Yes, You Still Should Eat Carbohydrates

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Due to all of the low carb information being tossed around in the last several years, it has become more and more prevalent for new clients to attempt to completely eliminate carbohydrates in the hopes of losing weight. The truth is you absolutely need glucose for normal body functioning, and eating carbohydrates is the easiest way for this to happen. While it's true that you can make glucose from protein or fat, unless you have a clear reason for eliminating carbohydrates from your diet, it's best to include them. Let's take a look at why that is.

As mentioned above, we need glucose to live. Whether that's from a potato or converted from a protein, it's an absolute necessity. For instance, the brain requires about 130g of glucose per day (1). Outside of our organs requiring carbohydrates, they also provide us with faster-acting energy. Think about activities lasting somewhere in the vicinity of 15 seconds to 2 minutes, such as a sprint. And, many people just function better with some carbohydrate intake. If you've ever cut most out of your diet for a period of time, there's a good chance your were absolutely miserable.

There are some hormone changes that can occur from drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake. Effects such as decreased testosterone, decreased estrogen, decreased progesterone, increased cortisol, increased LDL-cholesterol concentrations, and irregular periods have been shown in several studies (2, 3, 4, 5). Granted, the studies were comparing ketogenic diets versus non-ketogenic diets, but it still can explain some of the effects from very low carbohydrates. A ketogenic diet is one in which carbohydrate intake is so low that the body begins using ketones (proteins) as fuel rather than carbohydrates.

The exact amounts of carbohydrates people intake will vary greatly depending on several factors including body size, amount of lean mass, the activity level, age, genetics, and preference, to name a few. In general, though, 1 cupped handful of healthy carbs for women and 2 cupped handfuls for men are recommended to start with. By healthy carbs, I'm referring to foods that are higher in fiber, which also are slower-digesting. This is completely doable by eating:

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

  • Legumes and beans

  • Some whole grains (depending on your goals)

It can't be stated strongly enough, the type of carbohydrate you eat is crucially important. Not all carbs are created equal. For instance, eating an apple is very different from eating a piece of cake. An apple contains fiber (both soluble and insoluble), plenty of nutrients, and will keep us much more satiated than cake, which is devoid of nutrients, stimulates our appetite, causes a spike in insulin (a storage hormone), and leads to greater blood sugar fluctuations. As much as possible, we're looking to get more of the healthy type carbohydrates.  A great rule of thumb is that if it comes out of a box, it's not a great source. 

It's best not to start out by eliminating carbs altogether in your weight loss journey. That is most likely too challenging and usually unnecessary. Plus, there are valuable nutrients in healthy carbs that you should be getting regularly.

 

References

1. Fuhrman, Joel (1995). Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor's Program for 

Conquering Disease. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press

2. Johnston CS, et al. (2006). Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(5), 1055-61.

3. Lane AR, Duke JW, Hackney AC. (2010). Influence of dietary carbohydrate intake on the free testosterone: cortisol ratio responses to short-term intensive exercise training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(6), 1125-31.

4. Brinkworth GD, et al. (2009). Long-term Effects of a Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet and a Low-Fat Diet on Mood and Cognitive Function. Arch Intern Med, 169(20), 1873-1880

5. Soenen S, et al. (2012). Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance? Physiol Behav, 107(3), 374-80.

Menopause and Weight Loss

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Weight gain, or a difficulty in losing weight, among women in midlife has been a common complaint among clients over the years. Research shows that while this is common, it is more likely a result of aging and lifestyle changes, but menopause does play a role (1). So, let's break that down a little bit.

It's true that estrogen deprivation happens after menopause, which can lead to an increase in body fat combined with a decrease in lean body mass (2). Women do have a tendency to gain weight with age irrespective of their menopausal status, which is typically associated with less physical activity which leads to a decrease in bone mineral density and muscle mass. This is typically true of men too. The older people get, they tend to be less physically active, which decreases energy expenditure. When combined with a similar caloric intake, this decreased energy expenditure leads to weight gain.

You may be surprised to hear it, but sleep loss is also attributed to weight gain in midlife women. We've been preaching it for years, but sleep does have a substantial effect on your weight. Many potential issues contribute to sleep loss in women including night sweats, mood problems, obstructive sleep apnea, and low estrogen (3). As we all know very well, little sleep can lead to less physical activity, sugar cravings, decreased insulin sensitivity, and less caloric output (4).

While we can't point to menopause entirely for the increase in weight, it does affect the distribution of fat on the body. Menopausal women tend to have a greater percentage of body fat on the organs (visceral fat) as compared to women in the premenopausal state (5). This is a big deal. Obese postmenopausal women have higher overall mortality risk with as high as a 4-fold increase in cardiovascular deaths and it raises the risk of type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, and some cancers including uterine and breast (6).

So, what do we do about all of this? The research points to lifestyle factors such as exercise, nutrition, stress, and sleep (big surprise!) as being critical stave off much of the health risks associated with weight gain and health issues with women as they approach menopause (7). For you, this means:
* some kind of caloric reduction
* a diet including meat, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes with a moderate fat intake
* resistance training to improve lean body mass, which will increase basal metabolic rate and energy expenditure
* 7-9.5 hours of sleep per night

Our best advice is to start with one of these areas at a time. Specifically, pick one task you can do that will touch on an aspect of one of the lifestyle factors mentioned. For instance, a great option for increasing the quality of your sleep could be no screens one hour prior going to bed. You would then systematically go through a task or two for each of these, and before you know it, you would be in a dramatically better place.

#References
1. Karvonen-Gutierrez, C. & Kim, C. (2016). Association of mid-life changes in body size, body composition and obesity status with the menopausal transition. Healthcare, 4(3).
2. Leeners, B., Geary, N., Tobler, P., & Asarian, L. (2017). Ovarian hormones and obesity [published online ahead of print March 2, 2017]. Human Reproduction, 23(3), p.300-321.
3. Eichling, P. & Sahni, J. (2005). Menopause related sleep disorders. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 1(3), p.291-300.
4. Wiley, T. & Formby, B. (2000). *Lights Out*. New York: Simon & Schuster.
5. Milewicz, A., Tworowska, U., & Demissie, M. (2001). Menopausal obesity: myth or fact? Climacteric, 4(4), p.273-283.
6. Thurston, R., Sowers, M., Sternfeld, B., et al. (2009). Gains in body fat and vasomotor symptom reporting over the menopausal transition: the study of women’s health across the nation. American Journal of Epidemiology, 170(6), p.766-774.
7. Kapoor, E., Collazo-Clavell, M., & Faubion, S. (2017). Weight gain in women at midlife: a concise review of the pathophysiology and strategies for management. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92(10), p. 1552-1558.

Second & Third Order Consequences

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I’m a huge fan of reading books that I think will help me or my business make more progress. One of the recent ones I have read was called Principles by Ray Dalio. Ray is the owner of an investment company called Bridgewater Associates.

Among many of the useful concepts, principles, and ideas, second- and third-order consequences really resonated with me and made me think of my clients and athletes. As Dailo states “I've come to see that people who overweigh the first-order consequences of their decisions and ignore the effects of second- and subsequent-order consequences rarely reach their goals. This is because first-order consequences often have the opposite desirabilities form second-order consequences, resulting in big mistakes in decision making.”

Considering the greater impact (i.e. second- and third-order consequences) that your decisions can have. It's often the first-order temptations, such as eating junk food or skipping a gym session, that cost us what we want. While this is easy to get in the habit of doing, it's going to be what is standing between you and what you want in the long run. No doubt, this way of thinking takes discipline. In the end, though, you'll find that it's much more rewarding.  #results

Cauliflower Stuffing

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Ingredients 

  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped or thinly sliced
  • 1 small head cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 c. chopped mushrooms
  • kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage (or 1 tsp. ground sage)
  • 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken broth

Preparation 

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion, carrot, and celery and sauté until soft, 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Add cauliflower and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.
  3. Add parsley, rosemary, and sage and stir until combined, then pour over vegetable broth and cover with a lid. Cover until totally tender and liquid is absorbed, 15 minutes.. And enjoy! 

Light & Sleep

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"Not enough sleep makes you fat, hungry, impotent, hypertensive, and cancerous, with a bad heart." - T.S. Wiley, *Lights Out*

Okay, so this quote may be a bit extreme, but it certainly got your attention. Sleep is one of those things we tend to put off for any number of reasons. Working late, watching TV, or just screwing around before going to bed. Regardless of the reason, your lack of sleep may be hurting not only your progress in the gym, but also your overall health.

Sleeping, or lack thereof, can be responsible for a whole host of health issues including weight gain, sugar cravings, elevated cortisol, and depression. Sleep is the time when our body produces melatonin, one of the most potent antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Melatonin, along with other antioxidants, act to protect cells from damage. But more than that, we need melatonin to help put us to sleep. 

Light is very problematic when talking about sleep. With light exposure, melatonin is suppressed. The light and dark cycles that we experience everyday should, ideally, coincide with when we go to sleep and when we wake up. Now, that can't always happen, but we need to make great strides to have clear cut times when we're awake (and around light), and when we're going to sleep (and around low/no light). 

We are very sensitive to light; much more than you may be aware. It's not enough to wear a sleep mask to block out light that hits your eyes. It's light that hits your body, in general, that is an issue. A study was done to determine if light exposure to your body can affect sleep (1). The researchers took used a fiber-optic cable to illuminate a small quarter-sized patch on the back of each subject's knee. Outside of that illuminated patch, the subjects were in complete darkness. This affected the subjects' temperature and melatonin secretion. Imagine what a bright TV screen would do?

These light and dark cycles control insulin through carbohydrate cravings and stress mechanisms. When the lights are on, your cortisol stays up because it's a blood-sugar mobilizer - it helps you to be ready to run or fight. If you continue this, and levels of cortisol stay high, cortisol, which mobilizes blood sugar, keeps insulin high leading to insulin resistance. 

As we now have been getting to winter, here are some general guidelines to mitigate some of these issues with the days getting shorter:

  •  turn the TV off 45-60 minutes before bed
  •  get up as close to dawn as possible
  •  after dark, keep the lights as dim as possible
  •  keep your bedroom as dark as possible (ZERO light)

 

References

1. Campbell, S. & Murphy, P. (1998). Extraocular circadian phototransduction in humans. Science, 279(5349), 396-399.

2. Wiley, T. & Formby, B. (2000). *Lights Out*. New York: Simon & Schuster

Tabasco Braised Chicken with Chickpeas and Kale

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Ingredients 

  • 1 ½ pounds skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose (gluten-free) flour
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 15 ounce cans diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 2 15 ounce cans garbanzo beans
  • 2-3 cups kale
  • 1-2 tablespoon Tabasco
  • ½ cup water

Preparation 

  1. Season the chicken thighs with salt and black pepper.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or 8 quart stockpot.
  3. Cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes per side or until nicely browned.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion to the pot. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until onion becomes tender.
  5. Add tomatoes with juice, garbanzo beans with juice, kale, Tabasco and water and stir. 
  6. Nestle the chicken thighs with their juices in the tomato mixture, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer, and cook for 25-30 minutes or until flavors have melded. 

Kale, White Bean, and Chicken Soup

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Ingredients 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups sweet Vidalia or yellow onion, peeled and diced small (about 2 medium/large onions)
  • 1 cup celery, sliced thin (about 2 stalks)
  • 2-3 cups kale, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
  • 64 ounces (8 cups) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3-4 cups shredded cooked chicken (or about 1 whole storebought rotisserie chicken to save time)
  • Two 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
  • leaves from 4 large stalks of kale, torn into bite-sized pieces (discard the center thick rib)
  • 1 cup zucchini, diced small (from about 1 medium zucchini)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, optional (brightens up the flavor)

Preparation 

  1. Into a large stockpot or dutch oven, add the oil, onion, celery, and sauté over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften. Stir intermittently.
  2. Add the kale and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until kale wilts and softens. Stir intermittently.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth, shredded chicken, cannellini beans, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, and boil about 5 minutes, or until chicken is warmed through.
  5. Add the zucchini, & optional lemon juice, and boil 1 to 2 minutes, or until the zucchini has softened.
  6. Taste soup and add salt or herbs, to taste. Amount of salt will vary based on how salty the brand of chicken broth used is, how salty the rotisserie chicken is, and personal preference. At any time while making the soup, if the overall liquid level is lower than you like and you prefer more broth, adding a cup or two of water is okay because at the end you will adjust the salt level. Serve immediately. Soup will keep airtight in the fridge for 5 to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Chicken Cutlets with Strawberry-Avocado Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
  • 1/2 cup diced peeled ripe avocado
  • 2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 (4-ounce) chicken breast cutlets
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 lime wedges

Preparation 

1. Combine strawberries, avocado, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl; toss to combine.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle chicken with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done.

3. Divide chicken among 4 serving plates, and spoon salsa evenly over each serving. Garnish each serving with a lime wedge.

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Pineapple, Corn & Bell Pepper Relish

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Ingredients 

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 2 cups cubed fresh pineapple (about 1/2 pineapple)
  • 1/2 cup fresh (non-GMO) corn kernels (about 1 ear)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (or not!)

Preparation 

1. Preheat grill on high for 5 minutes. 

2.  Combine garlic powder, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a small bowl; sprinkle over chicken.

3.  Using long tongs, place chicken breasts on grill and cook, covered on high, 3 minutes. Flip chicken and continue cooking on high, 3 more minutes.

4.  Reduce grill heat to low and flip chicken again.  Cover and continue cooking, 3 minutes more. Flip chicken again and cook 3 more minutes on low, or until a meat thermometer reads 160° when inserted into the thickest part of the meat.

5. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, pineapple, and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Serve relish over chicken.

Taco Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients 

  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. Chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 3 bell peppers, halved (seeds removed)
  • 1 c. Shredded lettuce
  • Pico de gallo, for serving
  • Hot sauce, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving

Preparation 

1.  Preheat oven to 375°

2.  In a large skillet over medium heat, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil.

3.  Add onion and cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain fat.

4.  Add chili powder, ground cumin, and paprika to beef mixture, then season with salt and pepper.

5.  Drizzle bell peppers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the peppers, cut side up, in the baking dish and spoon meat mixture into each pepper. Bake until the peppers are crisp-tender, about 20 minutes.

6.  Top each pepper with lettuce and serve with pico de gallo, hot sauce, and lime wedges.