5 ways to avoid the candy binge this Halloween

It’s coming, it’s already here actually. Especially if you have kids. We’ve already been to two festivals that left my children with bags full of candy. And we still have trunk or treat along with the actually day of trick or treating to go. We haven’t purchased our own candy to pass out, but usually we have leftovers.

So, how do you handle all that candy without gaining a gazillion pounds? I’ve come up with some tips that I hope will help you out. And no, it doesn’t involved passing out raisin boxes, toys, or boxes of floss. I’m not trying to get your house egged this year.

  1. Buy candy to pass out that you don’t care for. This should be common sense, but it’s so tempting to buy giant bags of candy bars.
  2. Buy about 25% less candy than you think you will need. I don’t know about you, but every single year, I buy way more candy to pass out than we need and then we have a ton leftover. If you do have leftover candy, donate it to your Sunday school class at church, the work break room, or wherever you think could use it. Just not your kitchen counter candy dish.
  3. Know your candy sizes. For chocolates that is. Minis are the small square candies. Snack-size and fun-size treats are usually about 2 inches long. Go for the minis! They are typically around 25 to 50 calories a pop. The “fun size” (also called “snack size”) are anything but fun for your waistline. Each one is anywhere from 70 to 85 or more calories. Have you ever stopped at just one? Ever? “Snack size” is a misnomer. It’s not enough for a snack.
  4. Remember calories count. Unfortunately sugar calories do nothing for hunger levels. All of those straight sugary concoctions – sweet tarts, lollipops, gummies, chewing gum, candy corns, chocolates, mallows, taffies, and caramels contain many calories with zero effect on satiety levels. Should you consume extra candy calories, balance it out by cutting calories from other areas of the day and add more activity. Maybe volunteer to be that one that takes the kids trick or treating around the neighborhood this year? For a list of the lowest calorie candies, go here.
  5. Relax. I usually include this tip in for any holiday. It’s just one day and one day will not mess up your efforts to live a healthy lifestyle. As long as you keep it to one day. Commit this year to celebrating each holiday with ways other than food – enjoy family, friends, the decorations, and festivities. Enjoy the traditional foods on their respective days only and the traditional weight gain that happens between now and December 31 will not happen.

Remember that sugar is addictive. Implement these strategies and you will do fine. However, if you know that starting will lead you down a dark, dark path, it’s okay to decide to stop before you even start. Let me know in the comments what has helped you to avoid the candy binge in the past or how you plan to conquer it this year.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 foods we feel guilty about loving

I thought it might be fun to highlight some foods that you may not be eating in an attempt to stay healthy or may be eating laced with guilt. And put a positive spin on them. I know I have gone through periods of my life where I’ve avoided just about all of these foods because at one time they were deemed “bad for you” and then later as “health foods.” I think it comes down to knowing that if it’s a whole food – as in something you can visualize growing in nature or at least close to it, it’s probably okay, at least in small amounts. Remember there is never going to be a cookie or a pizza tree. But you are always going to see the potato roots and the cows out grazing.

  1. Sugar: earlier this year, I hosted a 30 day “no sugar” challenge and the results were fantastic. Because truly, sugar can be addicting and I’m convinced the only way one can overcome that is through a period of elimination. However, if you are attempting to cut the bitter in your coffee, a packet of sugar is only going to add 15 calories. So don’t sweat it. If it’s someone’s birthday and you want to help them celebrate with a slice of cake, go ahead. If you love an occasional soda with your slice of pizza (they go great together), then have one. The research is strong that consuming drinks and foods made with artificial sweeteners do not help with weight loss.
  2. Whole Milk: for the longest time, fat free or low fat was where it was at. Until recently. In past posts, I’ve discussed how full fat dairy products are linked to decreased risk of diabetes and at best, not linked to increased heart disease risk. Certainly, it is well known milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, important for bone health.
  3. Bacon: if chosen wisely, bacon can be more than a hunk of fat. It can actually be a tasty source of protein. The natural, uncured, nitrite/nitrate free, center cuts will be higher in protein, less saturated fat and without the unnecessary additives that may be linked to increased cancer risk.
  4. Salt: if you have been diagnosed with heart or kidney disease, then you may have been told to reduce or avoid salt. Have you ever wondered why? It comes down to fluid retention – eat salty foods, get thirsty, drink more water. This isn’t good for someone who is collecting fluid around their heart or lungs or for someone who’s kidneys aren’t filtering the fluids out of their body correctly. For the rest of us, we probably aren’t that salt sensitive and can handle it. For table salt, I recommend pink himalayan salt for the added minerals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go out and eat all the salty processed snacks you can find – they still aren’t considered health foods and contain a ton of additives and preservatives without the nutritional benefits you get from whole foods. But for those of us with normal functioning organs, we can probably handle it for the most part.
  5. Bread: it really depends on the how and why. Are you eating a sandwich? And what is on the sandwich? Usually in this manner, the bread is in two controlled slices and serving a purpose. Unfortunately though, the favorite way to eat bread is in the form of an endless loaf or basket of rolls and tub of butter. It’s really all in context.
  6. Potatoes: no, I’m not talking about sweet potatoes. I’m talking about the good ole white potatoes we all love to demonize. Sure, if you are eating chips or french fries, go ahead and continue to hate them. But what about a baked potato? They are actually rich in folate, niacin, potassium, and and phosphorous. Much of the time, we are eating processed cereals fortified with these minerals, but potatoes are natural sources, which means our bodies can absorb them better. Try a loaded baked potato and salad for lunch or dinner – add plain greek yogurt in place of sour cream for extra protein. And eat the skin for extra insoluble fiber.
  7. Pasta: okay, it’s hard to make this a health food, but hear me out. The problem is when we pile a giant heap of pasta on a plate with an ooey gooey cream sauce and a side of buttery garlic bread. Instead think of what is called the “plate method.” This means, you are filling your plate up with about 25-30% pasta, 50% non starchy vegetables, and 25-30% meat. This could be sectioned out or mixed together in a  pasta dish. Point is, your pasta dish has more vegetables than pasta and the side is a salad not a few slices of garlic bread. Make sense?
  8. Red meat: while I don’t necessarily recommend eating red meat every day, this is a good source of iron and B vitamins if consumed once a week. Remember that cuts like sirloin, round, and flank are considered lean. If choosing a higher fat option, just be sure to cut the visible fat off before consuming. Our bodies are able to absorb minerals easier from meat than plants or fortified sources so if you do eat meat and have trouble with iron, this is a better option. For those of you that are anemic and struggle with iron, you know that taking supplements is no pleasant task because of the side effects. Last week, I talked about choosing grass fed meat, which incidentally tends to be your leanest choice.
  9. Eggs: once thought to be a cause of heart disease, that is no longer true. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is important for supporting healthy brain function and liver function. Also an easy, cheap source of protein for not only breakfast, but snack time and lunch or dinner.

Did I give you permission to start eating any of these foods more often? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Foods that naturally boost your metabolism

First off, let’s start with a little background because most people who struggle with their weight are tempted to blame their metabolism for the difficulty they are experiencing. If you have a longstanding history of weight cycling, aka yo yo dieting, a slow metabolism may very well be your problem – for the purposes of this post, that is what the main focus will be. So what happens to your metabolism when you weight cycle, aka “yo yo” diet?

1. First, you lose a lot of fat mass (good thing) but a lot of muscle mass too (unavoidable with rapid weight loss, not a good thing)
2. If it was not a sustainable diet (often it’s not), then the weight piles back on at lightning speed, but this time it is all mostly replaced with fat mass.
3. Fat burns less calories than muscle = your metabolism tanks. Next time you try to diet, it doesn’t come off as easily or fast.
4. Over time, chronic dieters find themselves with a slower and slower metabolism because they keep losing muscle and replacing it with fat. It’s a viscous cycle that eventually makes it almost impossible for weight loss success to occur.

Fear not, if this all sounds too familiar and you think you are in this situation, I’ve done a little research for you and found some promising ways to boost your metabolism, naturally.

  • Tomato juice: in a 2015 study published by the NIH, menopausal women aged 40-60 who consumed 200 ml unsalted tomato juice twice daily experienced an increased in resting energy expenditure (REE) by an average of 400 calories
    Bottom line: drink 200 milliliters twice a day (about 6 ounces twice a day). Hey, it’s not gonna hurt anything.
  • Cinnamon: in a 2012 study published by the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, one group of individuals took cinnamon supplements every day, while the other group took a placebo. After 8 weeks, the cinnamon group lost more weight and body fat than the group taking the placebo.
    Bottom line: add cinnamon to your food or try the pure essential oil for a more concentrated version. Contact me if you are interested in learning more about brands I trust and recommend. remember, supplements are not regulated and therefore, may not be free of contaminants.
  • Coffee: most studies with caffeine in doses of about 100mg per day (6 ounces of coffee) showed an increased calorie burn between 75 and 110 calories for the entire day. There are other sources of caffeine, but coffee is a calorie free source that actually contains some antioxidants.
    Bottom line: have some caffeine before exercise to maximize the calorie burring effects if you are going to try this one. Hey, I love coffee, why  not?
  • Grapefruit: A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2006 showed that obese patients who consumed 8 oz of grapefruit juice or 1/2 of a grapefruit before each meal lost about 3.5 lbs after 12 weeks, without making any other changes to their diets. Participants in the study who consumed a grapefruit capsule before meals also lost weight — but just 2.2 pounds over the 12 weeks. The placebo group did not lose weight.
    Bottom line: drink 8 ounces grapefruit juice, eat 1/2 grapefruit daily, or take a grapefruit capsule with meals (I recommend with 2-3 drops pure essential oil in each one, contact me for recommended brands)
  • Lean Protein: Eggs, chicken, fish, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, turkey
    The “thermic effect of food” (TEF) is the energy we use to digest food into small, absorbable components. Protein burns more calories to digest than carbs & fats. It also takes longer to digest, keeping you fuller longer.
    Bottom line: include 30 grams protein at meals, 8-10 grams of protein at snacks, and eat every 3-5 hours
  • Ginger: promotes digestion and stimulates metabolism, which leads to increased calorie burning. In animal studies, it increased metabolisms by 20%. In human studies, most herbal supplements taken internally increase metabolic rates by 2 to 5% tops. Every little bit helps! In a small, but very interesting pilot study, it was shown to enhance the thermic effect of food and increase the feeling of fullness after a meal. Bottom line: add it to your foods (we aren’t animals); you could also try the pure essential oil for a more concentrated source. If youve never cooked with essential oils, visit my previous post here.

What about appetite suppressants?

There are a few medical options that can help. I’ve talked them in the past along with habits that can help. In the spirit of natural options, here are some effective options I found in  my research:

  • Peppermint Oil: in its food grade, it is used often in the candy and dental industries (seems like an oxymoron, huh?). There is a reason for those after dinner mints! Because of the strong smell, it has an appetite suppressing effect in its purity. Try brushing your teeth after dinner, chewing mint gum while cooking, or diffusing peppermint essential oil to take advantage of this benefit.
  • Water: dehydration often leads to excessive hunger and even sugar cravings, especially chronic dehydration. Aim to consume half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. Add citrus for flavor and extra cleansing benefits. My personal favorite is pure lemon essential oil. Better yet, add fresh squeezed grapefruit juice or grapefruit essential oil.
  • Capsaicin: as in chili peppers. Ever notice you eat less when you have an extra spicy dish? This is why. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, of course.

Let me know what you try and feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in learning more about incorporating essential oils into your weight management routine.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Does your stomach really shrink when you eat less?

As a specialist in weight loss, I hear this phrase a lot, “I just need to shrink my stomach so I can get used to eating less.”

In reality, throughout life, the adult stomach stays about the same, which is the size of a football. However, the stomach is a muscle that can be stretched temporarily to fit more in should the occasion occur. How much we eat tends to be more dictated by habit and hormones rather than size, however.

A little anatomy for you. (I promise, just a little.) There are three very basic parts of the stomach: the top (the fundus), the middle (the body), and the bottom (the pylorus), which is where food empties out into your intestines. The the fundus, is the stretchy part that can expand a bit to allow more food to fit if necessary. It is not likely that the entire body of the stomach is going to expand to allow more food. Back to the football, if you can visualize how much chewed up food that would really mean, it’s quite a lot. However, our body regulates our appetite with hormones that send signals to our brain to tell us whether we’ve eaten enough or not – this is independent of how full the stomach is. Those hormones play a very big role in weight regulation and can be easily over-ridden by outside cues (i.e. the food tastes really good, it’s Thanksgiving, etc.)

Now back to the fundus. This upper muscle is why there’s always room for dessert, but maybe not another immediate meal. It takes about two full hours for the meal to completely empty down to the lower  stomach, out and travel into the small intestine. If you overdo it by eating too much too fast or adding some dessert at the end, that fundus is going to allow for some extra room. For those that habitually overdo it, the tolerance is going to grow over time for allowance. For those that don’t, it’s gonna be more uncomfortable and you’ll be less likely to keep doing it. When you go on a diet and purposely under eat for a couple of weeks, that fundus will become less stretchy and you’ll feel like your stomach has “shrunk.” But it really hasn’t. Weird, huh?

Competitive eaters use this to their advantage and train that muscle over time to allow them to eat a lot in one sitting without puking. I’m not suggesting you do that since I’m assuming you read my blog for help with weight loss, not competitive eating.

In someone who has had weight loss surgery, the body and possibly the pylorus of the stomach has been removed or bypassed, leaving about the size of an egg left. That’s not a lot and it creates some massive restriction. Because this part of the stomach is a muscle and can still stretch, it doesn’t stay that restricted for good. However, the tolerance for over-eating is much less, so the individual usually never gets back to having a football size stomach and still experiences permanent food restriction. If you know someone who had weight loss surgery and regained all or some of their weight because they “stretched their stomach back out,” this may be what’s going on. That’s for another blog post, though.

Hope you found this helpful and enjoyed a little weird science today!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded women striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Foods that stop bloating

You know that feeling. There’s no real reason for your weight to have tipped the scale, but you can’t button your favorite pair of shorts. It’s a fat pants kinda day with a blousy blouse to cover up what you’re feeling looks bit like a pot belly. What if you could eat your way to a thinner stomach and get rid of that bloated feeling? You actually can.

First, it helps to understand why this happens. And it happens to everyone. Often women more so because of hormones. (You probably knew that though!) Pre-menopausal women often feel bloated at varying times of the month with bloating and fluid retention being two common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

Another reason may be because of dietary habits, either eating too much or too little fiber. Too much fiber, especially if the body is not used to it, can cause excess gas. Too little fiber can cause constipation. It can also happen if you eat foods that are particularly gas forming such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, dried fruit, asparagus, brussel sprouts, artichokes, onions, radishes, cauliflower and fatty or fried foods. The goal is to aim for 25-30 grams of fiber daily, I’ll talk about what that looks like since the typical American diet contains around 10 grams.

A big reason, however, is due to emotional stress. We often give too little credit to the impact that this can have on our physical health. In fact, it is estimated that 25 to 45 million people in the U.S. are affected with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and 2 in 3 of those are women. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is characterized by diarrhea alternating with constipation worsened by stress.

The last one I am going to include here is small bowel bacterial overgrowth. I talk about the importance of probiotics in my recent post here because it can definitely help combat this condition. I’ve seen this mostly in people who have had a recent gastrointestinal surgery and those taking antibiotics for prolonged periods of time.

So now for the good stuff, what foods can you eat to prevent this from happening? Because nobody has time to be feeling bloating and gross.

  • Cayenne pepper: it’s a natural laxative because it stimulates the digestive enzymes to get moving.
  • Ginger: old remedy for soothing stomach discomfort, haven’t we all had ginger ale at some point in our lives for a stomach upset? Sadly, most ginger ales don’t contain any real ginger at all. You are better off boiling and straining some fresh ginger or adding a drop of pure ginger essential oil into some tea or hot water.
  • Fennel: inhibits muscle spasms which calms down symptoms of IBS. Cook your next meal with some of the fresh herb or take 1-2 drops of the pure essential oil in a capsule.
  • Peppermint: similar to fennel, the menthol in peppermint relaxes your muscles and allows you to release any pent up gas or flatulence. Because if you are struggling with reflux, this may aggravate it because it also relaxes the sphincter at the end of the esophagus causing stomach acid to revert back up in those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD.) Make peppermint tea by adding fresh mint leaves or a drop of peppermint essential oil to a cup of hot black tea. The hot water can also help get things moving along, especially helpful for constipation. Avoid chewing peppermint gum as this can make gas worse since gum may cause you to swallow air.
  • Lemon: acts as a natural diuretic and helps if you are retaining excess fluid. Squeeze some fresh lemons or add a drop of pure lemon essential oil into your water. Avoid drinking your water out of a straw since that can cause you to swallow excess air and make bloating worse.
  • Berries: they are 85 to 95% water, making them great for reducing bloat. They are also an excellent source of soluble fiber, a type of fiber that dissolves in water and one that many of us don’t get enough of in our diets. In order to promote bowel regularity and prevent bloating, we need plenty of this along with insoluble fiber, the kind that does not dissolve in water (so think apple skin and celery.)
  • Watermelon: it’s high in water, making it a natural diuretic to remove excess fluid retention. Also great source of soluble fiber like the berries.
  • Probiotic containing foods: such as yogurt, kefir, and kombucha or add a good supplement to your daily regimen (more on that here).

I’ve given you many ideas that offer additional health properties beyond reducing bloat. That’s one of the many great things about choosing natural options for improving your health. If you are interested in learning more about the essential oil options I mentioned, feel free to reach out to me at one of the links below.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Back to school tips for a healthy family (and your sanity!)

This is a crazy time of year. Lazy days of summer are over and routines are back in full force. I relish the summer because of slow mornings and relaxed evenings without homework. Movie nights any night we want, lunch at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and leisurely mid-week breakfasts are over.

I once read that August is kinda like the Sunday of the year. It represents a new start and recommitment to improving what hasn’t worked in the previous months. Some of you may have children transitioning into middle or high school this year and if you’re like me, you might have a child just entering the school world. Change is here! But that doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re drowning in after school sports schedules, reading logs, and math homework that you live on pizza and fast food for the next 9 months.

Tips for maintaining sanity and a healthy family during the school year:

  1. Pre-make freezer meals. These can be precooked or not. I’ve done both. If you decide to precook I recommend making enough for at least two meals – one for that evening and one to freeze. It’s much easier to make two at once while you already have the stuff out. Raw meats can be put in large freezer bags with chopped veggies and sauces then frozen for later cooking (baked, pressure or slow cooked.)
  2. Plan ahead. Duh. You’ll have a routine. You’re gonna know when football practice is and when the games are. There’s gonna be late nights that cooking isn’t going to happen. Will those nights be the night you save Monday’s leftovers for? Or the night you decide your family will eat out? It’s okay to eat out 1-2 times a week. It’s not okay to just decide you’re gonna be a fast food family every night during the week.
  3. Plan quick meals. Thirty minute meals sound great. But let’s face it, sometimes that’s too long when it’s late and you’ve got starving kids whining at you. Some of my favorite fifteen minute meals to make include: cheese omelets with fruit and whole wheat toast, deli sandwiches and salad, salad (using pre-made salad bags) with pre-cooked chicken, deli meat, or canned tuna, etc. Nothing wrong with a protein shake or protein bar and yogurt/fruit either. Not all kids will enjoy that last option so I may boil them a hot dog and add raw veggies with ranch if that’s what I go for. Just be flexible! Meals are probably not always going to be your traditional family style meat and two sides.
  4. Establish a bed time and routine. I’ve been guilty in the past about not doing this. You know what happens? There isn’t one and every night turns into a circus, ending with sweat and tears. (I’m not talking about my kids!)  If you don’t want this to happen, decide now when bed time will be and then reverse engineer. That’s will determine what time dinner is going to be. It’s not always going to work out perfectly, but establishing this will make life much easier for you and help you make decisions about what responsibilities and activities you participate later on in the school year.
  5. Take a good multivitamin. Yes, I’m advising your whole family do this. It’s important to fill in the nutritional gaps with a high quality vitamin. This can really help with immunity, focus, and sleep quality. Germs and common childhood illnesses are frequent throughout the school year! Lessen your chances with this simple step. I’d love to tell you if you eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains that you’ll be set. But I’m not that confident in today’s food supply or our ability to consistently eat a perfect diet in today’s busy lifestyle. If you would like recommendations for brands, feel free to contact me. Not all are created equal.
  6. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. And make them convenient to eat. This means they are cut up, washed, and stored in clear containers in the front of the refrigerator. Consider storing apples, oranges, and bananas in a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. Research shows that this really increases the chances they will be consumed by your family first and more often throughout the week. These will make for much healthier after school snacks over the bag of chips in the pantry! We eat what’s convenient.
  7. If you plan to pre-pack lunches, try to make them for 2-3 days ahead of time. Again, when you’ve got the stuff out already, it saves time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches last up to three days without going soggy. I’ve tested it myself. And be okay with allowing your kids to eat at school some of the time. I learned a while ago that it’s not healthy for me to be up all hours losing sleep in the kitchen trying to pack everyone the perfect lunch.
  8. Grocery shop once a week. Pick a day and time you’re gonna do it consistently. If possible, not a weekend day in the afternoon. This is the busiest and most stressful time and it will take you the longest. Make a list before you go and get it done. No food in the kitchen = no meals made at home. Some grocery stores are now offering curb side pick up. Do your shopping online, they get it together for you, and you just pick it up at the door. Genius! I have a previous post  if you need help with budgeting.
  9. Eat breakfast. As moms, we are pretty good about making sure our children eat a healthy breakfast before rushing off to school. And then we get to work or go on about our day and never get beyond the cup of coffee for ourselves. Don’t do that. Everyone needs breakfast to maintain a healthy weight, perform better, focus throughout the day, and to prevent unhealthy snacking. While you’re making your children breakfast, take the extra two minutes to make yourself one too. If that’s really a no go, consider a meal replacement. I offer insights and suggestions here. Popular kid’s breakfast options include peanut butter on waffles, peanut butter and jelly (I like uncrustables for a fast fix), oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, cereal and milk with strawberries or bananas, cheese omelet with fruit, cinnamon raisin toast and a banana, yogurt and cheerios, hard boiled eggs and toast.
  10. Be flexible. The biggest reason people fail at their health goals is because they get stuck in the mentality that their plans needs to be perfect. As soon as something unexpected happens (a child failed their test, you get asked to volunteer for the halloween party, you get a flat tire on the way to school, etc), they throw in the towel. I call this “Plan A,” perfectionism, which really only happens 5% of the time. Plan B is your reality, so flexibility is key because these things are going to come up, 90% of the time. That’s just life. What’s the other 5%? Plan C….reserved for those days when you’re probably gonna stay home, order a pizza, and call it a day. Luckily they only happen occasionally!

    Most important thing is, you make a plan, allow for flexibility, fall off course sometimes, and consistently get back on track. 

Good luck this year, I wish you a year of success and fun filled memories!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Drink coffee and eat cheese to lower your diabetes risk?

It’s no secret that obesity is an epidemic in the United States and many other developed countries. Because of that, comorbid conditions that are related to extra weight are on the rise. Of particular interest is Type 2 Diabetes, a condition where your body cannot use insulin properly to regulate your blood sugar levels, causing hyperglycemia (aka high blood sugar.)

A quick science lesson to understand what’s going on in someone who has diabetes: insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is necessary to move glucose (sugar) molecules into our body’s cells for energy. Every cell in the body requires glucose to function. If those glucose molecules are hanging out in the blood stream, they aren’t doing their job and instead, are creating problems like blurred vision, excessive hunger/thirst and fatigue because the body is essentially acting like you haven’t eaten. Chronically high blood sugars lead to heart disease, kidney failure, and permanent nerve damage. No organ can function correctly in a thick, syrupy-like bloodstream.

This is why prevention and management of diabetes is so important. It can absolutely be diet controlled and I’ve witnessed many individuals be able to get off of their diabetes meds with enough weight loss and diet modifications. It’s possible. But always better to not have it to begin with since diabetes is not curable. Note, I’m only referring to Type 2 diabetes here. Type 1 is genetic, usually diagnosed in childhood, and happens when the pancreas produces no insulin at all. It is unrelated to lifestyle factors. 

So what foods increase your risk? Let’s start there since more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and 86 million are living with pre-diabetes. Many of those unaware. Some risk factors like age, genetics, race, and family history are out of our control. However, one thing we can do is choose what we put on our plates. Emerging research has some interesting results on just exactly what to choose and what to ditch.

Foods that increase risk:

  • refined/processed carbohydrates such as crackers, cereal, white bread, cookies, snack cakes, chips, pastries, etc. Interestingly, those marketed as “low-fat, fat-free, and low carb” are also linked to an increased diabetes risk. Why? Because they are still processed!
  • red meat (according to this study “red meat” included beef, pork, and lamb)
  • processed red meat (think bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, bologna, etc)
  • sugary drinks like fruit juice with added sugars, soda, fruit punch, lemonade, sweet tea, etc

Foods that have a neutral effect (at least for now):

  • butter
  • poultry (according to the research, the evidence is not clear if it increases or decreases risk)
  • 100% fruit juice without added sugars
  • eggs (can we all just agree it’s okay to eat eggs already?)
  • fish (although may decrease risk in some Asian populations)

Foods that decrease risk:

  • green leafy, vegetables
  • nuts
  • whole grains (unrefined, with the bran still intact)
  • monounsaturated fats (such as avocados, nut butters, mixed nuts)
  • high-fat dairy products (cheese, cream, whole milk, kefir, yogurt) *you read that right, check it out here
  • coffee (add some cream! who else is getting excited? It’s true, really I’m not lying to justify my addiction.)
  • tea
  • alcohol (2 drink limit for men, 1-1.5 drink limit for women, but no need to start if you don’t) *you read that right, too

Much of the research cited is from food frequency questionnaires on large scale studies. As you may know from my previous posts, this method of data collection is not the most reliable, but it’s difficult to control human behavior, especially when it comes to diet over a long period of time. Either way, I think these lists of food gives us some valuable insight on what we can control in our own life.

Lastly, remember that your diabetes risk increases after the age of 45, exercising less than three times per week, being overweight, and having a family history of diabetes. 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

The real reason to go vegan (hint: it’s not because meat causes cancer)

I want to start with a disclaimer, I don’t have Netflix. I know. But I rarely watch tv these days and when I do, it’s in the form of a Friday night animated movie with my kids. You’ll understand in a minute why this matters to the topic of vegan diets.

But first, let’s clarify what a vegan diet really is. It’s not the same thing as going vegetarian which is simply cutting out some or all animal products. Vegans are hard core. They don’t eat animal containing products of any kind including beef, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, honey and any products containing such ingredients (i.e. whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.) Most vegans I have known rely on whole, plant based foods to compose their diets. The bulk of their diet comes from nuts, seeds, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, potatoes, and occasional dairy substitutes. They typically do not consume processed meat substitutes (that would be a flexitarian), processed junk food, added oils, and sugary drinks/sweets. These are health conscious people that often care about the environment too.

A certain movie on Netflix has been circulating recently about how healthy vegan diets are, suggesting if you follow them, you won’t get cancer, Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. And highlights how unhealthy eating meat, poultry, processed meat, even fish, and all forms of dairy is. Cancer in a patty with melted diabetes on top, shall we?

As a reader of my stuff, you probably know by now, I have an opinion. But you should also know my opinions are based on quality evidence. I’ve read a thorough review of the movie but my post really isn’t to bash the movie. What I’d prefer to do is shed some light on the real reason you’d want to consider following a vegan diet instead of a bunch of bias and poorly backed reasons of why you shouldn’t eat meat. In the world of nutrition and scientific research, there are very little absolutes. When it comes down to it, nobody really has the answer. If they did, they would be extremely wealthy and these diseases that have become such epidemics would be eradicated by now. One little movie just doesn’t have the miracle answer. Sorry.

So let’s outline some great reasons why a vegan diet would be a great option, sprinkled with a few reasons why it might not be a fit for you:

  1. Vegan diets are nutritious: this really is a no brainer. They are naturally higher in fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemical than the typical western diet (aka standard American diet aka SAD). The fat content is also more unsaturated since there is no allowance for the primary sources it comes from like butter, beef, processed goods and poultry skin. However, there are going to be a few nutrients that will present a challenge and concerted effort to obtain adequate amounts is required. Vitamin B-12 to start with because the best source in the SAD comes from eggs and animal products. There is a product that you may have never heard of unless you circulate in the vegan communities called nutritional yeast, which can be fortified with B-12 (think parmesan cheese). Most solid vegans I know take daily sublingual supplements or bi-weekly injections. Really no way of getting around that one, a B12 deficiency can lead to all kinds of issues including permanent neurological damage, so don’t mess with it. Next ones are vitamin D, calcium, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These three power house nutrients typically come from canned seafood and dairy products, both off the vegan menu. If flax seed, flax seed oil, and walnuts are a regular part of the diet, omega 3 fatty acids should not be a problem. And there are always vegan omega 3 supplements. It should be noted that the vegan supplements are not as bioavailable as the fish supplements, however. Some green leafy vegetables will provide plenty of calcium if eaten regularly especially kale, broccoli, and watercress. Almonds are also a great source of calcium all things considered. Plant-based dairy alternatives can be a good option too if fortified with vitamin D, B12, and calcium. I talk more about them in this recent post.
  2. There is possibility that vegans are at lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The research isn’t clear, folks. The movie which shall remain anonymous, gave studies, which to the average person unfamiliar with how research works, might sound compelling, if not downright terrifying. But much of what they cited was based off of dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires. I did some of my own digging, that’s what I found too here, here, and here. As a dietitian, I’ve completed both myself and obtained thousands of dietary recalls. Can you give me an account of everything you’ve eaten for the past seven days including snacks, drinks, and meals? How about a month? I can’t either. That’s what they are basing their research on and then saying the amount of meat these people ate is linked to their cause of cancer. You can’t buy that. I will note, if these people are professing to be vegans and in two of the studies I linked to, the subjects are seventh day adventists as well, I’m guessing the researchers are taking their word that they don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or consume animal products. So over the 6 and 8 year follow up period these two studies took place, these people never messed up. Not once. Not ever. I’ll let you decide how likely that is. And how truthful people are about that. Especially when it comes to their religion.
  3. You could be thinner. True. Could be. I’m a weight loss expert. I’ve been working with people on weight loss for over ten years. I’ve never been able to adequately help someone lose weight without reducing their carbohydrate intake and increasing their protein intake. Quite opposite of a vegan diet. But certainly, the carbohydrate choices I recommend are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/legumes. Really, I’m tired of of the 100-calorie snack packs and 1-point snack cakes filling up the grocery aisles advertised as weight loss foods. They aren’t. And they aren’t part of a vegan diet, that’s a win.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking is number one. My mission is to help you lose weight effectively and for good. I don’t buy for one second that eating a piece of bacon or any processed meat is like smoking five cigarettes. This study compared various types of cancer risks relative to habits like smoking history, processed meat, and red meat intake. However, they based their conclusions on food frequency questionnaires and did not take into account BMI or family history of cancer (although they gathered the information.) They did survey close to 500,000 individuals. So I will give it to them that they have numbers on their side. If you’ve ever talked to me about processed meat, you know I don’t like nitrites and nitrates because I do believe that there is strong evidence that they are linked to cancer and there are too many great nitrite-free options to risk it. But that doesn’t mean eliminate them altogether nor does that make a strong case to go vegan. In fact, this study found a reduction in all cause mortality when individuals replaced red meat with unprocessed white meat (chicken, fish, etc). But again, they obtained their evidence from questionnaires. So who really knows.

So far, maybe I haven’t given much compelling reason to go all out vegan. I’m really not anti-vegan at all. In fact, I’ve considered it myself but I live with two meat-lovers  and one-dairy lover so I prefer to keep the peace for now. At first glance, there is some compelling evidence that it’s the miracle diet we’ve been looking for. But then again, other diets are out there showing similar promises. Fact is, we don’t know enough about any of them and I’m not sure if we ever will. I don’t know anyone that has gained weight, could blame their cancer, heart disease, or diabetes on following a vegan diet. Quite opposite in all of the personal encounters I’ve experienced myself. If it’s something you are considering, have a plan, allow for a little flexibility, and incorporate supplements if necessary.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

This is why slower is better (even though it feels sucky)

When we make positive changes in our lives to reach a goal, it’s human nature to want results overnight or, even better, YESTERDAY. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve been on a healthy eating kick. I mean, who wants to plan their meals diligently, grocery shop and cook those meals, eat less than normal, feel hungry, drink a bunch of water, ditch the sugar and fried food, say no to the tv snacks, and get rid of the chocolate stash just for a couple of measly pounds after a entire week of faithfulness to this plan? Not many.

In life, we want a big payoff, or return on investment, when we make a decision to change. Want to make $10K a month? Who doesn’t? It takes time. Want to lose 80 pounds? It takes time. And here’s the deal – most people will get discouraged when they don’t see results fast. In fact, some may argue that diets offering quick results early on equal higher success rates because they spark high motivation. But what they don’t mention is the long term maintenance of said diets. And to me, that’s a failure. Anyone can lose weight. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably done it a dozen times yourself. That isn’t your problem. Your problem is maintaining that weight loss. So my challenge for you is to RESIST the urge to crash diet because crash dieting is no different than what you’ve done before.

In fact, losing weight quickly is a red flag that you will regain that weight quickly.

Why? Because physiologically, the body doesn’t adapt well. We are designed to be protected from starvation. Losing weight in general causes a decrease in the production of the hormone leptin, which signals the brain to say “hey you’re full, you can stop eating now.” It also causes an increase in the hormone ghrelin which tells the brain, “hey you need calories, eat!,” and that means you’re gonna be hungry. Losing weight also means a slower metabolism, because smaller people naturally burn less calories. If there is less of you, you are going to need less calories the smaller you. Make sense?

This creates a problem for the chronic dieter. You have a slower metabolism, but you’re hungrier than ever. Tack on an unrealistic diet you followed to get the weight loss you achieved (say, a low carb diet, an 800 calorie diet made up of all protein shakes, or a cabbage soup diet, you get the point) and well, you don’t stand a chance. Stay with me, there’s still hope.

If you are losing weight slower, say one half to two pounds per week, it can actually be a sign that you are likely to keep that weight off. Why? Because you are probably doing something that you can continue doing long term (i.e. you aren’t on the latest and greatest fad diet of the season). Think about it this way – if you are looking back at the last four weeks and you’ve lost two pounds, I completely understand that it may be really frustrating and you probably feel like you’re getting nowhere. But in one year that equals twenty-six pounds lost. Twenty-six pounds you will keep off for good. Isn’t that better than twenty-six pounds in say, two months that will ultimately result in thirty pounds regained over a year’s time? I know you know what I’m talking about here because you’ve probably experienced something similar.

What is an optimal rate to lose weight?

-If you weigh <250 pounds = 5-10% over six months (so a 200 pound person might lose 20 pounds by the 6 month mark)

-If you weigh >250 pounds = 10-20% over six months (so a 300 pound person might lose 60 pounds by the 6 month mark)

Bottom line, keep at it. Even if your wins don’t seem like much, they are actually a really big deal. Losing weight fast usually means it won’t stay off. I’ve seen it more times than I can count. On the flip side, when people lose weight at a slower pace consistently, I’ve almost never seen them regain it. So let that be an encouragement to you today to stay the course!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Do you know what high fructose corn syrup really is?

Believe it or not, there is a large degree of controversy in the health community as to whether or not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) any different than consuming sugar, honey, or any of the other sweeteners humans have consumed for decades prior to the 1970s when it was first introduced on the market.

Let’s start off with defining what this evil thing is, HFCS, anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, probably all bad things. But do you know what it really is (besides an evil liquid sweet substance that makes you fat especially your liver, inflames everything in your body, and will likely give you a heart attack in the next 5 years)? Defined, it is derived from corn starch which has been broken down into corn syrup to which enzymes have been added to change some of the glucose to fructose, making the product

sweeter than regular corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is 100% glucose whereas HFCS now has a large portion or fructose. According to the FDA, HFCS 42 (as in 42% fructose) is mainly used in processed foods, cereals, baked goods, and some beverages. HFCS 55 (as in 55% fructose) is used primarily in soft drinks. Make sense?

Why is it used? Because it’s cheap. It comes from an abundance and renewable source in the agricultural industry – corn. It’s also stable in acidic environments and beverages, making it very easy to use in products. Being that it’s liquid, it’s also easy to pump from delivery vehicles to mixing and storage tanks.

So why the controversy? It’s cheap, it’s easy, seems to be near identical to table sugar, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose – the substance all other sweeteners are compared to. So why all the media hype? One of the biggest spotlights it has been deemed a demon for is the obesity epidemic. I’ve done as thorough research review and as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t convince them, conf

use them.”And that’s largely where I’m at -sort of.

Here’s why. The vast majority of the studies I read concluded that HFCS is no more to harmful to our health than consuming regular table sugar is. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, it just means it’s not worse for you than eating added sugars in general. That makes a lot of sense to me because I already know that eating added sugar does more harm that good. What didn’t make sense to me was that some of these articles, like this one from the NIH, while compelling, were funded by Pepsi Co International, Coca Cola, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods, Corn Refiners Association, and Weight Watchers. The conclusion was “based on high quality evidence from randomized controlled tria

ls (RCT), systematic reviews and meta-analyses of cohort studies that singling out added sugars as unique culprits for metabolically based diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease appears inconsistent with modern, high quality evidence and is very unlikely to yield health benefits.” In case you forgot, Weight Watchers has a large product line if one and two point cakes, muffins, and other yummy sweet treats to keep you on track with your point count.

And this review, who’s final statement was “it does not appear to be practical to base dietary guidance on selecting or avoiding these specific types of sweeteners,” was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s just hard for me to see beyond the possibility of hidden agendas w

hen companies who have a lot to lose are dumping their money into statements telling the public th

at what they are doing is perfectly safe.

I did find some unbiased research out there though. As of 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that there indeed is evidence that it may have a special connection to the rising obesity rates, particularly because of the overconsumption of sweetened sodas. The conclusion that started this whole controversy was that “the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and gout is also increased with the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

But why would this be? For starters, with the cheap source of sweeteners, the average soda size grew from sixteen ounce bottles to twenty. Even more so, this sugary substance is addicting. W

hen we get a taste of it, we want more. Sweetness is an acquired taste. Ever met a one year old who’s never had candy or cookies? I have and they could care less about it. I met a holistic nutrition doctor once that has two children between the ages of five and ten who have never had sugar of any kind before….and they didn’t want it. In contrast, I’ve met a two year old who’s tasted candy and they will go through great lengths to get it (like pulling up chairs, climbing furniture, hiding behind furniture with said candy, screaming, crying…not that this was my kid or anything.)

In a more recent study in 2013, they concluded similar results (along with increased risk of fatty liver disease) with more astounding statistics – between 1950 and 2000 the soda consumption increased from 10 gallons per year to over 50 gallons per year and from 120 pounds of sugar in 1994 to over 160 pounds of sugar in the 21 st century.

Additionally, fructose can be a nightmare if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. For about one third of sufferers, fructose malabsorption or intolerance may exacerbate symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Fructose is naturally found in honey and fruits. But we eat it on the daily in sugary drinks and processed foods – trying to eliminate it can be a challenge. Same goes for those with a corn allergy. It’s becomes a second job to avoid HFCS since it’s now in not only sodas but crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, granola bars, and yogurt.

Lastly, I’ve talked about the hunger regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin before. There is evidence to suggest that HFCS inhibits insulin secretion thus, the leptin isn’t produced to promote satiety after a meal or a snack full of HFCS. As far as I have found, ghrelin (the hunger producing hormo

ne) isn’t increased, but who cares when you get no full signal while you’re chowing down on a box of doughnuts?

Bottom line: eat it, as with table sugar and all added sugars, in moderation. It is unclear if HFCS is the cause of the rising obesity epidemic and all of the related health issues we are experienc

ing in ourselves and our families, but it is crystal clear that there is a correlation.

What is moderation though? Well, I didn’t find much out there. I know less than 160 pounds per year, but that doesn’t tell me a whole lot. To give you an idea, one 12 ounce can of soda has 40 grams. So consider a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminate sweetened beverages. Start there and limit the sweets to special occasions and holidays.

 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN