Leaky gut- What is it and how can I fix it?

Gut health is essential. It can affect metabolism, energy levels, immunity and digestion and absorption of nutrients. Even if you have a perfect diet, your gut has to be able to absorb the nutrients to help them work properly, otherwise you aren’t getting the true benefit of eating them. What causes a gut to be in poor health, and what can you do to make sure your gut is in optimum health?

Leaky gut syndrome (or increase in intestinal permeability) is when the lining of the intestines do not work properly to prevent large molecules from passing through. Normally there is a tight junction within the intestinal walls to allow for transport of small molecules (amino acids, electrolytes, water) into the bloodstream to be used by the body. When this tight junction is compromised larger molecules that should be blocked, such as undigested food particles and toxins can enter the bloodstream- no fun! This causes a variety of symptoms including gas, bloating, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, autoimmune reactions and food allergies.

Leaky gut typically is a result of things that weaken digestive function. This includes chronic antibiotic use, the use of NSAIDs (ibuprofen), chronic stress, drinking alcohol, and eating refined foods. Eating foods with anti-nutrients such as phytates and lignin can also cause leaky gut to happen because our bodies aren’t able to break down these foods very well and may lead perforations (holes) in the intestines. Phytates are found in grains, brown rice and oats. Lectins are found largely in wheat, rice and soy.

There are specific tests to test for leaky gut that you may want to talk with your doctor about if you believe you may be suffering with this condition. The tests include: urine test, stool and digestive analysis, blood test for IgG and IgA antibodies, or a bacterial dysbiosis test.

The good new is, you can heal your leaky gut. Here are the steps that should be taken.

  1.  Remove foods from your diet that are impairing gut health. The foods that are hard to digest and may be causing damage to your gut include grains, legumes and processed foods. These should be avoided, at least for the duration of the healing process.
  2. Begin eating more foods that restore gut health by reducing inflammation and promoting good bacteria. These foods include
    • yogurt with active cultures- great for replenishing beneficial gut bacteria
    • fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi- also great for replenishing beneficial gut bacteria
    • Coconut products- the medium chain fatty acids in coconut are easier to digest than other fats and can help to support the growth of good bacteria
    • Healthy fats- such as avocado, fatty fish, olives and healing bone broth can help to reduce inflammation that has occurred from your leaky gut
    • Sprouted grains- such as hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are great sources of fiber that can help support the growth of healthy bacteria
  3. Gut healing supplements are also beneficial. These include fish oil, probiotics and L-glutamine. Fish oil targets inflammations and reduces it. Probiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in the intestinal tract. L-glutamine is the most beneficial as it is an anti-inflammatory essential amino acid that is responsible for the growth and repair of the intestinal lining.
  4. Manage stress more effectively. Stress promotes inflammation and increases healing time.

Here is what a sample day of eating looks like to heal a leaky gut:

Breakfast: Omelet made with omega-3 eggs. Berries. Coconut milk.

Lunch: Salad with chicken and avocado, olive oil and vinaigrette dressing. Fruit.

Snack: yogurt with chia seeds mixed in.

Dinner: salmon, sweet potato, broccoli.

Snack: smoothie made with banana, mango, kale, hemp seeds, coconut milk

Here’s to a happy and healthy gut!

Summer Grilling

Forget the hot dogs and hamburgers this Fourth of July, here are some much healthier (and more flavorful) grilled favorites of mine.

Grilled chicken sausage with mixed vegetables

IMG_4450

Ingredients:

  • Chicken sausage cut into bite-size pieces (I usually buy al fresco brand, they have a spinach and feta flavored sausage that’s really good. See here. Publix also carries their own brand of chicken sausage that is minimally processed and a good option as well.
  • Veggies: for this recipe I used 1 zucchini, 1 summer squash, 1 red bell pepper, 1 package of portabella mushrooms and 2 small red potatoes. Cut all veggies to size you desire (I quarter mine).
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp rosemary, 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Mix everything together and place in foil. Grill for 30-35 minutes, until potatoes are fully cooked. Tastes great with a glass of red wine with mixed summer berries for dessert. Yum!

Hawaiian Chicken Kabobs

IMG_4594

Ingredients:

For the marinade

  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 tsp paprika

For the kabobs

  • Chicken breast, cut into small pieces. For two people and a baby I used about 3/4 pound of chicken (we love leftovers…no-cook lunches!)
  • Veggies: 1 sliced zucchini, 1 sliced summer squash, 1 sliced red onion, 1 sliced green pepper, 1 sliced red pepper, 1 pack portabella mushrooms (I left these whole)

After mixing the marinade ingredients together, put in a ziplock baggie with the chicken and marinade for at least 2 hours. Soak wooden skewers for about 10 minutes in water and then place one of each ingredient (chicken and veggies) on each skewer. Repeat if you have room. Grill for about 20-25 minutes. I like to serve this meal with grilled sweet potato fries and fresh pineapple. To make my sweet potato fries I slice a fresh sweet potato into a fry-shape and season with about 1 tbsp of olive oil and just a touch of garlic salt and pepper. I grill these on foil alongside the skewers. Delicious!

Fish tacos with mango salsa

I love Mexican food and this dish is my favorite, hands down. I used tilapia for the example in this blog post, but I use mahi-mahi sometimes too. Grouper would also taste amazing, but I haven’t tried it with this recipe yet.

IMG_4793 (2)

Ingredients:

For the fish (2 servings)

  • tilapi or mahi-mahi filets
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (this is optional- only if you like to add a little kick to it)

For the salsa

  • 1 large mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced red onion
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, diced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Combine the seasoning ingredients for the fish and let sit in marinade for 20-30 minutes. Grill fish for about 3 minutes per side. Mix all salsa ingredients together. I like to serve on small corn tortillas with a Mexican slaw mixture (Dole makes this and it has kale mixed in and I’ve seen it at most grocery stores. Kroger also makes their own brand of this). I place the fish on top of the salad mixture and add the salsa on top of the fish. We like to eat our fish tacos with a couple tortilla chips and fresh guacamole. A margarita with fresh squeezed lime is the perfect addition to my favorite summer meal.

Enjoy!

 

This entry was posted in Recipes.

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??

IMG_4364

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.

 

IMG_4370

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.

IMG_4357 - Copy

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.

IMG_3833 (1)

  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

IMG_3834 (1)

 

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.

 

Marathon training- the importance of proper fueling, long runs and recovery. Part 1


**Disclaimer– I am not a running coach or certified in personal training. This post is solely based on my experiences as a marathon runner and I do not necessarily recommend that anyone follow the same training plan I do/have.**

I am currently training for my 6th marathon which will be right here in ATL- I’ve heard the hills are brutal but I’m ready to take them on. I feel like I have finally learned how to train to run my best and stay healthy in the process. It takes a lot of patience to train for these kind of long races and there is a lot of learning involved.

While training for my first marathon, which was the Chicago marathon in 2009, I didn’t follow any sort of training plan. I just did a long run (16-22 miles) on the weekends and ran an hour or more every other day. No speed or hill work, not a lot of recovery days either.I ran decent, my finish time was 3:29- pretty solid for my first marathon. I had no race strategy and let my excitement get the best of me, my first mile of the marathon was the fastest mile I’ve ever ran- 5 minutes on the dot- and I paid for that later on in the race. The last 10 miles were ugly. For my first marathon though, it was all about the experience and the finish.

My second marathon was in Phoenix, and since we were living there at the time it’s also where I trained. I had no idea that in Phoenix temperatures do not get of the 100 range until mid-October. A lot of my runs were done in pretty extreme heat, and I don’t think I was able to train to my full potential. I ran surprisingly well once marathon day came, and PR’d at 3:22.

Marathon #3 was the Boston marathon. I was so excited and wanted to run a perfect race. I followed their training plan which involved a long run, a recovery day, easy days, 2 speed workouts/hill workouts per week and tempo runs. Best training I have ever done for a marathon, but my nutrition was terrible. I wanted to be as lean as I could, thinking that would make me faster. The course was brutal, I was tired and my body wasn’t fueled the way it needed to be. I ran 3:35 and some odd seconds, making it the first time ever that I didn’t qualify for the Boston marathon (qualifying time for my age group is 3:35 on the nose).

My fourth marathon (the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon) was the closest I have ever come to training perfectly. I didn’t exactly follow a plan but I ran just enough and rested just enough to match my body’s needs for building that perfect fitness level I needed to run 26.2 miles. My nutrition was great. I ran my fastest marathon at a time of 3:20. I felt great afterwards too, and a little disappointed in myself because I felt like I had held back. I could have run faster!

Finally, the last marathon I ran was just this past fall, almost 2 years after my amazing run in Indianapolis (I was busy being pregnant and birthing a baby during that break). I ran my 5th marathon in Chicago again and thought I would definitely PR.  My half marathon times had improved since having a baby and I thought my marathon time would as well. It ended up being the worst marathon I had ever run. I don’t even remember my time…I think it was around 3:45. Much slower than the 3:15 I had trained for and envisioned. Looking back, I think I was placing a pretty high expectation on myself. I was over-trained and my body just wasn’t getting the fuel it needed. I knew how to train for a marathon but was running much more than I should have been, all while pushing Carli in the jogging stroller. I would run longer than I had planned because I wanted her to get a good nap in, and if I stopped running it would always wake her. I was eating nonstop but I was also breastfeeding. My body was pulling a lot of the calories it needed to fuel my running for making breastmilk. All in all, it was disastrous but also a learning experience.

As I’m training for my 6th marathon I’m following the Level 4 Boston marathon training plan (it can be found on their website here). I’m taking one rest day per week, I’ve learned through the years that I can run high mileage as long as I’m allowing my body a day off every 7 days. If I don’t, I get injured.

This is a peek at what my last week looked like. My training paces are as follows:

Long runs/easy: 8:10 min/mile

Aerobic runs: 7:40 min/mile

Marathon pace: 7:20 min/mile

½ marathon pace: 6:55 min/mile

10k pace: 6:35 min/mile

5k pace: 6:15 min/mile

 

This weeks total mileage: 62 miles

Monday: 8 miles (aerobic)

Tuesday: intervals- 2 mile warm up, 6x ½ mile @10k pace, ¼ mile jog between intervals, 2x ½ mile @5k pace, ¼ mile jog between intervals, 3 mile cool down

Wednesday: 6 miles easy

Thursday: 22 miles

Friday: 5 miles easy

Saturday: 2 mile warmup, 2x 3 miles @½ marathon pace, ½ mile jog between sets, 2 mile cool down

Sunday: rest day

As I don’t go too hard on my easy days and take Sundays off it’s a training plan that works really well for me. I have worked hard to build up to the training level that I am at, and the hard work has paid off. I just hope my marathon time reflects it and I don’t have a repeat of Chicago!

Nutrition is just as important, if not more important, than the training plan. I have a lot to say about that, which I will discuss in another blog post. Stay tuned!

image

 

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?

image

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.

 

Am I really addicted to sugar?

“I’m addicted to chocolate.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this statement during one of my counseling sessions. It’s something that’s easy to joke about, but I have seen those who seriously struggle with cravings for sweets that are so intense they will do anything possible to get their hands on chocolate, ice-cream, cookies…anything to get their fix. Is sugar addiction real? Is it something that can be treated? Or is it just a matter of having good willpower? 

Now that she's discovered sugar, she can smell it from a mile away

Now that she’s discovered sugar, she can smell it from a mile away

There are physiological and environmental factors that influence our drive to eat. This starts with metabolic sensors in our body that are controlled by internal fat stores, blood glucose levels, nerves in our gut and hunger/satiety hormones. Physiologically, food intake is also influenced by the pleasure we get from eating. There is a pleasure-reward circuitry in our brain and when we eat something that is highly palatable (such as a food high in sugar) this causes the release of opiods (“bliss chemicals”- includes endorphins) that make us feel good. Sometimes even the anticipation of food can release these chemicals and give us pleasure! Ever been to a Christmas party and see the arrangements of sweets on the table and feel the need to eat one as soon as possible? Just the external stimuli of highly palatable foods can cause the release of dopamine (another one of those bliss chemicals that when activated can stimulate the pleasure “hot spot” of the brain, which just magnifies the pleasure we feel during activities like eating, sex and nurturing) in such a small amount that it teases us into wanting the full effect. Studies have actually shown that continuous consumption of foods that are high in sugar can stimulate the drive to eat more even when there is no physiological need for food. Overconsumption of these foods can lead to a greater release in dopamine (which results in greater pleasure). There is actually a “dulling” effect of the reward system in our brain when we overeat these highly sugary foods which results in a need for eating even more of these foods to bring dopamine signaling back up to pleasurable levels. This can lead to a vicious cycle that results in the need to eat more and more sweets to get the feeling of gratification, leading to addiction to that particular food (or anything in general that is high in sugar).

Amazingly, sugar addiction is caused by activation of the same regions of the brain that are activated in response to drugs that are highly abused. There is evidence to show that repeated exposure to large amounts of foods high in sugar can alter the brain similar to the way drugs do to promote constant consumption and loss of control. The excess consumption of these foods also downregulate pathways (as mentioned before), so continued intake becomes necessary to relieve stress or seek comfort. It becomes much like drug usage, continued intake is needed to prevent withdrawals.

So what makes a food have addictive qualities? It’s highly processed foods that are made by science (typically accompanied by chemical additives and flavor enhancers) not products of nature (fruits and vegetables, grains that are not processed) that trigger the release of dopamine and opiods into our system, similar to the way that recreational drugs do. Foods especially high in sugar can be highly addictive because of their rapid absorption into the bloodstream, causing a spike in blood sugar resulting in a spike of dopamine, followed by a crash of the two resulting in hunger and the need for more sugar to get that “sugar high” again. High fructose corn syrup (added to sugary items such as soda) can make food even more addictive because fructose is associated with reduced levels of appetite suppressing hormones. Fructose consumption can actually increase food intake by promoting sensations to increase hunger despite metabolic needs. Finally, artificial sweeteners such as splenda can increase our addiction to sugar. Usage of these confuse the brain- it thinks we are getting something sweet but we are really not getting any calories from consuming them. This leads us to being unable to read our internal hunger signals which can disrupt our ability to eat intuitively. The intense sweetness of these sweeteners also increases our sweet threshold which can result in increasing our preference for sweet flavors.

While highly processed and sugary foods have addictive qualities, foods naturally high in sugar do not. I’ve heard so many people say they don’t eat fruit because their diet won’t allow it, it’s too high in sugar, they’re avoiding carbs….the list goes on. Fruit does have fructose but the quantity is substantially less than that found in processed foods. Fruit also raises blood glucose levels, but at a much slower rate than processed foods high in added sugar, which results in a much slower release of dopamine. Fruit also is high in fiber and phytochemicals (health benefiting nutrients), something that highly processed foods with added sugar do not have.

So how can you conquer or prevent sugar addiction? There are stages as outlined by the Food Addiction Institute:

1). Stop getting high on trigger foods- any of these are false fixes that lead to a short-term reward.

2). Choose healthy fixes- These include physical activity, nourishing food choices, and positive interactions. Eating more of these “whole food choices” help to recalibrate brain chemistry. Good choices include lean protein to promote satiety, healthy fats (especially foods high in omega 3 fatty acids) and carbohydrates that are not processed but high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans). All of these positive fixes can boost dopamine response.

3) Expect withdrawals- Know that it may take 2-5 days for cravings to subside. It’s important to have a good support system during this time

4) Know that your taste buds CAN change- but gradually- it can take 8-12 weeks for recalibration to occur. Be patient and stick with it. Eventually you can train your brain to appreciate and enjoy the taste of healthful foods.


I promise you can love veggies just as much as I do!

I promise you can love veggies just as much as I do!

5) Learn how to deal with emotions and stress in ways other than eating. Exercise, prayer and a strong support group are all good outlets.

6) Make realistic long-term goals to work toward, and set short term goals to get there.

7) Do NOT diet!!!! I cannot stress this enough. Diets don’t work and mess with our ability to eat intuitively. Dieting induces neuroadaptations in the reward circuitries of the brain that were designed to favor survival in times of food scarcity. This can result in behaviors that lead to binging, obsession with food, and the increased desire for highly palatable foods. This is why I always recommend staying away from dieting and focusing on developing a healthy relationship with food and peace with your body.

Welcome!

Hello!

Welcome to my blog! There is so much misinformation about nutrition on the internet and I hope this can be a place for you to find helpful (and truthful) dietary advice. I want to be as authentic as possible, and I hope to do that by sharing some of my own struggles with food and dieting. As a registered dietitian I have completed a 4 year degree program at an accredited university (Purdue University- boiler up!!) followed by a 10 month supervised practice internship program in Corpus Christi, TX. FINALLY in 2011 I was able to sit for the RD exam, which upon passing I became a registered dietitian! The information on this blog is largely influenced on personal experiences in my professional practice and education and may or may not reflect the view of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I can assure you that any recommendation for disease prevention and medical nutrition therapy is fully supported by evidenced based research.

I struggled with an eating disorder for many years before becoming a dietitian. Even while completing my education at Purdue and during my internship I privately fought the urges to fall back into my disordered eating habits- and I struggled to keep those thoughts quiet. I have fully recovered from my eating disorder and that is something I am proud of. My mission is to use my personal experiences along with my nutrition expertise to help people who struggle with the same issues I did for so long. From my experience, a person does not have to have a clinically defined eating disorder to allow food and eating rituals to control their life. The first four years of my practice I worked primarily with adults who were overweight or obese- many had multiple health issues which stemmed from their weight. Issues that came up so often were their feelings of guilt when eating, failing diets, feelings of hopelessness related to food and weight and the frustration that making the lifestyle change was not possible.

I think that for most people, this is normal. And to an extent, that’s okay. When you wake up in the morning and your jeans fit tighter than they did the week before it is probably going to be a little upsetting. You may feel a little guilty after eating 2 helpings of dessert. The difference is- do you let this dictate how the rest of your day goes? Does the number on the scale determine your self-worth? Do you have a bad day and then give up on yourself? I believe that normal, intuitive eating starts with developing a positive self-image. Once the focus is shifted away from the scale and good foods/bad foods (did I follow my diet perfectly?) then the changes can be made.

I’m here to help with simple meal planning, ideas on how to change your eating habits for LIFELONG change, and to discuss the struggles we all deal with on a daily basis when it comes food.

Can’t wait to connect with you!

 

With love,

Jennie