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12 Days of Fitness 2018: Day 4 – Healthy Foods?

(This is part 4 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Wouldn’t it be just a better place if the food we ate had no ramifications? We could eat whatever we wanted in whatever quantities we desired. Since we know that’s a dream world we have developed two categories of food: those that are healthy and those that are not healthy. Healthy foods make sense. In other words they are foods that we may think are innately healthy or that would make us healthier if we ate them. So listed below are some “healthy” foods, or should I say “perceived healthy” foods and a better way of looking at them. Don’t get me wrong, I think that all of the foods mentioned below can be and often should be a part of a nutritious diet. We just need to change our perception about what components these foods actually contain and how to appropriately use them to fit our dietary needs.

Energy Bars

The Good: An energy bar is a quick and convenient source of energy, carbohydrates, protein, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. The Bad: Energy bars are sometimes seen as a “must-have” in the diet, particularly endurance athletes. The perception is that by eating energy bars or that energy bars have something everyone needs and can’t get from other foods.  Although energy bars can have a place in your diet, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Some bars can be very high in calories and fat — sometimes equaling what is normally consumed in a full meal yet is only being used as a snack.
  • Review the label because some have a nutrition profile more similar to a candy bar than a health food.
  • Some bars are heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals which may run the risk of consuming too high of doses when added to other foods and supplements in your diet
  • Energy bars are quite financially costly when compared to other food sources with equivalent calories and carbohydrates

Bottom line: Most energy bars are nutritious, concentrated sources of energy. However, they should be reserved for your days when you require a significant amount of extra energy and carbohydrates, like for exercise, or you just can’t find the time to sit down to eat. They should not be used to replace meals when you could otherwise be eating a variety of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.


The Good: Granola is a concentrated source of carbohydrates that can add flavor and texture to a variety of foods. The Bad: Overindulging is easy because granola can pack a lot of calories into a small volume. Consider the following:

  • Many granolas are high in fat, sugar and calories and usually those marketed as low-fat compensate with additional sugar
  • Recommended serving sizes for granola are quite small (1/4 to 1/2 cup) yet we usually eat portions closer to 1 cup or more
  • Unlike other breakfast cereals, granola is often unfortified, so you may be missing out on vitamins and minerals if you suddenly replace your breakfast or snack with only granola

Bottom line: Keep portion sizes of granola small; use it as a topping for fruit or yogurt or combine it with other cereals that are lower in fat and calories.


The Good: Sticking with the theme, bagels are a convenient, concentrated source of energy and carbohydrates that can fuel a workout or be used for recovery. The Bad: Bagels options vary greatly in portion size and nutritional content. What we’ve accepted as “normal” may be packing a lot more calories than we think.

  • Bagels are very energy dense with a typical size bagel containing ~300 calories and ~60 g of carbohydrate
  • Bagels are typically not eaten plain — we add a lot more calories with peanut butter, jams, or cream cheese on top
  • Many bagels are made with refined, white flour that is lacking in fiber and nutrients that would be obtained from whole grains

Bottom line: Choose smaller portion sizes (either half of a normal bagel, thin or the cute little mini bagels), choose bagels made with whole grains, and add a fruit or protein source to make it a complete meal.


The Good: Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium and protein and is very versatile in its uses. Plus, the composition of yogurt includes beneficial bacteria that aids digestion.

The Bad: You have to look closely at the nutrition label to know what you are really getting.

  • Some yogurt, as with other dairy products, have a high level of fat (particularly yogurts made with whole or 2% milk)
  • Most “fruit” flavored yogurts are high in sugar since the fruit is often just sugary jam packed into the bottom
  • Frozen yogurt is sometimes put in the same category as yogurt even though frozen yogurt doesn’t contain nearly as much calcium or protein and is very high in added sugars

Bottom line: Yogurt is a great addition to your diet. Buy low-fat, plain yogurt and maximize its nutritional profile by adding your own flavorings like honey, vanilla, cinnamon, berries, etc.


The Good: Smoothies can be convenient, portable sources of fruits, vegetables, dairy and more, helping you meet your daily needs for these food groups. The Bad: Smoothies can hide a lot of calories and added sugars in an otherwise healthy sounding beverage. Keep these things in mind:

  • Beverages or liquid forms of food are less filling that solid foods so the same amount of calories won’t be as satisfying (consider the feeling of fullness after eating an apple vs. drinking a cup of apple juice)
  • Many “smoothies” purchased outside of the home have a lot of added sugars that make the nutritional content similar to soft drinks

Bottom line: Smoothies can be an alternative to a snack with a lot of added sugars. It can help you meet your daily requirements for fruits and dairy or quenches a thirst after a hard workout. It is best to make your own smoothies using whole fruit, low-fat milk or yogurt, and no added sugars.

See you tomorrow for Day 5 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.


Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – Weight Loss Once and For All
Day #2 – 10 Pieces of Equipment Everyone Needs to Work Out at Home
Day #3 – Are You Afraid of Eating Fruit?

Energy Bars – Tricks or Treats?

multigrain_energybarEven before I was a fitness professional and really appreciated the negative effects of sugar, I was never a huge candy fan. But that didn’t keep me from enjoying Halloween and it’s funny now to think back and remember that the worst homes to trick or treat were the ones that gave out the healthiest treats (i.e. fruits, nuts, etc.) Sure, I enjoy the occasional treat every once and awhile but most of the “bars” I might consume today are of the “nutritional bar” variety. Do “energy bars” have a place in your dietary landscape and are they really that much better for you? Let’s take a closer look.

The 100 Million Dollar Bar

The “energy bar” industry is big business and can be broken down into bars classified as nutrition bars, meal replacements, weight loss aids, diet bars, protein bars, etc., as well as ergogenic, or performance enhancing bars. No matter what your goal, there is a bar for you.  Some stores have complete sections of nothing but bars and if there’s one in particular you like, chances are you can buy it in bulk at your local warehouse store. Bars are sold on the premise of convenience, portability, and quality (they’re the best option when nothing else is around – or my translation, you were ill prepared). There are literally hundreds to choose from and making a healthy choice can be nerve racking. And despite what the marketing and labeling of the bar will tell you, chances are you’d best be advised to re-evaluate your goal and see if consuming something much closer to a Snickers bar has any room in your plan, or waistline.

It’s Not A Perfect World

The problem with bars is that they are sold as or part of some programs as a regular staple of a daily diet.  That should never be the case. Controlling your caloric intake should go way beyond the dependence on chocolate covered 20 ingredient chewiness. Most are an ingredient shy, a few grams of sugar less, but more vitamins and minerals than a candy bar. In a major pinch, sometimes a bar will be the best option if quality nutrition isn’t around or available. So how do you know which one is best for you in your time of need?

  • Check the ingredients.  As with all food label reading, the proof is in the ingredients, not the marketing. The less ingredients the better.
  • If sugar or some form of sugar are the top ingredients (ingredients are listed from largest to smallest in quantity used), look for a better choice.
  • Bars that make “bold” claims, such as boosting metabolism, increasing energy (calories are energy – consume more of those if you need energy), usually contain trace amounts of the elements that would allow them to make those claims

Bottom line: Don’t become dependent on bars.  If weight loss is your goal and you’re consuming a bar or two a day, there are bigger problems failing you.  If you need more energy, perhaps you need more sleep or exercise or less sugar….consuming bars isn’t the answer. If you’re looking for enhanced performance, depending on your event they may be the best due to portability but your success should not rely on their dependence.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.



The 12 Days of Fitness – Day 9 – The Top 10 Mistakes Made By Fit People

a3f79fca82d7aa79156cce0b5dbcf9b8_exercise-mistakes-300x300_galleryThose who exercise regularly have lots to be proud of.  They’ve increased their chances for a healthier, longer life; decreased their risks for hundreds of illnesses and premature death; they earn the distinction of being one of the few who value their health and actually take good care of themselves.  But even fit people aren’t perfect, and too many waltz through life believing that because they workout or because they work with a personal trainer, that they’re immune to the rules that make all the difference.  I call these:

The Top 10 Mistakes Made By Fit People

  • Skipping breakfast. Breakfast literally translates into “break the fast”.  The fast being the hours between your last meal and the time you get up.  Skipping the first opportunity of the day to fuel the engine and the engine won’t run optimally all day
  • Not eating before a workout. Providing the body with food for energy allows for a better, more productive exercise session. Try eating a pre-workout meal consisting of carbs, a little fat and some protein no later than 45 minutes prior to the session.
  • Replacing meals with energy bars or replacement drinks. Many energy bars offer little more nutrition than your average candy bar and replacement drinks may lack adequate fiber. There’s really no substitute for healthy whole foods.
  • Trusting the accuracy of dietary supplement labels and claims. Because the supplement industry remains largely unregulated, manufacturers can make unproven and untested claims about their products. Do your homework before putting anything into your body.
  • Believing that exercise means you can eat whatever you want. Whether you exercise a little or a lot, you still need to follow a healthy, balanced diet and watch you portion sizes.
  • Doing nothing but cardio.  For many, they believe that cardio in copious amounts is the only way to shed weight and burn fat.  In reality, too much cardio can actually be counterproductive to fat loss efforts.
  • Weight train like a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders trainto build their physique to compete in show; a discipline that is not conducive to the average person’s desired lifestyle.  If you’re not going to be a bodybuilder and do ALL of the necessary requirements, why train like one?  The results will never live up to your expectations.
  • Jumping on the latest diet craze in search of that elusive “edge.” It’s tempting to believe for even the very active that there is some magic formula out there that will dramatically improve our performance or lose weight, but the best approach remains to stick to the basics and follow a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Reading or watching TV while exercising. I know, I know.  It helps to pass the time.  But I question just how hard can you be exercising if able to concentrate enough to read or follow a TV program? It’s why they call it a workout.
  • Neglecting to stretch.  Think of stretching as a way to help muscles to recover, and not a way to compete in the next Olympics as a gymnast.  Increased range of motion is a good thing, but muscle health and recovery feels so much better.

See you tomorrow for Day 10 of my 12 Days of Fitness.