Dealing with conflicting information

Wait…so are eggs bad for you again? But I thought you couldn’t have coffee while pregnant, now it’s OK? OK, I’ve got it, now. So red wine is good for you…except when it’s not?

These are such classic examples of the tennis match head flip we have to do as consumers reading headlines around diet and nutrition. One day a food is good for you and the next you shouldn’t eat it. With all this conflicting nutrition information, what is a health conscious consumer to do?

If there is one thing the media is really good at, it’s taking the slightest possibility and running with it as though it is unequivocal truth. One study can come out suggesting that people who eat potatoes 3 times a week are more likely to have inverted nipples and the next thing you know every outlet is reporting you should never ever eat potatoes.

But here’s the thing: correlation does not equal causation. There may be an environmental factor causing inverted nipples in a certain region and potatoes might just happen to be common and affordable in that region, thereby skewing the results. Or maybe there is a genetic factor that causes inverted nipples and also creates a taste for potatoes.

This is a silly example but the point is that just because 2 things are happening does not mean they are related.

Furthermore, just because one study had a particular finding, doesn’t mean that finding holds true. That study may have been poorly constructed, its results might not be able to be reproduced, it could have been funded by someone with skin in the game – a whole lot of different issues. So what should you do?

  1. Don’t stress about it

Getting stressed out about whether or not you should put stock in a new study isn’t helpful. Chances are, whatever those findings are won’t merit your dropping a habit immediately. By all means, give the story a read, but don’t let it drive you into a panic.

2. Keep an open mind

Remember, one study doesn’t prove anything conclusively. It needs to be peer-reviewed and the findings need to be able to be replicated. We still have SO MUCH to learn about the human body and nutrition – what we think we know now is bound to change as we learn more.

3. Talk to a professional

If you’re really concerned about the findings you’re reading, talk to your doctor or your nutrition professional about it. They should be able to let you know whether or not you need to make changes.

4. Focus on balance

At the end of the day, if you’re eating a wide variety of foods and eating more of the “healthy stuff” than the “less healthy stuff,” you probably don’t need to worry much. Too much of anything can be a problem, including information. So focus on finding your balance and don’t get sucked into the back and forth media coverage of these studies.

Meal Planning Success Tips

Meal planning and prep is an important pillar of healthy eating because it gives you complete control over the ingredients and portions that you and your family eat. In fact, research has shown that eating home cooked meals frequently is associated with healthier diet quality. That’s not to say that meal planning and prepping is easy. It takes time, thought, and energy. So how can you make meal prepping work for you? First off, there’s no wrong way to meal prep. Here are some meal planning success tips to get you started: 

Meal Prep Success Tips

Work with your schedule 

Some people like to do a lot of meal prep all in one day. Others will split it up over 2-3 days during the week. Another way to do it, is to cook larger meals and save leftovers for a couple days (helloooo crock pots and one-pan meals!). Look at your schedule but also consider your energy and stress levels as well when deciding which system works best for you. Create your schedule around that. 

Plan before you shop

Your meal prep plan needs to take into consideration not just your time, but also your budget and your inventory. Planning before you shop will cut your time in the grocery store and also allow you to modify your plan if you discover you need to purchase too many items for certain recipes. You also will have the opportunity to modify recipes by planning ahead as well. 

Try to reuse ingredients

It will save you time and money if you are able to use the same ingredients in several different dishes. For example, you could use quinoa to make a batch of stuffed peppers, a quinoa salad side dish, and vegetarian taco filling. Just make a large pot of quinoa at the beginning of the week and then work it into those dishes. Likewise, see if you can find ways to repurpose your leftovers into new meals.  For example, leftover chicken can be used to make chicken fajitas, leftover salmon can be made into salmon burgers – you get the idea.

Use your freezer

Some foods freeze better than others and taking advantage of that can save you time and money. Some ingredients that freeze well are:

  • Fruits such as peeled bananas, chunked mangos, and berries
  • Raw or blanched vegetables such as peppers, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and kale
  • Cooked vegetables such as sweet potato and squash (stock up on these when they’re in season and cheap, roast them up, then freeze them)
  • Firm tofu
  • Raw meats

Some prepared foods that also freeze well:

  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Stir fry
  • Cauliflower fried rice
  • Pasta dishes
  • Black bean burritos

Spice it up!

Don’t be afraid of flavor. Spices and herbs are your best friend when cooking healthy foods. They allow you to reuse the same ingredients in many different ways. If you are uncomfortable improvising with your flavors, follow recipes. Tired of the same old grilled chicken breast? Try adding garlic and paprika for Mexican-style or go with lemon and rosemary. You can play around with different combinations once you get comfortable with the flavors that you enjoy. 

Get your family/friends involved

Cooking together is a good time to connect and it’s a great learning experience for kids! Research has shown that if you encourage your kids to meal prepare throughout their young adult life, they are more likely to eat healthier later and are less likely to develop picky eating habits. 

Only prepare foods that you enjoy eating

You may feel really motivated to cook only quinoa and asparagus for your lunch the next day, because you think that will be the healthiest. But if you don’t actually like quinoa and asparagus, you probably won’t end up eating it later. What’s the point of forcing yourself to eat things that you don’t find tasty? Food can be delicious and healthy; you sometimes just have to be creative. This is why when you work with Well & Simple, we offer thousands of new recipes that are easy to prepare yourself, and are tailored according to your taste preference.

Theme nights make things easier

These can be fun and give the whole family something to look forward to, as well as take away some of the thought you have to put into a meal. Some examples of fun theme days are: 

  • Meatless Monday
  • Taco Tuesday
  • Fishy Friday

Plan the dine out days

Meal planning also means planning nights when you don’t have to cook! If you know you will end up dining out once a week, you may as well put it on the schedule so you can always stick to your plan, and avoid wasting extra ingredients.

There are many other perks to cooking your own food besides it being healthier. It can be less expensive, and can be even tastier than takeout. It’s also a fun opportunity to teach your kids an important life skill, or just to spend time together on a busy work day. Following these meal planning success tips will help you get on your way.

Our intern, Nicki, actually conducted her senior thesis research on meal prep amongst college students and found that they eat more fruits and vegetables if they prep their own meals as well. So there you have it: meal prep is an important and even college students are getting in on it!

How about you? Do you meal prep regularly? What does it look like in your house?

The Trouble with the Diet Mentality

More than any of the junk food on the market, I think the biggest obstacle to having healthy balanced eating habits, a good relationship with our body, and a healthy relationship with food is the diet mentality. In order to start truly making lasting changes to your eating habits, you have to start working on curbing that mentality from the outset.

What is the Diet Mentality

The diet mentality is a deeply ingrained way of thinking in our culture that emphasizes black-and-white thinking about eating habits. You hear it in the on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon notion and the idea of “good” foods versus “bad” foods. You hear it in the way we talk about our eating behaviors: “I was bad today because I had chips and dessert.” And it’s behind our negative self-talk when we pick apart our physical appearance, berate ourselves for not following our diet, and say cruel things about our bodies.

The diet mentality is critical for the survival of the commercial diet industry because it supports their unsustainable programs which focus solely on the food, counting calories, carbs, and points, and the number on the scale and ignore balance, the reasons behind our eating habits, and food quality.

Why the Diet Mentality is a Problem

The diet mentality is a big problem for a whole number of reasons. First and foremost, all of that negative self-talk and those unrealistic goals that it emphasizes throw us into a self-defeating, self-berating spiral.

Let me explain. Commercial diets rely on one common ingredient for all of their programs: self-control. Here’s the thing about self-control, it’s a finite resource for every single human being out there. It erodes throughout the course of the day, with stress, with lack of sleep, and the longer we rely on it. However, we are conditioned to believe that when we run out of the ability to exercise self-control, it’s a failure on our part. We are simply not good enough, not strong enough, not cut out for this. Have you ever had those thoughts about yourself?

Pretty much anyone who has withstood the diet cycle has had those thoughts. And what those thoughts ultimately lead to are beliefs that we are simply not good enough so why bother even trying. “Well, I already blew it today, so why not just go all in for dinner, dessert, and wine?” “I just can’t do it. What’s the point in even trying?” “I didn’t have the self control for no carbs….but maybe if I’m counting points instead that’ll be easier”.

This is the diet mentality at work. It make you feel bad about yourself, warps your self-image, and keeps you coming back for more and more diets.

Here’s the thing…

The diet mentality does not reflect reality. There are no good foods and bad foods – just food. There are foods you shouldn’t eat as often because they aren’t as nutritious, true. But eating those foods certainly doesn’t make you bad any more than eating a carrot would make Charles Manson good. See what I’m saying?

The goal that we all need to be working towards is BALANCE so that we can enjoy those treats that we like but also eat plenty of the more nutritious foods that our bodies need. The goal is BALANCE so that we can enjoy food without equating it with our worth, so that we can stop berating ourselves and heal our relationships with food and with our bodies.

Releasing the Diet Mentality

Only by working on quelling those diet mentality thoughts and beliefs can we focus on achieving that balance that we need. But it takes time because that mentality is so deeply ingrained not only in ourselves but also in our society. It’s all around us and we don’t even notice it most of the time. So it takes practice noticing those patterns and then flipping the script on them.

So here’s a homework assignment if you’re willing: grab a journal and write down the diet mentality thoughts and feelings you have today on one side of the page. On the other side of the page, flip the script on them, turn them into something constructive or more observational and not judgmental. For example “I was bad today because I ate a whole bag of chips” could be flipped to “I ate a bag of chips today and they tasted really good.” “I can’t eat bread because carbs are bad” could be flipped to “bread isn’t falling in line with the nutritional goals I have today but I can have it if I want it.”

To get you started: your worth is not dictated by the foods you eat. Your body is beautiful and amazing. You are not defective or weak.

Fitness Industry Sayings that Need to Go

I didn’t get into health and nutrition coaching because I wanted to create weight loss plans. I got into it because I spent most of my younger years obsessing over my weight  and I had a horribly unhealthy relationship with food and my body. I saw how much harm the diet and “wellness” industries caused myself and others and I wanted to help other people embrace healthy eating and balance. This isn’t an easy mission when the giant diet industry is spamming all of our feeds with toxic messages. My intern, Nicki, is totally on the same page about these messages, so we put our heads together on what language we think the industry needs to ditch.

1. Get your beach/bikini body

“Bathing suit season is coming.” “Get your body bikini-ready!” “Time to work on your summer bod.” UGH! We need to stop promoting the notion that only certain types of bodies are worthy of a bikini. This kind of mentality not only is harmful by driving people to extremes to lose weight, it also encourages the policing of other people’s bodies. As the meme says, “the only way to get a bikini body it to put a bikini on your body” and it’s true. Stretch marks? Cellulite? Jiggle? Rolls? Put a bikini on it. I’m no more worthy of a bikini than you or your neighbor and vice versa. 

2. Toxic “motivation”

You’ve definitely heard it or maybe been told it yourself, “motivational” sayings like: “sweat is fat crying,” “pain is weakness leaving your body,” “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” “unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going” (looking at you, Jillian Michaels). This is the kind of garbage that lands people hurt or ill. Exercise should not be punishment and ignoring your body’s warning signs is a recipe for disaster. What we need to be focusing on is positive encouragement, tuning into one’s body, and finding balance. It’s the imbalance that this mentality promotes that keeps people pumping money into the diet industry for unsustainable tactics. Also, have you ever had pizza? It definitely tastes better than skinny feels.

3. Good Food vs Bad Food, Healthy Food vs Unhealthy Food

As humans, we like having opposite categories, I will give us that. But, when it comes to applying blanket classifications to foods, we run into some problems. Are some foods healthier than others? Yes, obviously. But that doesn’t mean that one food is good and another is bad. As the saying goes “the dose makes the poison.” It’s about proportionality. You should eat more nutritious foods than less nutritious, caloric foods. But focusing on completely avoiding “bad” foods is unsustainable and can lead to disordered eating habits.

4. Superfood

And while we’re at it, we need to 86 this “superfood” label we are giving to a new fruit or vegetable every 6 months. Say it with me: there is no such thing as a superfood. This is a buzzword created by the food industry (yes, even agriculture is an industry) to increase sales of certain products. Fruits and vegetables are rich in highly healthful compounds called phytonutrients as well as vitamins and minerals. This is what makes them so good for us. But cauliflower is not more super than kale which is no more super than blueberries. They just have different amounts of different nutrients. What you really need to focus on is eating a wide variety of different plants so your body can reap the benefits of those nutrients.

5. “Get your body back”

There are few things that frost my cookies as much as seeing an ad for some program directed at new moms promising to help them “get their body back.” Here’s the thing, there is no body “lost” in the process of carrying a child. Does your body change? Yes. Is that a problem? It shouldn’t be, but in our sexist society some think it is. Until we can stop telling women that they need to “get their bodies back”, women will continue to belittle themselves, resort to varying, sometimes extreme, measures to lose weight, and internalize that hatred towards their own bodies. You body just did an amazing and incredibly difficult thing. Of course it’s going to change and it’s that change that makes it so amazing. What the message needs to be is that the postpartum body is amazing and beautiful and that new moms can focus on caring for themselves and their newborn. 

 

We’re not so naive as to think that this kind of talk is going to go away – it isn’t. But what we do want to encourage through this post is more dialogue around the effects of this kind of language. We want to encourage everyone to become more aware of how this mentality slips into their daily lives and focus on reframing those words into more positive, healthy, encouraging thoughts.

 

How to handle your leftover Halloween candy

Halloween can be a tricky holiday for those of us trying to maintain healthy eating habits – from the bags of candy purchased in advance for trick or treaters to the leftovers and/or candy our kids come home with. And, when you think about it, Halloween is kind of a kick off to a whole season of sweet temptations leading up to the New Year. But, let’s start with what to do with that leftover Halloween candy, because these are strategies you can use for other occasions as well.

1. Out of sight, out of mind

If we’re being realistic here, it’s not as simple as just dumping the candy in the garbage, especially if it’s your child’s hard-earned haul. Studies have proven that we are more likely to eat treats if they are visible and readily accessible to us, even if we have healthy options in front of us, too. So store those candies away out of your sight so that they’re not constantly staring you in the face and tempting you. Somewhere like the back of a cabinet you rarely open or behind some healthier snacks are good places. This might cut down on how often your children beg for that candy as well….maybe…possibly…

2. Set limits

Having clear boundaries is critical for success in almost any situation. So set those boundaries for yourself and your family. I recommend agreeing to only keep the candy in the house for a week and then disposing of the leftovers by donating them for care packages, etc. I also strongly recommend setting limits for daily candy consumption as well. For the “fun size” candies, I suggest a limit of two per day for that week.

Now, the thing with boundaries is they only work if you stick to them. So it’s important to set those boundaries, make them clear from the outset, and stick to them, especially if your children give you pushback. Think of this as an opportunity to teach your kids about balance.

3. Donate the leftovers

If throwing out the leftovers doesn’t sit well with you (and I totally get that), find a way to donate that candy. In many communities, there are collections for military care packages, etc. Or maybe your college alumni association puts together final exam care packages for current students and they could use the candy. Lots of options out there beyond tossing it in the bin. An added bonus to donating leftover candy after a week is it’s a great chance to teach your kids about sharing and charity. Here is a listing of North Shore donation spots for your candy this year. 

4. Don’t beat yourself up

Most importantly, if you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. Getting down on yourself is a recipe for a downward spiral and kicking your own butt at the gym isn’t going to undo it – that’s just not how the human body works. The best thing you can do for yourself in situations like that is to own that you didn’t do what you had hoped you would and resolve to do better going forward. This is important not just for yourself but for your kids who, whether you know it or not, watch your every move and hear your every word. This is a chance to teach them how to love themselves and have a healthy relationship with food. Here are some more tips on what to do after you overindulge.

Bonus Advice: How to Talk about Food Choices with Your Kids

While we’re on the topic of setting an example for our kids, watching the language that you use around food is also really important. Dubbing some foods “bad” or saying they’ll “make you fat” can really hurt your child’s relationship with food going forward and can create feelings of shame or guilt around eating. At the same time, it is important to convey that some foods are healthier choices than others. So when you’re talking to children about why you’re giving away the leftover candy or limiting how much you eat, I suggest using language along the lines of:

This isn’t everyday food so we are only going to have a little and then share with some other people. Foods like fruits and vegetables help keep us from getting sick and help us do better in school, but candy doesn’t do any of those things for us so we don’t need to eat a lot of it. Instead we have a little and we focus on eating more of the foods that help us grow bigger and smarter.

Notice that the above example does not say that candy is bad for you or candy will make you sick, etc. It just says that we don’t need it and that other foods do more for us. So we can have a little but should focus on the things that help us the most.

How to Motivate Your Family to Be Healthier

It’s a tale as old as time. One parent wants to start eating healthier, maybe lose some weight, get more active, etc. but they’re thrown off track time and time again because the rest of the family isn’t on board. Maybe the problem is that you have to keep a package of certain cookies in the house for your partner. Maybe it’s that you’re tired of preparing 2 dinners, one for you and one for everyone else. Maybe you’re missing your after-dinner walks because everyone would rather watch TV and you don’t want to miss out on valuable family time. Whatever the big issues are, it can make it very challenging to work on your healthy habits when the rest of the household is not working on theirs. So what can you do?

Start Small

You can’t expect everyone to jump right on whatever plan you have right off the bat. Instead, start small. Maybe find an outdoors activity your whole family enjoys doing together, like bike-riding or hiking. Maybe you can get your kids to choose a healthy recipe and cook it with you. Maybe you can swap out those favorite store-bought brownie bites for some homemade ones with less sugar and some sweet potato in them. The easiest way to create big change is to start with little ones.

Use that Team Mentality

It may sound silly but language is super important. It can help unify your family around your goals. Practice using “we” and “our.” For example, “these are the foods we eat,” “we like to get moving outside,” “we are taking good care of ourselves.” This is especially important when it comes to your kids.

Use Relatable Justifications

Telling a child that they should eat broccoli because it’s good for them will get you nowhere fast. You know this. “Good for you” means nothing to a child. The same goes for “healthy.” But, if you can relate the benefits of that health food to something your child wants or enjoys, then you may be in luck. For example, instead of telling your child to eat the chicken because they need the protein, explain to them that eating chicken will help them get stronger and better at biking. Or instead of telling them that their vegetables are good for them, tell them eating vegetables will make them run even faster at their soccer game. Or their avocado will make them do well on their test tomorrow because it makes their brain grow.  These are relatable things that makes sense in a child’s mind.

Clearly Communicate Why these Changes are Important to You

Your partner needs to know how important these changes are to you so that they can support you. Really get down to your big WHY about these changes and share that with your partner. Knowing how important getting healthier is to you makes it more likely that they will be more supportive of your efforts.

Keep It Collaborative

Unilaterally taking certain foods away or trying to secretly swap them out for healthier ones can be a recipe for disaster and meltdowns. Try allowing your family to pick a food they are willing to try a healthier option for and let them choose a substitution from a small selection. Remember to only incorporate one food swap at a time so that you’re not overwhelming them with overhaul and creating pushback and resentment.

Make Healthy Foods More Accessible than Unhealthy Ones

You may find that if you leave a plate of cut veggies and fruits out and ready, your family will be more likely to grab those as they are right out in front of them than to hunt around for or demand junk food snacks. Once they start eating healthier foods, they will begin to become part of the routine.

Model the Behavior You Want to See

Lead by example. If your family perceives that you are not taking these changes seriously, then they won’t either.

Have you ever struggled to get your family on board with healthier habits? What techniques worked for you? Share them in the comments below!

 

The Truth about Juice Cleanses and Detoxes

Juice cleanses and detox programs are still all the rage – with nearly every holistic company pushing one and even local cafes creating their own. They claim they can help you lose weight, rid your body of toxins, restore your pH, give you more energy and help you sleep better, make you stop craving junk food – the list goes on and on. But are these (often really expensive) programs all they’re cracked up to be?

The short answer is “no.” Living off of juice for a week is not going to result in any lasting improvements to your help. On the contrary, it could actually do more harm than good.

The Problem with Cleanses and Detoxes

The first issue with juice cleanses is that they’re juice. When you juice a fruit or vegetable, you eliminate all of the fiber in that plant. That leaves you with very little if anything to buffer against all of the sugar in it. Essentially, you’re drinking straight sugar with some vitamins and minerals added to it. Subsisting off of this alone and not balancing it with food containing protein and fiber can result in unhealthy spikes in your blood sugar that stress your body out. Sustained high levels of your body’s stress hormone, cortisol, have been linked to a host of health problems, not to mention retention of abdominal fat. Add to this the fact that, since juice does not satisfy hunger,  you are likely to over consume it when you’re already taking in far more sugar in a glass of orange juice than is in one orange.

Another factor that makes these cleanses more of a problem than a solution is the impact they could have on your metabolism. While restricting calories in the very short term might make you drop a few pounds, over time severely restricting calories for a week or on and off again over time can slow down your metabolism, making it even harder to lose weight. Not to mention, many people will overcompensate by overeating once they are back on regular foods again, making them gain back what they may have lost and then some. I bet they didn’t advertise that on the box.

The final nail in the coffin for juice cleanses and detox programs should be that they are completely unnecessary and there is no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. Your body already has a highly-efficient detoxification system built in. Your body is not a swamp full of toxins. You do not need to starve yourself for a week to help support your body’s detoxification system. On the contrary, doing so can deprive your body of the nutrition and energy it needs to do its cleanup job.

So What Should You Do?

If you truly want to support the health of your body and keep it as toxin-free as possible, eat an organic, plant-based, whole foods diet. Eat lots of plants, drink lots of water, avoid pre-packaged, processed foods, and, when you do eat meat, make sure it is clean, quality meat not treated with all kinds of antibiotics and hormones. Doing this will give your body the right kind of fuel it needs to support ongoing health.

 

 

Tips to Help You Eat More Plants

We have a plant problem in the US today and I’m not talking about marijuana. By and large most Americans aren’t eating enough plants in their diets in spite of volumes of studies showing that eating plant-based diets is key for lasting health and weight management because they are loaded with so many vital nutrients our bodies depend on. Part of the issue is that we are a very meat-centric society and many of us just don’t know how to work more vegetables into our cooking routine because we are so used to meals consisting of a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. However, there are many plants that are great sources of protein and can easily stand in for that meat on your plate. Here are some tips to get you started on eating more plants.

Eat something green with every meal

This one is a great rule to live by and will instantly get more plants into your diet. Just add a green vegetable to every meal. This could mean adding spinach to your eggs in the morning, throwing some greens into your sandwich at lunch, and having some kale or green beans with dinner. Having green vegetables with your meals helps fill you up so you can cut down on the less healthy options.

Practice Meatless Mondays

Commit to eating vegetarian one day a week. This one will require some work on your part because it’s very easy to just resort to carbs, like pasta and bread, and you may need to search for some good recipes. But it’s worth it! Some great plant-based protein options are: tofu, tempeh, beans, and quinoa. Which brings me to…..

Eat more quinoa

Quinoa has become a wellness buzz food and for good reason. This little seed is a complete protein and is a good source of calcium, lysine, B vitamins, and iron. It’s also gluten free. Prepared like you would rice, quinoa can be flavored pretty much any way and is versatile for use in meals. I’ve used it like rice, made pizza crust with it, made meatless meatballs with it – lots of things!

Make friends with cauliflower

Cauliflower is another versatile plant food that can be used for a large number of things. For example, you can make pizza crust with it, puree it to make an alfredo sauce, or use it as a substitute for rice. These recipes are super easy and are a great way to eat more veggies!

Give vegetable noodles a try

Don’t have a spiralizer? That’s OK! Most grocery stores now carry a variety of vegetable noodles, from squash to zucchini to sweet potato to beets. And the internet is loaded with different recipes for every type of vegetable noodle. You could use spaghetti squash instead of regular noodles as well. For a store-bought option, check out my review of these edamame noodles.

Load your pasta sauce

Marinara and pasta sauces are a great place to hide vegetables, especially if you have picky eaters. You can load your sauces with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, squash – you name it. Keep it chunky or puree it for a smoother sauce. Either way, you just ate way more vegetables!

Drink more smoothies

Smoothies can be another good way to increase the amount of plants you’re consuming on a daily basis. Using fresh or frozen fruit and adding some vegetables like spinach, kale, or cucumber, you can make a powerhouse of a smoothie. Just be careful not to overload your smoothie so you end up with a high calorie treat rather than a healthy snack or meal.

Replace those chips and crackers

There are many healthy plant options you can choose for snacks on the go other than chips and crackers. Nuts, for example, are a great source of protein and fiber. Crunchy chickpeas are also a yummy plant snack on the go and can be bought or made in a variety of different flavors. Carrots, celery, and sugar snap peas are also taken on the go very easily and are great for dipping.

Treat yourself to the cut fruit plate

Many of us balk at the pre-cut fruit platters they sell at the grocery store because they really charge you for the convenience. But, in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile investment if it will make it easier for you to eat healthier.

Replace your bread with greens

Replace your wraps with collard leaves and your tortillas with lettuce cups. You could also use slices of sweet potato or cucumber instead of bread for your sandwiches.

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It may seem like a lot of work at first, but it is actually quite easy to get more plants into your daily diet. Once you find some recipes you like and work them into your routine with some minimal prep, you’ll be eating plants like you’ve been doing it all along.

Veganism/Vegetarianism – Are they healthier?

March is National Nutrition Month so I am going to be focusing heavily on more nutrition-oriented topics in my blog this month.

One nutrition question I get frequently is whether it is healthier to go vegan or vegetarian over meat eating. My answer probably irritates many who ask: not necessarily.

So first let’s get the differences between the two out of the way:

Veganism

In the most basic sense, veganism is a diet in which you don’t consume any animal products whatsoever. This means no dairy, eggs, fish, meat, honey, or gelatin and no products containing these ingredients. Some vegans are stricter than others. For example, certain beers are clarified using animal parts and some vegans will not consume them based on that while other vegans don’t mind as much because the animal parts are not actually part of the beer. Likewise, honey is technically not vegan in the strictest sense, but many vegans still use it.

Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism allows a lot more dietary options than veganism. In the most general sense, vegetarianism is simply not eating meat. Other animal products, such as honey, eggs, dairy, and gelatin, may be OK for a vegetarian. Some vegetarians, known as pescatarians, will eat fish, while others won’t. Likewise, lacto-ovo vegetarians eat eggs and dairy, but no meat. As with veganism, there is a spectrum of dietary choices that fall into the vegetarian category.

Are Vegan or Vegetarian Diets Healthier than Eating Meat?

Not necessarily. Sorry. While both of these diets have the potential to provide your body with loads of healthy nutrients and help you maintain a healthy weight, there are some mistakes that can make them less healthy.

As a certified health coach, I immediately get concerned whenever the prospect of eliminating entire food groups comes up. That to me is an immediate alert that the individual adhering to that diet needs to be really diligent in making sure they are getting all of the nutrients they need.

One thing that I know from my vegan and vegetarian friends is the most annoying thing people say to them is, “are you getting enough protein”? In our meat-centric society, we often assume that meat is the best or only source of protein. The difference between animal protein and plant protein is that animal protein is what we call a “complete protein” – it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Plant proteins are known as “incomplete proteins” because they contain some but not all 9 essential amino acids. However, you can combine different plant proteins to make a complete protein and you don’t need to eat them all at once to do it. For example, you could have nuts for a an afternoon snack, tofu as part of your lunch, and pea protein in your morning smoothie. So protein is a concern for vegans and vegetarians only if they are not varying their protein sources enough (generally speaking).

Vegans have a bit more of a challenge than vegetarians when it comes to making sure they are consuming all of the nutrition their bodies need. Eliminating one food group is one thing, but when you eliminate several, it can make things more difficult and complicated. With any diet, it’s important to monitor what you are eating to make sure you’re getting enough variety and nutrition but vegans have that much more monitoring to do. One nutritive concern that I have for vegans is their Omega-3 consumption. The best source of Omega-3 fatty acids (AKA the healthiest fats) is fish – partly because it is already in the form our bodies can use so we readily absorb it. There are plant sources of Omega-3s, but they are in a form that our bodies cannot use. This means that our bodies must first convert them into the usable form, but, once that conversion is done, our absorption rate is less than 5%. So it’s more of a challenge to eat enough Omega-3s without eating fish or taking a fish oil supplement. Iron is another nutrient that we get primarily from eating meat in our society. However, there are a number of rich plant sources of iron. As with protein, it’s really important for vegans and vegetarians to make sure they are eating enough plant sources of iron (like spinach for example), especially for women of child-bearing age.  Click here to receive my list of plant-based, whole food sources of iron.

The last major concern for both of these diets that I will discuss here is the meat substitute products found in grocery stores. Most store-bought, pre-packaged vegan and vegetarian foods are highly processed and loaded with all kinds of fillers and preservatives. These are not healthy options. The healthiest options are organic tofu and organic tempeh, not breaded faux-chicken from the freezer section. If you are vegan or vegetarian or are considering either, make sure that you really read all the labels of products you want to buy to make sure they’re not full of scary ingredients. If you’re a hands-on person and have the time, making your own animal-product substitutes at home is even better. For example, it’s actually pretty easy to make your own nut milks and you can use flax seed meal and water in place of an egg in recipes.

Is Meat Bad for You?

Again, not necessarily. Sorry.

As I said above, meat, fish, and poultry (I’m just going to call them all “meat”) are all complete proteins delivering all 9 essential amino acids. Meat is also a good source of iron (particularly red meat and liver) and fish is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Where the meat question gets tricky is when it comes to quality. Americans in general have no shortage of saturated fat in our diets and these are not the healthy fats we want to focus on consuming. Overconsumption of animal fats (excluding fish) has been linked to a number of health issues, particularly heart issues. Therefore, it’s important to consume lean cuts of meat as much as possible – this means lean cuts of beef, eating more poultry and avoiding the skin and fatty parts, eating more fish, etc.

Another quality factor when it comes to consuming meats is considering what that meat ate when it was alive. Much of the meat we eat in this country has been treated with antibiotics, hormones, and other substances that we eat when we eat the meat from those animals. Many of the animals in the factory farms that supply most of our meat also don’t feed their animals quality food and that affects the meat we eat as well. There are also a number of really awful humane issues associated with factory-farmed meat. Considering all of this, it’s important to eat organic meat as much as possible. Ideally, select meat from free-range animals that consumed their natural diet rather than some cheap mystery feed. The most ideal situation, is to actually know where your meat is coming from – supporting local farmers at the farmers’ market or joining a local meat share. Obviously, this is not always possible, but following the first two guidelines I mentioned will get you into healthier meat eating.

Read This If You Just Want the Gist of This Post Without Reading the Whole Thing

Science has shown time and again that plant-based diets are the healthiest option for us. Both veganism and vegetarianism can be extremely healthful diets when followed properly. They both have the potential to deliver loads of wonderful nutrients to your body and sustain its health for a lifetime. However, in our rush-rush, convenience-centric society, it can be hard to eat the variety of foods our bodies need and it’s very easy to opt for those junky convenience foods most of the time, regardless of whether or not you eat meat. Eating a variety of plant-based foods is critical to our health. This does not mean that eating meat is unhealthy or that we shouldn’t ever do it, though – meat can deliver large amounts of nutrients our bodies need all in one stop and, as long as you are eating lean, good quality, organic meat, then meat-eating isn’t a health problem. The majority of what you eat, regardless of your diet, should be fresh fruits and vegetables, but meat is a food you can eat every day and it plays an important role in many diets.

 

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolutions

Did you know that 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail? And 80% of them fail by February? Those seem like pretty depressing odds, but you CAN make your healthy New Year’s resolutions a reality by avoiding some of the common pitfalls I often see people making. Whether you are looking to lose weight or to just get healthier, here are my tips for keeping your resolutions alive.

Pitfall 1: You Don’t Make It Official

It may seem silly, but there is a lot of power behind writing down a goal. It puts the energy out there for it and also helps you get more clear about what it is you want to accomplish. Better yet, if you write it down and place it somewhere prominent where you can see if often, it can serve as a daily reminder/motivation to keep working towards your goal.

Pitfall 2: You Don’t Know Your Why

Knowing why you want to accomplish a goal is just as important as having a goal. There are going to be times when working towards your resolution is challenging, you’re beating yourself up, and you just want to quit. In those instances, having a very strong reason why you want to accomplish your goal will keep you going. I don’t mean “I want to lose weight because I need to be healthier” – that’s very vague and not personal. You need to dig deep for your why: “I want to lose weight because I want to be able to chase my children around at the playground” or “I want to lose weight because I want to go on an international hiking trip to see some of the world’s most amazing natural sites.” These are powerful why’s that mean something personal to you. Once you know your why, take it a step further and write it down with your resolution.

Pitfall 3: Not Setting Specific Goals

Making your goals specific enough is critical and can be challenging. Without a specific goal, it can be impossible to track your progress or know when you’ve achieved your goal. Plus, if you don’t know exactly what you’re working towards, how will you stay motivated? Instead of making your resolution “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get healthier” make it “I want to lose 30 pounds” or “I want to be a size 6” or “I want to be able to run a 5k.” That way you can measure your efforts and your success.

Pitfall 4: You Don’t Plan Ahead

In a society where we are surrounded by sedentary entertainment and processed, unhealthy foods, it can be a challenge to stick to healthful goals. This is why planning ahead is crucial. Going to a party or gathering? Bring some healthy foods you can snack on. Taking a trip? Plan for some activity time in advance. Going out to dinner? Review the menu online ahead of time so you know what the healthy options are going into it.

Pitfall 5: You Go It Alone

Accountability is a very powerful motivating force. Tell someone you know will check in with you about your resolution and your plans for accomplishing it. Even better, find someone to work towards it with you. For example, if you know that you have a hard time getting yourself to the gym, find yourself a gym buddy. If you want to become a runner, sign up for a 5k with a friend so you have a deadline and an accountability partner.

Pitfall 6: You’re Too Focused

The major reason why most diets fail is that they are not sustainable. They are built on the premise of deprivation so they give you results fast, but you can’t stay on them in the long-term and you gain back the weight pretty quickly. If you are looking to lose weight or to just eat healthier, make sure that you build in a treat day. Balance is the key to success and having a designated time to indulge will help keep you on track – as long as you plan ahead for it so you don’t go overboard and get right back on track after. For example, if sweets are your thing, you could say that Fridays are your treat day and you can have dessert with dinner on Fridays. Likewise, if you are going to a party or some other function and know there will be treats there, make a deal with yourself ahead of time that you can have one slice of cake or some of your friend’s famous nacho dip. We are human. We eat for two reasons: to survive and for pleasure. You need both sides of the coin to be successful.

Pitfall 7: You Eat Too Much Salad

Many of us think that in order to lose weight and eat healthy, we need to just eat a lot of salads. Don’t get me wrong, salads are an awesome powerhouse of nutrients, but they can get old really fast. There are tons and tons of healthy meals you can have that are not salads. Check out my recipes or jump on Pinterest and there will be lots of healthy food inspiration for you. Variety is the spice of life, so make sure you change it up a bit!

Pitfall 8: You’re Not Tracking

No one wants to track what they eat but it is super important, especially in the beginning of any healthy eating routine. You would be shocked at how much you eat without even realizing it and also how much of it isn’t as healthy as you would think. My recommendation to you is to track your eating at least for the first 2 weeks of your resolution so you can really get a feel for what you’re putting into your body. Think about it, how can you change what you don’t know? It’s worth the tedium of tracking for a couple weeks.

Pitfall 9: You’re Not Exercising

We often hear that maintaining a healthy weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise. But if you’re only eating healthy, then you’re only going to get yourself 80% of the way there. Remember that our bodies can acclimate to our calorie intake and just focusing on food will get you to that dreaded weight loss plateau. A varied exercise routine will help keep you working steadily towards your goal and you will get there more quickly as well. Plus, exercise is crucial to a healthy heart and circulatory system, a healthy respiratory system, healthy bones and muscles, and it’s even beneficial for your immune system.

Pitfall 10: You’re Not Hydrating

As an adult, you should be drinking 1/2 oz of water per pound of your body weight per day. Water keeps your joints and muscles working well, helps flush your body, helps you feel full, helps keep your skin healthy, and so much more. I bet that you have had someone say to you that there is a chance you’re thirsty when you think you’re hungry. Keeping yourself hydrated is critical to helping you get healthier and/or lose weight.

Pitfall 11: You’re Not Supplementing

Regardless of how healthy you eat, I can promise you that you are not getting all of the nutrients that your body needs. In fact, 90% of Americans aren’t getting the nutrition our bodies need. There are a number of reasons for this. Among them are that our produce isn’t as nutritious as it once was, that, biologically speaking, a 2000 calorie diet isn’t normal for humans so we are trying to get all of our nutrition is fewer calories, plus factors like antibiotic use, consumption of inorganic meats, and digestive issues. In order for your body to function at its best, it needs to be properly nourished and supplementing with quality supplements is the way to do that. Regularly taking supplements will also help you reach your health goals by properly fueling your body. With regular supplementation, you may even notice a change in your appetite!

Wishing you a very happy, healthy New Year and all the best with your resolutions!