Whether you are working 80 hours a week and can’t seem to find the time to eat right or you are a stay at home mom who can’t figure out how to keep healthy food on the table that your family will actually eat, I can help you find a plan to get you on the right track and on the road to a healthy, happy, balanced lifestyle. Run by Megan Ware.
I’m sure you’ve seen the ads for Brandless all over your social media too… common household products and pantry times, all for $3, with free shipping once you spend $39. They claim to take out the hidden costs you pay for name brand products and offer quality goods at a lower price.
I was interested at first but after checking out the site I wasn’t ready to shell out $40 for a bunch of $3 products with no customer reviews right out of the gate. Then I got a mailer for free shipping on my first purchase with no minimum so I decided to give them a try. Since there aren’t a lot reviews of Brandless out there yet I figured I would share my experience.
Overall, you have to be careful about what you buy. For some items like Grade A organic maple syrup, $3 seems like a great deal because you won’t find a bottle real maple syrup for under $6 in most grocery stores. However, the size of Brandless bottle is only 6.7 ounces, compared to the 8.5- 12.5 ounce bottles you’ll find on most shelves. Same with the pistachios- they’re $3.94 for the name brand 8 ounce package at the grocery store and the $3 Brandless package is 5 ounces. Instead of offering lower cost products, they are just giving you less of the product overall.
The good thing about Brandless is that if you want peanut butter, you don’t have to stare at 30 different versions in the aisle trying to decide which is best. There’s one option and the only ingredients are organic peanuts and salt. We have to make 230493 decisions a day and I’m all for making things easier. If you want dishwashing soap, there’s one choice. I like that their cleaning products are supposedly better for the environment and more natural but I’m not enough of an expert on deciphering the ingredients label of cleaning products to vouch for that. The foaming hand soap with lavender essential oil smells lovely though (and costs me less than my typical Bath & Body Works purchase).
What I would buy again:
Pistachios (if I needed to add more to my box)
What I wouldn’t buy again:
Toilet paper- It’s comparable the worst 1-ply you get in a cheap roadside gas station.
Dried mango- Does anyone know why dried mango without added sugar taste like fish?
What I want to try:
Lemon verbena surface cleaner wipes
Calm & focus support supplement (ashwaganda root & leaf extract)
Shampoo and conditioner
Dark chocolate and peanut butter bars (10g of protein- maybe similar to a KIND bar?)
I’m not ready to write them off yet but I don’t think that I’ll often have $39 worth of products that I actually need in order to get the free shipping.
Have you tried Brandless? What was your experience?
My role as a dietitian is to guide my clients in determining the best nutrition habits, lifestyle and exercise routines, and stress-reduction techniques to help them feel healthy, confident, and comfortable. Over the past 8 years, I’ve learned that what works for one person is not going to work for everyone. The body is a complicated machine and every individual has a different set of tools.
Because everyone is so different, I need a lot of strategies in my arsenal. If eating in a certain pattern doesn’t feel sustainable to you, there’s probably a physiological reason why. Staying up on current research and using myself as a human guinea pig has allowed me to have better insight when working with clients.
Time-restricted eating, which is often lumped together with intermittent fasting (IM), had been on my list to experiment with for over a year. I knew I needed to look more into it but I was avoiding it because I didn’t think it would work for my lifestyle. I get up early and I like to start my day with breakfast pretty soon after. If I workout in the evenings, I would normally have something afterward thinking it would help with recovery. Going 14-16 hours without food sounded like it was not going to fit my lifestyle.
First, what is time-restricted eating?
There are many different types of fasting. I chose to to focus on the type that I believe can be most sustainable, time-restricted eating. Put simply, it is paying attention to the amount of hours within a 24-hour cycle that you are continually fasting (not eating). Let’s say you had a snack after dinner or finished a glass of wine around 8:00pm. The next morning you start drinking coffee at 7:00am. Your overnight fast lasted a total of 11 hours. Fasting ends the second you put any food, coffee, or tea in your system. You can also look at it as a window of eating. If your first meal was at 7:00am and your last meal was at 8:00pm, your eating window was 13 hours.
Every living thing and every cell in the human body follows a circadian rhythm. There are periods of the day when the body is more metabolically active. There are also optimum times for repair and hormone production. For example, we are most insulin sensitive in the morning and least insulin sensitive at night, meaning that eating a high carbohydrate meal at night would be harder for your body to handle. This makes sense biologically because the body uses carbohydrate for fuel and it doesn’t serve you well to overfill your fuel tank when you’re heading to sleep (the optimal time for repair and recovery). To be clear, I’m not saying to stop eating all complex carbohydrates at dinner. I’m saying that your body can’t handle the 2 scoops of ice cream as well at 9:00pm as it could have earlier in the day.
All of our organs also have their own clocks that regulate when they should be working and when they should be resting and repairing. When we eat, we tell our liver genes when to turn on. When we don’t, they turn off. Almost every organ outside of the brain begins to follow and adapt to when we eat. Tapping into those optimal times of work or recovery and allowing our bodies to function on a natural rhythm can have many positive health benefits.
What we already know:
People who work night shift are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Late-night eating is associated with a higher risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and poor cardiovascular health.
When you eat close to bedtime, blood flow is directed to the stomach to help with digestion which makes core body temperature remain high.
Mice that are fed only within an 8-12 hour window have reductions in fat mass, increased lean muscle, lowered inflammation, improved heart function, higher levels of ketones, improved repair processes, and improved aerobic endurance.
In 2 groups of identical mice, one group was given unhealthy chow (similar to humans eating cheese, nachos, ice cream, etc.) and had unlimited access to it at any time of the day or night. The other group got the same chow but they had to eat it within 8-12 hours. Time was restricted but calories were not. Surprisingly, the mice eating within the 8-12 hour window did not have diabetes, develop obesity, and had normal cholesterol and liver function. Even eating the same crappy food, their livers were able to metabolize it better.
This does not mean that nutrition doesnt matter (as shown in other many, many, other studies) but it does show that if you are not willing to change anything else, just changing your eating schedule could improve your health.
Another awesome thing is that the mice showed the same benefits eating within the time restricted window for 5 days a week as they did for 7 days a week. That is super helpful for us humans because, hello, weekends! So even if you feel like you can’t eat dinner by 6pm on weekends, you may still be able to do it during the week and see some of the benefits.
As of my review, there are at least 13 more published mice studies demonstrating the health benefits of time-restricted eating including increased insulin sensitivity, decreased cholesterol and triglycerides, and lower blood sugar.
Now how does that translate to humans?
Most people eat naturally within a 15 hour window. Unlike the mice that ate the same amount of calories when researchers reduced their feeding window to 10 hours, humans tend to naturally decrease their caloric intake by an average of 20% when eating within a smaller window. This makes sense because if you are not eating or drinking past 6:00pm, you are much less likely to drink alcohol, go for an ice cream, grab a handful of chips, etc. People also report sleeping better and feeling more energetic in the morning.
Small studies in overweight adults have found that an overnight fasting period of 14 or more hours led to decreased caloric intake, weight loss, satiety at bedtime, and improved sleep.
A comprehensive review of existing literature by the American Heart Association stated that periodic fasting regimens reduced weight and lowered cholesterol and triglycerides.
I could keep listing out more and more research here, but let’s get to the practical stuff.
I’ve been eating within a 10- 12 hour window for 5-7 days a week for about 8 weeks, with a 5 day break in between. I’ve found that the 11 hour window works best for my schedule.
The biggest difference that I’ve noticed is sleep. I sleep SO hard and it is glorious. It’s rare that I wake up in the middle of the night now, which has been an issue for me in the past.
I don’t weigh myself on a regular basis. The only time I dust off the scale is when doing this type of experiment in order to report any changes. Right now I’m down about 6 lbs from what I would say is my “normal weight.” Throughout this process, I have continued to do Crossfit 3-4 times a week. I haven’t seen any decrease in strength and I actually saw improvements in several workouts that were cardio-based, which is hard to say whether that’s just because I’m getting better at those movements (rowing and assault bike) or it has something to do with the fasting (perhaps the increased endurance as shown in the mice study).
I’ve found that the need to eat a large meal for dinner is a learned behavior, not necessarily a physiological need. Do I want to eat something when I come home from work late? Yes, especially when I first started this process. But, when I really thought about it, was it because I was actually hungry? No, truthfully, my body was not sending me a signal that I needed more food. Eating late was most times a form of reward for making it to the end of the day. Even if I do a late workout, I’m not eating anything afterward. I’m not experiencing any increase in muscle soreness or as a said above, decrease in strength.
There’s no such thing as a family dinner. If I’m not getting done with work before 5pm, I’m packing lunch and something “dinner-ish” to eat at the office then not eating anything when I get home. I get up early and usually do my workouts in the morning and I like to have some fuel in the tank. If you value being able to eat dinner in the evening with loved ones, you may just have to commit to eating dinner a little earlier and eating breakfast a little later.
During the second and third week, I was craving sugar and candy like crazy. Some of that had to be because we had a bunch of Easter candy (which is unusual to have in the house). I ate what I wanted of it, but it had to be before 4 or 5pm. I also noticed I was super moody in the evenings that week. I still like a good dessert, but those crazy cravings did go away.
When I did decide to eat late on a Saturday night, it wasn’t a good experience. My stomach felt hard and bloated and my digestive system was doing nothing to break down that food. It wasn’t unbearable but it was enough to make me not want to “cheat,” even if I could get the same results only doing it 5 days a week.
Will I continue?
Surprisingly, yes. I feel good, I’m seeing the benefits, and there’s nothing about this that I don’t find sustainable. I say surprisingly because usually when I do these experiments (like keto or vegan) I’m excited for them to be over with. This feels more like a new habit, something that I just do naturally. I leave for Italy this week where most restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 7:30pm. It will be interesting to see how my body adjusts to the later schedule.
Summary of the possible benefits:
Decreased risk of chronic disease such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease
More restful sleep
Increased lean muscle mass
Improved gut microbiome
Better digestion (with some evidence to suggest improvements in IBS-related symptoms)
How to try time-restricted eating:
Start paying attention to the first time you eat or drink anything other than water in the morning (medications count). Make an initial goal of staying within a 12 hour window. After a week, see if you can cut that down to 11. Keep going (up to 8) until you feel like you’ve reached a sustainable window that works for your schedule. For me on most days, it’s 11 hours. If you are struggling, just know that after 2-3 weeks, hunger levels go way down around bedtime. AKA you get used to it. Your hunger hormones will adjust to your new schedule. You may notice after about 5 weeks if you do eat outside your window, you don’t feel so great. You may feel lethargic and feel like the food is just sitting there. Use that as motivation to continue to stay within your normal window.
Keep a note in your phone of how you feel from day to day. Make a list of the pros or cons that you experience. Give yourself at least a month to adjust. Use your notes to help you decide if eating within a certain time window is sustainable and beneficial for you. If you need help, contact me! I work with clients one-on-one to come up with personalized game plans to fuel your body in the best way possible.
Zero: A super simple app with one button to start and stop fasting (basically a stopwatch that stores your data). It counts your fasting hours (not your eating hours). I shoot for at least 13 hours of fasting per night (aka eating within an 11 hour window).
myCircadianClock: This app helps you to understand how your daily patterns affect your health while contributing to research. Dr. Satchin Panda and his group are using the data from real people to shape their future research. You log your meals (via photo), exercise, and sleep. For the first 2 weeks, you share your normal habits. At the end of the 14 days, you’ll be able to see all of the data and set specific goals. The app is a bit old school and clunky, but you’re contributing to real world research!
This is the one of the best soups I’ve ever made! Plus– it’s good for you. It is high in nutrients and packs major flavor. With a trio of mushrooms, the savory flavor is similar to miso soup (the popular starter at Japanese steakhouses) and I added a little kick with the jalapeno. The orrechietti pasta along with the spaghetti squash gave it a fun look and texture. I’m so glad I made enough for leftovers!
If spaghetti squash is a new ingredient to your kitchen, it is basically a vegetable substitute for noodles, with half the calories and carbs as pasta. Bonus if you have kids and can get them to help– they’ll love peeling back the layers of “spaghetti!” Try my Spaghetti Squash Marinara recipe for a more traditional way to use this versatile vegetable.
Spaghetti Squash Orecchietti Mushroom Soup
Makes 6- 8 servings
1 spaghetti squash
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces white button mushrooms, chopped
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
3.5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and diced
1 small jalapeno, minced, seeds discarded
2 quarts water
3 tablespoons vegetable bouillon
1 and 1/2 cup orecchietti pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Fresh parsley (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half. Discard the seeds and rub the insides of the squash with one tablespoon of the olive oil and season with ground pepper. Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet or pizza stone and roast for 30 minutes or until squash strands scrape easily with a fork.
2. While the squash is baking, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Toss in the jalapeno, stir, then add the chopped mushrooms.
3. Add the water and vegetable base and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
4. Add the spaghetti squash strands. Ladle the soup over the squash and serve with grated cheese and fresh parsley.
The holidays are here and that means cold and flu season is here as well. Many of us will have at least one flight or long road trip over the next month or so. Travel combined with high stress, skipping workouts, and being out of a healthy eating routine means you are all the more likely to catch something and end up feeling under the weather. But who has time for a cold this time of year?
Here are a few tips that I use to stay well when I’m traveling:
Alllll the probiotics! I don’t mean just popping a pill either. Try to get those healthy, immune-boosting bugs from real foods. Fermented veggies, sauerkraut (not cooked), anything by Farmhouse Culture, Wildbrine probiotic shots, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, Kashaya coconut yogurt, and Kite Hill almond milk yogurt are great options. I’ll eat a couple forkfuls of sauerkraut every day when I get home from work and have yogurt or kefir in the mornings for about a week leading up to a trip out of town. If I’m starting to feel at all sick, bring on the Wildbrine shots!
2. Dr. Schnuffie’s Cold & Flu. I’m not one for taking a bunch of vitamins, but I make sure to take one of these for every day that I’m on the road. They haven’t let me down yet! It’s a powerful combo of vitamins + herbs developed by a physician to help boost the immune system.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! The low humidity environment on a plane can really dry you out and increase your risk of catching a respiratory infection. If you already carry a water bottle with you wherever you go, don’t leave it at home while you’re traveling. Fill up right before your flight– that little 6 ounce cup of water the airline gives you isn’t nearly enough. Too much alcohol can also dehydrate you. If you need a little extra motivation, try downloading the Plant Nanny app. It gives you a goal of how many ounces a day you need then it’s up to you to drink what you need or watch your cute little animated plant wither and die.
4. Don’t sacrifice sleep! This is probably the most important, yet most overlooked aspect of staying healthy. Forgoing sleep suppresses your immune system and lessens your bodies ability to fight off infection. Lack of sleep also increases the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which regulate fullness and satiety. When you get less sleep, your body pushes you to eat more high calorie foods in order to get more energy.
5. Practice self-care to decrease stress. Make sure you are taking care of yourself over the next few months and take a minute to think about what your best stress relieving techniques are. Can’t think of any? That’s your first clue that there is a problem. If your usual stress relief is hitting the gym or a yoga class and you’ve fallen behind on time, try a simple 10 minute meditation (I use the Headspace app), a 5-minute stretch, or 10 deep breaths. It sounds almost trivial, like what can 5-10 minutes a day do? A lot, actually! Don’t knock it until you’ve actually given it a shot. If you think you don’t have time for 5-10 minutes to focus on stress relief, then you probably need 20!
As the weather cools off, there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. I don’t always have time to make stove-top oats in the morning, so baked oatmeal bars have become my new go-to. If you don’t like the texture of typical oatmeal, baked oatmeal may be the way to go. It’s more like eating a cross between a cereal bar and a muffin.
This recipe is a fall spin on these go-to Berry Simple Breakfast Bars. It’s also the perfect way to use up the canned pumpkin left over from holiday baking. I mixed in raisins this time, but dried cranberries, walnuts, or chocolate chips (or all three!) would also be tasty additions.
After the baked oatmeal cooled, I cut it into squares, wrapped them individually, and stuck them in the freezer. I’m looking forward to having them on hand for easy heat-and-eat breakfasts. This baked oatmeal would also be perfect for Thanksgiving morning breakfast.
Just like when I eat stove-top oats, I still love adding toppings to my baked oatmeal. I add a few extra splashes of milk to the bowl before reheating the oatmeal, and then top it with banana slices, peanut butter, and a drizzle of maple syrup. I hope you love this baked oatmeal as much as I do!
Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal Bars
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup maple syrup
1 ¾ cup milk of choice (I used soy milk)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
1 small to medium banana, mashed
1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray an 8 x 8 baking pan with non-stick spray. In a large bowl, stir together oats, baking powder, spices, and salt. In another bowl, whisk the pumpkin, syrup, milk, egg, oil, vanilla, and banana. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in raisins then pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the middle is set and the oats are golden brown.
If there was ever a time in the year where your health and fitness goals take a backseat, the holidays would be it. Parties, family, shopping, travel, post office runs, planning events, wrapping gifts… all of these extras tend to take precedence over packing your lunch or heading out for a run. It’s easy to say “I just don’t have time” and put your goals on the back burner until January.
In 2017, I’ve had more clients than ever wanting to transition to a more plant-based diet or just eat less meat in general. Some people do it for their health and others for environmental or moral reasons. Whatever your reason, don’t let your goals slip in November and December!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge in some roast turkey on Thanksgiving if that’s what you are looking forward to. This post is not about restriction, it’s about sticking to the goals you’ve committed to. Here are a few simple ways that I stay plant-based when time just isn’t on my side:
Meal Delivery Boxes
Are you sick of the same rice and beans or pasta dishes you’ve been making all year? Bust out of your rut with a meal delivery box. The ingredients show up at your door and all you have to do is follow the instructions to assemble. Both Hellofresh and Green Chef have great plant-based options. You can look ahead at what recipes are available that week and decide if you want to get a box or skip that week. These meal boxes can be a life saver if you have a lot of travel coming up. If you usually do your grocery shopping on Sunday but you were out of town all weekend, there’s nothing better than coming home from work on Monday with a box of healthy food on your front porch ready to be cooked.
The best part is that the boxes say you get 2 servings per recipe (3 recipes per box), but most of the time I get 3-4 servings out of each meal and have plenty for lunch the next day. If you want simple, straightforward recipes with minimal cleanup, go with Hellofresh. If you want to try some fancier recipes with all organic options and are willing to pay a little more, go with Green Chef. I have subscriptions to both and order based on which recipes sound the best that week.
If you are really strapped for time or cooking just isn’t an option, Veestro delivers boxes of plant-based, organic, non-GMO, chef-prepared meals. All you have to do is follow the reheating instructions!
Just realized you’re out of olive oil and you need it for the dish you’re bringing to your work pot luck tomorrow but there’s no way you have time to run to the grocery store? Um, hellloooo grocery delivery! Pick your store, your items, and what time you want them dropped off and voila! Shipt and Instacart are the 2 most popular grocery delivery companies in my area but Amazon recently threw its hat in the ring with PrimeNow 2-hour delivery.
Quick Grab and Go Options
Protein is one of the hardest nutrient goals for me to meet when I’m eating plant-based, especially when it comes to snacks. When my snacks are just carb-based (like fruit by itself or veggies and hummus), I’m hungry again an hour later. If I make sure to have something with protein, I am more likely to feel fueled until my next meal.
Blue Diamond Almonds: Flavors like Salt & Vinegar and Habanero Barbecue cure my savory cravings, while Salted Caramel and Dark Chocolate satisfy my sweet tooth. You get healthy fat paired with a little protein and a little carb all in one.
Plant-based protein bars: With a million and a half protein bars on the grocery store shelves, how do you know which ones are good and which are no better than a Snickers? Check out my list of the Best Vegan Protein Bars. My current favorite is the Square Organics bar. They’re so chocolatey it feels like I’m eating dessert.
Overnight Oats: I mix old fashioned oats (uncooked) with yogurt and milk (Elmhurst Walnut Milk is my fave), then add whatever I’m in the mood for: cinnamon, chia seeds, hemp seeds, protein powder, and fresh or frozen fruit in a big casserole dish and leave it in the fridge overnight to soak. Sometimes I’ll pour more milk over them in the morning. You can also make them in single servings mason jars if you want to pack your breakfast or snack to go.
Every 3-4 days, take a look at your calendar and see what’s on the horizon. Plan in your workouts right then and there. Schedule in time for grocery shopping and packing lunches. In order to be successful, you have to have a short term and a long term plan. This year, don’t just “get through” the holidays and put your goals on the back burner. Stay committed to your goals and go into the new year feeling happy, healthy, and satisfied.
Has fall been officially renamed to pumpkin spice season yet?
One of the things I miss most about living up north is the cooler temperatures and changing leaves that Fall brings. We only get an occasional taste of fall weather in Florida, but I don’t let that stop me from enjoying allll the pumpkin things!
Granola is one of my breakfast staples. Lately, I’ve been loving Purely Elizabeth granola, but I decided it was time to make my own. My mom and I have made this Spiced Pumpkin and Brown Sugar Granola Recipe that we found in The Oprah Magazine for years. Our family and friends go crazy for it!
I decided to tweak my favorite recipe and love how it turned out! This granola has warm flavors from the pumpkin pie spice blend (I used Penzeys). It’s slightly sweet from the maple syrup and raisins, while toasty walnuts add crunch.
This granola also has real pumpkin! Make sure you use pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling. Aside from tasting great, pumpkin also provides beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium. Read more about the health benefits of pumpkin here.
I can’t wait to enjoy this granola on top of yogurt, smoothie bowls, oatmeal, ice cream, and just as-is. I’ve also decided that everything tastes better when eaten out of a pumpkin-shaped bowl.
½ cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, stir together pumpkin, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Add in spices, salt, and oats. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Spread the oat mixture onto a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes, stir, and then continue baking for another 15 minutes. Add the raisins and walnuts to the oat mixture and bake for 10-15 more minutes, until the walnuts are toasted.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow the granola to cool completely. Once cool, store the granola in an airtight container.
Looking for more healthy ways to use the extra pumpkin? Try out these recipes:
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is marketed as a diet supplement that helps with weight loss, decreasing body fat, and increasing lean body mass (muscle).
What is CLA?
CLA is a type of fat found naturally in milk, meat, eggs, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and mushrooms. Grass-fed animal products have higher CLA content. Non-fat and low fat dairy contain minimal amounts of CLA because it gets removed along with the fat during processing.
In the 1990s, researchers found that supplementing CLA reduced body fat and increased lean body mass in pigs, mice, rats, and chickens. In the 2000s, researchers aimed to find out whether humans would see the same effect.
In a 2005 study published in Journal of Nutrition, overweight subjects taking 3.4g of CLA per day for 2 years saw a sustained reduction in body fat mass, however the greatest fat loss occured during the first 6 months of supplementation. Subjects starting with higher body fat were more likely to lose fat with CLA supplementation than those starting with lower body fat. The study was funded by a company that sells CLA supplements (as most are, since they would benefit monetarily from studies proving benefits of taking CLA).
While several additional studies have showed similar results, other studies have shown no change in body composition or weight when comparing CLA supplementation to placebo.
There has been conflicting evidence on CLAs effects on cardiovascular risk factors like HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and apo-B. Studies have seen slight increases, decreases, or no changes at all in the various markers. After reviewing the available evidence, it doesn’t seem that CLA moves the needle much either way when it comes to blood lipids, inflammation markers, or fasting blood glucose.
Honestly, the science just isn’t there to confirm that CLA will help your reduce body fat, increase lean mass, or lose weight. That being said, I tried it, and it did seem to decrease body fat for me. I took one 750mg Optimum Nutrition gel capsule 2-4 times per day (up to 3g/day) with meals. My goal was to take one with each meal but I often forgot at least one per day. I saw a reduction in belly fat over a 4 month period. When I stopped taking CLA, what I had lost seemed to come back fairly quickly (within a month). I did not change my exercise or nutrition routine throughout this period (eating fairly healthy with some treats thrown in, crossfit 3-4 times per week + the occasional run or yoga session).
My fiancé saw my results and wanted to try it, and I wanted another test case. He took it even less religiously but saw similar results.
Fat accumulation in the liver was observed in mice and hamsters fed CLA-enriched diets. The response could be species specific, however, in one human study, 2 of 134 subjects increased ALT and AST (markers of liver damage) at the end of the study. The levels returned to normal 4 weeks after CLA supplementation.
In contrast, CLA supplementation actually improved liver function in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, these patients were also on a weight loss diet and a vitamin E supplement.
One of livers main functions is to help metabolize fat. Too much fat can overwhelm the liver, leading me to believe that too much CLA is not a good thing and what “too much” is completely depends on the individual.
So should you take it?
The most important thing to know before you take any supplement is why you are taking it. If you are clear about what your goals are, it will be easier to determine if a supplement will help you get there or if it’s a waste of time and money.
If you start with poor diet and don’t exercise, taking CLA is NOT going to get you the results you want. The difference will be minuscule and not worth the money.
If you’re already eating healthy and have an exercise routine you enjoy that you’ve been doing for a few months, CLA can be an “extra” that may help you get slightly better results. You’re not going to see a huge change and you may not see any change at all.
If you see a change within the first 6 months of supplementing with CLA, you may not see any additional change afterward. The body is an adaption machine. In the 2 year study described above, subjects did maintain their initial loss throughout the 2 years, but didn’t see much more than that. The study did not indicate whether subjects were able to maintain the fat loss after supplementation ended. On one hand, you may get a small edge on decreasing body fat. On the other hand, there may be risks. We simply aren’t sure about the right dosage, how much and how often you should take CLA. It isn’t something you need to take to optimize health (from what we know so far). A healthy, varied diet and a good exercise routine will get you much better results than just popping a pill any day.
Keep in mind, you can also get conjugated linoleic acid from real food!
The most important thing to know before you take a supplement is why you are taking it. If you are clear about what your goals are, it is easier to determine if a supplement will help you get there or if it’s a complete waste of money (spoiler alert: most are).
There are no short cuts in life. You can’t gain muscle by drinking a ton of protein shakes and you can’t lose weight and keep it off by popping a “fat burner” every day. That being said, there are some “extras” you can start to incorporate once you are eating well and in a good exercise regimen that you enjoy. That has to come first. Just throwing supplements at the problem without first addressing the behaviors that need to change won’t get you anywhere.
There are a million supplements out there that are complete junk. Unlike a food or food additive, there is no requirement to prove the safety or effectiveness of a supplement before it is sold. The FDA must prove beyond a doubt that a supplement is dangerous before removing it from market. Essentially, supplements are “innocent before proven guilty.” What this means: I can dig up dirt from my yard and sell it as Moon Rock Metabolism Enhancing Powder. If I get a few people to take before and after photos and Dr. Oz picks it up on his show, I’m a millionaire.
There are a few things out there, however, that are backed by research and actually do what they claim. In a previous post, we discussed BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) and protein powder. Today we’re going to talk about another popular supplement, creatine, what it does and doesn’t do, and which brand(s) to look for if the purpose fits your goals.
What does it do?
A popular myth in athletics is that creatine builds muscle. What creatine actually does is give you that little extra push during a workout by helping you do those last 2 reps that you couldn’t get before, which in turn increases strength and helps to build muscle.
Creatine is naturally produced in the body and stored in your muscles to help produce ATP, your bodies source of fuel. Behind caffeine and protein, it is one of the most popular, effective, and researched sports supplements.
Who should take it?
Creatine is most beneficial for high intensity workouts that include quick bursts of massive output followed by short rests. If you do a few 30 minute walks a week (and you’re not a vegan or vegetarian) you probably don’t need creatine.
Vegans and vegetarians have been shown in multiple studies to have low or depleted creatine stores compared to carnivores. That is likely because meat and fish contain creatine, so carnivores are getting more creatine from their food on a daily basis. Vegetarians supplementing with creatine were able to replete their stores, increase lean muscle tissue, and improve performance.
Creatine is also beneficial for people in a strength training program focused on building muscle mass.
One study showed that creatine decreased various markers of cell damage and inflammation after athletes completed a 30 kilometer run, which may mean that creatine not only helps with increasing strength but recovery as well. Supporting evidence on creatines ability to decrease muscle soreness is limited.
If you are an active vegan or vegetarian, a crossfitter, regularly do HIIT (high intensity interval training) or strength training with the goal to increase muscle, keep reading on how to start incorporating creatine to get the most out of the supplement.
How much should you take?
You have two options. You could take 20 grams per day (broken up into 4 doses of 5 grams evenly spaced) for one week to re-establish your creatine stores if you think you might be depleted, then continue taking 3-5 grams daily thereafter. Loading with 20 grams per day in the first week saturates your body with the max amount of creatine stores but can also cause temporary water retention. If that messes with your head, you can take 5 grams daily for 28 days. Without a loading phase, it will take longer to maximize your stores but you will eventually get there with 5 grams per day. You can then maintain those stores by continuing to take creatine daily at 2-5 grams per day.
Larger athletes may need up to 10 grams per day to maintain optimal capacity.
Some people are creatine non-responders, meaning you may not see a difference. Many people experience temporary water retention during loading phase. Skipping the loading phase can lower the water retention. Larger doses can also cause stomach cramps.
Studies on long-term safety show report no adverse effects when taken in recommended doses.
What should you look for in a creatine supplement?
There are several different types of creatine and more on the market every year. Creatine monohydrate is the most studied form of creatine and backed by years of evidence of safety and efficacy. Some people recommend newer forms of creatine like creatine esters, but the studies are mixed. I’m sticking with monohydrate for now.
Look for a creatine without any weird additives. You don’t need artificial sweeteners like sucralose or artificial colors in your creatine. It should be a white powder that comes in 5 grams per dose serving sizes. Stir the 5 grams with water and drink immediately.
Muscle Tech– Super cheap (runs about $11 for 80 servings). After your loading phase, take 5 grams with water before a workout.
Prime Build Best BCAA– Combines 3g of creatine with BCAAs. If you want to take both before a workout, this is an easy way to combine them.
Creatine helps to increase your exercise output by providing your muscles with energy. Increased output = increased strength = muscle growth.
Creatine does not help with weight loss. Increasing muscle mass will change the shape and tone of your body, but can also increase your weight. Don’t expect the scale to go down from taking creatine.
Taking creatine without training hard will not do anything. You have to put in the work to get the results.
Ever feel like you’re stuck in a brown rice rut? Yep, my hand is raised. You want to make sure you’re getting a slow digesting, complex carb at lunch to hold you over throughout the day but what else is out there? Face it– you’re probably getting sick of quinoa too. How about barley, whole grain couscous, farro, or teff? Have you tried black rice or red rice? Boring brown rice isn’t your only option.
These Greek Barley Bowls combine some of my favorite Mediterranean flavors with chewy, nutty barley. Don’t let the ingredients list scare you, because many of them are pantry staples. In fact, the only ‘new-to-my-pantry’ ingredients were barley and tahini. Not familiar with either? Let me give you a quick rundown:
Barley is the king of fiber among whole-grains. Unlike most other grains, barley has fiber in all of its layers, not just the outermost bran. It’s beneficial for blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Bonus: it also helps promote satiety!
Pearled barley is common, but most of its beneficial bran layer has been removed. Look for hulled or hull-less barley to make sure you’re getting the whole grain. Many regular grocery stores carry this variety, but it may be in the health food aisle instead of next to other grains.
Hull-less barley takes longer to cook, but the rest of the components come together quickly. They can be prepped while the barley simmers away. If you want to make a big batch of barley, the leftovers can be added to soups or swapped out for your morning oatmeal (try reheating the barley with a splash of milk and topping with fruit, nuts, and a drizzle of honey!).
You can read more about the health benefits of barley here and here.
As a side-note: If you’re working on increasing the amount of fiber you eat, do so gradually and make sure you’re also drinking enough fluid.
Every time I eat tahini sauce, I wonder why I don’t have it more often. What’s not to love about a creamy sauce packed with healthy fat?! Tahini also provides thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.
Tahini is simply ground sesame seeds. You’ve had it before even if you don’t know it… it’s one of the main ingredients in hummus! Here, we mix it with olive oil, lemon juice, spices, and water to make a magical sauce that you’ll want to drizzle on everything. It also makes a great veggie dip. You easily can find it at Trader Joes or in the “international” aisle in most grocery stores.
You can read more about the health benefits of tahini here.
Now that we’ve gone over the base (barley) and finishing touch (tahini sauce) of these bowls, let’s talk about what else they’ve got!
Roasting chickpeas makes them deliciously crunchy, and a sprinkle of spices while they’re hot makes it hard to resist eating them all straight off the pan.
When my last name changed to Metropulos, I quickly learned there’s no such thing as too muchfeta. Or Kalamata olives, for that matter. These bowls are topped with both, along with cool and refreshing chopped veggies. However, if you’re vegan or dairy-free, the feta can be left off and the bowls will still be delicious (thank you very much, tahini sauce).
You’ll be glad you gave this ancient grain a try! Want more ideas for bowls you can prep ahead of time and pack for lunch?
1 ½ cups cooked barley (I used Bob’s Red Mill Hull-less Barley)
Spiced chickpeas (recipe below)
¾ cup diced tomato
¾ cup diced cucumber
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons diced red onion
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives
Lemon tahini sauce (recipe below)
1 (16 ounce) can reduced sodium chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Greek spice (recipe below)
Lemon tahini sauce
1/3 cup tahini
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon Greek spice (recipe below)
3 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried dill
To make the barley:
Prepare barley according to package instructions. If using Bob’s Red Mill Hull-less Barley, combine ½ cup uncooked barley and 1 ¾ cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes. Set aside to cool.
To make the Greek spice:
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
To make the spiced chickpeas:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry the chickpeas very well after they have been drained and rinsed. Spread chickpeas on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Toss warm chickpeas with ½ tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon Greek spice.
To make the lemon tahini sauce:
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Add additional warm water as needed to thin sauce to desired consistency.
To assemble the bowls:
Place ½ cup cooked barley in the bottom of each bowl. Evenly distribute chickpeas among bowls, about 1/3 cup each. Top each bowl with ¼ cup tomato, ¼ cup cucumber, 2 tablespoons red onion, 2 tablespoons feta cheese, and 1 tablespoon olives. Drizzle each bowl with 1-2 tablespoons tahini sauce.