Tag Archives: Processed Foods

Eating Tips from Top Olympic Athletes

Olympic athletes depend on superior nutrition to fuel their grueling workouts, races, and competitions. They also have access to some of the top sports nutritionists and dietitians in the world, so you can bet that, for the most part, they know what they’re talking about when it comes to nutrition. The Olympics may be over, but these tips from gold medal winners and Olympic athletes last forever — read on for their healthy advice and how to implement it into your own eating routine.

“The more colorful the food, the better.” – Triple gold medalist Misty May-Treanor

Dietitians have long advised their clients, and the world, to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Generally, the most vibrantly hued fruits and vegetables offer the most nutrients — blackberries, for example, are so dark because they contain a huge amount of anthocyanins. Fast food, on the other hand, is often white and bland (French fries, chicken fingers, and burgers all fall into the brown/beige/white color spectrum for a reason – they’re void of nutrition!). And because the different pigments that are responsible for bright colors offer different health benefits, it’s important to eat a variety of colors. Red, purple and blue produce is high in anthocyanins, which boost cardiovascular health and cognitive function. Orange and yellow produce, like butternut squash and mangoes, are colored by carotenoids, pigments that boost eye and skin health, fight cancer, and even contribute a healthy glow to your skin! And green produce contains chlorophyll as well as lutein and zeaxanthin to boost immunity and reduce the risk of cancer.

Still, don’t automatically skip white fruits and vegetables. Lighter colored produce boasts unique nutrients too, like quercetin, beta-glucan, and lignans. Click here to read about the nutritional benefits of onions, garlic, mushrooms, bananas and jicama.

“Getting the right food in my body 30 minutes after working out helps so much more with the next workout and has really changed my training.” – Gold-medal swimmer Eric Shanteau

In an interview with People Magazine, Jennifer Aniston is quoted as saying “If you don’t want to build muscle, wait about an hour after you work out to eat.” But in this case, swimmer Eric Shanteau is right: eating within 30 minutes after a workout is absolutely essential to restoring glycogen stores and rebuilding muscle fibers. In fact, research shows that the body’s ability to top off muscle energy stores decreases by 50% if you wait more than two hours to eat — meaning that you won’t be seeing the toning and muscle building results of your workout routine. Plus, eating after a workout increases your body’s insulin sensitivity (an important factor in weight loss) and will fend off hunger attacks later. Aim for a snack that contains both protein and carbohydrates, like a peanut butter and apple sandwich, eggs and whole wheat toast, or fruit and yogurt.

“I don’t think that the occasional bowl of ice cream for dessert is necessarily too bad.” – Bronze-medal diver Nick McCrory

It might be surprising to hear a nutrition blog recommend ice cream — after all, it’s high in sugar, calories, and fat! But an important part of a healthy diet is balance, and balance includes eating those foods that might not be so healthy for you — in moderation. Indulging in your favorite treats, be it cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, or mac and cheese, is okay every now and then, and it might even help you fight off cravings (denying yourself a bite of brownie day after day might end up in a brownie binge at the end of the week!). Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Dara Torres, who obviously manages to stay fit and toned, agrees: “It’s okay to have bites of food that probably aren’t the best for you because that way you won’t deprive yourself and then want more of that food.”

Even nutritionists and Registered Dietitians have splurges: flourless chocolate cake for Patricia Bannan, MS, RD, author of Eat Right When the Time is Tight and french fries for Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RD, a private practice nutritionist. But they’re smart about their splurges: they go for quality over quantity, don’t feel guilty, and balance them with plenty of fresh produce, lean protein, and whole grains.

“My mom raised me to believe that you have to treat your body like an expensive car–you have to put in the most expensive fuel.” – Gold medal gymnast Nastia Liukin

Whole, unprocessed foods — the equivalent of premium fuel — and processed, manufactured foods — the equivalent of low quality diesel — are the difference between feeling energized and lethargic, glowing skin and ruddy skin, and an awesome workout and a weak run. Foods in their natural state, like vegetables, fruits, and grains, are pre-packaged with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients to maximize nutrient intake and absorption. Foods that have been processed, like white bread, chips, and frozen entrees, are stripped of these nutrients, are pumped with preservatives, additives, trans fats and chemicals — and offer little more than calories. Picking whole foods over processed foods is also essential to long-term health: studies show that diets high in healthy, whole foods can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Processed foods can increase the risks of developing these diseases.

But Liukin isn’t entirely correct: high quality fuel doesn’t have to be expensive. Researchers from the USDA compared prices of seemingly healthy and less healthy foods, looking at price of edible weight, price per average portion, and price per calorie. In previous studies, “price per calorie was measured,” so the results suggested that healthy foods were far more expensive than less healthy foods. But when “price of edible weight” or “price per average portion” are examined, healthy foods beat out foods typically high in saturated fat, added sugar, or sodium. The Environmental Working Group has gathered a list of foods that are highest in nutrients and lowest in cost.  Topping the list is salmon, black beans, chickpeas, walnuts, low-fat or non-fat milk, broccoli, and pears.

“Before you start taking supplements, do the best job you can to get all your nutrients from your food. If I need to supplement some things I try to remember that it’s exactly that–it’s a supplement–it’s not a meal or a meal replacement.” – Gold medal decathlete Bryan Clay

There are more than 100,000 enzymes, 16 vitamins, more than 80 minerals, 20 amino acids, and around 100,000 phytonutrients that naturally occur in real, whole foods. Different foods offer a unique balance of these nutrients that work synergistically to enhance their performance and maximize health benefits. But researchers noticed these benefits, and attributed them to one prominent compound–and so the popularity of supplements began. According to newer research, our bodies can tell the difference between whole and fragmented foods. According to Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., the incidence of macular degeneration is significantly lower in people who eat foods rich in beta-carotene, like carrots and sweet potatoes. But the same benefits are not seen people who take beta-carotene supplements. The health benefits of foods are not attributable to one superstar nutrient: they’re due to the complex interaction of many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.


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.

Keep These Foods Out Of Your Kitchen!

One of my worst habits is looking through people’s pantries and refrigerators. Depending on how well I know you, I might sneak just a peek; or I might actually go through the packaged and frozen food items for a solid 5 minutes (sorry). I’m not looking to judge; I’m simply observing what you live off of, what you start your day with, what quenches your thirst, what gives (or takes away from) your energy. I always see some good staples: beans, oatmeal, usually some frozen vegetables. But I also see, a lot of the time, food items that you should not eat under any circumstances! These items are not only a waste of money; they are sabotaging your health. No matter how convenient or tasty they are, keep these items out of your house.

Sorry for snooping, friends, but all of these come straight from your kitchen!

Sweet Cereal

It’s true that the worst breakfast is no breakfast, but sugar-laden cereal comes in at a close second. The Environmental Working Group made a list of the top 10 worst children’s cereals and placed Kellogg’s Honey Smacks at the top of the list. This cereal lists sugar as its first ingredient and honey as its third; it contains 56% sugar by weight. These cereals have more sugar than cookies, and without any fiber or protein, they send your blood sugar quickly soaring and crashing and putting you into a state of lethargy and hunger. If I could tell a person one thing to change about their diet, it would be to eliminate as much sugar as possible. Sugar has been linked to most chronic illnesses that plague America today: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, depression, stress, and inflammation-related diseases.

Also watch out for: Seemingly healthy cereals that actually contain lots of sugar, like Smart Start; granola; nutritionally void cereals like Corn Flakes; flavored instant oatmeal

Healthy Alternative: Look for a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 10 grams of sugar (but aim for less). In the ingredients list, whole grains (like oat bran, whole wheat meal, wheat bran, millet, or spelt) should be at the top, and sweeteners (sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup) should be at the bottom.

Diet Soda

In the short term, a can of diet soda might save you 140 calories. But in the long run, they may be putting your at risk for weight gain. In a study led by the American Diabetes Association, researchers found that adults who drank two or more diet sodas a day gained an average of 4 centimeters around their waistlines. Researchers theorize that artificial sweeteners might trigger appetites – but unlike food with calories, they don’t stifle appetite, causing you to eat more in the long run. Diet soda drinkers may also eat more because they think they’re saving calories; hence those people at McDonald’s who order a supersized Big Mac, Large fries and a Diet Coke.

Also watch out for: Fruit juices, sports drinks, vitamin-enhanced drinks

Healthy Alternative: You’ve heard it a thousand times, but switch to water! Not only is it calorie-free, it makes your body function better in countless ways. Being well-hydrated improves cognitive performance, helps with muscle contraction, promotes cell, kidney, heart, and skin health, and quelches hunger. If you’re not a fan of plain water, doctor it up with herbs (basil, mint, parsley, lavender), fruit (raspberries, blueberries, citrus), cucumbers, or ginger. Or, switch to green tea – but leave it unsweetened.

Uncrustables, Bagel-Fuls, Pop-Tarts

These “snacks” seem to be hiding in a majority of kitchens, behind the more virtuous Quaker Oats and packages of brown rice. Whether it’s because of their “heat-and-go” convenience, the One Serving of Whole Grain! stamped on the front, or the nostalgic throwback to childhood that they recall, these items are simply alluring. These products replace old easy-to-make- standbys, but manage to tack on additional calories, sugar, sodium, chemicals, additives, and partially hydrogenated oils. Uncrustables, for example, are the new peanut butter and jelly sandwich; but they also add azodicarbonamide (which may exacerbate asthma symptoms) and distilled monoglycerides (another fancy name for trans fats). And Pop-Tarts – which come in flavors like “Frosted Vanilla I-Scream Cone” and “Hot Fudge Sundae” – pack almost 400 calories and 32 grams of sugar per package. Whether a snack or a breakfast, these “Thaw and Eat” treats are the definition of empty calories. Even after 400 calories, you’ll be hungry again in an hour.

Also watch out for: Toaster Strudels, Quaker Breakfast Cookies, frozen cinnamon rolls

Healthy Alternative: Take an extra 30 seconds and spread peanut butter/jam/cream cheese on toast yourself; you’ll at least be cutting out unhealthy additives and trans fats. Opt for protein-rich nut butters over cream cheese and jam, though: cream cheese is mostly saturated fats, and jam is packed with sugar. For a healthy spin on these carb-with-a-spread snacks, try whole wheat bread with almond butter and banana slices or with peanut butter and apple slices.

Dino Nuggets

I have a friend from college who basically lived completely off of Dino Nuggets (whenever he didn’t order fast food). I can’t vouch for his health now, but what if he had replaced all those Dino Nuggets with free-range, skinless chicken breasts? Dino Nuggets, along with other fried and frozen meals, uses mechanically separated meat (which is processed with bacteria-killing ammonia and artificial flavors and dyes) and binds them with soy, starches, and oils. One serving of Dino Nuggets contains 210 calories, 8 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbohydrates, and 11 grams of protein; for the same amount of calories, a chicken breast has 5 grams of fat, 0 grams of carbohydrates, and 46 grams of protein. So chicken nuggets essentially take what should be a great source of protein and weigh it down with fillers, additives, and starches. Since when does chicken have more carbs than protein?

Also watch out for: Most frozen dinners, corn dogs, “meat” crumbles, most frozen pizzas

Healthy Alternative: If you’re dead-set on thawing or microwaving your dinner, there are a couple brands that offer relatively healthy frozen dinners: Amy’s, Seeds of Change, Cedarlane, and Organic Bistro all keep calories in check, use organic ingredients, and stick (for the most part) to real, pronounceable foods. For solid protein, pick ground meat with nothing added over prepared and processed patties or nuggets and season it yourself with spices, herbs, and vegetables. But of course, nothing beats a real, undoctored chicken breast.

Low-Fat/Reduced-Fat/Fat-Free Packaged Goods

Just because these snacks are low-fat or fat-free doesn’t mean they contain fewer calories than their regular counterparts. In most cases, food manufacturers replace the fats – most often the healthy, monounsaturated kind – with starches, fillers, and sugar. Reduced-fat peanut butter, for example, contains only 10 fewer calories than the regular kind, but it also contains more sugar and carbohydrates – and it’s stripped of the healthy fats and antioxidants found in peanuts. Some reduced-fat version even have more calories, like Honey Maid Honey Graham Crackers! Reduced-fat versions may also cause you eat to more than you otherwise would: in a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, participants ate 28.4% of M&M’s labeled “low-fat” than those labeled as “regular.” According to the study, foods with a “low-fat” label prompted participants to increase their perception of an appropriate serving size by 25.1% – ultimately leading them to take in more calories overall.

Also watch out for: Other foods with “health halos,” like made with whole grains, organic, all natural, sugar-free, no high fructose corn syrup. Having these labels, even if they’re true, doesn’t mean the product is healthy. Look at the nutritional information and ingredients to see what the product really contains. Organic french fries are still fried in oil, and a stick of butter can be all natural – but that doesn’t make them healthy.

Healthy Alternative: Stick to the regular versions of packaged products. Most likely, they’ll have fewer ingredients – as well as fewer sugars, additives, chemicals, and preservatives. An even better snack option is food without a label – fruits, vegetables, and nuts. They naturally contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and they’re as unprocessed as food can get.

Refrigerated Cookie Dough

Calorically speaking, there’s not much of a difference between refrigerated cookie dough and the cookies in your pantry. But in terms of their temptation factor, there’s a huge difference: with cookies, there’s a serving size and calorie, fat, and sugar counts that hopefully keep you in check. And, if you’re a mindful eater, it’s difficult to actually let yourself eat the whole box; you can visually see how much you’re eating. But when you have a tub of raw cookie dough in your fridge, it’s constantly seducing you with its cookie dough Siren song: Just one more  spoonful! By the time you know it, you’ve spooned your way through the entire tub, without baking a single cookie. With a tub, each spoonful barely makes a difference, so you can’t see the caloric impact you’re making. A study from Cornell University found that large bowls and small spoons lead consumers to underestimate the quantity of food, which is exactly what a tub of cookie dough provides. Add to that the mindlessness of eating cookie dough, and you’re unconsciously taking in an extra 300 calories a day.

Also watch out for: Foods without built-in portion control: big bags of candy or chips, large tubs of ice cream, dips

Healthy Alternative: If portion size is an issue, either buy single-serving sizes of food or divvy up the contents into single-serve bags yourself. An ice cream bar, for example, may be a better choice than a few scoops of ice cream, because you don’t go back for another bar – but you may head back for a few “tiny” scoops. If cookie dough is your thing, find a bakery you love and treat yourself to a just-baked, gooey cookie once a week.