Category: Nutrition Articles

How Protein Can Help You Lose Belly Fat

You probably already know about the importance of protein in your diet, right? And it’s really important for losing weight, especially belly fat.

More on that in a minute, but let’s do a painless summary of what protein is. There will be no math.

A Little Bit of Science, I Promise

Proteins are the basic building blocks of the human body.

They are made up of amino acids, and help build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. In fact, our bodies are made up of mostly water and, next to that, protein. Most of that protein is found in the muscles (which is why you need to lift weights. Lecture over).

Now there’s a lot more here to unpack, but I won’t bore you with that. Basically, there are different kinds of amino acids – Some that are supplied by your body and some that are supplied by food. The bottom line is that your body needs these essential amino acids both for your health and? To lose weight.

Getting the Right Kind of Protein

Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products like cheese and milk
  • Pork
  • Wild game (not for me, thanks…bison’s ok tho)
  • Lentils
  • Tempeh
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Peas
  • Chia seeds
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Quinoa
  • Tahini

Now, not all proteins are complete proteins. This isn’t something you need to worry about if you eat anything on that list above. But if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you may have to combine proteins to make a complete one. Here’s a little cheat sheet if that’s your bag: To get all of the essential amino acids, simply choose foods from two or more of the columns.

GrainsLegumesSeeds & NutsVegetables
BarleyBeansSesame SeedsLeafy Greens
Corn MealLentilsSunflower SeedsBroccoli
OatsPeasWalnuts
RicePeanutsCashews
PastaSoy Products Other Nuts
Whole Grain Breads

How Protein Helps You Lose Belly Fat

Now to the good stuff. Protein is one of the single most important things you can eat to help get rid of belly fat because:

  1. It keeps you satisfied. When you eat more protein, you eat less food. Voila!
  2. It can help reduce cravings, which is huge for those of us who, well, have them.
  3. It takes longer to digest, which means you burn more calories when you eat protein and it can boost your metabolism by up to 80-100 calories a day. What? Yep.
  4. Studies have shown that people who eat quality protein have less belly fat.

The bottom line? You can eat and lose belly fat. Win-win.

Figuring Out Your Protein Needs

So, how much protein do you need? The RDA is about 56 grams per day for the average male, 46 for the average woman. You need more if you exercise.

Now, I don’t know about you but I spend most of my day counting how many grams of protein I’m eating.

Not.

If you’re looking at percentages, experts suggest you aim for 25-30 percent of your diet as protein.

The questons are: How do you know how much protein you need and if you’re eating the right amount?

First, you can use this protein calculator which will give you an estimate. I’ve also provided a formula below (I said there would be no math, but that’s up to you).

As for how to plan out your protein needs, if you follow the 30 percent idea for protein, that usually comes out to mean 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat.

To make it easy for you to visualize there, how about a sample plan for 40-30-30? Which is also the ratio for the Zone Diet, if you didn’t know.

Click Here for Your 40-30-30 Sample Daily Weight Loss Plan

Take a look and you’ll at least get an idea of what a typical day’s worth of meals might look like.

The take-home here is simple: Get some protein at every meal and you’ll notice a change in your how you eat, how you feel and, hopefully, in your body.

Now for the math nerds:

How to Calculate Your Protein Needs:

1. Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
2.Weight in kg x 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm.

Use a lower number if you are in good health and are sedentary (i.e., 0.8). Use a higher number (between 1 and 1.8) if you are under stress, are pregnant, are recovering from an illness, or if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training.

Example: 154 lb male who is a regular exerciser and lifts weights
154 lbs/2.2 = 70kg
70kg x 1.5 = 105 gm protein/day

Calculating Protein as a Percentage of Total Calories

Another way to calculate how much protein you need is by using daily calorie intake and the percentage of calories that will come from protein. To do this, you’ll need to know how many calories your body needs each day.

First, find out what your Basal Metabolic Rate is by using a BMR calculator.

Next, figure out how many calories you burn through daily activity and add that number to your BMR. This gives you an estimate of how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.

After you’ve figured out your maintenance calories, next figure out what percentage of your diet will come from protein. The percentage you choose will be based on your goals, fitness level, age, body type and metabolic rate. Most experts recommend that your protein intake be somewhere between 15 and 30%. When you’ve determined your desired percentage of protein, multiply that percentage by the total number of calories for the day.

Example:
For a 140lb female, calorie intake=1800 calories, protein=20%:
1800 x .20 = 360 calories from protein. Since 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, divide protein calories by four:
360/4 = 90 grams of protein per day.

No matter what your calculations are, remember that there are no magic foods or supplements that can replace the right training and the right diet. I know. Not fair. But getting more protein in your diet is pretty easy, right? You’ve get a head start with your meal plan.

Sources:

Healthline: 6 Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat With Science

Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CLH, Martin CB, Campbell WW. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity. 2011;19(4):818-824. doi:10.1038/oby.2010.203

Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn/82.1.41

 

 

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How to Read the New Nutrition Facts Tables Without Your Head Exploding

We all know that little box on the side of packaged foods, right?

The Nutrition Facts table or, as I like to call it, Swahili.

The purpose of it is to help you make better nutrition decisions. When you can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, you should be able to eat better, right?

Except, it’s confusing. Yeah, there are the calories, the carbs, the sodium – But what numbers should I be looking at and how do I know which ones are too high or too low?

Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not (and I say – it could be written in plain English), let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay.

Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.

 Step 1: Serving Size

The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to figure out the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. Tricky little boogers, aren’t they?

All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.

Cut to the next few years when food labels will change. The FDA finally realized that we don’t eat, like 2 Oreos or 9 potato chips and decided that food labels must match with the quantities that Americans actually consume.

They can’t hide the real amount of sugar you’re getting in a Dr. Pepper or the sodium in those Doritos.

This will make it easier to compare foods…no more artificially small servings.

Let’s use an example – plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco. (it’s probably a 90-lb bag, right?)

As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.

FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts). I did this with my wine – 5 oz is a serving.

I’m fairly sure I was drinking at least twice that, if not more. I like my serving better.

Step 2: % Daily Value

The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day (yeah…um..I live in the opposite of the ideal world).

This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.

NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.

The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule. You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.

NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it’s missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn’t an agreed “official” %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.

Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)

Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.

Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g – 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).

Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It’s easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).

Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.

🥜Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.

Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)

The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.

Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you’ll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.

The Bottom Line

I know it’s hard to follow sometimes, but hopefully this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.

Do you have questions about it? Have you seen the new labels with a %DV for sugar? If so, leave me a comment below.

 Recipe (walnuts): Delicious & Super-Easy Walnut Snack

Serves 1

8 walnut halves
4 dates, pitted

Instructions

Make a “date sandwich” by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.

Serve & enjoy!

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Tip: Try with pecans instead.

Sources:

Nutrition C for FS and A. Labeling & Nutrition – Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm.

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How to Improve Gut Health

Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we’re not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We’re talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We’re just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of “the gut-brain axis”). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.

So, let’s talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I’ll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.

How Your Gut Affects Your Overall Health

Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.

This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.

For one thing, our guts can “leak.” Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it’s not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can “leak.” When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don’t seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.

FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.

A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.

The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.

So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health.

Improve Your Gut Health

There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.

You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.

By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colorful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.

The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.

Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed the friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.

And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.

The Bottom Line

The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes. The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.

Fun Fact – There are new guidelines for nutrition labels – Now, they have to tell how much added sugar is in the product. That makes it so much easier to control your sugar, right?

Recipe (Probiotic-rich): Fermented Carrots

Serves 12

4 1/4 cups warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)

Instructions

Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.

Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.

Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don’t float (you can use a “fermenting weight”).

Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/does-all-disease-begin-in-the-gut/
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-nutrition-gut-health
http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

 

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Facebook teaser #1:

 

Does all disease really begin in the gut? Are there links between gut health and allergies, pain, or moods? Has the importance of gut health been under- or over-rated?

 

I spill the beans on gut health in my newest post here.

 

Facebook teaser #2:

 

There are two main parts to gut health. One involves the parts of the gut (of course!). The other involves the friendly gut microbes that also link to gut health. And both of these link to overall health.

 

Grab my gut-friendly tips right here.

 

Facebook teaser #3:

 

Want to make your own probiotics without a probiotic pill, kombucha scoby, or kefir grains? I mean a super-easy, gut-friendly probiotic recipe? Click here for my newest gut health recipe.

 

 

 

 

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Want to Lose Weight? You’re Going to Have to Get Real With Your Eating

For most of my life, I’ve been pretty lucky with my weight. I have a decent metabolism, grew up in a healthy environment where we exercised and ate healthy meals and I’ve been able to carry those good habits into adulthood…

Until about 4 years ago when my body went haywire with what I like to call “Weight Gain Extravaganza!”

This is painful for anyone but, for a trainer (who should know better, right?), it’s excruciating.

When the weight gain started, I did what I’ve always done when my pants get a little too tight:

I exercised more.

I tried more and more exercise, but that only added to my stress and stress actually makes you gain even more weight. Not only because of stress hormones but because stress makes us reach for all those comforting, carby foods to make us feel better.

And the thing is, there was something I wasn’t being honest about.

I was eating too much.

I’d never had this problem before, so I just kept telling myself I was doing great even though I was doing all the wrong things:

  • Eating out more – Work and body image stress made me so tired and down, I didn’t have the energy (nor did I even care) to shop or cook. Then we would go out and there would be wine and, of course, just this once I would have the burger and fries…before long, it was more burgers than salads.
  • Drinking more – ‘Nuff said
  • Eating all kinds of carbs – Carbs, in and of themselves, are not bad. We need them…but we don’t need to eat them all day like I was. Popcorn, crackers, ‘vegetable’ chips…it just went on and on.

With all the exercise I was doing and all the results I wasn’t getting, I finally figured out what I had been telling my own clients all along:

I had to get real about my eating.

Getting Real with Your Diet

The thing about weight loss is that exercise isn’t the best tool in toolbox. Yes, it burns calories, but as weight loss goes, it simply doesn’t burn enough to cause serious weight loss.

Exercise is essential, though, because it’s great at helping us avoid more weight gain and it helps us maintain more muscle mass. If you diet without exercise, you lose muscle and that just shuts down your metabolism even more.

Because of that, all my exercising was not able to overcome all the extra calories I was eating, which led me to two of the most dreaded words in the English language:

Portion Sizes

We’ve all heard it before, right? That a serving of, say, chicken is about the size of a deck of cards or that a serving of veggies should be about the size of your fist. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really paid attention to that.

Then there’s the confusing world of servings vs. portions. You may have a single portion of something, but it may include more than one serving.

I know, it’s like understanding Calculus but think about it like this: A small bag of chips may come as one portion, but there are probably 2 or 3 servings in that bag…and you don’t just stop at one serving. Who does that?

Which explains why we end up eating too much. We eat too many servings without even realizing it.

And then there’s another problem.

We almost always underestimate the number of calories we’re eating.

In one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (a little light reading) found that people underestimated the calories they were eating by a whopping 38%. That means a 200-calorie estimate could actually be 276 calories.

Thinking about that and what had been going on with me for the past few years, I realized the crazy reality I created for myself:

I had convinced myself that I really was eating healthy.

Liar, liar pants on fire.

And it isn’t just me – We all do it. I can’t count all the clients who claimed a healthy diet, yet they were getting zero results, just like I was.

What I learned from them, and what I had to relearn for myself is that: If you believe you’re doing everything right and you’re not losing weight, there’s a good chance you’re eating more than you think you are.

Yes, it could be a medical issue like thyroid problems, which are common and you should always see your doctor if you’re not losing weight just to make sure everything is in working order.

And if it is? You’re going to have to do what I did. You’re going to have to change how you eat.

How to Change You’re Eating

I’m going to tell you how I started managing my portion sizes because that, along with my workouts and stress management tools (taking walks, deep breathing, getting fired, a little meditation – wine, I’m not going to lie), has finally started working for me.

Another hard truth: Changing how you eat and focusing on portion sizes is a lot of work, especially if you’ve been doing what I did – Eating out a lot and eating a lot of crap.

To really get results:

  • You’re going to have to make more of your own meals
  • You’re going to have to measure what you eat
  • You’re going to have to keep track of what you eat

Each of these things means you’re going to need to:

  • Plan your meals
  • Spend a lot of time at the grocery store
  • Spend time prepping your meals
  • Writing everything down

The good news is, there are some great resources out there to help you figure out this portion control thing. Here’s how I did it.

Efficient Nutrition Portion Control Containers Kit

This neat little package is how I got started changing my diet. It’s actually part of the Beachbody Challenge I signed up for, the 80-Day Obsession.

You don’t have to do that program to follow the container kit, but adding exercise will really help you. Holler at me if you want help with that or check out my 8-Week START program which guides you through 8 weeks of fun (well mostly) workouts.

These containers are the easiest way to manage portions that I’ve found. Yes, it involves some measuring, but that’s made very easy by the color-coded containers.

How it works:

  • You use the formula they give you to estimate how many calories you need to lose weight (this is always a guesstimate since no formula will be exact).
  • You find the plan that fits with the calories you’re allowed to have. For example, I’m on Plan B which is a plan for 1500-1799 calories. That’s reasonable for my weight and exercise regime – It sets me up for weight loss but I’m not going so low on my calories that my metabolism shuts down.
  • The plan you’re in determines your daily food intake, which involves the color-coded containers:
    • Green for veggies (this equals 1 cup)
    • Purple for fruit (1 cup)
    • Red for protein (3/4 cup)
    • Yellow for healthy carbs (1/2 cup)
    • Blue for fats (1/3 cup)
    • Orange for dressings and seeds (2 Tbs)
    • Teaspoons for things like oils and butter
  • Your plan tells you how many of each container you can have each day. For example, I get 4 greens, 3 purples, 4 reds, 3 yellows, 1 blue, 1 orange and 4 teaspoons. And some days I don’t even get all my containers because I’m too full.

Sound complicated? It’s really not once you get going and this particular kit includes a 21-day meal plan guide, which is the only way I figured all of this out.

I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work but if you try it, even for just a week, you’ll notice a few things:

  1. You’ve been eating too much
  2. You can eat less and still feel full
  3. Eating more often keeps your energy up and helps you avoid that icky I-ate-too-much feeling
  4. You’ll start losing weight

This is not a diet. I hate diets and have never been able to follow them.

This is more of an eye-opening experience to how you’ve been eating and that in and of itself is worth it.

There are other things I’ve found helpful with this portion control experiment because, to really get it down, prepping for your meals ahead of time is a must. I know, pain in the butt, but that’s what it takes.

Here are my favorite accessories:

If you decide to go for it, you can head over to the FIXATE Nutrition website (it’s part of Beachbody) and they have tons of ideas for meals and prepping.

Having never had to watch what I eat, this has been an eye-opening experience for me and, as hard as it is to change, it’s worth all that hard work. You look better, you feel better and, the best part is, you feel better about yourself.

There’s nothing worse than the guilt and shame of gaining weight, but taking action helps ease that.

That alone is worth it!

What about you? Do you have any portion control ideas or stories? Leave a comment.

Source:

Wansink B, Chandon P. Meal Size, Not Body Size, Explains Errors in Estimating the Calorie Content of MealsAnnals of Internal Medicine. 2006;145(5):326. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-145-5-200609050-00005

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