The Truth About Rice Cakes

rice cakes

During the low-fat, high carbohydrate craze of the late 1980’s and 1990’s, rice cakes quickly became one of the ultimate diet foods. So we bought them in bulk thinking that, if we swapped our cookies and crackers for 70 calorie rice cakes, we’d lose weight and look great.

They may be low in calories, about 35 a pop, but when eaten alone they can actually sabotage weight loss. If you look at the Nutrition Facts Label on a package of rice cakes, you’ll see a whole lot of nothing. No fat, no fiber, minimal vitamins and minerals, and maybe 1 gram of protein–all important nutrients that nourish your body, improve satiety and actually keep your mind off of snacking.

The truth about rice cakes is this. Rice cakes are little more than refined carbohydrates (which are quickly digested and converted into sugar) that have been sprinkled with salt, and possibly sprayed with some artificial flavoring. Their glycemic index, an indicator of how a food affects blood sugar, ranks pretty high at 82 compared to pure sugar which tops out at 100. Instead of taking your mind off of food, snacking on rice cakes on an empty stomach can induce a spike in blood sugar that might just leave you feeling sluggish and craving, you got it, more rice cakes.

Instead of reaching for those rice cakes the next time hunger strikes, try choosing a nourishing snack with healthy fats, protein and fiber. Here are five quick and easy ideas:

  • A whole grain wrap with peanut butter and sliced banana
  • Greek yogurt sprinkled with granola and berries
  • Hummus with veggies and a serving of pita chips for dipping
  • A 1-ounce (28g) serving of almonds and a small piece of fruit
  • 100% whole grain toast with topped with a sliced hard boiled egg, avocado and a sprinkle of salt & pepper

And if you can’t entirely let go of rice cakes quite yet, fear not. Buy the plain variety and flavor them yourself with something nourishing, like a tablespoon of almond butter and fresh peach slices!

#MyFitnessQs Should I Eat Before My Morning Workout?

myfitnesspal eat before morning workout

Morning workouts aren’t for everyone, but for those of us who love them (or just love to get them over with early in the day!), deciding whether to eat breakfast before or after is a pretty common dilemma.

Head straight out the door for a morning bike ride without eating or drinking, and you may not have enough in the tank to power through it. That’s  because over the course of the night your carbohydrate stores, which your muscles rely on for energy during exercise, have been used to maintain your blood sugar and provide energy to your brain. On the other hand, eating a full meal before working out could lead to stomach cramping, indigestion–or worse. (If you don’t know what I mean by “worse,” trust me, you don’t want to.)

The good news is, it’s possible to be properly fueled for a morning workout without the unpleasant side effects that send you running to the nearest restroom. It’s all about what you eat, and when you eat it.

Before Your Morning Workout

  • 30-60 minutes before you lace up your sneakers, have a carbohydrate-rich snack, like a piece of fruit, a slice of toast with jam, or a low-fiber granola bar.
  • Drink a tall glass of water to help digest your snack and rehydrate after those 8-12 hours of laying around.
  • Avoid fiber and fat since they take more effort for you body to digest and can cause an upset stomach.
  • If eating early in the morning doesn’t agree with you, have some applesauce or a small glass of 100% fruit juice. Just stay away from the more acidic juices like orange or grapefruit since they can irritate your stomach. You can also hydrate with a diluted sport drink instead of regular water. The added carbohydrates will help keep you going.

After Your Morning Workout

Enjoy a healthy breakfast that contains complex carbohydrates and protein within 1 hour following your workout. Doing so will replenish your energy stores and help build and repair muscle. Here are a few great post-workout breakfast ideas:

  • A yogurt parfait with granola, fruit, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds
  • A smoothie made with yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, and some avocado, peanut butter, flax, or chia seeds for a dose of healthy fats
  • Oatmeal (made with milk for added protein), topped with dried or fresh fruit, nuts, or nut butter
  • Eggs with sautéed veggies (think: spinach, tomato, caramelized onions), a slice of whole grain toast, and a cup of reduced-fat milk. Grab a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts if you’re still hungry.

Don’t sabotage your morning workout before you even get started. Eating the right things before and after will keep you fueled and help your body recover afterwards!

Do you exercise in the morning, too? What are some of your favorite workout-fueling foods? 

44 Nicknames for Added Sugar

added sugar nicknames myfitnesspal

If you’re trying to cut down on foods or beverages with added sugar, you undoubtedly have a couple of obstacles to hurdle. First, food and beverage manufacturers (at least in the U.S.) are not required to differentiate added sugars from natural ones—at least not yet–which means looking at a nutrition label is futile, unless you happen to know the approximate grams of naturally occurring sugar in a particular food.

This leaves consumers scanning ingredient lists, which poses another challenge. Food manufacturers have come up with some pretty creative names for added sugar over the past few years, making it nearly impossible to pick them out if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

To help you spot them, I scoured dozens of packaged foods and put together this list of 44 nicknames for added sugar. Feel free to print it or Pin It so you’re prepared the next time you go food shopping. Even taking a thorough look at the list right now will probably help you spot some of these less common nicknames in the future!

Hello Healthy Tips:

  • Watch out for anything with “syrup” in the name
  • Ingredients ending in -ose (glucose, sucrose, fructose…) are typically sugars

Spring Clean Your Pantry: What to Toss, What to Keep

myfitnesspal spring clean pantry 1

How you stock your pantry can either set you up for success or sabotage your healthy-eating efforts. With Spring cleaning chores on the brain, now is not only a great time to organize your closet but also to pick apart your pantry.  Luckily for you, I tackled this very task in my own kitchen last week, and I’ve put together a list of the things to toss or donate, and the staples to stock up on.

TOSS OUT

Expired goods Healthy or not, expired foods in your pantry may not be safe to eat. Instead of just tossing it into the trash, empty the food contents into a compost bucket or down the drain, and recycle the packaging. If you come across an item that’s just recently passed it’s eat-by date, leave it out on the counter instead of putting it back in the pantry, and plan a meal to use it up by week’s end.

Items with trans fats Look at the list of ingredients. If you see a type of oil preceded by the words “partially hydrogenated,” you’ve got trans fat on your hands. (For example: “partially hydrogenated soybean oil.”) If a product has less than 0.5g per serving, food manufacturers aren’t required to list it on the Nutrition Facts label, but that doesn’t mean the food doesn’t contain it. Some common trans fat-filled foods include: microwave popcorn, shortening, cake mixes and frostings, pancake and waffle mixes, non-dairy creamers, packaged cookies, crackers, processed meat sticks, some canned chilis, and packaged pudding,

Foods loaded with added sugar Foods high in added sugar are likely also adding to your waistline. Again, look at the ingredient list. If sugar is one of the first few ingredients, added sugar is a big component. Some of the usual culprits include breakfast cereal and pastries, packaged desserts, baking mixes, packaged pudding, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit, and even some dried fruits and packaged nuts.

Packaged snack foods Pretzels, potato chips, cheese doodles, rice cakes—these foods do very little to satiate hunger or nourish your body. I think we gravitate to them purely for their salt and crunch factors.

Refined grains Traditional cous cous, white rice, white pasta—all of these grain-based items have been stripped of nutrition through processing and provide little more than refined carbohydrates. Donate these items to a local food pantry or, if you prefer to use them up, incorporate them into a meal with plenty of vegetables and legumes.

Salty snacks, soups, and sauces Much like decadent desserts, salty foods are okay once in a while. But having a cabinet full of them is asking for trouble—especially if you have high blood pressure, or have been told to cut back on sodium. Food manufacturers add salt mainly for two  reasons: our tastebuds love the stuff, and it acts as a preservative. When it comes to foods like nuts, soups, and sauces, opt for the low-sodium version—you can always add a little more if needed, which is still usually less than the amount found in the regular version.

STOCK UP

Canned or dried beans Beans are incredibly versatile and can give meals and snacks a boost of protein and fiber. With just a handful of additional ingredients beans can be whipped up into spreads or dips, like homemade hummus, a quick vegetarian chili, bean burger patties, soups, and more.

Whole grains As your stash of white, refined grains dwindles, replace them with more nutritious and fiber-rich whole grains. I always have a stash of whole wheat pasta, brown rice, barley, and whole wheat cous cous in my pantry. I also keep healthy breakfast grains, like old fashioned or steel cut oats and wheat bran, on hand to sprinkle onto yogurt and fresh fruit.

High fiber cereals Though typically a breakfast food, I will admit cereal for dinner isn’t the worst meal in the world. Fiber plays an important role in digestive health—it keeps things moving, and also helps with satiety and prevents big blood sugar spikes after a meal.

Chicken, beef, or vegetable broth I always have one 32-ounce container of each in my pantry, which comes in handy for making a quick soup or adding a little bit of flavor to grains like quinoa and cous cous. Grab the low-sodium kind, and be sure to store it in the refrigerator after opening.

Packaged protein Canned tuna and salmon are great sources of protein (and calcium too, in salmon’s case) and can quickly be turned into a number of nutritious meals for a busy weeknight dinner or a last minute lunches.

Nuts and seeds Walnuts, almonds, pecans—whatever type of nut you prefer, are all good sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Vacuum packed bags will maximize shelf life. When choosing nut or seed butters, keep in mind that the healthiest ones have the fewest ingredients—just nuts and maybe some salt. Because natural nut butters don’t contain shelf-stable trans fats or preservatives, be sure to check the label to see if they should be refrigerated after opening.

Herbs and spices Great for enhancing flavor without adding sodium, lately herbs and spices have also been making headlines for their powerful antioxidant abilities.

Healthy snacks and treats Dark chocolate, granola bars, and dried fruit without added sugar are more nutritious than cookies and candy. A small handful of dried fruit or a square of chocolate can quickly take the edge off of that sweet tooth. Granola bars can make a great snack or a quick grab-and-go breakfast, just look at the ingredient labels and choose ones that provide the most fiber and least amount of sugar and other additives.

What are your spring cleaning pantry plans? I’d love to hear what you will be tossing and keeping! 

Making Sense of Those Pie Charts

 

IMG 3175

Today on Hello Healthy we’re digging into pies. It is Pi Day after all.

But before you go grabbing your fork, I should probably clarify that the pies we’re digging into aren’t sweet or savory. Disappointing, I know—but, hey, they’re calorie-free!

In honor of this silly mathematical holiday, I’d like to give you a little insight into those pie charts in your MyFitnessPal mobile app, and share a few tips for making use of them.

Our Nutrition 101 series explained the three macronutrients that provide us with energy—carbohydrates, protein and fat. The MyFitnessPal pie charts are simply a visual report of how those nutrients contribute to the balance of your diet.

The Institutes of Medicine (IOM) has established recommendations around how many calories carbohydrates, protein and fats should contribute to our diets:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
  • Protein:  10-35% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories
Why do these ranges matter? 
Eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat at each meal (and snacks if you can swing it) helps with satiety. This is because proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates take a bit more work to digest. The combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat also promote a more moderate rise in blood sugar, which helps temper cravings and the urge to overeat. According to the IOM, eating within these ranges has also been shown to be beneficial for weight management, reducing risk of chronic disease, and the adequate intake of important nutrients.

So how can these pie charts be helpful to you?

As you log foods throughout the day, these pie charts will show the relative amounts of fat, carbs, and protein you have eaten compared to your goal.

MyFitnessPal’s current guided nutrition settings are set at 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% of calories from protein and 30% of calories from fat, which fall within those recommended ranges. Of course, if you want your diet to slightly higher in carbohydrates (perhaps you’re training for a triathlon) or higher in protein, these percentages can be adjusted by customizing your goals—but no matter what, the pie chart will always add up to 100%.

Before eating: Adding foods to your diary in advance can help you plan a balanced meal. Start with tomorrow’s breakfast. Once that’s fairly balanced, plan out your lunch. If the numbers in your pie chart don’t change all that drastically, you know you’re on track.

During a meal: Say you log half of a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee with cream for breakfast. Your carbohydrates might be around 70% of calories, fat 20-25%, and protein 10% of calories. With extra calories to spare, you may want to choose a food higher in protein, like a low-fat yogurt, to make your meal more balanced.

After-the-fact: Looking back at the pie chart at the end of a typical day, or an average week, can give you a bigger picture of the general composition of your diet. If your ratios fall outside of those recommended ranges, you might want to look at them more frequently at mealtime, or meet with a nutritionist who can give you expert insight and tips for eating a more balanced diet.

Keep in mind, every day is different. Heck, every meal is different. Don’t get caught up in trying to hit your exact goals every meal of every day. Instead, use the pie charts as a tool to guide your upcoming meals, help you fill a gap once in a while, or give you a big picture of your diet in general.

For more info, check out our this article on pie charts.

Have you discovered another use for these pie charts? Share it in the comments below!