Recipe: Ginger lime salmon with mango avocado salsa

Now that I’ve talked up fish (see previous blog), here is a simple recipe for fish cooking novices (self included!).

4- 6oz wild salmon fillets, skinned

2/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 5 limes)

1/3 cup honey

½ teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger

1 mango

1 avocado

Combine lime juice, honey, and ginger in a small bowl.  Use just over half of mixture to marinade salmon.  Place salmon on a broiler pan with a bit of cooking spray and the marinade juice.  Broil about 4 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, cube mango and avocado and toss together with remaining lime juice mixture.  When salmon is done top with avocado mango salsa.  Serve with your grain and veggie of choice. Serves 4.

*You may notice that unlike my first recipe on this website I have not included nutritional information.  I have decided that I will not provide nutrition information for my recipes because 1) it’s a pain for me to calculate, but more importantly 2) it does not line up with my anti calorie counting attitude.  So please, enjoy my recipes without worrying about calories.  The portions are appropriate and the nutrition is good!

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Omega-3s and Fish

bear with fish 2I set out several days ago to write a blog about omega-3 fatty acids and fish that would be both interesting and informative, and of course written with my usual wit and personal anecdotes.  Turns out it’s not possible!  The topic has been written to death about and I have to admit that I couldn’t think of anything new or exciting to say about it.  But since I haven’t written about the topic on this blog before, and frankly got sick of staring at my computer screen trying to be witty, here goes nothing.

So you know by now that fish is good for you.   You might even know why: the omega-3 fatty acids.  But do you know why omega-3s are good for you?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids.  They are referred to as essential because they cannot be made in the body and must be obtained through the food you eat.  The omega-3s can further be divided into alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  These essential fatty acids are involved in the regulation of many processes in the body including blood pressure regulation, blood clot formation, blood lipids, the immune response and the inflammation response.  They are important for overall health as they are necessary for proper cell growth and functioning, especially in the brain.  They are also integral parts of cell membranes in the body.  They promote heart health and may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.

As for sports performance, omega-3 s may have some benefits.  They are anti-inflammatory, so can help combat the inflammation that occurs with strenuous exercise .  They decrease blood clot formation and increase blood flow, meaning blood gets to working muscles more easily.  There is some research that suggests that the anti-inflammatory and vasodilation properties of omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial to athletic performance so it is important that athletes get the proper amount in their diet.

The recommendations for omega-3s are 1.6 g/day for men and 1.1 g/day for women.  If you eat 2-3 servings of fish per week you can meet these recs.  If you prefer not to eat fish, flaxseed oil and walnuts are some of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3, but not the same ones as fish.  Fish contains EPA and DHA whereas flaxseeds and walnuts contain only ALA.  Most of the health benefits seen are from EPA and DHA, and even though the body can convert some ALA to DHA and EPA, it doesn’t do so very efficiently.   So if you’re willing to eat fish that’s your best bet for meeting your omega-3 needs. If not, you might want to consider a supplement (fish oil or even flaxseed oil). I’m not one for taking supplements, but one of the few I do take fairly consistently is fish oil.  As always (or so it seems with nutrition), studies on the benefits of fish oil supplements are mixed. Some studies have found reduced triglyceride levels with fish oil supplementation, but most have not found a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  Since I have a hard time working fish into my diet twice a week (if only sushi wasn’t so expensive…) I use the supplement a few times per week. Remember- food first, supplements second.

Other considerations for fish: mercury content and mislabeling.  Certain types of fish are higher in mercury content that others. Steer clear of: swordfish, Chilean sea bass, grouper, mackerel, orange roughy, and shark as they tend to have the highest mercury content.  As for mislabeling, fish is one of the top mislabeled foods at the grocery store and in restaurants.  Recent figures have estimated that 1 in 3 fish sold is mislabeled! Some of it’s not intentional, fish often passes through multiple hands from the sea to the market, and I guess certain species look the same even to fish mongers.  Most common offenders are red snapper, halibut, grouper, cod, mahi mahi, sole, and wild salmon (sorry, it’s from a farm!)

Omega-3 Content of Select Foods

Food (4 oz fish) Grams of omega-3
Pacific herring 2.4
Mackerel 2.1
Atlantic salmon 2.1
Canned pink salmon 1.9
Trout 1.1
Canned white tuna 0.8
Canned light tuna 0.3
Canned sardines 0.7
Shrimp 0.4
Flaxseed oil (14 g) 8.4
Fish oil capsule (2) 7.2

Recipe: Fall Chili

Introducing another new feature to my blog: recipes!

First up is one of my favorites, my fall chili.  As the temps cool there is no better time for a warm bowl of chili, and this unique sweet and savory version features a fall staple- the sweet potato!  Jam packed with protein and fiber, this recipe is also fairly low fat, depending on what kind of ground turkey you use.  Since so much goes into the chili, you can get away with using  a 97% lean turkey if you prefer.

Fall Chilisweet potato

1 package (about 1.5 pounds) lean ground turkey (I typically use 93%)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 large sweet potato or 2 medium, cubed

1-2 cups chicken broth (1 if you are going to add a pumpkin beer, 2 if not)

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 can crushed tomatoes

1 TBSP brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 pumpkin beer (optional)

Sweet Potato Chips- I highly recommend Garden of Eatin brand- optional

1 TBSP oil, for cooking

Pre-cook the sweet potato in the microwave for 2-4 minutes(until halfway cooked), peel, then cube. Sauté the onion in a pan with 1 TBSP oil. Add ground turkey and sauté until cooked. Add turkey/onion mixture and all other ingredients except for the beer to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add beer if desired. Simmer for approximately 25 minutes. Top each bowl with 1 oz crushed sweet potato chips if desired.

Makes about 4-6 servings (depending on how hungry you are!)

Nutrition Info (for 1/6 of recipe, including chips but excluding beer)

280 calories

26 gram carbohydrate

18 gram protein

10.5 grams fat

Product Review: Generation UCAN

I’ve decided to add a new feature to my blog: product reviews!

First up: Generation UCAN.   I first tried Generation UCAN last summer, back when I still believed my stomach couldn’t handle much carbohydrate during exercise.  Turned out it was the type of carbohydrate drink I was using that was the problem, not the carbs themselves, but I’ve still stuck with UCAN for many of my longer workouts.  Generation UCAN is different from other sports drinks on the market in a lot of ways.  It’s made from a “superstarch”, which is a complex carbohydrate derived from non-GMO corn according to the website.  The theory is that this superstarch helps stabilize blood sugar during exercise without causing a spike in insulin or gastric distress.  The gist is that the superstarch moves quickly out of the stomach but is slowly broken down in your small intestine, which minimizes GI distress and also provides a slow and steady carbohydrate source that allows your body to more efficiently rely on its own fat stores for fuel during exercise.  This means you don’t have to worry as much about taking in carbohydrate during your workout.  Utilizing your own fat stores also in theory helps improve overall body composition.

photo(5)Generation UCAN has 2 products, a “sports drink mix” and a “protein-enhanced sports drink mix”.  The sports drink mix comes in 4 flavors: lemonade, cranberry raspberry, blueberry pomegranate, and plain, and is meant to be used as a pre-workout drink and can also be used during really long workouts (supposedly you only need 1 packet for every 2-3 hours of activity).  The protein enhanced version comes in chocolate and vanilla and is meant mainly to be a post workout recovery beverage.

Price: Prices have gone up since I first started using Generation UCAN.  I’m too much of a commitment phobe to get the tub, so I buy the individual packages which are now $19.50 for 6 packets ($3.25 per pouch) of the sports drink .  The tubs are $60 for 30 servings ($2 per serving, however  a serving is defined as 25 grams where as the single serving pouches are 37-38 grams). So if we go gram for gram the pouches are  $0.087/gram and the tubs are 0.080/gram- basically the same.  The protein-enhanced flavors are $25.50 for 6 single serving pouches ($4.25 per 51-56 gram pouch- $0.083/gram) or $60 for a 25 serving tub (interestingly listed as 30 gram servings-$0.080/gram). So again, you don’t really save much by getting more at once. The good news is that if you order online they will occasionally send you discount codes.  Still, the price is higher than many other sports drinks on the market.

Nutrition breakdown: Generation UCAN sports drinks contain about 32 grams of carbohydrate (it varies slightly by flavor) per pouch.  Typical sports nutrition recommendations are for 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour, so if you only use 1 packet for 2-3 hours of activity you are getting way less than the recommendation-but that’s kind of the point.  The protein-enhanced sports drink has about 13 grams of protein per pouch, which is right in line with post workout recovery recommendations for protein. Nutrition labels for selected flavors listed below.

Pomegranate blueberry

UCAN nutrition info pom blue

Vanilla

nutrn-vannila-big

Taste review: I started by ordering a sample package that included 1 of each flavor.  The plain sounded too unappealing to me and ended up getting handed off to a willing boyfriend/taste tester who no longer remembers what he thought of the product.  No help there!  The lemonade I honestly didn’t care for. The flavor was too mild and not as lemonade-y as I’d hoped.  Sorta like foamy lemon water. The cranberry raspberry and blueberry pomegranate I enjoyed the taste of.  The vanilla and chocolate I really enjoyed the taste of (especially when mixed with milk instead of water).  I have to admit that the texture is a little odd and may take a bit of getting used to.  The superstarch is a very fine powder, that when shaken up, creates a sort of foamy protein shake texture (even the non protein-enhanced flavors do this).  The texture is not bad per se, just different than any other sports drink I’ve tried.  It could be a turn off to some, especially when used during exercise, which I have not yet tried.

Does it work:  Well, there is a fairly convincing scientific study referenced on the website,  but not a ton of details about the study provided.  Did I personally notice a difference? Well sort of, but I am also a big believer in the placebo effect and I, of course, knew when I was drinking it before a run and when I was not.  There is starting to be more anecdotal evidence about metabolic efficiency and training and eating a certain way in order to improve your fat burning during exercise, and Generation UCAN falls nicely in line with this.  It’s an intriguing concept for sure. We (the nutrition world) are still waiting on more actual studies about metabolic efficiency as it’s a fairly new concept, but there are athletes and RDs using it with great success.

I’ve never had any GI distress with the product, and I did feel like I had more sustained energy last summer as I was upping my miles.  Overall, I think it does work, just maybe not quite as amazingly as the website may have you believing! (Seriously, watching the videos about it on the website the other day got me all excited to use it on my next run-excellent marketing!).

Bottom line:  I overall like this product.  It’s probably best utilized by endurance athletes, and particularly ultra endurance athletes who really have to focus on their nutrition strategy.  It’s definitely helpful for those who struggle with carb intake and GI distress during exercise.  Other than price I see no downside to the product, unless you can’t handle the texture. Whether it really does what it claims or not, if you feel better when using it I say go for it. I for one plan on continuing to incorporate it into my long workouts.

For more information visit http://generationucan.com/home.html

*I have no affiliations with Generation UCAN.  Products tested were purchased with my own hard earned bucks.

Racing Weight and Healthy Weight Loss

food scale

Don’t try this at home. Actually, don’t weigh your food anywhere. Ever.

It’s a diet obsessed world out there.  It’s sad, really, how much our society focuses on looks and thinness.  Working in the eating disorder field I’ve grown to hate the “D” word.  But this is not a blog about the pitfalls of our society.  No, this is a blog about finding the balance between managing ones weight for sports performance and not sacrificing ones mental and physical health in the process.  There are many athletes with unhealthy and disordered eating habits and athletes are thought to be at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder.  This is not surprising seeing as the reality is that weight does, to some extent, affect endurance sports performance.  Some runner’s talk about their racing weight as if it was a holy grail that they would do anything to obtain.  You hear stats like “your mile time improves by 10 seconds for every pound lost”, or some crap like that.  Cyclists talk about how every pound lost improves power output by so much.  I don’t remember the specific statistic because I don’t care.  I mostly ride my bike because it’s fun.  It’s important not to lose sight of that in the process of trying to lose weight.  You probably started running or riding because it was fun too.  Sure there is a correlation between weight and performance-to some extent– but I challenge any athlete to cut off their hand (that weighs about a pound right?) and suddenly drop 10 seconds from their mile time! Okay, I kid, but seriously, the point is that the mere act of losing weight will not necessarily guarantee that your performance improves.  Lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly and your performance will suffer.  And you might lose your love for the sport in the process.

If you want to lose weight solely because you feel you don’t look like the stereotypical runner/cyclist/fill in the blank kind of athlete then stop right there.  Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and I am a firm believer of not modifying ones diet and exercise in order to change how one looks.  If your only motivation for weight loss is because you think you “have” to or because you want to look better in your underwear then this is probably not the blog for you.  Trust me it’s not worth risking falling into disordered eating or even a full blown eating disorder.  I’ll even admit to my eating disorder patients: sure you can modify your nutrition and exercise to manipulate your body to look however you want, but at what cost? What kind of life would that be? How about working on body acceptance instead of weight loss?

Losing weight for health or sports performance is different, but even those motivations can be taken too far.  It’s not always easy to know when an innocent desire to drop a few pounds to become a better athlete starts to become an unhealthy obsession with weight. As an athlete AND an eating disorder professional, I am acutely aware of the issue and believe that I have developed a pretty healthy and moderate approach to the subject.  I truly believe that if you focus on training right and eating well your weight and body composition will take care of themselves over time.  However, if you feel that some weight loss is truly justified and want to get a jump start read on to learn how to do it as healthfully (for your mind and body) as possible.  I could probably write a book on this topic (maybe I will someday…..) but below are some of my top tips.

  • Don’t count calories.  Just because you meet your body’s caloric needs doesn’t mean you are eating right or getting the nutrients your body needs.  You could meet your daily caloric needs with ice cream for Heaven’s sake!  Calorie counting can easily become compulsive, as it puts so much emphasis on hitting numbers and looking at nutrition labels.  Instead of counting calories, count servings from the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, proteins, and fats.   All the rest, desserts and alcohol for example, would fall into the category of extras and you wouldn’t have a target for those, you would just aim to not have too many of them! (Not sure how many of each group you need? Consult an RD!)
  • Keep a food journal.  But not all the time, especially if you know this tends to become a compulsive “diet” activity for you.  Keeping a food journal for a few days will give you a picture of how much you are getting from all of the food groups mentioned above.  Once you know your baseline, you can work on eating more from some of the food groups, and possibly less from others.  Keeping a food journal can also help you keep tabs on mindless eating and boredom eating, which are common problems.  A handful of food here and there might not seem like a lot in your head, but it can add up quickly, and having it on paper helps put it in perspective.
  • Keep an eye on portions.  Most people have no concept of portions, and it’s not surprising given the ridiculous amount of food we are served at some restaurants.  Note: a giant plate of pasta does not count as one serving.  One grain’s worth of pasta is actually only ½ cup- the size of ½ of a baseball.
  • Focus on what you want to eat more of, not less.  The answer will probably be vegetables and fruits, as most Americans don’t meet the minimum recommendations of 5-9 servings/day.  I think that it’s mentally more helpful to focus on what you want to eat more of, instead of what you want to eat less of, since telling yourself you can’t have something will likely make you want it more (blame human nature). Plus, I find that when I’m able to up my vegetable intake I naturally do not have room for, or crave, the less than healthy foods I typically like (desserts and wine mmm!).
  • Choose foods that don’t come in a package more often than not.  You’ve also probably heard that it’s best to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s because that is where most of the whole foods are, like fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and to some extent whole grains.   There are plenty of healthful foods that come in packages though, so don’t avoid the inner aisles completely.  When buying packaged products aim for ones with very few ingredients (i.e. if you are buying brown rice the ingredient list should look like this- ingredients: brown rice).
  • Don’t make food rules.  Then you fall into the good food, bad food trap and feel like a bad person when you eat a “bad” food.  Take the judgment out of eating. There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods.  Just foods. Some foods you should eat more often and some foods should be occasional treats.
  • Don’t skip breakfast.  I truly believe it’s the most important meal of the day and studies have consistently shown that breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers.  This could be because skipping breakfast makes you hungrier and more likely to overeat later in the day.
  • Listen to your body.  Try to check in with your hunger.  If you are hungry eat.  If not, wait until you start to feel some hunger.  Don’t wait until you are starving to start eating, as you will be more likely to reach for high sugar/more processed foods and to over eat.  Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Plan ahead.  Think about what you want to make for your meals during the week and make sure you have the food on hand.  I know that if I leave work hungry and with no dinner plan I’m not going to have the patience to go to the store and cook something healthy. I’m doing take out.  Same with snacks. Bring your own snacks to work so that you don’t have to rely on the office donuts for a mid afternoon pick me up.
  • Drink up.  Water that is.  Thirst is often mistaken for hunger.  Make sure you are meeting your fluid needs.  Not sure if you are? Hint: your urine should be a very pale yellow.
  • Know when to use sports nutrition products.  Sports drinks, energy gels, and protein shakes are all great when used appropriately.  But if you are drinking Gatorade throughout the day or eating gels on 45 minute runs you are taking in more sugar and calories than you need to be.
  • Be safe.  DO NOT use diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or any other weight loss aid. Period.
  • Monitor your body fat too, not just weight.  Your body fat percentage tells you a lot more than a number on the scale. Healthy ranges are:
Males Females Rating
5-10 8-15 Athletic
11-14 16-23 Good
15-20 24-30 Acceptable
21-24 31-36 Overweight
>24 >37 Obese

(from Sport Nutrition, 2nd Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD, and Michael Gleeson, PhD, on the Human Kinetics publishing website)

  • Don’t weigh yourself more than once a day.  Don’t even weigh every day if you can help it. Your weight will fluctuate naturally from day to day and seeing those fluctuations may just psych you out. It’s more important to look at overall trends, taken into consideration with body fat percentage, than daily numbers.
  • Be realistic. Set small and slow weight loss goals.  If you lose too much weight or lose it too quickly you will sacrifice your performance. You shouldn’t lose more than 1-2 pounds/week.  You might not lose any weight one week, and that’s okay too-it doesn’t mean you need to lose more the next.
  • Monitor your sports performance as you lose.  You may not need to lose as much as you think to hit those time goals.  You may also need to accept that your body may be built a certain way, and to change that may involve extreme deprivation or excessive exercise.  If you find that you have to cut your intake to the point of starving to drop weight your body is telling you something. Listen to it.
  • Train right.  As I mentioned above, to some extent your body will adapt and change naturally in response to your training. Be patient with this process.  Try to focus more on your training then your weight.
  • Don’t try to lose weight during the middle of your racing season.  Your performance will likely suffer if you do so.  The off season and pre-season are actually the best time to tackle weight loss goals.