Tag Archives: Whole 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.

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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