Here’s one more reason to fill up your plate with crunchy fresh veggies!  We know that vegetables provide a wide array of health benefits, but could they help prevent diabetes as well?  Type 2 diabetes is rare among people who consume vegetarian or vegan diets.  A number of studies have been performed to examine why herbivores have a lower risk for blood sugar woes.

A recent study divided participants into groups based on their preference for animal products, and then looked at the rate of type 2 diabetes among them.  The groups ranged from vegan (those who consume no meat, eggs, or dairy) to non-vegetarians (people who consume animal products on a regular basis).   There are many categories in between, such as lacto-ovo vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy but no meat.

Researchers found that the incidence of diabetes went up as consumption of animal products increased.  The participants who ate animal products regularly were more than twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes than the vegan participants!

The researchers concluded that a diet based mostly or entirely on plant foods “provides substantial protection against obesity and type 2 diabetes.”  Vegetarian diets tend to be rich in nutrients that are associated with a reduced risk for diabetes, such as fiber, complex carbohydrates, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and E- just to name a few!  Vegetarian diets also tend to be low in nutrients associated with an increased risk for obesity and diabetes, such as saturated fat.

It's certainly not necessary to avoid meat altogether to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, but this research suggests that an increase in plant foods can help keep your blood sugar in check.  Next time you’re fueling up be sure to pile those leafy greens, beans, and tubers high on your plate!

This article is a repost of one I wrote for Pinnacle Physical Therapy.
A wholesome breakfast can really help propel you through your day.  Some sugary breakfast foods will make you feel like you need a nap by the time you get to work.  Your body needs fuel for the whole day in the morning:  whole grains, fiber, healthy fats, and a good wallop of protein will get your day started right.  Today we’ll talk about some sugary processed breakfast foods that you'll want to avoid, and then discuss some savory options to try.

Here are some foods on the market that look more like dessert than breakfast.  The really gross part about it is that most of these foods are marketed towards children!

Kellogg’s Frosted S’mores Pop Tarts®:  It’s no surprise that these contain 19 grams of sugar in each pastry; the ingredient list includes sugar, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and corn syrup solids.  How do they even pack that all into a 3 x 5” pastry?

Quaker® Instant Oatmeal Dinosaur Eggs:  I mentioned this product earlier in a post about faux “health” foods.  This is a brown sugar-flavored instant oatmeal packet that has candy dinosaur eggs in it.  Apparently when you heat up the oatmeal the eggs crack open and there are candy dinosaurs inside.  I’m pretty darn sure this is not how nature intended us to eat.

Kellogg’s Froot Loops® Marshmallow Cereal:  Do you think they call them “froot” loops because the FDA wouldn’t want people to think they contained actual fruit?  There isn’t actually any kind of fruit in the ingredient list, just natural and artificial flavoring.  On top of that, the very first ingredient in this cereal is sugar.  That means it contains more sugar than any other ingredient in the whole thing!

Instead of giving yourself a sugar high at breakfast, try one of these fast and wholesome options:

For more information on why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, check out this post from August.

I actually have a packet of the Dino Eggs oatmeal in my pantry right now; some friends and I bought it as a prop for a nutrition workshop.  I am scared to taste it!

Many people describe themselves as having a “sweet tooth” or “sugar cravings,” but is it possible to be physically addicted to the sweet stuff? Researchers have found evidence that sugar can be addictive, and that those who are addicted to sugar exhibit many of the same behaviors found in drug addicts.

A 2001 animal study found that “behavioral findings with sugar are similar to those observed with drugs of abuse.” Rats that were allowed unlimited daily access to sugar ate more sugar every day as the study went on. They especially increased the amount of sugar that they ate in the first hour they were allowed access, following a pattern of “binge” behavior. A second group of rats that were allowed a limited amount of sugar each day actually decreased the amount of sugar they ate as the study progressed.

The fact that the rats increased the amount of sugar they ate is a common pattern of substance abuse. It could mean that they built up a tolerance, meaning the rats need more sugar to create the same euphoric feeling they experienced when they first ate it.
Another manner in which sugar simulates an addictive drug takes place in the brain. Many addictive drugs such as cocaine cause an increase in dopamine release in a particular area of the brain known as the “pleasure center.” Researchers in several different studies observed the same dopamine increase in rats that binged on sugar.

These studies tell us that moderation is the key when it comes to enjoying sugary snacks (or anything else except for leafy greens). A little bit of sugar can provide some dietary enjoyment and excitement. However, if we eat too much too often, we’re setting ourselves up for a destructive crave and binge pattern.

For a collection of dessert recipes made with natural sugar alternatives, check out The Nourishing Apron blog.

This article is a reprint of a post I did for Pinnacle Physical Therapy.
Do you consume foods or beverages that contain artificial sweeteners such as Splenda© or Nutrasweet©? Artificial or Non-Nutritive sweeteners, which contain little or no calories, were first approved by the FDA in the late 1950’s. Since then many studies have examined their safety and effect on weight maintenance. The information in this article was drawn from a recent review from the National Institute of Health that looked at several recent fake sweetener studies.
If there are no calories you can have as much as you want, right? Wrong! The USDA has set an Acceptable Daily Intake, or ADI, on each of the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners. This means that the USDA does not guarantee that these sweeteners are safe beyond a certain daily limit. The ADI for sucralose (which is sold as Splenda©) is equivalent to about six 12 oz. cans of diet soda per day.

Why would a government agency put a limit on an artificial sweetener? Because these products are made from chemicals that humans have never eaten before. They are made from amino acids or sugars that have been modified in a lab so we can’t digest them. Because researchers aren’t sure what the long-lasting impact on health could be from eating these products every day, they set a limit for daily consumption that they believe is safe.

Do artificial sweeteners help with weight loss and maintenance? At least one study says no. The study had some participants that avoided all products containing aspartame (sold as Nutrasweet©), and others replaced all of their sugar with aspartame. All of the participants were attempting to lose weight using exercise and diet changes. Both groups lost about the same amount of weight in four months. The participants that avoided aspartame were more likely to keep the weight off after two years.

Looking for a sweet and healthy alternative? If you’re a diet soda drinker, try naturally flavored seltzers such as those manufactured by Talking Rain or La Croix. If you like sweet foods, try a ripe piece of fresh fruit. Fruit does contain calories, but those calories come with great stuff like water, fiber, and antioxidants!

For more information on artificial sweetener risks check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Chemical Cuisine” page.

This article is a repost of one that I wrote for Pinnacle Physical Therapy.

Sometimes packaging and labeling can make cruddy food appear wholesome.  Food manufacturers know that you want healthy food, and they’ll use clever design to make you think their product fits the nutritional bill.  Here are some foods that are often perceived as healthy, but don’t quite have the right stuff for a nourishing diet:

Flavored yogurt:  Plain yogurt provides a healthy dose of protein, fat, and beneficial bacteria for your intestines.  However many flavored yogurts contain a ton of loaded sugar and artificial additives.  Kraft Breyers Smooth & Creamy Lowfat Strawberry Yogurt contains 39 grams of sugar in one 8 oz container.  That’s more than a Snickers candy bar!

Try flavoring plain yogurt with your own favorite fruits and honey; you’ll probably be more moderate with your added sweetener than Kraft Breyers was.

Flavored oatmeal:  Just like flavored yogurt, this food has a healthy base with loads of sugar and additives on top of it.  Quaker makes “Dinosaur Eggs” oatmeal, which is marketed towards children, that contains 19 grams of added sugar per serving.  Along with that it’s got partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and a whole host of artificial coloring.

Add your own spices and fruit to rolled or steel cuts oats, and leave the dinosaur eggs out of it.

Breakfast cereal:  I’ve found that most breakfast cereals contain more bad than good nutritionally speaking.  The best cereal option is really no cereal at all.  From Cocoa Puffs to Fruity Pebbles to French Toast Crunch, it’s just all a hot mess!

As an example of tricky packaging, Cocoa Puffs advertises very loudly on the front of the box that it’s made with whole grains.  However it’s also made with flour and modified food starch, and only contains 0.7 grams of fiber per serving.

All of these foods are often eaten at breakfast.  Instead of a sugary breakfast that will make you feel like you need a nap, why not have a wholesome savory breakfast instead?  I like a lightening-quick breakfast taco with:
  • 1 corn tortilla
  • 1 egg, scrambled
  • ¼ of an avocado
  • Handful of spinach
  • Hot sauce
The foods that you eat (or don’t eat) have a huge impact on your energy level.  When your body doesn’t have all the materials it needs to generate energy, you’re going to feel like you need a nap.  Here are some guidelines for keeping the spring in your step with nutrition:

Don’t eat sugary foods when you’re starving.
This scenario may sound familiar to you:  it’s mid-afternoon and you haven’t eaten for hours.  You spot a (insert sugary treat here) in the vicinity and scarf it down.  About an hour later you can’t keep your eyes open!  This is due to something called reactive hypoglycemia, the drop in blood glucose that follows a sugar binge on an empty stomach.

When you’re feeling ravenous, go for a snack that is high in protein and contains some fiber.  This will help bring your blood glucose up in a slow and steady manner.  You can find more information on maintaining regular blood sugar in this post from a few weeks ago.

Watch out for excessive caffeine.  Oddly enough, this stimulant has been associated with many cases of fatigue.  Caffeine can interfere with falling asleep and quality of sleep when consumed in excess.  Consume caffeinated beverages in the morning and keep the serving size reasonable.

Eat your B vitamins.  A variety of B vitamins are necessary for energy production in the body.  When B vitamin stores are depleted, the whole thing grinds to a halt.  Here are some good sources of the vitamins you need to get the energy level you want:

  • Thiamin:  Tuna, beans, peas
  • Riboflavin:  Dairy products, soybeans, mushrooms, spinach
  • Niacin:  Meat, fish, mushrooms
  • B5:  Avocado, yogurt, corn
  • B6:  Meat , fish, potatoes, sunflower seeds
  • Folate:  Beans, dark leafy greens
  • B12:  Meat, fish, dairy

I get a lot of questions about the health benefits of two foods in particular: dark chocolate and red wine!  People are rightfully curious about these foods, there have been many news stories on their beneficial properties.  Today we’ll discuss the nutritional profile of one half of said pair; dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate is a very good source of antioxidants; small molecules that can help decrease inflammation.  We’ll talk more about how antioxidants work in tomorrow’s post.

Let’s talk about the difference between dark chocolate and milk chocolate.  All chocolate is made by roasting cacao beans; then crushing and grinding them into cocoa solids.  Next a varying amount of milk, sugar, and cocoa butter is added to the mix.  As the percentage of milk increases, the percentage of cocoa solids decreases.  Cocoa solids are the component that contains all the good antioxidants we’re looking for.

So what percentage of cocoa solids is considered “dark?”  The FDA has not defined a certain amount, but in Europe 35% or greater is the standard.  Research shows that in order to get a beneficial amount of antioxidants you need a chocolate that is 68% dark or higher.  The darker it is, the more antioxidants you get!  My preference is Theo’s 85% Dark Chocolate Bar.   

While dark chocolate has a lot of good properties, it is still quite high in calories and saturated fat.  It also does have some amount of added sugar.  All this means it should be savored in moderation, about 1 oz at a time.

Watch those labels!  Because the FDA has no standard for what can be labeled dark, US candy manufacturers will label anything “dark” to sell it.  I purchased some candy a few months ago that claimed to contain dark chocolate.  When I looked at the ingredients, the first one on the list was milk chocolate!  Sneaky candy makers…

Jogging outdoors is a good choice for aerobic activity because it’s free, and you can do it anywhere.  However if you’ve never done it before it can be quite intimidating.  Also if you over-exert yourself when you begin jogging it could result in nothing but discouragement and injuries.  So where’s a good place to begin?

Here’s what expert running coach Laura Houston had to say:

I would advise them to start with a walking program if they are completely sedentary (i.e., no other aerobic activities like biking). When they are ready to incorporate running, start with maybe a minute of running, followed by 5-10 minutes walking, and gradually build up the running time, while decreasing the walking time. Always listen to their bodies!

Laura is a certified ChiRunning Instructor, which is a type of running and walking that emphasizes minimal impact on the joints.  You can find out more about what she does at her website, Feel the Run.

Laura brings up the good point that walking can be great exercise on its own.  Just make sure that you’re walking at a pace that is aerobic for you.  Remember from our discussion on exercise we had the other day that aerobic activity is something that gets your heart rate up, gets you breathing faster, and makes you feel warm and sweaty.  I used to coach for an after-school running program for children, and we would call it “walking with purpose.”

If nothing else walking and running is a good way to get outdoors on a nice day and relax your brain a bit.  The next time you’ve got nice weather where you live, give it a try!

If you want to learn more about ChiRunning, check out their website here.
Today’s snack is on the sweet side if you’re looking for something to settle a sugar craving.  This is less so a recipe and more of an assemblage- it really just involves putting a couple of simple things together.  Kids can do it too!

  • 1 medium banana, ripe but firm enough for nut butter spreading
  • 2 Tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower seed, etc.)
  • ¼ cup granola or puffed brown rice cereal

Peel banana and slice into ½” thick medallions.  Top each slice with nut butter.  Sprinkle granola or cereal on top.  Enjoy!

If you really want to make this a dessert you could also throw some chocolate chips on top, but you didn’t hear that from me!

Notice that this recipe conveniently contains all the elements of a satisfying snack that we discussed yesterday:
  • Protein source: nut butter, as well as a little in the banana
  • Fat source: nut butter
  • Fiber-rich carbohydrates: banana and cereal
Maintaining balanced blood sugar is important for everyone, not just those who are at risk for diabetes.  Regular blood sugar helps maintain your weight, mood, and energy level.  Two major factors of blood sugar regulation are:
  • When you eat- every three hours or so
  • What you eat- a balanced mix of protein, fat, and complex carbs

When to eat
Eat small amounts every few hours throughout the day.  If you go for many hours without eating you are more likely to overeat once you do get some food.  This is because your blood sugar is very low, and your cells are sending signals to your brain to put something in your mouth- fast!  This can lead to hasty food choices, eating too fast, and ignoring signals that you are full.  Doing that everyday can lead to weight gain and a grumpy disposition.

For most people three small meals and two snacks evenly spaced throughout the day is best.  In my experience many people endure a lot of hungry hours between lunch and dinner, so make sure you get in an afternoon snack!

What to eat
A balanced meal or snack should contain three elements:
  • A protein source
  • A small amount of fat
  • A carbohydrate source that is fiber-rich

We need each of these ingredients to feel full and avoid blood sugar extremes.  Some examples of snacks that meet these guidelines include:
  • Apple slices with nut butter
  • Fresh cut vegetables with hummus
  • Tuna salad on whole grain crackers
  • Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts
  • Beans and quinoa with olive oil dressing
  • Smoothie with Greek yogurt and frozen fruit

For a visual template to design your meals and snacks, you can download a pdf of a Healthy Plate model here.