Q: I’ve heard walnuts can lower cholesterol and assist in heart health. Is this true?
Walnuts are packed with polyunsaturated fats  and have been shown in clinical trials to help decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol. Last year, the Journal of Clinical Nutrition  published a study that showed that overall, high-walnut-enriched diets significantly decreased total and LDL cholesterol during short term trials. (Heart Health) In fact, due to the strength of evidence supporting cardiovascular health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim for walnuts in March 2004 stating:
“Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Q: Over the past six months, I’ve managed to lose 15 pounds, but I am struggling now to lose the last 5 until I reach my goal weight. What am I doing wrong?
Many of my clients experience the plateau effect while trying to lose weight. The first thing I tell them to do is to take a long hard look at their diet to determine if their choices are what I call "quality" calories. A 1500 calorie diet will mean nothing if the 1500 provides no bang for your nutritional buck. You can easily do this at home by writing down everything you eat for the next few days and asking yourself key questions. How many fruits and vegetables are you consuming, how much fiber are you taking in and what is your main source of fat. Aim to consume at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (one serving is about a handful), at least 25-35 grams of fiber a day in the form of whole grain breads and pastas, legumes, fruit and vegetables and make sure to incorporate nutritious fats such as walnuts, fatty fish, and olive oil. You may notice when you look at everything you're eating on paper that your portion sizes may be too big and will need to be cut down. Sometimes, individuals realize that perhaps they're not eating enough calories and they need to jump start their metabolism. Either way, keeping a food diary has shown to improve diet and portion size overall because it forces an individual to actually see their choices on paper.
Q: I like to have a snack before I exercise. What are some good foods that I can eat before I workout?
Having a snack 25-60 minutes prior to a basic workout is a great way to get added energy for a more successful run, swim or bike. Let's start with hydration. Prior to any strenuous or non-strenuous event, you'll want to make sure you are adequately hydrated. That means consuming water and non-caffeinated drinks throughout the day. The best proportion of pre-workout meal is a combination of carbohydrate, protein and unsaturated fats. If you're planning on a 3 mile walk or jog, a great snack would be 1 cup of low fat yogurt with 1 ounce of walnuts. This nutritious combination will help to ensure adequate energy throughout your workout and keep you from getting hungry half way through your workout. If your run tomorrow morning happens to be a marathon, you'll want to load up on complex carbohydrates to make sure that your glycogen stores are not easily depleted in the first half of the race. A great meal the night before the race would be 100% whole grain spaghetti made with walnut pesto. Make sure to provide ample time for digestion before any strenuous exercise.
Q: How can I get my family more involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle?
Get your family involved by participating in physical activities together. Before dinner, take a 30 minute walk and spend that time sharing highlights from the day. Eating about six walnut halves before you start the walk is a great way to subside any hunger you might be feeling before you begin. Also, don’t forget to have your family pitch in with the dinner preparations – it’s a great way for them to take an active interest in what they are eating.
Q: How can I maintain my energy level at work?
Whether you’re at work or at home, your energy can be directly tied to your eating habits. There are a few things you can focus on to keep alert and awake. First, eat breakfast; it truly does make a difference. Individuals who skip breakfast are more likely to report drained of energy throughout the day. Your body works hard to keep you alive while you sleep and one of the worst things you can do is deprive it of the energy it’s craving when the morning comes. Second, ditch the processed foods (like the 2:00 pm run to the vending machine for a candy bar or cookie). Processed foods can leave you feeling even more drained.
Instead of the vending machine run, try some fresh fruit, 100% whole grain crackers or a handful of walnuts. Walnuts contain magnesium (45 mg per ounce), a mineral vital to energy production. Try and eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day (about every 3 hours) instead of three larger meals. Studies show that eating frequent meals throughout the day keeps metabolism boosted and thus, helps you to keep energy levels up as well. Lastly, make sure you are well hydrated…..dehydration can be an energy zapper. My favorite beverage? Water!
Q: Do you have any cooking tips to make some of my dishes healthier?
You can know all there is to know about healthy eating but if you don’t know how to cook healthy, it can be a challenge to eat right. Making small changes in your cooking patterns can go a long way though. First, swap fresh herbs for salt. Diets high in sodium are linked to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Using herbs (such as fresh basil, oregano) and spices (such as turmeric and ginger) to season foods will add an abundance of flavor with minimal sodium. Next, use healthier cooking methods such as steaming which will help to preserve more of the nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables that you’re cooking. You’ll also want to stay away from frying and grill, bake, poach or steam your food to help reduce the amount of saturated fat in your meal. Finally, make simple substitutions in cooking to keep nutrients up but calories down. Replacing foods high saturated fat with ingredients like walnuts is an easy way to add crunch and flavor, while also boosting the nutrition of the recipe.
Q. I am trying to increase my daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Any suggestions to help me?
Individuals should aim for 5 handfuls of vegetables and 5 handfuls of fruit every day. Individuals should aim for 5 handfuls of vegetables and 5 handfuls of fruit every day. The first step is often times having the fruit or vegetable around and in plain sight. Keep an apple or orange on your desk at work to remind you to eat it during the day, keep baby carrots in a very visual portion of your refrigerator so that you can grab them when you’re looking for a snack. Use the weekend to cut up fresh peppers and broccoli to use throughout the week. That way, when you are pressed for time on a busy day, you have your snack ready to go.
Another way to get in fruits or vegetables easily is to buy a good blender and make smoothies. You can blend just about anything – berries, spinach, apples, pears, kale, etc and consume several servings in just one glass. To get you started… try the Awesome Banana Walnut Shake.
Q. How many walnut halves should I eat every day?
Eating a handful (14-21 halves) of walnuts every day is an easy way to boost your daily nutrition. Unique among nuts, walnuts contain the highest amount of alpha-linolenic acid (2.5 grams of ALA per ounce ), the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acid required by the human body. In addition to essential ALA/omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts rank high in antioxidants and provide a convenient source of protein (4 grams) and fiber (2 grams).
Studies have shown benefits of eating 1 to 1.5 ounces of walnuts (14-21 halves) on heart health, bone health and in managing type 2 diabetes (link to health study page on walnuts.org). In fact, due to the strength of evidence supporting cardiovascular health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim for walnuts in March 2004 stating “eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
When eating walnuts it is important to remember portion control. If your calorie needs are less than 2000 calories a day, you probably want to stick to about 14 halves a day, which is the equivalent of one handful.