Pumpkin is the New Bran

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My clients and I are gearing up for Eating Clean in 2014, a three-week program, beginning the first Monday in January – tomorrow! Lately, nutrition has been more in our conversation than training. I reminded them (and me) of the importance of fiber in weight management, and general good health.

When you track your nutrition, you quickly realize you’ll need to make a conscious effort to get the 25 – 35 grams of fiber per day recommended by most nutritional guidelines. I find the very best way to make sure I’m getting enough fiber is to be sure I get enough at breakfast. Somehow, when breakfast is in line, all the other meals seem to follow.

A great source of important nutrients, including soluble and insoluble fiber, comes from pumpkin. One half-cup of canned pumpkin provides 5 grams of fiber in a total of 9 grams of carbohydrates. Half of these 5 grams of fiber is soluble fiber, which absorbs water and contributes to a feeling of fullness for several hours after eating, in addition to aiding digestion and reducing blood sugar levels. We haven’t even talked about the beta-carotene, vitamin A, magnesium, and other nutrients in that half-cup of canned pumpkin, packed in 40 calories. Wow!

If you have a smoothie in the morning, you’ll hardly notice a half-cup of pumpkin thrown in. The taste and texture are easily disguised by most ingredients. If you use one-third of a 15 oz. can, the rest can be frozen in two portions.

Here’s a recipe I’ve used that I love, found on http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/8-great-pumpkin-recipes.html

Coconut – Pumpkin Ice Cream:

  • 1/2 cup Low-fat Cottage Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Low-fat Greek Yogurt
  • 1 cup Skim Milk
  • 3-5 drops Stevia
  • 1/2 cup Canned Pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup chopped Pecans
  • 1 tbsp Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
Directions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Place mixture in a covered container in the freezer. Stir every half hour until desired consistency is reached.

Pumpkin is a thickener that can substitute in many recipes. Check for recipes using it in soups, tomato sauces, and desserts for a much healthier alternative to creams and oils.

Eating Clean in 2014!!!!

ImageSince I make my living through fitness, you might think I have this nutrition and weight maintenance thing permanently under control. I wish that were the case, but, I always have five pounds, more or less, to take off after the holidays. I have to take care of this quickly, because I can’t expect my clients to believe in me unless I walk the talk, right? So, I’ve developed a three-week clean eating program for myself that I’ve used for several years. Now, I have my clients join me in this three-week detox/jumpstart, so we can all get back on track after the excess.

There are several reasons this works. First, we’re all in this together! When you’re feeling deprived, you can think about everyone else doing this with you. We’ll keep each other on track.

Second, it’s very effective to jumpstart fat loss by losing all the excess water/salt weight. You really don’t know where you’re at, weight-wise, until you get through at least a week without excess sugar, salt, simple carbohydrates, and alcohol. That’s probably five pounds right there!

Finally, losing those first few pounds will get us going on some real fat loss. There’s nothing quite as motivating as success, is there?

The first step to prepare for this program is to get comfortable tracking your nutrition. Register on a food tracking website. My favorite, which I mentioned in another blog, is http://www.sparkpeople.com. Many of my clients use http://www.myfitnesspal.com. Either is fine, and both of them are free to use online. If you’re not used to one or the other, you should check both for added features before you commit. For instance, myfitnesspal.com works with Withing’s body composition scales, and sparkpeople.com works with FitBit.

The next step is to stock up on clean food, and getting rid of anything that is going to push you off the wagon. Throw out that leftover eggnog. Get rid of that peppermint bark!

The guidelines:

No added sugar
No wheat products – pasta, bread, etc.
No alcohol
No coffee
Avoid artificial sweetener

Choose whole, healthy foods and snacks
Plan all meals and snacks
Stay within my calorie range, and maintain a good protein/carb/fat ratio daily

I promise that if you follow these broadly stroked guidelines, you will feel a difference in your body in three weeks. We’re going to re-up every three weeks. More details to follow tomorrow!

Food is a Drug

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I grew up in New Orleans, where every weekend is another reason to celebrate with great food and drink. When the rest of the country is finished with big eating after the holidays, we are just starting with king cake and daiquiris for the Mardi Gras season. Thank goodness for the Catholic Lenten tradition of “giving up” something between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It’s the only time of year there’s any excuse for not overindulging.

I was blessed with a decent metabolism. It’s always stayed slightly ahead of my eating habits. Even with that, I carried an extra ten or fifteen pounds all through my 20s.

Once I reached my early 30s, I found the secret way to think about food that has helped me stay lean into my late 40s.

I learned that food is much more than celebration, comfort, or even nourishment. More than all this, food is the most powerful drug we will ever put into our bodies.

Here’s why I call food a drug: what else is a drug but a delivery system into an organism to create an altered physiological state? Think about caffeine jitters and sugar crashes. These examples are just the more obvious of the continuous, subtle effect what we put in our mouths has on our energy, blood sugar levels, weight, and our long-term health.

We’re all aware that all food is made up of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Understanding how much of each nutrient is contained in what we’re consuming over the course of one day is the most important step in gaining control over our weight and health.

Dr. Barry Sears, author of “The Zone Diet”, proposed that the optimum ratio of each of these nutrients is 40% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein, and 30% fat. To lose excess fat, without losing muscle, try to meet this ratio at every meal and snack. What’s the tricky part? Knowing what you’re actually eating.

For example, most of my clients consider steak to be a great protein source. However, a nutritional breakdown of a filet reveals that it contains 56% protein calories and 44% fat calories. This 8 oz. meat serving packs 539 calories into one meal, and that doesn’t include any sides, butter, or dressings. Obviously, this isn’t the best choice when you’re trying to lose excess body fat!.

How do you learn what’s in your food? It’s simple: track what you eat! How many grams of carbs are in a baked potato? What’s the ratio of fat/protein in any nut or nut butter? How much fat is in a pat of butter? Until you know the answer to these questions without  looking it up, you don’t know what you’re putting into your body.

Using one of the many free or pay apps available makes food tracking much easier and less expensive than it’s ever been in the past. My absolute favorite website for this is sparkpeople.com. Setting up an account and getting started on a desktop is free, and when you get proficient, the mobile app is very inexpensive. It seems challenging at the outset, but, I promise, if you stick with it you will be amazed at what you learn.

Sparkpeople.com sets up guidelines for you, based on your age, weight, activity level, and goals. Once you get started, it lets you take a snapshot at any time during the day to see where you are with calories and the protein/carb/fat ratio, so you can make adjustments before you eat your next meal.

Over the years, I’ve found that I can be a bit more free with the hard-and-fast of eating this way for each meal, and instead, apply the 40/30/30 ratio over the course of a day. For instance, if I decide to indulge and have a cinnamon roll (or a piece of king cake) for breakfast, I make certain to have a lean protein and vegetable only, with no high-density carbs, for lunch. By applying these guidelines, I have fantastic energy levels and maintain a great muscle/fat ratio.

Many of the diets that come into fashion, and then fade away, are built loosely on the 40/30/30 ratio that Dr. Sears first proposed in “The Zone Diet.” Pick up this book and learn the science behind the guidelines. You’ll never have to look at another vogue diet again.

Most trainers will tell you that 70% of weight management is your diet. Therefore, to reach your fitness goals, Sparkpeople.com or a similar program is the most powerful weapon you’ll ever have in your fitness arsenal.