Happy Birthday to Vitamin Valentine!

My blog is officially 2 years old this june (technically my blog’s “birthday” was June 10th). I’m proud that I’ve been able to make writing a commitment, even though I feel like I’m a lot less focused on this blog than when I first began. Part of this is actually for a really good reason. I’m a lot less fixated on food than I used to be. Throughout writing about recipes, nutrition tips and advice, I’ve learned quite a bit about what healthy eating actually is. Here are some things I’ve learned as a nutritionist and student of nutrition:

1. Healthy eating is different for everyone

When I started this blog, I was kind of obsessed with counting calories. I just couldn’t shake it. This was not healthy and made me have a really negative relationship with food. I’ve mentioned in past posts that I used to struggle with obsessive dieting, so counting calories was definitely something that I needed to get away from. Instead of taking the latest diet advice or trying to adopt a lifestyle that ignores your personal health needs, do what feels right to you. It might feel uncomfortable to trust your gut, but ultimately, it is the healthiest.

It's a wrap, with chicken in it, because I felt like it ;) !

2. Eat the rainbow

Ok, so you’ve convinced yourself that your “intuition” is telling you to eat burgers and fries? Let’s be real. Your body needs fresh food in the form of fruits and veggies. Things that grow from the earth offer an abundance of vitamins and minerals and are truly nourishing. Learning to prepare vegetables so that they taste good is fun, I promise!

3. Don’t compare your diet to anyone else’s

I used to follow a bunch of vegan people on instagram and then would feel guilty every time I ate something that was less than 100% organic, raw, sustainably-produced, blah blah blah. I realized I was spending more time feeling bad about my perfectly healthy diet than enjoying my food. I also became somewhat obsessed with posting my own food pictures! If you find yourself comparing your diet to someone else’s, try to remember that no one is perfect when it comes to eating. And remember to take anything food-related on social media with a grain of salt (no pun intended).

4. Always bring snacks

Wherever you go, there you are…and hopefully you brought a snack because you will get hungry! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out running errands and became so hungry, I ended up overeating during my next meal. I’ve learned that keeping snacks in my bag really lets me avoid stuffing my face come lunch or dinner. Trail mix, granola bars, a bag of baby carrots, a piece of fresh fruit- these are all great snack ideas to have on hand.

5. Get moving

Exercise is essential for staying healthy, both physically and mentally. Not only do you burn calories and build strength (depending on the activity), exercise has been found to decrease stress and increase mental awareness. Moving your body will you help you in every way to improve your health…plus it makes your butt look good :). Start small and increase the amount of time you exercise. Try different activities and see which one you really like. I used to hate yoga, and now in a few weeks, I’ll officially be a registered yoga teacher. Go outside your comfort zone when it comes to trying new activities, you might just find your passion!

6. Have some kind of routine

Routines can be boring, restrictive, and repetitive-or-they can be grounding, give you a sense of purpose, and help you get things done. It’s all about perspective! When making a routine (whether its related to exercise or when you’ll prepare your meals, etc.) consider what will be most realistic and doable for you. If you’re not a morning person, don’t force yourself to wake up at 5 AM to go for a run everyday, because that’s not exercise, that’s torture. Likewise, if you work 60 hours a week and don’t have a spare minute to prepare your food, don’t waste your free time cooking elaborate meals. Instead, aim to have simple staples and healthy options at the places you dine at.

7. Be a perpetual student

I started this blog the same month I decided to go back to school to pursue a second bachelor’s and a master’s both in nutrition. I’ve probably learned just as much about food outside of the classroom than in it. I’ve learned a lot about how to treat illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, etc. and I love my professors, but when it comes to learning about the best way to eat, that’s in your hands. Be curious about your food and figuring out what works for you. You know yourself better than any person- nutritionist, doctor, etc. and it can never hurt to learn about food from a variety of sources and then integrate what makes the most sense for you, personally.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the past two years of my blog! If you’re a student of nutrition, feel free to share this post!

-Jess

It’s Just Food, or Is It?

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To someone who has always had a healthy relationship with food, food is just food. Meaning food is simply something you eat to enjoy and to keep you alive, and yes, sometimes indulge in just for the sake of eating something tasty. But, for me, and for many other people I know, food is so much more than that.

For myself, food is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, a lot of people who get into nutrition have history of disordered eating (perhaps one day I’ll share more, but today isn’t that day). One reason why I chose to study nutrition is because I was so misguided as a teenager when it came to learning how to be healthy. I wish I had a qualified nutrition professional leading me in the right direction when I was younger, so now, I’m doing my part to help myself and help others in the future. But that’s not the only reason. I love cooking, I love creating healthy versions of recipes, and I believe proper nutrition is vital to living a healthy life. I’m also intensely passionate about science and scientifcally-based evidence when it comes to using nutrition to prevent and treat disease.

As a nutrition student, I’ve learned so much in my classes. My favorite courses so far have been Medical Nutrition Therapy, where we learn how to treat illnesses and symptoms like portal hypertension, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis, and others, and I also really enjoyed Cultural Aspects of Food. In Cultural Aspects of Food, we learned about how early man ate (surprise: the paleo diet, although very healthy, isn’t completely reflective of how cavemen ate), how different cultures eat, issues surrounding the global food source and how we’re going to sustain ourselves. Even though I feel like I’m getting a great education, I sometimes doubt myself when it comes to what I’m eating. Based on the recommendations in my Nutrition 101 class, I’m doing pretty well, nutritionally. I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, my grains are always whole and not refined, I limit sugars, and my protein is usually lean (I don’t eat meat for various reasons [but I completely understand that veganism isn’t for everyone] so I stick with beans, tofu, etc. which are low in fat). But, I also take in a lot of information from outside of my classes.

My MNT textbook, often found on my bed after a long night of studying.

My MNT textbook, often found on my bed after a long night of studying.

 

When you’re passionate, or dare I say, obsessive, about food/nutrition, you tend to want to learn as much as you can, and this can present some problems because it can be information-overdrive. Somedays I’ll read some article claiming gluten is the most harmful thing one could ingest, and the next, I’ll read a scholarly paper proving that whole wheat products are perfectly fine for non-celiacs. It can be really confusing to sift through information, especially because nutrition is such a new science. We’ve only been studying what we’ve been eating for a limited amount of time and in that time, there has been so much conflicting advice. In the 80’s and 90’s, fat (in all forms) was shunned. That did us no good. In the early 2000’s, Atkins was the boss. Low-carbohydrate diets have been shown to be effective for weight loss, but at what cost? Eating large amounts of meat, especially factory-farmed meat, has been shown to increase the risk of cancers and heart disease, and it’s unsustainable for our planet. Now, it seems like the focus is on eating is purity, or cleanliness. To be healthy means you must eat organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. While I can agree that a diet consisting of mostly unprocessed, whole, organic foods is best, it’s not healthy to obsess over how pure your diet is, especially if it limits your social life or mental wellbeing.

So what advice as someone studying nutrition can I give to you (and myself!)? I think the answer is to find a way of eating that is a) based on nutritionally sound advice (we need carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals to sustain ourselves) b) balanced, based on the individual (some people really do feel better avoiding gluten even without diagnosed Celiac Disease, some people do well eating only plants, some people need less carbs to thrive) c) an ongoing experiment. Meaning you might experiment with the ratios of your macronutrients and see how it affects you, or you may want to see if going gluten-free alleviates some stomach pain, or you may find that a moderate diet of whole grains, dairy, fruits, veggies, and meat is working just fine. The important thing is to find a way of eating that makes you feel healthy, have patience in the process, and focus on yourself instead of buying into every new piece of advice that comes along.

 

-Jess

Tips For Staying Healthy This Cold and Flu Season

As the holidays approach, we’re also entering peak sickness season.  I’ve spoken to several people who have fallen ill due to the flu, stomach viruses, and severe colds. Nutrition plays a big part of whether or not you get sick and the severity of symptoms. A poor diet has an influence on your immune system and if your diet is lacking in several vitamins and minerals, you might be more susceptible to illness.  Here are some ways you can prevent getting sick this winter:

  • Wash your hands, and do it frequently. I know this is a no-brainer, but it is really important for your hands to stay clean especially when illnesses are going around. If soap makes your hands feel dry and irritated, try keeping a small tube of moisturizer with you.  It’s also imperative to keep your hands, cookware, and utensils clean when you’re serving guests to prevent the spread of germs and disease during food preparation.
  • Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are great sources of Vitamin C. Although the research is mixed some studies claim that increased amounts of vitamin C can help prevent colds. Even if the research is lacking, eating more fruits and veggies can’t hurt.

    It's always best to get your vitamin C from fresh produce, but if you don't have access to fruits and veggies, you can try adding vitamin C through supplements (always read the label of supplements, because excess vitamin C can cause digestive issues).

    It’s always best to get your vitamin C from fresh produce, but if you don’t have access to fruits and veggies, you can try adding vitamin C through supplements (always read the label of supplements, because excess vitamin C can cause digestive issues).

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    one serving of kiwi and strawberries provides about 100% of the RDA for vitamin C

  • Make sure you’re getting enough zinc, especially if you’re suffering from a cold. Again, the research is not concrete at this point, but some studies show that sufficient zinc amounts can help shorten the duration of a cold. Animal foods (such as oysters and other seafood, lamb, and beef) are typically listed as the best sources of zinc, but if you’re a vegan/vegetarian, you’re in the luck because zinc can also be found in sunflower seeds and legumes. Zinc is often found in homeopathic cold remedies such as “Cold Eeze” and others, but the best way to get your vitamins and minerals is always through a nutritious diet.
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. The standard is 8 cups (64 ounces) but water needs depend on your sex and body size. It’s especially important to stay hydrated if you do get sick and have stomach virus symptoms.
  • Rest. Although it might be tempting to go to every holiday party you’re invited to, if you’re sick, the best thing to do is stay home and rest. You’ll feel better quicker and you won’t run the risk of getting others sick.

Stay Well!

-Jess