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Wednesday
Mar122014

Quiz Time: How Good is Your Nutrition? 

March is National Nutrition Month, which means it’s the perfect time to take inventory of your dietary habits. What healthy practices have you adopted? Which are still a work in progress? Have you made these good choices daily priorities? How about for each meal? The key to positive change is to choose one healthy behavior at a time until it becomes routine. Whether you’ve been on this journey for quite some time or are just getting started, read over the list below and rate which of these healthy practices you’re doing and how often: never, at most meals 1-2 days a week, at most meals 3-4 days a week, or at most meals every day?

I eat real food.

Real food, or whole food, can be defined as “A food that is considered healthy because it is grown naturally, has not been processed, and contains no artificial ingredients.” What would fall into this category? Think vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, meats and intact (as opposed to processed) grains. This term is sometimes confused with organic food. The fact is, whole foods are not necessarily organic, and organic foods are not necessarily whole. When it comes to improving your overall nutrition, incorporating the most real, whole foods as possible is the name of the game. One easy way to assess this while grocery shopping is to ask yourself, “Does this food item have a label/ingredient list?” Whole foods (e.g. chicken breast, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) don’t need a list – especially not one with numerous ingredients listed, many of which you can’t pronounce!

I emphasize quality over quantity.

If we follow step one above even 80% of the time, our focus doesn’t need to be on quantity of food (e.g. tracking calories, counting points, and weighing every ounce of food we put into our bodies). Filling our plates with real food that is nutrient-dense not only gives our bodies more vitamins and minerals they need to function optimally, but it also helps signal the body’s “fullness” response – leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is secreted by the body to signal the brain that we’re full and should stop eating. As we eat whole foods, the level of leptin increases, and our sense of fullness is triggered. However, many processed foods that contain fructose, high fructose corn syrup or refined carbohydrate are some of the major culprits that lead to leptin resistance. If our bodies become resistant to leptin, they can’t “hear” the hormonal message to stop eating and burn fat. Rather, we experience the well-known feeling of hunger and sugar cravings, and we continue to store more fat instead of burn it. Therefore, the more emphasis we put on consuming quality whole foods (rather than low-nutrient foods), the less we have to be concerned with how much food we consume. Instead, our bodies will better gauge that for us! Think about how a bowl of cereal in the morning can leave you with hunger pangs not long after, whereas an egg scramble with breakfast meat and some veggies leaves you feeling full for hours.

Half of my plate is filled with a rainbow of colors.

Colorful (non-starchy) vegetables should be the bulk of any and all meals – ideally taking up at least half of your plate. Our bodies crave nutrients, not just calories. It’s the vitamins and minerals in these foods that drive the hundreds of metabolic reactions that are constantly occurring inside us. Without them, we may function with less energy, feel fatigue, have brain fogginess, or experience difficulty losing weight. Ensuring daily consumption of 7-9 servings of vegetables and fruits each day won’t just help us “get healthy.” It will help the metabolism work like a well-oiled machine. The nutrients from these foods are what drive our weight management, muscle tone, energy levels, gut health, and so much more. If there was ever a “pill” to help you lose weight, feel better, or avoid major health complications, colorful veggies would be it! Add a variety of different colors to your plate to give your body a range of nutrients and antioxidants. Be sure to limit the starchy vegetables (e.g. carrots, potatoes), as these choices are higher in carbohydrate and natural sugars.

I include protein in every meal.

A sure bet to avoid the rollercoaster ride in high and low energy levels, hunger pangs, mood swings, and overall blood sugar is to include protein every time you eat. Protein naturally takes your body longer to break down and digest, leaving you feeling fuller longer and better able to maintain blood sugars. If that doesn’t sound appealing enough, don’t forget the fact that its TEF (thermic effect of food) is approximately 20-30%. In other words, your body actually burns about 20-30% of the calories from protein consumed just to digest it! This is significantly greater than carbohydrate (5-10%) and fat (0-5%). Great sources of protein to add to meals include organic animal meats that were free-range, pastured, and grass-fed (e.g. beef, pork, chicken) as well as whey, casein, eggs, full-fat dairy, Greek yogurt, nuts, and seeds.

I don’t fear healthy fats.

Fats can be your friend or foe. When it comes to optimizing your health, as well as flavor and nourishment from your foods, healthy fats are the way to go. Bring on the (high-quality) butter and bacon! For decades, we have been told to fear fat. We’ve heard that a low-fat diet is necessary for heart health and that animal fats should be avoided like the plague. Healthy fat is found naturally in meats, dairy, egg yolks, oils, nuts, seeds and even some vegetables. It serves as a necessary and crucial part of our overall health, as it is needed for normal cell and hormone functioning, is one of the three main sources of energy, and supports satiety. Although we shouldn’t overdo our intake of fat (or food in general for that matter), we don’t have to approach our fat consumption with the fear we once did. Instead, our focus should be the type of fat we eat. We can ask ourselves the same question as we did in the first point above. Is this a “whole” fat? Unprocessed oils and fats from naturally raised (e.g. organic, grass-fed, pastured) sources without additives are our best bet. Ghee or coconut oil are best for cooking at high temperatures, and extra virgin olive oil, flax seed oil, or almond oil for cooking at low temperatures or for dressings. Ask yourself how often you opt for full-fat dairy products, pasture-raised and grass-fed meat products and wild-caught fish.  

My carbohydrate intake depends primarily on my activity level.

Much like fat, there are different types of carbohydrate, and they are not all created equally. Vegetables should make up the bulk of our carbohydrate consumption each and every day. They are the best sources for vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that our bodies require and also contain the least amount of carbohydrate in comparison to fruits and grains. Contrary to what previous nutrition education has led us to believe, our bodies do not require 6-11 servings of grains per day. Rather, the amount we consume should correlate with how physically active we are. For very active individuals, an increase in carbohydrates may be appropriate. Carbohydrates directly impact our blood sugar. A rise in blood sugar causes a spike in insulin, which in turn stops the body’s ability to burn fat. For optimal health and metabolism, we want to be utilizing our body’s natural fat stores for energy, rather than just burning off the carbs we had at our last meal. Most people can meet their needs for carbohydrates with a base of non-starchy vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruit!

I prioritize adequate water intake

Accounting for up to 60% of the human body, water is the major component of most body parts. The brain and heart are composed of 73% water. Skin contains 64% water, and even bones contain 31%! Water is needed for digestion, toxin removal, joint lubrication and oxygen delivery. It’s no wonder that when we deprive our bodies of optimal water intake, we feel sluggish, dehydrated, and oftentimes even mistake the sensation for a hunger cue. Many of my clients think they are getting enough until they hear that a good rule of thumb is to drink ½ of their ideal body weight in ounces of water each day.

I incorporate a quality multivitamin and fish oil.

Even if you eat an extremely clean, whole-food based diet, you still may not be getting the nutrients you need from food alone. Add in physical activity, emotional stress, environmental toxin exposure, and new-age farming methods, and you can find yourself short on the spectrum of optimal health. A high-quality multivitamin can help supplement your diet and aid your body in performing the thousands of reactions that require vitamins and minerals to maintain your health. Lastly, to help combat the common over-consumption of omega-6, omega-3 rich fish oil has been shown to offer numerous health benefits, ranging from improved mood and brain function to better weight management. The combination of quality whole foods with appropriate nutritional supplements will help ensure your body receives the natural nutrients it needs for optimum functioning.

How many of these healthy choices do you make every day? Which are the hardest to incorporate? Share your thoughts, and thanks for reading!

Written by Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Program Manager of Life Time WeightLoss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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