One Simple Step for Better Nutrition, Digestion, and Enjoyment of Your Food

better-nutrition-digestion

Do you want to get more vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food that you eat? Want to reduce bloating and poor digestion? Want to experience more enjoyment from your food? How about feeling more full from eating less food? What if there was one really easy way for better nutrition and digestion?

Well then I’ve got good news for you.

There is one easy way:

Chew your food.

Yes, chew your food.

Okay, I’m being a bit sensationalistic. But I have good reason to be. It seems too obvious. And, too good to be true. But it really isn’t. And yet so many of us don’t do a good job of this.

We wolf down our food without really bothering to chew it.

We mindlessly eat while working at our computers, or scrolling through our iPhones, or while zoning out and watching TV.

Chewing is the first step of digestion. In chewing you break down food into smaller pieces so that your digestive enzymes can have lots of surface area to work on to digest the food, and then absorb it. There’s also digestive enzymes in your saliva that starts breaking food down.

With less chewing there’s less surface area for your enzymes to work on. Which leads to less vitamins, minerals and other nutrients being freed to be absorbed by your body.

With less chewing there’s more undigested food moving through your intestines. The result is that your gut bacteria has more food to ferment, creating gas.

Because we don’t take the time to chew your food, we eat more food before our bodies can register the sensation of being satisfied. As a result we over-eat.

Because we don’t take the time to chew our food we eat an entire bag of potato chips, or an entire tub of ice cream without even noticing. Our “treat” provided us with almost no pleasure.

I encourage you to actually take the time to chew your food. It’s so simple and the benefits are huge.

Preventing Commuter Cravings #NutritionMonth

A couple of weeks ago I shared my 4 Ways to Stop Cravings. The article spurred a ton of response. So I wanted to dig a little deeper into the topic. Also, this month is Nutrition Month. The theme is Eating 9-5. In the background information that was share with me I learned that statistics show that at the end of a busy work day, people’s food choices tend to be more impulsive, falling for unhealthy choices at vending machines and coffee shops during the commute home.

That's certainly been my experience. What about you?

What’s the best way to prevent falling for these traps? As the Boy Scouts apparently say: “Always be prepared!”

By "being prepared", I mean:

Step #1: Don’t Go Too Long Between Meals and Snacks

As I shared in my post a couple of weeks ago, when our blood sugar drops, we’re driven by our bodies towards high fat, high sugar, and high salt foods. Did you skip lunch and now you find yourself in the fast food restaurant on the way home from work? It’s because of a biological drive – not a lack of willpower. Don’t try to work against Mother Nature; you won’t succeed. Instead, eat when you’re just starting to get hungry. For most people this is approximately every 4 hours. Now this doesn’t mean all-day grazing. Plan and eat a healthy afternoon snack to prevent the lure of the vending machine.

Step #2: Pack Healthy Choices

To expand on Step #1, eat a healthy afternoon snack when you’re just starting to get hungry. This means that you need to pack a healthy snack ahead of time. I pack something daily. And, I keep some healthy options on hand. That way on days that either I forgot to pack a snack (hey, no-one’s perfect) or days when I’m not in the mood for what I packed, I have a back-up healthy snack at the office. These can also be kept in the car for all you road-warriors. I was married to one for years so I know you too!

Some healthy snack ideas include:

  • Nuts and seeds (as long as your workplace isn’t nut-free).
  • Dried fruit.
  • Fresh fruit. Apples keep well.
  • Energy bars. Look for ones with recognizable food ingredients.
  • Whole grain flatbread, such as Ryvita.
  • Unsweetened fruit purees. Applesauce and other fruit mixtures come in sealed plastic cups. I also know many adults who use the squeezie packs of organic baby fruit & veggie purees (you can even find ones with awesome whole grains like quinoa).
  • Individual tetra packs of milk or plant-based milk alternatives.

Step #3: Fill Your Water Bottle

Often it’s thirst, not hunger, that sends us into the coffee shop or to the vending machine. Even if you only buy a water (and not a drink containing sugar, artificial sweeteners, or caffeine), just going to the vending machine/coffee shop means that you’ll be facing tempting treats. Instead, fill a reusable water bottle before you head out the door. Voila – temptation avoided!

What do you do to prevent cravings on the commute home? I'd love for you to share your tips in the comments section below!

** I’m proud to be a registered dietitian. March is #NutritionMonth – when dietitians across North America share our love of healthy eating! This article is inspired by the Dietitians of Canada's Nutrition Month Campaign Materials. Find more information about Nutrition Month at www.nutritionmonth2015.ca. **

4 Ways to Stop Cravings

4 Ways to Stop Cravings

I received a request to address cravings. Now the community member didn’t specify what she was craving. But I’m assuming that it was high fat, sugar, salt foods. Because it’s highly unlikely that her craving for kale concerned her enough to reach out :) The scientific literature doesn’t have a very thorough understanding of cravings – why we get them or what they mean. So, I’m going to share with you 4 ways to stop cravings: two ways to stop cravings from the literature and two ways that I’ve discovered in my life.  

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Sleep Deprived

This is a surprising cause of cravings. But there is evidence that the more sleep deprived we are, the more we seek out high fat, sugar, and salt foods. So if you want to get rid of cravings, create a plan to get more sleep. What can you take off your “to-do” list? Turn off that screen and hit the hay.

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Going Too Long Between Meals and Snacks

When our blood sugar drops, we’re driven by our bodies towards high fat, sugar, and salt foods. Did you skip lunch and now you find yourself in the fast food restaurant on the way home from work? It’s because of a biological drive – not a lack of willpower. Don’t try to work against Mother Nature; you won’t succeed. Instead, eat when you’re just starting to get hungry. For most people this is approximately every 4 hours. Now this doesn’t mean all-day grazing. But, it may mean planning and eating a healthy afternoon snack to prevent the afternoon trip to the vending machine.

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Increasing Protein and Decreasing Sugar at Breakfast

I was always a toast with jam for breakfast kind of woman. But I also always craved candy every afternoon. A couple of years ago I switched my breakfast to plain yogurt, usually Greek, topped with hemp hearts and fruit. This winter I’ve been on the overnight oats bandwagon, adding this to my yogurt mixture. I’ve found that my craving for sweets has gone from daily to a couple of times a month. Which is a huge change! Switch up you breakfast and see if it decreases your cravings.

4 Ways to Stop Cravings: Have Other Tools in Your Emotional Care Toolbox

Often we crave high fat, sugar, and salt foods as a way of numbing our emotions. I became such a cliché after my divorce, literally drowning my sorrows in tubs of ice cream. You don’t need to be a dietitian to know that a couple of tubs a week isn’t healthy. So I decided to create other ways to take care of my emotions. Now I have a lot of tools in my toolbox. Tools like a gratitude practice, yoga, surfing, trail running, art therapy, and the occasional tub of ice cream. Ask yourself the tough question of whether you’re really craving that food because you don’t want to deal with difficult emotions. Take the time to develop alternative tools to take care of yourself.

Have you found effective ways to stop cravings? I'd love you to share them in the comments section below!

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bark

chocolate bark_medmed

I'm frequently asked for healthy treat recipes. With Valentine's Day around the corner, I figured that today was the perfect time to share an idea for a healthy (and delicious) chocolate fruit and nut bark.

Like many of the food ideas that I share, this is more of a technique than a recipe. Pick and choose the dried fruit and nuts that you want to use. Add more or less chocolate. Once you get the hang of this you'll wonder why you've been eating cheap chocolate bars!

The healthiest options are raw (non-roasted, unsalted) nuts, unsweetened, unsulfured dried fruit, and dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.

Note: Chocolate does best when allowed to cool slowly. Make this the night before you want to eat it!

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bark Ingredients

1.5 cups nuts (e.g. hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds, pistachios)

1.5 cups dried fruit (e.g. raisins, goji berries, mango, apricots)

400g chocolate (NOT semisweet baking chocolate)

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bark Directions

  1. Chop larger fruit and nuts into bite-size pieces.
  2. Spread evenly over a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  3. Chop the chocolate.
  4. In a medium-size pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Turn off the heat.
  5. Place the chopped chocolate in a large, heatproof (i.e. not plastic) bowl. Place the bowl over the boiling water. Using a spatula, stir the chocolate until it melts.
  6. Pour the chocolate over the fruit & nut mixture.
  7. Allow the bark to cool to room temperature. Then, refrigerate overnight.
  8. Cut into pieces and enjoy!

In this photo I'm testing out different fruit and nut combinations. It's a tough job but someone has to do it!

Matches made in heaven: hazelnuts and dried mango, cashews and goji berries, salted peanuts and raisins, almonds and golden raisins, pistachios and apricots.

Get more healthy recipes here.

Healthy Valentine's Day treat: Chocolate, fruit and nut bark.