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High-protein diets: are they just a trend or truly healthy?

protein sourcesDiets high in protein sources and low in carbohydrates are taking over as we are becoming more health conscious. Paleo, ketogenic, South Beach, Whole30 and more – all focus on higher protein consumption with fewer carbs. Is this just a trend? Is it even healthy to eat so much protein?

The purpose of protein

In grade school, we learned that protein plays a vital role in our bodies, building muscles and tendons. But protein also supports enzymes, neurotransmitters, hormones and other organs including our skin. In fact there are 9 essential amino acids – ones our bodies cannot make – that we can only get from the protein we eat. So protein is crucial to our health!

Protein also lowers blood pressure and helps fight diabetes. A few sources suggest that too much protein might cause kidney damage over the long-term, but this has not yet been determined. Other evidence suggests this to be false. It’s too soon to know, but keep this topic on your radar as research develops.

According to Dietary Reference Intake, the average male should consume about 56 grams per day and the average female should consume about 46 grams per day (healthline.com). But these are minimal amounts – resulting in assumedly minimal benefits. And the amount of protein you need goes up as you lose muscle mass due to aging or other health issues, as well as when you are more active.

In other terms, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that 10-35% of your calories come from protein sources. So better goals for the average male and female may be 56-91 grams and 46-75 grams per day (healthline.com).

As always, it is best to chat with your healthcare provider before making any drastic changes, whether you are latching on to the latest trending diet or simply trying to improve your diet! This is especially important if you have existing health concerns – you don’t want to inadvertently make those worse as you replace other foods/nutrients with protein.

Best sources of protein

Just as we’ve learned all these years, lean meats make a perfect source for protein. That includes lean cuts of beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey and other game, grass-fed and organic ideally. Fresh-caught wild fish without additives should also be a regular part of your diet.

If you aren’t a meat-eater, you still have tons of protein options. And even if you do eat meat, these will add variety to your snacks and meals. These are listed in order of priority.

  • Vegetables: spinach and other leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, potato (though this is really a grain)
  • Eggs
  • Seeds: sesame, sunflower, chia, pumpkin, hemp, flax
  • Nuts: walnuts, pistachios, nut milks
  • Legumes: black-eyed peas, peanuts (organic only, in moderation)
  • Dairy: low-fat ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, Parmesan, feta, milk
  • Soy (organic only)

*Foods in orange are rich in all 9 of the essential amino acids, according to nomeatathlete.com. This is by no means a complete list of protein sources, but gives a starting point.

Aim to add vegetables first, since they should make up 40-50% of your diet. Then consider eggs, seeds and nuts as they are generally easier to digest and offer loads of other nutrients. Soy and legumes (crops that grow in pods) can be hard to digest, and soy is often grown using chemicals and/or modified. Dairy seems to cause more harm than good – consider limiting dairy if you do consume it.

How can you incorporate these foods?

Vegetables – well just eat them with every chance – raw, steamed or however. Eggs are hard to avoid, so embrace them, whether hard-boiled, over-easy, scrambled or whipped into a recipe. Sprinkle hemp or pumpkin seeds in your cereal, smoothie or salad. Grab some nuts as a snack instead of chips, crackers or worse!

Guava seems to be the king of protein when it comes to fruits. Hummus made with both garbanzo beans and tahini (sesame) provides a protein punch. And if you want to transform your kid’s carbolicious pancake breakfast into a protein party, have him help you create a tasty batch of pancakes made from pumpkin, amaranth or buckwheat.

Eating high protein could be life changing. Remember that the quality of your protein matters. Variety helps, so get creative when you can. As always, aim for better health!

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

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Eating grain free: is it really good for you and how do you do it?

Eating grain free takes eating gluten free to another level. You might want to eat grain free if you need to heal inflammation in your guts or other parts of your body. You might need to do it if you have thyroid or autoimmune issues. Or you may want to do it short term as a cleanse.

Good news. It’s not as hard as it may sound! The key is to change your mindset and to do a little prep work.

eating grain freeFor you carb fiends, changing your mindset is crucial. Admit, you may miss the grains at first – otherwise you’re not much of a fiend. It may take a few months are even longer, but you may grow to not even like them so much (yes, it’s often the case!). And you will need to add other healthy whole foods to fill the void, at least until your stomach adjusts to feeling less full or bloated. Amen to that.

And if you’re trying to lose weight, this is bound, although not guaranteed, to help.

Eating grain free vs gluten free

First of all, become friends with the term “paleo”. “Paleo” refers to a caveman style of eating, or eating the foods that naturally exist on our planet rather than those that are made or processed using chemicals or synthetic ingredients.

More specifically, the paleo diet excludes grains, dairy and alcohol. Hold tight. Don’t panic. Read on.

If there is anything you truly miss when eating grain free, just Google “paleo xyz” and you will find a recipe for it. Paleo pizza, spaghetti, cheesecake, you name it.

And say you want to still eat dairy? Just modify the paleo recipes to include your dairy ingredients.

Dabbling with paleo recipes will expose you to lots of new ways to make old favorites.

Second, plan out some meals. (Sigh, I know. But planning prevents stress and choosing whatever’s convenient ,which is usually not so good for you.) Sometimes even on the typical American diet, it’s hard to figure out what’s for dinner every night. Planning and cooking ahead can take lots of stress out of your unpredictable nights.

Planning doesn’t have to be too time-consuming. Cheat off of a paleo meal plan, like this one from my book, Digested – eating healthier made easier 3 ways, to spare yourself some of the mental work.

Lastly, identify the grains you rely on most and how you intend to replace those. That way, when you’re in a crunch, about to reach for your ol’ grainy friend, you can stop and reach for your replacement before you die of hunger!

Your new grain-free go-tos

Here are some common grains and suggested new go-tos while you’re eating grain free.

  • crackers, chips, bars                > raw veggies (oh so many to choose from!),                                                          kale or root veggie chips
  • bread                                          > lettuce leaves, put it in a bowl or make your                                                         own grain-free bread or paleo tortillas
  • buns                                            > slices of zucchini or sweet potato
  • cereal                                          > make your own grain-free cereal
  • pancakes                                    > paleo pumpkin pancakes (love these!)

You’ll get more results from eating grain free if you add in healthy foods, especially those high in fiber. You still need fiber, just not via the grains. Your best option? Learn to love the leafy greens! You’ll find many of them, and many ways to prepare them. And they offer loads of minerals and nutrients you may not have been getting before. Here are just a few:

  • kale (raw in salad or smoothie, sautéed, chips)
  • Swiss chard (raw, sautéed, roasted)
  • romaine lettuce (raw in salad or as a wrap, in smoothie)
  • collard greens (sautéed, blanched, roasted)

Also get fiber from these foods:

  • nuts and seeds
  • quinoa (a seed, but not deemed paleo because of it’s potential harm to your guts)
  • figs
  • berries
  • avocados
  • coconut (FYI – a fruit and not a tree nut)
  • beans and peas (legumes are not technically paleo)

Note that white potatoes are not a grain, but they have similar qualities and effects as grains (see the link above about quinoa). So if you’re eating grain free to heal your guts, you should also avoid using potatoes as a substitute.

Curious about going totally paleo? Read “Eating healthier: Is paleo the way to go?”.

In the meantime, if you’re eating grain free, just do a little prep work first. It will make your mission more relaxing and fun. It may be an eye-opening, gut-healing and life-changing experience!

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice.

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Eating healthier: Is paleo the way to go?

Paleo power has activated. Many people are eating paleo diets these days. In fact, you can find people who earn a living by cooking and delivering paleo meals to your home. And though it’s about going back to caveman-like simplicity, eating paleo is no walk in the park. So is eating paleo really the way to go?

What does eating paleo mean?

Eating paleo is more than a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. You need to avoid many packaged goods, find new ways to eat on the go and spend more time shopping and cooking. You will inevitably have to give up some of your ol’ favorites. No more potato chips with cottage cheese or pizza as we once knew them.

When eating paleo, you need to avoid:

  • all grains, especially wheat and gluten but also rice and corn.
  • dairy.
  • legumes and starchy vegetables, including alfalfa, beans, carob, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, peas, potatoes and soybeans.
  • refined sugars.
  • processed foods.
  • additives and chemicals — if a food contains an ingredient you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it.
  • alcohol.

Shew. So what can you eat?

paleo fish with saladWhen going paleo, you may eat:

  • fresh caught wild fish, lean and clean organic meats and eggs, all in moderation.
  • organic vegetables.
  • organic fruits.
  • organic, raw nuts, nut butters and seeds.
  • certain oils, only at recommended temperatures to avoid making them rancid.
  • spices without additives, gluten or anything else non-paleo.

When is eating paleo right for you?

If you don’t digest lean meats easily, paleo is probably not for you! If you’re not willing to spend extra time looking at labels, grocery shopping and preparing foods, it may not be the right time for you to adopt a paleo eating style.

However, eating paleo makes sense in several instances:

  • You have lots of sensitivities to foods and need to find substitutes. I’ve been eating paleo-like (sans nuts) during my version of an elimination diet the past couple of months and it’s helped me find alternative recipes for many things I thought I had to totally give up, such as tortilla shells, tortilla chips, cookies and even a carrot cake. Hello tapioca, coconut and many other flours I never knew! What a great way to get more foods into my rotation, so I’m truly able to eat all things in moderation. Follow this adventure on Facebook — even join me with your own eating healthier challenge!
  • You want to lose weight. Duh. Look at all the foods and carbs you give up when eating paleo! When you want to lose weight, improving your lifestyle is always better than dieting, because results from diets are so temporary. Maybe you would find it easier to delve in full-blown paleo first and then add some foods back as you determine which ones really help you feel good?
  • You have chronic inflammation. This could include allergies or arthritis to heart disease, because many health issues begin with inflammation.

If you decide that eating paleo is for you, remember a few key notes.

  1. If you suffer from chronic inflammation, you may want to avoid the nuts, too, because they can cause inflammation for many. Peanuts are technically a legume, are not paleo and may be the least healthy of the nuts. If you eat them, choose organic. Coconut is a fruit, so that is an option if your body tolerates it and you like it. You may still tolerate seeds from sunflower, pumpkin or sesame — think as flour or as spreadables — not just by the handful.
  2. Make sure you are getting enough calories and nutrients, especially vitamin D, calcium and healthy fats.
  3. Eat lean meats and fish in moderation. When I did this diet before as a 3-week cleanse, I was eating hamburgers for a snack. NOT ideal! But this time, my appetite has leveled out so I don’t need as much protein to feel full or satisfied.
  4. Every body is different and our bodies change with age (I am blaming my surge of food sensitivities on hormones in the 40s!). If you eat paleo and feel great, it may be your ideal lifestyle — for now. Listen to your body and review your blood work, especially as it relates to your vitamin D. You can always add foods back as you learn what works for you.

We definitely have a place for paleo in this world. Paleo or not, we all should avoid packaged foods with additives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and refined sugars. Most of us could eat more vegetables and more organic foods.

Even if paleo is not perfect for you, try embracing some paleo beliefs!

For more ideas about eating paleo-like, including a shopping list and meal plan, read Digested – eating healthier made easy 3 ways.

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice.