Weight management

The truth about celebrity online nutrition programs - why Chris Hemsworth’s 'Centr' is one of the best

Image courtesy of Centr

Image courtesy of Centr

You would not be alone if on first impressions you thought Chris Hemsworth’s new Centr health and fitness program was just another celebrity program with plenty of hype but not necessarily substance.  Celebrity programs have received much criticism for their lack of evidence-based content, however not all online health and well-being programs are the same…..some take their nutrition seriously - and they do it well.

Centr for example uses a range of ‘experts’ to provide varied nutrition content, including recipes, articles, cooking tips and meal plans.   I know first hand that all of their nutrition content is carefully planned, created and reviewed by the experts and the team at Loup (a complete digital business that produces online health and fitness programs) which includes an Advanced Sports Dietitian.   Loup are super passionate about health, nutrition, food (and food enjoyment), and provide ongoing support and expertise to the Centr program (in addition to other programs such as Tiffany Hall’s TiffXO). Great care is taken to provide nutrition content that is based on science, and approved by a dietitian for accuracy and consistency.    

Centr DOES provide meal plans, but with significant flexibility built in, and a focus on food enjoyment and listening to your body rather than counting calories and macros. Recipes incorporate seasonal, nutrient-dense wholefoods, to help nourish our bodies and brain rather than promoting a  ‘diet’ approach.  Yes, there are some issues with prescriptive meal plans in general, but Centr provides meal plans as a starting guide - in fact many, if not most, members do not follow the meal plans to the letter, but use them for recipe ideas to suit their food preferences and lifestyle.  The overall nutrition program aims to educate and empower individuals to actively change habits for a positive impact on both physical and mental health and well-being.    Clear recommendations are provided to seek individualized advice from an Accredited Dietitian for those with specific needs.

Online programs and meal plans are often criticized, and I admit a few years back I was one of those criticizing, but the feedback from Centr speaks for itself – individuals making better lifestyle choices and creating new habits leading to improvements in health, well-being, body composition, energy levels, confidence and happiness.  Thousands of individuals, from vegans (Centr has the most amazing vegan recipes!), to pescatarians to those who enjoy all foods.  The potential benefits for participants seem to far outweigh any perceived negatives.

Of course online programs are not for everybody – there will always be an important role for individualized advice and private consultation with dietitians like myself.  But if an online program can have a positive impact on individuals by providing credible and accurate nutrition information, delicious recipes, and practical meal ideas, this can only be a positive.

Chicken and Avocado Salad

An easy salad rich in protein, healthy fats, probiotics and green goodness. This recipe is low in carbohydrate, but could be adapted for training needs by adding some cooked quinoa or brown rice. Leftover salad also makes a tasty lunch option or sandwich/wrap filling.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 continental cucumber, thinly sliced

2 stick of celery, finely chopped

200g mixed lettuce leaves

1 roast chicken, skin removed OR 800g lean chicken breast,grilled/BBQ’ed

3 tbsp mayonnaise

3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

2 spring onions, finely sliced

Pepper

 

Method

Combine cucumber, celery, 1 of the spring onions and lettuce leaves in a large bowl. Remove chicken from the bones and chop roughly, or slice pre-cooked chicken breast.  Mix through salad.  Combine mayonnaise and yoghurt, mix well and dollop on top of salad.  Sprinkle with remaining chopped spring onion.

Fresh Tip

For a portable lunch on the go, use leftover salad as a delicious filling for a wholegrain sandwich, roll or wrap. Line the bread with lettuce leaves that have been washed and dried to create a barrier between the filling and bread to avoid a soggy lunch.

 

Recipe from Super Food for Performance in Work, Sport and Life

How 'food porn' marketing of health foods misleads us towards temptation

We see them on social media every day - gorgeous food photos, stacked and styled to perfection with delicious looking fresh ingredients. But are these artistic creations of fritters, stacks, smoothies and bowls really good for us? If we are using these beautiful bowls of goodness as inspiration for our daily meals are we doing ourselves a favour or doing more harm than good? 

I am relatively new to Instagram, but I feel more and more concerned about the way nutritious foods are portrayed and promoted. Others share my concerns!  Nina Mills from What's for Eats (an experienced Instagrammer!) has written Why I post food photos on Instagram that is well worth a read and I certainly share many of her sentiments. 

Below are some things to think about as you scroll through your favourite food photos.....

Is that really healthy?

The two health food photos that frustrate me the most are breakfast related – pancakes and smoothie bowls. Although those high protein maple and berry pancakes look amazing and sound super-healthy, if you replicated this at home you may be shocked at the sugar content. Same for smoothie bowls – some of the ingredients may be nutritious, but there is also often a lot of hidden sugars. Nut butters, seeds, dried fruit, coconut, avocado…..all nutritious ingredients but the energy can quickly add up. Natural sugar is still sugar (think maple syrup, rice malt syrup, agave, etc.) and not a more nutritious substitute for table sugar. Your protein bliss balls washed down with a cacao salted caramel smoothie could very well be equivalent to breakfast and lunch put together!  *You can read more about natural sugars in my blog post 'The Great Sugar Con....'

Size matters

Let’s face it, most Instagram serves are not small. Unless you are a 120kg+ rugby player, that plate may not be the best amount for you.  Fine dining portions don't always look as enticing as a platter-sized meal.  Large portions that look tasty can make healthy food more appealing, but the serves depicted are not going to suit everyone. 

Eating well can be boring

I don’t tend to share photos of my daily breakfast. A standard bowl of porridge with yoghurt and fruit/nuts is probably not going to create too much excitement on Instagram. We want to see fun and interesting food that excites our tastebuds!  But as Nina mentions in her post, seeing images of everyday foods can be useful to help us to feel ok when we aren't whipping up exotic dishes three times per day.

To eat well day-to-day, you don’t need to be making corn fritters with avocado salsa every morning. Social media images can create pressure on people to spend hours in the kitchen using expensive ingredients. As much as I hate to say it, healthy eating in most households is not particularly flamboyant, especially as part of a busy lifestyle. Many of us could put in the effort to make our meals a bit more exciting, but we don’t need the extravagance of healthy eating portrayals on social media. 

Social media can provide some great food inspiration, but don’t be blinded by the dazzle and hype. Think about what is in your food, your individual needs and food that makes you feel good - and enjoy an over-the-top over-styled Instagrammable feast now and then! 

Interested in nutrition?  I would love to send you free updates and recipes, just leave your details here.  You can also follow my pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or check out my Thoughts page for more articles like this.

BMI for athletes - is it relevant?

Feet_on_scale.jpg

When it comes to assessing body composition for athletes and active people, there are plenty of options.  Some methods are more useful than others, and often a combination of measurement tools provide the best insight into body composition change.   I often have clients who have concerns about their Body Mass Index (BMI) and believe, or have been told, that they are overweight when in fact their fitness and health can be anything from reasonable to exceptional.  My answer to these clients is always the same, and I recently wrote a post about this for the Premax website BMI for the fit and healthy.  Click on the link to read more.

 

Ten weight loss 'super' foods that taste good too

Many people spend January trying to undo the fun of the festive season.  The good news is that you don't have to detox or live on spinach smoothies to get back on track.  There are plenty of delicious foods that taste great and will enhance your enjoyment of foods, but will also help you reach your new year health and nutrition goals. 

Here are just a few to start adding to your trolley:

Strawberries

Sweet and luscious, nothing beats a bowl of freshly picked strawberries.  The great news is that you can enjoy your berries in abundance, at not much more than 50calories for a whole punnet!  Berries on your breakfast or yoghurt are the perfect sweet substitute for sugar or honey, with the added bonus of Vitamin C to help you absorb the iron from cereal. Delicious on their own as a snack to satisfy mid-afternoon or late-night sweet cravings.

White fish

Are you eating lots of salmon for omega-3's?  Salmon contains the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids of all fish, but also contains more fat in total.  Oily fish are good for you, but don't forget about white flesh varieties - they do contain less omega-3, but are also lower in calories, so are a terrific option if you are trying to lose weight.  The protein content of fish makes it a terrific main meal option to keep you full and help prevent unnecessary snacking between meals.  Make your fish interesting, by adding fresh flavours from herbs, vegetables, garlic and citrus. 

Prawns

Prawns are often considered an indulgent food, but it's good to know they are protein rich and very low in energy (one king prawn = 15 calories).  Fresh, BBQ or stir-fry options are great, but the creamy garlic and tartare sauces or battered and deep fried options will reduce the efficiency of prawns to help you lose weight. Other shellfish such as oysters and mussels are also great to eat regularly.

Herbs

If you are serious about improving your health, think about planting a herb garden in your backyard or on the windowsill.  Fresh herbs contain negligible caloriees but pack a concentrated nutrient punch.  Using a range of different herbs will provide a variety of health (and taste!) benefits, making meals more interesting. Don’t forget the chilli!  Hot and spicy foods often take longer to eat, and all that water you drink to dampen the heat helps to fill you up and stop you from over-eating!

Green Tea

The list of benefits of green tea seems to be growing all the time.  If you love green tea you are in luck, as many of the benefits for health seem to kick in with 4 or more cups per day.  Green tea is a great substitute for other higher kilojoule beverages and a creative way to increase your fluid intake.  Green tea contains an antioxidant called EGCG that may have a mild positive impact on fat burning. Recent research shows that green tea could have an impact on depressive symptoms and a number of health conditions too, so go for green for health and happiness.  But remember that green tea contains caffeine, so take care if you are sensitive.

Nuts

We often hear about almonds being good for health and weight management, which they are, but other nuts are nutritious too!  Research shows that a handful of nuts per day can bring benefits.  If you really love nuts just watch your portions....more is not better as although nuts are nutritious they are also energy dense.  Eat nuts regularly as a filling snack or add to stir-fries and salads.

Green leafy vegetables

Green leafy vegetables are your new best friend when you are trying to lose weight.   You can basically eat as many as you want!  Greens are great for your waistline but also your health, containing a range of vitamins and minerals such as folate, Vitamin A, B, E, K and spinach also provide calcium and non-haem iron.   Cook up a storm with silverbeet, or try a spicy stir-fry with Asian vegetables such as bok choy, pak choi and gai larn. To compare the nutrient content of kale vs spinach vs rocket, click here for one of my most popular blog posts.

Lemon

Lemon can assist with weight loss in a number of ways.  Lemon juice contains hardly any kilojoules, but can add delicious flavours to food and drinks.  We know the importance of drinking enough water but many of us don’t like it plain from the tap.  By adding fresh lemon and lime, it can change the way you think about water.  Add sliced lemon and fresh herbs to plain soda or mineral water with ice for an evening drink or add lemon to boiled water as a morning beverage.  Lemon juice also makes a great dressing for salads, and enhances the flavour of fish, seafood and chicken dishes.

Natural yoghurt

There are so many yoghurts on the market, a wall of ‘light’, ‘extra light’, ‘diet’, ‘no fat’, ‘low sugar’…where do you start?  Avoid the confusion and stick with a plain natural or Greek-style yoghurt.  Add your own flavourings, such as fresh or frozen fruit, fruit puree, chopped nuts/seeds or a couple of spoons of natural muesli.  Natural yoghurts are rich in ‘good’ bacteria, important for optimal digestive health.  Yoghurt contains high quality protein and has a low glycemic-index, making it a filling snack for between meals.

Oats

The great thing about oats, and the reason they help with weight loss, is that you only need a small serve to make a meal.  Being high in fibre and low glycemic-index, oats can keep you going for hours.  The perfect breakfast option for busy days when you need to be performing at your best.  If you are not a porridge lover, go for bircher muesli or a home-style natural muesli (home-made with lots of nuts and seeds is even better!). To find out how oats compare to quinoa in the nutrition stakes, click here for my previous post.

 

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe to my free newsletter below, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter for regular nutrition updates.

 

Why 'everything in moderation' is not always the best way to go

Over recent weeks I have seen something that I never imagined I would ever see. Dietitians publicly promoting images of themselves chowing down on donuts, biscuits and all manner of sugary morsels.  Dietitians, and other health professionals of a similarly  conservative background - all promoters of nutritious foods, who help people to reduce their intake of high sugar, high fat foods.  But shouldn't a dietitian be seen crunching on an apple or a carrot stick?  These sugar-sweet images certainly don't seem to convey the message of good nutrition and health at first glance.  However, there is a valid reason why many dietitians are going against the grain.  It has everything to do with moderation.  But what is moderation, and is moderation the best approach for everyone?  My suggestion would be, not necessarily.

There appears to be a show of unity amongst a growing number of dietitians in promoting the messages of balance, moderation and non-restrictive eating (exactly what most of us should aim for ultimately).  This reaction is in direct response to the current glut of dietary approaches that involve extreme restriction of foods and food groups.  Many nutritionists and dietitians do not support these popular diets and are taking a stance to illustrate that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation, for both health and enjoyment, and that no food or food group is completely off-limits.  

One thing I do love about the ambassadors of the back-to-nature style food trends is their passion.  They practice what they preach (mostly, unless they are getting paid the big bucks on cooking competition shows, then 'toxic' sugar is all of a sudden neutralised).  They live and breathe nutrition and health, almost to (and sometimes beyond) the point of obsession.   When 'clean' eating goes too far it is no longer a healthy way to live.  Unfortunately this all or nothing approach can often lead to disaster, or at least a major fall of some sort, in the long-term. 

Personally, I don't recommend that people eat donuts, cakes, biscuits, etc.  I don't label them as 'never' foods either.  Many people come to see me to improve their nutrition either for exercise performance, to achieve body composition goals or to manage digestive issues.  For athletes to improve their chances of success, there are benefits to relatively specific structure when it comes to training, nutrition and other factors that contribute to performance.   If someone is trying to lose body fat or gain muscle mass in a timely fashion then the same applies.  For those with digestive issues, restriction is often required, no question.  I would suggest that all people who book in to see a dietitian are working towards particular goals and looking for strategies to achieve these.  In my experience structure beats moderation hands down, in the short-term at least. 

Moderation is a term that is interpreted differently by different people.  For some people, it may mean eating well most of the time, then relaxing a bit once per week or fortnight when they go out for dinner.  For others, moderation may mean having a small piece of dark chocolate every night within a relatively healthy eating style.  Others may have half a chocolate block and find moderation there.  For others it might mean having 4 beers per night instead of 8.  Moderation varies widely in its application, and can mean very different things for health and associated outcomes.   The term moderation is in some ways irrelevant without some level of boundary with regard to the types and volumes of food.  For some people these boundaries can be more flexible than others. 

Back to my example of athletes.  For particular times of the year their boundaries may be quite tight if there are specific goals for a given time-frame, then more flexible at different times of the year.  Someone trying to lose weight may also need more structure to start with, but we all have different motivators, so some people might like generalised guidelines in preference to the 7-day plan that could work well for others.  For someone with intolerances and allergies,  moderation is not an option.  For someone who cannot eat certain foods, it may be quite frustrating to hear 'everything in moderation' as the best strategy for healthy eating, as this is an option they may yearn for but will never experience as a reality.

For someone already at a healthy weight and of good health, moderation is the way to go.  The idea of being able to maintain good health while still enjoying the foods and drinks that you love is very appealing.  Maintenance with moderation is achievable, although for people with a history of weight fluctuation, mindful moderation will still be important to ensure long term good health.  This brings up another point - moderation is very hard for a lot of people.  Not everyone can just stop at  one chocolate out of a fresh box, or one donut, or a handful of chips.  Actually I would say that most people find moderation hard.  Moderation is great in theory, but putting moderation into practice doesn't just happen....it takes some time, effort and prioritizing, and it often requires some professional help. 

Of course there are individuals who find moderation easy, or don't have the same food temptations experienced by many.  There are also those who have the genetic make-up where they seem to be able to eat almost anything and as much as they like with  absolutely no difference to their weight and health (although not everyone within their healthy weight range is fit and well). 

For those experiencing disordered eating, moderation can be a real challenge.  More and more young (and older) people are being effected by disordered eating, which is often characterized by restrictive patterns.  A strong message of 'moderation' is particularly relevant with regard to disordered eating.  As the above examples indicate, the specifics of the moderation message need to be tailored according to an individual's relationship with food.   

So perhaps the image portrayed by some dietitians of late has more to do with the particular client groups that they work with and how the moderation concept applies. I can think of a personal example myself, where I was acutely aware and concerned of my image as a dietitian.  When I was pregnant I suffered from reasonably bad morning sickness, and the one thing that I craved and could stomach was eggs.  Eggs and bacon and extra salt to be exact, and the drive-through muffin varieties were particularly appealing and convenient.  If the timing was right I would have prepared my own eggs and bacon, but as I was finding it very difficult to cook due to illness, the take-away was the best option at the time.  My heart would race every time I drove through, in fear of being spotted by one of the staff or players from the sporting club where I worked.  The thought of one of them seeing me eating foods that were perceived to be unhealthy made me nervous.  It may sound ridiculous, but for the type of clients I work with, visuals of myself eating perceived 'junk' foods would not, I feel, be the best example of my philosophies when it came to nutrition.  Not that I don't ever eat those foods, but I think it would be quite hypocritical in a way, and almost offensive, to be seen devouring foods that I have recommended that my clients reduce their intake of.   The reality is, that for many athletes there are times where they do need to reduce their intake of particular foods to reach their goals.  Not all the time, just certain defined time periods.  I am not embarassed about any of my food choices, and I do believe in the moderation concept, but the application of moderation is highly variable for individuals, and their specific needs, whether that be within a training cycle, a calendar year or over a lifetime.  

There is an important place for moderation in nutrition, when applied appropriately and interpreted and communicated effectively.  Finding the right approach for your individual needs is the key, to be able to reach your goals, enjoy good health and appreciate and enjoy delicious foods and flavours.  No foods or food groups need to be avoided completely, other than for medical reasons, but don't expect all dietitians to be putting donuts on your menu either.

5 secrets of the French - how to eat the foods you like and not gain fat

Believe it or not, it is possible to eat whatever food you like and not put on weight.  Lots of people do it.  French people have perfected it. Although there are a few conditions.

My title is a little misleading, the French aren't really keeping anything secret, they showcase their remarkable way of life to every visitor who crosses their borders.  They eat beautiful, fresh, amazing food.  Some nutrient-rich, some not.  First impressions of French food don't usually remind you of 'clean eating' (for want of a better term), but somewhat surprisingly their everyday way of life is conducive to good health and managing weight well.  The graph below compares the trends in obesity in different countries.  Many countries are on the increase, including France, but they are starting at a lower waist measurement, and are a long way from catching the US or Australia.  Remarkable really when you think of all those croissants, pastries and creamy sauces.  If the French can maintain their traditional food culture and customs this will help to keep them at the bottom of this graph, but as fast food culture infiltrates this may see their country sloping further and further towards the top. 

Obesity trends in selected OECD countries, source:  www.oecd.org/

Obesity trends in selected OECD countries, source: www.oecd.org/

So what are the secrets of the French that has been keeping their obesity rate around half that of Australia?

1) Small portions

Number one habit of the French that works every time - small portions.  I truly believe that how much we eat is more important than what we eat when it comes to weight management.  Not as important for health perhaps, as 1500 calories worth of chocolate and sweets per day is not going to be all that sustaining or nutritious.  The foods that make up your portions are important for keeping you full and also to give your body nutrients, but getting the volumes right is key.  In France they enjoy their pastries, breads (white!), cream, cheeses, wine and rich, rich sauces but they also eat salads and vegetables.  Most of their food is served petite. 

 

Image courtesy of  www.ribbonsandbowscakes.com.au

I am not claiming that there is not one person in France who is overweight or overeats.  With an obesity rate in 2012 at 15% and overweight 32%, the French are still considered the thinnest people in Europe and doing better than most developed countries.  

Eating less is not all the French do well...... 

 

2) Enjoy and savour food - eat slowly and sit

Everyone is busy and it seems very few family meals are enjoyed at the traditional dining table, sharing news of the day and a delicious home-cooked meal.  The French have refined the art of sitting down (often at a café facing the footpath) to enjoy a coffee or something to eat.  French children are more likely to sit down to a hot lunch rather than a sandwich, with a small dessert to follow, which may in fact be fruit of some description.  When we eat on the run we usually eat quickly and don't have time to think about the flavours and textures, or how much we are consuming.  Eating out of a bag or a packet is common, while eating from a plate has greater benefits.  If you put your food on a plate you can see exactly how much there is, and using utensils also helps to slow down the rate of consumption.  You may yourself have been shocked by tipping a take-away carton of noodles or curry onto a plate and realising the sheer volume that was about to go into your stomach.  Eating from a plate will help to reduce your portions.  If we are eating while doing something else, like working on the computer or sitting on the couch in front of the tv, then we are also eating mindlessly and this increases the speed we eat and the likelihood of over-eating.  Sitting down to eat a meal and focusing solely on the food and our dinner companions is worth the time and effort.    

3) Meticulous preparation

French people take the time to eat, and perhaps this is because they are admiring what they are about to enjoy.  Just think of a French pattiserie and the sparkling clear glass cabinets full of intricately designed and crafted pastries and cakes.  The structure and artistic appeal is of equal importance to flavour.  Petit fours is a French term meaning 'small oven', as these miniature sweet morsels were traditionally made in a small oven next to the main larger oven.  Most enjoyment of food is in the first couple of bites, and in France they recognize this.  What is the point of having a huge piece of chocolate cake, all the one flavor, when you can have a range of different flavours and food experiences.  Nothing is just slapped onto the plate in France, pride is taken in food preparation and presentation.  Not everyone's lifestyle can accomodate hours in the kitchen, but allocating a small amount of time to improving your food skills and making food look nice can make eating so much more fun, and help your health and weight at the same time.

4) Mealtimes are for eating

It seems that the French eat their food at mealtimes and don't rely on too much snacking for their daily nutrients.   I don't really know why there is less snacking, but eating a 'proper' meal at lunch may mean that hunger in the afternoon is less of an issue?  Three square meals per day won't suit everybody, but it may be a useful strategy for reducing overall calorie intake, as the types of foods we eat between meals are often higher-calorie and lower-nutrient density than the type of foods we eat for main meals.

5) Good habits start early

Most of the food habits described above begin during childhood in France.  The child obesity rate in France has historically been one of the lowest in the world, while in other developed countries children are becoming more and more overweight.  If you want to learn more, check out this post by Karen Billon  'French Kids Don't Get Fat' which is a terrific insight into the eating patterns of French children.

 

Although we can't all move to France to live, we can make the effort to understand some of their everyday habits and apply them to our own lifestyles and eating patterns.  With Christmas and associated food-related celebrations ahead, there is no better time to start thinking about your own choices.  Portions really are the key, whilst enjoying a range of nutritious foods eaten for pleasure. Bon apetit!!