Are You Missing Something?

This is not one of those dreams where you are late for your Calculus final and you're running down the hallway when you realize you haven't been to class all semester, don't even know the room number, and you forgot to get dressed this morning. No, I'm talking about your diet.

It seems that every year or so, another new diet sweeps the nation. Back in the 80's, low fat was all the rage. Then Atkins took the country by storm. Since then, we've waded through South Beach and The Zone. The Paleo and Whole 30 people have been duking it out with the vegans and the vegetarians. And I am intimately familiar with every single one of these diets. I am a veteran of the eating wars.

Just like almost everyone out there, I would love to discover "the secret" to losing weight effortlessly. So I have been willing to try just about every plan that promises me "quick and easy" weight loss. Along the way, I've learned a lot.

Although our bodies are adaptable, and we can survive on many different kinds of diets, I want to do much more than just survive. I want to THRIVE! I want to be strong, energetic, happy, fit, and healthy. I'm guessing you do, too. So even if you could lose weight on a diet of popcorn and marshmallows, you probably wouldn't choose this plan.

Instead, we want to make sure that we are not leaving key nutritional elements out of our diets. Here are some of the basics that we need in order to thrive:

1) Protein. As we age, we need MORE protein, not less. Typical markers of aging include muscle loss, which goes along with weakness and loss of balance. This is the opposite of how I want to age! In addition to strengthening our muscles by lifting heavy weights, we also need to consume enough high quality protein to allow our bodies to repair and build muscle mass. I try to eat at least 20 grams of protein per meal. According to the Zone (which is NOT a high protein diet) active women need about 77 grams of protein per day. High quality protein contains all the ESSENTIAL amino acids and can only be found in animal foods such as eggs, fish, chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, wild game, and dairy products. Don't forget bone broth and organ meats (like liver!) for a complete array of amino acids.

2) Antioxidants. These compounds are found in a variety of plant foods. A good way to tell if a food is high in antioxidants is by the color. The darker the color, whether blue, green, orange, red, or purple, the more antioxidants present in the food. Antioxidants help the body detoxify, clean up areas of inflammation, and fight diseases like cancer. They are abundant in spices, like turmeric, as well as fruits, like blueberries, and veggies, like kale. You can also find antioxidants in coffee, tea, dark chocolate, and red wine.

3) Probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics contain live bacteria which we need in our gut in order to digest food properly and fight off infection. Foods containing live cultures include yogurt, kefir, kim chi, fermented veggies like sauerkraut and pickles ONLY if they have not been heated, and kombucha. Read labels carefully to determine if your products contain LIVE cultures. Prebiotics are fiber and starches which feed the bacteria in the gut. Eating a wide variety of plant foods, both fruits and veggies, assures you will get enough healthy fiber.

 4) Vitamins and minerals. We have all heard of sailors developing scurvy from a lack of Vitamin C, but there are many other possible vitamin deficiencies. Vegans need to supplement with B12 in order to survive as this nutrient is only available in animal products. Vitamin D is made by the body, but only when we receive enough sunshine.

5) Good fats and complex carbs. Fat is another essential nutrient. Healthy fats are found in grassfed meats and dairy products, wild caught fish, wild game, pastured eggs, avocados, olives, and nuts. Trans-fats have been removed from many processed foods due to recent studies showing a relationship with heart disease. Trans-fats are the only fats to completely avoid, as saturated fat (formerly blamed for cardiovascular disease) has been shown to be safe. Complex carbs are found in whole plant foods, such as apples, broccoli, sprouted grains and seeds, nuts, etc. Refined carbs (bakery products made from white flour and white sugar, for example) are not complex.

If you are concerned about your nutritional status, I've found a FABULOUS free app you can use. It is called Cron-o-meter. You plug in the foods you eat and it gives you a VERY detailed breakdown of your macro- and micronutrients. This is an easy way to spot holes in your diet. Check it out: