All About Organic- Is it Worth the Money?

Because I’m a dietitian, most people assume that I buy all organic foods. That’s actually not the case! I also get a lot of questions about whether or not it’s worth the extra money to buy organic and if organic food is healthier than its conventional counterparts.

First it’s good to understand what farming practices need to be adhered to before a food can be labeled organic. A food must have the following criteria to have the organic seal:

  • NO pesticides- All fruits and vegetables that are organic along with the feed provided to organic livestock must be grown without the use of GMO’s, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for at least the past 3 years.
  • NO antibiotics- If a sick animal is treated with antibiotics then its meat or milk cannot be sold as organic.
  • NO growth hormones

There are plenty of reasons why people decide to start buying organic food. Some do because they want to protect the environment. A world without pesticides is a much healthier environment to live in. Others do to help support organic farmers. The reasons I have for buying organic foods is because I like to know that the food I eat has been raised adhering to specific standards that organic farmers proudly have in place. A majority do because they believe organic food is healthier or because they want to avoid toxic pesticides. Switching to organic can be quite pricey- it is much more expensive than conventional foods, sometimes as much as 2x-3x the price. So is it even worth spending the extra money??

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Fruits and vegetables- Some fruits and vegetables have a thicker layer of residue than others, so it would be worth it to buy them organic to avoid exposure to these. The fruits and vegetables you can keep buying conventional are those with a thicker peel- these include bananas, avocados, melons, eggplant, pineapple, mangos, grapefruit, kiwi and mushrooms. The fruits and vegetables you may want to buy organic to avoid pesticides include apples, tomatoes, grapes, peaches, spinach, berries, nectarines, and potatoes.

Animal products- Even though many consumers may believe the opposite, just because an animal product is not organic does not mean it contains recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or antibiotics. Antibiotic residues are not permitted in conventionally produced animal foods and rBGH is rarely found in milk supplied by large grocery stores. In fact, fewer than 1 in 5 cows are injected with rBGH. I recommend looking for grass fed animal products because it naturally increases the omega’3 fatty acids in the animal’s diet- plus it just tastes so much better! Grass-fed animal products tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids which is beneficial for our health. However, the amount of omega’3 fatty acids in grass-fed beef is nowhere near as significant as the amount found in fish- the difference being 100 mg vs 1000 mg per serving! The adequate intake recommendations (AI) for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 gm/day for men and 1.1 gm/day for women.

 

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Junk food- If you are considering switching over to organic foods but are unsure if it will fit into your grocery budget, consider skipping the organic junk food. Just because it’s labeled organic does not make it any healthier.

To make organic food more affordable, consider buying only the fruits and vegetables with a thicker layer of pesticide residue (mentioned above) organic and buy the rest conventional. Organic frozen fruits and vegetables are great as well, and tend to be a little bit cheaper! Look for sales and stock up. Farmers markets are great too, especially because your purchase will help to support your local organic farmers.

All of that being said, I don’t buy 100% organic. I stick with grass fed meat and omega-3 fortified eggs. I buy Carli organic milk, yogurt and cheese and try to feed her organic fruits and vegetables when I can afford it. Because she eats more pound for pound than Nick and I, I try to make her exposure to pesticides minimal. I really like to encourage parents to not get discouraged if they can’t afford (or even want to) feed their kids organic, because it’s definitely not the end of the world if you don’t! Here are some tips if you decide that an organic lifestyle is not for you:

  • Always remember that having a diet high in conventional fruits and vegetables is much healthier than a diet high in organic junk food. Organic or not, fruits and vegetables are high in the nutrients your body needs to fight of disease and stay healthy.
  • Try incorporating more omega-3’s into the diet with salmon, flaxseed (I love adding to smoothies and yogurt), and walnuts.
  • Look for grass-fed meat. It’s less expensive than organic.
  • Use these tips from the FDA to reduce or eliminate pesticide residue
    • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing fresh produce
    • Cut away damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating
    • Wash produce with large amounts of cold or warm running tap water. Washing removes about 75-80% of pesticide residues.
    • Wash produce before you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife on the fruit or vegetable
    • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel
    • Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage
    • Trim the fat from meat and the fat and skin from poultry. Some pesticide residues are stored in the animal fat.

 

 

Banana Ice-cream

Summers in Georgia are HOT. There’s nothing I love more than cooling off with a bowl of ice-cream after being out in the hot sun. Unfortunately, most cool summer treats are loaded with added sugars- including frozen yogurt, a choice that seems as if it would be a healthy alternative to Popsicles or ice-cream. Luckily, I have discovered an alternative to ice-cream that not only tastes delicious, but it’s just as sweet and refreshing. Banana ice-cream is just as it sounds- it’s pure banana! I like to add peanut butter because it gives it some extra flavor and nutrients making this recipe a great summer snack.

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It’s simple to make- all you need are a few very ripe bananas. Once they are starting to turn brown, slice them into small pieces and freeze for at least 2 hours. Place the frozen banana slices into a blender or food processor (I use my Nutra Ninja) and blend until it forms a purée. You may need to use a spoon to stir it to the right consistency. If you wish you can add a couple tablespoons of peanut butter. We tried adding honey flavored peanut butter and it was delicious! Hope you’re staying nice and cool this summer!

 

**For some reason the pictures posted in the last couple updates are sideways when viewed on a desktop computer but look normal on a tablet or phone. Not sure why this is, but I’m working on getting it fixed!**

Healthy Summer Snacks

I love summer. Lazy and carefree days by the pool, late evening walks while the sun sets, and the smell of summer bbqs all make me wish that summer could last forever. Lots of summer activities, like anything else, usually involve eating. It can be so easy to snack out of a bag of chips while sitting by the pool or to consume a big bowl of ice-cream after a game of sand volleyball. Both choices that are convenient but not so healthy. When making a snack for Carli I try to include healthy components of each major nutrient much like I would when making a meal, but of course in much smaller quantities. That would include a healthy fat, a nutrient dense carb (fruit, vegetable or whole grain) and protein. Some of my favorite snack combinations have all three nutrients, some have just two. I encourage people to avoid having snacks that are purely carbohydrate. Here are some of our family’s favorite summer snacks, all nutritious AND delicious.

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  1. Avocado pudding– our FAVORITE! I usually serve this with a banana. It surprisingly tastes just like chocolate pudding. For some it may not be sweet enough, just add a little more honey if this is the case for you. All you have to do is blend 1 ripe avocado, 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tbsp honey or agave nectar and 6 tbsp almond milk.
  2. Carrot fries– I have shared this recipe with so many people and they love it! I serve this with apple slices and peanut butter or with Horizon brand cheese sticks. Just take a bag of ridged carrot chips or snack-sized carrot sticks, toss with a little olive oil and salt and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
  3. Chocolate chip and chia energy balls– another hit with a lot of our friends. Carli calls them her “cookies.” This snack has protein, grains and healthy fats. They are great to freeze and take on outings. These are our favorite to take to the pool and to places like the zoo or the park. All you have to do is whisk together 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1/4 cup honey. Then add 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups oats, 1/4 cup chia seeds, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, 1/4 cup flax seed meal and 1/4 cup chocolate chips.
  4. Banana pops– these tend to be messy but kids find them really fun to eat. Just cover a banana with peanut butter and roll in granola or oats and chocolate chips.
  5. Crackers and hummus– Our favorite crackers to dip in hummus is a toss up between the Back to Nature brand whole wheat crackers and any of the Blue Diamond brand nut thins crackers (a great option for gluten free families).
  6. Yogurt with chia seeds and fruit added– Carli would eat yogurt for every meal and snack if I let her so we usually have this at least once per day. We do Annie’s brand whole milk yogurt (we also like the Stoneyfield organic whole milk yogurt squeezies for on the go). I eat this snack quite a bit myself but with a lower fat yogurt- I typically choose Greek yogurt for extra protein. The chia seeds add some extra healthy fats and the fruit we add is usually some sort of berry. We’ve been doing lot of strawberry and blueberry picking this summer, so we have an abundant supply for our yogurt!
  7. Avocado and pear pops– much healthier than the typical sugary popsicle and a great choice to cool down on those hot summer days. Just puree 2 avocadoes and 2 pears (skin removed) and place them into popsicle molds. Great for teething babies as well!
  8. Smoothies– another great cool-down snack. A great replacement for a milkshake! I make my smoothies with a handful of spinach, a mixture of fruit, almond milk, plus a tbsp of chia or flax seed. Sometimes I add PB2 depending on what fruits I add- banana plus PB2 is a great combo!

Here are my favorite fruit combos

  • Strawberry, blueberry and raspberry
  • Peach, banana, and strawberry
  • Mango and banana
  • Banana and blueberry

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Cheers to a happy and healthy summer!

Marathon Training- the importance of proper fueling, long runs and recovery. Part 2

Proper training is the key to running a successful marathon, and nutrition is included in that. The type of food consumed, the amount and timing all need to be considered. I’ve seen nutrition go both ways in those who are marathon training. Some may think that just because they are training for a marathon they can eat whatever they want. Yes, your body will need more calories to sustain your training but if you eat more calories than you are burning then you will gain weight. A lot of people tend to overestimate the calories they are burning and underestimate the calories they are consuming. The other end of the spectrum are those who want to be as lean as possible for their marathon and don’t consume enough calories while training. This can make you more susceptible to injuries, illness and less likely to train to your full potential because your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs to recover. I have been on both ends of the spectrum and finally found balance.

 

Nutrient Timing- how much, how often, and when?

To train to your full potential, your muscles need to be fueled with enough carbohydrate to provide energy for your entire run, with adequate nutrition provided after each workout for optimum recovery. Carbohydrate is stored in the form of glycogen and is used by the muscles during exercise. Your body has limited carbohydrate stores and when these stores get too low during exercise, you “hit the wall.” Anyone who has ever experienced this knows this feeling mostly consists of overwhelming fatigue and an urge to quit. I always get that feeling around mile 18-20 of my marathon and this is usually when I consume some sort of carbohydrate- usually a gel pack or chews.

Here is a 7- step plan for nutrient timing developed by Nancy Clark MS, RD, CSSD, one of my favorite sports dietitians who has had the great opportunity to counsel Olympic athletes and is a marathon runner herself:

1) Carbohydrate load daily to assure your muscles are always saturated with glycogen. By carbohydrate loading, I mean taking in 3-5gm carbs per lb body weight to prevent chronic glycogen depletion that can happen with low carbohydrate intake and intense training.

2) Taper your training- do your final hard training 3 weeks before the event and begin to taper at least 2 weeks out. This gives your muscles enough time to completely refuel with carbohydrate. This can be hard for most athletes- I’ll speak for myself on that one, I’m as hard headed as it gets when it comes to my training- but research proves that athletes perform better when they tapered for a least 2 weeks. Maintain your standard carb intake (3-5gm/lb), your body will use the excess calories to double your glycogen stores.

3) Eat enough protein- your body does use a small amount of protein for fuel and your muscles need the amino acids provided by protein to rebuild and repair muscle fibers. 0.6-07gm/lb body weight is sufficient. Most people get more than enough protein in their diet, and this generally is not an issue.

4). Choose fiber rich foods to promote regularity and keep everything in your GI tract running smoothly. If you carb load on white breads, fruit loops and jelly beans you will more than likely become constipated.

5). Plan your meals carefully. You know your own body- it may take some trial and error to figure out how to best fuel your body before a marathon. For example, if you have a jittery stomach you may need to eat a big lunch the day before a morning marathon and a smaller supper. You can carb load up to 2 days before the event to reap the benefits, this can allow you to eat a little less the day right before if you are worried about a nervous stomach.

6). Drink extra fluids- drink plenty of water and/or juice the day before the event and abstain from alcoholic beverages; they are poor sources of carbohydrate and can also be dehydrating- I learned this the hard way. Drink 2-3 glasses of water up to 2 hours before the event but refrain from drinking too much. Over-hydrating can be just as dangerous as under hydrating.

7) Eat breakfast on event day- carb loading is just part of your fueling plan, eating a good breakfast will prevent hunger during the event and help keep your blood sugar stable.

Eating before your runs

Eating before a workout is important for any exerciser. Just like you put gas in a car before taking it for a drive, you need to fuel your muscles before engaging in a workout.

Not eating before you run does you more harm than good. Some people have told me they don’t eat before they run so they can burn fat. It is true that your body will rely on fat as a secondary source of fuel if there is an inadequate amount of carbohydrate available. However, just because you burn through fat as an energy sources doesn’t mean that you will actually lose body fat- to do this you must create a calorie deficit. By eating a pre-exercise snack, you are giving your muscles the fuel to go longer and harder, which can create a higher energy deficit than you would have if you didn’t eat anything at all.

Pre-exercise fueling guidelines for running a marathon or fueling a training runs:

  1. Having a snack within an hour of exercise can help maintain normal blood glucose levels but does not allow enough time to replenish glycogen stores. Eating the recommended (3-5gm/lb body weight) amount of carbs every day will allow for you to perform at your best. Carbs are NOT the enemy!!

 

  1. Be sure to eat 60 minutes before the marathon or a long run with both carbohydrate and protein (such as a bagel with peanut butter or oatmeal made with milk). This will allow for sustained energy throughout the marathon as the protein will slow down the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrate.

 

  1. Before a short training run (lasting less than 60 minutes), consume carbohydrate 30-45 minutes before you run that will digest easily. Examples include a granola bar or crackers.

 

  1. Be cautious with foods high in simple sugar such as jelly beans and honey, syrups, and jelly. These foods have been known to cause rebound hypoglycemia in athletes (a spike in blood sugar followed by a sudden drop) which can lead to dizziness and early fatigue.

 

  1. Allow adequate time for digestion. If you are participating in a high-intensity workout, allow for additional digestion. Your muscles will require a stronger demand for blood flow which will have priority over the digestion that may be taking place in your stomach. Failure to do so will result in GI issues during your race or training run- never a fun experience!

 

Fueling During Training Runs and the Marathon

When running for longer than 60 minutes, you can greatly improve your stamina by consuming 100-250 calories of carbohydrate per hour during your workout. The best would be to mix up the source of carbohydrate during prolonged exercise to get in a variety (sports drink and a banana, sports gels plus a fruit). Different sugars use different transporters in absorption, so you can absorb more carbohydrate and provide your muscles with more fuel by having a couple different types of snacks on hand.

 

Recovery Foods and Fluids

Your #1 priority after ending a hard workout should be replenishing your body with fluids and electrolytes so that your body can return to normal water balance. By weighing yourself before and after exercise you will know how much water weight you lost- 1lb lost= 16oz of fluid. When exercising in extreme heat or for long bouts (60 minutes or greater), be sure to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat by opting for a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade.

Your second priority should be to replenish the glycogen stores (energy stores) in your muscles. Aim for 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per lb of body weight taken at 30 minute intervals until your next meal.

 

My diet varies quite a bit, but this is typical when I’m training for marathons:

Breakfast (6:45 AM): oatmeal with granola and PB2 mixed in, 1 banana  or 1 egg scrambled with egg whites (probably about ½ cup) with fruit and Greek yogurt

After run: If I’m training in the summer I like to do a big smoothie with almond milk, frozen fruit, ground chia and a little bit of protein powder. This winter I’ve been grabbing a banana or orange and spreading some peanut butter on a couple crackers.

Lunch: salad with hummus for the dressing, chickpeas, avocado, handful of nuts, salmon or veggie patty on top.

Snack: I crave salty foods when I’m running a lot. I’m a grazer in the afternoon and try to eat whenever I get a chance- veggie sticks, pretzels, chips and salsa are typical choices. I make homemade sweet potato fries and carrot fries (recipe here) for Carli to snack on and reach for these as well.

Dinner: This meal varies the most but I always try to include in our family dinners a protein, grain or sweet potato, and lots of veggies. Our favorites are fish tacos, fajitas, chicken parmesan, chicken sausage with peppers, homemade veggie pizza. I always include lots of veggies and nutrient dense carbohydrate and aim to make the meal 25% protein. I add healthy fats in the form of oils, fatty fish and avocado.

Snack: typical choices would be a bowl of cereal, ice-cream, popcorn.

 

What our diets are lacking


The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines were released earlier this year and although I do think that Americans are becoming more conscious of improving their eating habits, we have a long way to go. Not surprisingly, the report concluded that Americans are:

  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming too many calories
  • Exceeding recommended intakes of salt, saturated fat and added sugars
  • Not consuming enough healthy fats and calcium rich foods

The consequences of under-consuming nutrient-dense foods and over-consuming foods high in empty calories usually lead to a variety of health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension…just to name a few. What can we be doing differently and how can we make these adjustments in a fast-food world?

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I’ll start with fruits and vegetables. We all know they are good for us, but we don’t eat them often enough (shocking, I know). Why? I could write an entire post on the excuses people give me for not eating fruits and vegetables. They don’t taste good. They’re too expensive. I don’t have time to prepare them. Fruit is too high in sugar. I’m not a rabbit. The list goes on…however it is resulting in very poor intakes across Americans. Over 80% of the population isn’t getting the recommended amount of vegetables in their diet (2-4 cups per day for most adults, depending on caloric need). Vegetables play a huge role in overall health, including reduced risk of many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and may even be protective against certain types of cancer. This is largely due to the phytochemicals vegetables contain, which are health promoting nutrients (in a nutshell). These beneficial nutrients are also found in fruits- another food group that is under-consumed by Americans. The only population that is currently meeting the recommended amount of fruits daily is young children- and sadly this is largely in the form of fruit juices. Although 100% fruit juice is considered a fruit, I don’t recommend it. Most juices are high in added sugars, not as filling as an actual piece of fruit, and lack the fiber and phytochemicals that whole fruit has. Yes, fruit has naturally-occurring sugars but eating fruit does not make you fat, nor is it unhealthy. The nutrients that are occurring in fruit are highly beneficial and if consumed in the recommended amount (1.5-2.5 cups per day based on caloric needs) can be helpful for weight loss (if they are replacing foods high in added sugars and calories).

How can we make shifts to include more fruits and veggies in our diet? Including more veggies in combination dishes is a good start. I like to cut out half the required amount of protein and starch in a recipe and replace with more vegetables. Start serving side salads with dinner. Designate a day of the week (I usually do this the day I grocery shop) to cut up your veggies and place in containers in front of the fridge so they can be easily seen to grab as a snack. If you don’t like eating raw veggies plain try dipping in yogurt-based dressings or hummus. I personally love the frozen steamable vegetables, they are perfect for a busy weeknight! Fruits can be easily increased in the diet by having it replace dessert (try adding a little whipped cream or yogurt dipping sauce if the kids complain- strawberries with a light dark chocolate drizzle is a good option to try as well), blending in smoothie, or having for a snack.

I just can't get enough of Whole Foods salad bar!

I just can’t get enough of Whole Foods salad bar!

The second concern I mentioned is that Americans are consuming too many calories. Obviously this is an issue, otherwise we wouldn’t have the problem with obesity that we do now. My biggest concern is that this is becoming a problem in children as well…nearly 1/3 of children in the United States are either overweight or obese. I don’t like to classify children by their BMI percentile, and just because your child is in the overweight or obese percentile doesn’t necessarily mean they will be obese as an adult. If your child is overconsuming calories, especially in the form of added sugars and empty calorie foods, then it is very probable these habits will continue on into adulthood and weight (along with various other comorbidities) will be a concern. We need to make a shift to consume more foods that are naturally low in calories (such as fruits and vegetables) and less foods that calorically dense and not nutrient dense (candy, soda, french fries).

The foods we are eating most of are high in what we need less of…sugar, saturated fat and sodium. This is a result of eating too much processed foods, sweetened beverages and fast food. Most are getting their protein needs in the form of ground beef, chicken, pork and processed meats. Intakes of seafood and legumes are below recommended intakes. Animal proteins all have saturated fat, some more than others depending on the type (dark meats and red meat are highest). Getting more protein in the form of vegetable proteins (such as nuts, beans, soy) and fish will decrease saturated fat intake and increase fiber and healthy fat intake. Sodium is found in everything, but is in especially high amounts in processed food and fast food. Stick to those outer aisles when grocery shopping folks, it will save you thousands of milligrams of sodium per week (your heart will thank you too!).

Although we are eating too much saturated fat, we aren’t eating enough healthy fats. Oils shouldn’t be added to the diet but should REPLACE solid (saturated) fats. For example, cooking with canola oil instead of butter. Oils are found in commonly extracted from plants (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, etc) but are also found naturally in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocado. The fats in these are essential fatty acids and are beneficial to health. Too many people think these fats should be added to what they are already eating (for example eating an entire avocado for a snack, eating a cup full of nuts before bed) but this will only add an exorbitant amount of calories to your total daily intake- most likely resulting in weight gain. Instead, replace fried chicken with grilled salmon, ranch salad dressing with an oil based salad dressing, avocado for cheese when eating Mexican, or a couple tablespoons of nuts for a handful of chips.

And finally…dairy. There are a lot of mixed opinions on dairy, even from dietitians. Although some may not want to include dairy in their diet, whether it’s because they are lactose intolerant or think it’s unhealthy, we do need to consume more calcium-rich foods. Dairy foods do provide a lot of key nutrients that Americans are lacking (Vit A, Vit D, calcium, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin B12) but the recommended intakes of these nutrients can be met if you are consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables (especially if you are getting multiple colors of fruits and veggies each week), fish, meat, and whole grains. Calcium can be found in quantities similar to cow’s milk in soy, almond, coconut or rice milk, and can also be found in yogurt, cheese and in non-dairy foods such as collard greens, broccoli, kale and soybeans. Calcium intake is especially important for bone health and if milk or a milk-equivalent is consumed in the recommended amount (2-3 cups per day), it can prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Because osteoporosis is more prevalent in women, teenage girls need to be getting the recommended intakes to build and preserve bone health

Yes, there is dairy in your Starbucks latte or frap, but that comes with loads of sugar as well. Enjoy on occasion for a treat and try to get your calcium from healthier sources the rest of the time.

Yes, there is dairy in your Starbucks latte or frap, but that comes with loads of sugar as well. Enjoy on occasion for a treat and try to get your calcium from healthier sources the rest of the time.

Once we start filling our bodies with products of nature and not science, our nation will become much healthier. Unfortunately with all the added salt, sugar and fat that the food industry is putting into their products, real foods no longer stand a chance on the taste scale. Start with simple steps, such as adding more vegetables to your recipes or replacing dessert 3 times per week with a piece of fruit. Making a long term change is hard but can be done if you’re willing to set the short-term goals to get there.