My New Best Friends

So now you have it, folks.  Your one and only Domesticated Physicist has a bun in her oven; she’s in the family way; she’s going to have a baby.  Again.

And do you know what that means?  Pregnancy brings with it a whole host of fun and exciting peripheral symptoms, but the one that plagues me by far the most is, uhh, lack of movement.  So far in two pregnancies I haven’t been super nauseous, haven’t really vomited much, nor have I had a lot of the nasty sounding first trimester symptoms some women get.  But oh boy do I see a significant decrease in my digestive action.

Now, I fancy myself an amateur nutritionist, so I’ve looked up and studied some of the guidelines for all the stages of a woman’s life.  One of those fun things that always pops up is fiber.  (For more on fiber, please see my nutrition series.)

During pregnancy, a woman needs an extra few grams of fiber.  And while she is nursing, she’ll need still a few more.  Well, what if you are in both stages?  Bitsy girl wouldn’t give up breastfeeding if she had to trade her left leg, so I have no intention of forcing her to stop just yet.

(For the record, she is not yet 12 months old, and her and I had a deal that she’d breastfeed for a year; I can’t go back on a deal with my firstborn, now can I?)

From what I’ve read and learned, it seems that in order to maintain any sort of digestive regularity I’m going to have to consume a lot of fiber.  And by a lot, I mean a lot.

So these have become my new best friends:

On the left is a generic brand Metamucil, orange flavor.  Yum!  And the baggy is filled with golden flax seeds.  I’ve been putting these suckers in nearly everything, much to my husband’s dismay.  He hates picking them out of his teeth.  But he tolerates it because he’d be much worse off if he had a cranky wife!

Just thought I’d share some fun tidbits from the life of the DP household.  Thanks for stopping by!

Fitting it All In

This is my final installment in my nutritional series.  Please check out the previous ones if you like this post.

 

For the past week I’ve been blogging about good nutrition to fuel your body.  I’ve touched on fiber, the low-fat craze, the meat/vegetarian question, and nutrition especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women.  Today I’d like to give some pointers on how to easily fit good nutrition into any lifestyle and on any budget.

 

1.  Have fruit and veggies convenient and available.  Our family has always kept most fruits on the counter because they do not require refrigeration.  Our regulars like bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes (unpeeled), and clementines are fine sitting on the counter staring us in the face.  When fruit is right there in your face, you are more likely to grab it when you are hungry.  The same goes for vegetables; have them and make them convenient.  If you don’t normally cook with vegetables, buy something fairly easy to use, like those tubs of washed baby spinach.  It’s easy to make a salad or sautee that up for a nutritious treat.  Baby carrots are also my best friends.  We are members of Sam’s, so we can buy 5 lb bags of baby carrots, and yes, we can eat them all before they go bad.  They are delicious!  For other vegetables (like peppers, broccoli, avocado, tomatoes) think about how you usually use them or may want to use them, and cut them or slice them when you have a few minutes.  Having a container of pre-chopped bell peppers means I am much more likely to throw them into a sauce than if I had to chop them after having already chopped the onions and garlic.

 

2.  Buy real food.  And you will know what real food is when you see it.  It will require washing, maybe soaking, and usually some cooking, but it is worth it.  I promise that learning to make your own rice pilaf is so much tastier and healthier than the box of Rice-a-roni you’ve been serving.  The same goes with meat.  Buy pre-cooked, pre-seasoned meats means you don’t really know all that is put in your food.  Sure you could read the label, but who really knows what dextrose gum and xanthanol are anyway??

 

3. Buy whole chickens.  This is really to help in the budget area, but it is also so simple that no matter what our food budget has been I’ve always like to roast a whole chicken.  A whole organic chicken at our grocery store usually costs about $8.  I can either roast the chicken whole or cut it into pieces and cook it that way.  When budgets were very tight for us, Beard and I would survive on one chicken per week for the two of us.  We could have pieces of roast chicken one night, some shredded chicken in quesadillas or paninis another night, maybe a stir fry another night, and make some chicken soup with the bones.  The best part, the chicken is real and you know what’s in it.  And whatever you add to it is your own choice.

 

4. Stay away from reduced fat anything.  I learned this lesson all too well with peanut butter.  When a company advertises some food as low fat, typically all they have done is removed some of the fat and replaced it with sugar (or worse, processed syrups) for flavor.  Usually the reduced fat versions have nearly as many or just as many calories as the full fat version, but they simply won’t keep you full as long because it will spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry an hour later.  Do yourself a favor and go ahead and buy the full fat version of whatever you’re purchasing.  Your waistline and your taste buds will not be disappointed.

 

5.  Use whole grains.  This is almost a no brainer.  Experts have been saying to eat whole grains for more than a decade now.  The truth is whole grains have more nutritional punch than any of the white, bleached ,tasteless carbohydrate products you can buy.  when you’re bringing home a loaf of bread, make it whole grain (not whole wheat, that’s a misnomer), and cook with whole grain pasta.  Sometimes it may cost a little bit more, but your heart and your colon will thank you (they told me so, I promise don’t ask why bodily organs speak to me, but they do).

 

I hope this series was helpful to my readers.  Tomorrow we’ll be going back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Thanks for reading!

Eating for Two?

(This is the fourth installment in my Nutritional Series.  Please read the previous ones if you are at all interested.)

So, the little stick you just peed on turned blue or gave you two stripes or some other signal that you are pregnant.  Your whole life is about to change, as well as that of your partner (if you’re blessed enough to have one).  Before you make your decisions to breast or formula feed, which vegetables to feed the little girl or guy, you have to make your baby’s nutritional choices for them while you are still pregnant.  It is an important time in their lives, nutritionally speaking, but luckily enough, the human body was designed so that the embryo/fetus would get all of the nutrients necessary regardless of what mom eats.  That means mom has to eat healthily to keep up her own strength and fuel her own body.  And boy will she need it when labor and delivery comes around!

First things first:  Many people say that when a woman is pregnant she is “eating for two”.  Is this true?  Not at all.  A typical 130 lb woman who is moderately active should eat about 2000 calories per day.  When she is pregnant should should not, by any means, be eating twice that amount.  Not only would it be difficult for her to consume that much, but she would gain wait fairly quickly (1 lb = 3500 excess calories so about 2-3 lbs per week in the first trimester!).  During the first trimester of pregnancy there is no nutritional need to increase caloric intake.  The embryo is growing and developing, but it is not using all that much of mom’s energy.  The second trimester is when increased calorie intake begins, but it is only about 200-300 calories per day.  So our example 130 lb woman would eat her usual 2000 calories per day during the first trimester, then about 2200 – 2300 during her second trimester.  By the end of her second trimester, our 130 lb woman could actually weigh over 140 lbs (because the bulk of mom’s weight gain really begins in the second trimester).  In the third trimester, our original woman should be eating about 400 calories more than her usual diet, so about 2400 calories per day.  These extra calories will support the large developments and weight gains that occur during the third trimester.

Well, since you aren’t necessarily using thousands more calories of energy when pregnant, you should make each calorie count.  Some nutrients that are especially important during pregnancy include vitamin A, D, E, B1, B2, B3, B6, and C, folic acid, iron, DHA omega-3, protein, zinc and calcium.  Some foods rich in these nutrients include milk (Vitamins A, D, B3, calcium, and protein), eggs (vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, and protein), and fortified cereals (vitamins E, B1, B3, folic acid, calcium, and zinc).  (For a more complete list of foods suggested for pregnant woman, please visit this site.

If the above paragraph scares you to pieces, focus on the “Big 3”:  calcium, folic acid, and DHA omega-3.  Pregnant women need 4 servings of calcium which may come from dairy or dark leafy greens typically.  Folic acid is usually found in prenatal vitamins in the amounts needed by pregnant women.  Check the bottle before you purchase to make sure.  In addition, fortified cereals also contain folic acid.  Finally, DHA omega-3 can be found in cold-water, oily fish such as salmon.  It could also be taken through a supplement.

 

Now that we’ve dealt with pregnancy, let’s move on to when you actually have to “eat for two”.  If you choose to breastfeed your baby (which I highly suggest), your body uses a lot of caloric energy to produce milk.  I have read figures anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories per day are used by a new mother’s body in the production of milk.  Mother’s body will continue to burn these extra calories so long as baby is exclusively breastfeeding.  Once you begin to supplement with solid foods, baby usually nurses a bit less.  This means mother’s body doesn’t have to produce as much milk and therefore doesn’t burn as many calories. 

(Although it is not an exact science, the Weight Watchers guidelines for breastfeeding moms suggests that a mother eats 2 points per day for every nursing session up to 10 points per day.  So if baby nurses 6 times in a day, mother adds 10 points to her daily total, but if baby nurses 4 times, mother adds 8 points to her daily total.  One WW point is roughly 50 calories, so it looks like the program assumes mother’s body burns 100 calories per nursing session; if baby is nursing 5 times per day that is 500 calories extra for the day.  Do keep in mind that the WW program is designed to help people lose weight, so mother’s body is using more calories than this in reality, but this is a safe amount for her to consume while trying to lose baby weight).

Well, let’s return to our 130 lb woman, who has now become a 165 lb (ok, 175 lb) woman waddling herself into the hospital to give birth.  After her baby is born and she begins nursing, she should be eating roughly 500-700 calories more than her usual daily allotment.  So she’ll be eating about 2500 – 2700 calories per day, the most she’s been burning since she’s become pregnant.

With all these calories to consume, what is a breastfeeding mother to do?  What should she focus on eating?  The same phenomenon that occurs in pregnancy also occurs in breastfeeding:  baby will get all of the nutrients it needs through mother’s milk, regardless of what mom eats.  So mom needs to eat to replenish and replace what milk uses, and that is predominantly calcium and iron.  In addition, mom should be eating more fiber, because she will need more.  I don’t know why, and I can’t explain well how it makes sense, but please, for your colon’s sake, eat lots of fiber while breastfeeding. 🙂

 

That concludes my post on pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrition.  Of course, any questions, please feel free to ask.  Stay tuned for the final installment in my nutrition series:  Fitting it All In

To Meat or Not to Meat

This is the third installment in my nutrition series.  I will be discussing whether meat is nutritionally necessary, not whether or not it is ethical.  That is a completely different debate for which I am unable to provide a clear answer.

There really is a lot of information about how the human body processes food and what enzymes are used to break down what we put in our mouth.  God made the body so well that there are actually specific enzymes for each specific food group:  carbohydrases break down carbohydrates like grains and sugars, lipases break down fats, and proteases break down proteins and amino acids. 

Simply looking at this information, it would seem that the human digestive system was created to eat carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.  Easy, right?  Well, not really.  Proteins do come in many different forms, like meats, legumes, nuts, dairy, etc.  So meat is just one possible source of a necessary portion of our diet.

Let’s take a closer look.  Some typical vegetarian sources of proteins include beans, tofu, yogurt, and nuts.  Typically beans have about 8 grams of protein per 1/2 cup, tofu has about 20 grams per 1/2 cup, yogurt has 8-12 grams of protein per 1 cup, and nuts have anywhere from 2.5 – 9 grams of protein per 1/4 cup.  Meats, on the other hand, can be more protein rich per serving.  Beef has roughly 7 grams of protein per ounce of meat, chicken has 8-9 grams of protein per ounce of meat, and fish ranges from 6-8 grams of protein per ounce.  I am making the assumption that when one eats meat, they typically eat between 4 and 8 oz, which means per serving meat can have several times the amount of protein of your typical vegetarian protein sources.

Is this better, though?  You always hear people say “Protein is good for you.  Eat more protein.”  While protein is good for you, it is only good if you eat a proper amount for your body size.  Too much protein and your body cannot use it and either converts it to bodily fat or excretes it.  So the question is:  how much protein does a person need each day?

Adult females need about 46 grams of protein per day, and adult males need about 56 grams of protein per day, according to the CDC.  Children, of course need less protein because they are smaller in size.

I’ll use myself as an example.  How can I consume 46 grams of protein per day without meat?

First, let’s say I have a cup of yogurt and some granola and fruit for breakfast.  I use Greek yogurt, which has more protein, so that’s 12 grams, plus I’ll estimate about 2 grams for my granola because it has almonds and sunflower seeds in it (but not 1/4 cup of each!).

Then for lunch I’ll have a big old salad with lettuce, all sorts of veggies, 1/2 cup beans, 1 oz. of cheese, and a slice of bread and butter on the side.  I dress my salad with olive oil and vinegar.  That gives me 9 grams of protein for the beans and 8 grams of protein for my cheese.

Then for dinner let’s say I make omelets, which I love doing!  I use two eggs in my omelet, plus lots of veggies and maybe a slice of toast.  This gives me about 12 grams of protein.

My grand total for the day is 43 grams of protein.  That does not include any meat.  (I didn’t include any snacks, but anything like nuts, peanut butter, etc would add to your protein amount.)  So it is not terribly difficult to eat enough protein on a meatless diet.

But, there is one little nagging piece of the puzzle left:  vitamin B-12.  It is a water soluble vitamin needed only in small amounts in the human diet, and without it, permanent damage can be done to the brain and nervous system.  B-12 is a vitamin we obtain ultimately from bacteria, and before the sanitation craze of the current generation, you could get B-12 vitamin from vegetables that weren’t scrubbed to death. Nowadays your best (and really only natural sources) of vitamin B-12 are found in animal meats, especially liver. 

Vegetarians can of course eat fortified foods like breakfast cereals to obtain this vitamin, and their brain will function just fine.  But the fact does remain that B-12 is the one nagging vitamin that cannot be wholly obtained from non-animal sources.  It is because of B-12 (and my strange fear of fortified foods) that I choose to continue to eat meat.  I buy organic when I can, and local is even better.  But I feel it is right for my family and nutritious for us to consume meat.

(P.S.:  Plus, I like a good steak every once in a while.)

Fats Won’t Make You Fat

I never thought that in my lifetime I would still find myself explaining to people that fats just don’t make you fat.  But I am still explaining it to a lot of people.  So in an effort to spread the word, I’m writing a post about fats.

What are fats, you ask?  The good ol’ Wiki tells us that fats consist of a wide group of compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents (like acetone and ethanol) but not soluble in water.  That makes sense, right?  You could use nail polish remover to get rid of an oil drip, and water and oil in the same container will separate into two layers.  There are two main categories for dietary fats:  “oils” and “fats”.  These are not scientific terms, but generally oils remain liquid at room temperature while fats are solid at room temperature.  Already you can separate some of these in your mind:  olive oil, oil; butter, fat; crisco, fat; sesame oil, oil.  But really what makes this difference between the two types of dietary fats?  It is their saturation.

In order to explain fat saturation, I’ll have to talk a little bit about fat molecules.  Please excuse this nerd while she giggles with delight.

This is a very basic picture of a fat molecule.  On the left in blue is a glycerol molecule, which consists of carbon (C) and hydrogen (H), and the three similar-looking tails are fatty acids.  These consists of a carboxyl group (carbon and two oxygens) and a chain of carbons and hydrogens.  Carbon, as an atom, has four valence electrons; in other words, carbon may bind with four other atoms.  But it does not have to.  In the case of the last fatty acid chain, there is a double bond between two of the carbons, which means they are sharing two valence electron pairs.  When each carbon in a chain of a fatty acid is holding as many hydrogens as possible (meaning it shares one valence electron each with two hydrogens and two adjacent carbons) then the chain is said to be saturated.  When there is one or more double bonds between carbons because there are not two hydrogens bonded to each carbon, the chain is said to be unsaturated.  Fats, which are solid at room temperature, are saturated fats, and oils, which are liquid at room temperature, are unsaturated.  Because of this difference in molecular arrangement, saturated fats tend to hold a larger amount of energy (read calories), but both are able to be processed naturally by the body.

Trans fats, on the other hand, are a different story.  They are a different isomer of the tradition fatty acid molecule, which means they contain the same number and types of atoms but are arranged differently.  This means they cannot be processed by the body like other fats (simply because they don’t stack and flow through properly).  The consumption of trans fats has been linked to coronary artery disease.

 

I say all of that to say this:  Your body needs fats.

Fats, both saturated and unsaturated, are crucial to satiation.  Eating fat with a meal triggers your brain that you are full, and you will remain full longer.

Fats also maintain healthy cell function, keeping everything lubricated.

Fats keep your skin smooth and hair shiny and healthy.

Fats are necessary for the absorption of vitamins A,D,E, and K.

Plus, fats sometimes just make a meal more pleasant.  Think of bread and butter, or a salad with olive oil and vinegar.  Fat keeps us happy, not fat.

Fiber: The Best Friend You Never Knew You Had

According to Wikipedia dietary fiber is “is the indigestible portion of plant foods”.

Wait a minute, there!  If fiber is an indigestible material, why is it such an important part of the human diet?

Excellent question.  On a basic level, fiber is what helps things move.  We all know that after we eat food, it must pass through our digestive system and then, um, leave.  Without fiber, this process is very difficult.  (Dietary fiber has many other benefits, continue reading to find out more.)

Some Minor Details

There are two basics kinds of dietary fiber:  soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.  Soluble fiber absorbs water in the intestine and forms a gummy substance; it also is easily fermented by intestinal bacteria.  Soluble fiber benefits the body in two significant ways:  it lowers cholesterol and lowers our bodies’ reaction to sugars.  The liver uses cholesterol to produce bile acids, which aid in the digestion of fats in the intestines.  Soluble fiber binds to bile acids, essentially pulling them along for the ride out of the intestinal tract.  In this way, soluble fiber aids the body in lowering cholesterol levels.  Soluble fiber works similarly with sugars.  Sugar molecules (which are relatively bulky) are trapped in the gummy substance the soluble fiber forms in the intestines, disabling it from absorbing into the intestinal walls quickly.  When sugar absorbs slowly into the intestinal walls, you don’t get a “sugar rush”, the telltale sharp increase in energy and sudden drop of energy associate with the consumption of simple sugars.  (Quick digestive tract review:  there are millions of capillaries along the intestinal walls which absorb the nutrients that your food is broken down into, these nutrients travel through your blood stream to muscles and major organs.)

Some sources of soluble fiber include:

oats

beans

peas

citrus

apricots

bananas

apples

broccoli

carrots

sweet potatoes

onions

flax seeds

almonds

and more.

 

Insoluble fiber is “metabolically inert”, which means it does not bind to any nutrient or molecule in the intestines.  It simply absorbs water, increases in volume, and eases bowel movements.  Though soluble fiber has some surprising health benefits, insoluble fiber simply increases bowel volume, softens stools, and decreases the time waste stays in the intestinal tract.  Simply put, insoluble help prevent constipation.

Good sources of insoluble fiber include:

whole grains

wheat

bran

seeds

potato skins

green beans

zucchini

avocado

kiwi skins

tomato skins

and more.

The big question left is how much fiber do I need?  General guidelines state that women should eat about 25 g of fiber per day, while men should eat about 38 grams of fiber per day.  Children require less fiber than adults because they have smaller intestinal tracts.  Women need different amounts of fiber during different times of their lives, but I’ll discuss that later in the week.

For now I’ll leave you with some of my resources:

http://www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/fiber.asp?Submit=Close – University of Maryland calculator for daily fiber intake based on age, sex, and body build

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietary_fiber#Fiber_recommendations_in_the_USA – the good old wiki

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09333.html – Colorado State article on the benefits of fiber

Next Up:  Fats Won’t Make You Fat