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50 Nutritional Tips and Facts

Written by Matt Danielsson

You know the importance of eating right in order to stay in top shape. But what exactly is “eating right?” When faced with multiple choices, can you pinpoint the best option? Or perhaps there are some small changes you can make to your regular routine that will dramatically improve your nutritional intake? Here are 50 nutritional tips and good-to-know facts you can use to gain an extra edge for keeping strength and energy levels up while minimizing body fat.

When you’re in the mood to snack on some beef jerky, consider ostrich jerky instead. It typically has half to one-fourth the fat of beef jerky, is lower in cholesterol, and packs more protein per ounce.
If you have a sweet tooth, you can indulge (in moderation) immediately after your workouts. This is the one time when the muscles are starved for sugar and a candy bar does more good than harm.

Protein and carbohydrates pack 4 calories per gram, while fat has a whopping 9 calories per gram. That means you can eat twice as much protein or carbs as fat and still take in less calories overall. This is part of why it is so easy to overeat on fatty foods.

Blood sugar swings make you sluggish and more likely to get fat. You can even out the blood sugar levels by snacking every couple of hours instead of having the traditional three large meals per day.

Snacks should consist of a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat for the best effect.

To make sure you pick foods that won’t mess with your blood sugar, you can look up thousands of foods online for free. Check out http://www.glycemicindex.com and click “GI database.”

Drinking pure water—not sodas, coffee and other drinks—has many benefits. In addition to keeping you hydrated and mentally alert, it helps your body metabolize fat more effectively, clear out toxins, and keep your digestive system in shape.

Like popcorn? Buy a hot-air popper. When done, use a water-spray bottle ever so slightly while shaking the bowl. This will make the salt stick while the moisture disappears in a minute.

Foods high in sugar tend to stimulate the appetite. This makes you want to not only eat bad food, but to eat more of the bad foods.

Fat isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, fat is a necessity for survival. The key is to opt for healthy fat sources, such as fatty fish, olive oil, avocados and sunflower seeds.

When shopping for veggies, consider spending a few cents more on the organic option. Studies have shown organic foods often contain fewer toxins and considerably more of important nutrients such as chromium, selenium, calcium, boron and magnesium. Besides, sometimes it just tastes better.

After a hard day’s work you may be tempted to pull into Burger King. How bad could a BK original double Whopper with cheese be? Try 1,070 calories and 70 grams of fat. That’s well over an hour on the treadmill, and we’re not even counting the fries and soda.

Popeye had it right—spinach is great! It comes packed with iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and a bunch of other important stuff. Mix yourself a spinach-based salad at least once a week.

Ever notice how you start sweating when eating spicy food? That’s not just in your head—spices can actually speed up your metabolism and make you burn more calories.

Avoid trans fats acids whenever possible. These are often listed as “partially hydrogenated” oils and have been shown to be quite harmful to the point of being completely banned in many European countries.

Fiber has a direct impact on blood sugar in that it slows down the
absorption of sugar and thus keeps the swings to a minimum. Make sure to get some veggies, rough bread and other high-fiber foods into you every day.

Avoid overcooking vegetables, as much of the nutrients can be destroyed by heat.

Tofu may not be as mouth-watering as a juicy steak, but it’s extremely filling for the amount of calories you take in. With about 10 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of fat per 100 grams of tofu, you can see why the calories only add up to about 100 calories in all (the rest is water). For those looking to lose a few pounds, this means you can get yourself good and stuffed on tofu while the same amount of calories would only get you a modest piece of steak. And with the right spices, tofu can be made to taste almost edible.

Black coffee can speed up your metabolism so you burn 100–200 calories extra per day.

Juice, especially health-food juices like Odwalla and Naked Juice, pack a lot of vitamins and healthy stuff. But don’t forget to check the label—some are virtual sugar and/or calorie bombs, despite the otherwise healthy content.

Can’t handle dairy? The fermentation process of yogurt makes it easier to digest and may be tolerated by those who can’t absorb plain milk and cheese properly. A low-fat, non-sweetened yogurt can be a great source of protein and calcium with digestive benefits to boot—but start easy to gauge your reaction.

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and fiber while adding very little calories and almost no fat whatsoever. That makes them a great addition to your breakfast cereal—buy them fresh and mix in as much as you like for an extra boost.

Rice can be either good or very bad for your waistline. Puffed rice and other highly refined types of rice can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels, while most types of parboiled rice digest slowly and make for good nutrition.

Almonds are a great component for between-meal snacks. 100 grams of almonds, about 3/4 cup, has 21 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fiber and 50 grams of almost all good fats (the last few grams are water). The high fat content, while mostly healthy, puts the calories at almost 600 calories so you may want to ration it out with a handful here and there in conjunction with other things.

Try to make breakfast and lunch your biggest meals of the day. The calories will fuel you when you need the juice, not when you’re about to hit the sack and are more likely to have the energy stored as fat.

Got the urge for a chocolate-glazed donut? Check your local health food store for spelt cake donuts with carob glazing. Some brands are duds, but others get it right where you have a great-tasting donut packed with protein and no saturated or trans fats.

If something is “instant”—i.e., instant cereal, instant mashed potatoes and the like—chances are it’ll trigger blood sugar spikes. Unless you know for sure, go with the slow-cook option.

Omega 3 and 6 fats, found in fatty fish and oils from flax, sunflower, safflower, sesame and soybean, help push down LDL, “bad” cholesterol, while promoting “good” HDL. If you don’t have time to cook but have a family history of cardiovascular problems, it may be worthwhile to buy an Omega 3+6+9 supplement.

Most of the stuff they say about garlic is true; it really can reduce bad cholesterol, fight bacteria, and so forth. Add some fresh garlic whenever you can, but don’t forget the breath mints.

Looking for high-protein meals with little fat and carbohydrates? Base your meal on any of the following: skinless chicken breast, skinless turkey, lean ground beef, tuna, egg whites (you can buy these pre-separated), low-fat cottage cheese and top round or sirloin steak.

Green tea is high in antioxidants and helps your digestive system stay healthy, but avoid drinking it too late at night as it contains caffeine.

Snacking on fruits is good, but if you buy them conventionally grown instead of organic, you run the risk of getting some nasty chemicals into your system. Peaches, strawberries, apples, nectarines, pears and cherries are the ones most likely to carry residual pesticides.

Alcohol has 7 calories per gram—almost as bad as pure fat. In addition, alcohol interferes with the body’s natural hormone balance and hydration, effectively setting you up for the classic “beer gut” syndrome. One beer won’t do much harm, but a dozen beers will. As if the hangover wasn’t enough of a clue.

Tuna in water is about as good as it gets for keeping yourself lean and mean; one small can typically has 30–40 grams of protein and almost no fat or carbs. Put it on whole-wheat bread with some tomatoes, lettuce and a dash of olive oil for a perfect midday snack.

Eat some complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, parboiled rice or rough bread about an hour before your workouts. This will help keep you energized without losing strength and stamina toward the end.

Watch the salt (sodium) content of pre-packaged foods. Too much salt increases your blood pressure and makes you retain water. This can add extra pounds that slow you down in a critical situation where speed is of the essence.

Like to barbeque, but don’t like the gobs of artery-clogging fats in ground beef? Try ground turkey burgers—it is almost all protein with very little fat. Mix in some Worcestershire sauce and diced onions for taste.

When buying peanut butter, opt for the natural kind that requires stirring in the oil before using. It’s a pain, but the “nice” kind that is easy to spread is packed with harmful trans fats.

Never go grocery shopping while hungry. That makes it easier to resist that bag of cheese nachos, and what doesn’t go into the cart won’t end up inside you.

Diet soda may seem like the perfect way to keep from snacking. That may not always be true; as mentioned earlier, some get their appetites stimulated by the sweetness even though it is artificial. Also, while sugar-free, diet soda can still harm your teeth.

Brazil nuts are packed with selenium, a vital mineral that boosts your immunity system. Buy them raw and store in the fridge to keep ’em fresh.

Avoid late-night snacking, with one notable exception: high-protein, low-fat and low-carb snacks. Low-fat cottage cheese, tuna or perhaps a pure protein shake will give your body what it needs to rebuild itself while you sleep without encouraging fat storage.

Sport/energy drinks are great for prolonged endurance events like rock climbs or bicycle races, but never drink them when just sitting around; the energy surge will soon take a nosedive and you’ll become mentally and physically sluggish.

Be careful not to burn your food. When meat, bread or other things start to turn black, you’ve got a witch’s brew of carcinogens going—reduce the heat and keep things moving to avoid burns.

According to Tufts University, the average American eats his own bodyweight in sugar every year. Every gram is just empty calories, so make an active effort to cut it out whenever possible.

Carrots are packed with beta-carotene and other antioxidants. Not only does this help preserve eyesight, like your mom told you, but it may also help protect the skin against the harmful rays of the sun. You should still wear sun block while exposed to prolonged sunlight, however.

Of all protein sources out there, the body best absorbs whey protein. Milk and egg protein are also excellent, while meat, nuts, soy and other sources rank a bit lower on a gram-for-gram comparison.

While not drinking enough water is harmful, it’s more harmful to drink way too much; some marathoners have even died from it. Don’t drink more than you can absorb, and you may have to take supplemental minerals to compensate for sweating when exposed to extreme heat for long periods of time.

Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, lake trout and albacore tuna are naturally high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.

Last but not least: Be skeptical of fad diets and “miracle herbs” that promise to make you lose fat while curing baldness and solving world hunger. There is no magic bullet.

Conclusion: Common sense and smart consumer choices go a long way in keeping the waistline under control and your muscles primed for action.

Matt Danielsson is an IFBB-certified personal trainer and freelance writer with 10+ years of experience. He runs www.LearnBodybuilding.com and may be reached at mattdanielsson@hotmail.com.

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2006

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