Archive for March, 2012


Me and one of my favorite Costco employees, MJ (no seriously, his name is MJ, yes!), in front of my favorite supplement in my favorite store.

“The FDA does not determine whether dietary supplements are effective before they are marketed.”–Office of Dietary Supplements

Rounding out national nutrition month is a topic, I’m quite certain, has confused many of you at one point in your lives — supplementation.  Dietary supplements are, as defined by Merriam Webster, products taken orally that contain one or more ingredients that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food.  Like many of you, I have taken boat loads of supplements over the years.  Everything from a multi vitamin, calcium, dandelion pills, and echinacea, to creatine, BCAAs and thermogenic pills; from Chinese herbs prescribed by my acupuncturist to multilevel marketing supplements that were ‘guaranteed’ to change my life, financially, physically, and mentally.  I’ve spent hundreds of dollars (maybe even thousands, vomit) on products that I thought would make an impact on both my mental and physical health.

It wasn’t until grad school that I realized how much money I had been wasting on supplements.  None of the herbs, pills, powders, and extracts available as supplements are scientifically proven to do anything they claim to do.  It says it right there on the packaging.

In this case, the statement the FDA has not approved is "Essential Daily Formula."

Most of these supplement companies will run tests on their own, but they do so with limited controls and small test groups that don’t take important varying factors into account.  I know it’s hard to stay strong when you’ve got the enthusiastic “nutrition expert” touting the life-changing benefits of a certain supplement, but stay strong!  Most people who are selling supplements are making money from the sale so of course they’re going to do everything they can to make it sound like your quality of life sucks without it.  And if you’re a hypochondriac, oy vey!  By the time you’re finished hearing the sales pitch, the seller will convince you that you feel problems in areas of the body you didn’t know existed.  But just remember, the only people who can legally ‘prescribe’ supplements are healthcare professionals (doctors, registered dietitians, etc.)  Personal trainers do not count as healthcare professionals…I am a certified personal trainer and a dietetic technician, registered, and I still do not, and will not, tell my clients which supplements to take.

Before buying any dietary supplement, I highly recommend checking with your doctor.  Not because the supplements will necessarily cause you harm (although certain medications should not be combined with certain dietary supplements because it can be dangerous), but because you might be wasting your money.  Many of these supplements simply serve as placebos.  Your brain is far more powerful than you might give it credit for.  It can sometimes be coaxed into convincing a person they are sick when they are not; and on the other side of things, it can lift you out of the doldrums and help you overcome a lot of *non-medical problems.  So before you buy the million dollar supplement, make sure you first try the million dollar power pack in your head.  I’ve done the multilevel marketing deal (don’t call it a pyramid scheme, they don’t like that), I swore that the $120/month vitamins were making me feel incredible.  I had tons of energy, I was sleeping well, my nails were growing, it was great!   Once I found out that I did not need 3000% of the RDA for vitamins and minerals, and that I was wasting my money, I stopped taking the vitamins.  Well, not only was I wasting my money, my experience with that company ended badly, there was some shady stuff going on and I wasn’t getting the “easy income” that I was promised when I first signed up (my fault, I shouldn’t have fallen for it, but they really do make it sound so wonderful). That was about 3 years ago.  Nowadays, I have tons of energy, I sleep well, and my nails grow quickly.  Want to know the miracle supplements that I use?  A daily gummy multi vitamin from Costco ($9.99 for a 125 serving bottle) and whey protein powder for after my intense workouts (a 6 lb bag for $35 at Costco).  Learn from my mistake!

Supplements are meant to do exactly what their name implies, supplement your diet.  You get more vitamins and minerals from your food than you may be aware of.  Even if you eat an incredibly crappy diet, you’re still going to be consuming some nutrients.  If you eat a well-balanced, veggie and fruit ridden diet, then you are really getting a good dose of vitamins and minerals.  I say this to demonstrate that you do not need a vitamin that provides 1000% of the RDA.  Example, many people take 1000mg of vitamin C as a supplement, the RDA for vitamin C is 60 mg, 1 orange has 45mg of vitamin C.  Save your money on the bottle of pills and peel an orange instead.  Ask your doctor what type of multi vitamin you should be taking.  I like my gummies because they do not have an astronomical amount of each vitamin and mineral and they taste good, plus I hate the swallowable multivitamin after burp…ew.

My gummy multivitamin nutrition facts.

Some of you reading this, are probably still saying, “I swear the stuff I take works!”  Well, I find that the act alone of buying expensive supplements has a tendency to go hand in hand with other actions that will lead to a feeling of better health.  Whether it’s exercising or slightly improving your diet, one of those things are bound to happen once you make the decision to purchase any supplement.  Or it could be that you convince yourself you feel better, because you just spent a months salary on a cabinet full of products.   Your body can only absorb so much of the vitamins and minerals that you are ingesting, so often times you are peeing out most of the supplement that you have taken, that’s some expensive urine!  What I’m saying is, you probably do not need to spend your money on expensive pills, powders, extracts, and elixirs.  Don’t you think that if there was an over the counter supplement that REALLY helped you lose weight, or increased muscle, or got rid of wrinkles, or helped you sleep better or shortened the length of a cold, Dr. Sanjay Gupta would be all over it in a hot minute?  Exactly.

“In general, FDA regulations of supplements are different from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs.”  — Office of Dietary Supplements.


*For medical problems, or if you think you have a nutritional deficiency, please consult a health care professional.



Fad About You

These results were achieved with a balanced, well-timed diet and regular exercise!

Ah the fad diet.  One of the most popular topics in the world of nutrition, and one of my favorites!  There are so many ‘diets’ out there that offer ‘fast results,’ it’s hard not to be seduced by them.  Since I am aiming to be completely honest with you, I will tell you that my senior year of high school and for a short time in college, I took ‘ thermogenic, fat-burning’ pills (this was over 10 years ago).  When I look back on it, it scares the crap out of me, and I’m pretty sure my parents are not going to be pleased to read this (don’t worry, mom and dad, I didn’t take too many, I was too scared).  Anyhoo, the recommended dosage of these pills was 2 pills, twice a day.  Instead, I took just 1 pill, 3 times a week, yet I was jittery and shaky even at that low dosage.  But I didn’t just ignore it.  The weird mix of being scared of those jitters, and my unwavering determination to have a toned body, prompted me to do some research, which eventually led to an idea for an assignment in my journalism class.  I wrote an article on thermogenic pills that ended up being published in The Alligator, University of Florida’s daily newspaper (yes, I’m tooting my own horn).   After researching them, I stopped taking the ‘fat-burning’ pills.  Let’s just say the information I dug up was…alarming.  I’m providing this example to demonstrate how the less information one has, the more likely one is to be seduced by a fad diet or miracle pill.  So, in an effort to keep you in the know, here is my rundown of fad diets.  Not everyone is going to agree with me, but I have based my opinions on my experiences, research, and of course, education.  It’s up to you to take it or leave it.  I’ll try to keep the reviews short and sweet; if you want more detailed reviews that cite studies and quote health care professionals, log on to reputable sites such as webMD, and search the name of the diet you are considering.  Ok, here we go…

The Atkins Diet.  While many people have lost significant amounts of weight using this method, I have seen just as many people gain it back upon reintroducing carbohydrates into their diet.  This diet works because you are restricting a food group which, in turn, means you are restricting calories.  So, while yes, you will probably lose weight with this method, you might be increasing your risk of heart disease.  The Atkins diet recommends no more than 40g of carbohydrates a day.  You need at least 130g of carbohydrates a day for your brain and body to function properly.  If you’re counting, that puts the Atkins diet at 90g less than the necessary amount of carbohydrates.

Gluten free diet.  I don’t feel that eliminating gluten from your diet is necessary unless you are told to do it by a health care professional.  So, if you suspect that you are gluten-intolerant, I suggest that you go see a doctor or a dietitian rather than attempting this elimination on your own.

Paleo or Caveman diet.  This diet has some good points (e.g. eating grains, veggies, lean meats, nuts, and seeds) but I am not completely sold on it for a few reasons: 1) We are not living in the Paleolithic era.  I know few people that ‘hunt and gather’ for their meals, and if you are one of those people, kudos to you.  If you’re not, it may be very difficult and/or expensive to get all the required wild game, and wild, edible plants. 2) Eating one large meal a day, is not ideal for keeping your body properly fueled; food is energy.  If you expend energy throughout the day, you need to eat.  Cave men did not have 9-5 jobs and extracurricular activities.  3) I am not a fan of any diet that eliminates an entire food group (e.g. dairy in this case); whenever a food group is eliminated, you run the risk of nutrient deficiencies (perhaps calcium, when cutting out dairy.)

HCG diet.  RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION FROM THIS DIET!!  Holy dangerous, Batman!  Not only are you injecting yourself with hormones which are only naturally present in pregnant women, you can only consume an insanely-low 500 calories a day.  Heck, a regular-size Snickers bar has 271 calories, so imagine eating no more than 2 of those a day.  Of course you’re going to lose weight!  Talk about calorie restriction.  There is nothing beneficial about this diet.  Who knows what side effects you will be faced with along with nutrient deficiencies, muscle loss, and, I would imagine, a perpetual bad mood.

Blood type diet.  There is no scientific evidence backing this diet.  While it may not be dangerous, it doesn’t consider individuals’ needs, so someone following this diet might end up eliminating a food that doesn’t negatively affect them.

The Master Cleanse (or any ‘cleanse’ for that matter)  I have some fantastic detox products that most healthy people already have access to…your kidneys and your liver!!  There is no need to do a cleanse or detox unless you’re trying to quit drugs or alcohol (and that’s a different type of detox).  A little bit about the Master Cleanse which, you may not know, was developed in the 1940s: it is deficient in all essential nutrients; weight loss occurs due to the extreme calorie restriction (I don’t care what cleanse or diet you’re on, if you’re not eating your going to lose weight — in an unhealthy manner); the weight that you are losing probably includes muscle instead of fat; you can expect to feel hungry, experience headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sluggishness, diarrhea, or constipation (sounds like a blast); fasting can rob your intestines of healthy bacteria that aid digestion and boost immunity; and there is NO evidence showing that cleanses remove toxins that are not already excreted through daily waste (please don’t make me go into detail).  Another fun fact: The creator of the Master Cleanse, Stanley Burroughs, was convicted of second degree murder (stemming from a patient of his dying while he was engaged in felonious unlicensed practice of medicine).  This conviction was reversed, but the court felt that Burroughs was susceptible to a possible conviction of involuntary manslaughter. (Google “People vs Burroughs” to read all of his convictions…yes, there are more.)

Pills and miracle products.  If you’ll notice, the fine print on every one of these products reads “results achieved when combined with a balanced diet and an exercise program.”  Coincidence?  I think not.  Save your money, no over the counter pill currently on the market is proven to work.  It’s the diet and exercise that are giving you results, the pill is just the snake oil being peddled to make money.

Here’s the bottom line that, for some reason, few choose to accept.  There is no miracle diet or pill that will allow you to eat whenever you want while sitting on your arse.  The one ‘diet’ that is PROVEN to work is a balanced diet consisting of lots of veggies and fruits, lean meats, low fat dairy products, whole grains and an eating schedule of a meal or snack every 3 hours.  I think you know that.  This program has been touted by nearly every reputable health care professional; however, the most challenging aspect of this universally recommended program is just applying what we already know.  It’s like anything else, we usually know how to do it, it just takes us time to commit to it and get in a comfortable flow.  Below is a sample day from my ‘diet’:

Meal 1: 2 slices whole wheat bread with Nutella and a glass of milk

Meal 2: Publix brand shredded wheat with 1 banana, milk, and Splenda.  Black coffee to drink

Meal 3: 1 pear, 1/2 bell pepper, 3 slices Boar’s Head chicken, jalapeno greek yogurt dip, Tostitos multi grain Scoops

Meal 4: Oh Yeah! bar and a glass of milk

Meal 5: Protein shake (1/2 cup Pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup skim milk, 1/2 cup mixed frozen berries, 4 frozen strawberries, 1 banana, 1 scoop whey protein powder, 6 ice cubes)

Meal 6: whole grain pasta with peppers, onions, and chicken, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese


Desiree’s design for dining out.

Roxx Tavern's GM Adam Adams handing me a to go box for my leftovers!

“What do you do when you go out to eat?”  That is one of the most common questions nutrition professionals are asked.  I understand, it can be very difficult to maintain a healthy diet when faced with the overwhelming amount of choices on restaurant menus.  If you have extreme willpower and you’re able to order a grilled chicken salad with lemon wedges, good for you!  That is a surefire way to keep your calorie intake in check when eating at a restaurant.  I, myself, like ordering things that I might not necessarily prepare at home (I can definitely prepare a grilled chicken salad at home) so you’ll find me ordering something savory.  If you are one of those savory food-cravers, here are my suggestions to dining out without the guilt:

My savory craving last night, the Black and Bleu burger at Roxx Tavern. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

  • Have a light snack before heading out; e.g. a piece of fruit, half of an energy bar, or a glass of milk.
  • Ordering a beverage?  Stick with water, not only will you save calories, you’ll save money too.  If you’re having an alcoholic beverage with your dinner, alternate your libations with water.  And remember, that fabulous Mai Tai-Piña-Rita-Tini that the person at the next table ordered, probably has as many calories as the entree you’ll be ordering; the calorie-devil disguised in fruit, an umbrella, and a fancy glass.
  • Ask yourself, “Do I really need an appetizer?”  You really don’t, unless it’s a side salad with a light vinaigrette dressing.
  • Tell your server to hold the bread.  Nothing leads to mindless nibbling like a basket of warm bread and some butter patties.
  • Keep in mind, entrees at many restaurants are really 2-4 servings.  So, when you get your meal, divide everything on the plate in half (or quarters if you’re at Cheesecake Factory) and box up one half.  For instance, if I order a burger, I save half of the burger and half of the fries for later.  Again, not only are you saving calories, you’re saving money!

Saturday night dinner and Sunday lunch…that's a 2 for 1!

  • You know the lettuce, tomato, and onion that come with your burger?  Put them on your sandwich, it’s an easy serving of veggies!
  • If you order a salad, get one made with spinach, romaine, spring mix, or any other lettuce that has some nutritional value (iceberg = water in the form of lettuce).
  • If you’re planning to order dessert, you can do a side <–> dessert swap.  Order veggies or a salad, instead of fries or creamy mashed taters as your side, if you want to indulge in a dessert after.
  • If you get a dessert (and you didn’t do my side <–> dessert swap), split it with a friend.
  • Eat slowly!  Put your fork or sandwich down in between bites.  I used to have a bad habit of scarfing down an entire burger and fries because I liked the taste so much, and by the time I would pay my check, all I wanted to do was lay down because I felt so full and bloated.  Now, I divide my food, enjoy every bite, and stop eating when I feel full.
  • **Bonus Chinese takeout tip**: Most Chinese takeout is not healthy, unless it’s steamed chicken/tofu and veggies.  Fried rice is not brown rice, it is rice that turned brown because it was fried in an asinine amount of lard.  If you order Chinese food, be VERY aware of your portion sizes.  Ball your fist up, half of your fist size will be your serving of rice and your full fist size will be your protein (chicken/tofu/beef/duck).  And definitely ask for no MSG.  I highly recommend a snack before even thinking about ordering Chinese takeout, and just say no to those crispy noodles.

Now, I don’t go out to eat often, but if I’m going to out to eat, I’m having a freaking burger.  Why would I spend $13 on a salad that really costs about $2, when I can have a tasty burger for 2 meals (counting the leftovers!) for the same price?  On a side note, I have some bonus advice for you based on my experiences both as a gorger and a nutritionist: do NOT comment on what or how your friends are eating.  Not everyone is ready to be health conscious, so let them join you when they’re ready.  This advice goes the other way too, if you are not ready to adopt a healthier lifestyle, don’t comment on your friends’ healthier choices…encourage them or keep your mouth shut unless it’s to shove a forkful of chili cheese fries down your hatch.

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Fuels like the first time.

March is National Nutrition month!  Each of my blog entries this month will pertain to nutrition, food, eating, and just about anything requiring digestion.  Well, maybe not that in depth, but every entry will be nutrition related.

This week, I want to give you a general idea of my approach to eating.  I decided to pursue my master’s in nutrition after my first year of competing (for those who don’t know, I am a fitness competitor, although I started out as a figure competitor).  In preparation for my competitions, I did what most first-time competitors do, research what other competitors have eaten over the years, and then follow suit.  What I didn’t know at the time was that nutrition is not ‘one size fits all.’  Calories, grams of protein, grams of carbohydrates, grams of fat, etc., are all based on your age, gender, weight, activity level and overall general health.  Leading up to competitions, I was consuming around 130 grams of protein a day and very few carbohydrates.  And let me tell you, I FELT LIKE CRAP!!  I had no energy, and even though I hated to admit it, I smelled weird.  I knew something was not right. That’s when I decided that I wanted to learn how to properly prepare for competitions using my own food knowledge.  I didn’t want to have to rely on secondhand research.

Through my four years of studying and researching nutrition, I learned one extremely valuable fact…FOOD=FUEL (actually, I learned many other valuable facts in those four years, but I don’t think you want to read about metabolic pathways, and Biochemistry).    We have to eat to fuel our bodies.  We should be trying our best to refill our tanks, or at least topping it off, every 3 hours.  This is not to ‘speed up your metabolism’ as so many like to say.  Yes, you read that correctly, EATING EVERY THREE HOURS WILL NOT SPEED UP YOUR METABOLISM.  However, what eating every 3 hours will do is regulate your blood sugar levels.  Ever notice how you get tired or confused when you’re hungry?  That right there is a result of low blood sugar.  This is science, people.  Your metabolism is your metabolism.  Very rarely are people able to alter their metabolism.  That was, literally, the first thing I remember learning in grad school.

Now, ideally we want to consume premium foods when we hit that 3 hour mark, but if you’re in a pinch and premium foods are not an option, then something is better than nothing.  For example, say you ate breakfast at 9am and noon rolls around, you’re at work, you forgot to pack a lunch and the only thing in the break room is a box of donuts.  What do you do?

Do you:

  1. Drink a glass of water and pray that the box of donuts magically disappears.
  2. Eat the donut while simultaneously doing jumping jacks.
  3. Eat the donut, and go on about your day.

The correct answer is…C!!!  Yes, you eat the donut without a guilty conscience.  I cannot stress how incredibly important it is to fuel your body every 3 hours.  I’m not saying to eat a steak and potato dinner 6 times a day, which is what some might think when they hear ‘six meals a day.’  You want to aim for small, balanced meals and snacks (I will cover this in-depth over the month of March).  Bottom line — keep your body properly fueled.

So this week’s lesson in a nutshell: food should be consumed to fuel your body and this should be done by eating a small, balanced meal or snack every 3 hours.  So you don’t explode from curiosity, I have included a sample of what I might eat on a typical day.

  • Meal 1: Publix brand shredded wheat with milk, one banana, and Splenda.  Black coffee to drink.
  • Meal 2: Green drink (1/2 cup water, 2 cups kale, 1 lime, 1 apple, 1 pineapple ring, 2 cups ice)
  • Meal 3: Spanikopita (frozen from Costco) and a salad (spinach, onions, mushrooms, peppers, avocado, vinaigrette dressing)
  • Meal 4: Either an Oh Yeah! bar or a Lara bar and a pear
  • Meal 5: Chocolate milk or Protein Shake (chocolate milk after dance classes, protein shake after HIIT or a workout)
  • Meal 6: Salmon, 1/2 sliced bell pepper, green beans, and cous cous.  If I’m having a sweet craving, I might toss back a small handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips.


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