While most of the country is counting calories, I try to encourage my clients to look at the quality of what they are eating first. The reason is simple, and logical, yet we still feel the need to eat less and less to lose weight. In the process we sacrifice the QUANTITY of nutrients. And we are hungrier and hungrier. So eating a 1200 calorie diet of salads and grilled chicken breast is actually working against us both nutritionally and psychologically. If I had a dollar for every woman who said “I keep eating less and less (+/- and I work out like crazy) and it is just harder and harder to lose weight” I would have quite a lot of dollar bills hanging around. For 20 years my mantra has always been to EAT…….but make everything you eat the best it can be. Fuel your body like you would fuel an expensive car…..with the best fuel possible and both the hunger and the fat on your body will decrease naturally because your body’s needs will be satisfied.
When the body doesn’t receive enough nutrients, it responds naturally with hunger to encourage us to eat more, to hopefully fulfill the nutrient needs of our physiology. There are a few ways that this cycle gets started and if we address those issues, then we can properly fuel our bodies for energy, fitness, and longevity.
1. As we get older it gets harder and harder for our bodies to digest and absorb the nutrients in food. Our intestinal system, like every system in our body requires good circulation to keep the cells abundant, healthy, and efficient. The intestinal cells are what absorb the breakdown products of the whole foods that we put in our mouths. When we put those cells under stress, or when we disrupt the natural bacteria in our intestinal system, nutrients cannot be absorbed as well as if the cells were in optimal health. Stressors that effect the intestinal lining are preservatives, chemicals, alcohol, tobacco, processed foods. We disrupt the natural bacteria additionally by not eating enough fiber and too much sugar. Also, when we do not chew our food well, we rely too heavily on the enzymatic action in our stomachs to break the food down for us and less nutrients become absorbed. The natural age related reduction in bacteria, acid and circulation already are playing against us in the nutrient absorption game, why compound this with things we can control.
2. Because of the effect of commercial agriculture, our food sources are becoming less and less nutrient dense. For example, a carrot farmed off of soil that has been depleted of its micro-nutrients from over-farming will not have as many micro-nutrients in it.
3. We eat very little fiber in this country. Why do we count carbs and protein more than we count fiber? And why are most of the sources that we get fiber from highly processed? Women in particular are chronically constipated which is toxic for our intestines not to mention the bloat to our bellies. And yet for most, it isn’t even on the radar. It’s like we are afraid of fiber because our mothers once gave us a glass of metamucil when we were constipated in childhood and it has scarred us for life.
So how can we get more quality nutrition, keep our hunger commensurate with our caloric needs, and not feel deprived in the process?
1. Add high quality nutrients to your favorite foods to boost the micr0-nutrients, healthy fats, and fiber
Six of my favorite mix ins are pictured above
Chia seeds – These little guys don’t add much in terms of taste, but you do get a bit of texture similar to poppy seeds, unless they are soaking in something they can absorb and then they will have the texture of rice pudding. Adding just 1 tbsp of these seeds adds 2.2 grams of (complete) protein, 5 grams of fiber, 10% of your daily calcium, and an omega 3/6 ratio of 2500mg/800mg. I like to add them to steel cut oats, smoothies, salads, soups……really anything.
Pumpkin seeds – These are deliciously nutty in flavor and are best used in soups, salads, breads, and even in pastas. Add 2 tbsp and you will get almost 9 grams of complete protein, high values of minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorous and more, high amounts of Vitamin K and 7,000 mg of omega 6 fatty acids.
Hemp seeds – Big complete protein bang for your buck combined with high levels of essential fatty acids plus magnesium. These have an interesting nutty flavor so I like to add them to other flavorful foods like soups and smoothies. A little goes a long way.
Flax seeds – Depending on how you use them: ground or whole you can get quite a different taste and texture out of them. The taste of ground flax has a bit of a fishy taste to it, while whole has essentially none. The whole seeds are a good source of insoluble fiber which the bacteria in your gut love. Either way, 1 tbsp gives you a hefty dose of essential fatty acids and 2 grams of near complete protein, and a broad number of minerals. I add these to everything, soups, breads, cereals, yogurt, smoothies…….
Almonds – One ounce of almonds (23 approximately) is jammed with all sorts of nutrition. 15% of your daily fiber, 6 grams of nearly complete protein, Nearly 40% of vitamin E, and a hefty dose of many minerals like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron and zinc to name a few. While it is great to eat them whole, I love them chopped finely and added to steel cut oats, other cereals, yogurt, sandwiches and soups.
Cashews – 5 grams of complete protein in just 1 oz of yummy cashews. 1 gram of fiber and chock full of minerals like selenium, manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. This nut goes well with anything although I prefer a handful of raw cashews right out of the jar because the texture is very satisfying all on its own.
2. Chew your food until it is liquified and eat one blended meal every day. Digestion starts in the mouth and if you present a liquified mass to the stomach and intestines, the body has to work less hard to digest it and more nutrients will be absorbed.
3. Keep your gut bacteria healthy. Eliminate preservatives, processed foods and simple carbohydrates and replace them with fresh foods high in both soluble and insoluble fiber and your internal bacteria will start to flourish. Minimize alcohol and carbonated beverages as well which cause your intestinal lining to REACT with inflammation which diminishes absorption. Take a daily probiotic for 2 months to boost this process. Naturally fermented foods also help this process.
4. Before every meal but especially in the morning take a cup of warm water. This will stimulate the circulation in your intestinal system and increase absorption of nutrients.
5. Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables, and if possible get them from local farms or farmers markets. The less time from the ground to the market, the more nutrient dense they will be. The further they have to travel, the more they will lose nutrients. Keep organic frozen favorites on hand to use in a pinch.
These are just some small changes to adopt to make the most of your meals, and your calories so that you can really efficiently fuel your body. Soon you will be focusing on how to be creative with nutrients instead of paying attention to the absolute calories. The calories will take care of themselves as long as you are active and eating nutritionally dense foods at every meal. Stay tuned for more ways to make your food nutrient dense and full of fiber.