Are you an active individual eating a healthy diet and puzzled as to why you can’t take off the last 10-20 pounds? Specializing in sport nutrition and weight loss I see a couple common mishaps.
Could a few key “health” foods be kiboshing your weight loss efforts? These 3 come to mind.
2. Nuts and nut butters
The common denominator in this list is they are all deemed health foods with a number of nutritional benefits. While this is TRUE, there are some key considerations.
Sure Granola can be super nutritious. But don’t be deceived, I’ve had more than one client shed pounds JUST by being mindful of their granola snacking habits!
The Good: Points go to the nutritious and fibre rich ingredients, including nuts and seeds, oats, quinoa, coconut, and dried fruits.
The Bad: Granola and granola bars, even homemade varieties, use a high volume of sugary ingredients like dates, and honey, providing that desirable crunchy and cohesive cluster. Technically ‘natural’ sweeteners, these are also very concentrated forms of carbohydrate. Furthermore, nuts and seeds, as well as nut butters pack a calorie punch.
The Bottom Line: Snacking willy nilly on granola is too easy. And, since it’s deemed healthy, you don’t think twice about it. But with a 1/4 cup of granola being very high in carbohydrate, relatively low protein, and easily hitting upwards of 250 calories, your seemingly harmless, healthy snack habit may be a sugar spiking extravaganza that’s looking more like a meal.
Solution: Search recipes for smaller quantities of sweeteners (dates, maple syrup, honey) and nut butters or modify yourself so it fits your needs. Compare recipes that provide nutritional info and serving sizes to give you a sense of what’s coming in. Strategically, using a measuring cup and closing the jar up out of sight can help ensure you don't overdo it.
2. Nuts, Seeds and Nut Butters
A convenient addition to snacks, salads, breakfasts and more, nuts, seeds and nut butters are healthful and something I recommend to clients to boost their intake of healthy fats. With an upsurge in paleo, keto, and other low carb diets, nuts and nut butters fill the void. But could it be that your peanut butter habit is sticking to your waist-line?
The Good: I’m all for adding fats. Whole nuts, seeds and natural nut butters are a great source of heart healthy fat, high in omega 3s, fibre, and nutrients. They offer some protein and due to their fat content offer some satiety, which is a plus.
The Bad: Per gram, fats are more than twice the calories as carbs and proteins. Nuts, seeds and nut butters, being a significant source of fat are thus calorie dense. How many of you measure your nuts or pay attention to how much nut butter you spoon out? Since psychologically 12-15 almonds or a mere tbsp of PB seems pretty meagre, it’s easy to overdo it.
The Bottom Line: Including these healthy fats is a definite DO for our diet but portion control is key. For all the low carbers out there, your fat needs are indeed higher, just know that these tasty little bites are not a free for all.
Solution: Measure Measure Measure. If you’re a sucker for nuts and nut butters pre pack them in controlled quantities or find them already pre packed in individual sachets (black diamond brand sells these and found at most Costco stores). Avoid mindless snacking on nuts in front of the T.V., or having a nut jar on your desk which could facilitate overdoing it.
So you heard it here, salads and raw veggies could be making you fat! No, it’s not the plate of romaine or a few baby carrots that's the problem, but how about the dips and toppings on your greenery? Peruse the nutritional facts on some popular chain restaurant menus and have a look at how your salads could be adding up.
The Good: Veggies are very high in water, fibre, vitamins and minerals and the ruffage takes time to chew and digest helping with satiety. The veggies themselves are nutritionally dense NOT calorically dense. Filling your plate with loads of veg is great for preventing hunger, and keeping us super healthy.
The Bad: Most don't eat a plain plate of leaves or raw veg unadorned. Tune in to the fancy toppings, adding loads of calories, including bacon bits, shredded cheese, chèvre, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, crispy tortilla bits, and the list goes on. Then add on the dips and dressings poured generously on top. You get the picture. One tablespoon of dressing or dip alone runs you 120 calories or more. I’ve seen restaurant salads racking up to over 600 calories per plate.
The Bottom Line: Salads and raw veg are a great choice. Most of us need to be eating more! They don’t have to be bland to be healthy, but added dressings and crunchy bits can add up. When it comes to raw veg, how many times does your carrot hit the dip?
The Solution: Compare labels, or make your own dressings and dips that are more healthful; for example replacing oil with greek yogurt and herbs or higher ratios of lemon juice, and vinegar. Measuring out your dressing and asking for it on the side when dining out gives you the most control and can be a significant calorie saver.
The message here is that there CAN be too much of a good thing. Sometimes it’s not what you’re eating but how much! Practicing mindful eating and proper portioning with all foods ensures you don’t overdo it. Learning more about food and the nutritional value of your snacks and staples can help you make more educated decisions. Check in with a nutrition expert, compare labels and menu nutrition data, or try out a food app tracker periodically to clue you in.
Writer: Debora Sloan (RD, certified personal trainer and Crossfit coach)
Everywhere you look, there are social media posts and articles claiming coconut oil to be the magical answer for digestion, dry skin, weight loss, and everything in between. This has people going out to buy buckets of the high fat oil and using it in cooking, baking and whole body care. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence has provided some mixed reviews, which confuses not only the general public, but also some health professionals too! Today, we look at the benefits and cautions of coconut oil and provide an ultimate conclusion to sum up what we currently know about this fad ingredient.
Coconut oil comes from extracting and pressing the oil from the flesh of coconuts. There are two different versions available- unrefined and refined. Unrefined, or virgin coconut oil is a stronger tasting and flavourful option, while refined is more processed with a higher smoke point, making it better for cooking.
What are the benefits?
First and foremost, if you enjoy the flavour of coconut then this will be the oil for you. As mentioned before, unrefined coconut oil is richer in flavour and may be more pleasing to you for that reason alone.
Some brands may differ slightly in the shelf life, however; in general, coconut oil can be stored for one to two years. Since the melting point is approximately 24 degrees Celsius, the consistency of the oil will vary depending on the temperature of the storage space. In order to keep your coconut oil in solid form, it is recommended to store it in a cool and dry area.
The smoke point of oil is important to take into consideration when cooking at high temperatures, such as when frying foods. Exceeding the smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to burn and smoke) will create an unpleasant odour and alter the chemical make-up of the oil. Due to the reduction in the amount of nutrients in the oil as well as potentially creating harmful free radicals, it is suggested to avoid overheating oil in general. Luckily, the saturated chemical bonds of coconut oil can withstand some heat before it begins to break down. The smoke point of unrefined/virgin coconut oil is 350 degrees Fahrenheit, while refined is around 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. It is still recommended to not use coconut oil for frying foods, as these high temperatures will likely exceed the smoke point.
Medium Chain Triglycerides
Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a form of saturated fatty acids that largely make up coconut oil and have been the topic of many research studies in the recent years. Evidence has suggested MCTs provide some form of weight loss aide, improvement in insulin sensitivity in Type 2 diabetics, increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increased fat oxidation (fat burning), and may play a dietary therapeutic role in the treatment of epilepsy for children.
Why should I be cautious with coconut oil?
This is where the recommendations get tricky. As you can see, there are some potential benefits to including coconut oil in your diet. However, there is still a need for additional research to assess the long-term health consequences of a diet high in saturated fat/MCT.
A number of studies surrounding the benefits of coconut oil were performed on mice, and although this is a common occurrence, translating this information is not as easily done. There are many differences that need to be taken into consideration when applying mice/rat studies to human recommendations, so be aware of this.
Here is a doozy: coconut oil does not necessarily completely correlate with the MCT researched benefits. Although coconut oil does contain MCTs, the actual amount of and available “benefits” have not yet been identified. Recently, there have also been research papers delving more into the effects of a diet high in MCT, suggesting that there may be an increase in hunger/appetite, which is the opposite of what has been previously understood.
Additionally, the American Heart Association released a statement in June of 2017 that read “The advisory, an analysis of more than 100 published research studies dating as far back as the 1950s, reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Tropical vegetable oils such as coconut oil contain high levels of saturated fats, and the authors reported that coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol in seven controlled trials.” Keeping heart health in mind is extremely important with the modern day high fat, highly processed and super-sized culture of North America. Be cautious with the amount of coconut oil, and saturated fat in general you are including in your diet.
In summary, there are a lot of mixed messages when it comes to coconut oil. Human research is still needed to provide more applicable and concrete recommendations for the general population to follow. That being said, consuming high amounts of calorically dense fat, WILL set you up for weight gain. If you want to switch up your options for oils, give coconut oil a try in small amounts. Opt for unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil or canola oil more often, as these have been heavily researched and are known for their heart healthy properties.
Ashlen Leonard, RD, BASc, PMDip