My name is Emily Jokisch and I am a registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning coach. I’m here to answer your nutrition-related questions. In this column, I answer three questions that came from members.
What is “smart coffee?” And is it something I should be drinking?
I am unfamiliar with smart coffee, but from what I can tell it looks like a fad diet product. As with any fad diets, I always recommend looking for scientific research and talking with your doctor before taking any product. Remember that many supplements are not regulated before they are put on the shelves and are available to consumers with little or no research backing them. The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar one, and businesses know with the right marketing they can make a lot of money on products that may or may not work. There are also very lax laws on health claims made on products like this. I unfortunately couldn’t find much information on smart coffee at all, let alone any research done on it. So my suggestion is, until we know more about the product, I would wait before buying. But if it is something you really want to try, talk with your doctor first.
For more nutrition information, check out www.eatright.org.
Are all calories created equal?
The answer to this question is yes and no. According to the laws of thermodynamics, yes, all calories are created equal. When you look at the math and write it on paper, a calorie is a calorie. However, when it comes to a healthy diet, the answer to this question is definitely a no. Our bodies break down fats, protein, and carbohydrates quite differently.
Let’s start with fats. Fats are the largest source of energy, as they are 9 calories per gram. Fats also slow down digestion, deliver important fat-soluble vitamins to the body, and provide important building blocks for cells. Fats are a necessary part of our diets for these reasons, but some fats are better for our bodies than others. Polyunsaturated fats, found in foods like wild salmon and flaxseed, have protective, anti-inflammatory properties, whereas artificial trans fats have been linked to increased inflammation and heart disease.
Next let’s jump into protein. Protein has 4 calories per gram and its main function is to help the body build new cells and grow new tissues. This is why we always hear about the importance of protein for muscle building. We need protein the most during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy, when the body is growing and adding new tissues. But protein is also very important for weight loss as it contributes to hunger satisfaction. Also, there are different quality proteins. Higher-quality proteins like fish and eggs help reduce appetite and optimize muscle repair and recovery. Lower-quality proteins like ground beef have been linked to metabolic disease and insulin resistance.
Carbohydrates are by far the most complex type of calorie because our bodies use them in very different ways. First, they are used by the body as our one of the first sources of energy. All carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, but just as with fat and protein, there are different quality carbohydrates. Fiber is considered a high-quality carbohydrate. Our bodies cannot digest fiber; therefore it does not contribute to calories at all. Fiber slows digestion and helps you feel fuller, longer. It also can moderate the absorption of other nutrients, like sugar. High-quality carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Lower-quality carbohydrates almost always lack fiber and add little more than “empty calories” to our diets. The only exception to this is dairy, which contains a small amount of natural sugar and a lot of protein, which makes it a great source of energy for our bodies. Focus on whole grains, fruit, and dairy, and try to stay away from the processed foods, added sugars, and snacks.
I always like to tell people what I call the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your diet should come from foods (calories) that are unprocessed whole foods: lean meats, fish, eggs, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, and good fats like nuts and seeds. Twenty percent of your diet can be more of the things you enjoy, whatever it may be. Everything in moderation, and always remember before you start any diet change, speak with your doctor to ensure whatever changes you want to implement are safe for you.
For more information on calories and choosing foods, check out https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-basics-of-the-nutrition-facts-label.
I have hypoglycemia. What kind of diet should I be following?
Hypoglycemia is a condition when your blood sugar drops too low. This can be very dangerous to the body as it can affect brain function and energy. Many times hypoglycemia can be tied to someone with diabetes, when medication and diet are not managed properly, but it can also be diagnosed on its own.
Here are some tips to follow if you have hypoglycemia:
- Choose foods with a low-glycemic index score.
- Reduce or eliminate processed and refined sugars from your diet.
- Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates.
- Reduce or eliminate alcoholic drinks, and never mix alcohol with sugar-filled mixers, such as fruit juice.
- Eat lean protein.
- Eat foods high in soluble fiber.
- You should eat a small meal as soon as possible after waking. A good breakfast should consist of protein, such as scrambled eggs, plus a complex carbohydrate. Such as: hard boiled eggs and a slice of whole-grain bread with cinnamon, or a small serving of steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries, sunflower seeds, and agave, or plain Greek yogurt with berries, honey, and oatmeal.
- Caffeine may affect blood sugar in some people. Decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea may be your best bet for a hot breakfast drink. Discuss caffeine intake with your doctor to determine if it’s an important factor for you.
Timing and planning
- Eat small meals every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals per day. Avoid foods high in saturated fats or trans fats.
- Have a mid-morning snack such as fruit. They have fiber, provide beneficial vitamins and minerals, and contain natural sugars for energy. It’s best to pair fruit with a protein or healthy fat to sustain your fullness and keep your blood sugar level even. Having a whole-grain, fibrous carbohydrate paired with a protein or healthy fat is also a great option. Try these options: a small apple with cheddar cheese, a banana with a small handful of nuts or seeds, a piece of whole-grain toast with an avocado or hummus spread, a can of sardines or tuna with whole grain crackers plus a glass of low-fat milk.
- Plan a lunch, such as a green salad topped with chicken, chickpeas, tomatoes, and other veggies, or a piece of grilled fish, a baked sweet potato, and a side salad or side of cooked veggies.
- Have a mid-afternoon snack. This is a great time to reach for complex carbohydrates, particularly if you face a long commute home after work. Complex carbs are digested slowly. This means they deliver glucose at a slow pace, which can help your blood sugar level stay stable. Examples of some complex carbs include whole-wheat bread, broccoli, legumes, and brown rice.
- Eat before you exercise. Physical activity lowers blood sugar, so having a snack before exercising is a must. Before working out, grab a high-protein snack with carbohydrates, like peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread.
- Keep your evening meal as small as your other meals. Dinner is a good time to eat some protein and complex carbs.
- Eating a light snack close to bedtime will help keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night. Try these: a high-protein, low-sugar brand of Greek yogurt with berries and walnuts, or a no-sugar vegetable smoothie.
For more information on hypoglycemia, check out this article on exercise and diabetes at https://www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/diabetes/exercise-and-diabetes, or check out this informational article about the condition at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373685.
This material is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. Consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.