Stay Healthy During the Holidays

With the holidays right around the corner, I thought I’d put together a list of things you can do to stay healthy while still enjoying the holiday season. So, without further ado, here are the top 6 recommendations I would make:

  1. Stick to your normal eating habits. Don’t try skipping meals or eating less as this may lead to over-consuming snack foods and holiday treats.
  2. Build meals around protein and veggies while minimizing starchy or sugary carbs such as fruits, grains, legumes, and potatoes. Always opt for more vegetables and protein to feel full.
  3. Avoid liquid calories such as juices, milk, and mixed drinks. Get your calories from whole foods!
  4. Once you are full from your meal, then indulge in whatever holiday treat you like most. My favorite is chocolate peanut butter balls! It’s a lot easier to enjoy one or two treats, rather than a dozen, after filling up on healthy food during mealtime.
  5. Exercise whenever possible! This will mitigate stress that occurs during the holidays and protect your body from the damage of the indulgences. Exercise can be as simple as sprinting up a flight of stairs, going for a walk after meals, or performing a few sets of body weight pushups and squats.
  6. For those that plan to consume alcoholic beverages: drink on an empty stomach. When alcohol is ingested, all other calories are sent to fat storage so the body can break down the alcohol as fast as possible. Pick drinks lower in sugar such as dry wines, champagnes, and hard liquors. Forgo the prepackaged sugary mixers and try flavoring with a lime or lemon. My approach is to have a NorCal Margarita (2 shots tequila, juice from an entire lime, ice, and club soda) a few hours before dinner. Finally, make the following meal high in protein and healthy fat. This will help blood sugar levels, protein synthesis, and hormones return to normal.

I personally choose to consume a whey protein shake and digestive enzymes before any meal that is high in processed carbs and low in nutrients, such as pasta or pizza.

Finally, don’t stress about indulging! The holidays should be about family, relaxation, and a change in routine. Sure, under-consuming protein and vitamins while over-consuming sugar and anti-nutrients isn’t going to improve health – but allowing stress levels to increase will only exacerbate fat storage and skew hormone levels.

Make the best choices you can as often as possible, but plan to enjoy yourself and have some indulgences. Then jump right back into clean eating and living on in January.

Hope these tips help everyone enjoy their holidays while staying healthy. See you all next year!

christmas-treats

Spaghetti Bolognese

One of the dishes I miss most since replacing grains with vegetables is Spaghetti Bolognese.

I do not miss how the processed, high-carb pasta overrode my hunger signals, causing lethargy, bloating, and unhealthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

A few years ago I found the perfect substitute for highly-refined pasta products that are packaged with enough preservatives and chemicals to allow for a nearly infinite shelf-life…

A spaghetti squash!

Below is my adapted recipe for an all-natural version of Spaghetti Bolognese:

1.) Select your favorite ingredients for the tomato sauce. I like onions, carrots, garlic, mushrooms and two cans of tomatoes – one crushed and one diced.

2.) Empty the jars of tomato sauce into the largest pot you own and turn the heat to medium-low (if it starts to bubble and splatter, turn it down a little).

3.) Chop up veggies to your liking and stir into tomato sauce. Add herbs & spices to taste.

4.) Add ground beef, pork, or preferred protein source (local and naturally fed is optimal). Cover and let sit on low heat. Stir every 5-10 minutes to break up meat and ensure equal cooking.

5.) Heat oven to 350 F. Cut spaghetti squash in half, length-wise, and scrape all the seeds out (you can throw these out, add them to the sauce, or toast them in the oven with spices).

6.) Place both halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet and place in oven. Start checking the texture of the squash after 25 minutes. The shorter they cook, the more the final result will resemble al dente spaghetti.

7.) Remove squash from oven and drag a fork along the inside to create spaghetti strands. Continue to cut/scoop the spaghetti onto a plate or bowl. One squash can make 3-5 large plates of spaghetti.

8.) Check the Bolognese sauce to see if it is done to your liking. You may also want to add butter or heavy cream to reduce the acidity of the sauce and bump up the nutrient density.

9.) Pour your sauce on top of your spaghetti and enjoy!

Spaghetti

I love this recipe because it allows me to enjoy one of my favorite childhood dishes without any of the negative effects on my health or body composition. Also, there isn’t much preparation involved, just time spent checking how the sauce and squash are cooking.

Keep in mind that you will need to experiment with different cook times to find out how soft or hard you like the spaghetti strands. I’ve always been a fan of a slight crunch, although cooking for longer may provide the softer texture some people prefer. Just be patient and give this recipe a few tries before giving up and returning to the less-nutritious packaged options.

For the sake of comparison:

One-cup of whole-wheat spaghetti has about 200 calories, with over 30 grams of refined carbs. It contains a significant amount of manganese and selenium.

One-cup of spaghetti squash has about 40 calories, with less than 10 grams of natural carbs. It is higher in Vitamin A, C, K, B, Calcium, and Potassium.

I hope this recipe helps provide a healthier alternative to the beloved American-Italian dish!
Enjoy!

Carbohydrates

Time to discuss the third and final macronutrient – carbohydrates!

Carbs are the only macronutrient that is not essential for life. However, this does not mean they are not an important part of a healthy diet.

There are many different forms of carbs but, let’s look at the top 3 that make up most foods.

There are starchy carbs like potatoes and grains. These contain glucose which is stored as muscle glycogen and used as fuel. The brain needs a small amount of glucose (about 30 grams a day) but this can be converted from protein via gluconeogenesis. The body can store between 300 and 500 grams of glycogen in the muscles.

There are sugary carbs such as fruit and honey. These contain fructose which is stored as liver glycogen but can also be hepatotoxic in high amounts. This isn’t a problem when consuming a few pieces of fruit but, soda, loaded with high fructose corn syrup can overwhelm the liver. The sugar floods the blood stream, causes a sugar spike and crash, accompanied with fatigue and hunger, and is ultimately stored as body fat. For this reason, I avoid processed foods containing sugar and enjoy fruit as a desert or pre-workout snack.

Finally, there are fibrous carbs such as vegetables. These have much more fiber which regulates healthy digestive function and stabilizes blood sugar. Vegetables are one of the most nutrient dense food groups next to maybe mussels or offal. When I eliminated grains, I simply replaced them with extra veggies…adding more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and color to every meal!

Most plants contain a combination of these. For example, an orange is about 70% sugar, 10% starch, and 20% fiber. A white potato is about 5% sugar, 80% starch, and 15% fiber. A cup of spinach is about 10% sugar, 10% starch, and 80% fiber.

To determine carb intake level, let’s examine goals and activity levels.

When the heart rate rises above 65% of its max (a brisk walking pace) the body starts burning more carbs than fat…at 65% it burns a 50/50 mix. An hour of walking burns approximately 250 calories and carbs have 4 calories per gram, so, about 30g of carbs are burnt in that one hour.

You don’t have to do all these calculations but it’s clear that, unless you are an athlete, you won’t be emptying your glycogen stores regularly.

The government recommends 65% of your calories come from carbs. This means, if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should consume 325 grams of carbs – more than most people could possibly utilize in one day!

If you are an athlete or attempting to gain weight, maybe 40-50% of calories from carbs may be beneficial. When I am attempting to gain muscle, I have about a pound of potatoes in every meal (totaling 300-400g carbs a day) to stimulate an insulin release. Insulin is a good topic for another post but, simply put, it helps shuttle nutrients to different parts of the body. If you are eating clean and training hard, the nutrients will be sent to the muscles. However, if you’re eating processed foods and not creating an adequate stimulus to recover from, the insulin forces excess calories into fat stores.

If fat loss is the goal, less carbs will make this easier due to the satiating nature and blood sugar stabilizing effect of protein and healthy fats. Perhaps have a sweet potato or piece of fruit post workout but focus mostly on meat and vegetables.

If the prevention or reversal of blood pressure or blood sugar issues is a concern, low carb eating would be advisable. Also, the blood sugar spike from too many carbs causes an increase in triglyceride levels in the blood, contributing to unfavorable cholesterol levels.

There are certain conditions or diseases that are treated by lowering carb intake. Epileptics are often put on ketogenic diets, consuming less than 50 grams of carbs a day, to prevent seizures. Forms of cancer require glucose so patients may be advised to restrict carbs to literally starve their cancer.

At this point, I would like to reiterate, I am not a doctor. I am merely suggesting you do a little research to understand the science behind your condition and bring this information to your doctor so both of you can make an informed decision together.

It is my opinion that most Americans consume more carbs than they need and this, in part, causes many modern health issues. However, I want this blog to be objective and useful for everyone; regardless of what I believe is best. So, like everything else – experiment.

For a couple months every year, I consume zero carbs (besides vegetables) to prime my fat metabolism and lean out. Other times of the year, when local starches, fruits, and grass-fed dairy are available, I consume more carbs.

I feel that a moderate level of carbs (around 150 grams a day) is optimal for exercise recovery and weight maintenance; low carb is ideal for leanness, stable energy, and mood; and high carb is best for muscle gain or frequent high-intensity training.  But, let me know what works best for you!

Well, that should do it for the 3 macronutrient groups. I tried to keep the info as simple as possible while still offering real-world application. As always, feel free to contact me directly for more specifics to satisfy your curiosity or to achieve your goals!

Going forward, I will continue to shoot for 1 post a week but will vary my topics more. If an interesting study is discussed in the news, I may dissect it. If one of my clients has remarkable success with a specific training protocol, I’ll talk about that. If I come up with a new recipe that is particularly tasty, I’ll share it with you…

I guarantee this blog will always be a source of valuable information. To stay up to date, just click the “+ Follow” in the right-hand corner and every post will be emailed directly to you.

Thanks!