Nutrition for busy people is a conundrum

Last week I took a 93 year old woman grocery shopping and here is what she bought for the week:


Deli turkey slices

Marble Rye Bread (the store sells half-loaves)

Dried prunes

2 cans of mandarin oranges

Fiber cereal


Chips (popcorn)

Cheese Crackers

Frozen lean dinners (2) and a small cheese pizza

Moose Tracks Ice Cream

Whole Wheat English Muffins

Paper napkins, tissue, and light bulbs

No nuts or seeded things like tomatoes (allergy)

Her energy and common sense always inspire me and I think she did well nutritionally. She is 93 and knows a thing or two.

For many of us, however, this list wouldn’t do. Where are yogurt,  dark leafy greens, avocados, and protein? Well, I don’t know what she already had at home but I did say she was 93 right?

Working people have a harder time achieving nutritional balance for sure. I only work part-time (in a grocery store no less) and I get stressed about it. Here are some suggestions for coping:

  • Stop trying to make every morsel you eat a superfood. Everyone knows breakfast is important but if you get up late or spend too much time packing the children’s lunches, grab a yogurt drink and some fiber crackers or fruit (I don’t eat it) or a piece of chicken to eat on the commute. Even better, that healthy lunch you’re packing for the kids ought to be good for you, too. Pack an extra one. If their lunch has too much sugar or carbs for you, rethink what you’re giving them. Finally, eating too much fiber, avocado, or cruciferous vegetables can cause weight gain and the worst – gas. Which leads to the next suggestion: The time of day when eating some foods (even superfoods) matters.
  • Many of my customers buy bananas and eat them in the morning because they can grab and eat them quickly when they awake.  I cannot tolerate them on an empty stomach and fix oatmeal (1 minute in the microwave) instead. Everyone is different and finding your way is key. Let’s face it, some superfoods just don’t work at 6:00 a.m. for many people, though. Cauliflower, salmon, sardines, shiitake mushrooms, and collard greens on an empty stomach may lead you to call off sick. If you have the time before work, you can add many of them to an omelet; it’s up to you. I like mustard greens with morning egg, but maybe you are allergic to eggs. The point is to include good food when you can and don’t stress if you use half your sugar allotment for breakfast.
  • Because we don’t always know what we are going to feel like or want to eat later at work, I suggest packing a contingency bag to take when you’re rushed in the morning and keep it handy.

It can be a plain grocery bag or a designer tote. What matters is that you put in something with vitamins, something with sugar (yes, you might need it if blood sugar drops), something with carbs for energy, and a non-refrigerated protein and  drink.


Here’s my stash:

Doritos (no sugar tasty carbs)

Kind Bar (cherry cashew)


Fig cookie (or Thin Mint GS)

Veggie Rice crackers

Bai antioxidant drink

Vitamin Water ( w or w/o sugar)

Jar of Baby Food (pumpkin, carrots, etc)



You may be saying “Oh no, I’m not eating baby food – it tastes bland and awful”. Well, some of it does and I’m not suggesting a “baby food diet” to lose weight like the ones some celebrities (e.g. Jennifer Aniston) have used. I wouldn’t eat the meat ones but squash, pumpkin, and carrots are a quick, even tasty, boost in a pinch.

  • What about when you want something warm and comforting? Invest in a thermos and bring your own homemade soup.Thermos
  • Finally, sometimes you just can’t avoid buying lunch or dinner out. Unless you eat out everyday, cut yourself some slack when your meal isn’t ideal but be aware that the fast food salad is loaded with sodium and the fancy restaurant’s entree is high in sugar and fat. Adjust and balance when you can.


I stressed about work food for over six months, thinking I had to take a perfect lunch with me. I  made mistakes and sometimes I chose poorly, resulting in having to carry a small tin in my pocket full of ginger mints, xylitol gum (good for mouth but can cause gas), digestive enzymes, aspirin, antacid, and more. I’m still convinced that sugar is public enemy number one though. By keeping sugar (it all its forms) under 25 grams daily and reducing use of white flour and processed foods, I lost 30 pounds and I will not stop reading labels. A popular brand of protein drink advertises “no added sugar” but the label reveals it has 53 grams of sugar in a  serving. Even one cigarette brand has sugar (glycerol) in it. A woman next to me, shopping at Trader Joe’s, said aloud, “They all have sugar in them”. She was buying lunch meat. Caveat Emptor.

The Healthy Diet Dilemma I

set with different bottles

Maintaining balance in what you eat to satisfy hunger takes work but another dimension may make it even harder  – THIRST.

I haven’t been asked to leave a convenient store yet, but I’ve received a few glares from clerks for holding the cooler doors open too long while I check labels. A woman reaching for an antioxidant drink at the same time as I did asked “Which one did you want?” I said “coconut” and she replied, “I know it’s good for you, but I hate the taste.” I understood because she chose “cherry”, which I hate. Taste is an important consideration.  Watching other customers open and grab a can or bottle quickly makes we wish I could be sure what I’m thirsty for and often I just grab a water, unsweetened tea,  or cucumber line energy drink (if they have it). With a dozen drink cooler sections, fountain drinks, lattes, coffee drinks, and even make-it-yourself milkshakes, some stores boggle the mind with the possibilities. However, most people, myself included, can usually narrow their choice  by eliminating certain sections depending on their tastes and what they want to avoid.

Speaking of avoidance, here are some ingredients that sound like you should avoid them, but are not necessarily bad.

  • niacinamide – Vitamin B3
  • riboflavin – Vitamin B2
  • cyanocobalamin -Vitamin B12
  • pyridoxine hypo chloride (HCL)  – Vitamin B6
  • pantothenic acid – Vitamin B5

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

  • Glucuronolactone – is a normal human metabolite formed from glucose and is found in most connective tissue. After extreme exercise it can detoxify (liver) – Good. Most people don’t need this and should probably skip it. – Bad. A popular energy drink with glucuronolactone (and a lot of caffeine) has been banned in France after deaths from drinking 3 or more drinks. – Ugly.
  • citric acid – is not the same as ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) but is found in many citrus fruits. Most of it passes through the body when consumed. It enhances flavor and acts as a deterrent to bacteria (like botulism) that cannot live in an acidic environment -Good. Sensitivity or allergy to citric acid can cause mouth ulcers, gastrointestinal issues, and headaches – Bad. Citric acid can come from fruit but it is also produced as a byproduct of mold (Aspergillius niger).  There is no way of knowing how the citric acid in beverages was produced unless stated on the label.- Ugly
  • inositol – A vitamin-like substance that may help fight depression, infertility, OCD, insomnia, weight gain and other conditions – Good. Side effects may include skin irritations, nausea, and too much can make bipolar disorder worse (although in combo with taurine and caffeine) – Bad. There appears to be no “ugly” to it but again pregnant and nursing woman are cautioned to avoid it.

GRAS – Generally Recognized As Safe:

The Food and Drug Administration maintains a huge database of GRAS food additives at  (you will have to click on Food Additives Status List on the left and chose the first letter of additive or scroll down for complete list.) You can check such ingredients as inositol, guar gum, guarana extract, sodium citrate, panax ginseng root, calcium casein ate, sorbic acid and more. However, just because an additive is likely safe and on the list doesn’t mean it is safe for you. Individual health issues, especially diabetes, heart and kidney problems,  pregnancy and/or nursing, and prescribed medications can drastically alter the safety of many of them. I check a number of sites online –  google the name of the additive then click on sites like webmd (uses, side effects, interactions, and dosing) everyday health, livestrong, healthline, and the World’s Healthiest Foods (enter food or supplement in search box).

OR you could drink:

Ranked in order by American Society for Clinical Nutrition (cited at end of blog)

  • water
  • unsweetened tea
  •  coffee
  • low-fat or skim milk or soy beverages
  • non-calorically sweetened beverages
  •  beverages with some nutritional benefits – fruit and vegetable juices
  • whole milk
  • alcohol
  • sports drinks
  • calorically sweetened nutritionally poor beverages

This Proposed Guidance System in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was published in 2006 and an opposing view can be read in a later issue (cited below). Interesting that alcohol is ranked above sports drinks. Today, there are many  new drinks to choose from – probiotic drinks, dozens of energy drinks ( no calorie, with caffeine, milk, coffee, juice, vinegars, sugar, extracts, protein, and more), and waters (flavored, carbonated or with electrolytes, Sucralose, the dreaded Aspartame, sodium, and more.)

It is good to have choices, of course. Personally, I choose filtered water first, and then try to vary my drink selections as much as possible to avoid obsession with any one particular brand and balance different daily needs. Staying informed, reading labels and seeing how drinks affect me, I choose my “poison” selectively. What’s your choice? Now, what kind of container do you want it in – plastic, glass, ceramic, paper or styrofoam cup?


Popkin, Barry M. et al, “A new proposed guidance system for beverage consumption in the United States”, American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 2006 URL is unavailable but you can search the title to view the text.

Weaver, C. et al, “Opposing comment to A new guidance system”, American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 2006.