I get questions daily from people about my diet and what I eat and don’t eat. The big change that happened in me when it comes to my diet was when I realized I wanted to eat foods that were going to be good for me and nourish my body – not only help me lose weight and stay lean. There are so many diet programs out there that advocate eating prepackaged foods (i.e. processed) full of sodium, sugars and other ingredients I can’t even pronounce just because it’s fast, convenient and low in calories. Many don’t even care what the food items contain as long as they are losing weight, but then they are missing the bigger picture. Sticking to a diet is what is the most difficult for most people and if you are going to be on a ‘diet’ of foods you don’t even want to eat or makes you feel good or satisfied, chances are you will go right back to your bad habits. This is why I don’t even like the word “diet”, because for me that word evokes deprivation, a temporary situation or even worse, discomfort and suffering. I know, pretty bleak right? I prefer to use “nutrition program” and so here we go with what I consume on a daily basis first:
1. Skim milk.
From my morning oatmeal to my evening cup of fat free hot coc0a, I tend to add skim milk into a lot of my daily meals. There are many people who don’t believe that dairy is good for you mainly because it has been blamed as a factor for weight gain and heart disease. Milk drinkers however do tend to have better nutrition and an 8 ounce glass of milk provides 30% of the recommended daily value of calcium. I always pick milk from cows that have been fed organic feed and not given antibiotics or growth hormones. A recent study also found that calcium from dairy foods changes the way the body burns fat, increasing the metabolism of fat. Fat free milk is high in protein, calcium and B vitamins. Hey, that’s good enough reason for me to keep drinking that one glass of milk every day! I happened to have found a type of skim milk that has only half of the calories than regular skim milk (i.e. 45 calories per cup), without compromising any of the nutrients! Photo below:
2. Low-fat Cottage Cheese
Oooh, I cannot live without this item! I very often eat cottage cheese as my afternoon snack, as it’s both filling and full of protein. I eat it either sprinkled with some cinnamon and sliced almonds, topped with fresh fruits, or mixed with cocoa powder and stevia for a “nauhty treat” feeling. It works! I also include cottage cheese in my pancakes for breakfast, and it’s delicious! I regularly purchase this one that has additional fiber also:
3. Ezekiel bread products – sliced bread and English muffins
If you don’t know of this product yet, run out and buy some now! It’s truly an amazing bread product, and you can usually find it in the freezer section of your supermarket or health food store. They store it in the freezer so it won’t go bad, as they are rich in nutrients but low in preservatives, so mold grows on them very quickly unlike most bread you see in supermarkets nowadays which can last on the shelf for weeks without going bad… isn’t that a bit … frightening?? At any rate, I choose the sprouted grain, lower sodium version of the breads whenever possible, and I also enjoy their English muffins. Sprouted grains is like eating a whole plant – combining the nutrients of a grain with that of a green vegetable. Some breads also include sprouted legumes; some have no flour; some are made without yeast. Basically these products are made with ingredients as unrefined as possible, and they also tend to have a low glycemic index and are low in saturated fats. Sprouted grain or whole wheat English muffins are a great, high-fiber replacement for white bread English muffins, and much more satisfying! I love having this staple on hand for a quick breakfast (with a tbsp of peanut butter and half of a sliced banana), lunch or dinner. Keep these in the freezer also and pop them right in the toaster from the freezer. I enjoy my Ezekiel breads most often for lunch, either spread with some hummus, cucumbers and olives or in a turkey and low fat cheese sandwich with lettuce, tomato and mustard. Here are a couple of photos of these amazing creations – no need to fear carbs any longer after discovering these babies!
I enjoy nuts in all sizes and shapes (get your mind out of the gutter, people), and in practically any meal of the day. As a topping for my oatmeal or quark/yogurt parfait in the morning, sprinkled in my salads for lunch or dinner and a handful of these delicious items after my workouts or in the evening with my cup of tea as an additional snack. The nuts I most frequently eat are almonds, walnuts, cashews and pistachios (always unsalted and in their raw form), less frequently pecans and brazil nuts because they are very high in fat so be careful when deciding on these for snacks. A mistake some people make however, is thinking that fat is ‘bad’ when you are on a diet. They aren’t – but you need to measure them (unlike vegetables) and as long as you eat GOOD fats in limited amounts such as nuts, seeds as in sunflower and pumpkin, avocados and olive oil, they can be, and are a vital, nutritious addition to your diet. Fat is required for the digestion and absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It helps maintain skin and hair and regulate body temperature and plays a role in the immune system. We need fats in our food – but we need to choose them wisely. Let’s take almonds for instance; low in carbohydrates and more than half of their carbohydrate content by weight, is dietary fiber. Though they are rich in fat, it is monounsaturated fat, and they are also rich in vitamin E, the form most easily absorbed by the human body. They provide calcium, magnesium and potassium, which promote cardiovascular health. I love almonds so much I even spread almond butter on my celery sticks for a healthy afternoon snack or dip a sliced apple in some 🙂
5. Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder is a product or by-product made during the cheese making process, and with the advancement of technology one has access to the purest form of whey protein powders, commonly referred to as isolates, which you can implement within your daily diet to not only provide you with that added energy and boost, but also for overall health and well being. Unless you work out vigorously, this might not be a necessary addition to your diet if you eat correctly and make sure you get sufficient protein in your regular food intake. It is by no means vital to supplement unless you are looking to enhance or maximize muscle growth. For me, I have two opposing goals as I have mentioned in my previous posts. I want to increase muscle size, but at the same time I want to improve my stamina and physical endurance while training for a half marathon. This implies a lot of cardio which “eats” away at your muscles and potentially can hinder them from growing. Thus, it is very important for me to have some additional protein (as well as calories) “just in case” right after my workout. My trainer says I have about a 30 minute window right after I am done with my work out to get these proteins in me, as the body has the best ability to absorb these nutrients in this time frame. The body ‘eats’ the proteins and facilitates the muscle development. So I either mix a spoonful in a shake or some water, or I add it into my oatmeal in the morning as an additional source of fuel before I hit the gym.It’s important to note that while it is an important supplement to the body for gaining lean muscle, it is to be taken as a SUPPLEMENT to a well balanced diet, not in place of!
6. Oatmeal and wheat bran
I start most my mornings with these two guys. I often go to bed dreaming about my hot, steaming bowl filled with them – that’s how much I love it! Oatmeal provides soluble fiber, which has shown to lower cholesterol, and in turn lowering the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that eating 3 grams of soluble fiber per day can help some people lower their cholesterol levels by 8-23%. Wheat bran takes the fiber cake containing and impressive six grams per quarter cup. I usually eat 1/2 cup of oatmeal with 1/2 cup of wheat bran, mix in about 2 tbsp of flax seed, and this keeps me full for hours! Top it off with some cinnamon, chopped nuts, bananas, sliced fruits or berries and it’s even better. So simple to make and they also are known to possess some external soothing properties, because they provide some special antioxidants. Make sure you store your oats away from heat, light and moisture to avoid them from going rancid. I always buy old fashioned oats, never instant – the latter tend to be packed with salt and sugar.
7. Bananas, bell peppers and onions
Most mornings I work out with my trainer, it’s too early to eat before I leave, and I don’t like working out on a full stomach. It is important to have something however, so I will usually just have a banana on my way with my morning coffee. Because bananas are so sweet, they have gotten a bad reputation among the low-carb fans. But they are incredibly rich in potassium and vital for regulating blood pressure and also can help preventing muscle cramps. If you are troubled by an acid stomach, bananas can also be of aid. They are famous for befriending irritable intestines, alleviating both diarrhea and constipation. One medium banana provides more potassium by weight than practically any other fruit. One banana contains about 105 calories, 15 g o carbohydrates, 1.2 g protein, 0.5 g fat and 2.7 g dietary fiber in addition to potassium, calcium and magnesium.
When it comes to bell peppers, I eat them in most colors but very often red. They are a good source of vitamin A and C, beta-carotene and folic acid and provide support for eyes against retinal degeneration. Peppers are very low in calories, high in fiber and 93% water by weight. They are one of the best vegetables for sustained release of hydration into the system. I have them in my sandwiches, salads and stir fry them along with other veggies. I also roast them over an open flame, which gives them that delicious charred flavor. Roasted peppers can be pureed into flavorful, low-fat soups and also mixed in with low fat mayo or mustard as a delicious spread on sandwiches.
Onions add flavor to most dishes, and they are a very good source of vitamin C and chromium, as well as manganese, vitamin B6, folate, potassium and cooper. They also contain quercetin, an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory that may spell relief for hay fever sufferers . Eating onions and other Allium vegetables regularly is associated with a lowered incidence of several types of cancer. The chromium in onions is essential to the proper metabolism of sugar, so people at risk for diabetes may benefit from consuming this vegetable. Another sulfur compound in onions may help prevent the absorption of bone, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. The sharper the onion, the more phenols and flavonoids it has, and more likely to have a positive effect on your health. So don’t be afraid of crying around these guys, it could be well worth it!
8. Cinnamon and mustard
What on earth would I do without these two spices and flavoring agents?! They certainly make their way into my dishes on a daily basis, regardless of what I’m eating! Cinnamon is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds and is also recommended to treat indigestion, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea and flatulence. In one study, eating a gram of cinnamon per day appeared to reduce fasting blood glucose concentration and improve the blood lipid profile in patients with type 2 diabetes. I enjoy cinnamon in both savory and sweet dishes – a bit of cinnamon in a stew gives it a definite middle Eastern touch, and cinnamon in desserts.. well, I don’t need to sell you guys on that! Calorie free but bursting with flavor, how can you not love this spice? I even put cinnamon in my cocktails, but that’s material for my other blog… 🙂
Mustard is a great alternative to mayonnaise as a flavoring agent, both in sandwiches and dips, and virtually calorie free but packed full of flavor and “kick”. A gram of mustard contains only 4.3 calories and contain no cholesterol, only trace amounts of vegetable fat and is between 25-32% protein, depending on the variety of the plant. Leaf mustard contains calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamin B. When I went through my one week of the “Fighter Diet” (Refer to previous post), I added 1/4 cup of spicy brown mustard into my stir fry, and was surprised at how it changed the dish (to the better!) and I really felt it helped digest the meal better as well. Of course after I spent some time in Burgundy last summer and the town of Dijon was close by, I went crazy mustard shopping and have labeled myself a bit of a ‘mustard snob’, although most brands out there will do the trick if you’re only after that straight- forward flavor profile of mustard. P.S. The yellow color comes from the spice turmeric, one of my favorite spices and can be found in many Indian dishes.
Spices of ANY kind is a fantastic way to turn your every day (and healthy of course!) dishes into exciting, flavorful and nutritious meals. They contain no calories, and it’s a mystery to me why not more people turn to these helpful items for assistance when dieting. I love them in all shapes, colors and sizes – and have a ton in my house. Here’s a couple of shots of my spice rack in my house, but there are tons more hiding in all creeks and corners of the kitchen! Read up about all the spices available, research recipes you can make with them and I promise you, you are in for a real treat!
9. Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower and Spinach
These cruciferous cousins are packed with nutrients, high in water content and thus low in calories and make a perfect addition to any meal either sauteed, steamed, stir-fried, roasted or even raw. I make it a point out of including at least one or two or all of them with my lunch and /or dinner every single day. My first love affair with these vegetables happened a few years ago when I had been reading up about the “Volumetrics Diet”, which basically tells you to fill up on low calorie, but nutrient dense foods such as these to help feel fuller on fewer calories and still feel satisfied. I have to say it really works! I’m a girl with a big appetite, who loves to eat – always was, and always will be. The point about finding the right “nutrition program” for you, is to find out what works best for YOU and YOUR body.
Broccoli may be one of the most powerful cancer-fighting vegetables around. Broccoli is a great source of the vitamins A, C, K and folic acid as well as fiber. It’s also a good source of the minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium as well as vitamins B6 and E and provides some selenium as well. Make sure not to overcook your broccoli, as some of the vitamins and minerals will disappear through cooking (especially when boiling).
Spinach, as well as chard, collards & kale are delicious sauteed with garlic and olive oil (use oil sparingly), and great in soups, providing cancer fighting anti-oxidants called beta-carotene. It is the chlorophyll in the leaves of these vegetables that provide the protection against cancer when broken down in our digestive system. Spinach contains vitamins A, C and K; and B vitamins including folate and riboflavin; and the minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, coppers, phosphorous, zinc and selenium. Rich in anti-oxidants as stated above, it even provides some omega-3 fatty acids. Frozen spinach is one of the few vegetables I would eat frozen in addition to fresh (although fresh is of course preferable – from the farmer’s market even better) and is a great convenience food for when you need it as a side dish to a meal or adding it into an omelet or stir fry. A quarter cup of orange sections or sliced strawberries in a spinach salad will add the vitamin C that helps your body absorb the iron in spinach. Make sure if cooking spinach, to only perform a quick steam as opposed to a long boil, to help retain nutrients, texture and flavor.
Brussel sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, beta-carotene and fiber. They can also be very good for supporting the health of your colon. I love buying brussel sprouts in their original state at the farmer’s market, when they are attached to a 2-3 foot stalk. When I worked as a cook in an Italian restaurant for two minutes a few years ago, we used to slice raw brussel sprouts really thin, mix it with olive oil, parmesan cheese and lots of cracked pepper and served it as an antipasto. Simply heavenly!
Cauliflower, like its other members of the cruciferous family, has been shown to help reduce the risk of many types of cancers, including lung, colon, breast, ovarian and bladder cancers. Cauliflower is very high in vitamin C and a moderate source for B vitamins folate B6, and pantothenic acid. It’s also a good source of fiber. One of my favorite ways to serve cauliflower is to make “fake mashed potatoes” – boil them gently for a few minutes, mash them with some skim milk and fat free half and half, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and some shaved nutmeg. I swear I don’t even miss the fat loaded mashed potatoes I used to make before!!
Now, this is one daily item that does not provide me with any nutrition what so ever, but it certainly keeps me away from consuming the sugar loaded, sodium, fat filled and MUCH unhealthier foods that I, like most other people, sometimes find myself craving. Thus, it helps me stay on track with my daily calorie allotment, maintaining my weight while still being allowed to satisfy my ‘sweet tooth’. The definition of erythritol from wikipedia reads as follows:
Erythritol ((2R,3S)-butane-1,2,3,4-tetraol) is a natural sugar alcohol (a type of sugar substitute) which has been approved for use in the United States and throughout much of the world. It occurs naturally in fruits and fermented foods . At the industrial level, it is produced from glucose by fermentation with a yeast, Moniliella pollinis. It is 60–70% as sweet as table sugar yet it is almost non-caloric, does not affect blood sugar, does not cause tooth decay, and is absorbed by the body, therefore unlikely to cause gastric side effects unlike other sugar alcohols. Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements, it has a caloric value of 0.2 calories per gram (95% less than sugar and other carbohydrates), though nutritional labelling varies from country to country—some countries like Japan label it as zero-calorie, while European Union regulations currently label it and all other sugar alcohols at 2.4 kcal/g. In the body, erythritol is absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine, and then for the most part excreted unchanged in the urine. Because erythritol is normally absorbed before it enters the large intestine, it does not normally cause laxative effects as are often experienced after over-consumption of other sugar alcohols (such as xylitol and maltitol) and most people will consume erythritol with no side effects. This is a unique characteristic, as other sugar alcohols are not absorbed directly by the body in this manner, and consequently are more prone to causing gastric distress .
I don’t consume any artificial sweetener other than the above, because I do believe this natural product is a lot better than most artificial products out there. I like the fact that Organic Zero does not contain aspartame (which I won’t ever eat if I know a food contains this). Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, is an excitotoxin, a chemical that may cause permanent damage to our brain’s appetite center. Check out the website for the Organic Zero products for more information on my preferred choice of calorie free sweetener.
Taken everything above into consideration, I would recommend using sweetener of any kind with care. Ingesting artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame/Splenda/Equal/Sweet n’Low, etc.) on a regular basis has been shown to interfere with people’s attempts to regulate calorie intake, because they no longer associate that sweet flavor with calories. In Jillian Michaels‘ latest (and might I add very informative and excellent) book “Master Your Metabolism” she explains:
“Just as we can have mental and emotional associations with certain tastes, our bodies have caloric associations with tastes. Normally, when we eat sugar, our body registers sweetness and comes to understand that very sweet things mean lots of calories. However, when we repeatedly drink diet soda, this understanding breaks down – your appetite says, “Okay, here’s the sweetness, but there aren’t many calories – that must mean I have to eat a lot of sweet things to get my needed calories.” The next time you’re given something sweet to eat, your body doesn’t recognize how many calories they hold, so you overeat them. And then in contrast to those people who ate sugar to begin with, you don’t make up for those excess calories by eating less at later meals.” (end quote). Makes sense, right?
So be mindful of sprinkling all your dishes with this white stuff, even though it doesn’t contain the same calories the DEVIL (real sugar).. but allow yourself to add it into your favorite dessert or baked goods once in a while!
11. Shirataki noodles and cabbage
I learned about shirataki noodles through my mentor and idol, Pauline Nordin, and through her Fighter Diet, and recently this has become my every day staple. Shirataki noodles, also aptly named “Miracle Noodles”, can be made either from yams or tofu. Made from the former, they are calorie free (yes, that is correct) and provides about 2-3 g of fiber. The tofu kind contains 20 calories per 4 oz, so one package totals a whopping 40 calories – not anything to worry about! They are usually located in the refrigerated section of the supermarket /health food store, as they are stored in liquid. They can be a bit ‘fishy smelling’ right out of the package, so you will need to rinse them under hot water for about 3 minutes, and they are ready to eat, and aroma free. Although not the most nutritious type of food, it does add a ‘starch’ feeling to the meal and is fabulous for stir-frying with cabbage and other vegetables, or in a soup or even as an Italian pasta dish with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese! Check out this site for more information and places to buy. Cabbage belongs to the cruciferous family as explained under #9, and have much the same nutrients and benefits. As a Norwegian, we like to eat sauerkraut and sauteed red cabbage too (in a sweet and sour marinade) which is a flavorful, delicious side dish.
That concludes my post of foods I consume on a daily basis – look out for my next post where I will detail foods I eat in more moderate portions and less frequently, but that are still great for you! Happy eating!
** It should be noted that in the above I’ve quoted extensively from and referred to the book “The 2oo SuperFoods That Will Save Your Life” by Deborah A. Klein, M.S., RD in a lot of the points above and I highly recommend this book!