It’s that time of year when many of us are thinking about how and what we eat. What’s the best way to get started? And what about some of those food trends we’ve been hearing about? We asked two of our Real Life Nutrition bloggers, Carolyn Brown, MS, RD, and Dave Grotto, RD, LDN, to weigh in on these topics to get you headed in the right direction. Read below for their thoughts on creating healthy habits, which food made the “desert island” list, and ch ch ch chia.
Are there any tips or tricks you recommend for people trying to make healthier food choices?
Carolyn: Definitely! Here are a few of my favorites:
- Drinking enough water and getting enough sleep (7-8 hrs!) are 2 essentials that can set you up for a healthy, energized day.
- Baby steps! Don’t overhaul your entire diet. Start with just trying to improve one meal (I like breakfast)
- ALWAYS carry a safety snack in your purse or car so you’re never in a “my only option is unhealthy” situation.
- Plan, plan, plan. You plan meetings, classes and dinners – why not plan what you’re going to eat? This is kind of the opposite of food journaling – we call it menu mapping. Think about your at-home meals, snacks for on the go AND check out restaurant menus online if that is a big part of your life. You are far less likely to go for the lasagna or fried chicken if you’ve already mentally committed to the fish entree.
What mistake do you most often see people make in terms of food?
Dave: Not having a plan on how to add-in healthier choices – especially ones that they are not familiar with. I’ve seen lots of veggies purchased with the best of intents only to rot away in the crisper bins because my patient forgot they were there or didn’t know what to do with it. Plan BEFORE shopping!
What would you say to someone who is cutting carbs out of their diet to lose weight?
Carolyn: Cutting ANY entire food group out does not typically end well. Our brains require carbs. Instead, I recommend limiting carbs and choosing the good ones (brown rice, quinoa, beans, sweet potatoes). Have one serving max per day or about 5 per week. One serving is the size of your fist.
“Gluten-free” was a buzz phrase in 2013. For people who do not have Celiac disease, are there health or weight-loss benefits to reducing gluten?
Dave: If there isn’t a bona fide sensitivity/intolerance to gluten, there is NOT a health advantage to avoiding foods that contain gluten. On the contrary, of the patients that I do counsel on a gluten free diet, I find it can be a challenge finding products they enjoy that make up for the short gap in nutrients that gluten containing whole grains shine in such as fiber and b-vitamins.
What is your favorite natural, healthy “junk food” remake?
Carolyn: Hands-down, homemade peanut butter cups!! You can make them at home with 5 ingredients, and without all of the junk in the store-brought version. These are kid and skeptic-approved, I promise.
What foods do you recommend for an energy boost?
Dave: Besides the aforementioned beans, other carb-rich foods also work well for an energy boost and as post recovery workout foods – Lowfat chocolate milk with reduced sugar; bananas, cherries, kefir/yogurt, oatmeal and raisins are some of my top choices. Quite often I find dehydration can contribute to fatigue so a nice glass of water or green tea does the trick.
A lot of readers are searching for information about chia seeds. Can you talk a bit about the benefits of chia seeds – and the best ways to incorporate them into our diets?
Carolyn: Chia is one of my favorites! Chia is loaded with omega 3’s, fiber, good fats and protein – it’s truly a superfood. It’s great for weight loss because it expands in water to 10x its size – making you feel full on less – and is continually hydrating. This also makes it great for athletes and runners. Try making chia pudding by mixing 3 tbsp chia seeds with 1/3 cup almond or coconut milk. You can add a little sweetener and cinnamon or vanilla extract and top with berries voila, an incredibly healthy, satiating breakfast.
We’ve seen a lot of coconut water products popping up – is this just another fad or does it have real health benefits that are worth spending money on?
Dave: Truth be told, I don’t get it. Coconut water does not seem to be any more hydrating than water or common sports beverages according to a small 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. If you can afford it and enjoy coconut water as an alternative beverage for hydration or just enjoyment, go for it. Other than that, it provides no additional health benefit.
What is your favorite way to prepare kale?
Carolyn: Kale can be tough to eat raw – you generally have to (literally) massage it with olive oil to make it more tender. So I prefer it sautéed in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper and a bit of salt. Simplicity is key!!
What food do you think almost everyone could use more of?
Dave: I’ve always said if I was stuck on an island and there was one food that I could choose, it would have to be beans. Of course, others on the island might move to the other side. Ha! But seriously, I was amazed at how many categories that beans scored highest in nutrients when I conducted research for The Best Things You Can Eat. Beans provide an excellent source of both soluble (good for lower cholesterol and blood glucose) and insoluble fiber (laxation). Beans are also a great complex carb source for energy and provide protein, calcium, iron and other vital nutrients.