Eat your way to a healthy heart

When it comes to heart health, the main focus should be on maintaining a healthy weight and being selective when it comes to the types of carbohydrate and fat you eat.    Weight loss of as little as five to ten percent of body weight is, on its own, associated with significant improvements in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, all risk factors for heart disease.

By following these basic guidelines, you’ll lay down a strong foundation for a healthy heart:

  • Eat less refined carbohydrate/added sugar (this includes all the highly processed foods, confectionary items and those foods with ‘sugar’ listed in their top three ingredients).
  • Avoid trans-fatty acids (think deep friend and baked foods). These fats raise LDL cholesterol (the not so good one) levels and reduce HDL cholesterol levels (the good one).
  • Eat more of the healthy fats, examples being raw nuts, seeds, avocado pear, olives, olive oil, flaxseed oil and fatty fish (sardines, tuna, salmon).
  • Limit red meat and processed meats to no more than twice per week.
  • Limit the amount of salt you add to your food during cooking and at the table – rather add herbs and spices to the mix to enhance the flavor.
  • Eat more whole, unprocessed food (the type that doesn’t last forever – think fresh fruit, vegetables and whole-grains). By doing this, you’ll ensure a good intake of fibre and heart-protecting vitamins and minerals.
  • Focus on foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, including berries, oranges, tomatoes, leafy greens (kale, spinach), nuts (almonds, walnuts) and fatty fish.

No one likes the feeling of a broken heart, so look after yours the way you would your most treasured possession.

Get Active with Good Nutrition

If you haven’t already, it’s time to set your personal fitness goals for 2018.  Whether it’s your first 5km race, 10km or half marathon or if you’re a seasoned endurance athlete with numerous medals under your belt, it’s important that you have a good nutrition plan in place to maximise your performance and ensure a hassle free event.

If you’re participating in events like the Two Oceans half marathon, the Two Oceans Ultra, the Cape Town Cycle Tour or for the crazier folk out there, the Iron Man, Cape Epic, African X Trail Run or Comrades Marathon, you’ll need a proper game-plan in place when it comes to nutrition.

You want to optimise fuel stores both leading up to the day and during the event itself.

Also important is recovery after the event, where the right amount of carbohydrate and protein, combined with adequate re-hydration, will determine how soon you’ll be able to start training for the next event!

It’s never a good idea to try something new on race-day as I’m sure the more experienced athletes among us can testify too.  It’s important that you put a plan in place and practice this plan during your training sessions when the stakes aren’t as high.  You might find that you don’t tolerate a specific food before a race or perhaps it’s just about the timing of your meal.  Any nasty surprises on race day can be avoided if you plan ahead and know what works for you.

When it comes to shorter events, taking less than 60 minutes to complete, it’s the ‘before’ and ‘after’ nutrition that is most important.  It is unlikely that your body will require additional energy during the actual race itself.  That changes though as soon as you progress to events lasting longer than 60 to 90 minutes, when your body’s reserves of glycogen (your body’s storage form of carbohydrate) starts to decline and if you don’t re-fuel, it is likely that your pace will need to reduce significantly or alternatively you’ll need to stop altogether.

In order to delay this onset of ‘fatigue’ it is recommended that you eat a breakfast high in carbohydrate before the event (ideally 2-3 hours before but if this is not practical, you can eat something up to 1 hour before the event, depending on individual tolerance).  Even if you typically consume a low carbohydrate diet the rest of the time, it makes sense to give your body a ‘boost’ of carbohydrate before the event and then also supplement with some carbohydrate during the actual race itself, in order to preserve your muscle glycogen and  delay fatigue for as long as possible, especially in events where you want to be able to sprint/increase intensity periodically during the race (even if just to cross the finish line!)

Table 1 below will give you an indication of how much carbohydrate you should be consuming before, during and after an event.

Table 1: Carbohydrate requirements before, during and after an event.

 BeforeDuringAfter
Competing in a 5 or 10km race
(<90 minutes)
30-60g carbohydrate meal 1-4 hours before the event (as tolerated). Limit fibre, protein and fat.If under 60 mins, no supplementation is required during the race.

If 60-90 minutes, can consider supplementing with 30 grams carbohydrate/hour.
Recovery snack ideally within 30 to 45 minutes of completing the race. Aim for 1-1.2g carbohydrate /kg body weight combined with some protein.
Competing in events lasting longer than 90 minutes1-4 grams carbohydrate/kg body weight 1-4 hours before the event (as tolerated). Limit fibre, protein and fat.30-60 grams carbohydrate/hour. See the 30 and 50g carbohydrate lists below for some ideas.Recovery snack within 30 to 45 minutes of completing the race. Aim for 1-1.2g carbohydrate /kg body weight combined with some protein.
Ultra-endurance events like Iron Man, Comrades and Cape Epic1-4 grams carbohydrate/kg body weight 1-4 hours before the event (as tolerated). Limit fibre, protein and fat.60-90* grams carbohydrate/hour. See the 30 and 50g carbohydrate lists below for some ideas.Recovery snack within 30 to 45 minutes of completing the race. Aim for 1-1.2g carbohydrate /kg body weight combined with some protein.

*If aiming to consume more than 60g carbohydrate per hour, ensure that you choose products with a mix of glucose and fructose in order to maximise absorption.

So how do we translate this theory into practical guidelines?

Once you’ve worked out how many grams of carbohydrate you should be aiming to consume, you can refer to the lists below in table 2, where you’ll get an idea of how much 30 and 50 grams of carbohydrate equates to.  If it’s 60 grams per hour you’re after, either select 2 different options from the 30 gram list, or double the amount of your selected item.

Table 2: 30 and 50 gram carbohydrate portions

Please note that the amounts listed below are approximations and rounded off to the nearest practical serving size.

 30g Carbohydrate Portion50g Carbohydrate Portion
Standard Energy drinks (6-7 grams carb/100ml)
e.g. Energade, Game
500ml750ml
High Energy drinks (9-10g carb/100ml)
e.g. High 5 Energy Source 2:1, coke
300ml500ml
Sports gels30-35g gel sachet
(gives you approx. 23-25g carbohydrate)
X2 gel sachets
Energy bars (e.g. Powerbar, High 5)2/3 of a bar1 ¼ bars
Racefood fastbar2 bars (~26g carbohydrate)4 bars
Baby potatoes6 baby potatoes9 baby potatoes
Jelly babies7 jelly babies11 jelly babies
Bananas1 large banana or 2 small bananas1 ½ large bananas or 3 small bananas

 For those of you competing in endurance events, it’s important to make sure that your muscles’ glycogen levels are optimal before race day – carbo-loading 2-3 days before a big event, combined with tapering of your training, will promote optimal storage of carbohydrates in preparation for the big day.  Carbo-loading requirements are high and can be anywhere from 8 to 10 grams of carbohydrate/kg body weight/day.

Some studies have shown that eating a relatively low-carbohydrate diet during training combined with carbo-loading before an event might give you the best of both worlds when it comes to maximising adaptation of your muscles and achieving optimal performance.

Although it is likely that you will need to resort to more refined forms of carbohydrate like gels, energy bars and energy drinks, to meet your carbo-loading needs, it is important that you move back to a healthier way of eating after the event, when training normally, by including more whole-grains and minimally-processed forms of carbohydrate.

For a detailed race-day nutrition strategy, it might be worthwhile consulting with a registered dietitian, who will be able to ensure that all your requirements are being met before, during and after the event in order to ensure optimal performance and recovery.

Good luck and may 2018 be an epic year for you!

Getting back on track in the New Year

So, for most of us, the holiday season is over and we’ve returned to our normal routine, with kids back at school and our day jobs as busy as ever.

What better time than now to get back on track with healthy eating and exercise.

Below are some tips to help you get going and make sure you stay on track.

  • Plan ahead – this will ensure that you have all the right ingredients on-hand and you’ll be less likely to resort to take-aways and not-so-healthy alternatives.
  • Introduce one change at a time – once you’ve mastered one new habit, start on the next one. This way you’ll stand a much better chance of sticking to your new habits and reaching your long-term goal(s).
  • Find a buddy with a similar goal – it just makes sense that things will be easier and more fun!
  • Exercise in a group, whether in-doors in a studio or by joining a sports club.
  • Avoid getting into a situation where your blood sugar levels drop too low.  Once your blood sugar levels are too low, you invariably lose the ability to make sensible choices when it comes to food.
  • We all have our vices. Make sure you know which one is yours and if it’s related to food, the best way to ensure that you don’t over-indulge is to avoid stocking that particular item at home (whether its chocolate, crisps or cool-drink) – it’s usually a big deterrent if you have to get in your car and go to the shops to fulfill a craving!
  • Don’t starve yourself if trying to lose weight – talk about putting yourself at a disadvantage – without fuel, you won’t be able to exercise optimally and without exercise, you won’t be able to burn the extra calories. Starving yourself can also lower your metabolism over time, which will again put you at a disadvantage when it comes to reaching your weight loss goal.
  • Include a cheat day occasionally – remember that you want to make long-term changes to your diet and so you need to be realistic and practical.
  • Speak about your goals to others – the more people that know, the more people you’ll have to support you along the way.

Let’s make 2018  a year to remember!

Festive season tips

Is it only me or does it seem like just the other day we were raising our glasses and sharing our New Year’s resolutions?  We’re almost at the end of another year and with it comes the well-deserved holiday season where it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep to a routine, especially when it comes to eating.

All so often we just give up and say ‘I’ll pick up the pieces again in the New Year’.  But it doesn’t have to be like that.  With a bit of planning, you’ll glide through the festive season as strong and healthy as you were when you entered it.  You’ve worked hard to get where you are, so don’t give it all up now.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy the occasional treat.  It just means that you should still have the upper hand and be in control of what you eat and the best way to do this is to plan ahead.

Whether you’re going to be travelling to an exotic location; relaxing on a cruise ship; staying with family and/or friends or simply chilling at home, the same basic principles apply.

6 tips to keep you on track

  • Continue to eat regular meals/snacks throughout the day rather than suddenly skipping meals and/or eating only one or two large meals per day. As soon as your blood sugar levels drop too low, you lose the ability to make good decisions and your portion sizes suddenly become ‘supersized’.  You may think you’re doing the right thing by eating fewer meals, but you’re in fact just making it a whole lot more difficult for yourself, especially when it comes to managing your portions.
  • Don’t try and get your money’s worth when it comes to ‘all you can eat’ buffets. Rather stick to your usual portion sizes and where possible sneak out some extra snacks (fruit, small yoghurts etc) for later.
  • If you’re going to be attending lots of functions and/or parties, remember to eat something small before-hand so that you’re not standing in front of a buffet table or the ‘chips and dip section’ with a growling stomach.
  • Don’t stock the ‘treats cupboard’ with a month’s worth of treats – they’re likely to last one week max (if you’re lucky) and then the cupboard will need to be stocked again. Rather don’t keep a supply of treats in the house – having to put your shoes on and get into the car to go to the shops to buy the treat is usually quite a good deterrent!
  • When it comes to alcohol, remember to always have water with you, so that you’re not drinking alcohol to quench your thirst. Also add lots of ice to your wine and where possible opt for a white wine spritzer (wine and soda water) instead of straight wine and a light cider or beer instead of a regular one.
  • Enjoy the occasional treat – you deserve it!

Below are some quick, easy and healthy meal/snack ideas for you and your family to try this festive season.

Healthy meal/snack ideas

  • Crustless quiche – oh so simple – chop up and lightly stir-fry 2 cups of chopped vegetables including mixed peppers, onion, spinach, mushrooms (if you’re after a bit of sweetness add some butternut) in a non-stick pan. Add the vegetables to the egg/milk mixture (9 large eggs whisked with ½ cup low-fat milk) and crumble in 1 round of feta cheese.  Place in an oven proof dish and bake at 180 degrees celsius for 25-30 minutes.  Serve with a fresh salad and some whole-grain/low-GI bread e.g. rye bread or seed loaf (optional).
  • Roasted chick-pea and quinoa salad (add plenty of greens, some colourful peppers, extra virgin olive oil and some crumbled feta on top). Buy the canned chickpeas for greater ease and simply rinse them before using.
  • Root vegetable crisps and/or some carrot sticks with a variety of dips including hummus (chickpea dip), tzatziki (yoghurt and cucumber based dip) and guacamole (avocado dip).
  • Pre-packed snack pack including raw nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts) and raisins – good healthy snack for those long road-trips. Because nuts and raisins are both calorie dense foods, never eat more than a small handful at one time.
  • Whole-grain wrap with plenty of greens, some chopped up pineapple and finely sliced chicken pieces (you could use leftover braai chicken from the day before).
  • Smoothies made from frozen banana, fresh berries and fat-free or low -fat plain yoghurt.
  • Peeled, sliced bananas dipped in melted dark chocolate and then frozen (a delightful treat that’s also a favourite amongst kids). Place the sliced bananas in the ice tray section of the freezer on some wax paper.

The ball is in your court

So rather than simply resorting to fast-foods and over-sized portions, make this summer a summer to remember by making more of an effort when it comes to your nutrition.  Your body and mind will thank you for it and you’ll start the new year fresh, alert and ready for just about anything that might come your way!

Children and Nutrition

Children and Nutrition

When it comes to kids, the secret is to keep things alive and exciting…

Creativity is not always top of mind when you’re rushing to get the lunchboxes ready in between a myriad of other activities – but without variety, kids soon get bored and suddenly their lunchboxes start coming back with half the contents untouched.

That said, it’s almost impossible to try and be creative at 6 o’clock in the morning when you’re trying to get everyone ready, including yourself.   Rather pack the lunches the night before if you can and plan the week’s meals ahead of time so that you have all the necessary ingredients readily available.

Kids love different shapes – sometimes simply changing the way you present the same food is enough.  For example, instead of blocks of cheese, try some grated cheese or slice them as thin sticks.  Instead of a whole banana, slice the banana into small circles.  When it comes to older kids, let them make up their own sandwich/roll – just provide the ingredients in their lunchbox and let them do the rest.  Make it simple enough so that they are not required to spread anything or spend their whole lunch break designing the perfect sandwich.

Early habits 

From a young age, children should understand that certain food items are classified as ‘treats’ because of their high sugar content and/or lack of vitamins/minerals and fibre – and that ‘treats’ as their name implies, should only be eaten occasionally.

If you’ve fallen into the trap of providing your child with a sweet treat every day (we all know how easy that can be) try and undo this gradually – perhaps initially reduce to only twice per week and then to one weekend day and/or special occasions only.  The easiest way to enforce this is to make sure that you don’t stock any treat items at home.

Besides the high sugar content and all the potentially negative effects of consuming too much sugar and/or refined foods, the bigger potential problem is the replacement of nutrient rich foods with foods that provide empty calories, not necessarily resulting in overweight children (although this can often also be the case), but causing deficiencies in important nutrients including protein, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

There are many naturally sweet foods that add goodness rather than empty calories to your children’s lunchboxes (whilst satisfying their sweet tooth) -some examples include strawberries, bananas (try slicing them and freezing them to add a different spin – kids love it!), raisins, red/yellow or orange peppers or the much loved watermelon in summer.

When it comes to treats and portions sizes, timing is also important – treats should always be given after a healthy meal – that way, you can often get away with a much smaller portion of the treat item, due to the fact that their stomachs are now relatively full.

If you struggle to get your child to drink water during the day and/or they are used to drinking juice or other cooldrinks, try and meet halfway and add only a small amount of juice to the water for some extra flavor.  Alternatively make some ice-blocks out of pure juice and add them to a glass of water.

Most importantly… lead by example – it’s difficult to expect your children to eat healthily when mum and dad are not doing the same.

Daily requirements 

Whether it’s playing with their friends outside or running on the sports field, kids typically spend a lot of energy every day.  Unfortunately, the amount of energy spent often decreases as outside play is replaced by screen time, especially over the colder winter months and as with adults, the total amount of food that a child eats every day should be dependent on how active they are on that particular day.

It is important that your child eats sufficient protein, carbohydrate and fat every day.   It is equally important to select the right type of foods from within each of these categories to ensure a sufficient intake of high quality protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals.  Some examples of healthy carbohydrate foods include whole-grain pasta, brown/wild rice, whole-grain/low GI bread, high fibre cereals, whole fruits and some starchy vegetables including potato (with the skin), sweet potato, carrots, peas and butternut.   Some examples of healthy fats include olive oil, avocado pear, raw nuts and fish (tuna and salmon come out tops, but even regular hake is a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and way more affordable).

When it comes to protein, the secret is in the preparation – eggs, cheese, tuna, fish chicken and beef are all good sources of protein, as are dairy products (with the added benefit of having lots of calcium, which is all important for developing bones).  Plant sources of protein include dried beans, lentils, soya and nuts.   For maximum goodness, prepare your meals using the original whole foods, rather than purchasing a highly- refined version of the food and bake, grill or stir-fry rather than deep fry where possible.

Combining carbohydrate with some protein and healthy fat at each meal helps better control blood sugar levels, reducing the number of ‘spikes’ and ‘dips’, which are often associated with changes in behavior and/or concentration levels.

Water is another important item that we often forgot about – especially in winter – sufficient fibre and water are both important ingredients when it comes to ensuring a healthy digestive system.

A healthy relationship with food 

Food should be enjoyed and children should be encouraged to taste and explore new foods over time.  Being forced to eat a food that you don’t enjoy may have negative consequences especially when it comes to eating meals together as a family.  You are also less likely to be able to re-introduce that food at a later stage (as their taste develops), as the negative memory of being forced to eat the food still lingers and is likely to prevent them from ever trying it again.

It’s a lot easier if it’s a specific food item that your child really can’t stand the taste, smell or texture of, for example a certain vegetable like broccoli.  In situations like this, one can experiment with different vegetables and where possible, avoid dishing up the offending vegetable on its own, but rather include it as part of a stir-fry or hidden inside a stew (if at all).

It’s a different story if it’s an entire food group that they avoid, for example, all vegetables.   As soon as this happens, it becomes a whole lot more challenging and it is important that you constantly introduce and re-introduce new types of food within the food group, rather than simply labelling them as ‘the kid that doesn’t eat vegetables’.   It often also means that you need to get more creative when it comes to presenting the food.  As soon as they’re old enough to understand, you can start explaining to them why, for example vegetables, are important to eat, how they contain lots of special ingredients that make their bodies work better, their minds sharper and their tummy’s happier.

Bargaining

Ideally parents should remove all their emotions when it comes to their children’s eating habits – easy to say, but not quite how it works in practice! The problem is as soon as food becomes a bargaining tool, it becomes a slippery slope and one that is difficult to get off.   If your child can see how upset you get when they refuse to eat their broccoli (or conversely how happy you get when they do eat their broccoli), it becomes a very handy tool to negotiate with, as it clearly means a lot to you.  By then rewarding them for their efforts, you are only affirming this and suddenly eating any meal becomes a lengthy negotiation process.

In summary 

Every child is unique with their own set of requirements and their own personalities.   It is important that you lay down a strong foundation when it comes to eating healthily, but at the same time, it mustn’t be too rigid, resulting in your child thinking they can use food as a negotiation tool or feeling deprived or guilty when occasionally eating treat foods.

Changing your eating habits

Changing your eating habits

Building a good habit doesn’t happen overnight and it’s especially difficult in the beginning stages.  It requires the right knowledge and a good routine.  Start slowly and build one good habit at a time.  Once you’re comfortable with your eating habits, you will have the confidence to add some flexibility and spontaneity to the mix.

Don’t deprive yourself

Depriving yourself entirely of certain foods is likely to result in over-indulgence in the long-term.  The key is moderation.  Enjoy certain ‘treat’ items occasionally rather than removing them from your diet altogether. That said, if you have an intolerance to a particular food or an ingredient in food, it’s important that you consult with a registered Dietitian to ensure that you are knowledgeable about which foods to avoid and when.   In some cases, it’s related to the quantity of a particular ingredient and not necessarily the specific food itself.  A Dietitian will be able to advise you accordingly, ensuring that you acquire all the necessary nutrients for optimal health.

Steps to health 

Often simply removing refined foods (those typically high in added sugar like confectionary items, sweets and cooldrinks) from one’s diet will result in significant benefits in the short-term, including weight loss and improved energy levels.  Do a re-con of your existing eating habits and highlight just one significant change that you could make, such as reducing the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis.  The better you start feeling, the easier it will become to make other changes to your diet.  If you’re not sure what changes you should or need to make, consult with a Dietitian, who will be able to advise you on the best approach.

Eating out 

Eating out is often the number one challenge when trying to eat healthier.  The first step is to make sure that you don’t arrive at the restaurant with a growling stomach!  It is unlikely that you will be able to make the right choices when you’re ravenous.  Perhaps have a fruit before you leave.  Plan ahead and where possible, decide beforehand what you’re going to eat.  Remember to drink plenty of water during the course of the evening and if the portions are super-sized, ask for a doggy-bag and eat the rest for dinner or lunch the next day.  Go for the grilled options where possible and consider sharing a meal with a friend.

Time of day 

Research shows that eating a good breakfast in the morning is likely to prevent you from over-indulging later on in the day and your total calorie intake for the day is likely to be less.  By skipping meals you end up being ravenous when you do finally sit down to eat, resulting in large portion sizes and spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels which, in turn could increase your risk of developing diabetes and other conditions down the line.  The key is to prevent excessive spikes and dips in blood sugar levels by eating small, regular meals, with the right combination of unrefined carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats.  Eating at night isn’t a problem, as long as you stick to the game plan.

Cravings 

Most people experience a craving in response to low blood sugar levels and if put in a situation where there’s a quick fix available, it takes tremendous will-power to fight off the temptation to indulge.

It’s a well-known fact that shopping on an empty tank is a recipe for disaster – the same applies when you’re at home and have a well-stocked treats cupboard in the kitchen – our will-power is almost non-existent when we’re experiencing a dip in blood sugar levels and by stocking your cupboards with all kinds of delectable treats, you’ll only make the situation worse – when you’re ravenous, who  would stop and make themselves a healthy snack when there’s chocolates and chips beckoning in the cupboard?

So the message is simple – avoid getting into a situation where your blood sugar levels drop too low and if you do, don’t make it easier for yourself to succumb to the craving by stocking ‘treat’ foods at home or going to the shops or out for a meal on an empty tank.