Tag Archives: healthy diet


Vegan Challenge – The Final Day

I did it! I ate completely vegan for five days! Well, except for that one bite of celery with ranch dressing that snuck into my mouth before my brain thought about it…

There are no pictures or foods listed for this day because it was an exact repeat of yesterday. There is a joy that comes with the easiness of using leftovers and I took full advantage! The only minor change was to my smoothie, in which I simply used pineapple and strawberries.

This final day was the first day that I was a little bit hungry between meals. The first four days, I was eating so often that I didn’t really move into full-on hunger; but on this afternoon, I did. I think I am learning to better meet my body’s needs for protein and calories and I have finally (yay!) adjusted to the increased amount of fiber in my diet.

Overall, I feel really good. I feel a little slimmer because of how my clothes are fitting, which may or may not be due to the vegan diet. It could be that this challenge has motivated me to keep up with my food journal and workouts. I also have slept through the night the last two nights, which is not at all typical for me.

Now that this challenge is ending, I am actually considering continuing a no-meat diet. I very much miss cheese, eggs, and milk so I will definitely add dairy back into my meals. I also, as an RD, am not comfortable with cutting out an entire food group. However, I’m not sure I want to go back to my old eating habits because I have found that I get to eat so much food and the nutrition quality of my diet has been stellar while eating like a vegan.

Initially, my vegan diet was low in protein, calories, and B12. By the end of the challenge, I was eating adequate amounts of these nutrients without using specialty foods. This has also reaffirmed my belief that vegans/vegetarians should consider a multi-vitamin since it can be difficult to obtain all the nutrients in the recommended amounts.

My vegan diet was also very low in cholesterol (obviously since it’s found in animal products), saturated fat, and sodium. These are the three main things to limit to eat heart healthy and reduce risk of some chronic diseases. Another heart- and cancer-healthy guideline is to focus on fiber and, as I’ve shared, this diet was definitely high in fiber.

I’m very happy that I decided to take part in this challenge. My goal was to better understand the challenges faced by vegans in planning for an optimally nutritious diet. I wanted to do this to help me when I counsel my vegan and vegetarian clients. I feel I have reached this goal. I think I will be a better nutrition counselor to my clients because of this challenge.

My final day was on May 24th and since then I have not yet eaten meat. I have been following a lacto/ovo vegetarian diet for the past week. I am one very happy camper to once again have cheese! I love cheese. 🙂 I’m still uncertain if I want to return to my previous omnivorous ways. Right now, my plan is to continue lacto/ovo and add seafood back in when I feel ready (there was an advertisement for a local restaurant’s deal on oysters that definitely peaked my interest!). But once I transistion into pescatarian, I may just stay there.

Don’t tell my husband! But he’ll probably read this blog…

Featured image from: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/


The Vegan Experiment – Day Four: All Protein Powder is Not Created Equal

I made two breakfasts on Day Four. It is rare that I make something that is inedible. Even my most crazy flavor combinations result in edible, even if unusual, dishes. This was not the case on this day. I had to toss my first breakfast. It was truly that bad. Most protein powders that I’ve used have anywhere from 16-22 grams of protein in a scoop. Since plants do not contain as much protein as the other foods used to make protein powders (whey, soy, etc.), the amount of powder that has to be used to get to 21 grams of protein is huge. It completely overpowered my usually-delicious pumpkin pie oatmeal. I couldn’t eat it. I almost forced myself since I dread throwing away food; but I just couldn’t make myself eat it.

So, here we go – food pictures!

Breakfast #1: Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal – adapted from Clean Eating Magazine. I’m sharing the recipe because if you make this with vanilla whey protein powder, it is very yummy!

First, start your oatmeal on the stove by boiling 2 parts water, adding 1 part whole oats (example: 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup oats), and then simmering until the desired consitency. While simmering, mix one scoop protein powder with a tiny bit of water and stir into a paste. You can see the plant protein powder took up half the bowl!

Nearly half a bowl-full of plant protein powder to get 21 grams of protein
Nearly half a bowl-full of plant protein powder to get 21 grams of protein

Next take the same measuring cup you just used for measuring your oatmeal and water, and fill it half with pumpkin puree (no salt) and half with sliced almonds. If you use the same measuring cup, then you can easily adjust this recipe for any amount of oatmeal without having to do any food math!

Pumpkin puree and sliced almonds
Pumpkin puree and sliced almonds

Once the oats are cooked, simply add them to the bowl with the protein powder and stir in the pumpkin and almonds. Top this with a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Breakfast #2:  Kashi Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oats cereal with almond milk, sliced almonds, and raisins. Coffee with almond milk and splenda. Thank you to Jason McDonald for commenting on my blog post to add nuts to cereal because it made me realize I can add some protein and fun to a basic cereal!

Pumped up cereal
Pumped up cereal

Post-workout Snack: Smoothie made with banana, pineapple, peanut butter, and flaxseed. Blend with as much ice and water as it takes to get the volume and consistency that you like.

Smoothie in progress
Smoothie in progress
Smoothie completed!
Smoothie completed!

Lunch: Hummus wrap (homemade with chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, curry powder, and salt) with lettuce, tomato, and cucumber served with pretzel sticks.

The insides of the hummus wrap
The insides of the hummus wrap

Snack #2: almonds

Dinner: Whole wheat spaghetti with homemade sauce of onions, tomatoes, garlic, silken tofu, marinara sauce, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and fresh basil served with sandwich thin garlic toast (olive oil, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning). For this, I first sauted the onions then added the chopped garlic and chopped tomatoes and let those cook just a little. Then I added the marinara sauce and tofu and cooked to heat through. Last step was seasoning with the spices. It looks a little weird as a sauce due to how the tofu stirred in to the sauce in a chunky way. If I make this again, I’ll blend the sauce as a last step to make it smooth. Regardless of what it looked like, it was good! I think this was extra yummy due to the organic onions and basil from the university’s garden!

Pretty tomatoes, onions, and garlic
Pretty tomatoes, onions, and garlic
Vegan spaghetti
Vegan spaghetti

One victory for today is the realization that my usual urge to (over)-snack on the days that I work from home is greatly diminished following this plan. That’s usually a huge struggle for me and I give in to the temptation to graze all day even thought I’m not hungry. Today, I had that urge for a minute and I was able to overcome it. Overall, I’m feeling good and strong; still gassy but my body is (finally!) adjusting to the extra fiber it’s starting to get a little better! My energy levels are normal for me and I can still think clearly and have strength for
yoga class.

In case you are wondering, I did live the vegan lifestyle for five days in a row. I’m just not the fastest blogger. It’s something I’m working on.

Nutrition information: 1415 calories, 235 grams carbohydrates, 46 grams fiber, 395 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 0 cholesterol, 55 grams protein, and 1360 milligrams sodium. For the daily values, my numbers were 54% calcium, 77% iron, 30% vitamin D, 36% zinc, and 250% vitamin B12.

Once again, all images are my personal pictures. You may use them as long as you credit me (my name and a link back to my Web site).

A beautiful vegan salad

Vegan Experiment – Day Three: Taking It to the Office

This was the first day that I was following my vegan diet at work. This added just a little more of a challenge since I had to prepare my lunch and snacks in the morning. I also forgot to photograph my meals while at work, even though I did remember to bring my camera.

Breakfast: Same as previous two days and I’m getting bored with it – Kashi Cinnamon Harvest cereal with almond milk, coffee with almond milk and splenda.

Post-workout Snack: Smoothie with banana, pineapple, and ice/water.

Lunch: Peanut butter and banana sandwich on a sandwich thin.

Snack: Snack: Roasted spicy chickpeas.

Snack: Vegetables from veggie tray (grape tomatoes, baby carrots, snap peas, broccoli).

Dinner: Huge salad with romaine lettuce, broccoli, celery, carrots, mushrooms, snap peas, grape tomatoes, avocado, raisins, roasted chickpeas, sliced almonds, and balsamic vinegar served with triscuits.

A beautiful vegan salad
A beautiful vegan salad

Overall, I have been feeling fine; but I was a little low on energy on this afternoon. I came home and found myself wishing I didn’t have a meal to prepare for dinner, especially a salad – so much chopping! I also am still ridiculously gassy! I ran this morning and was happy to find that I am still properly fueled to enjoy my morning workouts.

My biggest struggle so far has been my ability to meet what I’ve deemed my nutrient goals for some nutrients.

Nutrition information: 1430 calories, 249 grams carbohydrates, 48 grams fiber, 37 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 0 cholesterol, 51 grams protein, and 670 milligrams sodium. For the daily values, my numbers were 67% calcium, 65 iron, 33% vitamin D, 12% zinc, and 0 vitamin B12.

Overall, the quality of my diet is good in many ways following a vegan diet; but there are some concerns. I am concerned with my low protein intake (I am for about 55 grams/day minimum) and I haven’t been able to find soy protein in the conventional grocery stores. I went to a supplement store and purchased a plant protein powder. It was expensive and I’m realizing that it may not be possible to easily stick with non-specialty foods and get enough protein as a vegan. Today I was closest to my minimum protein goal (4 grams under). While it sounds weird to say, I think I may not be getting enough sodium either (ranging from 670-890 mg/day); but from what I can find there is no set minimum requirement. The previous two days, it has been difficult to get enough calories; but today I was right where I like to be on workout days!

I’m learning how to better work with this type of diet and my goals.

This has gotten me thinking… My goal was to do this without any specialty products; but perhaps vegans do need to use the specialty products (protein powder, aminos, TVP, etc.) to meet their body’s needs. At least, it would make it much easier to meet the body’s needs. While my food costs for this week were low (before the protein powder purchase); I think if I followed this as a permanent lifestyle, my food budget might increase to account for these products.

As a final thought, I want to hit on one of the miconceptions about veganism. I’m a talker; I talk to anyone and everyone. I stopped by the dollar store to pick up more spices and pretzels and was chatting with the cashier and mentioned that I was doing this vegan challenge. People have such misguided notions about food and nutrition… he asked me how my immunity was, since I wasn’t eating meat, wasn’t I more likely to get sick? Ummm, no. I have learned not to go to deep into nutrition unless people ask, so I just told him I was feeling fine. 🙂 And in case you are wondering, no, a vegan diet does not make anyone who is generally healthy already more likely to get sick.

Roasted Spicy Chickpeas

Vegan Experiment – Day Two: Ranch Dressing!

Today, I realized that there is more to think about when following a vegan lifestyle than just meat and dairy foods. I have to admit to an unintentional slip today – ranch dressing! But I’ll get to that as I go through my meals in pictures.

Breakfast: Kashi Cinnamon Harvest cereal with almond milk, coffee with almond milk and splenda.

An easy vegan breakfast
An easy vegan breakfast

Snack: Roasted spicy chickpeas.

Roasted Spicy Chickpeas
Roasted Spicy Chickpeas

This was a time-consuming recipe; but I’m working on stretching my food dollars so it was worth the effort. I started with a bag of dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and soaked and cooked them one day. The next day, I tossed the half of the cooked beans with a tablespoon of canola oil, a pinch of salt, and a fair amount of paprika, cumin, and a touch of cayenne pepper. Then I cooked them in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour on a baking sheet lined with tin foil and sprayed with canola oil cooking spray. Cook the beans in one layer because the goal is to dry them out until they are a crispy crunchy treat. If you don’t cook them long enough, they will be mealy. I know this from my first attempt at this recipe! Per 1/2-cup serving: 135 calories and 7 grams of protein.

Post-workout snack: granny smith apple courtesy of my gym’s member appreciation day offerings.

Lunch: Last night’s dinner leftovers: Quinoa with red/green bell peppers, red onions, garlic, pineapple, sliced almonds, and a dash of sriracha sauce served with a side of roasted vegetables (beets, carrots, onions) seasoned with canola oil, garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes.

Quinoa bowl and roasted garden vegetables
Quinoa bowl and roasted garden vegetables

Snack: Sweet Peanut Butter Smoothie!

I typically make my smoothies with either milk, yogurt, or almond milk depending on what I have on hand and how much protein and calories I would like to have. This time, I used water and ice instead of a milk or yogurt. I blended banana, pineapple chunks, and peanut butter with water and ice (adjusting to fill my cup and be the consistency and I wanted).

Snack: Celery and snap peas.

This is where I inadvertenly fell off the vegan wagon. I had an evening meeting to attend. The good news is that I brought the snacks and so could bring vegan alternatives. One thing I brought was a veggie tray with ranch dressing. I grabbed a celery stick and dipped it in the ranch dressing and as I was chewing, it hit me that the dressing was probably not vegan! I checked and I was correct – buttermilk is the second ingredient. This made me realize that there are more foods to limit that I realized. I wanted the convenience of the pre-made veggie tray… If only the grocery stores packaged veggie trays with hummus instead of dressing.

Dinner: Portobella mushroom sandwiches (mushroom, lettuce, avocado, mustard on sandwich thin) and Alexia sweet potato fries with ketchup.

Portobella sandwich with sweet potato fries
Portobella sandwich with sweet potato fries

When making the Portobello sandwich, I was reaching for the mayonnaise when I realized that was also not vegan! This is more difficult than a vegetarian diet.

So, how am I feeling? Gassy! There is so much fiber in my diet now!

Otherwise, I’m feeling good and have energy for working out. I’m getting plenty of carbohydrates and calories; but I am still lacking in protein. I love how incredibly low my saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium intake is following a vegan diet. Even with my one unintentional slip, I’m still going strong and feeling good about sticking with this challenge!

Nutrition information: 1360 calories, 204 grams carbohydrates, 43 grams fiber, 35 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 0 cholesterol, 43 grams protein, and 725 milligrams sodium. For the daily values, my numbers were 60% calcium, 63% iron, 25% vitamin D, 8% zinc, and 0 vitamin B12.

All images are personal photographs. You may use them as long as you credit me (my name and a link back to my Web site).

Mash beans, avocado, and salsa together

My First Day Being a Vegan

Yesterday, I started the Vegan Experiment Challenge.

The day started off with a true challenge. The breakfast I had planned was mock scrambled eggs made with tofu. Unfortunately, I didn’t research any recipes before I shopped and I got the wrong consistency of tofu. This threw off my plan for my very first meal! Even with a bumpy start, my husband and I perservered and  were 100% vegan on the first day of the challenge!

I felt tired; but I don’t think that was related to diet (more a poor night’s sleep and a busy day!). I felt like I ate a lot of vegetables and the 51 grams of fiber indicates I did indeed eat many vegetables yesterday. I hit my calorie range; but was low on protein. Meal details and nutrition information follow with all the numbers at the end of this post.

Breakfast: Kashi Cinnamon Harvest cereal with almond milk, coffee with almond milk and splenda

An easy vegan breakfast
An easy vegan breakfast

Morning snack: almonds and raisins

Easy homemade snack
Easy homemade snack

Lunch: bean burrito made from a Flatout wrap, mashed black/pinto beans, salsa, avocado, rice, cilantro,  and lime juice served with tomato and cumumber slices on the side

Mash beans, avocado, and salsa together
Mash beans, avocado, and salsa together
Put mixture, rice, cilantro, and lime juice on wrap
Put mixture, rice, cilantro, and lime juice on wrap
Vegan Bean Burrito
Vegan Bean Burrito

Afternoon snack: while I hesitate to call it a snack, I must confess to having 2 beers while relaxing on the beach in the afternoon…

Dinner: Quinoa with red/green bell peppers, red onions, garlic, pineapple, sliced almonds, and a dash of sriracha sauce served with a side of roasted vegetables (beets, carrots, onions) seasoned with canola oil, garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes

Quinoa bowl and roasted garden vegetables
Quinoa bowl and roasted garden vegetables

For those of you out there who like the numbers, here you go!

1560 calories, 209 grams carbohydrates, 51 grams fiber, 37 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 0 cholesterol, 47 grams protein, and 890 milligrams sodium. For the daily values, my numbers were 73% calcium, 71% iron, 31% vitamin D, 13% zinc, and 0 vitamin B12.

All images are personal photographs. You may use them as long as you credit (my name and a link back to my Web site).


Vegan Experiment Shopping Day

I have found myself wondering if eating a vegan diet for five days will be more expensive than my typical diet. I believe there are two ways to go with vegetarian/vegan eating. One is to use whole natural foods and shop in the conventional grocery stores and one is to use the vegetarian/vegan-specific marketed foods and shop in the specialty grocery stores.

Now, that I write that, I realize that’s true no matter what type of diet one follows.

Today, I spent $55.33 at a conventional store on groceries for the next six days. I already have some staples on hand, such as quinoa and dried beans, and I just got a nice harvest (curly kale, carrots, onions, and basil) from the university’s organic garden. I am so looking forward to those kale chips I’ll be making tomorrow with the beautiful organic curly kale! I couldn’t find a soy-only protein powder, so I still need to pick that up for about $10-$12. Even if I had to purchase the quinoa, black beans, and garden vegetables and adding the cost of the protein powder, I think ~$75 to feed 2 people for six days is pretty darn good! That’s just $6.25 per person per day, or around $2 meal!

Here’s my list. Don’t worry – the meals and recipes will be coming over the next five days as I live this experiment!

Produce: avocado, bananas, green/red bell peppers, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, portobello mushrooms, apples, limes, and canned pineapple

Proteins: silken tofu, sliced and whole almonds, peanut butter, canellini beans

Grains: cereal, rice cakes, whole wheat spaghetti

Misc: soup, salsa

Any ideas what I’ll be making?

Woman with basket of fruits, vegetables, and bread

The Vegan Experiment

The gauntlet has been thrown down and I said, “Challenge accepted!” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has issued a challenge to dietetics professionals to live a vegan lifestyle for five days.

I am not doing this for the Vitamix blender that is the prize in this contest (although I would gladly accept it). I am doing this because I believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet can be just as healthful and complete as a diet that includes animal products. In my work as a wellness dietitian at a university, I always make my cooking demonstrations vegetarian, and vegan when possible, to show the community that vegetarian/vegan meals can be yummy and satisfying. I decided I would “walk my talk” for five days.

I mean, anyone can do anything for a mere five days, right?

Let’s start with the basics: what is veganism?

There are many levels of vegetarianism. I think the definition that many people think of for a vegetarian is a person who eats no meats. However, some vegetarians still include fish (pescatarians) and some still include dairy and/or eggs (lacto/ovo-vegetarians). If carnivores (meat-eaters) on one very end of the scale, then vegans are at the other end. Vegans do not eat any animal products – meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, cheese, or butter. As a friend pointed out on my Facebook page, vegans may even decide not to eat honey since animals make honey.

For more information, see the Academy’s Web site, which includes a link to a PDF document that is their position on vegetarian diets. There is a wealth of information in the position paper.

Personally, I could easily become a pescatarian. For my health, since I have heart disease, I would choose to include fish due to the nice heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in some fish. But cutting out cheese and milk? I think I could live on tomatoes and cheese alone… so this will present a challenge.

Finally, since I am a registered dietitian, I am concerned about the nutritional quality of my vegan choices. I will have to do some planning. There are two things that I will be thinking about when I follow a vegan diet. One is to make sure I am combining foods in a way that makes complete proteins and the other is to get all the important nutrients about which vegans must be concerned (see the link to the Academy’s Web site above). Some nutrients are found mostly in animal products so vegans must have the knowledge to plan meals that include these nutrients.

I also personally tend to eat as clean as I can, so I doubt I will be including the packaged vegan alternatives. I have to look at the food labels; but the way I remember it, these products have a long list of ingredients that are not whole foods or natural flavors or preservatives. This is a personal choice; not a part of veganism.

I am beginning my planning this week. So far, I think I will try silken tofu as a scrambled egg replacement and I just bought a few bags of dry beans to play with. I would love any ideas so please post your comments and tell me about your favorite vegan recipes.

Wish me luck!

(Note: Free images from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/)

Serve in a small bowl surrounded by lettuce leaves

Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

I love quinoa. It is so versatile, it cooks quickly, and it’s a grain that is a complete protein as well! A complete protein has all of the essential amino acids that our bodies need, which is important for those who do not eat meat or other animal products (which are naturally complete proteins).

So, yesterday I was faced with a dilemma, what to do for lunch… I had quinoa and some vegetables sitting around so I threw together one of those “kitchen sink” recipes and it turned out so good that I decided to share it.

Can you guess all the goodies in here?
Can you guess all the goodies in here?

Quinoa Lettuce Wraps
By Alexia Lewis, MS, RD, LD/N

1 1/2 cups cooked Quinoa
1 raw zucchini, diced
1 slice red onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 large stalk celery, diced
2 slices nitrate-free turkey breast (optional)
Handful of sliced almonds
Handful of raisins
Red wine vinegar, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Romaine lettuce leaves, rinsed

Simply mix together everything except the lettuce leaves, adding the red wine vinegar and black pepper in small increments until the dish has a flavor that you enjoy. Serve a spoonful on the raw romaine lettuce leaves. You can also serve with kale leaves, bok choy, or any other leafy vegetable that can act as a holder for the quinoa mixture.

I did not measure out the number of servings or do a nutrition information breakdown; but it makes a large amount (see below) and it includes the grains, protein, vegetables, and fruit so you have many food groups represented in a colorful dish – which equals nutritious!

The finished mixture of yum!
The finished mixture of yum!

I served this up on a plate with the quinoa mixture in the middle and a ring of lettuce leaves. This dish is also husband-approved! Enjoy!

Serve in a small bowl surrounded by lettuce leaves
Serve in a small bowl surrounded by lettuce leaves
Make your own pizza!

Skinny Pizza? Go For Homemade!

A new product, The Skinny Pizza, was announced in the latest issue of Food and Nutrition magazine. The information provided states this is a small thin crust margarita pizza with only 390 calories. Since it was listed in the “new products” section of a US-wide publication of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, I assumed it was a new packaged food that would be available to most consumers.

I decided to blog about the nutrition content of this new product and to suggest alternatives for a whole food, non-packaged, homemade, low-calorie pizza because I know from experience that it’s fairly easy to make a mean homemade pizza!

It turns out this is not a packaged food. This is a menu selection from a pizza chain that has 25 locations. Only 18 of these locations are in the United States and 11 of them are in South Florida. Now, this called into question for me why this was listed as a new product in a magazine for dietitians with a demographic that covers the entire United States… But this is a topic for another day.

Let’s talk about “nutrition made easy” with a healthier homemade pizza!

Start by toasting either an English muffin, a pita, or this dietitian’s favorite, a Flat Out or other flat bread. You just want this to get a little bit crispy or the sauce will make the pizza soggy.

Once crispy, top with a little low-sodium tomato or marinara sauce, and by a little I mean a lot less than you think you need even if you like your pizza saucy like I do! If you want to keep it even more “clean,” then saute some chopped plum tomatoes in a little olive oil, garlic, and onion, mashing the tomatoes as they cook to make a bruschetta-like sauce.

Top with some shredded cheese, lean proteins, and as many vegetables or fruits as your pizza will hold and throw it back in the oven or toaster oven to warm the ingredients and melt the cheese. You may want to also saute the vegetables if you prefer a softer, cooked texture over a crunchy texture.

One of the favorite combinations in this household is chicken breast, BBQ sauce, red onions, mushrooms, a Mexican cheese blend, oregano, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes or Hot Shot! Another favorite is pineapple chunks and mushrooms.

The sky is the limit with combinations for this pizza and every person can get their own favorite combination! By limiting the portions, the amount of cheese used, and focusing on lean meats, vegetables, and fruits as toppings, you can keep this pizza low calorie, fiber- and nutrient-rich, and most importantly delicious!

I’m always looking for new flavor combinations and ideas so let me know what you put on your homemade pizza.


Pizza Rustica Launches Skinny Pizza. Available at: http://www.food-business-review.com/news/pizza-rustica-launches-skinny-pizza-081112. Accessed January 27, 2013.

Pizza Rustica Locations. Available at: http://www.pizza-rustica.com/locations. Accessed January 27, 2013.

Image from: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/.

healthy bread on table

Macronutrients – Those Confusing Carbs!



Carbohydrates come from plant and animal sources. The food groups that contain carbohydrates include grains, fruits, dairy, and vegetables.

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates (sugar) and complex carbohydrates (starch and fiber).


There are two types of sugars that people typically think of when talking about sugar in the diet. One type is the natural sugars that are found in foods in their natural and whole state. Examples are fructose and sucrose (in fruits) and lactose (in milk). The other type of sugar is the added sugars that are added to foods during processing or created from refining natural foods, Examples are high fructose corn syrup (in many products) or sucrose (refined into table sugar).


Starches are long chains of sugars. Our bodies break down these long chains into simple sugars that our body can absorb to provide us with energy. Many foods that are starchy need to be cooked in order for our bodies to be able to digest them. Examples are potatoes, corn, and grain products such as bread, pasta, and rice.


Fiber is the indigestible part of the plant. Fibers are also long chains of sugars; but the way the chains are held together prevent our bodies from being able to digest them for energy. Fiber is important for health for many reasons. Fiber can be fermented by the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract which promotes colon health. Insoluble fiber helps promote regularity and prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber includes whole grains (the outer bran layer) and the strings in celery. Soluble fiber can help to lower cholesterol and regular blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber includes oats, beans, and citrus fruits.


The functions of carbohydrate include:

– Energy! Carbohydrates currently have a bad reputation; but they are the main and preferred source of energy for the body. Our bodies need carbohydrates to be at our best health.

– Help to lower cholesterol and regulate blood glucose levels (soluble fiber)

– Maintain digestive tract health (fiber)


For a generally healthy adult, the range for carbohydrate intake is set between 45% and 65% of daily calories. A person consuming a 2,000 calorie diet would have a range of 900 – 1,300 calories. Since 1 gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories, this is a range of 225- 325 grams of carbohydrate per day. The minimum number of carbohydrate grams per day is 130 grams to promote good brain function.

Those trying to build muscle should be sure to consume enough carbohydrates to “spare protein” to be used for muscle growth.

Many people restrict carbohydrates due to the belief that “carbs make you fat.” In healthy individuals, carbohydrates trigger insulin and insulin lets the sugar into our body and cells. People mistakenly believe that this always means weight and fat gain. This is not true!

When we eat the appropriate amount of carbohydrates for our bodies, the sugar is used as a fuel source and burned. It is only when we overeat carbohydrates that weight gain results. Carbohydrates do not make you fat. Carbohydrates are an important part of the diet. Without carbohydrates, the body begins to break down fat storage and then body proteins. In extreme cases, metabolism slows drastically and both health and life can be jeopardized.

People with specific health conditions or concerns may need a different amount of carbohydrate in their daily diet or to time the consumption of carbohydrates throughout their day.

Other guidelines:

Whole grains: Consume whole-grain carbohydrates whenever you can. Recommendations are to make half of your grains whole. Read the food label and be sure the first ingredient is listed as a “whole” grain (example: whole wheat, not wheat flour).

Fiber: For those between 19 and 51 years old, females should consume 25 grams and men should consume 38 grams of fiber a day. Those over 51 should consume 21 grams (women) or 30 grams (men) per day. If you are increasing your fiber intake, do it slowly and drink lots of water or you may end up with a bout of constipation!

Added sugar: Limit the amount of added sugar in your diet. Many health risks are associated with added sugars and in general, Americans consume too much added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories (women) or 150 calories (men) of added sugars per day. Most natural sugars are generally not associated with health risks as these are consumed along with fiber which slows down the absorption of sugar and other vitamins, mineral, and phytochemicals which promote optimal health.

Original publication date: October 1, 2012 at http://newmotivationcoaching.blogspot.com.

Reference: Nutrition Concepts and Controveries, 12th ed. by Sizer and Whitney, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-1-1133-62818-7.