Metabolism. Don’t Leave me Now!

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”
Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Aging is a good thing!  At least it is better than the alternative. This is for all of the women out there wondering if it is even possible to stop the weight gain that occurs as they approach the mid to late 40’s, 50’s and beyond.  Here’s the deal:

Research shows the average weight gain during peri-menopause and menopause is 10-14 pounds. Research also shows this weight gain is avoidable!

The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data documents the largest increase in the percentage of women who become overweight or obese occured between the ages of 40 and 59. (68%)

In a large study from Australia, over a five year period, women, on average, gained a little more than one pound per year.  The research scientists adjusted for biological factors and discovered the decreased exercise, hysterectomy and more sedentary lifestyle were independently associated with weight gain.

In another, even larger study, researchers evaluated post-menopausal women, and documented a 10-pound weight gain over seven years that they attributed to increased sedentary behavior and decreased recreational activities.

Good news that weight gain is preventable.  The bad news is that as the level of estrogen decreases, there is a shift in where fat is stored.  It moves from the hips to the stomach and any new fat is deposited around the stomach.  Abdominal (stomach) fat is associated with serious health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many others. So it is essential to lose extra weight before it is depostited in around the mid-section.

If weight gain is avoidable, why does it occur and what can we do to stop it from happening to us?  Great question!

Exercise. There appears to be a decrease in planned, purposeful exercise.  Review of health club enrollment and class evaluations indicate this is the age many women drop gym memberships or take less intense exercise classes. It is common to hear women say they used to walk four miles, five times a week, but now only walk 2 miles, three times a week.

Less exercise results in not only fewer calories burned but a decrease in muscle mass, which further diminishes calories burned.   Studies show that women in this age range should make 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two strength training sessions per week a high priority.

woman-lifting-weights                                two women walking

Change in Eating Habits. Lifestyle changes during this time period can easily impact calorie intake. Family dynamics change as kids’ age and cooking meals at home may not be as high of a priority. Market studies indicate an increase in money spent by women at casual dining restaurants during the 40’s and 50’s. Restaurant eating generally results in increased calorie intake.  American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends women eat 200 fewer calories per day than what they ate in younger years.

Stress. This is a hard one to manage. Estrogen helps to regulate the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol helps us control stress. As estrogen decreases it becomes difficult for the body to manage stress and cortisol levels rise. Many women eat more and less healthfully when they are stressed. Manage stress levels and it should be easier to manage diet.

Lack of Sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports approximately 61% of menopausal women do not sleep well. Not enough sleep raises the levels of ghrelin, a hormone which helps regulate hunger. Ghrelin increases your appetite and fat production. Lack of sleep also lowers the hormone leptin which tells your body you are full and don’t need to eat. It is recommended women get between seven and eight hours sleep per night.

At the end of the day, menopause is going to happen. Understanding that the changes in your body are due to fluctuations in hormones and not because you are lazy or undisciplined is important. Also, knowing there are very active things you can do to manage your weight and the changes to your body is critical. Be empowered!




Red Pepper, Tomato and Chicken Rice Pilaf

This is one of those recipes that you look at and think it might be okay, but give it a try because it will take you by surprise.  It is even better the second day!  To be honest, I only put chicken in it on the nights we are not eating any other protein.  I like it without the meat.  I’ve also made it with firm tofu and have been happy with the result.  Check it out!

1 1/2 Cup, Minute – Brown Rice
3/4# Chicken, boneless, cooked, cut into bite-size pieces
1 can (14.5 oz) Stewed Tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz) Fat-Free Chicken Broth
1 large Red Pepper, roasted and cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 Cup Peas, frozen
1T Olive Oil
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Oregano, ground
1/4 tsp Pepper, black
Salt, as needed

Nutritonal info (Serves 6):
Calories: 183, Protein: 16, Carbohydrate: 20gm, Fat: 4gm, Fiber: 3gm, Sodium: 508mg

The original recipe called for a jar of roasted red peppers.  I like the fresh taste of red peppers roasted over a flame, so I changed to recipe.  It would be simpler to add a jar (7 oz) of peppers, but keep in mind it adds fat, calories and sodium.   This recipe is so healthy, it might be worth the trade to you.






Carbs are NOT Evil!

potato1_l         beans         BreadPasta

Carbs have been getting a bad rap the last few years.  Foods containing carbs can provide quick energy and can be stored in the muscle as glycogen and used as a longer term source of energy.  In reality, carbs can make a huge difference in game-time performance.  This is true for kids, adolescents and adult athletes.  The deal is, you have to eat the right kind of carbs to benefit from them.

There are two forms of carbohydrates:  simple and complex.  Simple sugars are in fruit, candy, cookies, sweet drinks, etc. and may provide quick energy.  Have noticed a young athlete half way through a game who looks like they just “hit the wall” or completely ran out of energy?  It could be poor conditioning or very possibly a kid coming off of a sugar rush!  Simple carbohdrates before an athletic event does not usually bode well for the athlete or the team.

On the other hand, complex carbs, aka starches (bread, pasta, rice), take longer to digest and allow athletes to sustain higher level of activity without muscle fatigue and decreased energy.  Complex carbs also contain minerals and vitamins required for for optimal energy and recovery.  (You’ve probably heard the term, Carb Loading.  It is referring to the intake of complex carbs before a swim meet, half- or full-marathon or other extended athletic event.  Please note, carb loading is not proven to be beneficial for young athletes or some women since they do not have the muscle mass to store  glycogen. )

I have not forgotten about protein.  It is also important, even though it should not be the main source of energy.   Depending on the type and extent of workout, your muscles work hard and breakdown.  Protein helps repair the muscle while helping to achieve muscle growth.   The sooner protein is consumed after an athletic event, the better for to help repair muscle damage.  Thus, the recommendation to drink chocolate milk!

Keep in mind, a large, large, large majority of people can eat an adequate amount of protein without eating or drinking supplements.  In fact, most athletes (kids and adults) eat about twice as much protien as they really need for muscle repair.  Excessive protein intake is not beneficial and may stress the kidneys, result in dehydration and weight gain.  (Protein that is not required by  the body is either broken down and wasted in urine or stored as fat.)

AnnikaSydneySoccer                          AnnikaSwim

So, what does a young athlete really need?  Depending on intensity and activity level, most adolescent athletes should eat betwen 20-27 calories/pound of body weight.  So, for a 100# kid, that would be 2000-2700 calories/day.  Typically, these calories should be 60-70% carbohydrate, 10% high biological value protein and 20-30% fat.

What does this look like for a 100# athlete eating between 2,000-2700 calories?  1,200-1650 carb calories, 200-270 protein calories and 300-400 fat calories.  The quality of the food as well as the timing of eating can also play a role in optimal performance on the court, field, pool or weight room.


Overall,  a daily diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole grains are best) with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats as well as low-fat dairy is best to meet energy needs and ensure adequate stores for peak performance.

A couple of hours to immediately before a game, match or meet:  String cheese, boiled egg or natural peanut butter with whole grain crackers, bananna or apple and peanut butter, greek yogurt. bagel with lean meat, low-fat cheese, trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and WATER.

Afterwards (1 hour max):  Chocolate milk (personal fav), greek yogurt, fruit with peanutbutter, meat and whole grain crackers and WATER.

Several hours later: A meal with complex carbs, lean meats and 20-30% fat will provide the optimal fuel for muscle repair and storage of energy (glycogen) for the next big event!

Using nutrition to enhance increase energy and athletic performance is not a new idea.  Nevertheless, it is one that is greatly undersused.   Give it a try.   Use science to help your athlete be prepared, perform at a higher level and recover more quickly.  Let me know how it goes.  I’d love to hear from you!



Sausage, Pasta and Tomatoes in a Skillet

You might have noticed, many of the recipes on this site are made in a skillet.  I’m all about easy to make and easy to clean.  I add some cut-up veggies or fruit to round out the meal.

1.  1# Italian Turkey Sausage
2.  1C Tomato Sauce (it may be pasta or pizza sauce or can of straight tomato sauce)
3.  1 can tomatoes, diced or chopped
4.  8oz pasta, small is easiest to manage in skillet
5.  Small bag (6-8oz) of Baby Spinach leaves
5.  1 cup Mozzarella Cheese, part-skim
6.  1 1/2 cup nearly boiling water

1. Cook sausage thoroughly & drain.
2.  Add tomatoes, sauce, pasta and water.  Boil.
3.  Cover pan and decrease temperature to a simmer until pasta is al dente (~12 minutes).
4. Add spinach. Stir in mixture.  Turn off heat and add cheese.

Nutrition Info (serves 8):  Calories: 259, Carbohydrate: 27gm, Protein: 20gm, Fat: 8gm, Fiber: 2gm, Sodium: 695

I’d love to hear if you make and like this recipe!

Not Your Usual Black Beans & Rice

Black Beans and Rice is not a new dish for anyone.  There are many different ways to make this food.  The tastiest version I’ve ever had was in Puerto Rico.  It had many complex flavors and textures.  It was very tasty but I am sure it was not heatlhy.

So, for this recipeI’ve mixed it up a little to make it fresher & healthier than many of the versions I’ve reviewed.  As a bonus, it’s simple.

1.  1 can Black Beans, rinsed.
2.  2 cups Brown Rice, cooked
3.  2 T Olive Oil
4.  1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped
5.  1/2 cup Sweet Peppers, red, green, yellow3.
6. 8 oz Turkey Keilbasa

1.  Slice Keilbasa into 1/2″ pieces and cook on medium heat in large skillet.   Stir to brown all sides and move to edge of skillet.
2.  Add Olive Oil and cooked Rice to center of skillet and warm.  When the mixture is warm and rice appears lightly toasted add rinsed black beans to mixture.  Season with salt, chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, as desired.
3.  Serve on plate and top with cilantro, fresh peppers and a squeeze of lime juice.

Nutrition Info: Calories: 425, Protein: 18gm, Carbohydrate: 57gm, Fat: 14gm, Sodium: 871mg, Fiber 8gm.

Please note, most of the sodium is in the beans (~480mg Na/serving)and Keilbasa (~510mg Na/serving).  Rinsing the beans will decrease the amount of sodium significantly.  There are also low sodium canned beans, but your best best is to cook dry beans.  This requires a little planning, but is a great option.  I  use a crock pot and cook overnight.   Keep in mind, the black beans are a great source of fiber which can make you feel full longer and is good for your digestive tract.  Adults need 21-30 gm fiber/day.

If you’ve used Keilbasa before, you may have noticed that one link usually seven servings, so if you use the entire Keilbasa (which I often do), the nutrition info for the recipe will not be accurate.

My girls really like to have a couple of eggs added to the skillet.  I add them just as the rice is becoming fried.  I move the rice mixture to the edge of pan, add a teaspoon of olive oil and break the two eggs in the center of the pan and stir to scramble.  Once cooked, I stir into rice mixture and then add the beans.   You may add any topping you desire to make it your own. Other options include: avocado, green onions, jalapenos, sour cream or greek yogurt, etc.

This is an easy recipe!  Let me know what you think.

PS.  If you’ve never cooked dry beans and want to know the best way to do so, I recommend this link:

There are no Superfoods. Yep, I said it.

Without a doubt, there are foods that are more nutrient dense than other foods and there are some foods that have fewer calories than other foods, but let’s be clear, THERE ARE NO “SUPERFOODS”.

The term “superfood” is a just marketing term used to describe foods with alleged health benefits.  Unfortunately, many of the foods with this tag are often disputed and unsupported by scientific evidence.

         Kale – 7 Reasons You Should Start Eating It        

In fact, it is believed by nutrition experts (registererd dietitians and food & nutrition scientists) that consuming an abundance of  “superfoods” may actually be detrimental and result in nutrient deficiencies.  This occurs when a person limits a wide variety of nutritious foods and focuses on eating one or two “superfoods”.  Or, a person believes consuming a “superfood” may cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes or other medical diagnoses and relies on a superfood instead if eating a healthy, balanced diet or seeking medical care.

Unfortunately, there are no foods that provide all of the vitamins, minerals, micronutrients that you need.  Your best bet for is to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in a range of colors every day and be skeptical of any nutrition claim that is not scientifically proven.

If you have questions about a claim of any food, do your research, or talk to a registed dietitian.

Taco Soup

My goal is to always have the ingredients I need, on hand, to make this soup.   In fact, if I’m lucky, I will have frozen, cooked ground beef or turkey, in my freezer  so it is even easier to throw together.  This is one of the recipes that you can make as healthy as you want to make it.  I’ll give you the basics here and offer suggestions below.

Taco Soup
Serves: 6

1.5# lean ground Beef 93/7
1 can Black Beans (or any other kind of beans you desire)
1 can Corn
1 can diced Tomatoes
1 can Tomato Sauce
1 can Beef Broth
1 small Onion, diced
1 packet Taco Seasoning

1.  Cook ground beef, add onion and sauté.  Drain.
2.  Add all ingredients to large pan or crock pot.   The soup just needs to get hot, so the time it takes depends on the temperature of your stove or crock pot.  I will place in crock pot for about 3-4 hours on low or on stove for about an hour on medium/low.
3.  Add your favorite toppings.  See below.

Nutritional Info:  Calories: 323, Carbohydrates: 31gm, Protein: 29gm, Fat: 9gm, Fiber: 5gm, Sodium: 1503.

So, pretty healthy recipe to start, but you could easily reduce the fat and sodium by decreasing the amount of ground beef or using shredded chicken or ground turkey.   It is easy to reduce salt by rinsing the corn and beans in a colander and making your own taco seasoning.  You can add fiber by increasing to two different kinds of beans.   It can be an easy meatless meal by eliminating the meat and using vegetable broth instead of the beef broth.  When I have skipped the meat, I have added a cup of brown rice or whole grain noodles for substance but you don’t need to do it.  If I need to provide more than a bowl of soup, I’ll heat whole wheat tortillas in the oven with a little mozzarella and paprika sprinkled on top.  I leave in the oven until cheese is melted and yummy.

I mentioned adding your favorite toppings.   Our favorites include corn chips, avocado, cilantro, sour cream (I ALWAYS substitute plain greek yogurt for sour cream), or cheese.  Just remember, the toppings can add calories.

If you make this recipe, let me know what you think.  Enjoy!