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:

Apples

Deli turkey slices

Marble Rye Bread (the store sells half-loaves)

Dried prunes

2 cans of mandarin oranges

Fiber cereal

Gingersnaps

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.

Bag.jpg

Here’s my stash:

Doritos (no sugar tasty carbs)

Kind Bar (cherry cashew)

Apple

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 fda.gov  (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, drug.com 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.

 

 

The Healthy Diet Dilemma

 

 

 

 

Supermarket.

There will be NO lengthy discussion or video here that requires a lot of your time before you can find out what those “5 foods you must not eat” are. I write a lot but most of my income comes as a cashier in a large, world-wide grocery retail store. I am neither a nutritionist/ doctor, nor do I have an inspiring personal story of how I lost weight, stopped the aging process, or grew a new kidney (I was born with only one) by following a certain diet. My aim in this article is to pass on information and hopefully provide help to anyone who finds reading ingredient labels, planning what to eat, and choosing foods that are right for you (not necessarily for everyone) as difficult a task as I do.

The advice to consult your doctor is of course most important because as your personal advocate and expert, he or she can tell you what foods you should eat and what to avoid. A really good doctor will take the time to analyze your diet and even offer advice about small details such as whether you should eat tuna or a brazil nut (both high in selenium) or, in my case, what foods to avoid to prevent kidney stones.Unfortunately, this may add to your medical expense or not be available under your health plan.

That said, where do you go from there?

There is an interactive tool for Health Care Professionals that you can use to get recommended daily amounts of calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals by typing in your height, weight, age, and gender. (No names) You will have to search Google for it.

My Plate Daily Checklist is another site which you can use to track eating habits. Select, say age 4-8. then calorie level desired (1200 – 2000) for your personal analysis.

Button code: SuperTracker can help you plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity.

Now that you have your requirements, you can do research (I did a lot) to find out which foods have which nutrients. I kept a journal but found it a problem to keep looking back and forth every time I was hungry, or going to shop. I did make the mistake of buying a lot of “superfoods” (seaweed, dark chocolate, brown rice, salmon, exotic vegetables etc) only to find I either didn’t like them or couldn’t use them up before they spoiled. I should mention that I gave up sugar, bread, baked goods, and most processed food eight months ago which complicated things. I learned to “pare down the pantry” and use what I already had to make meals. Some people like cereal for breakfast and can find low sugar, high fiber choices there. I cook vegetables and  egg for breakfast adding hamburger, quinoa, Tostitos tortilla chips, turmeric or ginger, as wanted. The point is: balance.

If you are already a lacto-vegetarian, follow a paleo diet, or one that is gluten-free, diabetic, IBS-friendly, or heart-healthy — good for you. You probably already read labels and know the rest of this.

An overview of food ingredients. additives, and colors can be found on the FDA government site with a  list of sweeteners but it does not include stevia, xylitol, and inulin. The last one has started showing up in organic foods and sugar-free pudding. While inulin is not bad for you, some research shows that it can “free” bacteria which cause pneumonia. Xylitol has been shown to prevent ear infections and cavities by killing staph germs but it can also kill lacto-bacillus and may have a laxative effect. Store and dispose of gums properly as it can be fatal dogs.

Food Babe posts A Full List of non-organic ingredients allowed in organic food.

Also Christina Guyanese of Shape Magazine, wrote an article,14 banned foods still allowed in the U.S.

Frankly, reading labels lengthens your shopping time but it often results in people putting things back on the shelf and making better buying choices. I see an increasing number of customers buying healthier products. One man in a wheel chair bought only scads of fruit. I don’t judge, but for me, while fruit has a lot of vitamins, it also has sugar (fructose). Consumers of organic meats, vegetables and yogurt are willing to pay considerably more for those products, but should be aware that not all organic products (and energy bars/drinks) are the best – better – but again, read the label. A roll of corn meal mush (cornmeal, water, salt) costs $1.54 while organic corn cereal can run $5.98. Healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. If you love chips, you should know that Doritos have no sugar and Lay’s potato chip ingredients are simply potatoes, safflower oil, and salt. Also frozen vegetables are equally nutritious as fresh but cost much less and some “healthy” foods, like miso and capers, have high sodium content.

So beware and check labels. It doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well or enjoy favorite foods in moderation, it just means YOU choose what is right for you and not eat whatever a food company thinks you should have or want.