Post about "Nutrition"

Can Nutrition Bars Really Be Nutritional?

My patients frequently ask me if using nutrition bars would be of any benefit to their overall health or weight loss plan. I admit, even I grab one of these bars every now and then for a quick snack, or even lunch on a really busy day sometimes. In fact, I would much rather have my patients substitute a good nutrition bar for lunch than grab a high-saturated-fat burger and fries.

These bars are convenient, they don’t require refrigeration, and, if you read labels before buying, they really can help you get some good nutrition in a hurry. Here’s what I tell my patients about the pros and cons of the “nutrition on the run” that these bars offer.

Are All Nutrition Bars Alike?

Seems every time I go to the health food store, there’s a new nutrition bar promising to be better tasting, or more vitamin/protein-packed than all the other bars! However, what tastes good to me may not to you, so, different flavors aside, let me explain what ingredients should be in a good nutrition bar.

Protein:For meal replacement, a good bar should have at least 15 grams of protein, preferably from whey or even casein protein and not soy, gelatin or collagen protein. Many bars, however, contain soy protein isolate, or a blend of whey, casein, and soy. Soy products can interfere with thyroid hormones as well as imbalance male and female hormones, as it adds plant estrogen, or phytoestrogens, to your body.

Fat: Should be fairly low in fat, not more than 3 grams saturated fat and 0 trans fat, 10 grams total fat. Steer clear of bars that contain cholesterol-boosting oils like palm kernel oil. Bars with polyunsaturated vegetable oils like olive, safflower, or coconut oil are best.

Carbohydrate: For meal replacement, there should be a balanced fat/carbohydrate/protein ratio, in a 40/30/30 distribution, i.e., 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbohydrate. If you want added protein only, then the carb and fat level can be lower than this distribution. Some bars can contain a whopping amount of sugar, however! Limit sugar to 10-15 grams.

Sugar Alcohols: Many low carb nutrition bars contain sugar alcohols. These help sweeten the bar without adding carbohydrates. When figuring the carbohydrate, or glycemic load, they should be subtracted from the overall carbohydrate content. For example, if the bar contains 25 grams of carbohydrate and also 20 grams of sugar alcohols, then the effective carbohydrate count would only be 5. Some people get digestive upsets from sugar alcohols which can be a drawback to bars that contain it.

Vitamins: A good bar has at least 1/3 of the minimum daily requirements for vitamins, usually in the 30% range for crucial vitamins like C, E, D, A. This is especially important if you are using a nutrition bar as a meal replacement.

Minerals: Many good bars also contain 1/3 the minimum daily requirement of necessary minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc. Again, should be in the 30% range for meal replacement use.

Fiber: Many nutrition bars contain very little fiber, but several brands have between 4-6 grams. Or, at least have a piece of fruit, or a salad, with it to make up for fiber deficiencies.

Calories: If you’re using it as a meal replacement for a quick lunch, your nutrition bar should have between 200-300 calories in it. Otherwise you’ll be at the snack machine in an hour!

Are There Any Cons to Nutrition Bars?

We’ve talked about what I recommend a good bar should contain. Now, are there any real disadvantages, or cons, to using nutrition bars? As I tell my patients, I think that answer depends on how you use them. With that in mind, here are some possible disadvantages to using nutrition bars that you might consider when deciding to use them everyday or just occasionally:

Cost: Most good nutrition bars can cost anywhere from $2 to $3 a piece. This can get expensive if you use them everyday. However, if you use them as a meal replacement for one meal a day, that’s still less than the cheapest burger place for lunch, a lot less fat and salt, controlled calorie amount, and more vitamins and minerals.

Excessive Nutrition: If you’re using a nutrition bar for just a snack here and there, and not as meal replacement, look for one that has less than the 30% minimum daily requirement of vitamins and minerals to avoid over-intake of nutrients. This is especially true if you are taking a good vitamin/mineral supplement already everyday and eating well at your other meals. Too much Vitamin A can pose liver problems. Too much Vitamin E can result in excessive bleeding should you cut yourself.

May Contain Herbals: Steer clear of nutrition bars that contain “energy boosting” herbs such as ephedra, bitter orange, or even caffeine from green or black tea extracts which can affect some people’s heart rate or blood pressure adversely.

Taste: The taste of these bars can vary widely from brand to brand and price range. Some are in the “acquired” taste category and can be rather dry. Then there are others that really taste great. You really have to shop around and try a lot of different ones to find one you like and could eat on a regular basis.

If you take medications, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor about adding anything with vitamins/minerals in it that may interfere with absorption of your medications. Nutrition bars should not take the place of a balanced diet of whole foods, but they can provide a satisfying solution to a chocolaty-sweets craving, or provide a quick and nutritional meal on the run!

How Bad is Your Nutrition

Chances are your nutrition is terrible. Or at the very least, your nutrition plan is good but you allow yourself far too many treats. Take today for example. How many Halloween candies have you treated yourself to at work? And you still have to go home and resist the leftover candy bowl or your child’s Halloween loot. The bottom line: You can’t succeed in your fat loss program if your diet is average.I need to bring up this point because of the many emails people send me about their nutrition. From what I read, most people’s nutrition plans are far too poor to allow them to lose fat. And yet they are working harder than ever in the gym and wondering why they aren’t losing fat. No workout will help you build muscle and lose fat if you keep eating at fast-food restaurants, drinking sugary sodas, and raiding bags of leftover mini-candy bars.And it’s frustrating because the secrets to fat loss nutrition are so simple. The best approach is eating several small meals per day, with each meal containing lean protein, vegetables, and other whole foods. You must eliminate unnecessary calories such as soda and high-fat, high-sugar snacks (like that mini-Snickers bar that’s on your desk right now). If you’re trying to lose fat, you can’t have treats every day. If fat loss is the goal, then cookies, apple pie, ice cream, nachos, fried foods, etc. just don’t make the cut, as unfortunate as it is.Research shows that an increased intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with fat loss (nutritionists never put a limit on the number of vegetables that people should eat – provided they are not fried or covered in fat or sauces). Other research suggests that replacing carbohydrates with almonds (a source of fiber, protein, and monounsaturated fats) leads to greater weight loss. Almonds are a very healthy snack and help curb hunger. A typical serving is 1 ounce of almonds (about 22 pieces) and can replace chips, chocolate bars, and cookies in your diet.Make sure you are logging your food intake and making notes about your energy levels when you eat certain foods. Soon you will identify the nutritional reasons for your fatigue or for your consistent energy levels. You will quickly associate sugar and fried foods with poor mental performance, while noticing that small, whole, natural food-based meals and snacks help keep you alert and full of energy.If you are overweight and just starting to improve your nutrition, I have some good news for you. You should begin losing at least 1 pound per week (probably 2 or more) simply from the nutritional changes.Nutrition is that powerful. Don’t expect to start eating perfectly tomorrow, but you should slowly build up to eating much better and healthier than you were yesterday. Try to improve your nutrition plan everyday. Stay consistent and focused with your nutritional approach. You can do it. Here are three nutrition changes that would pay huge dividends for a fat-loss beginner:1) Eat several small, whole food meals per day.2) Don’t consume any unnecessary liquid calories (i.e. no soda, alcohol, or sweetened beverages). Drink more water – nutrition experts recommend 3 liters per day.3) Eliminate processed carbohydrates and sugar from your nutrition plan (no soda, cake, chips, white bread, or chocolate bars).If you’re fed up with the body fat and spare tire around your middle, then it’s time to take a structured approach to fat loss.If your current nutritional plan is preventing you from losing fat, then it’s time for you to start working on building better eating habits. This can be as simple as committing to one small nutritional improvement per day (such as replacing your lunchtime soda with water) and one large nutritional change per week (such as setting aside time on a Sunday to prepare a weekly menu and all of your meals).But you need to have a plan to make this work, just like how you have a plan for your workouts. Your nutrition plan should include the contents of every meal, as well as your grocery list for the week. This will enable you to have meal alternatives for nights when you might need to be running from one event to the other with no time or healthy snack alternatives when you are on the road between meetings.It’s important that you make your plan something you can follow. If you are currently eating 7 meals per week at the golden arches, it wouldn’t be realistic to plan to replace those meals with carrot sticks and tofu this week. A better plan would be to substitute a couple of those meals with healthier sandwich options and then work on improving things even more in the following weeks.So here’s a three-step guideline on building a better nutrition plan:1) Prepare a weekly menu. Outline each meal and snack for every day of the upcoming week. Take into account the possibilities that you might work late or get invited out to lunch. The more options you have and preparations you make, the better you will be able to stick to your fat loss plan.2) From your menu plan, you’ll now know what foods and ingredients you need to make it through the week. Make your grocery list and stick to it (see mine below). Grocery shopping is your first opportunity to break some bad nutritional habits. You can’t eat chips, cookies, or cakes if you don’t have them in the house – so don’t buy them and you’ll avoid any future temptation.3) Prepare the meals or prepare the ingredients so that making the actual meal doesn’t take a lot of time. Like shopping, it’s best to do all of these preparations at one time (such as on a Sunday or another day off).My shopping list includes:Fruits· Apples· Oranges· Blueberries· Melon· Peaches· Grapefruit· RaspberriesVegetables· Peppers (red, yellow, green, & orange),· Spinach· Asparagus· Broccoli· Snow Peas· Mushrooms· Frozen mixed vegetables· Tomato sauceProtein Sources· Chicken breasts· Turkey breasts· Salmon fillets· Lean beef· Skim milk & low-fat, low-sugar yogurtCarbohydrates· Oat bread· Oatmeal (no sugar added)· Whole-wheat pastaOther· Green tea· Unsalted, not roasted, AlmondsYou’ll notice that most of these foods come without a food label. Most of the foods that you should avoid come in a bag or a box. Building a shopping list that contains very few bagged or boxed items is something to aim for. But when you do purchase something with a label, make sure to avoid two of the unhealthiest ingredients created by man:1) High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)2) Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil (the sources of trans-fatty acids)You might have heard of these two ingredients. They are strongly associated with obesity and other lifestyle-diseases (such as diabetes).