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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.

Granola

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.

Bagels

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.

Yogurt

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.

Smoothies

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?

12 Days of Fitness 2018: Day 3 – Are You Afraid Of Eating Fruit?

(This is part 3 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Let me cut right to the chase with this one. This is one of the most ridiculous things I ever heard. People who won’t eat fruit because it has too much sugar! Really? Ok. Then show me someone who became obese from eating too much fruit?  Better yet, let me save you the time (basically you won’t find anyone) and really get into this fruity dilemma. This crazy idea that fruit is somehow a bad thing to eat came into full swing with the low carb diet craze a few years ago. The terrible thing is that the myth still persists.

Yes, There Is Sugar In in Fruit

I guess the best way to start is to say that sugar isn’t inherently bad for you. Too much of it is, specifically the wrong kind. There is natural sugar (i.e. the sugar in fruit) and there is added sugar (the culprit of all bad things). The body doesn’t differentiate between the natural and added sugars but the sugar in fruit offers so much more than the natural sugar it contains – including water, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients (those naturally-occurring plant compounds that have wide ranging beneficial effects on the body). The idea that fruit is “loaded with carbs” or is “full of sugar” needs to be clarified too. It’s true that when you eat fruit, the overwhelming majority of the calories you consume are supplied by carbohydrate – mostly in the form of fructose, which is the natural sugar in fruit. That however is the nature not just of fruit, but of all plant foods – they’re predominantly carbohydrate and that means not just natural sugars, but healthy starches as well as structural elements, like cellulose, that provide fiber. When you eat vegetables, the majority of the calories you’re eating come from carbohydrate, too. But you don’t hear people complaining that vegetables are “loaded with carbs”.

But What About the Carbs?

Before you go assigning foods as being loaded with sugar, or too high in carbs, consider not only the amount of sugar or carbs you’re eating, but the form of the carbohydrate, too. There’s a big difference between the nutritional value of the natural carbohydrates found in fruits and other plant foods: sugars, starches and fibers, and what is in, or not in, the empty calories we eat from added sugars that are literally everywhere.

How The Body Processes Sugar (Carbs)

A very important part to understand is that your body favors carbohydrates as a fuel source. When you eat them, enzymes in your digestive system break them down into their simplest possible form: sugar. Complex carbs, sometimes called starches, have complicated molecules that can take some time to break down. Simple carbs, or sugars, are easy to break down, if they need breaking down at all. Either way, the carbs you eat all become sugars called glucose, at which point they enter your bloodstream. At this point, your pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which does a few things with this blood sugar. The key to avoiding blood sugar spikes is tempering your carb intake with other foods that slow absorption. Fat and protein help to some degree, but the best way to slow absorption is with fiber, which are carbs so complex that your body can’t digest them, so they slow the digestion of the carbs around them, causing the sugar to enter your blood at a slow drip. This is one reason why high-fiber foods are considered a healthier option. They help you avoid blood sugar spikes. Fruit, in general, tends to be fiber-rich, making the sugar content irrelevant.

Can I Eat Too Much Fruit?

Of course, it is possible to take in too much of a good thing. Moderation is the key with any food. There are all kinds of incredibly healthful foods that can be overeaten, from seeds and nuts to salmon and avocados. Point is to always question who and where you get your knowledge. It can be all the difference.

See you tomorrow for Day 4 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

The Fructose Frenzy

imagesWith Halloween just a week or so away, it’s not uncommon to see an overabundance of sweets this time of year, particularly candy. (Although the stores had all their stuff out as early as August but that’s another story.) But whether it’s Halloween or Easter, of all the “bad” foods to eat, sugar is certainly the most recognizable. While even the most conscientious eater will say they don’t eat sugar because they don’t eat candy or don’t indulge in sweets, it’s really hard to totally avoid because it’s everywhere. It has several monikers and forms but ultimately sugar is sugar. None of which is more misunderstood than fructose.

Even Adam Couldn’t Resist

Fructose is the sugar found in fruit. It is nature’s way of essentially alerting us that a food item is safe to eat. Some fruits have a low amount of fructose (i.e. strawberries) while others have higher amounts. (i.e. apples). The point missed when comparing fruits and their fructose content however are all the other nutrients that come along as part of the package, namely the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. It also constitutes a very small percentage amount of calories compared to most things we eat. However, when fructose is used as a sweetener minus the vehicle in which it is usually ingested, fructose becomes a problem.

A Toxic Problem

Being a sugar, fructose is absorbed pretty easily in the body but unlike glucose (which gets absorbed almost immediately anywhere in the body), gets sent and absorbed by the liver first to then be broken down further to glucose. It’s a naturally occurring process and effective mechanism when the occasional piece of fruit is eaten throughout the day. The problem is, much of the fructose we enjoy isn’t even fructose or close to it. A term all too common these days is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS can be found everywhere and I mean everywhere; even in things you thought contained no sugar such as condiments for example. Why? It’s cheaper and much, much sweeter than glucose, fructose, whatever-tose. While food manufacturers would lead you to believe HFCS is good and healthy for you because it comes from corn and corn after all is healthy it couldn’t be a bigger marketing scam than “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” HFCS is made from the process of extracting the sugar from corn (dextrose) and converting it to fructose where it gets its high sweetness properties. The fructose in HFCS isn’t even extracted from fruits; it is purely manufactured. When foods containing HFCS are ingested, the liver is inundated with larger amounts of fructose than it can naturally handle, even if it is was from 20 apples at once. The liver handles this magnificently by converting the “toxin” (fake fructose) into free fatty acids which in turn are converted to triglycerides, much the same way it metabolizes alcohol. The end result? Aside from an increase in adipose tissue (fat), the result is a fatty liver and a multitude of health problems that have their origin from a toxic, poorly functioning liver.

It All Comes Down To Money

So how did something supposedly good for us (fructose) become so awful? Welcome to the world of mass food production where the only goal is how much of a product can be sold at cheaper manufacturing costs and still taste good enough that people can’t stop ingesting them. As previously stated, HFCS is everywhere and in its wake giving fructose itself a bad name. It’s cheaper than real, natural sugar, it has a longer shelf life, and it simply tastes good. It is much easier to eat too much HFCS and less likely to eat too much fructose. Does that mean fructose by itself is inherently bad for you? Absolutely not but just like anything else, you can eat too much of a good thing. The lesson here is to not confuse fructose in its natural form with an unnatural manufactured by product that acts and tastes like fructose. It can save you from committing a huge sin.

 

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