Avocados: A Nutritional Powerhouse Loaded with Dietary Benefits
Avocado lovers rejoice! Which pretty much includes everyone, right !?!
Today we are going to be chatting about one of my personal favorite foods – avocados. Avocados are a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with over 20 vitamins, minerals, chock full of fiber and heart-healthy fats – avocados are a nutritional force to be reckoned with. But before we examine the benefits of avocados let’s take a look at their nutritional profile:
Did you know that a ‘standard’ serving of avocado is actually 1/5 of a whole fruit? Call me crazy but that is a super odd quantity! More importantly who the heck eats 1/5 of an avocado? How do you even divide an avocado into fifths? Most folks easily eat an whole avocado without batting an eye! Therefore, for simplicity sake throughout this article I am going to use one half an avocado as the standard for comparisons.
However, as you can see avocados are predominantly fat and unfortunately do not come without calories. That would be a girl’s dream come true, right? In fact, we actually qualify an avocado as a high calorie, high fat, high fiber, low carbohydrate food. So while their health benefits are seemingly endless we still need to consume them responsibly. More about that later.
So let’s get take a look at those awesome benefits! In today’s blog we are going to examine what I consider to be five of the most important nutritional benefits of avocados. In addition, we will examine different ways of incorporating avocados into your diet so you reap these awesome benefits of these tasty little nuggets of goodness.
Avocados and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the world. There are several risk factors associated with increasing the risk of this deadly disease: high cholesterol and hypertension. So it would make sense to start off by discussing avocado’s potential role in decreasing these two critical risks. Let’s tackle the cholesterol piece first.
Avocados Contain Heart-Healthy Fats
What makes a food heart-healthy? You hear this buzzword tossed around all the time. But what does it really mean?
As a dietition, this joke NEVER gets old!
Avocados are almost all fat! In one half of an avocado there are about 10 grams of fat. This means that approximately 75-80 % of all the calories in avocados come from fat. However, foods like avocados contain what we consider “good” fats.
There are two types of good fats – monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS). Avocados contain both of these good types of fats. So even though there is 10 grams or so of fat in a serving of avocado – about 8 grams are composed of the good fats.
Impact of Avocados on Cholesterol
Not all cholesterol is ‘bad’ or even consider dangerous from a heart-health standpoint. In the body we create and process two type of cholesterol: LLD and HDL cholesterol.
Most cardiologists identify LDL as the type of cholesterol we should be most concerned with. LDL cholesterol is responsible for depositing cholesterol into our arteries. While HDL cholesterol actually does the opposite. HDL cholesterol helps remove the cholesterol from our arteries and disposes of it through our liver.
Therefore, we consider LDL our LOUSY cholesterol level and we want that value low. While HDL is considered our HEALTHY cholesterol and we want this value HIGH.
Back to lovely avocados. The monounsaturated fats in avocados can have a positive effect on heart-health when replacing saturated fats (aka “bad” fats). These heart-healthy fats can help lower overall cholesterol, raise HDL and lower LDL. Can someone say Trifecta?!
However, just like anything any food (no matter how healthy!) it important to practice portion control with avocados. Depending on its size, like I have aforementioned, a whole avocado clocks in at about 300 + calories and easily 20 grams of fat. Yes, just like we mentioned these ARE good fats. Nonetheless, we need to be responsible with our food choices. Please feel free to eat avocados daily. Just make sure to count them towards your daily calorie and fat totals.
Avocados and Hypertension
Hypertension affects ⅓ of all Americans and is the number one risk factor for heart disease. So how do avocados come into play with this deadly disease? Avocados are high in a nutrient called potassium. A potassium rich diet may help reduce hypertension, fluid retention, protect against stroke and even help prevent osteoporosis [1, 2, & 3]. Whoa. That is a powerful nutrient.
Role of Potassium on Hypertension
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body. It serves many roles in the body all of which depend on the chemical gradient in which it creates. Potassium helps maintain fluid balance, regulates muscle contractions (like in the heart!) as well as sends nerves singles throughout the body. In fact, potassium plays a role in every heartbeat. A hundred thousand times a day, potassium is responsible for triggering your heart to squeeze blood through your body. It also helps your muscle move, kidneys function and makes sure those nerves of yours are functioning properly.
Avocados and Potassium
However, it’s no surprise most people don’t consume enough potassium. After all, the highest source of potassium are fruits and vegetables. And truth be told people are surely slacking in this department.
Avocados are full of many important nutrients
In one half of an avocado there is around 350 – 400 mg of potassium. Most health officials (including myself!) recommend consuming 3500 – 4700 mg of potassium per day. In this situation – the more the merrier for sure. Therefore, by consuming avocados regularly in your diet you can inch your way closer to meeting this value.
Avocados and Fiber
Like potassium most folks don’t consume enough fiber. Also like potassium we find the majority of fiber in fruits and veggies as well as complex starches. The average American consumes a whopping 13 grams of fiber per day. Curious where you come in with fiber consumption? Click here to access the fiber content of commonly consumed foods. Optimal fiber intake is set at 25 – 30 grams per day. So we are off by a landslide! Enter our little buddy the avocado.
In one half of an avocado, there is about 5 grams of fiber. Not bad for a food that is mostly composed of fat!
Consuming foods that are high in fiber have been linked to reducing the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Fiber also adds bulk to our diet and promotes satiety. Avocados contain a high amount of insoluble fiber. When consumed with an adequate amount of fluid, insoluble fiber promotes optimal digestive health and bowel regularity. Insoluble fiber increases the rate at which material moves through the GI tract. It also generates larger, softer stools that are easier to pass, which helps prevent constipation and strained bowel movements. Lastly, if you suffer from diverticulitis consuming avocados regularly can help prevent flares of this painful condition.
Avocados are Rich in Antioxidants
Avocados contain vitamins A, C and E. All three are are antioxidants that help strengthen your immune system. Carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin also act as antioxidants and are found in avocados. This abundance of antioxidants helps prevent disease and has been shown to reduce the risk or prevent the progression of cancer.
“Among the twenty most commonly eaten fruits, avocado ranks number one for vitamin E, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, glutathione and beta-sitosterol,” writes ophthalmologist and author of SuperFoods HealthStyle, Steven G. Pratt. Lutein is one of two carotenoids that form the macular pigment found in the center of the retina. High concentrations of lutein are also found in the lens of the eye. Higher intake of lutein, zeaxanthin and glutathione are associated with reduced risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Glutathione, called by some experts as the Mother of All Antioxidants, also help fights oxidative stress and free radical damage. Therefore, want to protect your sight? Regularly include avocados in your diet ♥
Avocados Taste Delicious
I had to save the best for last. Reason number 5 for consuming avocados – they taste delicious. When ripe, most avocados have a buttery texture and mild, but nutty flavor profile. It is this fairly muted flavor that lends nicely to pairings with other stronger more overpowering ingredients.
It is impossible to discuss avocados without mentioning guacamole. I feel like if I was stranded on a desert island the only three things I would need to be happy would be: 1. my husband 2. guacamole and 3. peanut butter (off course!) One of my very favorite finds at Trader Joe’s and a staple in The Plano’s home is their Guiltless Guacamole made with Greek Yogurt. With only 30 calories per tablespoon there is very little NOT to love about this food. Got a bag of ripe avocados? Why not make your own guacamole using Alton Brown’s easy to follow guacamole recipe.
Trader Joe’s Guiltless Guacamole – Yum all day long!
While most commonly consumed in the form of guacamole there are SOOOO many other tasty ways to consume avocados. Here is a fairly basic list of 23 Delicious Ways to Consume Avocados. But if you want to get fancy Epicurious has got you covered with 24 Ways to Eat an Avocado. Please check out # 4 (Hello, Chocolate mousse!) and # 22 which provides new face for an old-time favorite avocado toast. Therefore, there is no shortage of delicious ways to incorporate avocados into your lifestyle.
I know you kiddos are super creative! Was is your favorite way of using these tasty little nutrition powerhouses? Please share in the comments below.
Hugs & High Fives,
1. Schardt D. Potassium: Bones, stones, & strokes on the line. Nutrition Action Healthletter. 2004;31(10):8-9.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Part D, Section 7: Fluid and Electrolytes. The Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Available here.
3. Alderman MH. Presidential Address: 21st Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Hypertension: Dietary sodium and cardiovascular disease: The ‘J’-shaped relation. J Hypertens. 2007;25(5):903-907.
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Keto vs Atkins: what’s actually the difference?
Both are low carb, high in fat and share a large majority of the same principles but there are differences. We are going to get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all.
The Great Debate: Carbohydrates Versus Fat
Few things in the world of nutrition have been debated as much as “carbohydrates vs fat.” For decades we’ve been told fat is detrimental to our health. Meanwhile low-fat “diet” products, often full of sugar (and crap!) flood just about every aisle in the supermarket. Meanwhile, our population seemingly gets fatter, sicker and takes more medications than ever.
To eat carbs or not to eat carbs. That is the age-old question.
Therefore, it is no surprise that over the last few decades, low carbohydrate diets have made a resurgence. Also thankfully the pendulum has finally swung in a promising direction as it relates to fat intake. Many health professionals now support that a low carb diet is a viable option to treat obesity and other chronic, Western diseases.
Yay finally for legit science!
However, despite advances in research there still seems to be confusion among the various low carb diets. In fact, one of the common statements I hear in my practice from patients is that they are following a ketogenic diet. But are they really?
More often that not – upon a quick review of their actual eating patterns it becomes apparent their eating style is more consistent with an Atkins diet rather than of a strict ketogenic diet. But does it really matter? Aren’t all low carb diets created equal and illicit the same results? The answer as you will see is not that simple.
It is important to note the goal of this blog is purely informational. As a practitioner I have no personal bias as it relates to a low carbohydrate diet. This means I am neither for or against them. I meet my patients in their health journey ‘where they are’.
With that being said it is important to me that my patients are properly educated and not misinformed. Therefore, the intention of this blog is not to debate whether or not a low carb diet is healthy. The intention is to instead to address the differences and similarities of two of the most popular low carbohydrate diets: The Atkins Diet and the Ketogenic diet (aka just Keto). Both are low carb and share a large majority of principles and beneficial outcomes, but a few subtle differences exist too. But what are the main difference between these two diets? And do these differences really matter? Does one promote more long term health benefits? Let’s get some answers.
Similarities Between Atkins & Keto
Before we examine what makes both diets unique it is critical to address the similarities between Keto and Atkins. I believe it these striking similarities that often have someone thinking they are following one type of low carb diet; when in fact they are following a different approach.
Both are Low Carb Diets
At the most basic levels, both Atkins and Keto are low carb diets. However, surprisingly there is no standard definition of what actually constitutes the term “low carb”. Both Keto and Atkins respectively present and adhere to their own definitions. As you will see, it is these very definitions that set Keto and Atkins apart from one another.
Both are Built on the Premise of Ketosis
Definitions aside, it is fair to make the general assumption that a low carb diet restricts carbohydrates, such as those found in sugary foods, pasta, fruit and bread. For both diets, their success centers around lowering the body’s carbohydrate intake in an effort to lower insulin and consequently burn fat as fuel. This process is known as ketosis.
In the absence of carbohydrates the body produces ketones. Ketones are an alternative fuel source for the body to use when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply. The goal of both Keto and Atkins is to tap into the body’s fat burning potential. Once this switch is flipped, the body changes from burning carbohydrates to fat.
Therefore, by restricting carbohydrates, insulin levels decrease, and fat burning increases dramatically. As we will see in this blog, ketosis plays a pivotal role in each of the diets but in different ways, thus affecting how sustainable each diet is in the long run.
Both Diets Place an Emphasis on Dietary Fat
High fats foods such a meat, eggs, full fat dairy and liberal amounts of fats form the backbone of both Atkins and Keto. However, Keto greatly favors calories come from fat. While in Atkins, fat receives less of an emphasis, with a more dramatic shift towards higher protein lower carb consumption.
Both Diets Provide Similar Health Benefits
Atkins was created specifically for weight loss. While Keto was developed in the 1920’s as a treatment option for epilepsy. But recent research suggests the Keto and Atkins diets may provide health benefits including by not limited to weight loss, optimized blood sugar, improved insulin sensitivity, even reduced risks of various cancers and some neurodegenerative diseases (1, 2).
The Keto Diet
Keto by definition is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate diet. The dietary approach is linear from start to “finish”. There is no maintenance plan once you reach your goal. Instead, you sustain the same fixed eating patterns indefinitely.
The Specifics of a Ketogenic Diet
♥ 5 – 10% of energy from carbs
♥ 20 – 30% of energy from proteins
♥ 65 – 80% of energy from fats
The primary goal of eating in tune with these specific percentages is to get the body in ketosis. By following this high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet the individual is able to significantly lower their insulin levels. This radical shift in fuels prompts the body from burning from glucose to creating and using ketones. In turn, facilitating fat burning.
Keto is a high fat, moderate protein,low carb diet.
Let’s be clear about something. Keto is a high fat diet. Not a high protein diet. So you don’t need/want huge amounts of protein. Protein in excess of what your body uses/needs can be converted to glucose, making it more challenging to get in (and stay!) in ketosis. Most people who think they are following Keto often fail to recognize this piece. They get confused with Atkins where protein intake is unregulated and encouraged. They think the same applies for Keto. Well, it does not. On Keto, protein intake needs to be determined and adhered to in order to maximize results.
Long Term Compliance on Keto
When following a true Keto diet, long term compliance with these specific guidelines is critical. If the guidelines are violated, the benefits of ketosis will not be actualized and the individual may actually end up gaining weight.
Therefore, in embarking on Keto the individual must make (and sustain!) significant, permanent, lifestyle changes. No compromising. No backing away. Just a full lifestyle adjustment regarding how you view food and nutrition. No biggie, right ?
Why You Need to Know your Baseline Calorie Needs on Keto
I know counting calories is often noted as not necessary on Keto. However, I am going to disagree here. Think about it. Keto relies on very specific percentages based on total calories consumed. While I agree due metabolic adaptations in relation to hormone regulation you can likely consume a higher level of calories – you still need a starting point for calories. If you do not establish a baseline level of calories, it is impossible to determine the actual percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrates you need to consume. Therefore, you need a starting point for calories to base your percentages off of. Makes sense, right?
The Atkins Diet
Now let’s transition to the examining the Atkins diet and what makes it is this approach unique.
The Specifics of the Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is promoted in four phases: Induction, Balancing, Fine-Tuning and Maintenance. The first phase is the most restrictive and vaguely resembles the overall platforms of a ketogenic diet with one major caveat; there is no restriction on protein just carbohydrates. As time progresses and the individual gets closer to their goal weight complex carbohydrate intake increases and the diet becomes less carbohydrate restrictive.
The 4 Phases of Atkins
Induction: Carbohydrates are restricted to no more than 20 grams per day. Emphasis is placed on high fat and high protein foods, with the source of carbohydrates coming from dark, leafy greens.
Balancing: Nuts are incorporated, low carbohydrate vegetables and small amounts of fruit.
Fine-tuning: As someone approaches their goal weight, they begin to add more carbohydrates slowing down weight loss.
Maintenance: High fiber carbohydrates are significantly increased and based on an individual’s level of “tolerance” more or less or added.
The Basics of Atkins
Fat: No defined amount although liberal consumption of high fat foods are encouraged
Protein: No defined amount although liberal consumption of high protein foods are encouraged
Carbohydrates: < 20 net grams of carbohydrates per day during Induction phase with increasing amount through the 4 phases
There are no restrictions placed on fat consumption. More importantly, there is no restriction on protein. You are encouraged to eat as much protein and fat as long as you keep your carbohydrates where they need to be in each respective phase. You don’t need to ‘hit’ specific percentages for your macronutrients. Additionally, you can eat as many calories as you like. Therefore, depending upon your personal eating style this can become a high calorie, high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diet.
How Keto and Atkins are Different
So we have addressed both the similarities and the respective differences of Keto and Atkins. Now let’s talk about how they compare. Here is a summary of the keys points.
Changes from phase to phase, starting with drastic reductions followed by gradual reintroduction.
Relatively Fixed level: Approximately 5-10% of total calories.
Carbohydrate Monitoring Method
Often based pm approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein for each kg of bodyweight.
No set amount – high fat foods encouraged
High fat intake. As much as 65 – 85% total calories.
4 phase process where carbs are slashed then gradually reintroduced.
Once nutritional ketosis is achieved optimal carb, fat and protein levels remain unchanged.
Ketosis highest during phase 1. After that ketosis is decreased as carbs are slowly reintroduced.
Optimal production levels maintained throughout course of diet.
Time When Individual Achieves Ketosis
With ketosis the Atkins diet looks to achieve it in phase 1.
Depends on the individual.
Distribution of Macronutrients
Perhaps the most significant difference between Keto and Atkins is how the macronutrients are specifically distributed. Macronutrients (aka ‘Macros’) are the amount of carbohydrates, fat and protein someone should consume based on their specific needs. Keto as you have seen is highly specific with finite macronutrient ratios. While Atkins promotes a level of food quality (high fat, high protein, low carb) but makes no mention of actual quantity.
There is no denying the fact both diets are low in carbohydrates. However, long term Keto promotes a consistent lower carbohydrate diet. Generally speaking, most people on Keto keep their carbs below 30 – 50 grams for.ever. Yes, as already noted, there are no phases or progression of carbohydrates for Keto. Just one steadfast, unwavering level of uniform carbohydrate intake.
In the Induction phase, carbs on Atkins are set at 20 grams or under. However, as the individual progresses through the various phases additional carbohydrates are added. While these additional carbohydrates are not ‘junk’ carbs – the body still recognizes them with a similar blood sugar response. Additional carbohydrates promote an increase in blood sugar. This rise in blood sugar drives up insulin. Ultimately, knocking the individual out of ketosis.
Which raises the question: “Is Atkins a ketogenic diet?” The answer would be: “No.”
Atkins unfortunately diet does not turn you into a fat burner for the long haul. This is simply because as you progress you are allowed to eat an upward of 100 grams of carbs per day. This amount (for many) is sufficient for your body to keep burning sugar for fuel – not fat. Keto, on the other hand, requires sticking to 30 – 50 grams of carbs per day increasing the likelihood of long term ketosis.
Are All Carbs Created Equal?
One area of carb counting that can get a little confusing is the whole “net” carbohydrate situation. Atkins utilizes a net approach to counting carbohydrates. While Keto counts total carbohydrates. Don’t worry, though — it’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds.
Net carbohydrates are what you’re left with after subtracting the grams of fiber per serving from the total carbohydrate amount per serving. In this approach, you can also subtract sugar alcohols as well such as xylitol, sorbitol and erythritol.
For example, if an item has 30 grams of carbohydrates and it contains 10 grams of fiber, then the amount of net carbs the item contains is 20 grams.
According the creators of Atkins, the method to the madness is the net carb amount reflects the grams of carbohydrate that significantly impact blood sugar level. This follows the assumption there is little to no impact of both fiber and sugar alcohols on blood sugar. Therefore, when following Atkins these are are the only carbs you need to count. Foods that are low in net carbs such as nutrient-dense vegetables and low glycemic fruits such as berries don’t cause a significant impact on blood sugar and therefore are less likely to interfere with weight loss.
When it comes to counting carbs on Keto it really depends who you ask! Some true devotees of Keto will count total carbohydrates independent of fiber. While others followers of Keto aim for 20-25 grams of net carbs OR ~ 50 grams of total carbs. Either way you slice it the goal is to keep carbohydrates low enough to decrease insulin levels and facilitate fat burning.
The Dietary Guidelines set forth by the U.S. government promote a diet containing 20-35 % of total calories coming from fat. Therefore, comparatively Keto is considered a very high fat diet with 65 – 85 % total calories coming from fat. Atkins is also higher in fat than your typical recommended diet. But not as high as Keto. The emphasis is slightly different with Atkins. The focus to is instead on removing carbs while equally boosting protein and fats.
Also unlike Keto, there is no set amount of daily fat you are required to consume on Atkins. The main emphasis on Atkins is to keep carbohydrates below the set level for each phase. While high fat foods are encouraged, fat intake can vary from person to person.
On Keto an ‘adequate’ or ‘moderate’ amount of protein is encouraged. While on Atkins protein intake (like fat intake) has no set amount. Therefore, it is possible for Atkins to become a low carbohydrate, high protein, high fat diet. Why does this matter?
Certain factors like eating too much protein can (for some individuals) get in the way of ketosis and increase the need for gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis is just a fancy term for making glucose from non-glucose sources like protein and fat. It’s a process when your body converts excess protein or dietary fat you eat into blood sugar for energy. Some researchers believe the protein sources commonly consumed on a low carb diet have the propensity to raise insulin levels. In response to an increase in insulin levels, ketogenesis is downregulated.
This is why eating ‘too’ much protein can impair some individual’s ability to get in and stay in ketosis. But, this does not mean you should restrict your protein consumption either! But what it does mean is someone following Keto NEEDs to determine their adequate level of protein intake. A good general rule of thumb is to aim for 1.0 – 1.5 grams of protein per kg body (3). To convert your weight into kg simply multiply your weight in pounds by 0.45.
By taking the time to determine what a moderate level of protein intake looks like, the individual on Keto can both optimize their fat burning potential and prevent lean muscle breakdown. However, your protein needs are dependent on your activity level, weight, height, gender, body composition, stress and inflammation levels in your body, etc. So keep in mind this calculation is a very basic way to determine adequate protein intake. If you are a competitive athlete you will likely need to adjust this value.
In summary, it is fair to say when it comes to Keto and Atkins, Keto is much more specific with very finite guidelines. While Atkins can be seen as more ‘loosey-goosey.’ In order to achieve the benefits of Keto you have to be very precise. While the Atkins diet is more flexible. Hence Atkins could be seen as less intimidating prompting more people to try their hand at this approach. With that being said, some people thrive on a rule-based approach. They need profound structure because otherwise they’re going try to break/bend the rules at any occasion they see fit. So, it really comes down to the individual.
Which One is Better?
In all honesty, despite their similarities and differences I really don’t know which one is ‘better’ per say. My person stance is and always has been “Different strokes, for different folks.” My goal is to meet my patients where they are and guide them based on the scientific evidence that exists. I personally think an argument could be made for pretty much any dietary approach out there. SO I guess it really lies in someone’s goals, level of dedication, persona and long term personal outlook on health and wellness.
Some people just can’t wrap their arms around a low carb, high fat diet. It is SO foreign to them. While others, embrace this dietary approach with unwavering optimism. I think the big thing with either diet is knowing the score. Based on my knowledge, the intention of Keto is more of a true lifestyle change. While Atkins (seems for most) to be a fairly short-term guide to weight loss. So if you are as they say, ”In it to win it,” I would recommend you go ‘all in’ with Keto and do it right.
But truth be told – I have never.ever.ever. met anyone to be consistent long-term with either approach. Inevitably for most — pizza happens 🙂 But maybe that is just the circle of patients, friends and family members I run with?
Well, I guess that is not true. Research supports long term compliance (> 12 months) on a very low carb diet in the general population is fairly low (4, 5). Surprised? I didn’t think so. Does that mean this approach is wrong? No. It just means a very low carbohydrate diet is very hard to sustain.
Also I can only speak from my personal clinical experience. But once people go back to eating normal- carbs and all – they seem to gain weight back with interest. That is because each gram of carbohydrates pulls into 3-6 grams of water into the body. When you get significantly decrease of the carbohydrates – you simply take on less water. Increasing protein intake can also have a diuretic effect on the body. Therefore, it is not a surprise when a person goes off a low carb diet – they often experience shifts in fluids and therefore fluctuations in weight.
So I guess the next question becomes can we get the benefits of a ketogenic diet without being going gangbusters with Keto or Atkins? The answer is YES. If there is any uniform message here the key to success is managing insulin. And ‘Hello!” there are numerous ways to that! Last we I talked your ear off about Intermittent Fasting. But you don’t have to go Keto or even engage in Intermittent Fasting if that is not your bag. In fact, the number one insulin sensitizer is exercise!!! Plus, exercise has a host of other extremely beneficial side effects beyond just lowering and managing insulin. So why not start with the lowest hanging fruit? No need to complicate matters anymore than they already are 🙂
And one more thing. What gets measured gets managed. Really want to knock it out of the ball park? Start tracking every morsel that goes in your mouth. And I do mean everything! Because before you even begin thinking about changing your dietary approach you need to understand the current status of your diet. The only way to do that is track what you eat and review the data. Plain and simple.
Need help getting started? Why not enlist the help of one of fabulous Plano Program’s Registered Dietitians? They can not only help you determine the most effective food tracking platform – but they can provide an overall assessment of both the quality and quantity (Hello macros!) of your diet. The best part? They are likely covered by your health insurance. So why not take advantage of the awesome opportunity to have someone help you determine what to eat? Make an appointment now by clicking here.
Phew. That was a mouthful! I am hopeful you found the information helpful. If anything I hope it empowers you to select the most appropriate dietary approach when it comes to low carbohydrate diets.
Hugs & High Fives,
P.S. What have been your personal experiences with low carb diets? Do you find one type of low carb diet was easier to sustain than the other? After reading this were you following one type of low carb diet – when you really were following another type? Please share your experience in the comments below.
- Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, et al. “Low-carbohydrate-diet score and the risk of coronary heart disease in women.” N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1991-2002.
- Halton TL, Liu S, Manson JE, Hu FB. “Low-carbohydrate-diet score and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. “ Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:339-46.
- American College of Sports Medicine position stand. “Nutrition and athletic performance. American Dietetic Association., Dietitians of Canada.,” American College of Sports Medicine., Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar; 41(3):709-31.
- Hu T., Yao L., Reynolds K., Niu T., Li S., Whelton P. K., He J., Steffen L. M., and Bazzano L. A. (2016) Adherence to low‐carbohydrate and low‐fat diets in relation to weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors. Obesity Science & Practice, 2: 24–31.
- Grant D Brinkworth, Manny Noakes, Jonathan D Buckley, Jennifer B Keogh, Peter M Clifton; Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 mo, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90, Issue 1, 1 July 2009, 23–32.
It’s National Taco Day – Grab Those Partay Pants
First of all — stop the press. Did you know that TODAY, October 2nd is National Taco Day?
I know. First, it was National Peanut Day. Now this. Can you even stand the excitement? Don’t get me wrong. I know that every Tuesday is in fact Taco Tuesday. But most importantly today is THE Taco Tuesday.
I have NEVER met a taco I did not like 🙂
I don’t know about you but I love Mexican food. I can pretty much eat some rendition of Mexican food every day. After all, what is there NOT to like about Mexican food? First there is meat, then cheese, guacamole, jalapenos, tomatoes and might I add … maybe more cheese? So let’s celebrate this glorious day with some healthy Mexican taco recipes. Yes you heard that right. Mexican CAN be healthy. I got you covered, I promise.
Buen provecho! (Enjoy your meal in Spanish).
I am a bowl and spoon type of girl. So that is why I lead the list of recipes with 9 Healthy Taco Bowls for When you Want to Ditch the Shell. For me, the actual taco shell just does not do it. Also it’s what inside the shell that really counts and the possibilities are seemingly endless. Most importantly, there is something in this list of recipes for everyone here. Meat eaters and vegans alike can hold hands and dig in knowing their respective bellies will be full.
Check out these tasty taco bowls from Slim Sanity! Yum!
Watching your carbs? Then check out this easy recipe for Turkey Taco Spaghetti Squash Boats. Vegetarian? Or ground turkey meat just not your thing? Why not try substituting Boca Crumbles or Beyond Beef Crumbles. You will not even miss the meat 🙂
Taco Stuffed Peppers
From my experience people seem to have a ‘love or hate’ relationship with peppers. So for all the lovers out there I am sharing my favorite recipe for Taco Stuffed Peppers by the Cozy Cook. I am hopeful once you try these this bad boys stuffed with ground beef, cheese, salsa and sour cream – the fact they are even peppers will become a non-issue.
Just a couple of substitutions I would suggest to this recipe. I am assuming the ground beef is referring to an 80/20 blend. I would suggest either ground sirloin which is generally 93/7 or 90/10 depending on the brand. Or you could also substitute ground chicken or ground turkey to lower the saturated fat content of the recipe as well. The Boca Crumbles or Beyond Beef Crumbles would also work lovely here as well.
Taco Seasoning – Avoiding the Ick Factor
As for the Taco Seasoning in this recipe most commercial packets are loaded with sodium and often even MSG. So what I might suggest is you either make your own special blend or choose a low sodium brand with the least number of words you cannot pronounce.
Don’t believe me that there are all sorts of wacky things in your taco seasoning click here to find out what is lurking. Note the second ingredient is salt. Also in case you didn’t know the term “partially hydrogenated soybean oil” is just a fancy name for trans fats. Don’t let the trans fats crash our Taco Tuesday party.
Here is a simple recipe to make your own taco seasoning.
Lastly, if you are looking to shave off a couple calories (40) and grams of fat (4) you can buy Trader Joes Light Mexican Cheese. I am a SUPER FAN.
Well, we can’t chat about healthy taco recipes without mentioning taco salads. Depending upon what you put on a taco salad this is a great vehicle to get your Mexican on without a boat load of calories.
However, don’t be fooled. Most taco salads come in deep-fried taco bowls and clock in around 1000 calories per salad. Not to mention they can be sodium bombs.
So why not just make your own? That way you can control all the toppings and make the salad as healthy as you want. Try this recipe from one of my favorite recipes sites Well Plated for a delicious Skinny Taco Salad.
As with anything you can always tweak the ingredients. For example if you are watching your carbs you might nix the tortilla, black bean and/or corn. Or just scale back the quantity of each. Generally each cup of corn is about 15 grams of carbs. While each cup of beans is about 45 grams carbs. Depending on the brand, tortillas range from 10 grams each all the way to up 60 grams. In our house we love the low carbohydrate wraps from Trader Joes. We use them for everything from tacos, fajitas and quesadillas to DIY low-carb tortilla chips.
Make Tacos. Not war.
Well I hope you found some inspiration in these recipes. After all it is not every day is National Taco Day! So please enjoy because National Taco Day only comes around every 365 days 🙂
Got healthy taco recipes? I know YOU do my fellow Mexican food lover. Please share in the comments below. Our community will thank you for doing so ♥ ♥ ♥
Hugs & High Fives,
What to Look for on a Food Label for Peanut Butter
This week at Quinnipiac University my students in one of my hybrid classes completed a module on food label reading. In this assignment I have them choose one of their favorite, commonly consumed foods and report back to the class on what they learned from reading the food label.
When I asked by a show of hands in last night’s class how many students were surprised by what they learned from the assignment – 25 out 25 hands shot right up. Not surprising as reading a food label can be pretty difficult territory to navigate! In fact for some – it can be pretty foreign.
Therefore, I thought it light of National Peanut Day (which in case you did not know is TODAY in case you didn’t know!) it would be a good idea to tackle what to look for on a food label of one of my most favorite foods – good old peanut butter.
Peanut butter. To my expert knowledge is one of the best foods ever created on this amazing planet. It’s texture, salty taste, and affordability has made peanut butter a staple in most American homes.
Battle Royale of the Peanut Butters – Let’s the games begin!
So, what is in peanut butter? How is it made? What should we look for when buying peanut butter? Well, it sounds pretty simple in theory. Peanut butter should just contain peanuts and some butter, right? However, this is far from the case. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and see what we should be looking for on a food label on this beloved food.
5 Important Things to Look for When Buying Peanut Butter
1. Always choose organic.
I promise – I am NOT ‘that’ dietitian. The one who preaches organics as the be-all-end-all of life. In fact, in my practice organics are only something I bring up if YOU bring them up. I have NO agenda when it comes to organics. So if I tell you to buy organic peanut butter there has to be a good reason.
You see, peanuts are one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the US. Insects and all sorts of little creatures ♥ peanuts – just like we do! So, that means the commercial peanut crops are sprayed with a heavy hand when it comes to pesticides.
Therefore, in an effort to decrease this lovely toxic load – choose a peanut butter that clearly states “Organic” on the food label. This information is found on the front of the product and often too on the back of the food label.
Choosing Organic peanut butter is critical!
And remember you do not need to choose a fancy brand. In fact, most store brands of organic peanut butter are equally as delicious as the far more expensive name brand varieties.
2. No added sugars.
I know this sounds like a no brainer. But sugar should never.ever.ever. be listed as an ingredient on a food label for peanut butter. Not in any form. No cane juice, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, agave, molasses, honey, etc. Because guess what? They all mean one thing – and one thing only – sugar.
This product (though delicious I might add) contains added sugars – so buyer be aware!
You see food companies are pretty sneaky! Many will often use sugar as a ‘filler’ or just to make an already delicious product sweeter. Don’t fall for it. You are far too crafty smartie pants!
This product contains ‘added’ sugar in the form of ‘cane sugar’
Sugar does not belong in peanut butter. That is unless you are making a peanut butter pie. Which if you know me – understand fully that making peanut butter pies are pretty much my jam!
3. No added oils.
This one may stump you. But guess what makes most peanut butters smooth? Trans fats (a.k.a. hydrogenated oils). Hydrogenated oils are used to improve the texture of peanut butter. They prevent the oils from separating in peanuts and rising to the top.
Trans fats are an unhealthy type of fat. Trans fats tank our healthy cholesterol (HDL) which we want HIGH and increase our lousy cholesterol (LDL) which we want LOW. Some of the most popular peanut butters used to have partially hydrogenated fats in them: Skippy, Jiff as well as many standard store brands. However, given the dangerous nature of trans fats (And the FDA cracking down on using them!) many companies are switching to fully hydrogenated fats. These fats still impart the same qualities with less of an impact on our health. However, truth be told – fully hydrogenated fats while not as risky from a heart health standpoint should be avoided in my book!
All sorts of garbage here!
When reading a food label to determine whether or not a peanut butter contains trans fats look to the ingredient list for the words: partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They are generally listed as the second or third ingredient on the food label.
As you can see in the label above – the products contains all sorts of garbage including sugar, salt and corn syrup. Awesome, right? But no trans fats. As if label reading could not get any more complicated. Geez! Nonetheless, trans fat or not – this peanut butter is no bueno 🙁
4. Two Ingredients OR LESS.
Generally when it comes to most foods – the fewer number of ingredients, the better! In all honesty high quality peanut butters should only contain ONE ingredient — peanuts. Bingo!
A little salt can be okay, too. Some grocery stores have grinders that turn peanuts into peanut butter for you. Heck even our local Shop Rite has this – boom! This allows you to purchase however much you like instead of having to buy an 16-ounce jar and you can guarantee only one ingredient.
5. Peanuts as the MAIN ingredient.
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. This means the ingredient listed first on the food label occurs in the highest quantity in the product. When viewing the list, peanuts should always be the first ingredient.
Focus on these 5 things and you will have no problem choosing a high quality peanut butter
Remember my friends peanut butter should JUST be smashed peanuts, period. Brand names shouldn’t matter as long as you follow my suggestions listed above.
My advice is always to make sure the food label hits these 5 criteria and is the least expensive among the choices. No need to get fancy or shell out a lot of money unless you choose to. With that being said – there should be no need to spend more than $6.00 on a jar of high quality peanut butter – after all it is just nuts.
Got tips? Do YOU have criteria that you like to follow when choosing a peanut butter? Is there a brand that you love? Share in the comments below. Our peanut butter loving community would love to be in the know.
Hugs & High Fives,
Who the heck does not like yogurt? After all the possibilities for its use are endless! Yogurt can be used in parfaits, smoothies, soups, pancakes, and can even pinch-hit for sour cream. Yogurt is rich in protein and calcium and also contains potassium which is important for ♥ health. Yogurt also contains live, active bacteria cultures. These active bacteria cultures are also known as probiotics and are great for maintaining a healthy gut and digestive system. However, with so many choices choosing the best yogurt can be challenging to say the least!
Navigating the grocery store tin search of the best yogurt can be tricky! I was in Shop Rite the other day and I kid you not – the yogurt aisle almost spans the entire length of the dairy aisle. I remember back in the day – the only two choices were Yoplait and Columbo straight up regular yogurt. There were no flips, dips or cherry pie-flavored yogurts. Just the normal variety of boring flavors like vanilla, peach and strawberry.
Now a days there are SO many different options to choose from. Greek, traditional, flavored, plain, fruit filled, and varying percentages of fat are all factors to consider when buying yogurt. But what do these terms all mean? What is the best yogurt in light of all these choices? Let’s get to the bottom of this madness asap!
What percentage fat should I buy?
This is a tough question to answer. In all honesty – it depends on your #dietarygoals are as well as your overall health.
If you have high cholesterol or are just trying to keep your calories on the low side then it would be best to choose low-fat (1%) or fat-free (0%) yogurt. These two choices generally have the lowest calorie value and contain a nominal amount of saturated fat.
However, if cholesterol is not an issue and you are just looking for a yogurt with a thicker consistency then opt for a 2 % or full-fat yogurt.
I personally prefer 2% or full-fat plain yogurt. My favorite traditional brands when I can find them (please don’t laugh 🙂 ) are YoBaby Whole Milk Plain Yogurt or Liberte Plain 2 % Yogurt. Shop Rite generally carries the YoBaby but as of lately I can only find the plain Liberte yogurt at Whole Foods. The reason why I like these brands is # 1 (and most important) they taste pretty darn good ! And # 2 both brands contain under 10 grams of sugar. Also they have no added funky ingredients.
Which is best: Greek or traditional yogurt?
Greek yogurt is strained which makes it thicker, creamier, and smoother than traditional yogurt. When comparing Greek and traditional yogurt, Greek yogurt has around double the protein but does have less calcium than traditional yogurt. Both Greek and traditional yogurt are usually well tolerated by individuals with lactose intolerance. However, Greek yogurt has less lactose than traditional yogurt and may be even better tolerated than traditional yogurt. For most people, Greek yogurt is preferable to traditional yogurt because of the higher protein content.
Nowadays pretty much every major brand has both a traditional yogurt and a Greek yogurt. Even Chobani who started out their career just selling Greek yogurt now has a “old-fashioned non-Greek traditional yogurt smooth yogurt”. Therefore, you really do have your pick if you are brand loyal.
However, please don’t fret if you just don’t love Greek yogurt! Many of my patients don’t like it and prefer the traditional style instead. Keep in mind – the average American consumes more than their daily requirement for protein. So if you opt for the non-Greek variety you will not be selling yourself short in meeting your protein needs.
For the Greek yogurts I personally bounce around brand wise depending upon what is on sale and has the lowest amount of sugar per serving. Although I do the bulk of my shopping at Trader Joe’s unfortunately (aside from their ‘plain’ Greek yogurt) they do not carry a whole bunch of options under 10 – 12 grams of sugar. Some of the Greek yogurt brands in my fridge now are Siggi’s Greek Yogurt – 2 % Black Cherry, Fage Greek Yogurt-2% plain and Chobani Plain Whole-Milk Greek Yogurt.
Should I buy plain, flavored, or fruit filled yogurt?
One of the major issues with yogurt is it often has added sugars. Yogurt is made from milk (duh!) and therefore has naturally occurring sugar in it, called lactose. Thus, if you look at the nutrition label of plain yogurt, you will notice it has 12 g of carbohydrates. Since this sugar is naturally occurring, it is not of concern. However, what is concerning is the large amount of added sugars in many yogurts. A serving of flavored yogurt can contain an upward of 30 grams of sugar depending on the brand. That is a wholelata sugar! A can of soda has about 24 grams of sugar so the comparison is clear.
how to choose the best yogurt
You can skip the added sugars by buying plain yogurt and adding your own fruit and flavors such as cinnamon and vanilla. You can even get fancy with different extracts such as almond, coconut or coconut to pump up the flavors without the calories or carbs.
If you want to buy a flavored yogurt, check the nutrition label and try to buy a yogurt containing less than 12 grams of sugar per serving. Some of the brands with the lowest amount of sugars include Dannon Oikos Triple Zero Yogurt, Chobani Hints, and Siggi’s Greek yogurt mentioned above.
Navigating the yogurt aisle used to be challenging! But now, you should be able to navigate the dairy aisle with ease. Opt for low sugar yogurts that fit your dietary goals, budget and taste palate. Choosing the best yogurt should not be pretty easy!
As always, if you have a question bring the nutrition label to your nutrition visit and the dietitian can review it. Enjoy your creamy, delicious yogurt!
Alcohol 101: How can alcohol fit into my diet?
One of the common questions I receive in my practice is, how can alcohol fit into my diet? Honestly, as an RD I have nothing against alcohol. In fact, if you were to review many of my customized meal plans you would see I actually purposely put alcohol on my patient’s meal plans. While, I personally can count on one hand how many drinks I have in the course of a year it does not by any means make me a hater. Honestly, it seems like I did SOOOO much drinking before I turned 21 (many, many, many moons ago!) that when I finally did actually reach the legal drinking age – I was all set 🙂 SO I will cheer YOU on!
However, as we all know calories in drinks can add up fast. And as a result, instead of seeing results, patients remain “stuck” in a weight loss plateau. Sound familiar?
Since alcohol is a pretty much part of just about every social occasions including family parties and nights out with friends seems like it would be worth chatting about. Right? Whether you are trying to lose weight or build muscle, drinking alcohol too frequently can get in the away of your goals (shocker right?!). However, this does not mean you have to give up the occasional drink or night out with friends. Rather, just do so in moderation. And follow my tips for making the best choices when it comes to alcohol. Winner, winner, winner chicken dinner!
What is a standard drink?
First things first. Before we talk about how alcohol can fit into your diet we probably need to define an alcoholic drink. Most people are surprised to learn what counts as a standard drink. The amount of liquid in your glass doesn’t always match up to the alcohol content of your drink. Different types of beer, wine, and hard liquor can have different percentages of alcohol content.
In the U.S., a standard drink contains roughly 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol.
One standard drink includes:
12 ounces of beer with 5% alcohol content
5 ounces of wine with 12% alcohol content
1.5 ounces or a shot of 80-proof distilled spirits of liquor with 40% alcohol content
What has more calories: beer, distilled spirits, or wine?
The calories per each standard drink are as follows:
• 1.5 ounce drink of distilled spirits (40 % alcohol) is 98 calories, 0 g CHO, 0 g Pro, and 0 g Fat.
• 12 ounce drink of regular beer (5 % alcohol) is about 150 calories, 13 g CHO, 2 g Pro, 0 g Fat.
• 5 ounce drink of wine (12 % alcohol) is about 120 calories, 4 g CHO, 0 g Pro, 0 g Fat.
What are the current recommendations for alcohol?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans alcohol recommendations differ for men and women. Women are encouraged to limit alcohol to up to 1 drink per day. While men have a slightly longer leash of up to 2 drinks per day. The Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason. Translation – there is no nutritional value to drinking. Therefore, no need to establish a “new” habit if you don’t already have one.
Aint’ that the truth ?!?
The Dietary Guidelines also warn about the side effects of excessive drinking. These include: binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people under the age of 21. Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than 4 drinks during a single occasion for women and more than 5 drinks during a single occasion for men. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men. If you are confused, please see above to see what counts as a standard drink.
Consequently, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems. These may include hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Not to mention liver disease, digestive problems, cancer, learning and memory problems, mental health problems, social problems, and alcoholism. And how about them calories?
What does my drink ‘cost’ me?
I have done my best to establish a list of what I would consider commonly consumed alcoholic drinks. As mentioned previously, the calorie counts mentioned above are just for the alcohol. They do not address the multitude of beverages alcohol can be mixed with. My list below does include the mixers. The list is comprehensive but by no means all inclusive. Furthermore, don’t quote me on all the values – they are more or less estimates and refer to a standard drink. Depending upon who is making your drink – they may pour more or less alcohol and/or add more or less juice/soda/tonic/mix.
If you do not find your drink of choice on this list, you can check out Calorie King for additional nutrition information.
Now that you know the numbers – let’s get down to the basics.
Be mindful of the mixers
The addition of juices, sodas, and sugary syrups are a caloric and sugar force to be reckoned with. And just because your drink is “clear” does not by any means it is free of calories. There’s a common misconception that tonic water is the same as seltzer water, but it actually contains a lot of calories and sugar. Or some folks think because their drink is mixed with juice – it is a better choice. Most juices contain at least 110 calories and 25 grams of sugar per 8 ounce serving. So you add in a shot of alcohol and you are looking at + 220 calorie plus drink. While this may seem somewhat benign when you are on a calorie budget every calorie counts.
Instead try herb infusions, flavored club soda, or a squeeze of citrus. And if you choose so, use diet soda instead of sodas laden with sugar. Below are examples of low calorie mixers.
* Diet soda or diet tonic: 0 calories
* Light orange juice (8 oz): 50 calories
*Diet cranberry juice (8 oz): 5 calories
*Light cranberry juice (8 oz): 40 calories
*Light lemonade (8 oz): 5 calories
*Baja Bob’s sugar-free margarita or sweet ‘n’ sour mix: 0 calories
*Lemon or lime juice (1/2 oz): 10 calories
*DaVinci or Torani’s sugar-free syrups: 0
Keep it Simple
Or you can even skip the mixer altogether. Try ordering your favorite spirit or one of the new flavored liquors on the rocks (translation just on ice). Infused and ‘flavored’ vodkas are very popular because they are not sweetened but infused with flavor. There are a whole host of flavors ranging from jalapeno to peach to blueberry, to lechee fruit. You name it – there is probably an infused liquor with your favorite flavor. And best of all the flavor exists without adding any extra calories. The alcohol itself has calories (9 calories/gram) but you are saving on the calories from the mixer without compromising taste.
One of my favorite things to do (for the handful of drinks I have per year) is to make my own infused tequila. I take a whole pineapple and slice it into small disks. Next, I take about 4-5 jalapenos – seeds and all and chop them up. I then put the sliced pineapple and peppers into a tall glass pitcher. Next, I pour 2-3 cups of tequila over the fruit and peppers. I cover the mixture let it sit for about 4-5 days. Each day I muddle the mixture with a wooden spoon to release the juices and oils. Once the mixture is good and spicy I strain the liquid through a fine sieve and throw out the fruit and peppers. Lastly, I refrigerate the tequila until I am ready to use it for spicy margaritas! Yum!
Settle for a “spritzer”
Sounds pretty fancy, right? If you just want to be social and club soda won’t cut it with the company you’re keeping, ask for a wine spritzer, heavy on the spritz. All this is wine mixed with club soda. If you want to get extra fancy you can even try some of the zero calorie flavored seltzers to pump up the flavor.
You knew this was coming. Alcohol is a diuretic. Replacing fluid, particularly in warmer climates (hello Caribbean vaca), is essential. Calories (and sugar!) aside, try to make every other drink either club soda, sparkling water, or just plain water. Adding ice cubes to your beverage will help hydrate you and also make your glass of booze feel bigger.
Volunteer to be the DD
The best way to prevent alcohol from derailing your diet is to avoid drinking altogether. Why not volunteer to be the DD (designated driver) and save your group taxi or Uber costs by offering to drive? While it may not be as fun as indulging with your group, you’re the one who’ll wake up the next day without a food or alcohol hangover. And as we all know that feels pretty dang good.
Bottom line – If you budget your calories carefully, you can safely “afford” to have a drink or two on a special occasion. But drinker be ware. Drinking loosens your inhibitions and may prompt unconscious eating. Additionally, drinking alcohol can also make you feel hungrier because alcohol can lower your blood sugar. SO why not grab a quick bite before you imbibe? Some good pre-party noshes: a small meal or snack containing fiber, protein and healthy fat. These might include a low-sodium chicken soup, greek yogurt and fruit, low-fat cheese and whole-wheat crackers, or a handful of nuts.Therefore, from a health standpoint, calories aren’t the only thing to consider. Practice moderation and always, always, always have a designated driver. Heck call me – and I will come get you!