Thanks for Your Concern, but I'm Not Here to Burn off the Guilt From Eating

Last week was my birthday (!) and I received lots of birthday messages from random email lists I've signed up for over the years. Most were what you would expect - celebratory messages, some included discounts, but others came with a tinge of guilt.

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Yay. Lucky me! Thanks for the "happy" birthday wishes...not really. Also, I would burn calories for those 36 hours after anyway, workout or not, because I am living and I burn calories every second of every day. I know, they are talking about high intensity workouts, building muscle, and their combined effects on calorie burn after a workout, but even that doesn't result in a high calorie burn post exercise that would amount to much when it comes to total calorie intake. So, my question is, why the guilt trip? Why is there an assumption that I, or anyone else, would feel guilty about eating cake ON THEIR BIRTHDAY. They shouldn't, I shouldn't, and you shouldn't. 

Let me break this down...

Yes, Exercise and Nutrition are Connected

Exercise and nutrition are connected and that goes without saying, but they aren't connected because we need to be punished for eating or feel guilty for eating. No. They are connected because we MUST eat to move our bodies. It is a fact that calories are needed to survive and to allow for movement. The end. There is no reason to feel guilty about eating calories...ever because without them we wouldn't survive. Yes, there is a science to nutrition and sports performance. It's also known that the timing of certain categories of nutrients makes a significant impact on sports performance. However, this isn't about that, this specifically points to foods eaten up to 36 hours after working out which literally have nothing to do with the workout itself or performance during a workout. The two aren't connected.

Exercise is More Than a Calorie Burn

Exercise isn't just about calories and I might argue, it really isn't much at all about calories. What is it about?

Exercise is...

  • a stress reliever
  • a mood booster
  • an energy booster

Exercise strengthens muscles including our very important muscles of the heart and lungs.

Exercise helps us maintain our bone density as we age and improves balance.

Exercise boosts our HDL cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, lowers blood pressure and helps in lowering blood sugar.

Exercise helps us sleep.

Exercise is also a way to meet others, a way to challenge ourselves, to set goals and accomplish them. It's a way to enjoy the wilderness or see a city.  Exercise allows us to take a break from our computers, phones, and work.

Exercise is so much more than a calorie burn.  

How Many Calories Did You Burn? It's complicated.

The science of calorie burn during exercise isn't as straight forward as the numbers on the cardio machine have you believe. Calories burned varies from person to person and often, people overestimate calories burned in a single exercise session. There's also some evidence that the number of calories burned might plateau with increased exercise. Additionally, the type, intensity, and duration of exercise influences the calorie burn. It's also a fact that physical activity in general does not contribute much to total calories burned throughout the day for the average person. The majority of calories burned are due to the basal metabolic rate to the tune of 2/3 of total calories. And, there are many other factors influencing metabolism including age, sex, body composition, weight history, and more. If you want to read more on this, check out this article in EatingWell by a fellow dietitian (I'm quoted!). 

Separate Calories and Exercise

I tell you all of this not so that you will start thinking about calories when it comes to exercise, but more so that you will stop. In other words, don't exercise because you ate and don't exercise in anticipation of eating. You should choose to eat foods that help you feel your best. Sometimes that means eating food to give you energy before working out and sometimes that means choosing to eat after a workout to help you recover and repair muscle. But don't use exercise as a punishment for any calorie you have consumed. 

And if it is your birthday, enjoy your cake AND your workout without feeling guilty about skipping or indulging in either one! 

Fruits and Vegetables: It's Not a Competition

It's fair to say that reading a list of the "healthiest berries" or a list of "vegetables you didn't know were bad for you" really makes me feel crazy. I've seen countless articles like this in the popular media and each has a common goal - clicks. Articles uncovering hidden dangers in our food are one of the most common ways websites will grab your attention when it comes to nutrition and wellness. Right alongside these hidden dangers are lists of the healthiest fruits and vegetables that inevitably fail to mention that ALL fruits and vegetables have benefits. They also conveniently leave out the fact that nutrients are found in varying amounts in plants because they are different plants. That is the way it works and also one of the top reasons variety in the diet is key. It's a formula for nutrition articles that is likely never to stop, unfortunately. 

All fruits and vegetables are good for you.

Here's the thing: all fruits and vegetables are good for you. So, unless you're allergic or have an intolerance, you should be eating more. Why? Because if you're reading this then I would place my bet on the fact that you are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. The average American doesn't reach the recommended amount daily. As in...9 out of 10 of you do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. That is a shockingly high number! 

9 out of 10 Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables daily.

I once had someone reach out to me to ask which berry she should be eating because she read that some were healthier than others and my response was, eat the one that is #1 accessible and #2 delicious. For example, it really doesn't matter if you eat a blueberry or a strawberry or a raspberry. You eat a berry because all berries are known sources of antioxidants, they all contain fiber, and they all have vitamins that are beneficial to your health. So don't avoid buying the strawberries because some list told you they weren't as healthy as the blueberries. Just buy the berries that are readily available, fit your budget, and the ones you will actually enjoy eating. 

Instead of focusing on the completely normal differences in nutrients between varieties of fruits and vegetables, focus on increasing the amount of the fruits and vegetables in your diet. Don't rank your fruits and vegetables unless you're ranking them by taste or quantity in your diet.

There isn't a competition. They ALL win. (but only if you eat them!)

 

 

Who are the Everyday Athletes?

Everyday athletes are running their first race, they’re trying new fitness trends, they’re in the boutique fitness studios, or they’re hitting the hiking trails. Some are signing up for their first 5K while others are planning to race in long distance, endurance events like marathons and full Ironman races. They’re not Olympians or NFL players, they’re not collegiate or masters athletes…they’re the everyday athlete hitting the fitness studio and crossing the finish line.

With this comes unique challenges in performance fueling. The everyday athlete’s energy needs are vastly different from the professional athlete.

But sports nutrition messaging rarely differentiates.

Sports beverages and performance fueling supplements are marketed to the general population, but meant for the professional. This doesn’t mean the everyday athletes don’t require special attention to performance fueling. It simply means the approach must meet their needs in the fitness studio, on the race course, and in their daily life (like at the desk job).

If you’re an everyday athlete then I’m here to help you fuel for performance in the studio and on the street. I’ll help you understand your energy needs, learn how to manage your nutrition for your everyday life, and enable you to perform at your max with proper fueling. Want to learn more?

Let's connect! allisonknott@anewtrition.com 

Food Tips for Any Airport in the Country

In the dreams of food-lovers around the world, all airports would be a food oasis. I imagine a market hall like you might find in Manhattan or LA when I think perfect airport food. Multiple options, plenty of healthy choices if you want them, and all prepared by skilled chefs. End of that daydream…I just left Newark Airport as I write this and if you’re familiar with it then you know it’s the opposite of a fancy food market. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a travel expert, but my job sends me on the road enough for me to have developed survival skills for frequent travel. Am I perfect? No, this is the person who has dipped potato chips into buffalo sauce in an airport sandwich shop. I may be a dietitian, but I am a human, too. Is that something I do every time I’m in an airport? Not a chance. I frequent them way too often to make that a habit. The point is, if you’re regularly on the road, it’s a good idea to make airports fit as an extension of your everyday, healthy habits, not a place where you forget how you’ll feel if you chug beers and eat salty snacks before every flight.

Start with Hydration
Make it a habit to bring an empty water bottle with you (no liquids in security, don’t say I didn’t warn you) or be ready to purchase a water in the terminal. No excuses on this one. Hydrate well when flying because dehydration is almost inevitable unless you’re focused on avoiding it. This is especially true if you do decide you’re having a drink before your flight. Flying plus alcohol and no water equals feeling absolutely terrible when you land.

Pack a Snack
Sometimes it’s not always reasonable to pack your own snacks, but if you find yourself feeling really on top of things then don’t hold back. From experience, I know containers of fruits and vegetables are easy to store in a purse or bag and they make it through security without issue. Granola bars, packets of dry cereal, trail mix, and cheese sticks are all excellent choices that travel well and are much less expensive if purchased outside of the airport.

Get Creative
Packing snacks isn't always practical, I get it, but that doesn't mean eating well is out of the question. Consider these tips to get your through:

1.       Create your own parfait with plain yogurt, lower sugar granola, and fresh fruit. Use a cup from a coffee stand to mix it up. It works and will be much lower in sugar than the pre-made options in the cooler case.

2.       Snack boxes are a great option, but sometimes they’re too heavy on the cheese and have limited protein and fruit/vegetables. Build your own with improved portions: cheese stick, fruit cup, hard-boiled egg, and whole grain crackers. You’ll eat less cheese, more fruit, and likely add a whole grain where you didn’t have one before.

3.       Explore the “healthy snack” section of the food stand. This is almost sure to exist and there are a lot of great options available now that snack companies are realizing we want (and need!) healthier options. Just a few of my favorites include KIND Nuts & Spices bars, Made Good granola bites, Harvest Snaps pea crisps, and Sahale trail mixes. And fruit. You can't go wrong with an apple or banana. 

4.       Skip the bottles of “pressed” juice or other smoothie-like drinks. They sure look nutritious and have the claims on their labels to make you believe it’s true, but most are just glorified apple juice. If you’re worried about keeping up your immune system while traveling then choose a piece of actual fruit, eat some veggies, drink plenty of water, and keep your hands washed. Those three things will go a much longer way in preventing you from getting sick than an overpriced juice drink.

Happy travels!

 

Fig and Ricotta Pancakes

When I was a child, I took piano lessons in a sweet woman's home. Outside the door was a fig tree and I'm not sure which I remember more...the piano notes or the taste of freshly picked figs. I'm still debating on the idea of adding a fig tree to my tiny Brooklyn apartment. Maybe I will settle for fig pancakes instead.

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What's great about pancakes is they're REALLY hard to mess up. Dry plus liquid, add egg and baking powder, cook and there you have it...a pancake. What I'm trying to say is this isn't an exact science, so make them how you like them. Don't want figs? Fine, add another fruit. This your show. 

Ingredients
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 cup fresh figs, sliced 

Preparation
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add eggs, milk, and ricotta. Mix until incorporated. Heat a small amount of butter or oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add your desired amount of pancake mix to the pan and immediately top with sliced figs. Note: I pressed the figs into the pancake batter in the pan to make sure they didn't fall out while flipping. Allow to cook until slightly browned on one side. Flip and cook through. Makes about 6-8 pancakes (6in diameter).

Watermelon Feta Salad with Olives

I hear Labor Day is the signal for the end of summer, so naturally I'm obsessed with all of the summer produce. Watermelons, tomatoes, corn, berries. I want it all. With the recent move to Brooklyn and regular excursions to the New Jersey countryside, I've had plenty of opportunities to stop at farm stands, most of which are run on the honor system where you pay for what you take by dropping money into a bucket at the stand.

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The first watermelon was so delicious that I had to find a second. But I didn't want to make another watermelon, feta salad, I wanted something different. Luckily I remembered this insane (delicious) salad I had in New Orleans at the James Beard Award Winning Shaya on Magazine Street. (Check out their menu and definitely go if you're in town.) Watermelon, Bulgarian feta, green olives, chermoula. I left the fancy food for the award-winning restaurant and stuck to what I know which meant Whole Foods brand feta, a side of the road watermelon, Trader Joe's olives, and a modified version of chermoula. 

Lesson: You don't have to be fancy to make good food. Leave the fancy for the restaurants and experiment in the kitchen with what you have!

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Ingredients
1 small watermelon, cubed and seeds removed (about 6 cups)
3 tbsp fresh, chopped mint
1 tbsp fresh, chopped parsley
1 tbsp fresh, chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped olives*
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Preparation
Cube and remove seeds from watermelon. Chop herbs and olives. Add all ingredients to a bowl and toss.

*I used Trader Joe's marinated olives with lemon and herbs. If you don't have lemon marinated olives then add lemon juice and zest from 1/2 lemon to the recipe.  

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Why I'll Never Tell You to Drink Juice to Lose Weight

I love a good, green juice. I purchase juice from local juice bars and I enjoy it, I won't deny that, but I will never tell you to drink juice for weight loss. Nor will I tell you to drink juice to cleanse, detox, to cure your cold, or speed up your metabolism. 

The belief that juice can cleanse your body is a mainstay in the popular health conversation and many latch on to the idea with a type of emotional desire for juice to be the answer to every physical and mental problem they've ever encountered. (Like on Instagram when you see a post of a green juice paired with an inspirational quote and someone standing on the side of a mountain solving all their problems.) All joking aside, I understand how juice has a health halo. Walk into a juice bar and you just feel healthy. It's the kind of feeling you get when you walk into a farmers market or step foot on an organic farm. Maybe it's all the fresh produce, the colors, the smell, the fact that we rarely see that many fruits and vegetables in one spot in our day-to-day lives. But then you see the claims written on the wall (actually written on the wall) and in the pamphlets - "Juicing is a great way to lose weight!" or "Juicing will detox your body and increase your energy!" ugh. 

Let's break it down. Fresh juice is a concentrated source of nutrients. Logically this makes sense. You take a few pounds of any fruit or vegetable and press it into juice then yes, you will end up with a liquid that is packed with nutrients and some of those may even be more bioavailable. You'll also end up with a liquid that is a concentrated source of calories. The missing component? Fiber. Arguably one of the most important nutrients when it comes to weight loss. Fiber contributes to satiety, it helps to keep you full, plays a role in the prevention of chronic disease, and more research is showing the important connection between fiber and the gut microbiome. Curious to learn more? See links below:

Article 1: "...a high-fiber content diet stimulates variations in the gut microbiota towards performing several beneficial functions such as protection from inflammation, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure."

Article 2: "A handful of studies have shown that people who eat more fiber have a greater diversity in their microflora—and having greater diversity means these individuals have more varied types of bacteria strains residing in their gut..." 

Juice and the Promise of Detox

There is no scientific evidence to support the need to go on a juice cleanse to detox the body. What we do know is that there are toxins in our environment (exotoxins) and there are toxins created by normal processes in our bodies (endotoxins). Fortunately for us, the healthy human body is efficient in removing toxins via sweat, urine, respiration, and stool. We also have these important organs called the kidneys and liver that aid in detoxification processes.

A juice cleanse is not going to enhance the detoxification process and in fact, some argue it could hurt the natural detox processes already in place. For example, if we know that foods with fiber also contain prebiotics that are beneficial in feeding the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract then wouldn't it make sense that eliminating those sources of prebiotics may negatively impact the gut microbiome which in turn leads to impaired gastrointestinal function? 

Simply put, if you're concerned about toxins in your environment then begin to identify the ones of most concern and take steps to eliminate them. Are you eating too much added sugar? Then move away from the processed foods with added sugar and more toward whole foods. Do you drink too much alcohol? Do you smoke? Are you not exercising as much as you should? Do you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats? All of these questions are important when it comes to a natural detox. It's about supporting your health with the foods you eat and the life you live on a consistent basis. It isn't about going on a juice cleanse for five days and then right back to your toxic habits. Avoid the "cleanse" and work to build healthier habits to have a greater impact over the long-term. 

If I'm Not Doing a Juice Cleanse - What Am I Doing?

Now that we all agree to avoid juice cleanses, what's next? This may sound counter intuitive, but if you love juice, drink it! Just make it a part of your total diet, not the sole component. Even better, if you want a drinkable fruit then try a smoothie. Smoothies include the entire fruit (hello fiber!) and they're still packed with nutrients. You can add veggies like spinach, sweet potatoes, kale, or even squash for a nutrient and fiber boost. But be sure to avoid the added sugar like honey and other syrups and stick to the natural sweetness of fruit. The key is to make drinking juice and/or smoothies a part of your diet while still eating whole fruits and vegetables. 

 

 

Black Bean Vegetable Burgers

Veggie burgers are a meatless meal go-to. They're packed with fiber (read: filling), easy to make, and bonus(!) they freeze well making for a quick and easy lunch or dinner. These burgers could also be renamed "kitchen sink burgers" since many of the ingredients can be exchanged for whatever you have in the fridge or cabinet. No squash? No problem. Use zucchini or eggplant. No peppers? Use carrots or asparagus. Oats can be exchanged for bread crumbs and the cilantro can be swapped for parsley or even basil. Be sure to keep the ratios consistent for a burger that holds well in the pan and on the bun.  

Ingredients
2 tbsp.    olive oil or canola oil
½ each    large yellow squash, roughly chopped
½ each    red bell pepper, roughly chopped
½ cup      button mushrooms, roughly chopped
½ tsp       sea salt
1 tsp        ground black pepper
1 can        low sodium black beans, rinsed
3 each     garlic cloves
½ bunch  cilantro
½ each     lime juice plus zest
1 ½ cup     old fashioned oats
1 each       large egg

Preparation
In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil over medium heat. Add squash, bell pepper, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Sauté until al dente and most of the water has evaporated (about 15 minutes). While the vegetables are cooking, add black beans, garlic, oats, cilantro, lime juice, and lime zest to a food processor. Add cooked vegetables and pulse until all ingredients are combined. Add egg and continue to pulse until fully incorporated. Form into patties.  (makes 8 patties)
Heat 1 tbsp. oil in pan over medium heat. Add patties and cook 5 minutes on each side or until browned and cooked through. 

Build on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and your choice of spread.

Tip: Burgers can be frozen between layers of parchment paper. When ready to cook, simply thaw and heat oil in a pan to cook on each side until cooked through. 
 

Easy Herb Pizza Crust

Easy and bread are two words I rarely put in the same sentence, but there are exceptions to every rule. Case in point, this pizza crust. It's literally the procrastinators dream. No time to let a dough rise? No problem. Just put all ingredients in a stand mixer, turn on, and let form a dough ball. Roll it out, top, and pizza is in the oven.

Ingredients
3/4 cup lukewarm water plus 2 tbsp
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil

Preparation
Add lukewarm water and yeast to a bowl and let foam. About 5 minutes. Add flour, olive oil, salt, and herbs. Mix using a dough hook in a stand mixer or with a wooden spoon. If using a wooden spoon, dump all ingredients onto a clean counter and knead 5 - 10 times until formed. If using a dough hook and a stand mixer, mix until a dough ball is formed. Put onto parchment paper or a well-floured pan, roll, and top with pizza toppings. 

Note: This dough makes a cracker-thin crust.

4 Tips for Staying Healthy (and sane) on a Business Trip

I’m saying it – business travel can wreck your health. In fact, a major shift in your day-to-day has the potential to create a stress response that’s significant enough to damage your mental, physical, short-term, and long-term health. It’s all impacted. The question then is how to avoid the negative consequences of a hectic lifestyle. (Hint: it’s possible)


It has taken me a long time to figure out how to feel good while on the road. At first it was all survival mode. Make the flight, don’t get lost, and show up looking somewhat presentable. Repeat. It’s safe to say those early days of travel were not my high points. But, just like you become a pro at getting through the security line at the airport, you also become a pro of taking care of you while on the road. I’m sharing a few of my top tips to make healthy travel a reality. 


Pack with Activity in Mind
Exercise gear is not an option. I stick to a carry-on, but my sneakers are the first thing to go in the bag. Sometimes it may feel a little ambitious to throw an extra couple pairs of leggings or sports bras into the mix, but for me it’s important to have the gear available no matter what. Excuses are no longer an option.


Be Creative in your Food Choices
The food environment on the road can be a serious challenge, but I’m living proof that it isn’t impossible to eat well at any point during the trip. The key? Creativity. Whether you’re faced with a fast food restaurant, a gas station, or an oasis of healthy options, creativity is a must. Here are a few of my top tips:

  1. Pack snacks in your carry-on. This includes disposable containers or fruits and vegetables, granola bars, packets of peanut butter, etc. I’ve eaten fresh figs out of a Tupperware container while waiting to board a plane. Make it happen!
  2. If you’re driving, find a grocery store at your destination and stock the mini-fridge in the hotel with produce like baby carrots and tomatoes, and snacks like hummus, cheese, and yogurt. You can also stock-up on snacks suitable to leave in the car such as bars, dried fruit, trail mix, veggie crisps, etc. Check out the list below for a few of my favorite travel snacks.
  3. Eating dinner out every night can be a challenge for good nutrition, but it isn’t impossible. Think color. Vegetables must always make their way to your plate. Even if you order fries, ask for a side salad or opt for a veggie burger instead of a beef burger. It’s easy to look at a business dinner as an opportunity for a “treat” after a long, hard day at work, but be mindful of what you really want. Indulge on the food that sounds the best, but build the rest of your meal with nutrient-rich options.  


Get Moving
Cities are a perfect place to try new fitness classes. For example, some of the best spin studios are in the bigger cities and I’m always going to find a way to sneak a class into my travel schedule. Visiting a smaller town? Don’t stress. Find a park or a downtown space with sidewalks and head out for a walk or run. Finally, hotel gyms are always an option, so even if it’s not up to your gym standards just remember that it’s temporary. Put in your earbuds, find your favorite podcast, and get to it. 


Stay Hydrated
It’s easy to get caught-up in the day-to-day of business travel and forget to stay hydrated. Focus on unsweetened beverages throughout the day and be sure to limit the alcohol at night. Your body is already experiencing a change in schedule with sleep, activity, and food. When you add excess alcohol to the mix then things can really get out of whack. Plus, you’re lowering your immune system which will likely result in a sluggish or sick few days over your precious weekend back home. Be kind to your body, even during those business dinners when the wine is free-flowing. 

 

Allison's Top Picks for Travel Snacks

  1. Produce - baby carrots, tomatoes, bananas, apples, grapes, raspberries. Any kind of easy to eat fruit or vegetable is the number one snack to add to your list.
  2. Whole grain bread - this may seem ambitious, but if you're going to be in one place for more than a few days then a small loaf of whole grain bread is great for mini peanut butter sandwiches. Fiber plus a little fat helps to fill you up.
  3. Hummus - great for dipping veggies and is a source of protein and fiber. This is a great healthy snack for the hotel room.
  4. Mini peanut butter, almond butter, or sunbutter packets. Healthy fats plus a small amount of protein makes for an ideal addition to fruit or whole grain bread as a breakfast or snack.
  5. B'More Organic skyr is high in protein and low in sugar. If you have a mini fridge then stock-up on this drink for a probiotic boost which contributes to a healthy immune system (key for travel). Plus, it makes for a good snack of protein and carbs after you hit the hotel gym. 
  6. Kombucha - probitoics, here they are again. Keep your GI tract happy with the addition of probiotics however you can get them. Yogurt and fermented foods are the top sources. Kombucha isn't a requirement, but it is tasty!
  7. Granola bars - easy to throw in the bag for an on-the-go snack. Look for bars with 10g of sugar or less. If you can't find those then opt for half a bar and a piece of fruit as a snack. 

Disclosure: I have partnered with B'More Organic. I have no relationship with other products shown in this post.