Why You Should Eat a Plant-based Diet & How to Get Started

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Watercress salsa with bean chipsThis post is sponsored by B&W Quality Growers, the world’s largest grower and marketer of watercress.

Eating a plant-based diet will improve your health. Plant-based diets are associated with lower rates of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and better cognition (1,2,3,4).  Data from vegetarians suggests plant-based diets might also be associated with a longer lifespan (5).  If you love dairy or meat, you don’t have to give up either to benefit from a plant-based diet. But you will benefit from adding more plant-foods, particularly leafy greens like watercress for a healthy body and mind.

Fortified with more than 18 essential vitamins and minerals, watercress is the healthiest leafy vegetable on the planet as it is high in water content, a naturally low calorie and low-fat food. It’s also one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables in the world, earning perfect score on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) nutrient density scale.

What is Plant-Based?

Plant-based means the bulk of your diet comes from plants. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils and more) are the staples of a plant-based diet.

Eating plant-based does not mean you never eat dairy, eggs, meat, fish, or poultry. However, these foods do not make up the bulk of your diet when you are eating plant-based.

How does a Plant-Based Diet Lower Disease Risk?

Plant foods are all not only full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates protein and healthy fats but they are also full of fiber and phytonutrients. Most Americans get half the fiber they need each day for good health. In addition to helping support digestion and preventing constipation, fiber feeds the good bacteria in our gut. The health of our gut depends on the diversity and type of bacteria that live there. Also, most of our immune system is in our gut making gut health important for immune health and, because of the gut brain axis (the gut and brain talk to each other), brain health. Gut health is quickly becoming a hot topic as scientists learn more about the importance of gut health every day.

How to Make Your Diet Plant-Based:

1. Eat More Leafy Greens

As part of the MIND diet, leafy greens are linked to a lower rate of cognitive decline. Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, which are generally known as cancer-fighters due to their high levels of phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates. A growing body of evidence suggests watercress earns its “superleaf” title because it may help prevent the spread of cancer cells (6,7). Plus, it is a good source of vitamin A, an essential vitamin necessary for normal vision, skin health, and maintaining immune function (2). Watercress is also high in the antioxidant vitamin C, which protects the body against free radicals. Vitamin C also supports the normal function of blood vessels, healing of wounds, iron absorption, and neurological function (3).

– Try my favorite snack: watercress salsa along with lentil or bean chips (post recipe below).

– Spread avocado mash on a piece of higher fiber toast (my favorite one is made from almond and sweet potato flour) and top it with watercress, feta and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

– Make broad bean or garbanzo bean chips.

– Dip celery or carrots in peanut, almond or another nut butter.

– Make my favorite salad: Watercress, pear, fig and goat cheese salad.

2. Try different forms of plant-based foods.

There are many forms and ways to cook each plant-food!
– Lentil or bean pastas are a fantastic substitute for regular pasta.
– Split pea soup vs. peas.

– Brussels sprouts cooked with turkey neck vs. roasted and crispy.

– Top cauliflower with avocado oil and parmesan cheese and roast it.

– Boil red potatoes and add olive oil and dill after cooking.

3. Make your dessert fruit and nut-based.

Fruit is available all year long. From watermelon in the summer to pumpkin in the Fall, there are many ways to enjoy fruits for dessert. I like pairing plain Greek yogurt with berries or grapes and a sprinkle of granola.

4. Add greens to your smoothie.

Use greens like watercress to enhance your favorite fruit smoothie. This is the perfect way to get more greens in your diet. My favorite smoothie includes 8 oz. 100% orange juice, a handful of frozen watercress (any time I can’t use a fruit or vegetable in a timely manner I freeze it), frozen mango, ginger and vanilla or unflavored whey protein powder (an amount that contains 30 grams of protein).

5. Add vegetables to your main dishes.

– Chopped mushrooms and onions work well in beef or turkey patties.

– Add veggies to your kabobs. Try grilled veggie and meat (or tofu, which is made from soybeans!) kabobs.

– Top your pizza with sliced tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers and mushrooms.

– Chili is a great staple for the winter and naturally loaded with beans and diced tomatoes.

 

References

1 McMacken M, Shah S. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. J Geriatr Cardiol 2017;14(5): 342-354.

2 Kahleova H et al. Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients 2017;9(8): 848.

3 Lanou AJ, Svenson B. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Mang Res 2011;3: 1- 8.

4 Hardman RJ. Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults: A Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Review of Longitudinal and Prospective Trials. Front Nutr 2016;3: 22.

5 Orlich MJ. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med 2013; 173(13): 1230-1238.

6 Gill IR et al. Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(2): 504-510.

7 Boyd LA et al. Assessment of the anti-genotoxic, anti-proliferative, and anti-metastatic potential of crude watercress extract in human colon cancer cells. Nutr Cancer 2006;55(2): 232-41.

 

Should You Try the Whole30 Diet?

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The Whole30 diet is like a weed wacker. Instead of pinpointing foods that could be causing skin issues, allergies, bloating, fatigue or other issues, Whole30 removes almost everything. It’s a classic elimination diet. Get rid of fried wings, potato chips and sweet tea and chances are you will lose weight and probably feel better. This isn’t rocket science. But, Whole30 won’t get rid of your nagging symptoms if they are due to food allergies or food sensitivities.

This blog post will cover:

  • What is the Whole30 diet?
  • Whole30 Nutrition Rules that Make no Sense
  • Who is this diet good for?
  • Who should avoid it?

What is the Whole30 Diet?

On the Whole30 diet you can eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, natural fats, herbs spices and seasonings. They tell you not to eat anything you can’t pronounce (this rule defies nutrition logic). Also, you can’t eat the following for 30 days:

Sugar of any kind. Honey, maple syrup, table sugar etc. 

Artificial sweeteners. If you don’t have an adverse food reaction to these, there’s no reason to avoid them.

Alcohol. Okay, I’ve got nothing here. Alcohol isn’t good for you and it raises risk of hormone dependent cancers (like breast cancer) and stroke. 

Grains. Grains are an important source of fiber and vitamins and minerals.

Legumes. By the way, the healthiest people on earth eat lots of legumes! Legumes are full of fiber, protein, magnesium and other nutrients as well as plant compounds important for good health.

Dairy. There goes most of my protein in addition to calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and other nutrients.

This includes most of your grocery store.

Whole30 Nutrition Rules that Make No Sense

Stupid nutrition rules that have no scientific basis or purpose bother me. They really really bother me. Here are foods you can eat from Whole30 in blue and my feedback in black:

Ghee or clarified butter. Though clarified butter has less saturated fat than butter, it still has saturated fat. Liquid oils are a better option.

Fruit juice. This should say 100% fruit juice. Otherwise it may be flavored sugar water with no helpful plant compounds or vitamins.

Certain legumes. WT*. So they are randomly deciding which legumes are good for you? My eyes are rolling.

Coconut aminos. This is a substitute for soy sauce? I’d rather use GF soy sauce.

Iodized salt because it has sugar. I’m not sure what iodized salt they’re talking about because I’ve never seen one with sugar in it.

Who is this Diet Good for?

Someone who wants a challenge and a diet that is simple but not easy. Your choices are yes or no (mainly no). You won’t have to count points or log your food intake. It’s simple to grasp. However, it isn’t easy. You’ll end up cooking or assembling your own meals and avoiding many restaurants. Plus you might miss some of your favorite foods and dishes.

If you want a challenge and think you can stick to Whole30 for 30 days you may  notice you feel better. In fact, when people go on an elimination diet, or simply cut out certain foods for a while, and then they reintroduce these foods, they discover something that can change behavior moving forward. Fried foods make their bodies feel bad. A diet full of typical fast food makes them tired. Who wants to go back to feeling that way? It isn’t worth it.

If you have any symptoms related to food sensitivities or allergies these probably won’t go away. My top 2 food sensitivities are broccoli and carrots – 2 foods allowed on Whole30. Plus there are a number of ingredients that may be causing issues (some are in the coatings on medications or supplements). You need to get tested if you have potential symptoms related to food allergies or sensitivities and LEAP is the only food sensitivity test I recommend (more on this in an upcoming post).

What do you do after the 30 days? Whole30 is not a sustainable way of eating. They have a website devoted to reintroducing foods and maintaining healthy habits after you finish Whole30. Yet, every single person I know who has gone on this diet resumed their old eating habits as soon as the 30-day period was over. Whole30 doesn’t teach you how to live with donuts, sugar and fried foods. Their post diet guidelines tell you “no guilt, no shame” but their approach to food is full of guilt by labeling foods dirty and clean and talking about food as something one should control. When controlling one’s weight and food becomes obsessive, disordered eating or an eating disorder may result.

Who Should Avoid this Diet?

  • Yo-yo dieters
  • Those with a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder (including chronic overeating and bingeing)
  • Anyone interested in finding out the true cause of their migranes, IBS, hives, or inflammatory issues
  • Someone who loves food and often eats out with others

Bottom Line

You’ll probably feel better on this diet if your current diet isn’t full of healthy foods. In addition, if you are overweight, you will likely lose weight if you can follow this program for 30 days. That’s a big if after talking to more people today who “fell off” the diet after 5-10 days. Whole30 is an elimination diet. Elimination diets followed by reintroducing foods one-by-one may help determine foods that are causing certain issues. However, if you suspect you are having an adverse food reaction, quit looking for a needle in a haystack and get tested for allergies or sensitivities.

Whole30 cuts out  a number of healthy, nutrient-packed foods including legumes, grains and dairy. There is no reason to cut these out unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to one of them. Also, it is not a sustainable way to eat over a long period of time and lacks a sound transition plan back to a more normal way of eating.

Ketogenic Diets: Eating Fat Won’t Make You Thin

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Following a ketogenic diet will not guarantee weight loss. Producing a lot of ketones does not mean you are shredding body fat. Gulping down shots of olive oil or putting butter in your coffee won’t make you thin.

You must consume fewer calories than you need, over time, to lose body fat.

This blog post will cover:

  •  What is Ketosis?
  •  Eating fat Makes You Burn More Fat for Energy but…
  •  Who is this Diet Good For?
  •  Who Should Avoid the Ketogenic Diet

What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when the body does not have enough carbohydrate or total calories for energy. As a result, more fat is burned to fuel the body’s energy demands. As fat (dietary fat from the food you eat or body fat) is used, ketones are formed. When a person is in ketosis, ketones can be used as a source of energy (1).  Being in ketosis or producing ketones is not the cause of weight loss. Instead it is the decrease in calories that leads to weight loss.

An in depth review of the ketogenic diet can be found here.

Eating Fat Makes You Burn More Fat for Energy but…

You use the macronutrients you eat for energy. Eat a high carbohydrate diet and you’ll use more carbohydrates for energy. Eat more fat and you’ll burn more fat (from your high fat diet) for energy. Using fat, from the coconut oil or butter you put your coffee, for energy is totally different than burning the fat on your body for energy. You must be in a caloric deficit for your body to use stored body fat for energy. Let’s say it’s 4 pm and you have eaten 1,000 calories so far today. But your daily needs, without exercise, are 2,300 calories per day. You are now using stored body fat for energy because you are in a calorie deficit (you haven’t eaten enough calories to cover your energy needs).

Can you lose weight on a ketogenic diet? Yes absolutely (2). However, from a purely scientific perspective, this is not the best diet for losing fat and maintaining or gaining muscle.

Research studies in humans show weight loss from a ketogenic diet is due to water, fat mass and muscle. Additionally, weight loss is likely due, in part, to limited food choices. After all, a stick of butter with drops of flavor and artificial sweeteners mixed in isn’t exactly something most people overeat at dessert time. No bread, rice, pasta, Oreos, Doritos, doughnuts, pizza… the list goes on and on. Another factor contributing to weight loss when on a ketogenic diet, at least for obese people, is a decrease in hunger over the short term. Research also shows on-going professional support is associated with greater weight loss when on a ketogenic diet (or any other diet) (3). Additionally, ramping up the protein in your diet and cutting calories alone (even if you aren’t following a ketogenic diet or you aren’t producing a ton of ketones) can improve body fat loss and help you maintain muscle.

Some studies report the ketogenic diet can have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors while others show cholesterol and blood pressure increase. Why?  It depends what you were eating and what you are eating now. If your diet consisted of fried foods, French fries and alcohol and  you changed it to olive oil and salmon, I’m willing to bet your triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure will go down. If you were eating whole grains, legumes and salmon and started eating fatty red meat, butter and coconut oil, expect your cholesterol to shoot through the roof.

Aside from what you’re eating, weight loss has a huge effect on  cardiovascular disease risk factors. If you are over fat and you lose a lot of weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and other cardiovascular disease risk factors will likely improve. Regardless of what you eat. A diet full of Twinkies can be beneficial for heart health risk factors as long as you lose weight.  

Who is this Diet Good For?

The ketogenic diet effectively reduces the incidence and severity of seizures in epileptic patients resistant to medication. Ketogenic diets are being studied as potential therapeutic remedies for those with dementia and mental disorders. However, it s too soon to recommend these diets in patients with dementia or a mental disorder (4, 5).

As mentioned above, you can lose weight on this diet. If you love dietary fat, don’t like carbohydrate-rich foods and you are determined to try this diet, work with a MD and registered dietitian who are experts on ketogenic diets and have experience implementing these diets with their patients. There are many potential immediate and longer-term health consequences that may result following a ketogenic diet. These can be decreased or avoided when you follow the expert advice of a MD and RD.

Who Should Avoid the Ketogenic Diet?

This is not an easy diet to stick with. Anyone who is not going to take the time to plan it according to the directions of a RD (again, one who has worked with this diet; likely an outpatient RD who works with epileptic patients) should avoid trying a ketogenic diet. Also, anyone with a disease state or on medication should avoid it unless they talk to their MD first. Those with eating disorders or disordered eating, strength and power athletes as well as athletes engaged in high intensity sports should skip over ketogenic diets. There are better ways to lose fat and fuel your activity.

 

References

1 Wheless JW. History of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia 2008;49 Suppl 8:3-5.

2 Bueno NB, de Melo IS, de Oliveira SL, da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr 2013;110(7):1178-87.

3 Kosinski C, Jornayvaz FR. Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies. Nutrients 2017; 9(5): 517.

4 Bostock ECS, Kirkby KC, Taylor BVM. The Current Status of the Ketogenic Diet in Psychiatry. Front Psychiatry 2017; 8: 43.

5 Gasior M, Rogawski MA, Hartmana AL. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behav Pharmacol 2006; 17(5-6): 431–439.

 

All Weight Loss Diets Work

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Every single weight loss diet works, if you follow it. All diets help you eat fewer calories so you lose weight. So how do you choose one that is right for you? Ignore the hype from your friend who lost 20 pounds. There is no one “best” diet. Pick one you can stay on.

Research shows the #1 factor that determines weight loss success and keeping the weight off: sticking to the plan

Weight Loss Diets

While cutting calories is the key, some diets aren’t nutritionally sound or socially convenient. Over the next few days I will explore the pluses and minuses of popular diets and help you examine if you really need to be on a diet. In the meantime, here’s a brief lowdown on each:

  • They are a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach. Getting your clothes tailored ensures the best fit. Likewise, tailoring a diet to suit your needs ensures it will better suit you. After all, cookie cutters are good for one thing only, cutting cookies.
  • Elimination diets take decision making out of the equation.  Making decisions is emotionally draining. The ketogenic diet, Whole 30, raw food diet, and low carbohydrate diet are “eat this, not that” approaches. The decision is either yes or no. There’s no measuring, counting or weighing. There’s no split second indecision wondering if you can have just a small piece of cake and walk away.
  • Counting keeps you accountable.  Weight Watchers, myfitnesspal (and other apps), meal plans and IIFYM (if it fits your macros) all involve counting. Though calorie counting is not 100% precise (more on this later this week), counting keeps a person accountable. After all, you can’t claim your metabolism is slow when your food log shows 2 hotdogs, bags of chips and beer.

All diets require some effort. After all, you can’t keep doing what you are doing now and expect different results. The key is finding the one that is easiest for you. Stay tuned….

Clean Eating Sucks

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clean eating sucksThe term clean eating makes me cringe. At first it makes you feel superior while you reach for a virtual pat on the back. “Wow, you eat clean all of the time? You’re so good!” After the thrill wears off, you’re left feeling judged followed by shame.

Why is Clean Eating so Seductive?

Perfectly posed, flawless photos of barely clothed self-proclaimed fitness gurus have taken over instagram. They lift, jump around and tells about their meals of fish, chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. No words are necessary. Their social media accounts scream “you could look like this too if you stay disciplined and eat what I eat!” It’s sales 101. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this exclusive group? The clean eating community provides more than just a sense of identification. It also gives people a little boost. Hey, what I’m doing is better than what you are doing. Clean eating seduces people with community, a common bond and a feeling of control. In a world where so many things are out of our control, we often reach for something, anything, we can control to decrease our anxiety.

What’s Wrong with Getting Sucked into Clean Eating?

“I eat clean most of the time,” an athlete recently told me, his sentence trailing off in volume as his eyes looked downward in shame. “But, sometimes I eat wings, fries and a few beers with the other guys,” he confessed, as he glanced up waiting for his penance. One small step away from the rigid rules of clean eating and you’ll feel like a failure. Any deviation can lead to a landslide – bingeing on forbidden foods. The authors of Intuitive Eating call this the What the Hell effect. The moment a forbidden food is eaten, overeating takes place.

How are these people in shape? For some it’s a cycle of diet, extreme exercise and bingeing. I bet more than 90% of the women and 70% of the men don’t feel great about their body (1, 2). They are fishing in the vast social media ocean for likes and positive comments. Many also engage in disordered eating and exercise (over exercising, using cleanses, laxatives, diuretics or fat burners, dietary restriction etc.).

How Can You Loosen Your Grip on Cleaning Eating?

Last week I ate lunch with one of the baseball players. He had a few cookies on his plate. One of our new players (who hasn’t figured out yet that I’m not the food police) came in and said “are those cookies good for your body?” His response was classic, “they’re good for the soul,” he said with a warm smile as we continued our conversation.

Instead of trying to “eat clean,” consider eating healthy foods most of the time while eating “play” foods, foods that are good for your soul, when you want them. Allow yourself flexibility with eating. People who allow themselves some food flexibility are less dissatisfied with their bodies and weigh less than those who don’t. Don’t judge yourself and never allow others to judge you based on what you are eating.

Eat the real thing. If you are craving a freshly baked gooey chocolate chip cookie, have one. Don’t try to get by with a low fat kale cookie made with cocoa powder (unless of course you’ve found one that is delicious). Eat what you are truly craving. If your anxiety hits the ceiling as you worry about your weight, remember it’s one cookie or a few cookies. Another gem from Intuitive Eating:

If you get pleasure and satisfaction in eating you won’t eat as much.

If you have issues with the scale, set it aside (the attic is a good place) and focus on how you feel. There are foods that may taste good in the moment but if you have too many of them, you might not feel as good. Let feeling help drive your food choices.

Moving Away from Judgement and Shame

I have probably tagged some posts on Instagram with #cleaneating. After all, I’m in the business of selling better performance, in sport and in life. I want to reach as many people as possible. But, I don’t want you suckered into a life filled with strict rules, judgment and shame. You also don’t need to live unto to someone else’s standards of an “ideal body.” Doing this will compound negative feelings about your body. Any time you feel a little down remember what your body has done and can do for you. It’s time to look past those finger pointing, clean eating photos and, like Hilary Duff (below) tell them to #kissmyass.

1 Eur Eat Disord Rev 2013;21(1):52-59. 

2 Research on Males and Eating Disorders

Top 10 Flat Belly Foods

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Your abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen. A good training program develops the muscles in your midsection and the right diet helps banish bloating so you can see your abs. Here are the 10 flat belly foods you should add to your diet for a better looking (and better feeling) mid-section):Greek yogurt for belly fat

Greek Yogurt with Live and Active Cultures

Look for Greek yogurt with “live cultures (aka good bacteria)” or the “Live & Active Cultures” seal. The cultures are good bacteria that take up valuable real estate in your gut, helping your body digest food and decreasing gas and bloating. The amount of healthy, versus harmful, bacteria influences body weight and how much weight you can lose while following a lower calorie diet. Plus, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found people who get their calcium from yogurt, as opposed to other foods, may lose more weight in their belly. Even more evidence to support yogurt consumption comes from a study showing dieters who ate five servings of dairy, such as Greek yogurt, daily lost more weight and abdominal fat than those who ate just three servings every day. A more recent review of the research found higher dairy intake was associated with lower risk of obesity in the midsection and yogurt seems to help keep weight in check.

2 Nuts

Though nuts are relatively high in calories for a small amount of food,  people don’t gain weight when they add nuts to their previously nut-free diet. A study in over 13,000 adults revealed nut eaters, those who ate at least ¼ ounce of nuts or peanuts (technically a legume) per day had smaller waists than adults who didn’t eat nuts. Additionally, tree nuts and peanuts contain a considerable amount of monounsaturated fat. Dieters who eat more foods containing monounsaturated fats may lose more belly fat than those who eat the same number of calories per day with less monounsaturated fat.

3 Asparagus

When examining dietary patterns, weight and waist circumference in close to eighty thousand people over a 10-year period, researchers found those who ate more vegetables every day had both a lower BMI and smaller waistline compared to adults who ate few vegetables. Asparagus contains prebiotic fiber, a type of fiber that is food for the good bacteria in your gut. Plus, asparagus is a natural mild diuretic making it the perfect food before hitting the beach or wearing a more formfitting outfit.

4 Avocados

Avocados contain a good amount of monounsaturated fat, not to mention nineteen vitamins and minerals. But, their monounsaturated fat is the ticket to a smaller waistline. In one study scientists gave obese adults with type 2 diabetes diets rich in saturated fat, monounsaturated fat or  carbohydrates. Those on the high carbohydrate diet ended up with fat redistributed to their stomachs while the monounsaturated fat rich diet prevented fat redistribution to the belly area. Plus, a look at dietary intake data from close to 18,000 adults found body weight, BMI and waist size were all significantly lower in avocado consumers versus those who didn’t include avocados in their diet.

5 Popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain and when you pop it yourself on the stovetop (or in a brown paper bag in the microwave, just add good old fashioned popcorn kernels in a brown paper bag and fold the top) and top it with a little spray butter or spices for flavor, you’ll end up with a snack that takes a long time to eat and fills you up on relatively few calories. In addition, several studies show people who eat about three servings of whole grains per day weight less and have a smaller waistline compared to those who don’t.

6 Cold Pea Salad

Peas are naturally rich in resistant starch, a type of fiber that isn’t completely broken down or absorbed during digestion. Cooking and cooling peas to make a pea salad will significantly increase the amount of resistant starch they content. Rodent studies show resistant starch helps reduce stomach fat and increase hormones that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating.

7 Eggs

Choose eggs over cereal in the morning and you’ll tame hunger pangs for hours after breakfast, decreasing the likelihood of overeating later in the day. Make a meal containing at least 25 – 30 total grams of protein (the protein is in the white of the egg so this equates to 4 – 5 egg whites though you can choose any combination of whole eggs and egg whites as long as you consume at least 4 -5 of the whites) so you can cash in on the satiety-enhancing benefits of eggs. Added bonus: following a high protein diet for a short period of time can lead to significant reductions in belly fat.

8 Green Tea

The combination of caffeine and antioxidants in green tea may lead to small to moderate reductions in body fat and waist size. However, you need to consume quite a bit of it so get creative and cook with green tea by brewing it and using it to cook rice (it’s particularly good with jasmine rice), make stews, soups or stocks. You can also poach fruit green tea or use dried green tea leaves as part of a rub for meats, tofu or fish.

9 Barley

Barley is a cereal grain with a nutty taste and consistency that is a cross between pasta and rice. In a double-blinded trial (both the men and the researchers didn’t know which food they were getting), Japanese men were given rice or a mixture of rice with pearl barley. The group receiving the pearl barley and rice mixture lost a significant amount of visceral fat, the kind that covers your organs like a thick winter blanket and increases risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. Compared to the rice only group, the group who ate pearl barley decreased their waist size.

10 Blueberries

Blueberries are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which will not only help keep you full but also help keep your waistline in check. Plus they are a natural source of prebiotic fiber – the kind that the good bacteria in your gut munch on.

A flat belly is one of the most recognized signs of a fit body. Blast away abdominal fat with high-intensity cardio and build the underlying muscle by regularly switching up your training program. Also, incorporate a 30-minute abs classes to your routine. At least one study found you can spot reduce if you exercise the same muscle group for at least 30 minutes at a time. Keep in mind abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. Add the top 10 flat belly foods to your diet while cutting down on sugar alcohols (sorbitol, maltitol, and mannitol are the worst for causing gas and bloating), fizzy drinks and chewing gum (all of these can increase bloating at least temporarily) and you may fall in love with skinny jeans.

 

References
Clifton PM, Bastiaans K, Keogh JB. High protein diets decrease total and abdominal fat and improve CVD risk profile in overweight and obese men and women with elevated triacylglycerol. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2009;19(8):548-54.

O’Neil CE1, Keast DR, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Nut consumption is associated with decreased health risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in U.S. adults: NHANES 1999-2004. J Am Coll Nutr 2011;30(6):502-10.

Kahn HS, Tatham LM, Rodriguez C, et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults’ 10-year change in the body mass index and likelihood of gain at waist. Am J Public Health 1997;87:747-54.

Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, Cheng J, Duncan AE et al. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science 2013;341:6150.

Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, Magrini V et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 2006;444:1027-1031.

Vidrine K, Ye J, Martin RJ, McCutcheon KL et al. Resistant starch from high amylose maize (HAM-RS2) and dietary butyrate reduce abdominal fat by a different apparent mechanism. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2014;22(2):344-8.

Bisanz JE, Reid G. Unraveling how probiotic yogurt works. Sci Transl Med 2011;3:106.

Dhurandhar NV, Geurts L, Atkinson RL et al. Harnessing the beneficial properties of adipogenic microbes for improving human health. Obesity Reviews 2013;19:721-735.

Delzenne NM, Neyrinck AM, Bäckhed F, Cani PD. Targeting gut microbiota in obesity: effects of prebiotics and probiotics. Nat Rev Endocrinol 2011;7(11):639-46.

Furet JP, Kong LC, Tap J et al. Differential adaptation of human gut microbiota to bariatric surgery-induced weight loss: links with metabolic and low-grade inflammation markers. Diabetes 2010;59:3049-3057.

Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature 2006;444: 1022–1023.

Santacruz A, Marcos A, Warnberg J et al. Interplay Between Weight Loss and Gut Microbiota Composition in Overweight Adolescents. Obesity 2009;17:1906–1915.

Harland JI, Garton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr 2008;11(6):554-63.

Yadav BS, Sharma A, Yadav RB. Studies on effect of multiple heating/cooling cycles on the resistant starch formation in cereals, legumes and tubers. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2009;60 Suppl 4:258-72.

Keenan MJ, Zhou J, McCutcheon KL et al. Effects of resistant starch, a non-digestible fermentable fiber, on reducing body fat. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2006;14(9):1523-34.

Nagao T, Komine Y, Soga S et al. Ingestion of a tea rich in catechins leads to a reduction in body fat and malondialdehyde-modified LDL in men. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81(1):122-9.

Paniagua JA, Gallego de la Sacristana A, Romero I et al. Monounsaturated fat-rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects. Diabetes Care 2007;30(7):1717-23.

Fulgoni VL 3rd, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutr J 2013;12:1.

Shimizu C, Kihara M, Aoe S et al. Effect of high beta-glucan barley on serum cholesterol concentrations and visceral fat area in Japanese men–a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2008;63(1):21-5.

Du H, van der A DL, Boshuizen HC et al. Dietary fiber and subsequent changes in body weight and waist circumference in European men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91(2):329-36.

Peters EM, Anderson R, Nieman DC, et al. Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running. Int J Sports Med 2001;22(7):537-43.

 

Ketogenic Diets: Fat-Filled Lies Won’t Make You Slim (or a Better Athlete)

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How do you turn your body into a fat burning machine, run faster than Usain Bolt, recover from exercise immediately and wake up each day bursting with energy? According to some people, the ketogenic diet is your answer (learn the basics of this diet here). This high-fat, moderate protein diet that is practically void of carbohydrates forces your body to use fat for energy. LeBron James supposedly tried it and offensive lineman decided to give it a shot after an ex-NFL center and O-line coach LeCharles Bentley recommended it. However, the offensive lineman and LeBron weren’t actually following a ketogenic diet. Though these athletes didn’t really know what they were following (no worries LeCharles, I’m sure your nutrition advice is on par with me coaching the O-line), people who actually follow it swear by it. Could this be an unconventional path to weight loss and better health? Unfortunately, the ketogenic diet craze has been fattened with misinformation.

Here is what I am covering in this post:

  • Eat Fat, Lose Fat? Does the ketogenic diet make you lose weight?
  • How does this diet impact muscle?
  • The ketogenic diet and athletic performance.
  • The issue with ketogenic research studies.

I am not covering “training low” or low carbohydrate  / non-ketogenic diets in this article.

Eat Fat, Lose Fat?

During the first several days on a ketogenic diet your weight will take a nosedive. Carbohydrate is stored in the form of glycogen in liver and muscle. Each gram of carbohydrate is stored with 3 – 4 grams of water. Decrease your carbohydrate intake, use glycogen and you’ll lose water weight very quickly. Weight loss, even if from water, can motivate people driven by the number on the scale. Given that adherence is the number one predictor of weight loss when on a diet, we can’t discount psychological effect of the number on the scale going down.

What happens if you stay on the diet? A group of NIH researchers admitted seventeen overweight or obese men to a metabolic ward and placed them on a high carbohydrate baseline diet for four weeks followed by four weeks on an isocaloric ketogenic diet (this diet contained the same amount of calories as the high carbohydrate baseline diet). The men lost weight and body fat on both diets. The ketogenic diet did not lead to greater fat loss as compared to the high carbohydrate diet and in fact body fat loss slowed during the ketogenic diet and subjects lost muscle (1). Time to chuck the “carbohydrates make you fat” books in the recycling bin.

What about other studies showing ketogenic diets help athletes lose body fat and maintain performance? These studies were not actually using a ketogenic diet protocol but instead were high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diets. Also, none of the studies measured if the study subjects were actually in nutritional ketosis (2, 3, 4).  See the section on The Issue with Ketogenic Research Studies for more information on this topic.

Ketogenic diet and weight

Regardless of the studies indicating the ketogenic diet will not lead to greater weight loss as compared to a diet composed of the same amount of calories, some may lose weight because they will end up cutting down on their favorite foods. Fewer food choices often means fewer calories consumed.

Muscle Up with the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet isn’t high enough in protein for maximal muscle gains. Using the lower end of fat intake on a classic ketogenic diet (80% of calories), one could consume 15% of calories from protein (112 grams) on a 3,000-calorie diet. Protein requirements are at least 1.2 – 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight (or 0.55 – 0.82 grams per lb. bodyweight) per day if training and eating a diet with enough calories to maintain weight. Protein needs go up if you are cutting calories to spare the breakdown of muscle tissue when dieting. On this diet, 112 grams of protein equals just under 1.3 grams of protein per kg bodyweight for a 200 lb. person and even less for anyone who weighs more.

In addition to inadequate protein intake, “the ketogenic diet reduces many of the signaling molecules involved in muscle hypertrophy (growth),” states Dr. Antonio Paoli, M.D., B.Sc., Associate Professor and Vice Dean of the School of Human Movement Sciences, University of Padova. Without getting too technical, even with sufficient calorie intake, the ketogenic diet suppresses the IGF-1 / AKT / mTOR pathway (5). Using ketones for energy slows muscle breakdown. However it doesn’t stop this process (5).

The Ketogenic Diet and Athletic Performance

Once fully adapted to a ketogenic diet, athletes can supposedly rely on a seemingly endless supply of body fat for energy. No need for carbohydrate gels, beans, gummies and sports drinks every 15-30 minutes during long runs, rides or triathlons to sustain energy levels. Fewer calories consumed may make it easier for some people to stay within their total daily calorie needs (though if you are training that much staying within your calorie requirements shouldn’t be difficult).

Trading carbs for fat seems like a huge benefit for athletes, particularly endurance athletes who train and compete for several hours at a time (6). In addition to utilizing body fat, fat actually produces more energy (ATP) (5). However, fat is a slow source of fuel (see graphic below), the human body cannot access it quickly enough to sustain high-intensity exercise and therefore, this diet is really only (potentially) applicable to ultra-runners and triathletes competing at a relatively moderate to slow pace.

In a ketogenic diet study examining athletic endurance, researchers had subjects cycle at a snails pace (equivalent to a heart rate of about 120 beats per minute for anyone 20-30 years old or 115 for a 40 year old) until they became exhausted before and after 4-weeks on a ketogenic diet. There were no differences in the amount of time they were able to cycle before getting tired prior to or after the four-week ketogenic diet (7). In studies examining high fat diets (not ketogenic and ketones weren’t measured) and endurance performance, study subjects relied on more fat as opposed to carbohydrate during low intensity exercise, yet there was no clear performance advantage on the higher fat diet (8). A recently published study examined 20 elite ultra-marathoners and Ironman distance triathletes. Some were habitually consuming a traditional high carbohydrate diet while the other group was following a ketogenic diet (slightly adjusted macronutrient ratios yet they were in ketosis as measured by blood ketone levels). As expected, those following a higher fat diet used a greater percentage of fat for energy while the higher carbohydrate diet group used more carbohydrate for energy during a 180 minute submaximal running test (I’d call that leisure running intensity). There was no difference in calories burned over the course of the run. Both groups had the same level of perceived exertion and there was no test to determine performance differences between groups (9).

If there’s no performance benefit and we know carbohydrates work, why follow this diet? If your primary goal is weight loss, it doesn’t matter if you use more fat than carbohydrate while exercising (SN: can we please stop talking about the fat burning zone) as long as you’re burning more total calories over the course of the day. Plus, in the interest of (if you are not an ultra endurance athlete) jack up the intensity and burn as many calories in a short period of time as possible. Unfortunately, a ketogenic diet won’t help you do that – when relying on fat for fuel, the intensity of your exercise will drop – the body simply can’t access fat (a slow source of energy) quickly enough to sustain high-intensity exercise. Instead, carbohydrates are necessary for high intensity activity.
ketogenic diet and sports

The Issue with Ketogenic Research Studies

Here’s the issue with many ketogenic research studies and media reports based on them: in most cases, the study subjects were not actually following a ketogenic diet – they were following a higher fat, high-protein low carbohydrate diet (10, 11, 12). Each person’s carbohydrate and protein limits needed to stay in ketosis vary and therefore, measuring ketones through blood or urine is the only definitive way to determine if you are in ketosis. Complicating matters more, low carbohydrate diets (including ketogenic diets) lead to a substantial drop in carbohydrate content, and associated water stored with it, in muscle. This change overestimates the drop in lean body mass as measured by DEXA.

ketogenic and low carbohydrate diets

There are no modifications, higher protein intakes or “on again, off again” (where you go on it one day and off it the next) to this diet. You must be in a state of nutritional ketosis or you will need to decrease carbohydrate and protein intake even further to get into nutritional ketosis and rely on ketones for energy.

Is There Any Benefit?

Ketogenic diets help decrease incidence and severity of seizures in epileptic patients (this is what the diet is intended for). Also, ketogenic diets may be beneficial when implemented soon after a traumatic brain injury (including concussion) (13). In addition, scientists are examining if this diet is beneficial for diseases that affect the brain such as Alzheimer’s.

If you want to lose weight, the ketogenic diet is not superior to a reduced calorie diet. Also, unless you are an ultra endurance athlete who just loves dietary fat, hates eating at social occasions and can put up with the potential side effects from this diet it isn’t for you.
Now where is the O-line? I’ve got some coaching to do…

References

1 Hall KD, Chen KY, Guo J, Lam YY, Leibel RL, Mayer LE, Reitman ML, Rosenbaum M, Smith SR, Walsh BT, Ravussin E. Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jul 6. [Epub ahead of print]

2 Zajac A, Poprzecki S, Maszczyk A, Czuba M, Michalczyk M, Zydek G. The effects of a ketogenic diet on exercise metabolism and physical performance in off-road cyclists. Nutrients 2014;6(7):2493-508.

3 Rhyu HS, Cho SY. The effect of weight loss by ketogenic diet on the body composition, performance-related physical fitness factors and cytokines of Taekwondo athletes. J Exerc Rehabil 2014;10(5):326-31.

4 Paoli A, Grimaldi K, D’Agostino D et al. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. JISSN 2012;9:34.

5 Paoli A, Bianco A, Grimaldi KA. The ketogenic diet and sport: a possible marriage? Ex Sports Sci Reviews 2015.

6 Volek J, Noakes T, Phinney SD. Rethinking fat as a fuel for endurance exercise. Eur J Sport Sci 2014;2:1-8.

7 Phinney SD, Bistrian BR, Evans WJ, Gervino E, Blackburn GL. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with reduced carbohydrate oxidation. Metabolism 1983;32(8):769-76.

8 Burke LM, Kiens B. “Fat adaptation” for athletic performance: the nail in the coffin? J Appl Physiol 2006;100(1):7-8.

9 Volek J, Freidenreich DJ, Saenz C, Kunces LJ, Creighton BC, Bartley JM, Davitt pm, Munoz CX, Anderson JM, Maresh CM, Lee EC, Schuenke MD, Aerni G, Kraemer WJ, Phinney SD. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metab Clin Exp 2016;65(3):100-110.

10 Tinsley GM, Willoughby DS. Fat-Free mass changes during ketogenic diets and the potential role of resistance training. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Aug 12. [Epub ahead of print]2 Rouillier MA, Riel D, Brazeau AS, St. Pierre DH, Karelis AD. Effect of an Acute High Carbohydrate Diet on Body Composition Using DXA in Young Men. Ann Nutr Metab 2015;66:233-236

11  Paoli A. The ketogenic diet and sport: a possible marriage? Ex Sci Sports Sciences Rev 2015;43(3):153-62.

12  Johnstone AM, Horgan GW, Murison SD, Bremner DM, Lobley GE. Effects of a high-protein ketogenic diet on hunger, appetite, and weight loss in obese men feeding ad libitum. Am Society Clin Nutr 2008;87(1):44-55.

13 Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel (2011). The National Academies Press, Institute of Medicine. Washington DC. 2011 http://www.nap.edu/read/13121/chapter/15

 

The Ketogenic Diet Craze: Fat-Filled Lies, Part 1

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ketogenic diPicture this: a thick, juicy, tender eventeak grilled to perfection with melted butter glazed on top, gently dripping down the sides. Lying next to the steak there’s a side of dark green asparagus sautéed in coconut oil and dusted with a sprinkle of sea salt. Could a diet loaded with fat help you lose diet-resistant body fat that’s been taunting the seams of your dress pants and poking through buttons on your shirt? Will eating fat turn you into an all-star athlete? This is part 1 of a 2 part series on the ketogenic diet.

Here is what I will cover in this blog post:

  • What is the ketogenic diet?
  • Adverse health effects.

Here is what I will cover in tomorrow’s blog on this topic:

  • The issue with ketogenic research studies.
  • Is the ketogenic diet superior for losing fat?
  • How will the ketogenic diet affect muscle?
  • How will the ketogenic diet impact athletic performance?

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

For nearly a century, epileptic patients have used ketogenic diets to control seizures when common medications provide no relief. Scientists aren’t sure why following a ketogenic diet decreases the incidence and severity of seizures but it works.

The ketogenic diet contains – 80-90% of calories from fat, 15% from protein and 5% from carbohydrate (1, 2). Food choices may include heavy cream, bacon, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, mayonnaise and sausage while fruits, starchy vegetables, breads, pasta, cereal and other carbohydrate-rich foods are not allowed.

During the first several days on a ketogenic diet, your body’s limited supply of carbohydrate stored in liver and muscle tissue decreases dramatically. As a result, you will feel like you have mono – exhausted, with headaches and easy exercise will feel like you’re climbing Mount Everest (3). Once your stored carbohydrate has dwindled, ketones, formed from the breakdown of dietary fat, become the primary source of energy for brain and body. Ketogenic means “ketone forming.” It takes at least seven days to reach nutritional ketosis and several weeks to fully adapt to the diet (12). If you aren’t in nutritional ketosis (as measured by blood, urine or breath ketones; ketone levels > 0.5 mmol/L), then you aren’t following a ketogenic diet, you are on a low carbohydrate diet.

Adverse Health Effects from the Ketogenic Diet

Much of the research on adverse effects comes from studies in epileptic children since they have been on the diet for long periods of time. These studies show soon after starting a ketogenic diet, blood cholesterol levels and artery stiffness increase (4, 5). High total and LDL cholesterol are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels). When arteries are stiff, they cannot expand as well in response to changes in blood pressure. Think of this like a garden hose when you turn up the water pressure, your hose either expands or the water bursts out of the space between the faucet and the hose. When arteries cannot open widely to accommodate increases in blood flow, blood pressure increases leading to microscopic tears on artery walls, development of scar tissue and the perfect surface for plaque buildup (6). Blood cholesterol levels returned to normal in patients who went off the diet and in those who stayed on it, they returned to normal after 6 to 12 months. Artery stiffness returned to normal after 24 months on a ketogenic diet.5 Studies in obese patients suggest ketogenic diets improve blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels over time, either due to the diet, weight loss from the diet, a combination of the two or carbohydrate restriction (7, 8). Lose weight, regardless of what you eat and blood cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar and many other disease risk factors will improve.

Ketogenic diets are typically low in calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, folic acid and fiber. There are several potential consequences associated with consistently low intake of each of these micronutrients including softening of the bones, decreased bone density, muscle damage, muscle weakness or spasms, and abnormal heart rhythm. However, with careful planning, a fiber supplement, multivitamin and under the guidance of a physician who may prescribe potassium and sodium supplements (blood sodium could drop to dangerously low levels while on this diet), nutrient needs can be met. Also, to prevent constipation when on a ketogenic diet, a fiber supplement may be necessary along with more water / fluid intake then you are used to.

Here are some other potentially bad side effects from following a high fat diet:

  • Harm to your Brain. Studies in mice show a high fat diet, even when followed for as little as two months leads to chronic inflammation, sedentary immune cells in the brain – these cells typically act like janitors picking up trash and infectious compounds but when they become sedentary they stop doing their job, leading to cognitive impairment (9). Does this happen in humans and resolve over time? We don’t know.
  • Mad Bacteria in Your Gut. A diet with no probiotics (healthy bacteria) and low in prebiotics (certain types of fiber that the healthy bacteria much on for food keeping them happy) will likely change the composition of bacteria in your gut so you have more harmful and less beneficial bacteria.
  • Leaky Gut. High saturated fat meals increase bacterial toxins (endotoxins) in the intestines and intestinal permeability. In other words: leaky gut (10, 11). If you are on this diet, consider opting for foods lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fats (liquid oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives).
  • Free radicals in overdrive? If you can’t eat a number of colorful foods including blueberries, beets, corn, oranges, and more, chances are you won’t get a wide array of antioxidant compounds to quench free radicals (compounds that are important for good health but can wreck your body when they aren’t tamed by antioxidants) as well as other plant-based compounds that keep your arteries, muscles and other parts of your body healthy. Will your body adapt? We don’t know at this time.

Are the side effects and potential negative side effects worth it if you can lose weight on this diet? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on how the ketogenic diet impacts body fat and athletic performance.

References

1 Freeman JM, Freeman JB, Kelly MT. The ketogenic diet: a treatment for epilepsy. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Demos Health; 2000.

2 Paoli A, Bianco A, Damiani E, Bosco G. Ketogenic Diet in Neuromuscular and Neurodegenerative Diseases. BioMed Research International 2014, Article ID 474296, 10 pages, 2014.

3 White AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD et al. Blood ketones are directly related to fatigue and perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults adhering to low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(10):1792-6.

4 Tanakis M, Liuba P, Odermarsky M, Lundgren J, Hallböök T. Effects of ketogenic diet on vascular function. Eur J Paediatr Neurol 2014;18(4):489-94.

5 Coppola G, Natale F, Torino A et al. The impact of the ketogenic diet on arterial morphology and endothelial function in children and young adults with epilepsy: a case-control study. Seizure 2014;23(4):260-5.

6 Cecelja M, Chowienczyk P. Role of arterial stiffness in cardiovascular disease. JRSM Cardiovascular Disease 2012;1(4):1-10.

7 Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, Asfar SK, Behbahani A, Khoursheed MA, Al-Sayer HM, Bo-Abbas YY, Al-Zaid NS. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol 2004; 9(3): 200–205.

8 Volek JS, Feinman RD. Carbohydrate restriction improves the features of Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome may be defined by the response to carbohydrate restriction. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2005;2:31.

9 Hao S, Dey A, Yu X, Stranahan AM. Dietary obesity reversibly induces synaptic stripping by microglia and impairs hippocampal plasticity. Brain Behav Immun 2016 Jan;51:230-9.

10 Mani V, Hollis JH, Gabler NK. Dietary oil composition differentially modulates intestinal endotoxin transport and postprandial endotoxemia. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2013; 10: 6.

11 Lam YY, Ha CW, Campbell CR, Mitchell AJ, Dinudom A, Oscarsson J, Cook DI, Hunt NH, Caterson ID, Holmes AJ, Storlien LH. Increased gut permeability and microbiota change associate with mesenteric fat inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in diet-induced obese mice. PLoS One 2012;7(3):e34233.

12 Paoli, A, Grimaldi K, D’Agostino D, Cenci L, Moro T, Bianco A, Palma A. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012;9:34.

Meal Delivery Services & Menu Planning

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Tilapia

Menu Planning

If spending time on Pinterest boards trying to figure out what you should make for dinner this week isn’t exactly your thing, save time and energy by letting a pro do the work for you.  My colleagues at My Menu Pal sell individual meal plans for incredible prices (just $1.49 for 4 entrees, 1 – 2 side dishes with each entree, Nutrition Facts, helpful hints and a shopping list). Check out their current special and E-book by clicking here. If you want to do even less work, consider a meal delivery service.

Meal Delivery Services

There are two different types of meal delivery services – one involves popping the meals in the oven and setting the timer (I call these Heat and Eat). The second kind sends you a box of ingredients and a recipe and its your job to put the meal together (Recipe Creations). Though they cost more than buying the ingredients and cooking for yourself, they save time (and time is money, especially if you work for yourself) and may actually cost less in the the long run if you frequently eat out or food goes bad before you get a chance to eat it.

Heat and Eat

This option is for someone who travels often, is too busy to shop and cook or doesn’t want to cook. Your meals will be delivered to your doorstep and your only job is to heat them up. Most of these services have a limited number of selections that you will get tired of eating over and over again for months at a time. However, they also serve as good fill-in meals if you want a few per week to save some time on food preparation and you can cook the rest of the time.

All of the following are nationwide unless cities are specified:

Freshly (most of the U.S.)
For: athletes, general healthy eating, weight loss
* Many athletes will need 4 meals per day or more depending on calorie needs

Good variety of meals though, like all meal services, the total number of options are limited. They add at least one new meal to their menu each week. The entire menu is gluten and peanut free. They also accommodate specific dietary preferences and food allergies.

Meals are delivered fresh and never frozen. Choose from 4, 6, 9 or 12 meals per week. The more meals you get the lower the price per meal. So for instance, 4 meals per week will cost $12.50 per meal while 12 per week will cost $8.99 per meal. Free shipping. You can put your meals on pause or skip a week if you notify them ahead of time.

Fresh n Lean
For: athletes, general healthy eating, weight loss. They have many options you can choose from including: gluten free, organic, vegan, senior, fresh meals, low carb, vegetarian meals. Choose one of these options and then a meal plan (below).

Meal plans available include Standard Plant-based, Low Carb / Low Cal Plant-based, ION Performance Paleo (low carb), ION Performance Protein+ (organic veggies). Each meal is around $9 – $12. Meals are low in calories so most people will need snacks or at least 2 (or for athletes and active adults even more) Fresh n Lean meals per meal. For instance, their ION Performance+ comes in at 1330 calories for 3 meals.

Fuel Food:
For: athletes, general healthy eating, weight loss
Meals are weighed and portioned. Each meal is $7.50 (if you order 300 meals!) or more. Shipping is $5 per meal in FL and more in other states.

Hello Fresh:
For: general healthy eating
Nationwide. No calorie or macronutrient information listed. Starts at $8.75 per meal for 2 or more adults. Vegetarian options available.

Bistro MD:
For: weight loss, general healthy eating (you may need to add more calories)
5 and 7 day programs for weight loss. Women’s programs average 1,200 calories per day. Men’s – it doesn’t say. At 1,200 calories per day I would be concerned about muscle loss esp. if protein intake is low. Use code RD25Off for 25% off and free shipping.

Healthy Chef Creations:
For: general healthy eating
This service includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Dinners start at 15.99 for a “regular size” meal and cost about $21.99 for a “large size” meal (free shipping). Nutrition information isn’t listed though you can customize the meals to suit your dietary needs. They include a few quacky things like detox drinks and they don’t have a nutrition expert overseeing their meals.

My Fit Foods (AZ, CA, TX, OK)
For: weight loss, general healthy eating, athletes
I love how easy their website is to navigate. They have breakfast, lunch and dinner options with many meals between $5 – $8 (caveat – their meals are low in calories so most people, even those who are dieting will need 3 meals + snacks or 4 or more meals daily). For many athletes – the portion sizes will need to be 3-4x larger so that puts the meals at around $15 – $28 per meal if you are eating over 3,000 calories per day. They also have options grouped by dairy free, gluten-free, low-carb, low sodium, spicy and vegetarian.

Fresh N Fit (Atlanta, GA)
For: weight loss, general healthy eating
Flexible (no subscription required) and they have several options including Paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, low-carb (< 15% net carbs, which means total carbohydrates – fiber), customized (you can specify no beef, no seafood, no pork etc.). Total daily calories include a 1,200 calorie option and 1,800 calorie option. At 1,200 calories per day I would be concerned about muscle loss esp. if protein intake is low. Active adults will likely need to supplement or order additional meals to get enough calories each day. Try promo code BCH10 or Mark40 to get $10 off your first order or $40 off a week plan.

Perfect Fuel
For athletes, active adults and those who want to lose weight. Perfect Fuel has 3 options: Lean (300-450 calories), Performance (450-650 calories) and Gainz (650-850 calories). Cost: $9.95 – 12.95 per meal if you sign up for 4 weeks, $10.95 – 13.95 if you sign up for 2 weeks.

Christophers To Go (Atlanta, GA)
For: general meal delivery, delivered fresh.

Nutrition information provided.

Options: Paleo, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian.

Prices: $4.59 – $21.99 per meal
› Every meal is labeled with ingredients and nutrition information.

› The menu always has vegetarian, paleo, gluten free, and dairy free options.

Sunfare (LA and Phoenix):

They have a few different meal options including Artisan (organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, Vegetarian, and Paleo.

New Orleans: there are many local options. Check them out by clicking here.

Recipe Creations

This style of meal delivery is for people who don’t want to shop or measure ingredients but do want to cook. All of the ingredients are measured and delivered to your door along with the recipe. Choose this service if you enjoy cooking but you want the convenience of somebody shopping for you. You will spend time on on meal preparation – sometimes more than 30 minutes. Advantages: no food waste, saves shopping time.
Disadvantages:  if you are short on time this option is not for you because you will spend time cooking. Meal delivery services aren’t for very choosy eaters or those who have several food allergies or  sensitivities.

Plated – this nationwide subscription service allows you to choose anywhere from 1 – 7 meals per week. They offer 9 total choices per week including vegetarian, meat and seafood options.

  • Cost: starts at $12 per serving (for one person).
  • Nutrition Facts: they estimate their meals are 600-800 calories each. Click on each entrée to find out the nutrition information.

“We’re using Plated and love it. We are looking at some other ones (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Peach Dish), but Plated is just so user friendly and the app is intuitive,” states Brandy O’Neil, RD.

Blue Apron – this nationwide subscription service is flexible and has a wide array of recipes (there are no repeats within the same calendar).  Try before you buy – they list all recipes for each dish on their website (click on one and scroll down).  They also offer free recipes emailed to you each week (scroll down to the bottom of this page).

  • Cost: starts at about $9 per serving.
  • Nutrition Facts:  these are provided under each recipe with the caveat that different sizes of produce and amount of oil used will alter the nutrition facts.

Hello Fresh – this nationwide delivery service has three different choices and will, omnivores (meat eaters), vegetarians and a family box.

  • Cost: starts at $8.75 per person.
  • Nutrition Facts: none that I could find. They estimate each meal contains 500-800 calories per serving.

Peach Dish –  Southern cooking delivered nationwide.

  • Cost: though this service is $12.50 per meal, there’s additional shipping fee in several states including AZ, CA, CO, IA, ID, KS, MN, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY.
  • Nutrition Facts: listed as a separate tab on each recipe.

Check out this review of the best meal delivery services by reviews.com.

If you’ve tried any of these meal delivery services, please leave comments!

Meal Planning Made Easy

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salmon with veggies

If you don’t have the luxury of eating in a cafeteria with a variety of options each day, it makes sense to plan your meals ahead of time. Doing so will save you time and money. If saving money doesn’t entice you, consider this: eating at home can help you lose weight. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found the average meal at 360 restaurant dinner meals examined contained 1,200 calories. If you choose to dine at an American, Italian or Chinese restaurant, that meal may cost you a whopping 1,495 calories. Don’t worry, I have no intention of having you replicate the instagram photos from fitness buffs who eat perfectly portioned bland-looking chicken, broccoli and brown rice twice a day, every day. Instead, I am an advocate for taste, variety, and better nutrition. Here are the 4 steps you should take to start planning better-for-you meals ahead of time:

1 – Take Inventory

Go through your cabinets, refrigerator and freezer at least once per month and throw out anything that is past it’s expiration date, freezer burned, molded, and stale or smells bad (smell your cooking oil too and if it doesn’t smell normal, toss it). Half-eaten anything that is more than a day old? Trash. This is also a great time to take inventory of what you have on hand.

2 – Stock Your Kitchen

After taking inventory, decide what you need (sticking to your grocery list will save you from impulse buys you don’t need after looking at your grocery store circular). Essential foods include shelf stable, refrigerator and frozen foods. I like the option of preparing a meal in 5 minutes or less. Frozen and canned items allow me to do this.

Shelf Stable:

  • Beans, lentils and legumes (tip: some lentils can be soaked for just 40 minutes and added to a wide variety of dishes from salads to spouse, stews and grain-based dishes)
  • Bread
  • Canned vegetables, beans, fish and chicken
  • Condiments including chicken, beef or vegetable broth, mustard, hot sauce and any other commonly used condiments
  • Cooking oil – get good quality cooking oil. Pay more for a brand you trust. Olive oil is the most adulterated food on the market so you do get what you pay for.
  • Nutrition bars
  • Nuts, nut butters and seeds (all can be refrigerated; opened nut butters should be refrigerated)
  • Popcorn, whole grain snacks
  • Protein powder
  • Rice, pasta, whole grains, cereals and other similar foods. Grab a few options that you can make in a just a few minutes including couscous. Also, vary your rice, pasta and whole grains – look for black, red or purple rice, bean pastas and more.
  • Soups (boxed, bagged or in cans)
  • Spices & seasonings (including salt and pepper). If you don’t use these regularly get dried spices or refrigerated spices in squeezable tubes.
  • Ziploc bags – these will come in very handy if you travel (always pack food and supplements to go)!

Fresh:

  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Eggs (consider egg substitutes for their shelf life)
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Fish, poultry, meat

Frozen:

  • Fish, poultry, meat
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables

3 – Menu Planning

There are a number of ways you can approach menu planning but one of the easiest ways is to center your meals around the protein rich foods you plan on eating. So for instance, if you choose chicken, lean ground beef and fish, you can center 7 meals on those three proteins. Or, if your week is hectic and you are very busy, you can plan meals around protein-rich foods that take just minutes to prepare such as canned tuna, eggs and rotisserie chicken.

After you pick your protein rich foods, decide on recipes or quick prep meals. You might want to do this by determining what perishable foods you have on hand and need to use. So, let’s say you have mushrooms in the refrigerator and chicken defrosting. If you don’t feel like eating chicken Marsala but you aren’t sure what else you can make with a little flavor, type these words in Google to get other meal ideas “chicken, mushrooms, recipe, quick, easy.” (Also check out Cookinglight.com’s “5 Ingredient Cookbook, Fresh Food Fast”)

After determining which meals you are eating each day of the week, write a shopping list by figuring out any extras you may need to buy and what staple foods you are out of. Be flexible with your list depending on the season and sale prices. Shopping in season often means you will not only get the best looking produce but you will save money too. So for instance, if your recipe calls for sweet potatoes but butternut squash is a steal – go for the squash.  When you make your shopping list, you can do it on an app, in the notes section on your phone, or the old fashioned way with pen and paper. I make mine in the order of the grocery store I am shopping in so I can cross items off one by one without having to scan the entire list to make sure I’m not forgetting something before I move onto the next section of the store.

If the weekly circular tempts you with sugary cereals, cookies and candies on sale, don’t pick it up. You won’t miss out on a bargain because you’ll figure out which healthy foods are on sale when you look for the items on your list – all stores flag these items for you.

Quick sample meal ideas:

  • Rotisserie chicken, 10 minute brown rice (or thawed and microwave brown rice from your freezer), frozen veggies
  • Rotisserie chicken wraps with hummus (spread the hummus on first) and any crunch veggies you desire (shopped carrots, cucumbers etc.)
  • Whole-wheat pasta, spaghetti sauce and frozen turkey meatballs with added veggies such as cooked (or steamed) mushrooms, squash, zucchini
  • Whole wheat pasta, canned tuna, light cream of mushroom soup (either made into a casserole and baked along with frozen peas, ½ cup milk and chopped onions at 400ºF for 20 minutes or you can heat up the soup and mix the ingredients together and eat it.
  • Canned tuna, light mayo, chopped celery and onions for a tuna sandwich.
  • Grilled salmon drizzled with lemon, asparagus and a sweet potato.

4 – Storing and Packing

You can freeze almost any food and reheat it easily. Even brown rice – just cook it, let it cool completely and portion it into zip-loc bags (make sure no air is in the bag) for later. Two important things to remember when freezing foods – freeze them in airtight containers and label them so you know what you made and when it was frozen. The longer you leave food in the freezer the greater the likelihood of texture and taste changes over time (sometimes resulting in freezer burn). Foods that freeze well include:

  • Breads
  • Canned foods (once out of the can of course)
  • Casseroles (keep in mind that mayonnaise and other cream sauces do not freeze well)
  • Egg whites (raw)
  • Grains, cooked
  • Granola (homemade or store bought)
  • Herbs, fresh
  • Nuts, seeds (these should not be kept opened on shelves for long periods of time as they can go rancid)
  • Cheese – some types freeze better than others
  • Fish, poultry, meat (raw meat and poultry freezes better than cooked meat and poultry because of moisture lost during cooking).
  • Fruit, though this must be completely dry and frozen in portions (unless you want it stuck together in big clumps). The texture may change so fresh fruit that is frozen may be best used when blended in shakes.
  • Sauces
  • Soups, stews, stock
  • Yogurt – if you want to eat it frozen. If it defrosts the consistency isn’t so great.

Thaw food in the refrigerator, a microwave or immersed in cold water only (in a leak proof plastic bag submerged in the water that should be changed every 30 minutes), not out on countertops or in kitchen sinks.

Recommended Freezer Storage Time (for quality only, frozen food is safe indefinitely if left frozen).

Food Months
Bacon and Sausage 1 – 2
Casseroles 2 – 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12
Frozen dinners 3 – 4
Ham, hotdogs, lunchmeats 1 – 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 – 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 – 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 – 4
Meat, cooked 2 – 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and stews 2 – 3
Wild game, uncooked 8 – 12

See, that wasn’t so tough! Get started planning, preparing and cooking right away. If there are a limited number of dishes you feel comfortable cooking, check out quick and easy cookbooks or resources on line. Each time you try a new recipe you’ll expand your horizons and taste buds and also be able to prepare a wider variety of meals on the fly in the future.

References
USDA. Freezing and Food Safety. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/focus_on_freezing/