Foods People Think Are Healthy, But Actually Aren’t

More often than not, I see people classifying foods into one of two categories “good foods” and “bad foods”. Good foods are believed to be the ticket to good health and the weight of your dreams while bad foods are admonished for making you instantly fat and unhealthy. While I do believe some foods should be moderated and consumed less often than others (i.e. cake, fried foods & alcohol to name a few), it is important not to automatically categorize foods. All foods has it’s place and can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle and there is a lot of misinformation out there on what is “healthy” and what is not.

This post is a play on a previous one I wrote awhile back called “‘Bad’ Foods That Are Really Good For You”. Today, I am flipping it and want to educate you about foods people commonly think are healthier choices, but which may not be.

**DISCLAIMER: I am not necessarily saying these options are unhealthy ALL THE TIME**

They can, in fact, be healthy options and I will point out some key things to look out for to make sure of this.

Sweet Potato Fries

Better than regular fries? No. Fries are still that, FRIED. Yes, they contain more vitamin A than the classic variety, but they are still high in fat and calories.

Avoid this by baking your own at home and by keeping your portion size in check when eating out.

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Salads

Choose the salad over a burger right? However, although salads are comprised of a low-calorie vegetable base, their health value can easily go down when you add tons of high-fat dressings, fatty meats (think bacon), cheese, nuts and other “fun” toppings. For example, McDonalds Premium Southwest salad with crispy chicken contains 510 calories and 26 grams of fat…without the dressing. This is more than their cheeseburger, which contains only 300 calories and 12 grams of fat.

Avoid this by choosing a low-fat or vinaigrette dressing (and limiting your portion size to a couple tablespoons) and adding only 2-3 of the “fun” toppings described above. Also include a source of lean protein such as beans, grilled chicken or fish if your salad is an entrée. Protein digests slowly, keeping you fuller longer.

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt is oftentimes thought to be better for you than ice cream. However, this is not the case. Fro-yo is usually fat-free/low-fat and manufacturers make up for this flavor loss by adding more sugar to compensate. Thus, it is not necessarily lower in calories than traditional ice cream or custard. Additionally, filling up those massive containers and adding all the chocolate toppings doesn’t make fro-yo a health food.

Avoid this by limiting your portion to 1-1/2 cups and moderating your higher-calorie toppings.

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Turkey Burgers

A lot of times restaurants use both white and dark meat in their turkey burger recipes, making them just as high in fat and calories as beef-based burgers. This is true for some frozen patties you’de buy at the grocery store as well

Avoid this by double-checking with your server and/or food label to make sure only white meat is used.

 

Again, these are not always unhealthy choices, but be aware of these caveats and keep them in mind when reading labels and dining out.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Dough Protein Bites

Although I normally don’t buy protein powder myself, I received a lot of free samples at the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition symposium I recently attended in Portland, OR. One of the vendors had samples of protein bites that I could not get enough of! They were so good tasting and I could tell they were packed with nutrition. This inspired me to create my own version.

Given my recent cravings for oatmeal raisin cookies (random, I know), I decided to transform these flavors into a nutrient-dense energy bite. The result? Spot. On. These taste exactly like a cookie, but are packed with protein with. The majority of the sweetness comes from the naturally sweet dates and raisins, and only a minimal amount of extra sugar is needed in the form of agave nectar or honey. Each bite clocks in at only 110 calories and a whopping 5g of protein each (the equivalent to about 1 egg). These are a great make-ahead snack or even dessert!

 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Dough Protein Bites

Serves 8

Ingredients:

½ cup oats

1 scoop vanilla protein powder* (I used biPro French Vanilla flavor)

2 Tbs. almond butter

3 Medjool dates OR 6 regular dates

¼ cup +2 Tbs. raisins, divided

1 tsp. agave nectar or honey

2 Tbs. water

 

Directions:

Combine almond butter, dates, ¼ cup of raisins, & agave/honey in a food processor. Process until small particles are formed. Add oats, protein powder and milk and continue to process until combined. Mixture should be firm, but sticky and moist. If not, add more milk. Add remaining 2 Tbs. raisins and form into 8 balls. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

*Note: when choosing a protein powder, opt for a whey-based formula OR high-quality plant-based formula.

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WIAW #5

First off, thanks to everyone who sent warm thoughts, comments and wishes my way in regards to this post. It is very, very easy to judge others when it comes to food, exercise and body size. BUT it’s important to recognize that everyone deals with his or her own unique struggles in this realm. I’m glad sharing my own story helped many of you.

I will continue to post occasional updates in regards to my weight-gain experience, but for now, I thought sharing a days worth of eats might be beneficial. This is actually all of today’s meals and snacks. I’ll touch on this in a later post, but it really has surprised me just how quickly my metabolism has caught up to my increased eating schedule! The first few days I definitely had to “force” myself to eat, but now, I find myself hungrier more often and I can eat more at one time than I could before. Yay for fueling your body! It really is so, so SMART! Listen to it!

Breakfast-6:45am

I had to be on campus early for lab testing as part of my graduate assistantship duties. Participants of the study have to come in fasted, which means an early start time. I didn’t want to waste any sleep so I opted to make some Cherry Vanilla Almond Overnight  oatmeal the night before so I didn’t have to “waste” time cooking in the morning. Plus coffee…always coffee.

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Morning snack-10:30am

Banana + chocolate milk. I felt like I was in elementary school with this snack! I love these Horizon Organic milks! They are portable, not too sweet and offer a single-serve portions size which makes them a great option for when your snacking on-the-go.

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Lunch-1:30pm

After getting home from instructing my noon spin class, I was STARVING!! I quickly threw together a homemade black bean burger on a piece of toast with avocado plus a side of sweet potato fries and half an apple. I finished it off with a banana chocolate chip oatmeal cookie! Hunger satisfied.

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Afternoon snack-4:30pm

I wasn’t super hungry, but had some more work to do before I could leave campus so I pulled this larabar out from my backpack stash. I highly recommend this flavor! So good and low in sugar given it’s surprisingly chocolat-ey taste.

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Dinner-7pm

Leftover Easter ham that I stole from home and froze with roasted Parmesan green beans and mashed potatoes. A total comfort meal that hit.the.spot!

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Dessert/night-time snack-TBD

I think I’m feeling some ice cream + chocolate chips! Good thing I just bought some at the store…

 

Check out what everyone else is eating here and/or my past eats here !

Cherry Vanilla Almond Overnight Oats

Compared to the traditional heated varieties, overnight oatmeal is a great make-ahead breakfast option for busy mornings. No more excuses for skipping the most important meal of the day!!! Today, I want to provide you with another one of my favorite overnight oat variations. This one draws on the classic flavor combination of cherries, vanilla and almonds.

I usually use frozen cherries when I make this recipe because I don’t want to deal with de-pitting the fresh ones. Did you know frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts?? You bet they are! They are flash frozen at the peak of their ripeness, encapsulating all the flavor, vitamins and minerals. The same holds true for canned produce as well so don’t be deterred if you can’t find or afford to buy fresh produce all of the time.

Cherries are rich in anti-ageing antioxidants and research suggests they may help decrease inflammation in the body. If you are a morning exerciser like me, eating these after a tough workout could help reduce muscle soreness! The optional flax/chia seeds are powerful sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. All these health benefits, plus a satisfied stomach, happy taste buds and easy preparation. Enjoy!

 

Cherry Vanilla Almond Overnight Oats

Serves 1

Ingredients:

½ cup oats

½ Tbs. ground flaxseed or chia seeds (optional)

½ cup milk

¼ cup vanilla yogurt (my favorite is Siggi’s brand)

1/2 Tbs. honey or agave nectar (optional depending on how sweet you like it)

¾ cup frozen cherries (fresh would also work)

2 Tbs. dried cherries

1 Tbs. almond butter or chopped almonds

Directions:

Combine oats, flax/chia seeds (if using), milk, yogurt and sweetener in a bowl or to-go container. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4-6 hours. Before serving, heat frozen cherries in the microwave so they become warm a juicy. Top oats with cherries, dried cherries and nuts/nut butter.

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When You Need to Gain Some (Healthy) Weight

I’m not going to lie, I was really apprehensive about posting this. In fact, I had an alternative post titled “Easy Ways to Cut Calories Without Sacrificing Nutrition” that was all set to go instead (don’t worry, I will still post it eventually!). But, the goal of this blog is not to conform to the calorie-cutting, obsessive, restrictive, perfectionist ways of our society. No. My goal when I started this blog was to be candid, personal and real.

Within the past few months I’ve unintentionally lost weight from both stress (hello new job + end of grad school) and stomach issues (hello Irritable Bowel Syndrome). I know most people likely envy me for this, but don’t be so quick to judge. Although I am naturally a smaller, thinner person, this additional weight loss has resulted in some negative consequences. When I look in the mirror I don’t like that I can see protruding bones, my nails are brittle and weak, I’m always cold and my workouts have been lack luster. I’ve been focusing on gaining more strength and muscle mass through weight training, but have not been seeing the results I know I should be.

In sum, I need to gain some weight for my health. This needs to come in the form of muscle AND some additional fat. Again, I know a lot of people will sarcastically remark “Oh, your SO unlucky you have that problem” and roll their eyes. However, no matter what your goal is, whether it is gaining OR losing weight, it is scary, frustrating, uncomfortable and downright HARD. Although I love food and eating is one of my favorite things to do, I DO NOT like eating when I am not hungry or forcing myself to eat just for the sake of getting more calories in. This is especially challenging when you work in an industry that touts low-calorie, fat-free everything, intuitive eating and veggies instead of French fries. While these things are great, it’s hard not to compare yourself to the health nut next to you and feel like you shouldn’t be eating that high-calorie/larger portion of whatever it is.

Likewise, having a past of disordered eating myself, makes it even more challenging to mentally fight all the negative thoughts that arise based on what society says is “healthy”. Things like “only eat when you are truly hungry”, “get the kiddie-sized ice cream when you go out” and “switch from bagels to bagel thins” need to go out the window for me for the time being. Right now, my “healthy” involves gaining some weight, eating MORE calories and exercising LESS. This decision was not easy and was ultimately based on my health. I need some extra padding for warmth, to build the strength I want and (perhaps most important of all) I don’t want my future ability to have kids to be compromised.

Although I debated talking about this and sharing such personal information, I know I am not the alone in this struggle. I have read multiple blogs from women who have gone through the exact same thing and whose stories have helped so many others as a result. Again, that is why I started this blog and that is why I am sharing this with you all.

So, how am I going to do this? What i’m not going to do is sit around and eat chocolate all day. While I do want to gain weight, I don’t want to gain heart disease in the process. Here’s my plan of attack and some tips if you are in the same boat:

1.) Switch to 1% milk

If I didn’t despise the thick texture, I would even up it to 2% or whole, but growing up on skim milk this tastes like cream for me. Thus, 1% it is.

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2.) Add healthy fats to EVERYTHING

Avocado on sandwiches, soups and eggs; nut butter on anything and everything (which I do already); and sautéing vegetables in oil instead of steaming them. Don’t fear the fats, as they are nutrient dense, heart healthy ways to add calories.

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3.) Stock up on higher-calorie snacks

Good options include smoothies, Cliff bars and trail mix. These things pack a high amount of calories and nutrients into a small portion. This can help prevent you from feeling stuffed.

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4.) Eat larger amounts & more often

My goal is to eat 3 meals and 2-3 snacks throughout the day regardless of whether or not I’m actually “hungry”. Although this may be a burden and you may feel uncomfortably full, your metabolism will eventually adjust and you will naturally become hungrier. I also plan on eating larger portions at each eating occasion. For instance, instead of ½ cup of beans, I’ll have ¾ c and will continue to adjust from there as my stomach and mind become more comfortable with it.

5.) Throw traditional “food rules” out the window

As a dietitian, food rules are ingrained in my skull. Things like “1 cup of pasta is a single serving”, “only eat 3 oz. of red meat at a time”, “never go back for seconds” or “choose red sauce over cream” are what I talk about everyday. However, it’s important to remember that these are just guidelines. Everyone is unique and therefore calorie needs are different. Obviously I need more calories than I am taking in right now, so these rules need to be ignored.

6.) Honor & indulge your cravings

Give yourself some leeway. Want ice cream three nights in a row? Go for it and go for the full fat varieties. I’m talking Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Daz here people! Now is not the time to restrict yourself. Plus a secondary goal of weight-gain is oftentimes to develop a healthier relationship with food. This includes stopping the habit of placing certain “bad” foods off limits.

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7.) Limit cardio, up the strength and relax

I’ve been limiting my cardio to basically teaching spin once a week and, instead, have been focusing on strength training. It’s a long slow process to build muscle, but upping the calories will help. Additionally, never force yourself to workout because you feel like you have to in order to be healthy. Right now, limiting the high-intensity activities ARE healthy.

8.) Surround yourself with supportive people

Those who will remind you the importance of eating that snack even when you don’t want to. Those who won’t push cookies in your face all the time or tell you how “lucky” you are for being skinny. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who have a healthy relationship with food themselves.

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Like every lifestyle change, this is just a starting point and I’ll have to play around and adjust this plan to find what fits best for me. Although these are great tips, if you are someone who needs to gain some healthy weight, I encourage you to find and meet with a registered dietitian in your area to develop your own personalized plan.

I will keep you posted on my journey throughout this process and how I adjust it based on what I find. In essence, I’m my own nutrition experiment! Remember, there are a lot of women (and men!) who could benefit from adding some healthy L-B’s to their frames. Supporting each other (both in person and online) can really help. As a result, I encourage any comments or questions you may have on the topic. You never know who it might help. Thanks for reading!

Supplement Series Part 3: Do You Need One & How to Choose the Best One

We’ve reached the finale of my nutrition supplement series! Check out part one  & two  if you missed them. Here we go:

Do you actually need one?

Answer: Most people can get enough protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. from a well-balanced food-based diet, even the most intensely training athletes. Plus, food offers additional benefits not supplied by supplements including fiber and antioxidants. Fun fact: in terms of protein, most American’s already EXCEED their daily protein needs, making additional protein supplementation unnecessary.

Buuuuut, if you choose to take one….

Tips to choose the safest & best supplement:

1.) Read the labels & avoid these red flags:

  • Ingredients ending in –ol –diol or -sten
  • Products made by companies who sell banned substances
  • “Proprietary blends”
  • Tons of ingredients/unfamiliar ingredients
  • Products claimed to be an “alternative” or “natural”

 2.) Do your research ahead of time & rely on credible sources

The following websites offer critical, science-based reviews on various supplements. Some you have to create a user/password for and you have to pay (a small $3) fee for consumerlab.com, but it’s SO worth it for all the information you get. I use these sites a lot in nutrition counseling, specifically when I see athletes.

3.) Remember, more is NOT better

Contrary to the popular American mentality, more is not always better. Your body can only efficiently absorb and utilize a certain amount of nutrients at one time. Thus, consuming excessive amounts offer no additional benefits and could potentially cause harm. Specifically:

  • You can only absorb 20-30 grams of protein at one time, excess amounts offer no additional benefits for muscle growth. So, don’t choose a protein powder or creatine supplement boasting more than this.
  • Mega doses of vitamins and minerals are either stored (fat-soluble) or excreted in the urine (water-soluble). For example, you can only absorb 30-50% of your RDA for calcium at one time, the rest is peed out.
  • Choose a whey- or high-quality plant-based protein powder

Whey protein powder is superior to muscle development compared to other formulas because it contains the amino acid leucine. Leucin stimulates muscle protein synthesis for muscle repair and growth. If you avoid lactose, choose a high-quality plant based protein powder that contains all the essential vitamins and minerals. This article lists a bunch of great options.

There you have it! Overall, as I dietitian I find that the majority of healthy individuals DO NOT need to take supplements. Exceptions include those with a nutrient deficiency, vegetarians (who could benefit from calcium, vitamin D and B-vitamins), older adults, those with eating disorders and pregnant or nursing women. Like always, talk to a dietitian to find out whats right for you specifically!