Tag Archives: Nutrient-Dense

New Product Finds from ExpoWest

In March, I got to attend ExpoWest, a trade show for natural, organic, and healthy foods from all over the world (imagine a giant Whole Foods on steroids–and you get to sample everything!) The following new products, most of which are already in select stores or sold online, are my favorites for their combination of superior nutrition and taste.

The GFB (Gluten Free Bar)

From the company: “GFBs are crafted in small batches to achieve a taste and texture that other bars cannot match.”

My Nutrition Take: The Gluten Free Bar is free from more than just gluten: it’s vegan, dairy-free, casein-free, additive free, cholesterol free, preservative free, and trans fat-free. It’s also high in protein (with 11-13 grams per bar) and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (vegan, of course). GFBs stand out for their simplicity (which, in the world of snack bars, is a good thing): they use real, whole, and unprocessed ingredients like california almonds, organic roasted peanuts, dates, certified gluten free oats, and golden flaxseed. And unlike other gluten free bars, GFBs don’t use fillers and additives to make up for a lack of texture and flavor.

Nutritional Info: 220-240 calories, 6-10 grams of fat, 2-3.5 grams of fiber, and 11-13 grams of protein

Taste: The bars come in four flavors: Cranberry + Toasted Almond, Peanut Butter + Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Oatmeal + Raisin; each tastes like a denser, chewier, and heartier version of a cookie. While I always advocate snacking on whole, unprocessed foods, GFBs are a healthy choice when you’re on the run or traveling.

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Where to buy: GFBs can be found in select stores nationwide, or you can order them online.

Path of Life Side Dishes

From the company: “Path of Life manufactures the best organic and natural foods, prepares them to exceptional taste standards, then packages them to meet the lifestyles of today’s health-conscious individuals and families who are busy following their own paths— and know that good, nourishing foods are important for the journey.”

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My Nutrition Take: Path of Life’s Side Dishes, which come in steamable bags, are at the top of the frozen meals market. Unlike other frozen meals that use excess sodium, preservatives, and unpronounceable ingredients, the Side Dishes use only ingredients that you’d use to make the same dish at home. The Lemon, Spinach, and Artichoke Quinoa, for example, contains cooked white quinoa, cooked red quinoa, artichoke, spinach, olive oil, garlic, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, and lemon juice concentrate–nothing else. These Side Dishes (which could also substitute as a meal; just add a salad) are perfect for on-the-go parents, workers, and students who don’t have time to throw together a homemade quinoa salad. And as a bonus for the consumer and environment alike, the ingredients come from farmers who use sustainable farming methods and don’t grow GMOs.

Nutritional Info: (per cup): 130-210 calories, 6-7 grams of fat, 2-3 grams of fiber, 0-1 grams of sugar, and 3-5 grams of protein

Taste: The Quinoa Side Dishes come in four flavors: Lemon, Spinach, and Artichoke Quinoa; Mediterranean Quinoa with Feta Cheese; Southwest Quinoa with Lime, Cilantro and Mango; and Quinoa with Brown Rice. Each tastes like a homemade versions of quinoa salad–and there’s no evidence of these having sat in your freezer for weeks!

Where to buy: Keep an eye out for Path of Life Steamable Side Dishes this Fall!

Tolerant Foods Black Bean or Red Lentil Pasta

From the company: “At Tolerant, we take organically grown natural legumes and make delicious organic red lentil (or black bean) rotini loaded with goodies.”

My Nutrition Take: Tolerant Foods pastas are made with just one Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 7.50.38 PMingredient–black beans or red lentils–but they still taste like your favorite noodles. As far as pasta alternatives go, these are one of the best on the market: because they’re made with legumes, as opposed to processed wheat, they’re high in protein and fiber and have a low glycemic index. Essentially, you’re getting the nutrition of a plate of black beans or red lentils with the taste of pasta–a great tradeoff for pasta lovers! Compared to regular pasta, Tolerant Foods has five times more fiber and twice as much protein, making Tolerant Foods pastas a more satiating choice.

Nutritional Info (per 85 grams, of about 1.5 cups cooked): 320 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 15 grams of fiber, 22 grams of protein

Taste: Both the Black Bean and Red Lentil flavors taste and feel like regular pasta; and like regular pasta, they’ll mostly take on the flavor of your sauce.

Where to buy: Look for Tolerant Foods in Whole Foods and Wegman’s.

NuDeFood Breakfast Boost

From the company: “Ultra-Dense Breakfast Boost supplies generous quantities of naturally present vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein…Perfect for smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, pancakes, applesauce, and more!”

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My Nutrition Take: NuDeFood Breakfast Boosts come in small, single-serve packaging, making them perfect for a nutritious-conscious traveler. If you usually add things like chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, or cinnamon to your breakfasts (oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, etc.) but can’t carry them with you (whether you’re in the airport or hiking Machu Picchu), Breakfast Boosts fill the gap. They’re also great to have on hand when you’re eating something that just doesn’t fit your nutritional needs (if your cereal doesn’t have enough fiber, if your smoothie doesn’t have enough protein, or if your pancakes were made with white flour instead of whole wheat flour, for example). Each tablespoon adds six grams of heart-healthy fat, 3.5 grams of fiber, and 4.5 grams of protein. The ingredients aren’t processed, either: they’re ingredients you’d find in your own pantry or fridge, like California almonds, sunflower seeds, golden flaxseeds, and cinnamon.

Nutritional info (per package; 1.2 ounces): 170-210 calories, 12-16 grams of fat, 5-7 grams of fiber, 0-8 grams of sugar, 7-9 grams of protein

Taste: NuDe Breakfast Boosts come in three flavors. Original Spirulina has a mildly nutty taste; Antioxidant Berry Blend mixes tart with nutty, and Coconut Pecan Probiotic Blend has a sweeter coconut taste.

Where to buy: NuDe Foods hail from my hometown of Boulder, CO and can be found in stores throughout Colorado; you can also buy them online.

Superfood Snacks

From the company: “We source the highest quality organic & wildcrafted fair trade ingredients for all of our recipes…High ORAC antioxidant rating; boosts energy and vitality.”

My Nutrition Take: Superfood Snacks are small energy bites made with organic and raw ingredients that you’ve probably seen on superfood lists:  goji berries, maca root powder, walnuts, schisandra berries, reishi mushrooms, and green algae, to name a few. The bites are energy-dense, but they’re a great pick for an afternoon pick-me-up or to appease a sweet tooth (these are a much healthier choice than a fun-size Snickers bar).

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Nutritional info (per bite): 55 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, 4.5 grams of sugar, and 1.5 grams of protein

Taste: Superfood Snacks comes in four flavors: Brazilian Chocolate Ecstasy, Chocolate Cherry Qi, Chocolate Goji Treats, and Green Chocolate Dream. Their taste and texture resemble a chocolate truffle, but with a little more zing, thanks to interesting ingredients like cayenne pepper and Himalayan sea salt.

Where to buy: Superfood Snacks can be purchased online.

Thanks to Jessica, Christian and Vicky from Patafoods for hosting me; and thanks to all the vendors for all of the samples!


Stop Relying on Carbs: New Ideas for Low-Carb Snacks and Meals

When it comes to dieting, weight maintenance, and general nutrition, carbs are not the devil–despite what the Atkins and Paleo diets would have us believe. Carbs supply our bodies with the energy to perform everyday Carb-Centric Mealstasks and to work out; they supply glucose to fuel our brain; they even stimulate the production of serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and appetite. Luckily, carbs are widely available today–but they’re almost too available. Processed carbs seem to dominate the tablescape no matter what meal you’re serving: French toast (bread), grilled cheese (more bread), pizza (dough), sandwiches (more bread), spaghetti and meatballs (pasta). They’re also the backbone of most snacks: think hummus and pita bread, bruschetta, a bowl of cereal, granola bars, cheese and crackers. The main problem with this reliance on carbs is that processed carbs, compared to vegetables, are higher in calories and offer fewer nutrients. And in most cases, the carb-of-choice is simply a bland vehicle to showcase the true flavor-makers of the meal: a toasted baguette delivers the delicious combination of tomato, basil, and olive oil; pita bread scoops savory hummus right into your mouth.

So how can you use this information to maximize your nutrient intake? Keep eating enough carbs (keeping them as unprocessed and whole as possible) to sustain your everyday activities and workouts (that amount is different for everyone; athletes will need more) but replace bread, pasta, tortillas, pita, crackers, and cereal for fruits and vegetables every now and then. You’ll end up cutting out a few hundred calories per day and adding in nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and valuable antioxidants! Try these substitutions:

Instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (432 calories, 59g carbs, 12g protein, 3g fiber, 18 g fat), try…

Apple Sandwiches with Granola and Peanut Butter
Apple peanut butter sandwiches (300 calories, 36g carbs, 8g protein, 6g fiber, 16g fat)

Instead of a turkey wrap (540 calories, 76g carbs, 24g protein, 16g fat, 6g fiber), try…Lettuce Turkey Sandwich Wrap

Lettuce turkey wraps (295 calories, 17g carbs, 32g protein, 11g fat, 6g fiber)

Instead of a spaghetti (221 calories, 43g carbs, 8g protein, 1.3g fat, 2.5g fiber), try…

Baked Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash (42 calories, 10g carbs, 1g protein, <0.5g fat, 2g fiber)

Instead of one egg roll (222 calories, 24g carbs, 7g protein, 11g fat), try…

Summer and Vegetable Rolls
Vegetable Chard Wraps with Spicy Lime-Ginger Dipping Sauce (87 calories, 7.1g carbs, 2.4g protein, 6.1g fat) or Summer Rolls (64 calories, 12g carbs, 1 g protein, 2g fat, 2g fiber)

Instead of pizza (237 calories, 26g carbs, 11g protein, 10g fat, 1.6g fiber per slice), try…

Portobello Pizza

Portobello pizza (150 calories, 15g carbs, 10g protein, 7g fat, 3g fiber)

Instead of cheese and crackers (185 calories, 9g carbs, 8g protein, 14g fat, 0g fiber per 4 crackers), try…

Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini Rolls
Ricotta-stuffed zucchini rolls (103 calories, 7g carbs, 4g protein, 9g fat, 2g fiber per two rolls)

Note: You don’t have to replace all of your dry carbs (bread, pasta, cereal) with fruits and vegetables; depending on your activity level, those are essential for fueling workouts and maintaining steady energy levels and mood. But being aware of your carb intake–and reducing the amount of processed carbs you consume–can help cut out empty calories  from your diet and add in valuable nutrients.

How To Put on Muscle (In a Healthy Way)

With the year coming to a close and most Americans making resolutions to become fitter and leaner in the new year, gaining weight is most likely at the top of people’s what-not-to-do lists. But putting on muscle can be a real challenge — and it’s just as big of a nutrition concern as losing weight can be. And unfortunately for those trying to gain weight, it’s not as simple as eating double cheeseburgers for dinner and scarfing down pints of ice cream. Quality and nutrient-dense calories are just as important as they are for those trying to lose weight — especially when it comes to building muscle, optimizing health, and reducing the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease. To gain lean muscle mass and improve health at the same time, try following these general rules:

1. Load up on healthy but calorie-dense foods
Not all calorie-dense foods are unhealthy: nuts (and nut butters), seeds, and avocados are high in monounsaturated fats, which reduce cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer and help your body absorb nutrients from other foods. But because fats contribute 9 calories per gram (as opposed to protein and carbohydrate’s 4 calories), they’re an extremely efficient and timely way to consume large amounts of calories. One tablespoon of peanut butter contains 94 calories, and just 14 walnuts have 185 calories. Flaxseed oil, which boasts heart-healthy omega-3s, offers up 119 calories per tablespoon. Dried fruit is another healthy option, as long as it doesn’t contained added sweeteners or preservatives. Since fruits are largely water by volume and weight, and dried fruits are devoid of water, their serving sizes are drastically reduced — but they still contain the same amount of calories as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals. At mealtime, try quinoa and salmon, which are surprisingly high in calories. Quinoa contains 220 calories per cup, which is the same as one cup of white pasta — but with far more nutrients like fiber, protein and iron. Salmon packs almost twice as many calories as chicken — but with more protein and far more omega-3 fatty acids.

Calorie- and nutrient-dense foods
2. Drink your calories
Nutritionists often advise against drinking your calories because liquids aren’t as satiating as solid foods and because we tend to disregard the calories they do contain. Plus, sodas, smoothies and coffee beverages are often far too high in refined sugars. But it’s a different game for those trying to gain weight: because they don’t fill us up, it’s easy to down a 300-calorie drink next to a 500-calorie lunch. Just make sure your drink of choice is filled with nutrient-dense ingredients and is low in sugar. Milk or chocolate milk are good choices, as they contain an ideal ratio of protein to carbs. Fruit juices contain about 100 calories per glass; just balance the sugars with protein or healthy fats to avoid shaky blood sugar levels. Smoothies are even better, because you can add more calorie-dense ingredients like yogurt, milk, peanut butter, wheat germ, chia seeds and protein powder.

3. Eat at least every three hours
Feeding your body with a consistent stream of calories is key if you want to gain weight, especially if you’re already having trouble with weight gain. Skipping meals, or even waiting the five or six hours between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner, means that your body will begin to draw energy from your energy stores. Without eating, your body is in a catabolic state, which means that after glycogen (the unused form of carbohydrates that we store) is used up, muscle is the next form of fuel. This is why eating a healthy breakfast shortly after you wake up is just as key, since you’ve been fasting all night. And don’t forget to time your meals and snacks with your workout: experts believe that there’s a window of opportunity after working out during which your muscles are most receptive to protein and calories, resulting in the most efficient muscle mass gain.

Calorie- and Nutrient-Dense Foods
4. Speaking of strength training…do it!
Even though strength training is touted as a method for weight loss, it’s still important for weight gain. To gain muscle mass, your body requires protein. But your body already uses up the majority of the protein you eat for regular physiological processes like hormone synthesis and metabolic processes. This means that you need to take in and store more protein than your body uses. If you’re strength training and not taking in more protein, your muscles will lack the amino acids they need to repair and rebuild more muscle — which means you’re actually burning muscle. Supplement your post-workout protein consumption with carbohydrates, which slow the rate of protein breakdown.

5. Eat before bed
According to a study from Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, muscle protein synthesis is relatively low during sleep; this is most likely attributable to the fact that there aren’t as many amino acids available for building muscle, says lead researcher Luc J.C. van Loon, Ph.D. But eating a snack high in protein along with some carbs may lead to gains in muscle mass: in another study, men who downed a protein shake before sleep increased muscle protein synthesis by 22%. Men’s Health advises eating a snack with about 25 grams of high-quality protein like cottage cheese and fruit, Greek yogurt, or three ounces of turkey.

6. Indulge with healthy desserts
Gaining weight doesn’t give you free reign to eat cookies, cakes, donuts and candy, but it does give you a little extra wiggle room when it comes to dessert. Truly healthy desserts take some creativity: energy bites, which are similar in taste and texture to cookie dough balls, are made with nutrient-rich ingredients like peanut or almond butter, dates, coconut flakes, flaxseed, dark chocolate and oatmeal. Or finish a meal with cookie dough dip, a stealthy concoction of chickpeas or white beans, nut butter, oats, and chocolate chips. For the purists, ice cream is also a good choice: according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, ice cream triggers an increase in insulin, which hinders protein breakdown.

Healthier Desserts

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.