What Are Antioxidants? The Benefits of Antioxidants and How They Can Improve Your Health

Berry Sunday!Written By Becki Andrus

You have probably heard the term “antioxidants” and know that they are good for your health, but do you know why these nutrients are so essential for health and wellness? Researchers are becoming more aware of the benefits of antioxidants and how they can improve overall health.

My goal with this blog post is to help you understand what antioxidants are, why we need to have antioxidants, how they will benefit you, and how to include antioxidants with your everyday eating habits.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are nutrients that can be found in certain types of foods. These nutrients are essential for the body to heal, repair and grow. According to merriam-webster.com, the definition of antioxidant is:

A substance (as beta-carotene or vitamin C) that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxides, or free radicals.

So, simply put… antioxidants are nutrients that work to prevent bad things from happening inside your body. There are different types of antioxidants found in different foods, but they all work to prevent disease and promote health.

Why Do We Need Antioxidants?

Animal tissue (ie the human body) goes through a process called “oxidation” which is a normal process, but it can be damaging to the cells. This oxidation causes aging, illness, and wear-and-tear on the human body.

The oxidation process is very normal and natural, and the body is constantly replenishing itself by creating new cells and getting rid of the old, damaged cells. Most of the time, the body is able to efficiently manage the old cells, but there are times when some of these cells are damaged and they become “free-radicals.”

Free radicals can lead to unwanted molecular changes, because those free radicals often hurt healthy cells. Studies have linked higher levels of free radicals to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Free radicals can also occur when you are exposed to toxic substances such as cigarette smoke, high levels of alcohol, pesticides, chemicals, and pollution. And these toxic substances can be found everywhere in our modern world, including in many of the unhealthy foods that people eat.

The problem is that these free radicals can cause a reaction within the body, which will lead to disease and a decrease in health. Some doctors refer to it as a chain reaction, because the free radical cells will begin to take over so that they healthy cells are unable to function as well.

Now, don’t be too alarmed about the free radicals in your body, because they can be cleaned up by providing your body with enough antioxidants. Make a goal to provide your body with good antioxidants so that it can effectively clean up the free radicals and prevent disease.

When you are eating foods high in antioxidants, those nutrients are able to stop the chain reactions that are occurring from the free radicals. Antioxidants clean up the free radicals, and they can even reverse the effects of the free radicals.

The Benefits of Antioxidants

When you are consuming antioxidants on a regular basis, you are providing your body with the necessary supplies and tools that it needs to prevent disease and reverse damage. The human body naturally works towards optimum health, but it is absolutely necessary to provide the important building blocks in order to be healthy.

When you are eating lots of fresh, whole foods you will be getting the antioxidants that your body needs. Consuming these foods provides the nutrition, and the antioxidants will be able to get to work on a cellular level.

As the antioxidants are working in your body, they identify free radicals and neutralize them. Antioxidants also work to reverse the damage that has occurred from the free radicals. As the antioxidants work on the free radicals, they become oxidized themselves—so it is necessary for the body to get rid of them through normal processes of waste removal.

And since the antioxidants have already been used, it is necessary to continually provide your body with new antioxidants so that it can keep working to prevent the disease and damage that occurs from the free radicals.

Antioxidants are able to prevent disease and damage by locating the free radicals before they are able to damage the healthy cells. Neutralizing those free radicals immediately is the best way to stay healthy and avoid serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

How To Include Antioxidants With Your Everyday Eating Habits

There are different types of antioxidants, including vitamin E, vitamin C, flavonoids, beta carotene, zinc, and selenium (to name a few). Each of these nutrients work in different ways, so it is essential that you are getting all of them on a regular basis.

Some people turn to supplements and vitamins for their antioxidant needs, and then they choose to eat whatever they want. This is the wrong approach! Some studies have shown that antioxidants found in supplements are not as effective as the natural source from whole foods.

Additionally, these supplements provide people with a false sense of security, so they take their vitamins in the morning and then eat unhealthy foods throughout the day. Remember, that those unhealthy foods can actually promote free radicals in your body, so you need to avoid the unhealthy foods and replace them with health, whole foods that will fight free radicals.

The most effective way to provide your body with these antioxidants is by eating a variety of whole foods. Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables are all very high in antioxidants and other nutrients, and they will provide your body with the building blocks that it needs to prevent disease.

There are many touted superfoods that companies use to market their product, for example acai berry has been a hot topic in recent years. Big business use these hot items to market their products—but many times the juice or supplement is very sub-par compared to eating the real thing (because of the processing that occurs to create the product).

Yes, acai berries contain antioxidants that can be beneficial to your health… but there are also many other fresh fruits and vegetables that contain some of the same nutrients. Stop spending your hard earned money on potions and pills, and choose to spend it on fresh produce instead. You will be able to get the same antioxidants by eating a variety of whole foods each day (and it’s much cheaper)!

Be sure that you are eating a variety and whole foods, and eat them in the most natural form possible. For example, only eating acai berries all day long is not healthy because your body needs a good balance of different foods in order to get the different nutrients that are available.

Include more fruits and vegetables with each meal. Add fresh fruit or a green smoothie to your breakfast every day, munch on raw veggies as a snack, have a big salad for lunch, serve several types of vegetables with your dinner (or make the vegetable the focus of your dinner.

High Antioxidant Foods

Here are some foods that are high in antioxidants, this is not a comprehensive list but will give you some good ideas about the types of foods that contain these antioxidants:

Vitamin E sources: seeds, avocado, walnuts, almonds, wheat germ, and leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens, chard, etc)

Vitamin C sources: citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, mandarins, etc. Also, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries

Beta-carotene sources: Think orange-colored fruits and vegetables… carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, peppers, apricots, and squash. Also, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.

Selenium sources: brazil nuts, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and walnuts.

Are you noticing a trend here… many of these antioxidants can be consumed by drinking a green smoothie daily or eating fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal! So, next time you drink down your green smoothie or eat a big, fresh salad—remember that you are providing your body with a high amount of nutrition to fight those free radicals and keep you healthy and well!

Photo credit: mischiru

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How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables A Day?

Cucumber Tomato Salad with Red Wine VinaigretteWritten By Becki Andrus

It is common knowledge that fruits and vegetables are an important aspect of a healthy diet, but many people ask the question: How many servings of fruits and vegetables a day? It can be tricky to select a healthy, balanced eating plan… especially when there are so many conflicting messages about the quantities and types of foods we should be eating.

The truth is that fruits and veggies are the best health-promoting foods that you can eat! When you consume these foods in their natural form, you are eating low-calorie, high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods that are packed with the power to support your health.

Some dietary recommendations suggest that we should be eating 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Based on the countless hours of reading and research that I have done, I have determined that 3-5 servings is not a health-promoting diet!

There are numerous resources that suggest that we need to eat more fruits and veggies, the problem lies in the fact that many people are uneducated about nutrition and how foods affect their health. Our food recommendations are heavily influenced by the big-businesses such as the processed foods, meat and dairy industries.

Of course they want us to eat more of their foods, because they will have higher profits!

Think about this:

Countless studies have proven that fruits and vegetables are linked to numerous health benefits– lower cholesterol, reduced cancer risk, lower body weight, reduced heart disease risk, improve digestion, maintain blood sugar levels, etc, etc. Science has proven that eating fruits and veggies is a great way to improve health and prevent disease.

So, if fruits and vegetables help to prevent disease… why do we want to limit the amount of fruits and vegetables that we are eating?

Many people choose to (sometimes) eat the “recommended” amounts of fruits and veggies, and then they fill their stomachs with other foods that have been linked to increased rates of disease: processed foods, meat, dairy, sugar, etc.

Don’t be fooled, eating a few small servings of fruits and vegetables “meets” the requirements, but when you consider the rest of the food being eaten it is a very small calorie percentage each day.

This minimal serving recommendation provides your body with some nutrition (and “some” is better than “none”), but if you are striving for optimal health you should be consuming more fresh, plant based foods.

So, how many fruits and vegetables should you be eating every day? My answer is this: the more the better! Eat an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.

And remember that every little bit helps, and work to add more fruits and veggies into your daily meal plans and snacks. Over time you will be able to create healthier habits, and eating fruits and vegetables everyday will become a part of your everyday living.

Recommended Reading:

With Fruits and Veggies, More Matters

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Photo credits: mellowynk
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Why Healthy Eating Is So Hard During The Holidays (And How To Overcome The Downward Spiral)

red christmas tree ornamentsWritten By Becki Andrus

Let’s face it, everyone goes into the holiday season knowing that they are going to “blow-it” on their diet. It seems that our mentality has shifted… December is viewed as a month of indulgence, and then everyone sets aspiring New Years resolutions to try to lose those extra 10 pounds in January.

And how many people are able to successfully stick with their healthy eating plans in January? (And lose the weight from the holidays?)

Very few.

But, don’t despair– because I understand how hard it can be to eat healthy in December. So, I’m writing this blog post to help encourage and inspire you to have a healthier holiday lifestyle.

Even if you start the holiday season with the best of intentions to eat healthy, it is common for people to slip-up with their eating habits. Here’s why:

Problem: Holidays Are Social, And Social Events Almost Always Include Unhealthy Food
The calendar is always packed with social events to attend: work parties, school parties, church events, family get-togethers, etc. And these activities almost always center around food.

The food choices at these events are usually very rich and laden with unhealthy ingredients, fat, sugar, and a ridiculous amount of calories. Many of these foods are very nutrient-lacking… so even though you are eating a lot, your body is not getting the nutrition that it needs for optimal health.

Our society has put so much emphasis on the fact that food is an integral part of being social, so not joining in on the food festivities is going to leave you out in the cold.

Solution: Find Healthier Options At The Party

There are almost always a few good food choices available at the parties… and there are a few specific items that you can eat. For example:

  • At a dinner event, fill your plate with a generous serving of the salad and the cooked vegetable side dish. Take smaller servings of the meat and other unhealthy side dishes. Only take a bit or two of dessert.
  • Eat before you go to a party. Even though there will be food at the party, snack on some raw fruit or vegetables before you leave. Filling your stomach with healthy food first will help you to avoid over-eating when the unhealthy foods are so readily available.
  • Parties almost always have finger foods, focus on the natural foods as much as possible. Instead of grabbing a handful of chocolates or sweets, choose to snack on the holiday mixed nuts that are often available. Or enjoy the raw vegetables available on the relish tray.
  • If it is a family/friend event, offer to bring some food. I often bring a vegetable tray with dip or a salad, which ensures that I will have some nutrient-dense foods to eat while I am enjoying the time with the family.

Problem: Food = Gifts
Every year you will receive at least a few gifts that are food. Neighbors bring around plates of holiday treats, shopping malls sell gift baskets of holiday food items such as candy or sausages, and employers often cater in nice meals for their employees.

The problem that many people face is that they feel obligated to eat the food since it was a gift.

Solution: Don’t Feel Obligated To Eat It

Offer your gratitude for the thoughtful gift, taste it (if you want, but be sure to keep it to a VERY minimal serving), and then throw away the rest of the unhealthy food.

I know, it sounds wasteful to throw away “perfectly good” food. But, it will not provide your body any value! Don’t waste your calorie intake by eating food out of guilt or obligation. It’s not worth it!

Once the food has been given to you as a gift, I assure you that your friend/family/neighbor will not follow up to make sure that you ate every last bite. So, after they have left, drop it in the garbage so that you are not tempted to eat the plate of cookies for dinner.

When I receive food as a gift, I am always very grateful for the thoughtfulness of the gift and I offer my sincere thanks for the gift. If it is a homemade treat, I will usually taste it (and enjoy that taste) because I am very appreciative of the effort they put into preparing the food… and I will let them know how delicious it was (because holiday treats are ALWAYS delicious!).

And after I have had my taste and they have gone home, I will throw away the rest of the unhealthy treats. I do not consider this rude or unkind, because I tasted it and I am choosing my health over guilt. They are none-the-wiser and I am still able to feel great because I can focus my eating on healthy, whole foods instead of holiday junk food.

(And make sure to NEVER tell them what you did. This is our little secret!) 😉

Problem: The Holiday Season Is Stressful, Which Causes You To Stress-Eat
The holiday season is all about enjoying family and friends, remembering what we are thankful for, and giving gifts to others. But, in recent years these traditions have begun to snowball, and we have found ourselves in a position of chaos throughout the month.

Between shopping, decorating, parties, Christmas card writing, and social events we have little time to do anything else.

And to add to the stress of a busy calendar, many people experience financial stress as they try to pay for all of the added expenses that occur during the holidays.

Solution: Step Back And Determine Your Priorities

You can control your attitude and stress levels by consciously choosing what you will focus your energy on. Instead of stressing yourself out about the upcoming family party with your crazy in-laws, focus on the fact that it will be fun to chat with Uncle Tom or how much you will enjoy looking at the Christmas lights as you drive home.

Stepping out of the “hustle and bustle” focus of the holiday events will allow you to enjoy the little moments that really make the holidays worthwhile.

Also, don’t be obligated into attending events that aren’t going to add value to your life. Remember, that it’s not the end of the world if you miss a neighbor’s party because you needed some time to wrap presents instead. Choose your priorities and focus on what matters most.

By the way, here’s a great guide to help you appreciate the holiday season more and lower your stress levels. I would highly recommend taking a moment to read through this guide, and then implement some of the suggestions into your lifestyle this holiday season.

Problem: You Are Too Busy To Cook Healthy Foods
Many people don’t have as much time to cook because they are busy rushing around to attend parties, getting the shopping done, shuttling the kids to-and-from their events, and trying to keep up with everything at home. So, meal times often default to the easy solutions: frozen dinners, take-out, and whatever can be scrounged out of the fridge or cupboards.

Or, heaven forbid, you didn’t eat and find yourself so hungry that you end up eating the cookies for dinner because they neighbor just dropped them off and they smelled amazing!

Solution: Plan Ahead And Make Time

Feeding your body healthy, whole foods is very important—especially during the busy holiday season! If you are eating well, you will have more energy and you will be less likely to get sick because your body will be receiving great nutrition.

So, schedule in some time for meal preparation. Sometimes I will even plan ahead and cook extra food during November to keep in the freezer, then I can simply pull out the leftover soup (or whatever is in there) for dinner. Within a matter of minutes, the freezer meal can be heated and ready to go.

Also, make sure that you always have health food available in the house. Keeping your fridge stocked with nutritious meal ingredients and snacks will help you to succeed with your eating plan.

Following these steps will help you to be a proactive eater & avoid the reactive eating that often occurs during the holiday season.

Problem: You Will Feel Bad If You Don’t Get To Enjoy Your Favorite Holiday Foods
Many traditions and fond holiday memories are based on fun holiday foods and treats. Every family has their favorites—Grandma’s gingerbread cookies, waffles for breakfast Christmas morning, the yummy hand-dipped chocolates that you make together as a family, etc.

The holidays wouldn’t be fun without these traditions and foods that you enjoy every year, right?

Solution: Find Healthier Alternatives To Your Traditional Favorite Foods

There are always ways to make recipes a little more healthy, try substituting unhealthy ingredients for healthier options. For example, use honey instead of sugar, coconut oil instead of butter, add in some extra veggies, etc.

If you need some easy to follow, traditional holiday recipes, check out my holiday recipe collection for instant access to 48 whole foods based holiday recipes.

Also, remember that you can still make the “unhealthy” holiday treats, but you don’t have to overindulge in them. Have a taste or a small serving of your favorite holiday food, but don’t eat the entire plate!

For example, my family always enjoys a holiday cheese ball and crackers. So, when I host a party I will have the cheese ball available, but I also provide healthy salads, a veggie tray, fruit, etc. Because there are plenty of healthy options available, I am able to have a taste of the cheese ball, and focus most of my eating around the healthier options.

Following these steps can help you to enjoy the holiday season without harming your health or gaining weight. Remember, that there is a balance in all things… don’t feel guilty about having a few small holiday treats here and there.

If you focus 95% of your eating around healthy, whole foods you will be able to support your health and still have a little bit of wiggle room. It takes a little bit of practice to avoid over-eating during the holiday season, but it is well worth the effort!

Recommended Reading:

The Everyday Health Girl Holiday Recipe Collection – 48 Whole foods recipes for the holidays

12 Healthy Ways to Survive a Holiday Eating Frenzy –  Great tips to help you avoid over-eating

100 Tips For A Stress-Free Christmas – My guide to help you reduce stress during the holiday season

Photo credit: stargardener

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Heart Disease Prevention Guidelines

My first strawberries of this season...Written By Becki Andrus

Webmd.com recently posted an article that talks about the 7 goals that can help to prevent heart disease. In fact, they say that following 4 of the 7 goals can prevent death by heart disease by up to 50%!

We have heard over and over again that a healthy diet can prevent heart disease, and I thought it was interesting to read through the goals listed, because 5/7 of the goals are related to healthy eating habits:

1. Maintaining a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.5.
2. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, every week.
3. Quitting smoking at least one year ago, or never smoking.
4. Getting your total cholesterol levels to below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
5. Maintaining blood pressure below 120/80.
6. Having a fasting blood sugar level of less than 100 mg/dL.
7. Meeting four of five of the AHA’s key components for a healthy diet.

The AHA’s components for a healthy diet are:

* Eating more than 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.
* Having oily fish such as salmon, trout, and herring at least twice a week.
* Eating sweets sparingly.
* Having three or more servings of whole grains a day.
* Eating fewer than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

Looking at the guidelines listed above, you can see that many of them are affected by our eating habits: #1, #4, #5, #6, & #7. So, following a whole foods diet is a big part of preventing heart disease. For example, eating whole foods helps to prevent obesity, keeps your cholesterol levels in check, helps to maintain good blood pressure levels, etc.

Right now, it is estimated that only 3 out of every 10 people meet 4/7 goals listed. Are you one of those 3 people? Reduce your risk of heart disease by implementing healthier eating habits. Even baby steps help you to move in the right direction– start eating more fruits and vegetables every day, switch out your refined grain foods for whole grain foods, lower the amounts of sweets that you are eating, etc.

Maintaining a healthy eating plan will help to promote overall good health, you will be reducing your risk of heart disease as well as other serious conditions.

Photo credits: Anushruti RK
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Nature’s Flu Shot: A Healthy Eating Guide For Illness Prevention

so sick

Written by Becki Andrus

It’s that time of year… head colds, flu, and other sicknesses are starting to set in. I’m sure you are experiencing the same thing: people are sick everywhere you go! I have noticed people talking about it on Facebook, everyone coughing and sniffling at the store, and many people commenting on how their entire office is sick (and several bugs are being passed around from person to person at work).

One “solution” is to go get the flu shot. I don’t want to go into detail about the pros/cons of getting a flu shot, because there are a lot of great arguments for and against flu shots. I personally choose to not get the flu shot, because I know that my immune system is strong and can effectively fight off illness.

Another (more effective) solution to preventing illness is eating healthy. I know, this seems like too simple of a solution… but I can personally attest to the power of healthy eating in preventing disease! My husband and I RARELY get sick, and when sickness does set in, it is very VERY mild.

As a matter of fact, I don’t even get nervous about being around sick people any more, because I usually don’t catch whatever it is that they have. For example, my husband mentioned to me just awhile ago that everyone at his work just recovered from being sick– he was literally the only one in the office that hadn’t been complaining of a stuffy nose, sore throat, etc.

Why Healthy Foods Are So Powerful To Prevent Illness:

  • Strengthen The Immune System – Whole foods contain high amounts of antioxidants and other nutrients, which support a healthy body and help to strengthen the immune system. Antioxidants repair and protect cells from harm, so the body can effectively fight off disease.
  • Whole Foods Contain Fiber – The fiber in whole foods helps the body to prevent disease, because the fiber cleanses toxins out of the body. Eating plenty of fiber will keep the digestive system working properly, allowing the body to use it’s natural functions to remove waste and toxins. Plenty of fiber intake keeps the intestines clean and infection free, and a clean intestine helps the rest of your body to be healthy and well.
  • Protein Helps The Body To Repair and Grow – Eating healthy sources of protein allows the body to rapidly produce cells, which helps to fight off disease by supporting the immune system. Be sure that you are eating good sources of protein, plant based protein is more healthy than animal based protein.

Becki’s Blueprint To Preventing Illness:

1. Drink Green Smoothies

Drinking nutrition-packed green smoothies EVERY day is essential for disease prevention. I try to drink at least a quart of green smoothie daily, and it provides my body with great nutrition to keep my immune system healthy and strong. Green smoothies have high levels of ready-to-use nutrition and the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are very effective in strengthening the immune system.

In fact, the last time I got a head cold (a long time ago, I don’t even remember the date) coincided directly with a few days that I skipped my green smoothies…

At the time, life was ridiculously busy for a few days, I ran out of leafy greens and I didn’t have the time to run to the store to replenish my stock of veggies. At the same time, I slacked on my healthy eating habits and found myself indulging in a few too many treats (ie sugar filled foods and higher amounts of meat) at several social events.

Between the lack of green smoothies (and other fresh fruits and vegetables) and the increase in unhealthy foods, my immune must have weakened and I found myself in bed for several days MISERABLE with a stuffy nose, sore throat, tender sinuses, clogged ears, and everything in between.

Was it a coincidence that I got sick at the same time that I started to eat unhealthy? No! The reason I was sick was because I was slacking on my usual eating habits. My body was weak, so the illness was able to attack my body.

So, the moral of the story: drink your smoothies every day to prevent illness!

2. Eat Whole Foods

In addition to your green smoothies, make sure that you are eating plenty of whole foods every day. Eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables will provide your body with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which will help to strengthen the immune system.

Focus your eating on dark-colored fruits and vegetables, these foods contain higher levels of antioxidants and nutrients. Keep in mind that many fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, which is an antioxidant which protects the cells. Illness and disease affect the body on a cellular level, so getting the proper nutrition will help your body to fight the illness from the inside out.

Be sure that you are eating a good variety of whole foods, having a well balanced diet is the best way to give your body all of the nutrition that it needs so that it can function optimally.

3. Avoid Foods Filled With Sugar (Especially Processed Sugars)

Eating sugar is an immediate way to weaken your immune system, which in turn can cause you to be more likely to get sick. Sugar consumption causes a domino effect in the body:

  • It first causes the body to spike the insulin levels in order to digest the sugars.
  • Next, the higher blood sugar levels prevent growth hormones from being released in the body.
  • The decrease of growth hormones in turn weaken the immune system.
  • And a weakened immune system means that your body is more susceptible to coming down with an illness.

There is a direct correlation between sugar intake and a weakened immune system, so you need to say “No Thank You” to the candy bars and doughnuts if you want to keep your immune system strong.

Also, highly refined and sugar-filled foods are acidic in nature, and when you eat them it affects the pH balance of your body. When you are eating these foods and your body is more acidic, you will be more likely to get sick because the bad bacteria and viruses thrive in the acidic environment.

On the other hand, eating lots of alkaline foods (ie fruits and vegetables) will reduce the acidity of your body and help to prevent disease.

4. Avoid Meat and Dairy Products

Meat and dairy are acidic foods, and they have a similar affect as sugar. Keep your body’s pH levels balanced by avoiding a high intake of animal protein.

Additionally, dairy causes mucous formation and congestion– which can be a great place for bacteria to breed. Avoid dairy products, especially if you are coming down with a cold or you are experiencing congestion.

5. Reduce Your Stress Levels

Have you ever noticed that you tend to get sick during periods when you have a lot of stress? For example, many college students report that they often get sick at the end of finals week… their bodies were so stressed leading up to their final exams, which caused them to be more likely to catch an illness.

Multiple studies have shown that higher levels of stress weaken the immune system, and there is actually a scientific reason why: Higher levels of stress (as well as long term stress) cause the body to increase the cortisol levels, which in turn weakens the immune system.

In addition to the chemical reactions that occur within our body from stress, there are also other behavioral responses that tend to occur during times of high stress. Some people will get lax with their eating habits, stress eating causes many people to binge on higher amounts of sugary, sodium filled treats. So they intake more junk food and less healthy foods, which in turn weakens the immune system (as we have already discussed).

On the opposite side of the spectrum, other people forget to eat during times of high stress. Either they are too busy to eat, or they don’t have much of an appetite. When food consumption slows down, the body is not getting the nutrients that it needs to keep the immune system strong. Which in turn causes the weakened body to be more susceptible to disease.

6. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep enough each night will help to regulate the growth hormones, reduce stress hormones and prevent illness. Getting enough sleep each night helps the body to rest and repair, so it will be more effective against fighting disease.

Sufficient sleep also helps to reduce your feeling of stress. When you are anxious or nervous about something, a lack of sleep often exacerbates the problem.

7. Drink Plenty of Water

Drinking enough water each day allows the body to flush out toxins and it keeps the major organs running efficiently. I have already written a detailed post about the health benefits of drinking enough water, you can read the post about water here.

Water assists in keeping the mucous membranes moist, and when they are moist they are more effective to fight viruses and other illnesses. Additionally, staying hydrated helps the liver and kidneys to effectively remove waste and toxins from your circulatory system.

8. Use Your Common Sense

There are several common sense steps that you can take everyday to avoid illness. For example, we all know that washing our hands on a regular basis helps to prevent disease. Make it a point to wash your hands thoroughly every day, especially when you are out in public.

Additionally, it is a good idea to try to avoid lots of contact with someone who is ill. Even though I don’t get too worried about being around sick people, I also make it a point to try to keep my distance. Illness can be passed if the person sneezes on you, shares food with your, or if you don’t wash your hands after touching them.

Following the steps listed above will help to keep your immune system strong, but avoiding disease and illness can be even more effective to prevent disease– because your body won’t need to fight the illness in the first place!

Keep in mind that no matter how hard you try, everyone will get sick at one point or another. But, maintaining a healthy lifestyle everyday helps to reduce the severity of the illness and will decrease the number of times that you get sick.

Remember that the symptoms associated with illness are the body’s way of getting rid of things that it doesn’t want (ie runny nose, throwing up, upset bowels, etc), so your body will not need to go through these processes to get rid of the illness if you can maintain a healthy lifestyle everyday and prevent the illness from starting in the first place.

Photo credits: rachel_titiriga

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Sources Of Protein: Everything You Need To Know About Plant Based Protein (Part 3 of 3)

Spinach Salad with RaspberriesWritten By Becki Andrus

One of the most common questions that people ask me is “If you don’t eat meat every day, how are you getting enough protein?” This is the third part in a series of blog posts to help you to understand the truth about protein. If you haven’t already, please read part 1 & part 2 of this series.

Now, without further ado… here is part 3 of our series:


Great Sources of Plant Protein

Many people are surprised to learn how much protein can be found in many plant foods, the truth is that there is actually protein in most types of plant food. Some of the best whole foods sources of protein include beans, legumes, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Many whole grains also offer protein in their nutrition.

Large organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Dietetic Association, and the American Heart Association are supportive of low animal-protein based diets. Last year, the American Dietetic Association released a detailed report that suggested that vegetarian diets are sufficient for nutritional requirements. They said:

“Plant protein can meet requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and energy needs are met. Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults, thus complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal.”

You can read the entire report here.  To access the full report, you will need to click on the “PDF Version” link below the article.

On that note, I would like to take a closer look at the amount of protein that is contained in specific plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

According to the Nutritive Value of American Foods in Common Units, USDA Handbook No. 456, here are some statistics for the protein amounts that are in various vegetables:

  • Spinach – 49% protein
  • Broccoli – 45% protein
  • Kale – 45% protein
  • Mung bean sprouts – 43% protein
  • Cauliflower – 40% protein
  • Mushrooms – 38% protein
  • Zucchini – 28% protein
  • Cabbage – 22% protein
  • Strawberries – 8% protein
  • Oranges – 8% protein
  • Watermelon – 8% protein
  • Grapes – 8% protein

To take things 1 step further and see the differences between animal protein with plant protein, I looked up the protein amount in sirloin and broccoli to compare the amount of protein contained in 100 calories each of those items, here’s what I found:

  • Sirloin – 7.23 g protein in 100 calories
  • Broccoli – 8.33 g protein in 100 calories

So, 100 calories of broccoli is actually more protein dense than the sirloin! Now, keep in mind that we are comparing the servings based on calorie count in order to get the most accurate comparison (I did the math according to the nutritional value for each item).

You can eat quite a bit of broccoli for 100 calories, but only a few bites of sirloin for 100 calories. I would rather have a big serving of a healthy food instead of a small serving of a less-healthy food!

It is also important to remember that because plant foods are “incomplete proteins” it is essential that you eat a variety of plant foods in order to get all of the essential amino acids. It is not healthy to only eat broccoli all day long! 😉

Different plant foods contain different amino acids, so eat a variety in order to get all of the amino acids that you need. Try to focus on eating a large amount of green vegetables, fruit, beans and legumes, and then supplement that with nuts and seeds, whole grains and healthy fats.

Protein Charts

I like to compare food choices side-by-side, so I searched the internet to find the most detailed vegetarian protein chart around. Here’s what I found:

This chart lists different types of vegetables, beans and grains and the protein that is contained in each item.
Vegetarian Foods High in Protein

Here is the best chart I can find that lists the nutritional value of nuts and seeds:
Nut and Seed Nutrition Chart

And finally, a chart that lists the nutritional value for fruit:
Fruit Nutrition Chart

As you can see from the charts listed above, there are lots of great options for plant based protein. Focus on filling yourself with leafy green vegetables, fruit, and beans, and supplement that with whole grains and nuts/seeds and you will have a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein.

Do You Need To Worry About Food Combinations to Get a Complete Protein?

Frances Moore Lappe was the first person to suggest that vegetarians needed to pay attention to food combinations in order to get the protein that they need, in the early 1970’s she published a book called Diet For A Small Planet. In this book, she talks about her theory called “complimenting protein” which basically suggested that vegetarians needed to eat specific plant foods during the same meal in order to get all of the essential amino acids at the same time.

This protein combining theory has actually been scientifically debunked, and 10 years later she came out with an updated version of Diet For A Small Planet. In the newer version of the book, she made a statement that recanted her original theory. She said:

“In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein … was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought.

“With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diets very heavily dependent on [1] fruit or on [2] some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on [3] junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.”

So, it is unnecessary to focus on food combinations within a given meal, as long as you are eating a variety of whole foods throughout the day. As long as you are eating a sufficient (and varied) amount of the essential amino acids, the human body is able to link those amino acids together to form the necessary protein. In fact, some amino acids can actually be stored for several days until they are needed to form a complete protein.

The Mistake That Most Vegetarians Make

The most common mistake that vegetarians make with their meal planning is that they take out the meat, but replace it with highly processed foods and junk food. Even though they think that they are doing a good thing by decreasing their meat consumption, often their “substitute foods” can harm the body just as much.

Cutting out meat, and replacing it with products that are made of refined white flours, refined sugars, and processed corn is NOT a healthy choice to make! Even though grains naturally have protein, when they are refined down the processing usually removes the nutritional value that can be found in the grain… leaving you with a nutritionless (and protein lacking) finished product. Sure, it may taste good, but it is a terrible substitute!

Here is an example: I looked up the nutritional information for whole wheat flour and compared it to white flour. According to caloriecount.about.com, 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour contains 5 grams of protein, but 1/2 cup of white flour contains 0 grams of protein!

Now, keep in mind that some brands of white flour are “enriched” which means that since the natural nutrients have been removed, they add back in some nutrients. These enriched nutrients are not nearly as good as the real thing! It is much better to simply stay with the natural, whole form of the ingredient instead of removing the nutrition to add back in a little bit of nutrition.

If you decide to transition to a vegetarian diet, don’t focus on simply cutting out the meat. Instead, it is essential that you change your thinking to focus on eating lots of healthy foods as substitutes for the meats. And really, this advice applies for all people (vegetarian or not), because many people fill their stomach with processed foods instead of focusing their food intake on healthier, whole foods.

And The Moral Of The Story Is…

I realize that this series of blog posts has been stuffed full of TONS of information. I tried to be concise and detailed at the same time (which is a tricky thing to do, LOL!)– providing enough information to help you be knowledgeable about the topic of protein, without droning on about unnecessary information.

As you can see, there is great evidence suggesting that eating a whole foods diet and focusing on plant-based protein is the best way to improve health and avoid disease. According to the reading that I have done, small amounts of animal protein is fine, as long as it is consumed in small portions and infrequently.

I hope that you have gained value from this information, my goal is to help people learn more about nutrition so that they can make good food choices every day. Remember that eating healthy is a lifestyle change, it’s not a fad diet or a temporary solution to lose a little bit of weight. As you make the transition to healthier eating, commit to create habits in your everyday life that can be sustained throughout your life.

Stay tuned for future blog posts, I will be talking about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains,and healthy fats. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my RSS feed so that you receive new information when it is available.

Also, I spent quite a bit of time compiling this information, and I hope to share it with as many people as possible. If you enjoyed reading this blog series about protein, please take a moment to share it by using the social media buttons below.

THANK YOU so much, I really appreciate your support! 🙂

Photo credit: digiyesica

spinach–49% protein
broccoli–45% protein
lettuce–34% protein
cauliflower–40% protein
kale–45% protein
zucchini–28% protein
cabbage–22% protein
Chinese cabbage–34% protein
Mung beansprouts–43% protein
mushrooms–38% protein
lemons–16% protein
honeydew melon–10%
strawberries, oranges, cherries, apricots, watermelon, and grapes–8% protein

Source: Nutritive Value of American Foods in Common
Units, USDA Handbook No. 456

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Sources Of Protein: Everything You Need To Know About Plant Based Protein (Part 2 of 3)

15 Bean MixWritten By Becki Andrus

One of the most common questions that people ask me is “If you don’t eat meat every day, how are you getting enough protein?” This is the second part in a series of blog posts to help you to understand the truth about protein. If you haven’t already, please read part 1 of this series.

Is More Protein Really Better?

The high-meat, low-carb diet fads have led a lot of Americans to believe that more protein is better. This is false– there is actually no scientific evidence proving that higher amounts of protein (above the daily recommended amounts) are beneficial to avoid disease and improve health.

In fact, studies are showing that diets too high in protein can lead to health issues such as kidney problems, liver problems and osteoporosis. Here are some details:

  • A high protein diet put stress on the kidneys because they have to work harder to remove waste from the system.
  • When extra protein is consumed, it strips the bones of calcium, which can lead to osteoporosis.  The reason the bones are stripped of calcium is because meat is an acidic food, and the body uses the calcium to digest the protein and neutralize the acidity. Higher amounts of protein means that your body needs to use higher amounts of calcium, and if there isn’t enough calcium available it will be pulled from the bones.
  • Also, remember that high-protein meats often contain higher levels of fat, which can lead to other health problems. Studies have shown that a diet high in animal protein can lead to life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

But, Aren’t High-Protein Low-Carb Diets Good For Weight Loss?

Popular diets such as Atkins and the Zone Diet promote high amounts of meat intake and lower amounts of other foods. But, the problem with these eating plans is that they don’t provide adequate nutrition for health– and people that stay on these diets for a long period of time can experience health risks due to the fact that they are missing essential vitamins and minerals that are found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The American Heart Association discourages these high-protein diets, because of the health implications of eating so much meat (and not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc).

Also, the problem with these fad diets lies in the fact that they are not effective for long-term weight loss. They may help a person to lose weight immediately, but once the person goes back to a “normal” eating style they often gain the weight back.

The last problem that high-protein diet-ers find is that they will often experience bowel troubles because their diet is lacking in fiber. Some of the fad diets suggest taking over-the-counter supplements to keep the bowels moving along.

Take a moment to think about that… they know that a side effect is constipation, and instead of using nature’s way to solve the problem (i.e. foods with fiber) it is suggested that you use man-made, artificially produced supplements. These supplements might temporarily relieve the symptom, but they are not fixing the root of the problem!

What About Soy Protein?

Many vegetarians default to soy based products for their protein source. Soy has been touted as a great protein source because of the fact that it contains all of the essential amino acids. Additionally, there are many tasty soy-based products that are very similar to the “real” thing… you can buy soy burgers, soy hot dogs, soy sausage, etc.

There are several problems with soy based products, and recent studies are finding that high levels of soy consumption can lead to health problems such as liver, pancreatic and stomach cancers. Additionally, researchers are finding links between soy consumption and thyroid problems. Varies studies have shown that soy consumption can cause hormonal problems (which can lead to fertility problems).

The reason soy can cause hormonal imbalances is because it contains phytoestrogens, which resemble human hormones. When a woman eats soy products, these phytoestrogens are released in the body and they mimic the functions of estrogen. But, this can cause problems because the soy chemicals block the estrogen from accessing it’s receptors and fulfilling it’s purpose. So it is common for estrogen levels to decrease because the phytoestrogens are not allowing the hormones to function properly. Eating soy on a regular basis can cause the bodies hormonal balance to be thrown off as larger quantities of the phytoestrogens collect in the body.

When men eat soy, they can also experience hormonal imbalances because the phytoestrogens also trigger their hormone receptors. Because men have less estrogen than women, the phytoestrogens can cause him to have an excess of estrogen in his body. (And what manly-man wants an excess of estrogen?!?)

To take the soy problem even 1 step further, 98% of all soy is now produced as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This means that the biological makeup of the soybean was altered in order to create a “superior” product. Scientists can alter the makeup of the soybean in order to make the plant more resistant to insects and disease, grow faster, grow bigger, etc.

GMOs are uncharted territory, we don’t know the long-term effects of altered organisms because they haven’t been around long enough to see what happens over longer periods of time. I personally prefer to stay away from GMOs as much as possible.

Another reason that soy products are not ideal for health is because the processed soy products (such as texture vegetable protein, soy burgers, soy hot dogs, tofu, etc) often contain multiple harmful ingredients– chemicals and unnatural ingredients are added to make them taste good. They often have higher levels of sodium, preservatives, artificial flavors, and MSG.

Now, there is an exception to this soy debate, and that is fermented soy products. Foods like miso and tempeh have been fermented, and as a result it makes the phytoestrogens less likely to disrupt the hormones in the body. Because of this, it is suspected that miso and tempeh can be a good way to eat soy.

Does this mean that you should never eat soy? Not necessarily. I am personally ok with consuming soy every so often because I enjoy the texture and taste dynamic that it brings to my meals. Occasionally I will add a small amount of tofu or textured vegetable protein to a dish, but it is not a regular occurrence at my house.

Side note: The topic of soy deserves more detail than this, but since this blog post series is focusing on the overall topic of vegetarian protein I don’t want to derail the discussion too much. I will try to write more information about soy products and health in a future blog post.

So, if you aren’t supposed to eat meat or soy on a regular basis, then how are you supposed to get enough protein? Keep reading… tomorrow I will be going into detail about the best plant based protein sources. You will be amazed to see how many options there are! 🙂

Tomorrow will be part 3 of this 3-part blog series. I will be talking about: 1) The best sources of plant protein, 2) Food combinations, and 3) The biggest mistake that many vegetarians make. Don’t miss out on the last part of this blog series, subscribe to the RSS feed in order to receive updates when new content is posted.

Also, if you found value in this blog post, please help me spread the word. I would appreciate it if you could take just a moment to share it with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. Thank you!

Photo credit: photobunny
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Sources Of Protein: Everything You Need To Know About Plant Based Protein (Part 1 of 3)

organic fruit and vegetablesWritten By Becki Andrus

One of the most common questions that people ask me is “If you don’t eat meat every day, how are you getting enough protein?” This is the first part in a series of blog posts to help you to understand what protein is, why it is essential, and how protein works– especially if you don’t eat meat on a regular basis.

Preface: I realize that we have to sift through a lot of conflicting health information, especially when it comes to the topic of protein.  My goal with this series of articles is to help you to understand the truth about protein, and debunk some of the common myths that are so prevalent in our society.

You can consider this blog post series your guidebook to protein, bookmark it and refer back often!

Types of Protein & Why Protein Is Important

The first point that I would like to establish is that protein is very important for healthy living– much of our bodies are made up of protein. Some vegetarians write off the protein debate because they don’t think that it’s that big of a deal, but this is false. Protein is essential for growth, repair and strengthening the body.

Protein is literally the fundamental building block for our bodies, so it is necessary to eat protein every day. Our muscle, bones, hair, blood, skin and nails all contain protein. Our body uses protein to build new cells, build tissue, and maintain everyday bodily functions. Many of the basic processes such as digestion, moving, and growing require protein.

There are various types of proteins that our bodies utilizes daily, a few of them include:

  • Insulin – to regulate blood sugar and metabolism
  • Hormones – All of the hormones in your body are a form of protein, hormones have various functions in our daily lives
  • Collagen & A-Keratin – Grows and repairs connective tissue, hair, and skin
  • Haemoglobin – Manages the oxygen in the blood
  • Myoglobin – Manages and stores the oxygen in your muscles
  • Myosin – Helps the body to grow and repair muscles
  • Fibrinogen – Defends the body against infection

All of these protein types are essential for the human body to be healthy and well. If you want a more in-depth outline of how proteins work, you can read this protein information on Wikipedia.

Amino Acids = Protein

Not all proteins are created equal, and (as you can see above) there are different types of proteins that are necessary for living. Each of those proteins can be made from amino acids, the amino acids are basically the building blocks that makeup the protein.

All together, there are 22 amino acids that humans need– 13 of which can be made by the human body, but the other 9 amino acids must be acquired through the food that we eat. The 9 amino acids that must be obtained through food are known as the “essential amino acids.”

The reason meat is commonly categorized as the “best” protein is because meats contain high amounts of all of the essential amino acids, so they supply the body with the missing building blocks that it needs. It’s basically a 1-stop-shop because all of the amino acids can be gained by eating 1 food item.

The problem with these complete proteins (i.e. meats) is that they contain high amounts of saturated fats, and low amounts of fiber… which can lead to illness and disease.

On the other hand, all of these essential amino acids can be found in plant-based foods, but they are known as “incomplete proteins” because they do not all contain the 9 essential amino acids. Plant foods contain various amino acids, but not all of them in 1 source.

So, in order to get the necessary amino acids it is VERY important that you eat a variety of whole foods. Protein can be found in vegetables (especially green colored vegetables), fruits (small amounts), nuts, seeds, and whole grains. (More on this later…)

Note: The only essential nutrient that cannot be found in plant-based foods is vitamin B12. But, this vitamin can be obtained through dairy products (such as milk, eggs or cheese), Red Star nutritional yeast, or supplements.

Even though B12 is a bit off-topic for this blog post (since it is not a protein), I thought it would be appropriate to mention B12 since it is the only nutrient that can not be obtained from plant foods.

The human body actually stores vitamin B12 and only uses a very small amount each day, so supplementing with occasional dairy or small amounts of meat can be a sufficient way of getting the B12 that you need. I add a little bit of cheese to some of my recipes, eat yogurt (Greek yogurt and plain yogurt), and choose to eat meat on an occasional basis to get the vitamin B12 that I need.

Why Plant Protein Instead of Animal Protein?

There are countless studies that show that animal protein (ie meat and dairy) can lead to poor health. Researchers are finding that high consumption of animal protein can lead to life threatening diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke. High consumption of meat can also cause other diseases such as osteoporosis, kidney problems, and liver problems.

Suggested Reading: These are some resources that show the correlations between animal protein consumption and disease.

  • The China Study is a fascinating read detailing an in-depth research study that was done on the effects of animal protein and health. There are many correlations that were made between animal proteins and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, etc. Be prepared to spend some time reading through scientific information and looking over the charts and graphs in the book– and your eyes will definitely be opened to the health implications of eating a diet full of meat and dairy.
  • The Oxford University’s Department of Public Health conducted a study that showed that eating meat 3x per week or less could save approximately 45,000 lives per year in the UK.
  • The American Cancer Society suggests that one of the best cancer prevention strategies is eating high amounts of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and limiting meat consumption.
  • According to the World Health Organization, in Westernized countries at least 30% of the cancer cases can be correlated with food choices. Additionally, it has been found that vegetarians are 40% less likely to get cancer. You can read the full report here: Cancer Facts

These are just a few sources that talk about the link between animal protein and disease, there are countless other studies and sources out there that come to the same conclusion.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The amount of protein needed is debated, various sources claim different amounts of protein are necessary. The basic protein amount that most people default to is the RDA’s suggested protein intake, and here are their recommendations.

Based on their report, a female 14 years of age and older needs 46 grams of protein each day, and males 19 years of age and older need 56 grams of protein per day. They suggest a little more protein intake for intense athletes, women during pregnancy, etc. Regardless of the protein recomendation source, most organizations suggest around 10% of total calorie intake.

Side note: The reason I am referencing the RDA is because that is the source that most people refer to when they are talking about the food pyramid. I personally do not follow those guidelines, because in order to achieve optimal health more fruits and veggies are needed and less dairy/meat is needed (based on the research that I have done). Remember that the big business of meat/dairy have strong influences in government and national boards.

So for example, let’s consider what it would take for a female to intake the recommended 46 grams of protein per day. Here would be a plant-based meal plan that would more than easily satisfy her protein requirements:

Breakfast
1/2 C bowl of oatmeal – 5g protein
1/8 C raisins – .5g protein
1/2 C chopped fresh fruit – .5g – 1g protein (depending on the fruit)

Snack
1 Apple – .5g protein
1/4 C Almonds – 6g protein

Lunch
2 slices whole wheat bread – 7g protein
2 TBS natural peanut butter – 10g protein
2 TBS natural fruit spread – 0g protein
10 Baby carrots – 1g protein
18 Cucumber slices – 2g protein

Snack
1 Clementine – 1g protein

Dinner
1/2 C brown rice – 2g protein
1/2 C black beans – 7g protein
3 C spinach (salad) – 3g protein
1/2 C tomatoes (salad) – .5g protein
1/2 C bell pepper (salad) – .5g protein
1/8 C walnuts (salad) – 2.5g protein
1/8 C feta cheese (salad) – 2.7g protein

Obviously there would be a few other ingredients added here and there for seasoning, salad dressing, etc– but we are just looking at the protein amount for the basic ingredients. The meal plan listed above provides 51.7 grams of protein… which EXCEEDS the recommended daily allowance!

Even if you were to decrease some of the nuts (almonds or peanut butter) and increase the vegetable intake, you could still easily meet the RDA protein requirements.

When I started following a mostly-meatless lifestyle, I tracked my protein intake for the first few weeks to be sure that I was getting enough protein. I often eat more raw/fresh produce than what is listed above (I try to eat 60-80% raw), and even though I was replacing some of the cooked foods with raw vegetables I was STILL getting plenty of protein.

When I realized that a varied diet filled with whole foods could easily satisfy the “protein requirement” I stopped tracking my protein intake. Now, I just focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

My daily eating habits usually consist of large quanitites of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans every day, a small amount of nuts every day, supplemented with whole grains. Eating these foods in their natural form will provide sufficient nutrition.

Tomorrow will be part 2 of this 3-part blog series. I will be talking about: 1) Whether more protein = better protein, 2) High-protein low-carb diets, and 3) Soy protein. Don’t miss out on the rest of this blog series, subscribe to my RSS feed in order to receive updates when new content is posted.

Also, if you enjoyed this information, please help me spread the word. I would appreciate it if you could take just a moment to share it with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. Thank you!

Photo credit: val’sphotos

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Excessive Meat Consumption Leads To 45,000 Deaths Per Year

Skirt Steak NightThe Oxford University’s Department of Public Health recently conducted a study that showed that eating meat 3x per week or less could save lives. This study was conducted in the United Kingdom, and they estimate that 45,000 lives could be saved in the UK each YEAR if people cut back on their meat consumption.

Side note: This research study was funded by Friends of the Earth, which is actually an organization that focuses on environmental issues. They discuss more information about the environmental impact of eating excessive amounts of meat… but I’m not going to discuss that in this blog post. This post is focused only on the health consequences of high meat consumption by humans.

This research study concluded that high meat consumption leads to higher levels of cancer, heart disease, and strokes. They estimate that decreasing meat consumption to 3 times per week (or less) may prevent 31,000 heart disease deaths, 9,000 cancer deaths, and 5,000 stroke deaths in the United Kingdom each year.

Think about the implications of this study in the United States. Currently, there are about 61 million people living in the UK, and about 307 million people living in the United States. Since the US population is about 5 times larger than that population of the UK, does this mean that there is an estimated 225,000 lives that could be saved in the US each year?

Of course we can’t scientifically pin down that number for the US by simply plugging numbers like that into a calculator (because of the difference in location, culture, etc). But, the significance of the findings is this: cutting back on meat consumption can help prevent life-threatening diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Here are a few thoughts that I have about the topic:

  • I agree that eating less meat is beneficial to health, study after study has shown that higher levels of meat consumption leads to increased risks of heart disease, cancer, and strokes (just to name a few).
  • So, does this mean that you need to stop eating meat all together? Not necessarily. This decision is a very personal choice that each individual needs to make, and I suggest that you research the topic and make a decision based on what you feel is best for yourself and your family. I personally do not eat meat on a regular basis, it is more of an occasional every-so-often occurrence. If I eat it, I am usually eating at a friend/family member’s house, eating out at a restaurant, or on a rare occasion I will cook it at home if I have guests over that are big meat eaters.
  • Small changes can make a difference in the long run. Even if you don’t want to cut meat out of your eating habits, try decreasing portion sizes (and increasing the fruits and vegetables that you are eating). Or plan 1 or 2 meatless dinners each week, beans and legumes make a great substitution for meat.
  • When you choose to eat meat, I suggest that you focus on high-quality meat. Look for brands that are organic, grass fed (beef), don’t contain any hormones or antibiotics, etc. Part of the problem of our modern meat consumption is the fact that the quality has decreased so drastically. The nutritional value of chicken today has been compared with the nutritional value of chicken 40 years ago, and today’s chicken contains almost 30% less protein and 3x as much fat per serving!
  • Also, if you choose to consume meat, make sure that it is in it’s natural form– try to avoid processed meats such as hot dogs, sausage, lunch meat, etc. These meats almost always contain nitrates which can cause cancer when they are consumed on a regular basis.
  • If you choose to not consume meat, it is essential that you are eating other healthy foods that will provide your body with the essential amino acids so that you get the protein that you need. Try replacing the meat with beans and legumes, lots of green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Eat a variety of these whole foods so that you have a balanced diet and you are providing your body with good nutrition.

The reason that I am sharing this information is to help you understand the implications of eating meat so that you can make an educated decision and adjust your eating habits accordingly. I understand that people have very strong opinions on this topic, and many people don’t want to hear information about how meat can be detrimental to their health. Please understand that it is my goal to provide healthy eating information based scientific findings… not to tell everyone what they “want” to hear. 😉

I know that there is a lot of conflicting information about protein and meat consumption, and this is a topic that I have studied in depth– because cutting back on meat consumption was a completely different approach than what I learned growing up. I am currently writing a series of blog posts to provide you with more information and detail about this topic. If you would like to be notified when I post something new, please subscribe to the RSS feed so that you can receive updates when new blog posts are published.

Suggested Reading:

The Oxford University’s Department of Public Health Report – The report that was published last month about the findings of the study.

The China Study – The most in-depth study that I have found which analyzes how animal protein affects health.

American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets – The ADA’s opinion on vegetarian diets (Click on the “PDF Version” link below the article to read the entire report)

If you found this blog post interesting or informative, please take a moment to share it with your family and friends. Simply click on the buttons below to share this information via Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon or Email. Thanks! 🙂

Photo credit: Another Pint Please
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Reactive vs. Proactive Eating

Free woman holding fresh blueberries healthy living stock photo Creative CommonsThere are 2 strategies that people take in regards to eating, and most people don’t actually realize that they are choosing either strategy:

1. Reactive eating. Making irrational food choices based on emotions or feelings, choosing food options because they want to feel good. One of the definitions for reactive is “occurring as a result of stress or emotional upset.”

OR

2. Proactive eating. Choosing food options based on a knowledge and understanding of nutrition and health. Rationally thinking about your choices, and eating accordingly. One of the definitions for proactive is “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs or changes.”

What type of eating habits do you have? Do you impulsively buy/eat food because it sounds good or because you are indulging cravings? Or, do you have a good understanding of nutrition and provide your body with food that will nourish and sustain life?

My guess is that most people fall within the “reactive eating” category. It is the default approach to eating, there are so many comfort foods and different items that reach out to fill an emotional gap. Much of our society is based around food, and everywhere we go there is junk food that will make us feel better (or have fun, or celebrate, or whatever else).

I used to be a reactive eater. My eating choices were based strictly on what tasted good… processed white flour, sugar, etc. I knew a little about nutrition, but at the time I didn’t realize the major impact that food actually has on health.

My limited knowledge about nutrition (at the time) kept me in the dark, because I had no idea that my body was lacking in nutrition. All of my food choices were based on my favorite snack items that I kept in the cupboard, the treats that my coworkers brought into work, the yummy foods that were served by friends/family, or the fast options that were available in the drive-thru.

Many times I didn’t plan ahead, so I found myself eating whatever was readily available because I was hungry. I didn’t think that it was a big deal to have the leftover doughnuts for lunch (because I didn’t have time to take a lunch break and grab something to eat).

And as a result of my reactive eating, I was sick! I was lacking in energy, I was constantly battling junk food cravings, I was gaining a little bit of weight, and my bowel movements were very irregular.

In recent years I have drastically changed my habits, and now I am a proactive eater. And here is what I have discovered:

It is liberating to eat proactively!

Most people assume that it is boring and icky to eat healthy foods all the time, but I have discovered just the opposite. Choosing healthy foods has opened up a whole new world that I never knew existed.

I no longer have junk food cravings. I have lost weight. I have more energy. I no longer have hunger pains all throughout the day.

Eating proactively allows you to make a conscious choice about the things that you are putting into your body. You can choose to eat nutrient-dense foods that provide the body with vitamins and minerals.

Eating proactively also gives you a long-term perspective on life.

For example, If you are eating re-actively, it’s usually just about the moment… how are you feeling in a given moment, and what can you do to placate that immediate reaction?

On the other hand, if you are eating proactively, the immediate urges are not as strong because you have your overall health in mind (instead of just focusing on the immediate pleasure of eating).

And it’s a chain reaction. As you fill your stomach with nutrient-dense foods, your body will be satisfied because it is receiving the nutrition that it needs. which means that the junk food cravings and addictions will go away and you will be more likely to make better food choices in the future.

It takes some practice (and work!) to break reactive eating habits, but it is worth the effort! Take some time this week to analyze your eating and be more proactive about the food choices that you are making.

Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

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