The Skinny on Fats

The Skinny on Fats

The advertisers and marketers in our society have gone to great lengths to convince us that fats are bad for us to eat. Some of them are and some are not.

By scaring us into believing that all fats are bad–we buy into (and literally buy) all the fat free, light and trans fat stuff they advertise as healthy. First we need to understand what fats really are.  I thought I knew, but once again, I was wrong.

Like with everything else, there are the goods and the bads….

Bad fats are saturated fats that the body has a harder time breaking down. They are usually stored by the body (as fat) and can usually be found in processed foods. These fats can cause cholesterol levels to go up and can put us as a higher risk of cancer, inflammatory diseases and heart disease.

But guess what?  While saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats and trans fat are very very bad for us–most cholesterol problems come from the processed sugar in our diets! Again from all the processed foods we eat.

That does not mean that I am recommending you eat saturated fats and stay away from sugar–I am recommending you stay away from processed foods as much as possible, because it has both!

The good fats though are very important to our bodies and we need them for the proper functioning of our bodies.  The goods can be found in meats, eggs (yes the yolks), and believe it or not the fat on pork.

Bacon lovers you can rejoice! Just make sure to find the best options for the good fat products that are available to you, for example, grass fed meat over corn fed.

Other good fats include avocados, walnuts, salmon, and cooking with extra virgin olive oil are another good source of the good fats that help our bodies.

So to make this completely confusing–if you want to lose the fat in your body you actually need to eat a balanced diet with more fat (the good fats).

But here is the really skinny part of fats–in my humble opinion it seems to me that we as a society are making things much harder than it needs to be.  

We drive ourselves crazy trying to find the “best” foods to eat while at the same time wanting the convenience and variety we have now. And there lies the problem.  There is too much of too much!

If we get back to basics and really look to eat as naturally as we can we can still have a great variety of foods that we enjoy without throwing our health to to wind.

When I think about my favorite foods–my mind always goes back to the things I most enjoyed in my childhood:  steak, chicken, rice, ripe tomatoes, fruit, vegetables.

All those things have the protein, the good carbohydrates and the good fats that we need. My mother has always cooked with olive oil or butter–but not in excessive amounts. Our tomatoes were plain or had a little olive oil and vinegar on them.

Rarely was anything deep fried or dripping with thick gravies. We ate modestly and we ate well. I never remember being hungry or unhealthy.

It wasn’t until adulthood and all the convenience of processed foods that my health started to change…and before you know it we spend years chasing back the health we already had and took for granted.

And that is my skinny–I’m getting back to basics.

What are your favorite foods–that may have been considered “bad” that turns out are not so bad?

Comment below or email me at emptynestsavvy@gmail.com with your thoughts and questions!

 

The Extremes

The Extremes

If you have been following my blog you know that I am on a journey to make my life the best it can be…faster, smarter and better…and hopefully give you ideas for your life as well.

Along this journey I have been examining life have have learned a great deal about myself, others and life in general.

Part of what I am digging into is human nutrition–me being the main human I am examining. I mean really, how can we live our best life if we are sick and tired all the time?

I for one was sick and tired of being sick and tired–so I was ready for the changes I am making and up to now am happy and better for it.

With that said I want to talk about changes–and when they go wrong–and that usually happens when we mere people take things to an extreme.

Most–but of course not all–people make nutritional changes to their diets because they want to lose weight. We realize we cannot continue on the upward trend the scale is making.

So we go on a diet–and we lose weight–and then we go back to our merry lives and we gain it all back and more…so we go on another diet.

I know…I’ve done it this myself and so we conclude that those diets don’t work.  Are the diets to blame? Or the dieters?

In my opinion it is neither. Here is what I mean:  We start a nutritional program and we are committed to it and we lose weight.  Both the program and the person are successful UNTIL we encounter something that doesn’t fit in the program.

Like donuts brought in by a generous coworker, an invitation to a baby shower or a birthday party.  Or Thanksgiving and Christmas come around again–and the diet is broken.

The real reason this happens is because most diet programs and the people following them–yes, including me–take them to an extreme.

If the program calls for no sugar, we try to cut out every drop of sugar in our entire lives. A no carb diet? We kill ourselves making sure we have not one gram of carbohydrates. Low fat? We cut out anything with any kind of fat–even the good fat that our bodies need!

Then there are the fad programs that call for eliminating everything but one component in order to lose weight: The grapefruit diet: only grapefruit; the coffee diet: black coffee 3 times a day! The banana diet–well you get the picture.

These ideas are not sustainable and they are not healthy!

Some can be very dangerous because it changes the functions of the body and can cause major problems–especially if you are seriously cutting back on carbs or not getting enough vitamins and minerals needed for healthy functions.

However, I do believe that all diets or nutritional programs have good ideas that can be used to make lasting change.

And change is the hardest part of all of this.  Instead of going to extremes each one of us needs to find the nutritional program that works for us–stop making excuses and then just make the life changes we need to be healthy and happy.

No extremes, no excuses.  Make your life better–faster and smarter.

Send me your comments on how your nutritional plan is going (or not going!)  or email me at emptynestsavvy@gmail.com with your thoughts and questions! We are all here to share and help each other!

 

Carbs to the Rescue

Carbs to the Rescue

Ah Carbs!  The pleasure trigger of the taste buds and the bain of all the empty calories we consume.

Carbohydrates get a bad reputation as being the worst thing to enter our dietary lives–EVER!

But as with most things the majority of people are getting this wrong. This is mostly because they are not doing the research themselves because they are relying on all the sound bytes they hear…

And while I am just another sound byte–I have at least done my homework.

Carbohydrates are a necessary part of our nutritional plan. It is where we get our energy so we can, you know, do stuff.

If we were not getting energy from our food we would feel deflated and tired–all the time–and you would quite literally be unable to function.

If you are trying to lose weight many diets encourage you to cut out carbohydrates–completely.  

Many people grab onto that advice and cut out all carbs!  This does lead to weight loss but very often that weight loss is too much, too fast, can be very dangerous and is not sustainable.

Those diets fail–or I should say the people on those diets fail to reach their goals because they cannot follow the program long term as a lifestyle…I’ll discuss that next time.

Back to carbohydrates–we cannot survive without carbohydrates in our system everyday and this is why:

Carbs come in 3 main categories:

  1. Sugars or simple sugars like glucose, fructose etc. that are basically already broken down for us. These go into our system, give us a little zip of energy and then fizzle out quickly. Because they are simple it takes a lot of them to make us feel “full” or “satisfied” so we eat a lot of them.
  2. Starches are more complex sugars that need to be broken down by our digestive system to create the glucose our bodies need for energy.  So these carbohydrates take longer to break down and give us a slow burn of energy.
  3. Fiber.  Fiber is a carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by the body but is needed to aid digestion and to give us a happy gut and happy bathroom experiences. This, as you know, is super important!

When we eat too many carbs, the body can store some of them for future energy and turns them into fat. Not good.

In a nutshell–we need to eat carbohydrates that are complex and whole to provide us with that slow burn and with fiber. Processed foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in everything else are just empty calories that do not serve us!

The amount of carbohydrates that we need depends on the number of calories you need per day to reach your nutritional goals. I discuss that in a previous post called The Big Mac.

The best carbohydrates are found in vegetables, whole fruits, potatoes, legumes and whole grains. It is important though to remember to watch the serving sizes and the preparation of these foods so that we don’t change a good carbohydrate into a fattening dish.

We also don’t want to eat so much of a good thing that we turn it into a bad thing by overloading our bodies with too much sugar–even from whole foods–that is needed in a day.

For people who are currently battling obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease a low carb diet can be life changing. And I think–especially given our current society–that this is important to mention.

And while a low carb diet may come to your rescue–we need to include the proper water intake, exercise and a host of other changes to our habits as a permanent life change for our rescue to be sustainable.

Remember that carbohydrates did not cause our obesity and a host of other health problems.  Our ancestors ate all kinds of carbs and were healthy–and thin!

Our ancestors, though, ate whole foods–not processed foods!  And there is a way to include whole foods and the science of convenience in processed foods to help us achieve both nutritional values and health objectives!!

While I am still digging for the answers–remember to take everything you know and understand to be true with a grain of salt. Do some discovering of yourself and what works best for your body–because no two bodies are alike!

Reach out with a comment or email me at emptynestsavvy@gmail.com with your thoughts and questions!

Protein Packed

Protein Packed

I am quickly learning that my curiosity about nutrition is very hard work which was not what I expected, but I have always enjoyed a challenge–and a challenge this certainly is.

Learning more about macro nutrients and how they impact the body has been an exciting ride–which I can’t seem to get off of–and today I am full of protein!

Protein is one of the important macro nutrients that we need to have for a healthy diet. Getting the right proteins and in the right amount is the trick.

Where do we get our protein, what are the best types of protein and how much is needed?

First–where do we get our protein?  I thought the easy answer was meat! Beef, chicken and pork are very good sources of protein, but they are not the only sources of high protein.

There is protein in dairy products like eggs, natural cheeses, yogurt, 2% milk, organic milks, and whey and casein protein powders (for protein shakes.)

Proteins can also be found in seafood like Halibut, Yellowfin Tuna, Salmon, Tilapia, Anchovies and Sardines–and in all kinds of beans: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans and so on.

I was very surprised at the amount of proteins found in nuts and grains like almonds, walnuts, cashews, oats and brown rice. Who knew? Well, I think many people knew–but I didn’t or I wasn’t really paying attention.

How much protein does each person need?  If we remember that protein is needed to build and repair muscles, organs and our skin then it makes sense that we need a fair amount of that.

For a normally active person of normal weight 25-30% of your daily calories from protein would be a good amount. Once again, math will have to be involved in your plans.

That does not mean that I am advocating going out and having a couple of greasy hamburgers a day! While that may have a lot of protein–it also has a lot of other stuff that is not good for you!

Protein also has some magical powers if you are looking to lose weight. When you increase your protein the body’s metabolism increases–burning more calories faster–at the same time that you are feeling fuller and will then eat less of everything.  Magic.

On top of that, proteins help you build muscle mass, which will keep your metabolism at an optimal level to keep burning calories–even when you sleep!

The most exciting thing I have learned in recent days about proteins is that it helps create enzymes that not only repair muscles–especially after a workout–but it helps repair organ tissues.

There is a great deal of research that is showing that increasing your protein intake–as we get older especially–helps us lower blood pressure, and combat diabetes and since it helps maintain muscle–it keeps us stronger longer.

Can we over do it?  Of course, as with anything else–too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.  There is some evidence–although no real scientific proof yet–that if you have kidney disease, too much protein can be harmful.

But for a healthy person getting the right amount of protein each day can help you stay healthy, maintain a good weight, prevent muscle loss as we get older, and keep our metabolism working at optimal levels.

Most healthy women should have between 45 and 75 grams of protein a day and healthy men should have between 55 and 90 grams of protein a day.  The more active you are–the more protein you should have!

Living our best life is important to living a long healthy life–and being healthy and active is the key!

Think about how you can protein pack your days to a healthier you!

Leave a comment below or contact me on emptynestsavvy@gmail.com!

 

Genuine Artificial Food

Genuine Artificial Food

As I was looking for the best carbohydrates I can find to provide complex sugars to give me energy I found a dark and confusing place that I am not sure I’ve completely recovered from–it is similar to Alice in Wonderland falling through the rabbit hole and finding a whole new upside down backwards world.

Like Alice, I became fascinated and then horrified about what I was learning and eventually finding my way back to the real world.

And since I am not very science minded–at least I don’t think so–I will try to explain my findings, or lack thereof.

So here it is.  Too many carbohydrates are bad because they break down into simple sugars too fast in our system creating a spike in sugar.

The body, in its infinite wisdom, produces a lot of insulin to bring the sugar levels back to normal, overcompensates with too much insulin and then we crash. We feel weak and tired.  

The body (mostly the liver) is working overtime to clean out the extra sugar and insulin.

Meanwhile, we begin to crave more sugar (or carbs) to make us feel better and most of us give in and have more carbs–putting us right back on the cycle of a spike and a crash.

At the same time, the body (on the inside) is experiencing stress from having to produce the insulin and fix itself and then clean itself out and that stress slows down and sometimes stops digestion–so the body stores all the extra stuff we did not use–as fat.

Like I said–a scary rabbit hole.  But our travels in the upside down world are not over, Alice–there’s more.

Most of the carbohydrates we consume are not only empty calories, as we have heard many nutrition gurus tell us, they are also made up of chemicals.

Chemicals our bodies cannot absorb or break down because the body cannot identify them as a carbohydrate or a protein or a vitamin. So these chemicals build up in the body–in our fat–and for many of us it creates disease or conditions and for others it just makes us feel blah.

Diabetes, IBS, heart disease, high blood pressure, gluten intolerance, foggy brain, undefined pain, allergies, unexplained inflammation, eczema, depression, chronic fatigue, cancer, autism and infertility to name a few are thought to be caused by chemicals in our food and our environment.

Now wait–I am not saying we should go out a boycott anything and everything because of chemicals. Chemicals have their place in the society we live in. And our bodies are wonderful machines that can filter out things or adapt to new environments.

Like I said–the rabbit hole can be fascinating and terrifying at the same time. A balance is what I am looking for.

Here is what I am doing to find that balance–I am reading all our food labels.  That in itself is a scary thing–but very eye opening! If a product has more than 5 ingredients I already know it could be trouble.

Here are a few things I try to minimize:

  1. Trans-Fat:  this is also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat. I’m not even sure what it is yet–but it is not real–it is chemically made.
  2. High Fructose Corn Syrup: a substitute for real sugar. Sugar is bad enough–the substitute, is worse. I feel the same about any artificial sweeteners.
  3. Artificial Colors, artificial sweeteners, artificial fillers: the name pretty much spells it out Alice!  It is genuine artificial–not real.
  4. Preservative: these are usually described on labels by their initials–MSG, BHT, BHA, TBHQ, etc–I can’t pronounce what they stand for but clearly a chemical compound.

So where is my balance?  I realize we cannot go crazy and completely eliminate all these things–we just don’t have to take it to an extreme.

We are eating more salads and fruits and vegetables and looking for the right amounts of macro nutrients our body needs.

What about labels for the fruits and vegetables and salads?  Well broccoli, whether organic or not, is real and doesn’t need a label–so I feel we are already better off than the bag of Hot Cheetos!

And at some point we need to get out of the rabbit hole or we will get stuck in the upside down backwards world!

Have I found the best Carbohydrates yet?  Not really–it’s a journey…and I will get back with you on that.  

In the meantime, I am going to read my labels and continue my search. I hope you’ll come along for the trip!

What have been your findings in your health journey with processed foods?  Comment below or send me your thoughts, comments and questions to emptynestsavvy@gmail.com

The Big Mac

The Big Mac

The more I learn about nutrition, the more interested and confused I become.  No wonder so many people try so many diets and either fail miserably or succeed for a short while and then fall of the wagon and fail.

Now don’t misunderstand…diets do work for the most part but they only work as long as you continue the diet–which long term for most people is very hard–because diets all eliminate something major that the body needs.

What I am learning is better is creating your own nutritional plan that works for you. Yes–I did say create…but you can also adopt a way of life that provides you all the nutrients you need without the deprivation of most diets out there.

When you do this and keep it up and include at least 30 minutes of exercise everyday you will lose weight, feel better and naturally be healthier.

In order to create (or adopt) the right nutritional plan for you, you have to understand the Macros–or as I call them “the Big Mac”.

As with most popular buzzwords of the day, I usually get them wrong and invent my own.

So the Big Mac, or Macros are really Macro-nutrients.  Those are the major categories of nutrients the body needs in big quantities to work. And work well.

Thankfully–for me–there are only three to remember: Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats.

Here is a quick crash course on the Macros and how much your body needs in order to be healthy.

Proteins:  These are the building blocks of, well, everything. It is the main thing in all our tissues, organs, bones, enzymes, blood and hair. Everything is made of proteins and proteins also help repair them–like our muscles after a workout.

Proteins can be found in most meats and dairy products but also in legumes and grains. Getting enough proteins and the right type of proteins is essential.

Carbohydrates: Carbs give our bodies the needed energy we need to function. Carbs are also what makes us feel full so we don’t over eat the wrong kind of stuff.  Americans have a love-hate relationship with carbs.

Because all carbs are broken down into glucose by the body for energy–the wrong kind of carbs (simple sugars) will give you a great zing of energy followed by the slump.  The right kind of carbs can give our bodies the more leveled output of energy that lasts longer and doesn’t make us feel like we let the air out of the balloon.

Fats: Believe it or not fats are very necessary in our bodies.  They have a bad reputation for causing heart disease and obesity etc.  but are very necessary for the body to use with our hormones, nervous system, skin and hair health and even as insulation and cushion for the body and our organs.

As with Carbohydrates the wrong kind–or too much of a good thing–can be bad. We need insulation–but not too much insulation.

The big question is how much of each do we need to live healthy, lose unwanted weight, or build muscle.

The big answer of course is–it depends.

Each person’s needs and tolerance will be different–that is why most diets don’t work long term because each person needs to customize them to their own needs and body reactions.

Here is a general guideline to start with and adjust as your needs change.  Figure out how many calories you need to reach your goal. For example, if I want to lose weight–and I do–I want to stay at or under 1400 calories a day.

(The internet has many calculators you can use–as do most diet books–to figure out how many calories you need based on your gender, height, current weight and how much activity you have in your life.)

Once you know the calories you are aiming for–a simple method to allocate your calories is by getting 40% of your calories from Proteins, 40% from Carbohydrates and 20% from Fats.

Based on my number I would need 560 calories from Protein, 560 calories from Carbohydrates and 280 calories from Fat.  Add 64 oz of water a day and moderate exercise and viola! a new me!

Easy right? No…absolutely not easy. And that is my point today. Being healthy is hard work, but it can be done and it is so worth it! You have to take the time to do the numbers and then make the numbers work for you into a lifestyle choice that gets you to and keeps you where you want to be.

We want to live better, faster and smarter–and the Big Mac will get you there…but you have to put in the work!
Have a great day today! Reach out with a comment about your Big Mac or email me at emptynestsavvy@gmail.com with your thoughts and questions!

You Animals!

You Animals!

We are all animals! We may be the most social and intelligent animals on the planet—but animals nonetheless.

When thinking about our nutritional needs I reach back into my study of anthropology days.

So here is a quick lesson:

“modern” human beings have been on earth as far as we know for about 315 thousand years. Thank goodness those folks figured out how to survive so that all this time later we are here to write about them!

How did they survive? They kept it simple. Our theory is that the first peoples were nomadic which means they moved around all the time.

And by moved- I mean literally physically moved on foot with their possessions on their back. Kinda like backpacking through Europe without the cool travel guides.

Where did the move to? Well, wherever the food was. And by food I mean animals and wild plants that were in bloom. They ate whatever they could catch or harvest and they drank water from lakes, rivers, streams etc.

These people—our old ancestors—were healthy and fit. They exercised–through walking and hunting–and like animals they used their food for fuel in the body. The body instinctively knew how to use it efficiently and store some for times of scarcity—as fat in the body.

In this way we are just like animals.

Over time, many thousands of years, man found fire, taught themselves to farm, developed different lifestyles, settled, created cities, established centers of trade and commerce, learned to travel by different means and discovered spices.

Through these cultural and social changes–food changed from being not just a source of fuel and survival but a source of comfort, well being and status.

But the animal within us remains. The animal inside is still breaking down the food we give it to use for fuel and storing some of it for when the scarcity comes.

Unfortunately, 310,000 years later we don’t have to look for our food. We live in a beautifully abundant world. A beautifully intelligent world! A world full of convenience–full of processed and artificially colored, flavored,  and shaped foods–and the drive through windows from which to obtain it. And we are killing the animal which was never made to break down all the chemicals and mixtures we have invented to simulate food.

That does not mean I recommend eating tree bark. But it does mean we need to be more mindful of what we eat and how we eat and how we use that fuel.

If we did not see every meal as a celebration to overload ourselves on the abundance available to us but to honor the function that food has in our lives–as the fuel that gives us energy–we would be as a species, in a much better place.

I can just imagine what my cousins of 200,000 years ago would have looked like and felt like if sugar had been discovered that much sooner.  They would have never made it across the continents to create the different nations we are today!

Those ancestors were smarter–or at least more practical–in the foods they ate.

So how do we marry the two time periods of now and then to benefit the animal we are today?

In my humble opinion, these are the steps I am taking–which I started late in life–but which I hope will please the animal and improve my health.

  1. I am eating less–we intelligent humans have already figured out serving sizes of every food we have and the calories included in those servings.  Instead of eating the whole bag of potato chips or carton of ice cream–have just a serving. I know at first the servings will seem small but I am fueling my body not trying to give it all the food it will need into the next millennia.
  2. I am eating better–science is a beautiful thing and because of science we have the ability to feed ourselves without the scarcity or lack of food in our societies.  Each of us has a choice in the foods we use to fuel the body. I am choosing the best and most natural foods–that I enjoy–that will provide my body with the energy I need to perform, heal and survive in our current world.
  3. I am drinking more water–maintaining the proper hydration for the animal within helps the body regulate everything–cell growth, organ function, muscle repair and hunger control.  When all that is happening it is easier to eat less and eat better because I am not craving the empty calories that do not serve me.
  4. I am exercising more–survival no longer means walking miles and miles in search of food. Survival is more about being able to survive in a society that values the exchange of goods and services for money that is used in the exchange of more goods and services. Foods of all varieties–and prepared for us by thousands of different restaurants–being a major good and service we entertain ourselves with.

So in the end, perhaps it is not my particular DNA in my animal body that will advance the species for another 300,000 years–but my example on caring for the animal that will be helpful.

Do what is right for your body instead of what is easy. Embrace the animal within you!  

And have fun with it!