Let’s see how nutritionally smart you are. If you follow me, or my blog, you know I’m an advocate of eating 5+ small meals a day. Depending upon where you are with your target goals – fat loss, muscle weight gain or physique and health maintenance, you may be allowed 1-2 healthy snacks per day. Do you think all calories are the same and it’s all about calories in vs. calories out? This is where it can get complicated. What’s my idea of a healthy snack versus a client’s idea of a healthy snack? We both agree, all snacks must meet these criteria:
- 100 calories or less
- Bonus points for being portable
OK, so far we agree.
The Calorie Food Choice Challenge
Here’s where we differ. I say 1 container of yogurt, my client agrees. My greek yogurt has 100 calories, 0 grams fat, 18 grams of protein, 7 grams of sugar. His regular name brand yogurt has 90 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 8 grams protein and 11 grams of sugar. Does his 90 calorie yogurt beat my 100 calories choice? No way. My yogurt wins.
Let’s play again. I say 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, my client agrees. My natural peanut butter has 110 calories, 8 grams of fat, less than 3 grams carbohydrate (.5 from natural sugar in the peanut), 4 grams protein, 45 mg sodium. His “Reduced Fat” peanut butter has 95 calories, 6 grams of fat, 8 grams carbohydrate, 3.5 grams protein and 95 mg sodium. How does that even happen? His “healthy” peanut butter has more fillers and sugars than my natural peanut butter and a lot more chemicals to make it taste great. Tell you what, I’ll even let you throw in a few celery stalks with your peanut butter. More crunch, more nutrition and negligible calories.
OK, here’s another challenge: I say “Go NUTS!” My client agrees. I choose pistachios, my client chooses almonds. We both win this round. Both of these nuts are nutritionally dense. They both have protein, fiber and mono-unsaturated fats, which everyone really does need in their diet. They’re both delicious raw or roasted and they’re incredibly portable. Here’s a helpful hint: buy your pistachios with the shells on. They’re less expensive and you’ll eat a lot fewer of them when you have to shell them – true fact! Crunchy snacks, like nuts, somehow feel more satisfying. It may just be the act of chewing, but nuts pack a powerful punch of flavor, crunch and protein. Eliminating essential healthy fats does not increase weight loss. Just be sparing when snacking on nuts. Most people these days are getting too many calories from fat to achieve weight loss results.
One more game. I say one serving size of apple sauce, my client agrees. My apple sauce has 50 calories, 0% fat and 11 grams of sugar. His apple sauce has 100 calories, 0% fat and 22 grams of sugar. AND they’re both from the same brand name. Why the difference? Mine is just apples and water. His has high fructose corn syrup as well.
Not all “healthy” snacks are created equal and not all calories are created equal. Good calories equal better nutrition and better weight loss results. Moral to the story? Sugar kills people and dreams. Read your labels and make smart choices.
Puny humans: Try one or more of these healthful options for your next meal:
Better Calories Healthy Breakfast
Try my favorite breakfast – egg white and oatmeal pancake!
Switch from whole milk to 1% fat or non-fat milk for your cereal or coffee.
Switch a sugar-coated breakfast cereal for a whole grain breakfast cereal such as oatmeal or shredded whole grain wheat cereal with no added sugar.
Switch sugar on your breakfast cereal for fresh fruit or xylitol.
Switch low fat yogurt to fat-free Greek yogurt for more protein and more taste.
Be sure to add protein to your meals and snacks.
Ditch the egg yolks and scramble 3 egg whites with spinach, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and green peppers for a kick-ass start to your morning. You can even add a teaspoon of low sodium salsa on top for a powerful wake-up breakfast punch.
Lower Calories Healthy Lunch
Switch white breads, bagels or muffins for whole grain or corn tortillas or rice cakes.
Switch a tuna melt sandwich for a grilled ahi tuna salad.
Switch a bag of chips for a serving of veggies.
Did you forget to add protein?
How about spreading 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter on whole grain rice cakes? Or why not try adding one ounce of low-fat cottage cheese or low fat mozzarella to sliced tomatoes and fresh basil leaves for a Mediterranean style lunch.
Lower Calories Healthy Dinner
Switch creamy or cheesy sauces for tomato or vegetable-based sauces on your pasta, meat or fish dishes.
Choose leaner cuts of meat: for example, chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs.
Switch the frying pan for the grill when cooking meat.
Did you forget the protein?
How about chopping your favorite vegetables with 3 ounces of turkey meat and tossing with lettuce for a great Chef style salad? Is the weather outside nice? Why not fire up the grill and toss on chicken breasts marinated in low-sodium, sugar-free teriyaki sauce? While you’re at it, how about grilling up pineapple, peaches and nectarines? Yes, you heard me, grilled fruit makes a mouthwatering dessert or can be served with the teriyaki chicken as a side dish.
There’s nothing like summer to bring out the healthy chef in all of us. Vegetables and fruits are always delicious, but there’s something about the summer harvest that seems to make flavors burst in your mouth. Throw some asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes and portobello mushrooms on the grill for a great, vegetarian dinner.
Organic Food for Better Fat Loss Results
OK, this part isn’t really about the calories. It’s about the food you put into your mouth in general. I can’t keep track of the amount of times clients have asked me about organic foods vs. non-organic options. You all know by now that I’m a certified personal trainer and body builder – that’s Mr. America to you! But did you know I’m also a certified sports nutritionist as well? Yes, I’m more than just a mass of muscles. Here’s my take on why some organic foods are better than others and why organic is almost always better than non-organic.
The main reason many people choose organic foods over non-organic is the lack of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. We can all agree on not wanting to put that in our bodies. But, to me, the MORE important reason to choose organic is the additional nutrients. Did you know that organic produce contains up to 40 percent higher levels of some vitamins and minerals than their non-organic counterparts? Why? It’s mostly due to the soil in which organic produce is grown. The organic soil has more nitrogen and natural compost, which feeds the produce. It takes longer to grow than non-organic produce, which is grown in conventional fertilizer and contains chemicals.
If I had to recommend only a few organic fruits and vegetables to buy, I’d tell you to focus on those with thin or no skin, such as:
Should Be Organic List
- Bell Peppers
Looking at this list makes me hungry. How many servings of fruits and vegetables are you eating every day? If it’s less than 3, you need to change your diet.
If you want to lose weight or just body fat, I would recommend to most that you limit your fruit intake to one piece per day. Also you need a minimum of 2 vegetable servings per day, but more would be best. My favorites are salad, broccoli, and asparagus. Vegetables are where you get your fiber, not from bread or other manufactured wheat products.
For maintenance, you can get away with 2-3 fruits per day. Any more is going to increase your total sugar intake for the day, and you risk gaining some fat. Everyone is different of course.
Choose More Nutritious Foods
What are nutrient dense foods? As I’ve talked about previously, not all foods or calories are created equal. When I create nutrition plans for my clients, I include mostly nutrient dense foods for every plan. How is the nutritional value of a food measured? It’s pretty simple. How much nutritional value does a food have, compared to the calories in a serving. We all know most nuts are nutrient dense, but they certainly aren’t low calorie. How does that work? Nuts are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. A handful of nuts may contain a lot of calories, but it packs a nutritional punch. Compare that to popcorn. A handful of popcorn, depending upon how it’s prepared may have very few calories, but there’s really no nutritional value, therefore it’s not a nutrient dense food.
When planning meals, I recommend the most nutrient dense lean meats, fish, fruits and vegetables as well as certain beans, grains and legumes. No one goes hungry on my meal plans. In fact, many of my clients say they feel more energized and have stopped craving between meal snacks.
Recently a client asked me for a list of the most nutrient dense foods available. I had to think about it. You can do your own internet search to find list after list. Chances are, no two lists will contain the same items. However, experts do agree on a few of these:
Nutrient Dense Foods
- Kale – it’s green, it’s crunchy and it’s packed full of nutrients. I don’t love it raw, but if I wilt it for a few moments on the stove, it has a great texture and doesn’t lose any nutritional value and works perfectly in a salad.
- Broccoli – lots of fiber, lots of vitamins. Tastes great raw or cooked. Alone or in soups, salads and side dishes.
- Spinach – Popeye was right. Enough said.
- Berries – less sugars than most other fruits, these are full of flavor, fiber, vitamins and anti-oxidants. The darker the color, the more nutrient dense.
- Chocolate – don’t go diving into a bag of M & M’s right now. It’s organic, dark chocolate or even better…cocoa nibs or cacao beans that have all of the nutrition, minerals and anti-oxidants. Sugar has no benefit, other than to make some chocolate flavors more palatable.
Think before you put food in your mouth. Making healthy, nutritious choices is easier than you think.
Contact me today to create a nutrition and workout plan that’s right for you and get into the best shape of your life.