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Are you Nutty if You Eat Nuts?

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Tuesday, Nov 28, 2017

Are you Nutty if You Eat Nuts?

A common nutrition question we get at The Cooper Institute is “Are nuts good or bad for you?” Many years ago when low fat diets were popular, and before we or anyone else knew any better, people were advised to limit their intake of nuts because of their high fat content. My, how times have changed!  Rather than being the villain of yesteryear, fat is now acknowledged as an important component of a healthful diet. Before I go any further, it’s important to realize that not all dietary fats are alike. While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are regarded as healthful, individuals both young and old are still advised to limit their intake of saturated and trans fats.

So what about nuts?  First off, nuts are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While they do have a high fat and calorie content, nuts are loaded with heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fat, and most nuts are relatively low in saturated fat. The key thing to remember is moderation. No one is saying that it’s good to consume an endless amount of nuts or peanut butter every day. On the other hand, there is strong scientific evidence that consuming an ounce (a small handful) of nuts daily is associated with a marked reduction in the risk of chronic disease or early death. Let’s take a look at a couple of recent state-of-the art studies.

In a 2015 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 20742 male physicians with an average age of 67 years completed a comprehensive food-frequency questionnaire between 1999 and 2002. The group was followed for an average of 9.6 years, during which 2732 all-cause deaths occurred. The relationship between nut consumption and risk of death was evaluated after taking several other factors that might ‘muddy the waters’ into account. Results are shown in Figure 1.

As shown in the Figure, there was a decreased risk of all-cause mortality across increased nut consumption category, with the group consuming 5 or more servings per week enjoying a 26% lower risk of death during the study period as compared to the group who never consumed nuts.

In another manuscript published in 2016, researchers combined 20 published studies to examine the relationship between nut consumption and risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as diabetes and other causes of mortality. Using no intake of nuts as the reference group, for every 1 ounce increase in daily nut intake there was a 21% and 15% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, respectively. All-cause and diabetes mortality was reduced by 22% and 39% per 1 ounce increase in daily nut intake, respectively.

Want more NUTrition information? Here’s a link to a document that provides the nutrients in one ounce of many types of nuts. Want more information on what one ounce of nuts really looks like? Here’s a great graphic. By the way, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter are equivalent to a 1 ounce serving of nuts.

An extremely important thing to mention is that if you are planning to increase your nut intake, be sure to cut back in other areas, especially if you are watching your waistline. A great place to start cutting back is on so-called ‘empty calories.’ These would include foods and beverages with a lot of added sugars (e.g., soda), as well as foods that contain a lot of highly refined carbohydrate (e.g., doughnuts) and saturated fat (e.g., whole milk dairy).  If you choose to drink, go easy on the alcohol as well!


Hshieh, T., Petrone, A., Gaziano, J., Djousse, L. (2015). Nut consumption and risk of mortality in the Physicians’ Health Study.  Am J Clin Nutr, 101(2):407-412. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.099846

Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D….Norat, T. (2016). Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality:a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med, 14(1):207.  DOI: 10.1186/s12916-016-0730-3

6 Things to Know About Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis

Your metabolism is always working to burn energy. During periods of higher activity, your body will burn more calories than when you are at rest. (Note: A calorie is just a measure of unit of energy; technically speaking, it’s the energy required to heat one liter of water by one degree centigrade.) But even at rest, your body is always expending energy. How you burn energy or expend calories, which is called the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), can be organized into three distinct categories:

  1. Basal metabolic rate (BMR; also known as resting metabolic rate, or RMR) is the amount of energy the body uses to support the functions of the organs and physiological systems, and comprises approximately 60-75% of TDEE. The three organs most responsible for burning calories at rest are the liver, brain and skeletal muscle, which burn 27, 19 and 18 percent of the RMR, respectively. It’s worth noting the brain alone uses about one-fifth of your RMR, which helps explain why you don’t think as clearly when you’re hungry.
  2. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the energy the body uses to convert the food into more energy or to move it to a location to be stored (as fat) for use at a later time, and makes up about 10% of daily energy expenditure.
  3. The thermic effect of physical activity (TEPA) accounts for the remaining energy expenditure—about 15-30% of daily energy output. Included in this number is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is the amount of energy the body burns after exercise to return to its normal state.

When it comes to TEPA, there are two different types of activity: planned exercise and the spontaneous non-exercise activities that occur every time you perform some sort of physical exertion, such as standing up from a seated position or running to catch the bus. While exercise is an important form of physical activity that can burn hundreds of calories at a time, other forms of physical activity, called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), can play a significant role in helping to maximize the total amount of calories burned in a single day.


Here are six things to know about NEAT and how it can help you reach your health and weight-loss goals:

  1. Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is an enzyme that plays a critical role in converting fat into energy. Remaining sedentary for long periods of time can reduce levels of LPL. Conversely, using NEAT to move consistently throughout the day can help sustain LPL levels and help the body maintain its ability to burn fat.
  2. Standing can make a difference. A growing body of evidence shows that sitting still for too long can be hazardous to your health. Simply standing is one form of NEAT that can help increase your daily caloric expenditure.
  3. Daily steps add up. The U.S. Department of Health has been promoting 10,000 steps a day as an achievable goal for daily physical activity. Even if you don’t make it to 10,000 steps, adding extra steps to your day is an important component of NEAT that can burn calories, while adding health-promoting activity to your life.
  4. Walk or cycle for transportation. Have you ever been stuck in traffic during your commute and thought, “There has got to be a better way?” By choosing to walk or ride a bicycle for your daily commute, you can burn significant amounts of energy during an activity where most people spend their time sitting. If you take a bus or train as part of your commute, getting off a stop or two early provides a great opportunity for some extra walking. Most errands are run in close proximity to home, so when you need to make that quick run for baking supplies, and time allows, walking to your destination is a great way to increase your NEAT.
  5. There is cleaning and then there is getting-ready-to-host-a-party or have-your-mother-in-law-over-for-dinner cleaning—we all know the difference. Doing additional tasks around the house or putting a little extra effort into your daily chores can be a great opportunity to increase daily NEAT.
  6. Play with your kids. In this modern era of having an app for everything, there is no app for spending extra time with your kids. If you can carve out even a few minutes for playing catch, kicking a ball or walking down to your neighborhood park, you will be spending precious time with your offspring while racking up NEAT. An additional benefit to playing is that it can also help boost neural activity and cognition, so not only are you burning a few more calories, you could actually be increasing your brain function as well.

If losing weight is your primary reason for exercising, NEAT is an essential component of that objective. One pound of body fat can provide approximately 3,500 calories worth of energy. Increasing NEAT by 200 calories (about the equivalent of walking two miles), while also making healthier nutritional choices to reduce caloric intake by 300 calories (the equivalent of a 12-ounce soda and a small bag of potato chips) equals about five hundred fewer calories a day. If you do that seven days a week, you will quickly reach the amount of calories necessary to eliminate a pound of fat. While seemingly small, making the effort to change your daily habits by adding more NEAT along with reducing overall caloric intake creates a foundation for long-lasting weight-loss success.

Post Author


Pete McCall

Health and Fitness Expert

Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and long-time player in the fitness industry. He has been featured as an expert in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Runner’s World and Self. He holds a master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion, and several advanced certifications and specializations with NSCA and NASM.

8 Things that Slow Down Your Metabolism

ACE Fit Share

September 12, 2016

Slowing Down Metabolism

How many times have you thought to yourself, “I can’t lose weight because my metabolism is slow.” Over the past two decades as nutritionists, we’ve heard that time and again from our clients. How do you know if your metabolism is actually slow? Can it be fixed? And is the problem really your metabolism?

Simply put, metabolism the way your body converts the food and drink you consume for energy, and is usually measured in calories. We can determine how many calories your body burns each day by plugging information into a variety of formulas that have been designed to measure this. Click here to access the formulas and see what you get. As there is no single calculation that is considered the best, we recommend that you do all of the formulas, which will give you a range in which your metabolism may fall. A more accurate way is to have your metabolism measured through indirect calorimetry, which uses a machine to measure oxygen consumption. In less than 10 minutes you can know your resting metabolic rate (RMR).

Metabolism is a complex process that’s affected by more than just what you eat and how much you exercise. There are a number of factors that might be sabotaging your metabolism, and you might not even know it.


Inconsistent meal times

When your meals times come at regularly spaced intervals, your body uses up the calories for fuel and burns more calories in between meals. If your eating pattern is erratic, your body gets confused and isn’t quite sure when the next meal is coming, so it goes into conservation mode. Calorie burn is reduced and more food is put into storage (fat cells and glycogen stores).


Numerous studies have shown that sleep is a key factor in gaining and losing weight. When you do not get enough sleep, hormones that control hunger and fullness go haywire. Too much ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and too little leptin (the fullness hormone) get produced, which leaves you feeling hungry all day and you lose the ability to know when you are full. Plus, more cortisol gets produced, which increases cravings for starchy, sugary and fatty foods. Recent studies on chronic sleep deprivation suggest that the calories you eat are burned less efficiently. Aim for 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night.


Not Eating Enough

If you are “dieting” to lose weight, eating too few calories can actually backfire and keep you from achieving your goal. Yes, creating a calorie deficit will help you lose weight, but there is a point in each individual that cutting calories too low will put the body into starvation mode and slow down metabolism to keep you alive. Make sure you get enough calories and a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) to keep your metabolism from crashing. Read more about macros here.


Most people make the mistake of only doing cardio (aerobic) exercise because it burns a good amount of calories while it’s being done. But after the exercise is over, calorie burn returns to resting levels. Strength training is a key component of metabolism because it is directly linked to muscle mass. The more active muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Whether you lift weights, use resistance bands or use your own body weight for resistance, resistance creates microtears in the muscle tissue. As your body repairs these tears, muscle tissue grows and requires more calories to stay alive. One of the best ways to strength train to get the best response from your muscle is to focus on the eccentric (or lowering) portion of any move. Eccentric moves are more muscularly damaging and require more effort to repair than concentric movements (the lifting portion of a move), and thus increase metabolism more. So, slow down when you strength train to increase your metabolism.


Sitting Too Much

If you exercise an hour a day, but spend the other 23 hours sitting or lying down, your metabolism will slow down. Sitting for longer than 20 minutes can put your body into a more relaxed, non-energy-burning state. If your job keeps you chained to a desk or behind the wheel, get up once an hour to move around for a few minutes. Periodically moving is shown to help decrease triglycerides, blood sugar, waistlines and cholesterol as well as cause a small spike in metabolism.


Consider this tip a two-for-one: Drinking too little water leads to dehydration, which can cause you to burn up to 2% fewer calories. All your body’s cellular functions require water, so sip it often. Drinking ice cold water can increase your metabolism by a few calories as your body heats the water to body temperature. Aim for at least 2 liters of water a day; drink more during hot and humid weather and when you sweat. At the other extreme, too much alcohol can impact your metabolism because excessive alcohol causes your liver to focus on breaking down alcohol molecules instead of burning fat. Plus, the calories from alcohol can add up quickly and impact weight.


The mineral best known for building strong bones plays a key role in fat metabolism, which determines whether you burn calories or store them as fat. Some of the best dietary sources of calcium come from dairy—organic milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese—which also benefit muscles because they contain whey and casein, proteins that help to build muscle and prevent muscle breakdown. Research from McMaster University showed that women who consumed more dairy lost more fat and gained more muscle mass than those who consumed less.



We’ve saved the best for last. Stress is probably the number-one factor impacting metabolism. It increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and makes us reach for comfort foods. It can decrease our desire for exercise, even though exercise is a powerful stress-buster. Stress slows digestion, causing a lower need to metabolize calories. Plus, stress can impact both the quality of sleep and number hours we sleep, which, as described earlier, can decrease metabolism and promote weight gain

Tiffani Bachus
Tiffani Bachus ContributorTiffani Bachus, RDN, is a wellness professional dedicated to helping her clients develop a healthy balanced lifestyle. An accomplished fitness competitor and dancer, Tiffani won Fitness America and Arizona Dancing With The Stars and has graced the covers of numerous fitness health magazines including Oxygen Magazine. She has been featured as a fitness expert on Channels 3 and 15 in Arizona and is a columnist for Oxygen and Clean Eating Magazines. Tiffani co-authored the book, “No Excuses! 50 Ways to ROCK Breakfast” featuring 50 healthy clean eating breakfast recipes. Tiffani is also a Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor.

3 Moves to Keep Your Midsection Toned Over Summer

Fit Life /

August 31, 2016

If you are looking to keep your midsection or abs tight and toned for the hot months this summer (or all year long, for that matter), here are three great moves to add to your workout routine, along with three moves you should consider ditching.

Do: Weighted Basic Crunch

If you really want to train the muscles of your abdominals, add some resistance to your ab workout. When you train your chest or legs, you undoubtedly use some form of resistance to help stimulate those muscles. The same principal applies to training your abs. Add a small amount of resistance and recruit additional muscle fibers, which will make your midsection stronger.

Step 1: Lie flat on your back on a mat.

Step 2: Bend your knees and slide your feet toward your body.

Step 3: Hold a medicine ball in your hands, just under your chin and on top of your chest.

Step 4: Raise your shoulders and neck off of the mat.

Step 5: Pause and repeat.

Weighted Basic Crunch

Don’t Do: Traditional Sit-ups

Remember the sit-ups you used to do in school, where someone would hold your feet and you’d curl your back off the floor and sit up as far as you could? Those old school sit-ups put a tremendous amount of strain on your neck and back. And, while your fellow student thought he was a big help by locking your feet to the floor, he was actually helping to stabilize your core—something you should be doing on your own when you work the abdominals.

Do: Pivot Planks

If you have mastered the plank and are ready for some additional midsection training, try adding pivot planks to your routine. This exercise will train your entire midsection and core, without relying on additional muscles.

Step 1: Get into a traditional plank position.

Step 2: While keeping your entire body as steady as possible, slowly rotate your right hip toward the floor.

Step 3: Pause and return to the starting position.

Step 4: Repeat the same motion with your left hip.

During the exercise, note whether or not you have the same range of motion on both sides.

Pivot Planks

Don’t Do: Bicycle Crunches

One of the go-to exercises for beginners and novices is the bicycle crunch. While this exercise can be done effectively, it’s usually done incorrectly, with most exercisers using momentum and the hip flexors to perform this move. This leaves the abdominals and oblique muscles unchallenged.

Do: Medicine Ball Slams

Slamming down and picking up a medium- to heavy-weight medicine ball (using correct form, of course) challenges your entire set of abdominal muscles, as well as most other muscles in your body.

Step 1: Stand in an athletic stance while holding a medicine ball out in front of your body.

Step 2: As fast as you can, raise your arms over your head.

Step 3: Without pausing, slam the ball to the floor as fast as you can.

Step 4: Pick up the ball and repeat.

Try this move slowly until you get the correct form. During the entire move, be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent and your arms out in front of you.

Medicine Ball Slams

Don’t Do: Arm/Leg Sit-ups

Lying flat on the floor and raising both arms and both legs up to meet in the middle will certainly challenge your abdominals, but the possibility of injury and strain of ancillary muscles, such as your neck or lower back, are far too great during this exercise.

In addition to performing the correct exercises to keep your midsection toned this summer, a healthy diet consisting of a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats and the correct amount of calories will keep you tight and toned all year long.


Franklin Antoian
Franklin Antoian ContributorFranklin Antoian is an ACE-certified personal trainer, writer for Sears and fitness expert for As author of “The Fit Executive: Fitness for Today’s Busy Professional” and founder of the online personal training website, Franklin has been featured in SHAPE Magazine, Fox News Online, Magazine and The Palm Beach Post.

Is Fat the New Nutrition Darling?

Fit Life

July 24, 2017

Is dietary fat a friend or foe? Currently, dietary fat is experiencing a comeback in popularity. From weight loss to improved mental clarity, many health professionals are touting the purported benefits of a high-fat diet. Which raises the question: Should you buy into the hype and hop on the high-fat bandwagon or is moderation the way to go?

In the 1980s and ‘90s, fat was the enemy and we were told to follow a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet if we wanted to prevent heart disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, obesity, diabetes and heart disease have all been on the rise over the past 30-plus years, and we now know that those nutrition recommendations were wrong. Further research has determined that sugar and refined carbohydrates are the more likely culprits when it comes to weight gain and poor health, because they cause chronically elevated insulin, which is a fat-storage hormone.

Fat is one of your body’s most basic building blocks. Your body is 15-30% fat and your brain is 60-70% fat. In fact, adequate consumption of the right kinds of fat is vital for your brain to properly function. In addition, fat is essential for the production of cell walls, the myelin sheaths that coat each nerve, blood-sugar stabilization, hormone production, and hunger and craving control. There have been a number of recent studies comparing high-fat/low-carbohydrate (HFLC) diets to low-fat/high-carbohydrate diets (LFHC) and the evidence suggests that the HFLC diets are better for weight loss and improvements in markers for inflammation, heart disease and blood sugar.

But not all fats are created equally. The good fats can help you become lean, healthy and full of energy, whereas the bad fats will increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and dementia.


The healthiest fats are the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), omega-3s and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

MUFAs are found in almonds, walnuts, avocados and olives (and olive oil) and raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease. When choosing olive oil, choose extra-virgin varieties and make sure to purchase those that are bottled in dark glass and have a recent “harvest” date.

Omega-3s are essential fats and must be consumed because the body does not make them. The omega-3s include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). While EPA is responsible for heart health, DHA is most active in the brain tissue, improving communication between nerves. These two are the most important forms of omega-3s to consume. ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, but at a very low rate. It is still important to consume ALA, but when you are looking to increase your intake of omega-3s, your focus should be on EPA and DHA.

The best sources of omega-3s come from fatty fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, Pacific halibut, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel and trout. Plant sources of omega-3s include seaweed, walnuts, flax and chia seeds.

MCTs function very differently from the longer-chain fatty acids. These fats have a carbon backbone of 8 or 10 carbons and are easily digested and used quickly for energy. Diets rich in MCTs are associated with better brain and cardiovascular health. Coconut oil (virgin, organic) is about 60% MCT. Other sources of MCTs are pure MCT oil, which is usually a combination of C8, 10 and 12 (a long-chain fat that acts like a medium-chain fat).


Trans fats and most omega-6 fats top the list of fats that are bad for your health and cause inflammation.

Trans fats are produced when a liquid fat, such as vegetable oil, is turned into a solid (margarine, shortening). These fats increase inflammation in the body and cause the body to produce more of the small, sticky (bad) low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles that can increase your risk of heart disease. These fats are found in commercially prepared baked goods and fried foods, as well as on the shelf at many supermarkets.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, vegetable blends) and are considered pro-inflammatory. A diet high in omega-6s is linked to heart disease, obesity, weight gain, thyroid and hormone imbalances, and inflammation. The typical diet has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of over 40:1, much higher than the recommended 4:1 ratio.


For many years, we were told to stay away from butter because it is high in saturated fat and would increase our risk of heart disease. A number of studies have shown this not to be true and that butter actually doesn’t have any effect on coronary heart disease or even reduced death rate from cardiovascular disease. Some nutrition experts put grass-fed butter in the healthy category, because it is a good source of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid associated with reduced inflammation, which is at the root cause of most diseases. Ghee, or clarified butter, can also be put into the good category if it comes from grass-fed cows, as it contains 25% MCTs and short-chain fatty acids. We still caution the use of dairy products from grain-fed cows, as their fat profile is much less desirable.


Fat is an essential macronutrient that plays an important role in blood-sugar regulation, hormone production, brain function and weight regulation. Choosing the right kind of fats is critical to lowering inflammation. As for how much fat to eat? Well, that’s up to you. Your best bet is to include it at every meal.

GREEN GODDESS SMOOTHIE (makes 1 serving)

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ½ avocado, peeled
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1 cup baby kale
  • ½ cup frozen pineapple chunks
  • ½ organic apple
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 scoop protein powder

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add crushed ice if you prefer a thicker smoothie.

SPICED NUT AND SEED MIXTURE (makes 3 servings)

  • 1 Tbsp. avocado oil
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. pink Himalayan sea salt
  • ¼ cup raw pecan pieces
  • ¼ cup raw walnut pieces
  • ¼ raw pepitas

Mix the oil, paprika, cinnamon and salt together in a bowl. Add the pecans, walnuts and pepitas and stir to coat everything in the spices. Heat a small nonstick pan over low heat. Add the nuts and cook for 4-5minutes, shaking the pan every 45 seconds to prevent the nuts from burning. Pour into a bowl and serve.

U Rock Girl!
U Rock Girl! ContributorTiffani Bachus, R.D.N., and Erin Macdonald, R.D.N., are the co-founders of U Rock Girl!, a website designed to nourish the mind, body and spirit of women of all ages and stages of life. They have just authored the rockin’ breakfast cookbook, No Excuses! 50 Healthy Ways to ROCK Breakfast! available at

7 Great Mornings: Your Prep Guide to the Most Important Meal of the Day

Fit Life

June 30, 2017

You’ve heard it a million times, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. You can’t start your car without a little fuel in the tank, and a well-balanced breakfast can set you off on the right foot for a fabulous day.

Most people who skip breakfast cite lack of time as their primary barrier. These seven easy-to-prepare breakfast ideas can be made in a few minutes and are packed with the nutrition needed to fuel you throughout your day.

Parmesan Arugula Avocado Toast

healthy breakfast avocado toast

Avocado toast is all the rage, but you don’t have to stop topping your toast after adding this fabulous fruit. Adding a serving of vegetables and some cheese (which ups the protein content) takes this easy-to-assemble breakfast to the next level.


  • 1 handful arugula or other salad green
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 ripe avocado
  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
  • Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a small bowl, mash the ripe avocado with a dash of salt and pepper.

2. Spread the mashed avocado onto toasted bread.

3. Top with arugula, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice.


Veggie Breakfast Burrito

healthy veggie breakfast burrito

Black beans bump up the fiber content and zucchini adds low-calorie bulk in this better-for-you take on a breakfast burrito.


  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup sliced or shredded zucchini pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 whole-wheat tortilla
  • 1/4 cup black beans
  • 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Salsa, to taste


1. Spray nonstick pan with cooking spray and sauté zucchini over medium-high heat or until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove zucchini from pan.

2. Spray nonstick pan again and fry or scramble egg. Remove egg from pan.

3. Return pan to stovetop and add a whole-wheat tortilla. Top with black beans and sprinkle with cheese. Heat just until tortilla is browned on the bottom and cheese melts.

4. Add egg and zucchini (and salsa if desired) and roll up burrito.


Overnight Pumpkin Oatmeal

healthy overnight oats recipe

Steel-cut oats have a more robust flavor and tend to leave you feeling more satisfied than their quick-cooking counterparts. Preparing this breakfast dish the night before allows time for the steel-cut oats to soften, saving you valuable time in the morning.


  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened milk of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon powdered stevia (or another sweetener of choice)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg


1. Add all ingredients to a sealable container and stir together.

2. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Stir again before eating.


Vanilla Almond Apricot Smoothie

healthy apricot vanilla smoothie recipe

Smoothies are a great way to use up fruits and vegetables that may be on the verge of being overripe. Add frozen berries in place of ice cubes for a fast and friendly breakfast on the go.


  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • 2 apricots, pits removed
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup ice cubes


1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until combined. Add additional milk or water to thin consistency if desired.


Piña Colada Breakfast Bowl

healthy pina colada breakfast bowl

Why not take a tropical break from your regular breakfast routine? This pineapple-based breakfast bowl tastes so good you may forget you’re going to work instead of the beach this morning. If using canned pineapple, be sure to look for the lowest-sugar variety or pineapple packed in its own juice.


  • 1/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2; medium banana
  • 1/2; cup pineapple chunks
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons granola


1. Add coconut milk, yogurt, banana, pineapple and ice cubes to a blender and process until pureed. Add additional water or milk for thinner consistency.

2. Place pureed pineapple mix in a bowl and top with granola.


Double-duty Breakfast Batter Mix

healthy whole wheat pancakes recipe

Whole-wheat pancakes and waffles SOUND great, but who has time to prep the batter? This make-ahead whole-wheat mix can be used for EITHER pancakes or waffles. Just prepare a batch of the dry mix ahead of time, and add two simple ingredients in the morning when you’re ready to go.


  • 4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg


1. To prepare the dry mix, grind the dry ingredients (whole-wheat flour through salt) in a food processor until finely chopped, but not yet a powder.

2. Mix vegetable oil in with the dry ingredients.

3. Store dry mix in an airtight container for up to two weeks at room temperature or indefinitely in the refrigerator or freezer.

4. To make pancakes, whisk together 1 cup homemade mix, 1 cup buttermilk and 1 egg. Let batter stand for 20 minutes prior to cooking.

5. To make waffles, follow the same instructions as for pancakes, but add an extra egg and a smidge more buttermilk.


Better-for-You Eggs Benedict

healthy eggs Benedict recipe

Traditional eggs benedict contains a lot of butter, but this better-for-you version uses avocado to create a similar, creamy consistency that has an irresistible flavor profile.


  • 1/3 avocado, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Poached eggs, for serving
  • 1 English muffin, toasted, cut in half
  • 2 slices tomato


1. In a blender combine the avocado, hot water and lemon juice. With the blender on, slowly pour in the olive oil.

2. Top each half of the English muffin with a slice of tomato and a poached egg.

3. Drizzle with the avocado hollandaise sauce and top with salt and pepper.

Katie Ferraro
Katie Ferraro ContributorKatie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a consultant, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in San Diego, CA. She specializes in nutrition communications and is the author of Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing (McGraw Hill 2014). As an advocate for foods you can eat MORE of, Katie serves as a media spokesperson and writes the popular blog

“Detoxing” Requires Guts!

by Ashley Koff on May 16, 2017


Good food and hydration, plus the human body’s built-in detox brilliance, promote the optimal digestion and absorption at the core of your clients’ nutritional fitness.

Attempting to inspire better eating habits, nutrition educators have long told people, “You are what you eat,” with the notion that “being” broccoli is more compelling than “being” a double cheeseburger or a supersized beverage. Yet, as we observe the global obesity epidemic and the dietary challenges we see daily with clients, it’s clear that most of the time the idea of being broccoli isn’t motivating people to drive past the burger joint instead of through it.

What’s worse? The axiom “You are what you eat” is actually not true. You are not what you eat, but you are what you digest and absorb. The difference—between eating broccoli and your cells getting nutrients digested from broccoli—is everything when it comes to enabling better health and delivering the results clients seek from their investment in you. With optimal digestion, the body takes in food and turns it into fuel for tasks ranging from improving energy to repairing cells and tissues to identifying and removing waste products. Without optimal digestion, the body struggles to prioritize needs, perhaps passing on repair work in order to enable energy or address a crisis; in short, it works less efficiently and less effectively (Karasov & Douglas 2013).

Today, many adults nationwide experience digestive complaints or diseases (NIH 2009). Statistics reveal staggering numbers of people attempting to manage reflux, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and other symptoms, often without discussing the problems with a physician or healthcare provider. One look at the sales growth of probiotics, laxatives and popular over-the-counter digestive medications points to a nation not digesting or absorbing nutrients well (Johnson 2016).

U.S. Adults Are Digestively Distressed

A quick glance at some key stats strengthens the evidence that digestive health among Americans needs to improve.

  • Digestive diseases affect 60–70 million Americans (NIH 2009).
  • In 2004, 20% of the population was diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) (El-Serag et al. 2004).
  • In 2004, 5.9 million prescriptions were written for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and 2.1 million for ulcerative colitis (Everhart 2008).
  • In 2013, 72% of U.S. adults (men and women) said they had experienced at least one of the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms a few times a month or more: diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, frequent bowel movements, unexplained weight loss or nonspecific GI symptoms. A majority said they had lived with their symptoms for more than 6 months (AbbVie 2013).

Herein lie clues for why, as a country, we are not seeing great headway in our battle with the bulge(s). After all, if one’s digestive system is not working optimally, then it is improbable that metabolism, natural detoxification and elimination efforts are yielding optimal results. To that end, anyone seeking to shed weight, lose fat, gain lean body mass and improve performance must first focus on an assessment of his digestive health.

When Is Digestive Assessment Called For?

If a client eats well (as evidenced by your thorough review of her food journal), and is active (but not getting the body composition results you would expect from her training efforts), consider referring her to a doctor or dietitian for a digestive assessment.

You might also ask a few simple questions to get clues about her digestive health:

  1. Do you have reflux, or are you bloated after eating normal meals and snacks?
  2. Are you having difficulty going to the bathroom, or are you not going regularly?
  3. Are you relying on medications or supplements to help your digestive system work and feel better?

If the client answers yes to any of these questions (or especially to all of them), refer her to a doctor or dietitian for thorough assessment and recommendations.

A 6-Step Tune-Up for Better Digestive Health

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too! Improved digestive nutrition enables better health when you make better, not perfect, choices more often. Aiming for perfect will make you perfectly stressed, which will challenge digestion further, and as such be perfectly unhelpful and unhealthy. Here are six suggestions to help clients get optimal digestion and absorption up and running:

    1. Move more. The body’s digestive tract is a series of muscles whose ongoing movement enables better digestion. Beyond exercise, it is critical to find opportunities to move throughout the day. Additionally, doing abdominal twists (seated or lying on the floor), as well as bending in all planes of motion, can help to engage and support digestive muscle movement. Work with clients to ensure proper form and to emphasize not just twisting from the shoulders but actually moving the whole core to encourage abdominal muscle movement.
    1. Reduce (digestive) workload. The digestive system can handle a lot, but it can also get overwhelmed. By eating and drinking less at any one time, and by practicing better nutrient balance, clients can give their bodies a manageable workload that allows for efficient, effective work plus time for recovery and relaxation.
    1. Turn off digestive “DiStress.” Certain nutrients and nutrient forms can support the digestive system, reducing stress on it and allowing food to be broken down and absorbedmore efficiently. For example, cacao, nuts, seeds, grains, greens and beans supply your cells with magnesium, which turns off the body’s stress response (“fight or flight”) (Wienecke & Nolden 2016). Avocado,beans, goat’s milk kefir and cheese, raw spinach, and parsley provide glutamine, which helps repair the digestive tract lining, enabling easier and better absorption of nutrients (Rao & Samak 2012).Under stress, the body shunts attention away from digestion, which can make liquid nutrition a great temporary fix for aiding absorption.

      Nutrient-balanced liquid-nutrition recommendations include nonstarchy-vegetable-based soups with one serving of starchy vegetable, topped with hemp hearts or chopped nuts; and smoothies with one serving of fruit, nonstarchy vegetables, quality protein powder and a nut butter or other healthy fat.

    2. Build better balance. Fibers are essential to digestive health. Our bodies need both the insoluble and soluble forms, including those that function as prebiotics (food for probiotics). Bear in mind, however, that too much fiber at once can overwhelm the digestive tract, especially if it is already stressed or irritated. Balance your daily intake by splitting it up throughout the day (aim for 5–10 grams of fiber at one time, versus 20–25 g) and consuming an adequate amount of water daily (as a goal for how many ounces to consume daily, begin with half a client’s body weight in pounds, then split that number into 3–5 water breaks, as a starting point). Balance bacteria load by taking in probiotics from quality fermented foods to counter the “bad” bacteria ingested through our mouths and skin.
    1. Bite better. Chewing food more thoroughly and chewing on better-quality food give the body more of the resources it needs. Avoid the chemistry lab projects and hyperprocessed foods where nutrients are removed and only some are added back, in different forms, via fortification.
  1. Journal it. As with anything, we can’t know what’s working and what needs attention without knowing what we are consuming and how our body responds to it most often.


AbbVie. 2013. New survey reveals more than half of Americans are living with gastrointestinal symptoms and not seeking care from a doctor. AbbVie press release. Accessed Feb. 1, 2017.

El-Serag, H.B., et al. 2004. Gastroesophageal reflux among different racial groups in the United States. Gastroenterology, 126 (7), 1692–99.

Everhart, J.E. (Ed.). 2008. The Burden of Digestive Diseases in the United States Report. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH Publication 09–6433.

Fahey, J.W., & Stephenson, K.K. 1999. Cancer chemoprotective effects of cruciferous vegetables. Journal of Horticultural Science, 34 (7), 1159–63.

Johnson, C. 2016. Growth of digestive health market and popular ingredients. Natural Products Insider. Accessed Jan. 27, 2016.

Karasov, H.W., & Douglas, A.E. 2013. Comparative digestive physiology. Comprehensive Physiology, 3, 741–83.

NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2009. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Opportunities and Challenges in Digestive Diseases Research: Recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication 08–6514.

Rao, R., & Samak, G. 2012. Role of glutamine in protection of intestinal epithelial tight junctions. Journal of Epithelial Biology and Pharmacology, 5 (Suppl. 1-M7), 47–54.

Wienecke, E., & Nolden, C. 2016. Magnesium intake and stress reduction. MMW Fortschritte Der Medizin, 158 (Suppl. 6), 12–16.

Recruit the Glutes: 6 Exercises to Improve Mobility and Strength

Recruit the Glutes: 6 Exercises to Improve Mobility and Strength  | Angel Chelik | Expert Articles | 6/22/2017

Strong glutes produce mobile hips, a stable core, and a decreased risk of knee and back pain.

To train the three main muscles of the glutes—the glute minimus, medius and maximus—you must have your clients or class participants do more than squats and lunges. The gluteus maximus’ primary role is to extend and externally rotate the hip—it is the main muscle that pushes your leg back when you walk. That is, if you walk correctly. With digital devices now stuck to our hands, walking has turned more into a shuffle. The glutes and hip are barely working and holding onto a phone halts the natural swing of the arms. When discussing the importance of training the glutes, I ask my clients to be mindful of walking “hands free.” Walking with purpose and intention will not only draw them into a more upright position, it will get them where they want to go faster!

The gluteus minimus and medius assist in abducting the leg away from the midline of the body. These smaller muscles are prime movers during walking, particularly during the “stance” phase, or when the feet are in contact with the ground. They work to keep both hips at the same level.

Add these six exercises into your classes and programs and your participants are sure to experience significant increases in strength and mobility.

1. Side Plank With Clam Shell (gluteus minimus and medius)

Lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder and your hips stacked. Keep the bottom knee on the floor and push up into a modified side plank. At the same time, externally rotate your top hip. Slowly drop the top knee down to the bottom knee to close the clamshell as you tap your bottom hip to the floor. Repeat 12-15 reps, then flip over to the other side and repeat.



2. Prone Frogger (gluteus maximus)

Lie prone and bend your knees to 90 degrees. Externally rotate your hips, so that your knees separate (about 12 inches apart) and your heels touch. Keep your head down and engage your glutes as you push your feet up toward the sky. Your quadriceps should lift off the floor. Pause at the top before slowly lowering back down to the starting position. Perform 12-15 repetitions.



3. Side Balance Leg Circles (gluteus minimus and medius)

Place your hand on the floor, directly under your shoulder. Place your bottom knee under your hip. Lift your top leg and line your foot up with your top hip. While moving from the hip, draw 10 small circles in one direction, and then reverse the circle for another 10 repetitions. Switch sides and complete another set with the other leg.



4. Glute Bridge With Band (gluteus maximus)

Place a mini band around your calves. Lie on your back and lift your hips into a bridge position. While keeping tension on the band, tap your hips down to the floor and then lift back up. Keep a straight spine and move primarily from the hips. Perform 15-20 repetitions.



5. Seated Mini-band Hip Abduction (gluteus minimus and medius)

Place the band around your calves and sit down with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Position your hands on the floor slightly behind you. Keep a straight back and press your legs out to the sides, externally rotating the hips. Maintain control as the legs come back together. Repeat 12-15 repetitions.



6. Elevated Plank With Leg Lift (gluteus maximus)

Place the band around the calves. Rest your hands on a bench/step, directly under your shoulders. While maintaining a plank position, squeeze your glutes as you alternately lift each leg. Complete 12-15 repetitions with each leg.


Animal vs. Plant Protein: Which is King of the Fitness and Health World?

June 13, 2017


We were fortunate to grow up in a healthy household (our parents were basically hippies minus the drugs). As such, we ate a mostly plant-based diet and consumed a lot of homemade granola. Our mom insisted that we eat protein at every meal so we would grow and be strong. When a meal didn’t contain animal protein, we got our protein from beans and legumes (what many now refer to as pulses). When we reached middle school, we learned that one of our new friends was a vegan and didn’t consume anything from animals, which made us wonder if the protein she derived from plants was the same as protein from animals.

Today, as registered dietitians, we find that our clients wonder the same thing—is plant protein the same as animal protein? Does the body use them the same way? If you become vegan, can you really get the quality protein that you need? Here are the answers to these questions and more…

Q: First things first. What does your body do with protein?

A: Your body uses protein, which it breaks down into a more useable form called amino acids, for nearly every metabolic process in the body.

Q: Do all proteins contain the same amino acids?

A: Just as all fruits and veggies contain different combinations of phytonutrients, different proteins vary in the types and amount of amino acids they contain. The body uses 20 different amino acids, which are designated as either essential or non-essential proteins. While your body can produce the non-essential amino acids, there are nine essential amino acids that you want to make sure you get from the food you eat. These essential amino acids are needed for the body to function at its best.

Animal proteins (e.g., poultry, fish, meat, dairy products, eggs and seafood) typically contain a good mix of the body’s essential amino acids, while plant proteins (e.g., pulses, nuts and seeds) are known as “incomplete protein” and tend to be low in some essential amino acids such as tryptophan, lycine, methionine and isoleucine.

Q: If plant proteins are low in some essential amino acids, how do vegans get adequate protein to prevent muscle breakdown (and even to build it)?

Because every food contains different amino acids, simply eating a wide variety of foods that contain plant protein throughout the day provides a range of the necessary essential amino acids. Vegans, in particular, should include foods daily from each of the following categories:

  • Pulses (beans and legumes)
  • Grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy

Q: Aside from amino-acid content, are plant and animal proteins the same for your overall health?

A: While animal proteins have a leg up in the protein department because they contain all nine essential amino acids, plant proteins seem to have an advantage when it comes to health benefits. Just as some plant proteins lack certain essential amino acids, some animal protein foods, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy foods (e.g., cheeseburger and a milkshake) are high in saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease when eaten in excess. By contrast, diets that are high in plant protein sources are associated with lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. People who get most of their protein from plant-based sources are likely eating less cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated fat, while also being more likely to be living healthier lifestyles, both of which may attribute a good deal to the link with better health.

Weighing the Benefits

In addition to fiber, some of the winning nutrients in plant-based proteins are antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are not only critical in muscle recovery after a workout, they also protect cells from damage due to aging and help guard cells from disease. Animal proteins do not contain these added benefits.

Animal proteins do have some advantages, however, including vitamin B12, (which you can’t find in plants), heme iron (which is found mainly in meat and is much better absorbed than the non-heme iron found in plants) and often zinc and vitamin D (which are more difficult to get in plant protein foods). All of these nutrients are critical for optimal health.

Here’s some good news: If you eat a healthy diet, you can be a meat eater or a vegetarian and live to be a centenarian. However, because vegetarian diets are associated with added health benefits and a lower risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, most people could benefit by consuming a few more plant-based meals.

If you’re interested in incorporating more meatless meals into your diet, here are a few delicious options to try:

And here are a few healthy animal-based protein recipes worth trying as well:

The Nutrition Twins
The Nutrition Twins ContributorTammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins®, share a passion to teach people how to eat healthfully and exercise so they’ll have energy to live happy lives. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

What Really Causes Muscle Spasms and Cramps?

Research helps explain the cause and best treatment of muscle spasms and cramps

Muscle spasms
Muscle spasms.

If you’ve ever had muscle spasms or muscle cramps, you know they can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm so forcefully that it results in a bruise on the skin. Most muscle spasms and cramps are involuntary contractions of a muscle. A serious muscle spasm doesn’t release on its own and requires manual stretching to help relax and lengthen the shortened muscle. Spasms and cramps can be mild or extremely painful.

While they can happen to any skeletal muscle, they are most common in the legs and feet and muscles that cross two joints (the calf muscle, for example). Cramps can involve part of a muscle or all the muscles in a group. The most commonly affected muscle groups are:

  • Back of lower leg/calf (gastrocnemius).
  • Back of thigh (hamstrings).
  • Front of thigh (quadriceps).
  • Feet, hands, arms, abdomen

Muscle cramps range in intensity from a slight twitch or tic to severe pain. A cramped muscle can feel rock-hard and last a few seconds to several minutes or longer. It is not uncommon for cramps to ease up and then return several times before they go away entirely.

What Causes Muscle Cramps

The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly cited include:

  • Altered neuromuscular control
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte depletion
  • Poor conditioning
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Doing a new activity

Other factors that have been associated with muscle cramps include exercising in extreme heat.

The belief is that muscle cramps are more common during exercise in the heat because sweat contains fluids as well as electrolyte (salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium). When these nutrients fall to certain levels, the incidence of muscle spasms increases. Because athletes are more likely to get cramps in the preseason, near the end of (or the night after) intense or prolonged exercise, some feel that a lack of conditioning results in cramps.

Research Supports Altered Neuromuscular Control as the Cause of Cramps

While all these theories are being studied, researchers are finding more evidence that the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is the principal pathophysiological mechanism the leads to exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC). Altered neuromuscular control is often related to muscle fatigue and results in a disruption of muscle coordination and control.

According to a review of the literature conducted by Martin Schwellnus from the University of Cape Town, the evidence supporting both the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps is not convincing. He reviewed the available literature supporting these theories and found mostly anecdotal clinical observations and one small case-control study with only 10 subjects. He also found another four clinical prospective cohort studies that clearly did not support the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps. In his review, Schwellnus concludes that the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses do not offer plausible pathophysiological mechanisms with supporting scientific evidence that could adequately explain the clinical presentation and management of exercise-associated muscle cramping.

He goes on to write:

“Scientific evidence for the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is based on evidence from research studies in human models of muscle cramping, epidemiological studies in cramping athletes, and animal experimental data. Whilst it is clear that further evidence to support the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is also required, research data are accumulating that support this as the principal pathophysiological mechanism for the aetiology of exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC).”

Treating Muscle Cramps

Cramps usually go away on their own without treatment, but these tips appear to help speed the healing process:

Preventing Muscle Cramps

Until we learn the exact cause of muscle cramps, it will be difficult to say with any confidence how to prevent them. However, these tips are most recommended by experts and athletes alike:

Most muscle cramps are not serious. If your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor.


Cause of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) – altered neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion? M. P. Schwellnus. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009; 43:401-408.

Muscle Cramp. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

  • Stop the activity that caused the cramp.
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle.
  • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops.
  • Improve fitness and avoid muscle fatigue
  • Stretch regularly after exercise
  • Warm up before exercise
  • Stretch the calf muscle: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.
  • Stretch the hamstring muscle: Sit with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)
  • Stretch the quadriceps muscle: While standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.)