of all purpose to whole wheat, but I’ve found that simply cutting it 50/50 gives the best texture without taking away any fluffiness!  By doing this, you’re instantly adding a little fiber and good-for-you nutrients.

3. Cut the butter in 1/4 to 1/2.

Different recipes will lend different results.  Try different proportions and see what works for you.  If you find that it results in a dry cookie, try adding in an equal measurement of unsweetened applesauce (e.g., if the recipe calls for 1 cup butter, use 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup applesauce.)

4. Shrink the portions.

This needs no explanation.  Shrink the size of your cookies and suddenly having two with a glass of milk isn’t such a big deal.  I have a special tablespoon cookie scoop that automatically keeps my portions in check!

Ingredients you shouldn’t be be worrying about…

  • Eggs.  Yes, they’re high in cholesterol, which is why they get such a bad rap.  But most reliable research has shown us that the cholesterol in eggs does not effect our blood cholesterol.  I’m not saying go out and eat a dozen eggs every day.  But there’s also nothing wrong with using a couple in your favorite recipes.
  • Chocolate.  Don’t go for cheapo chocolate that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.  My personal favorites are Ghirardelli and Godiva.  Also, if you’re following #4, you won’t be eating a ton of chocolate in one sitting anyways.  May as well enjoy it!
  • Nuts.  Walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc.  They’re all full of good for you fats.  And, again, going back to #4, as long as the portions are being kept small, these are a healthy cookie addition!

After all is said and done, enjoy a couple of your favorite cookies!  There is always room in a healthy diet for a cookie or two.

Just keep an eye out.

You never know who may want to steal them. 😉

Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe – with subtle “healthy” changes

The important thing to remember in “healthifying” a cookie recipe is that we’re talking dessert.  You want the final result to remain rich, satisfying, sweet, delicious.  The moment you cross the border of it being dry and tasteless is the moment you’ve gone too far.  Have fun and tweak your recipes slowly to see what works!

  • 2 cups semi-sweet ghirardelli chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened (or 1/2 cup butter with 1/4 cup applesauce)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 375ºF.
  2. Stir flour with baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. In large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color. Add eggs and vanilla, one at a time. Mix on low speed until incorporated.
  4. Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.

Ch-ch-chia!

I’ve been using chia seeds a lot lately.  In my oatmeal.  In my yogurt.  In my granola.  You name it, I’m using it.

(As a side note, I just started keeping things like chia seeds, wheat germ, flaxseed, etc. in little mason jars, in the fridge.  I notice that when I have them in their original bags, I forget to use them (out of side, out of mind.)  When they’re front in center, greeting me each morning, I almost always remember to use them when making my breakfast.)

Now that’s some real fancy schmancy labeling right there, huh? 😉

When it comes to healthy eating, I’m not a huge advocate of the self proclaimed “super foods.”  I believe that a healthy life can be obtained in a pretty simply (and also affordable!) way, with fruits, veggies, lean protein, healthy fats, etc.  There’s not necessarily a need for the savvier trends, like quinoa, chia seeds, etc.  But they’re fun and healthy, and they can offer you a unique way to sneak in more healthy fats, fiber, protein, etc.

I especially like to include them in my breakfast meals.

Like muffins.

These muffins are dense and subtly sweet, and (best of all) they will keep you full for hours, thanks to the fiber boost.  They remind me of morning glory muffins and would probably be delicious with dried pineapple and cashews!

Yum.

Bran Flax Muffins – modified from the original “Bob’s Red Mill” recipe

I began making this recipe only to realize that I was missing several ingredients.  I had to substitute ingredients based on what I had on hand, and this is the resulting recipe…which ended up turning out just fine (crisis averted!)  Increase the amount of sugar used if you prefer a sweeter muffin and use the lesser amount if you like a subtle sweetness.  Enjoy these muffins with a tall glass of milk and a fruit for an easy, fiber rich breakfast option!

  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds (or use all flaxseed)
  • 3/4 cup oat bran
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 cups finely shredded Carrots
  • 2 shredded Apples
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • 2 beaten beaten Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  1. Mix together flour, flaxseed, oat bran, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.
  2. Stir in carrots, apples, raisins and nuts. Combine milk, beaten eggs and vanilla. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are moistened. DO NOT OVER MIX.
  3. Fill 12 muffin cups evenly. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

QUESTION: Do you use things like chia seeds, flax seeds, wheat germ, etc. in your daily eats and/or cooking?  Which are your favorites?  

Meatless Monday: Roasted Veggie Quesadillas

Cajun.

Aka, my secret weapon.

9 times out of 10, when people proclaim, “This has so much flavor, what did you do??”

My answer?

Cajun.

I sprinkle it on almost everything.

(FYI: When my answer isn’t cajun, it’s usually ‘cinnamon’…which I also just so happen to sprinkle on almost everything!)

Tonight for dinner, I made some roasted veggie quesadillas.  Which started with sprinkling (you guessed it!) cajun seasoning over some peppers and mushrooms and onions.

While the veggies roasted in the oven, I heated a large griddle pan and then layered some cheese between the whole wheat tortilla wraps, letting them get all crispy and gooey and awesome.

And then I preceded to stuff them silly with the cajun roasted veggies.

Yum.

Roasted Veggie Quesadillas

Any leftover veggies are delicious on top of pizza or served over a baked potato with a little avocado.  This is a very versatile recipe and you can truly make it your own by subbing in other vegetables or serving them over something entirely different.  Enjoy and have fun!

Serves 3

  • 1 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 onions, thinly sliced
  • 10 mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • 3 Whole Wheat Tortillas
  • 3/4 cup Reduced Fat Mozzarella Cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Mix vegetables together on cookie sheet that has been coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle liberally with cajun seasoning (to taste.)  Stir together and place in oven for a total of about 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.
  3. Meanwhile, heat nonstick pan to medium.  Spray with cooking spray.  Place tortilla wraps on top and place about 1/4 c. of cheese on half of each wrap.  Fold wrap in half and press down lightly.  Cook until browned on underside, flip, and cook the other side until browned and crispy.
  4. When veggies are done roasting, open up quesadillas and fill with the roasted vegetables.  Cut in half and serve!

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite go-to spice (or herb, sauce, etc?)  For me, it’s cajun, cinnamon, garlic powder and cilantro.  I use these ingredients with abundance! 😀

Meatless Monday: Spaghetti Squash Marinara

Sometimes I get all fancy schmancy with Meatless Mondays.

Sometimes I make myself a bowl of cold cereal.

Sometimes (i.e., most times) I fall into the happy place between these two extremes.

(Speaking of “happy place,” can we all just take a moment to applaud the spaghetti squash?)

Spaghetti squash is ridiculously simple to prepare and it has served itself as being the creative base for many of my favorite dishes.  In addition to its fun texture and mild flavor, spaghetti squash is super low in calories (i.e., a mere 50 calories per cup) while offering a nice dose of fiber, potassium and manganese.

One of my favorite ways to eat it?

(You already guessed it.)

Spaghetti Squash Marinara!!!

To bump up the protein factor (remember, it’s protein that truly helps to fill you up and keep you full from one meal to the next, so include a little at each meal and snack!) I like to combine a marinara sauce with crumbled tempeh.  No cooking required.  Just heat and serve!

For a healthy marinara sauce, choose one that has a modest amount of sugar and salt.  I like Francesco Rinadli’s No Added Salt.  With only 6 grams of sugar and 40mg sodium per 1/2 cup portion, it’s a nice, healthy choice.  It’s especially tasty when spiced up with herbs and extra garlic.

Spaghetti Squash.

Marinara sauce.

Oh, what a happy place it is.

How To Cook A Spaghetti Squash

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Cut squash in half lengthwise.  Remove seeds with a spoon.
  3. Place squash halves cut side down on cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake for 40 minutes or until knife pierces easily through skin.
  4. Let cool slightly in order to allow handling.  Once cool enough to handle, use a fork to “string” out the strands of spaghetti squash.  They will fall out looking like spaghetti.  Enjoy!

How To Make Spaghett Squash Marinara

  1. Prepare squash, following directions above.
  2. Meanwhile, combine 1 bottle of your favorite marinara sauce with 18 oz. (or 1.5 packages) of crumbled tempeh.  Cook over medium heat until thoroughly warmed.
  3. In a medium pan, combine cooked spaghetti squash with 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil and 1/2 tsp dried thyme.  Toss well and cook for about 5-8 minutes.
  4. Plate spaghetti squash and top with prepared marinara sauce.  Enjoy!

Questions: What is your favorite type of squash and how do you prepare it?

 

 

Fitness Friday

Lots of fun, lots of variety this week!!!

I’ve been trying to increase my weekly long runs this past month of April.  Every week, I bump up my total mileage by 10%.  Every third week, I bring it back down to let my muscles repair.  This has been working well so far, and my legs are feeling good and strong (no knee pain!)

My favorite workouts this week, however, included a quickie 4-mile bike ride (testing out the tires on my new bike!) and a hike up Mt. Wachusett.

I was craving sunshine on Sunday, so my dad and I headed out for some outdoor time.

After running all winter, I’m still loving the same ol’ running route (this girl apparently doesn’t get bored with exercise routines…ha!!)  But I’m not going to lie.  Every summer, it feels ridiculously refreshing to do something different.  Hiking.  Kayaking.  Biking.  LOVE it!  All of these activities (along with yoga) are re-inspiring my fitness routine. 😀

(There was still ice all along the trail!)

At the top, my dad decided to climb this crazy high tower…all the other hikers were joining in too, but I liked my feet right where they were, thank you very much.  😉

There were three layers of ladders to reach the top.

(FYI: I’m not a fan of heights…especially when there’s wind and ladders involved. 😉 )

I can’t wait to start hiking on a more regular basis this srping ‘n’ summer.  The warm weather is finally arriving here in New England! 😀

Saturday: 5-mile run

Sunday: Hike up Mt. Wachusett

Monday: 3-mile run + Yoga

Tuesday: 4-mile walk after dinner

Wednesday: 2-mile run + 2-mile walk after dinner

Thursday: 2-mile run + 4-mile bike ride

Friday (today:) 3-mile run + Yoga

QUESTION: What are your favorite forms of activity lately??