Tag Archives: Glycemic Index

Should You Do A Cleanse?

First, it depends on your definition of a cleanse or detox. If you’re conjuring up images of jugs of water, cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and lemon juice or another juice fast, probably not. These cleanses, which often drastically limit calories and solid food and may include enemas, laxatives, or colonics, can be dangerous: they can result in muscle loss, low energy, low blood sugar, nausea, electrolyte imbalances, acidosis, a compromised immune system, and heart wave abnormalities – among other problems. Many people believe that the human body occasionally needs cleansing, but we already have organs (the liver, the kidneys, and the gastrointestinal tract) in place that eliminate toxins thoroughly. There’s also no evidence or scientific literature supporting the benefits of a cleanse, including weight loss. A cleanse may lead you to lose weight, but most of it is water weight; and what you do lose, you’ll gain back when you resort back to your typical diet.

However, if you view a cleanse more as a jumpstart to eating more nutritiously, it may be perfectly healthy. Cutting out processed foods and excess sugar, alcohol, trans fats, sodium, and refined carbohydrates and replacing them with nutritious, whole foods has many long-term benefits. But unlike The Master Cleanse or Blueprint Cleanse, this healthy eating jumpstart isn’t a short-term fix. Ideally, it should “reset” your taste buds so that after a while, you’ll naturally gravitate towards healthier foods. Depending on your goals – more energy, a slimmer middle, better skin – try these jumpstart diets.

I want more energy:
Balancing protein, carbs, and fat, eaten throughout the day, will keep your motor running, your blood sugar stable, and your mood elevated. Start your day with a breakfast high in fiber and protein (like eggs with a whole wheat English muffin): both will keep you full and suppress appetite for longer, says research from the University of Missouri. Avoid fatty and fried foods at lunch and dinner, which can make you feel lethargic. Instead, pick lean proteins (an open-faced turkey sandwich, lentil soup, or a black bean burger), which will boost levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that stimulate metabolism, circulation, and motivation. Eat lightly at dinner: your body doesn’t need the calories to push you through work, workouts, and errands. Snacking between meals will help keep energy up and rev your metabolism. Aim for around 150 calories, and try to include foods with either high fiber, high protein, or healthy fats; processed, refined foods will leave you sluggish and hungry for more.

Energy-boosting snacks:
Greek yogurt and high fiber cereal
Apple with almond butter
Hummus and red pepper strips/carrots
Blueberries and pistachios
Small baked sweet potato
Tuna and white beans on whole wheat baguette

I want a slimmer middle:
Celebrities often claim their slimmer waists are due to cleanses, detoxes, and juice fasts, but these quick fixes don’t lead to real weight loss. Most of the weight lost is water weight (which can help you look slimmer by reducing bloat), and any real pounds that are lost will be gained back when you return to your regular diet. There’s no quick fix for weight loss, but to appear slimmer in a short amount of time, reducing bloat is key. Avoid processed foods, which are often pumped full of sodium and empty carbs. Sodium attracts water, so if you’re eating foods high in sodium, you’ll automatically retain more water weight and look heavier. Excess carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen (glycogen is the fuel that marathoners and other endurance athletes use during a long race); each gram of glycogen is stored with 3 grams of water, which will also give you a puffier look. Other foods to cut out: sugar-free foods or those with sugar alcohols, carbonated drinks, and chewing gum, which can cause gas. If you’re sensitive to cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli), enjoy them in moderation.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, snacking on foods high in water will actually help reduce bloat. When you’re dehydrated, your body hangs on to water; drinking water will boost hydration levels and decrease water retention. Many fruits and vegetables are full of water. Lettuce, for example, is 95% water; watermelon is 92% water, and grapefruits are 91% water. Fiber is also important; it adds bulk and improves digestion, allowing food to move through the intestines more quickly. Get your fiber from whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, and barley, as well as fruits and vegetables.

In addition to helping you cut down on refined carbs and excess sodium, avoiding processed foods may help you lose pounds, as well. Processed foods are high in calories, fats, and added sugars, which eventually lead to weight gain. Trading fries, muffins, and chips for “clean” foods will boost satiety and reduce hunger, ultimately leading to a lower calorie consumption.

Foods to beat bloat:
Yogurt (probiotics will help improve digestion)
Whole grains
Homemade, broth-based soup (homemade soups contain a fraction of the sodium of store-bought varieties)
Peppermint and ginger
Pineapple (it contains an enzyme called bromelain, while helps break down proteins for better digestion)

I want a better complexion:
It’s a myth that chocolate causes zits, but certain foods can exacerbate skin conditions like acne and rosacea. If you have acne-prone skin, cut out high-glycemic foods like white bread, cookies, chips, and those with refined sugars. These foods result in a quick spike in blood glucose levels, which is accompanied by an increase in insulin. Insulin promotes inflammation and excess oil production; it also depresses the immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight acne-causing bacteria. In fact, a study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that the incidence of acne vulgaris is essentially zero in non-Western cultures, like Pacific Islanders and hunter-gatherers in Paraguay. Researchers attribute this finding to the fact that these cultures consume little to no refined sugars and starches.

Dairy may also cause acne, although the jury is still out. Several studies have linked high dairy consumption with the incidence and severity of acne; researchers believe that milk spikes male sex hormones and insulin, both of which contribute to acne.

To beat acne, doctors recommend eating foods rich in zinc: it helps calm the inflammatory process and reduces sebum production. Top sources include oysters, beans, chickpeas, and pumpkin seeds. Foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins not only protect against acne, but also wrinkles and aging. Vitamin E-rich foods, like olive oil and nuts, help keep skin hydrated. Foods high in niacin, like beef and tuna, and vitamin C (kiwis, bell peppers, strawberries) bump up collagen production and protect skin from UV damage. Vitamin A is the superstar when it comes to improving your complexion: it offers potent antioxidant activity, encourages cell turnover, and reduces inflammation. Since vitamin A is fat-soluble, pair its sources with healthy fats to boost absorption and efficacy.

Don’t skimp on fat: although foods high in saturated and trans fat are bad for the skin, monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy skin. Essential fatty acids are the foundation for healthy cell membranes; they also keep it hydrated and younger looking. Load up on fish like salmon and mackerel, walnuts, flaxseeds, and fortified eggs.

Supplement this diet with dark chocolate and green tea, both of which contain antioxidants and flavonoids that protect against UV damage and improve texture.

Complexion-boosting foods:
Foods high in carotenoids: sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach
Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines
Walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds
Oysters, pumpkin seeds, beans, chickpeas
Dark chocolate
Green tea


Nutrition for the Athlete: A Healthy Diet When You’re Eating 4,000+ Calories A Day

A simple fact: humans – and all animals, for that matter – require calories to maintain their weight and the functioning of vital organs.

A not-so-simple fact: the amount of calories each human requires each day is unique to that person and may be as low as 1,200 calories or as high as 12,000 calories (reportedly the amount Michael Phelps was consuming while training for the 2008 Olympics). Your daily total expenditure depends on a number of factors, including your BMR, genetics, gender, age, weight, lean muscle mass, diet, hormone function, and activity level.

For elite athletes and others who burn an extraordinary amount of calories a day, it can be difficult – both physically and financially – to eat enough calories to maintain a healthy weight and to fuel their training.  A friend of mine, for example, who is currently doing the Insanity Workout in addition to ultimate frisbee practices and track workouts several times a week, recently posted this question to his friends on Facebook: “I’m supposed to eat 700 cal meals five times a day. What’s equivalent to 700 calories?” Some of the responses: a “mac-n-cheese-n-bacon snack”, the McDonald’s Angus Deluxe, a Big Mac, an In-n-Out Double Double Animal Style, and “two beers.”These suggestions are certainly high in calories – but they’re also high in saturated fat, sugar, and in most cases, trans fats. And while they are energy-dense, they are certainly not nutrient-dense: these suggestions combined probably do not offer a single serving of vegetables (not to mention fruits, whole grains, or healthy fats). One might think that it’s okay for an elite athlete to indulge in such hypercaloric, unhealthy, and non-nutritious foods, because they’ll simply burn off the calories. But the saturated fats, trans fats, preservatives, and chemicals affect their body just as it does an average person’s and can lead to chronic illness and disease. And an elite athlete still needs to consume the recommended daily allowance for vitamins and minerals, if not more. That 1,200 calorie pizza might not sound like such a good idea anymore. So how can the elite athlete meet his calorie needs while still eating nutritious foods?

Avoid overly processed foods.

Processed foods, like the aforementioned burgers and pizzas, are often packed with excess sodium, sugars, saturated fat, and trans fats, which have been linked to to cardiovascular disease, stroke, high cholesterol, diabetes, and certain cancers. Totino’s has a pizza with a whopping 5 grams of trans fat; the Double Double Animal Style from In-n-Out has 18 grams of saturated fat; and the Hungry-Man Boneless Pork Rib Dinner has 65 grams of sugar (that’s about 16 teaspoons). Just because an elite athlete is easily burning off all of these calories does not give them free reign to eat all the junk food they want: their bodies are still absorbing excess trans fats, saturated fats, sugars, and sodium that will ultimately hurt their health.

You can still eat fast food; just pick healthier restaurants, like Chipotle, Panera, Noodles & Company, and Subway. At Chipotle, for example, you can order a chicken burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, corn salsa, pico de gallo, cheese, and guacamole for 785 calories, 43 grams fat (most of which comes from the healthy monounsaturated kind found in the guacamole), 22 grams of fiber, and 56 grams of protein. Add a tortilla and a side salad, and you can stretch the burrito into two meals for less than $8.

Get more bang for your buck.

The goal is to find cheap foods that don’t just offer the most calories per dollar – but also the most nutrients per dollar. These staples are cheap, nutrient-rich, and, if doubled or tripled in serving size and balanced with other macronutrients, offer enough calories to become a meal.

Quinoa: $.45/serving
172 calories, 2.8 g fat, 3 g fiber, 6 g protein

Brown rice and other grains cost about half as much as quinoa, but they also come up short in nutrition with fewer grams of fiber and protein. And unlike brown rice, quinoa is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. A 2002 study also found that quinoa consumption is associated with a spike in insulin-like growth factor-1 levels, which have been tied to muscle growth. It also contains more vitamins and minerals that boost performance and recovery, including magnesium, potassium, and folate.

Lentils: $.10/serving
170 calories, .5 g fat, 15 g fiber, 12.5 g protein

Lentils contain resistant starch, a type of soluble fiber that increases satiety and reduces the glycemic responses of food, helping your body maintain a stable blood sugar. Lentils are also a good vegetarian source of iron, which plays an important role in energy production and metabolism.

Eggs: $.17/1 egg
80 calories, 5 g fat, 0 g fiber, 7 g protein

Eggs are officially off of nutrition’s blacklist. A comprehensive study from the University of Surrey found that egg consumption did not significantly contribute to raised cholesterol levels. Eggs, one of the highest quality forms of protein, also contain an ideal proportion of amino acids, making them a smart post-workout meal.

Sweet Potatoes: $.45/serving
162 calories, 0 g fat, 6 g fiber, 4 g protein

Sweet potatoes contain more fiber and have a lower glycemic index than their white counterparts; they also have more vitamin A, manganese, copper, phytosterols, and antioxidants. Two of these antioxidants are anthocyanins and beta-carotene, which work as anti-inflammatories.

Avocados: $.58/half
161 calories, 14.5 g fat, 13 g fiber, 4 g protein

Nearly all of the fat found in avocados are monounsaturated fats, which boost cardiovascular health, regulate blood sugar, and increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Avocados contain a number of anti-inflammatory antioxidants, including phytosterols, carotenoids, and flavonoids, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Know your carbs.

Depending on the sport, many elite athletes will have macronutrient guidelines for training. For example, an endurance athlete might be advised to maintain the ratio of 15% daily calories from protein, 60% from carbs, and 25% from fats. For athletes with other goals (weight loss, weight gain, strength gain, etc), those percentages may be higher or lower. The protein and fat guidelines are relatively straightforward: eat lean, high-quality proteins and focus on unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. But what about carbs? The term carbohydrate includes a wide range of foods from cake, cookies, ice cream, and candy to white pasta and bagels, and from ancient grains like millet, amaranth, and quinoa to fruits and vegetables. It also says nothing about fiber.

The recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables vary depending on caloric intake. For someone eating 3,200 calories a day, the USDA guidelines recommend eating 2 ½ cups of fruit and 4 cups of vegetables per day; this may be higher if your caloric intake is higher. Because fruits and vegetables are low in calories, this will probably not make a big dent in the recommended 60% of calories from carbohydrates.

Athletes should aim to get most of the rest of their carbohydrate calories from foods with a low to moderate glycemic index, which are often the most nutritious carbs. These foods, which include whole and minimally processed grains and legumes, often contain fiber and thus result in a steady release of glucose into your bloodstream. Fiber is just as important for athletes as it is for nonathletes: it improves digestive health, lowers cholesterol, controls blood sugar levels, and prevents certain cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Aim to get between 25 and 35 grams of fiber daily, except…

…before or during a race/competition/game. Since fiber and low-glycemic carbs are slow-digesting, they may cause gastrointestinal distress if eaten too close to intense physical activity. High glycemic and low-fiber foods, like white bread, bagels, and corn flakes, are broken down quickly – but in this instance, that’s a good thing: they can be used immediately for energy.

However, it’s important to note that everyone is different. Some people can tolerate high fiber snacks and meals close to exercise, while others would be doubled over with a cramp. Play around with the type of carbs that give you the best performance, whether it’s a plain bagel or oatmeal and stick with it.

Learn How To Snack With A Purpose

Today, Americans snack their way through an average of 580 calories a day, eating an average of 4.9 meals and snacks a day – a 29% increase from 3.8 in 1977. Snacking itself isn’t the problem; a study published by the Nutrition Journal found that scheduled snacking actually led to fat loss. The problem is what people are snacking on: data from Progressive Grocer shows that 94.7% of American households purchase cookies, 89.9% potato chips, 75.2% tortilla chips, and 89.4% chocolate. And everywhere we go, these unhealthy foods are staring us down, from the candy jar at your cube mate’s desk to the bakery samples at grocery stores. Adding insult to injury, Americans tend to eat on the go; such mindless eating has been linked with weight gain. Secondary eating (eating while performing another activity) increased from 15 minutes in 2006 to 30 minutes in 2008; secondary drinking nearly doubled from 45 to 85 minutes.

Snacking, if done right, is healthy – it can lead to weight loss, it adds more nutrients to your diet, it provides energy (physical and mental) between meals, and it contributes to a healthy metabolism. The key is to snack, with purpose, on functional foods – foods that are high in nutrients and that will quash hunger.

1. Choose whole foods over processed foods.
Whole foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein – have high nutrient density and low caloric density, meaning they provide lots of nutrients for minimal calories. Processed foods, however, are essentially empty calories. Snack foods like chips, pretzels, soft drinks, and cookies have almost no beneficial nutrients, but still add another 200-300 calories to your diet. Depending on your snacks, you can easily add to your daily recommended intakes for vitamins and minerals and beef up your “five-a-day” for vegetables and fruits.

2. Choose snacks with either protein or fiber, plus unsaturated fats.
The purpose of your snack is to provide energy and curb hunger until your next meal. Fiber slows the rate of digestion, making you feel fuller longer. Studies show that protein may affect leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone, to improve satiety, also making you feel fuller after a snack. And a 2008 study from University of California at Irvine found that unsaturated fats, like those found in avocados and nuts, triggers the production of oleoylethanolamide, a compound that decreases appetite.

3. Choose low glycemic index foods.
Foods with high glycemic indexes are broken down fast, resulting in a swift rise and fall in blood sugar. Such foods – like white bread, chips, and candy – often lead to cravings soon after consumption.  Foods with low glycemic indexes are the opposite: they are broken down slowly, leaving you with stable blood sugar levels and sustainable energy. Low glycemic index (low is considered to be below 55) foods include whole grains, vegetables, certain fruits (grapefruit, strawberries, grapes, apples, cherries), yogurt, beans and legumes, meat and fish, and nuts (notice that all of these foods are also high in fiber, protein, or unsaturated fats).

4. Choose a snack with 150-200 calories.
A snack should tide you over until your next meal; it should not fill you up like a meal would (If you work out a few hours after a meal, you may need two snacks). Pair energy-boosting carbohydrates (like an apple) with protein or fats (like almond butter or cheese) for lasting satiety.

5. Prepare snacks in advance.
If you know you’re going to be away from your kitchen for a few hours, pack yourself a healthy, homemade snack. You’ll be able to control the ingredients, and since you’re not famished, you can make informed decisions regarding what to snack on. And when you find yourself passing the office vending machine or mall-court Cinnabon, you won’t be tempted to give in to high-fat, high-sugar snack choices.

6. Avoid the “NEEDNT” snacks.
In February, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand identified 49 “NEEDNT” foods – non-essential foods that should be avoided. These foods are either calorie-dense and nutrient-devoid, contain added sugars, or are prepared using a high-fat method (like frying). The foods may also be “trigger foods,” which are those foods you simply cannot eat enough of and encourage you to binge. Some items on the list include cake, cookies, energy drinks, fruit juice, muffins, and fries. To see the whole list, click here.

7. Be mindful.
Treat a snack like a meal: sit down and savor each bite. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, individuals ate lunch while either playing solitaire or without distraction; 30 minutes later, they were allowed to eat as many cookies as they wanted. The group who played solitaire ate 250 calories worth of cookies (compared to about 125) and had more difficulty recalling the nine items in their lunch. Being mindful while eating helps us remember what we eat, making us less inclined to eat more at a later time.

Try these functional snacks to replace any mid-day cravings you have.

If you’re craving something CREAMY (sweet)
Instead of: Ice Cream
Try: 6 oz Greek yogurt (98 calories) with 2 Tbs slivered almonds (80 calories) + 1 tsp maple syrup (15 calories ) = 193 calories

If you’re craving something CREAMY (savory)
Instead of: Chips and dip
Try: 1 cup cucumber slices (16 calories) with 1 oz soft herbed goat cheese (100 calories) = 116 calories

If you’re craving something CRUNCHY
Instead of: Tortilla chips
Try: ½ large red bell pepper (25 calories) + ½ cup carrots (20 calories) with ¼ cup hummus (100 calories) = 145 calories

If you’re craving something SWEET
Instead of: Snickers bar
Try: 12 medium strawberries (70 calories) dipped in 1 Tbs chocolate chips (70 calories) + 7 almonds (50 calories) = 190 calories

If you’re craving something SALTY
Instead of: Pretzels
Try: ½ cup edamame (100 calories) + 25 pistachios (85 calories)

If you’re craving something CHEESY
Instead of: Mozzarella Sticks
Try: 2 Whole Wheat Wasa Crispbread (100 calories) + 1 wedge The Laughing Cow Light Garlic and Herb (35 calories) = 135 calories

Other snacks to try:

Sliced apple with almond or peanut butter
Berries and almonds/pistachios (if berries aren’t in season, buy them frozen and thaw)
Yogurt and whole grain cereal, sprinkled with cinnamon, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds
Sliced carrots, bell pepper strips, and cucumbers dipped in hummus
A cup of high-fiber soup
A mini-sandwich
Black beans with green onions and garlic
A serving of a grain- or bean-based salad