Tag Archives: Healthy Fats

5 Common Breakfast Mistakes – And How to Avoid Them

If you find yourself in line for another iced coffee or nibbling on leftover office donuts at 10 AM, don’t blame your lack of willpower–blame your breakfast. With a little help from a balanced and wholesome mid-morning snack, breakfast should give you the energy to reach lunchtime; but many Americans feel famished and fatigued far before then. Take a look at your breakfast and make sure you’re not making these mistakes:

1. Not eating breakfast at all

According to a report from the USDA, 93% of American believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day–but only 44% of Americans actually eat it! Breakfast jump starts your metabolism; without it, you’re fasting for 15-20 hours, which hinders the production of fat-metabolizing enzymes. But it does more than that: breakfast-eaters have lower cholesterol levels, feel more energized, perform better on cognition and memory tests, and have better blood sugar levels. And if you’re skipping breakfast to cut calories (or “save” them for later), heed this: people who skip breakfast are 4.5 times more likely than their breakfast-eating peers to be overweight. According to the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks people who have lost and maintained a 30 pound-or-more weight loss for over a year, 80% of their members eat breakfast every single day. If that’s not enough to convince you to start eating breakfast, consider this: according to a study from the Dairy Research Institute, those who skip breakfast consume 40% more sweets, 55% more soft drinks, 45% fewer vegetables, and 30% less fruit than those who ate their morning meal.

2. Not eating enough protein

Typical breakfast foods are made of refined carbohydrates: processed breakfast cereal, a bagel with jam, a muffin, a breakfast bar. But the convenience of these grab-and-go carbs is overshadowed by their lack of quality protein; at most, you’re likely getting 2-5 grams of incomplete protein. Adding just a little high-quality protein to your breakfast–a handful of nuts or a hardboiled egg, for example–might be the key to boosting your breakfast: research from the University of Missouri found that eating a high protein breakfast increases satiety and reduces cravings throughout the day. And even if you’re increasing the overall calorie content of your breakfast overall, it likely won’t hinder your diet efforts, either: people who eat a high-protein breakfast reportedly eat 200 fewer calories throughout the day. Look beyond eggs: add an ounce of smoked salmon to your English muffin (5.2 grams of protein), serve your cereal over one cup of cottage cheese (28 grams), or add some Canadian bacon to a breakfast sandwich (12 grams per two ounces).

High Protein Breakfasts

3. Not eating enough fiber

Another nutrient that most of those cereals, bagels, and muffins are missing? Fiber. The three most commonly eaten breakfast cereals in America (Cheerios, Special K, and Honey Bunches of Oats) each have less than three grams of fiber per serving (Special K has zero grams!); bagels and muffins have even less. But fiber is just as important as protein in a healthy breakfast: it reduces hunger and boosts satiety by slowing the rate of digestion and maintaining steady blood sugar levels. Fiber has a myriad of other health benefits, too: it helps lower cholesterol levels, boosts digestive and cardiovascular health, and may reduce the risk of diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers. If your heart is set on cereal, look for brands with at least five grams of fiber. Keeping that in mind, look for naturally occurring or intact fibers, like those found in whole grains or oats. Avoid “isolated” or “functional” fibers, like polydextrose, inulin, oat fibers, or soy fibers, which have been extracted from plants or manufactured in a lab and may not carry the same health benefits. To get extra fiber outside of the cereal box, look to fruits, vegetables, whole oats and other grains, nuts, and seeds.

Fiber Boosters

4. Not eating enough (or any) fat

You might be noticing a pattern at this point: that a healthy breakfast should include all three macronutrients (protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, and fat). Besides being absolutely necessary for everyday functioning (it’s a component of myelin, the material that sheaths nerve cells, as well as brain tissue, Healthy Fats to Add to your Breakfasthormones and other biochemicals, and it helps protect our organs), fat is required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. But adding a little healthy fat to your diet boosts satiety: in addition to adding craving-crushing flavors and texture (you can thank fat for the creaminess of an egg yolk), it increases the amount of GLP-1, a gut hormone that increases fullness and suppresses appetite, in your blood. In a 2008 study published in the journal Appetite, overweight and obese volunteers who supplemented their diet with 1300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids experienced fewer hunger sensations immediately following and two hours after test meals. If you’re eating skim milk or nonfat yogurt now, switch over to 1 or 2%; the difference in calories is negligible, especially when you factor in the added satiety. Or simply add a handful of nuts or seeds (try flaxseed and chia seeds) to your favorite breakfast.

5. Not eating the right breakfast for you

According to a 2008 study, individuals who ate a 610-calorie breakfast shed more weight–and kept that weight off for longer–than individuals who ate a breakfast with 290 calories. But according to a 2011 study, all participants ate the same amount of calories later in the day, regardless of the amount of calories they had consumed at breakfast–meaning that those who ate a large breakfast consumed more calories overall. Either way, it seems like eating the right breakfast for your body is what’s key: just because a study says that a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs–or a light breakfast of blueberries and almonds–will aid in weight loss doesn’t meant that it’s the right breakfast for your lifestyle and body. So if it takes a 600-calorie breakfast to feel energized, go for it: just go for whole, unprocessed foods with a balance of protein, fiber, and fat, and think about downsizing your other meals. If you prefer light breakfasts, just make sure to eat enough to prevent cravings and overeating later in the day. And if you can’t stomach a big enough breakfast to keep you going until lunch, try eating two small breakfasts.



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

Brain Foods That Get an A+ (Or a 170)

In my ultimate quest to become a nutritionist, my first official step is taking the GRE so that I can apply to Public Health School. I’m taking the new and revised GRE tomorrow, and I’ve been studying for weeks. While I can’t control how hard the test is, one thing I can take into my own hands is my diet. Certain foods have been shown to enhance memory, reasoning skills, and the ability to concentrate, so in a last-ditch effort to raise my scores, I’ve been eating these foods all day. Of course, to really get the most of their brain-boosting effects, you’d want to start including them in your diet a lot earlier – but I’m relying on the placebo effect here. Eat these smart foods for smart health!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Our brain is partly composed of gray matter, neuronal cell bodies that are distributed predominantly throughout the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. One of the elements that allows the gray matter to function properly is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. These fatty acids increase the fluidity of cell membranes, allowing for better synaptic communication to and from nerves – thereby enhancing learning and memory. DHA also protects the brain by reducing oxidative stress. A lack of omega-3s in the diet can have the opposite effect: in one study, rats deficient in omega-3s experienced impaired learning and memory. Salmon is one of top sources of DHA; walnuts, flaxseed, and seaweed are good vegetarian sources of omega-3s.

Green Tea
Green tea has long been touted as a fat-burning, antioxidant-filled alternative to coffee. Its claim to fame is its high levels of EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), a polyphenol. These compounds have been shown to reduce age-related brain damage and to protect the brain from neurotoxic substances, such as viruses. In a study reported in the Journal of Nutrition, rats were given either differing amounts of a mixture containing EGCG or a mixture containing none for 26 weeks. At the end of the period, the rats were tested in a difficult maze to measure their learning abilities. The rats who received the EGCG-spiked drinks performed better on the maze, demonstrating increased short-term learning ability; in addition, these rats showed decreased free radical damage in their hippocampi, the brain structure that deals with memory and information processing. Japanese researchers suggested that EGCG may have brain-protecting abilities beyond their antioxidant activity, including the supervision of cell survival. Sip matcha for the greatest EGCG content; decaffeinated and bottled green teas contain significantly less.

Whole Grains
Replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains is one of the most popular tips for overall health. They contain healthy vitamins and minerals, unique antioxidants, provide energy and mood-boosting serotonin, and reduce the risk of certain cancers, diabetes, and other health problems. In terms of brain health, however, their most important quality is their cardiovascular-health promoting qualities. By improving your cardiovascular system, whole grains boost blood flow to the organs – including the brain. Just like your body requires adequate blood flow to your muscles while you exercise and to your stomach while you digest food, ample blood flow to the brain improves brain function. In addition, whole grains provide a steady stream of glucose, the fuel your brain uses to function. While subsisting on refined flours results in spikes and dips in blood sugar, whole grains provide balanced energy for optimal brain function. For an early-morning boost, eat a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with wheat germ or whole grain toast smeared with a nut butter.

If you’re nervous before a big test, include lysine- and arginine-rich yogurt in your test-day breakfast. In a study from Slovakia, scientists gave two groups either a placebo or three grams each of the amino acids lysine and arginine. Measurements of stress hormones circulating in the blood confirmed that those who had taken the amino acid supplements demonstrated half as much anxious behavior during a public speaking test. Taken together, lysine and arginine reduce stress hormones such as cortisol in order to normalize stress responses. Yogurt is also one of the best sources of calpain, a unique calcium-dependent protein found in yogurt as well as leafy greens such as kale. Studies have shown that calpain plays a role in long-term potentiation, a fancy phrase for the strengthening of firing between synapses, thereby increasing long-term memory. Combined with yogurt’s protein, these three nutrients will increase alertness and memory, giving you the ammo you need to ace your test.

Plenty of other foods can boost brain health as well, such as curry, nuts and seeds, berries, citrus fruits, green, leafy vegetables, sage, eggs, and even chocolate. And just as nutritionists advise eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to get the maximum amount of nutrients possible, eat a wide range of these brain-loving foods to reap their benefits from every direction.

Tomorrow, I’ll be eating a pre-GRE breakfast of yogurt with multigrain flakes, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, cinnamon and green tea. Here’s to the placebo effect!

Eat This with That: Vitamin A and Lutein + Monounsaturated Fats for Better Vision

The benefits of adding healthy fats to your meals stretch far beyond that of increasing the absorption of lycopene. Vitamin A and other fat-soluble phytonutrients, such as beta carotene, vitamin D, vitamin E, and lutein, require dietary fats in order to be absorbed. One study found that subjects who ate a salad with spinach and other vegetables tossed with a fat-based dressing absorbed five times as much lutein and fifteen times as much beta-carotene than those who ate a dry salad. So if you think you’re doing yourself a favor by skipping the salad dressing; hold your fork: add a tablespoon and you’ll reap the benefits up to fivefold.The specific combination of lutein and vitamin A, two nutrients found in spinach that protect the eyes, along with monounsaturated fats, leads to a tasty nutritional powerhouse that will keep your peepers happy.Try this: Spinach salad with avocado and olive oil dressing; chicken, fish, or vegetarian tacos made with spinach and guacamole

Check back for more!

Eat This With That: Combining Nutrients for Better Health

Nutrition articles often market single nutrients for health benefits: we know that calcium builds stronger bones, and that vitamin A yields glowing skin. Recent research, however, has shown that certain nutrients, when combined, work synergistically to enhance the beneficial effects of one or both nutrients. This is why nutritionists advocate a balanced and varied diet, filled with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, nuts, and animal products. By combining certain nutrients, you not only increase their effectiveness exponentially, but you can also treat your palate to a variety of tastes and truly get the most bang for your buck.

Lycopene + Monounsaturated Fats for Cardiovascular Health
Lycopene is a fat-soluble antioxidant that gives produce like tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit its rich red color. Among other superpowers, it has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Monounsaturated fats, which also protect against heart disease and show other cardiovascular benefits, help the body absorb fat-soluble nutrients like lycopene. In fact, one study showed that those who ate a salad containing avocadoes (a source of monounsaturated fats) and tomatoes, they absorbed five times as much lycopene as those who ate just tomatoes. Cooking tomatoes, instead of eating raw ones, also increases the absorption of lycopene up to three or four times.

Try this: Caprese salad with tomatoes, olive oil, mozzarella, and basil; guacamole and salsa; spaghetti tossed with tomato sauce and olive oil; pesto with roasted tomatoes; turkey sandwich with avocado and tomatoes
Check back for the next super-nutrient pairing!