- ADHD diet: Best foods, foods to avoid, and meal plans
- Protein-rich foods
- Complex carbohydrates
- Vitamins and minerals
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Other simple carbohydrates
- Artificial additives
- An elimination diet: Removing artificial additives
- The Few Foods diet
- The Mediterranean diet
- Try These Suggestions to Lose Weight With a Food Allergy
- 8 healthy tweaks to make your diet today, according to nutritionists
- 7-Day Menu for Spring Allergy Season
- 7 Diet Tweaks For Weight Loss – Kath Eats Real Food
- 1. Brush your teeth after lunch
- 2. I don’t have any dessert in my house
- 3. Go grocery shopping when you’re full
- 4. Lighten up snacks
- 5. Have a vegetable-based lunch
- 6. Keep sweets sight
- MORE POSTS ON WEIGHT CHANGE:
- Do you need to tweak your diet?
- What is a healthy baseline diet?
- Trying to conceive or thinking of it?
- Perimenopausal or menopausal?
- Doing a lot of exercise?
- Do you need protein supplements?
- Recovering from injury or surgery?
ADHD diet: Best foods, foods to avoid, and meal plans
While there is no definitive ADHD diet, many sources claim that certain diets, foods, and meal plans can help reduce symptoms.
Various foods can affect energy and concentration levels. Certain choices may, therefore, be better for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Some research suggests that following specific diets — such as elimination diets, the Few Foods diet, and the Mediterranean diet — could play a role in managing ADHD.
In this article, we first take a look at specific foods that could improve or worsen ADHD symptoms. Then, we explore what the research says about specific ADHD diets.
Certain foods are better at keeping a person’s energy and blood sugar levels stable and improving concentration. These foods may especially benefit people with ADHD.
The following may be particularly helpful:
Share on PinterestEggs and whole-grain bread may benefit people with ADHD.
Protein is essential for the health of the brain, and it plays a key role in producing brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Including protein in a meal also prevents spikes in blood glucose levels. Some people suggest that these surges increase hyperactivity.
Foods rich in protein include:
- meat and poultry products
- fish and shellfish
- beans and lentils
protein, complex carbohydrates can help prevent blood sugar spikes.
Eating this type of carbohydrate also keeps a person feeling fuller for longer, which may stop them from snacking on sugar-filled foods.
In addition, when people eat them before bedtime, these foods may encourage better sleep.
The foods below contain complex carbohydrates:
- whole-grain bread and pasta
- brown rice
- beans and lentils
Vitamins and minerals
Some studies link ADHD with low levels of certain micronutrients, including iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B-6, and vitamin D.
However, it is unclear whether these lower levels lead to the development of ADHD and whether consuming more of these nutrients can improve symptoms.
Nonetheless, they are all essential nutrients in the diet, so eating more foods that contain them is unly to cause harm.
People can find these nutrients in the following foods:
- iron: beef, liver, kidney beans, and tofu
- zinc: meat, shellfish, beans, and nuts
- magnesium: pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, and peanuts
- vitamin B-6: eggs, fish, peanuts, and potatoes
- vitamin D: fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks, and fortified foods
Omega-3 fatty acids
Share on PinterestChia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that a person must get from their diet. They play a role in heart and brain health.
Children with ADHD may have reduced levels of omega-3 fats. Some research suggests that consuming more omega-3s may help modestly improve symptoms.
According to an interview conducted by a group of nonprofit organizations called Understood.org, omega-3s may improve attention, focus, motivation, and working memory in children with ADHD.
However, they caution that more research is necessary and that omega-3 fatty acids are not a substitute for ADHD medications.
Some sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
Adults and children with ADHD may feel better if they limit or avoid the following:
Eating sugary foods can cause blood glucose spikes and crashes, which can affect energy levels. Some caregivers report a link between sugar consumption and hyperactivity in children with ADHD.
While some studies indicate a link between high consumption of sugar and soft drinks with a higher prevalence of ADHD diagnosis, other research finds no connection.
Even if it does not improve ADHD symptoms, limiting sugar intake is a healthful choice for everyone, as it may reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay.
Other simple carbohydrates
Sugar is a simple — or refined —carbohydrate.
Other simple carbohydrates can also contribute to rapid changes in blood sugar levels and people should only consume them in moderation.
The foods below contain simple carbohydrates:
- white bread
- white rice
- white pasta
- potatoes without skins
- sports drinks
- potato fries
Small amounts of caffeine may benefit some people with ADHD — some research suggests that it can increase concentration levels.
However, caffeine can intensify the effects of certain ADHD medications, including any adverse reactions that a person may experience.
Adults with ADHD should limit their caffeine intake, especially if they are taking ADHD medications. Children and teenagers should avoid tea, coffee, and cola completely.
Some children with ADHD can benefit from removing artificial additives from their diets.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that children avoid these additives, particularly food colorings because they can worsen ADHD symptoms.
Artificial additives may also interfere with hormones, growth, and development.
Many prepackaged and processed products contain artificial coloring, flavors, and preservatives, including some:
- breakfast cereals
- soft drinks
- fruit punches
- vitamins for children
Some researchers claim that removing potential allergens — such as gluten, wheat, and soy — can improve focus and reduce hyperactivity.
However, eliminating these allergens ly only benefits those who actually have an allergy or intolerance. Consider discussing food allergies with a doctor or dietician before removing these foods from the diet.
While there is no cure for ADHD, many people discuss certain diets or foods that they believe can help manage ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity and difficulty concentrating.
The following sections look at the research behind various diets that people believe may reduce symptoms of ADHD.
An elimination diet: Removing artificial additives
The AAP recommend that children avoid artificial additives, warning that they could worsen ADHD symptoms.
Following a diet that eliminates additives would involve not eating:
- artificial colors
- artificial flavors
- artificial sweeteners
Many breakfast cereals, candies, and sodas contain these chemicals.
Over the years, various researchers have looked into the effects of additives on ADHD.
According to a 2017 review, eliminating additives may have a small effect on ADHD symptoms. The authors suggest that the specific benefits may also extend to children without the condition.
The Few Foods diet
The Few Foods diet is a short-term intervention that helps people determine whether certain foods make their ADHD symptoms worse.
It is highly restrictive and involves eating only a small number of foods that are unly to cause an adverse reaction.
If a person notices a reduction in their symptoms after eliminating certain foods, this suggests that a food allergy or intolerance could be making their ADHD symptoms worse.
After beginning with the Few Foods diet, people gradually reintroduce other foods and watch for a reaction.
A different 2017 review confirms that the Few Foods diet could help children identify and eliminate problematic foods.
The Few Foods diet is extremely restrictive at the start. For example, one diet plan involves eating only lamb, chicken, potatoes, rice, bananas, apples, and cruciferous vegetables.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is well known for benefiting the health of the heart and brain. It involves eating mainly:
- whole grains
- healthful fats, such as olive oil
Some research suggests that not following a Mediterranean diet is associated with ADHD diagnosis. However, the results do not suggest that a Mediterranean diet could prevent or treat ADHD symptoms.
Nonetheless, because of the benefits to other areas of health, it is a safe diet for people with ADHD.
The following diet tips may also benefit people with ADHD:
- Eat balanced meals. Try to include a mix of vegetables, whole grains, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids in most meals.
- Schedule regular meal and snack times, as routine is important for children with ADHD.
- Do not skip meals, as this could lead to blood sugar crashes and excessive junk food consumption.
- Keep plenty of healthful foods on hand for a quick snack, such as fruits, nuts, and chopped vegetables.
- Speak to a doctor about taking a multivitamin and multimineral supplement, which may be especially helpful for picky eaters and people with nutrient deficiencies.
- Check all ingredient labels on food packaging, and avoid foods that contain artificial additives and high amounts of sugar.
- Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store, which tends to contain the most minimally processed whole foods.
Try the following healthful meal plan for children with ADHD:
breakfast: scrambled eggs with cherry tomatoes on whole-grain toast, and a small smoothie made with milk, spinach, banana, chia seeds, and frozen strawberries
snack: sticks of cucumber and bell peppers with hummus
lunch: a cheese and bean quesadilla with guacamole and salsa, and a slice of melon
snack: trail mix with walnuts, almonds, and dried berries
dinner: homemade salmon fish sticks, baked potato, and green vegetables
dessert (optional): frozen chocolate pudding made with low-fat milk
This healthful meal plan may be a good option for adults with ADHD:
breakfast: avocado and eggs on whole-wheat toast, herbal tea or coffee
snack: yogurt with berries and chia seeds
lunch: a salad with baked salmon and quinoa on a bed of mixed leaves, cucumber, and bell peppers, topped with sunflower seeds
snack: sliced apple dipped in peanut butter
dinner: chicken and vegetable curry with brown rice
dessert (optional): 1 ounce of good-quality dark chocolate, and herbal tea
Some research suggests that certain dietary choices may help with some of the symptoms of ADHD. However, the evidence is limited.
In general, the best diet for people with ADHD is the diet that doctors recommend for most other people — one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthful fats, and lean proteins. It should include limited amounts of saturated fats and junk foods.
People with food allergies or intolerances should avoid trigger foods. Also, some people require vitamin and mineral supplements, though it is important to speak with a doctor before taking them.
- ADHD / ADD
- Nutrition / Diet
- Pediatrics / Children's Health
Try These Suggestions to Lose Weight With a Food Allergy
dolgachov / Getty Images
It’s pretty universal to want to be a healthy person—full of vim and vigor and living a long and healthy life. One way to be healthy is to eat healthy food.
While eating healthy food isn’t the be-all, end-all to your health (there’s much more that goes into it), there is a lot you can do with your diet to improve it and fine-tune your eating habits.
This is especially important if you’re living with a food allergy and its associated food restrictions.
Eating with a time frame in mind may help you normalize your appetite and prevent episodes of extreme hunger and overeating. Aim to eat every 3-5 hours and avoid long stretches with nothing to eat in between, as this encourages a ravenous appetite and little control over how much you eat.
Some more recent research has identified a time-restricted phase of eating spelled out to the tune of eating within a 12-hour interval during the day (e.g. 8 am to 8 pm only), to reduce excessive weight gain and perhaps even reverse it.
These studies have been conducted in mice, so they need further verification in humans, but a promising idea, no doubt.
If you wonder whether you get enough vitamins and minerals, ideal amounts of protein, or are on target with your fat intake, take the question the equation by focusing on the food groups.
Getting a balance of all the food groups, including dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains, lean protein sources, and healthy fats will keep you covered with plenty of the essential nutrients you need to be and stay healthy.
National surveys show we eat too much sugar. Indeed, even our littlest citizens are getting far too much sugar in their diet.
Part of the problem is that sugar hides in our everyday food, even in food which we believe is “healthy,” such as cereal, yogurt, sports drinks, and granola bars, potentially pushing sugar intake into the ozone.
The other part is that we love our sugary treats—decadent or not—and manage to include them in our daily eating. If you can, take an honest assessment of where your sugar is coming from and try to cut it down by half.
Soda, juice, juice drinks, sports drinks, shakes, and more are filled with sugar and add to sugar consumption. The surprising fact with sugary beverages is that people often don’t count them as part of their diet, forgetting that these beverages have extra sugar and calories. Choose water over calorie-filled beverages most, if not all, of the time.
Bringing a packed lunch to work or school offers a budget-friendly way to make sure you get a healthy, safe, allergen-free lunch. Yes, it takes a little bit more time to pack lunch, but you have complete control of what goes in there, and you’ll be more ly to eat what you pack. In other words, you have the opportunity to make it a healthy addition to your diet or not.
Eighty-three percent of US consumers eat out at fast food establishments once a week. Sixty-eight percent visit casual dining restaurants at least once a week.
Dining out means higher risk for cross-contamination with food allergens, more expense, and more calories, in general.
Try to cut back on dining out and do more cooking at home, but if you can’t, try to make healthy food choices when out to eat the norm.
Water is calorie-free, a physical requirement for normal bodily functions, and has many benefits to your overall well-being. Drink more.
A University of Missouri researcher found that eating a protein-packed breakfast including about 20 grams of protein (foods eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt) helped study participants improve their satisfaction after eating and reduced their lihood of overeating later on in the day. If you're allergic to egg, you might want to try these eggless high protein breakfast ideas.
Studies show that eating meals on smaller plates translates to eating less. If you’re using Frisbee-sized plates for mealtime, consider downsizing to a salad plate to help you manage the quantity of food you eat.
If you missed the message, it’s time to swap your white flour-based foods with whole grains. Why? They are healthier for your body, may help you feel full after eating, and are proven to benefit your heart and protect you from certain cancers. Being allergic to wheat isn’t an excuse to stick with refined grains.
You probably know that French fries are fried. And that calamari and tempura are as well. But did you know that many snack chips are fried? Yes, tortilla chips, potato chips, and other snack chips tend to be fried. To tune up your diet, step away from the fried stuff and go for baked options. The upside? You’ll cut down on your fat intake and total calories.
8 healthy tweaks to make your diet today, according to nutritionists
The desire to get healthier is a common goal, but the thought of a massive dietary overhaul may seem overwhelming. Truthfully, even small tweaks have health payoffs, including lowering your chances of conditions diabetes and heart disease. Plus, small changes are less taxing to your willpower than loftier goals.
Just overworking your biceps leads to fatigue, so does overworking your willpower. Over time, muscles, your willpower becomes stronger, so successfully making a micro-change to your menu can empower you to take on another small change. Here are eight expert-recommended diet tweaks to try this summer.
Once you master one, see if you can try another.
This simple change, recommended by nutritionist Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet, is an easy place to start. “Many people confuse thirst for hunger and wind up reaching for a high-calorie snack when in reality, hunger isn’t the issue.
” Research confirms the lines get blurred, and the science supports another reason for making this change: Even mild dehydration can lower energy levels. So set your intentions on drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day — and more on hot and humid days, and when you’re hitting the gym (or ski slopes, or your exercise of choice).
If water isn’t your thing, Gans suggests boosting flavor with fresh lemon, lime or cucumber. I’m also a fan of flavored sparkling waters, La Croix.
Though I love overnight oats as much as the next person, a cereal or grain-based breakfast, while nutritious, may fall short on protein.
“Sufficient protein at breakfast (at least 20 grams) is important to help prevent muscle loss as we age and maximize muscle growth and repair after a workout.
Plus, adding protein to your breakfast, especially when paired with good carbs, fiber and healthy fats will help to keep you full longer to keep your energy levels up all morning,” according to Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
You eat breakfast anyway (or at least I hope you do!), so why not upgrade your morning meal with more protein? Harris-Pincus boosts the protein levels in her Creamy Orange Overnight Oats with protein-rich ingredients, Greek yogurt and whey protein powder. These hunger-busting additions may mean the difference between feeling hangry at the crack of 10 AM and powering through until lunch time.
Learning to recognize when you’re hungry and when you’re full will go a long way toward improving your overall health.
We all fall into the trap of eating for reasons other than hunger, be it the habit of popcorn at the movies, munching your way through a bag of chips during a stressful afternoon at the office or finishing up the last forkful of pasta at dinner.
To break the cycle, “practice using the hunger-fullness scale,” suggests Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and creator of the 5 Minute Mindful Eating Exercise e-guide, who recommends using this useful tool to clue into your hunger before, during and after a meal.
“While babies and small children do a great job eating when they're hungry and stopping when they're full, as adults we tend to eat more for external reasons,” says Rumsey. The idea is to learn when you’re comfortably full and put your fork down at that point.
“Cooking is more than just the simple act of preparing food to fill your belly,” says Chicago, IL culinary dietitian, Sara Haas RDN, LDN. “It’s a ritual that boosts your understanding and appreciation of food. And performing this simple skill puts you in control of what shows up on your table, which equates to better nutrition and a healthier lifestyle,” she explains.
Another way I look at it is this: Cooking is an act of love. Whether feeding family or friends, or making a meal for myself, it’s a way I can show love and appreciation. And it need not be complicated or Instagram-worthy to fulfill the requirement.
Given the startling CDC report finding that about 91% of Americans fail to get enough veggies, the advice to eat more greens from dietitian and founder of Nutrition Stripped, McKel Hill, MS, RDN, are words to live by. “Whether you add greens to smoothies, sneak in a salad before a meal, snack on vegetables, or greens to stews and stir-fry, they’re great source of fiber, minerals and antioxidants our bodies need,” she says.
If you’re averse to vegetables, I’ve found that it’s helpful to take a stacked approach to eating more. For instance, if you already scrambled eggs, add some spinach to the scramble and see how it goes. If you’re making a side of brown rice, try adding some chopped broccoli. Folding veggies into things you already enjoy helps make it easier to make this change.
“Try to reduce your meat consumption for your health and the health of the planet,” encourages The Plant-Powered Dietitian, Sharon Palmer, RDN.
Even if you only do this one day a week, it can curb your risk of obesity and lower your odds of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, according to the scientific team behind the Meatless Monday campaign.
“Have more meals legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds,” says Palmer. If you need inspiration, try her weeknight-easy Mediterranean Edamame Quinoa Bowl.
Mediterranean Edamame Quinoa BowlSharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian
We all get by with a little help from our friends and no area of our lives is this more true than with our health and wellness goals. Nutrition expert Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN has this sound advice: “Make an effort to include one more supportive, health-minded person in your life this year.”
According to Bannon, research shows that supportive relationships with friends, family members or both, can help you deal with day-to-day stressors and reach and sustain your health goals. “The opposite side of the coin holds true too: eliminate (or minimize) your time with emotional vampires — they sap your strength, emotional energy and often sabotage your health goals,” she says.
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7-Day Menu for Spring Allergy Season
Seasonal sniffles, sneezes, and itches got you down? There are things you can eat that may ease your allergy symptoms.
No food is a proven cure. But fruits and vegetables are good for your whole body. They're full of nutrients that can keep you healthy. They may also protect you from seasonal allergies.
Try these items:
1. Onions, peppers, berries, and parsley all have quercetin. Elson Haas, MD, who practices integrative medicine, says quercetin is a natural plant chemical. According to Haas, this chemical may reduce “histamine reactions.” Histamines are part of the allergic response.
2. Kiwi is a fuzzy fruit rich in vitamin C. It can also cut down on histamines. You can get Vitamin C from lots of foods, including oranges and other citrus fruit.
3. Pineapple has an enzyme called bromelain. According to Lawrence Rosen, MD, bromelain can reduce irritation in allergic diseases such as asthma.
4. Tuna, salmon, and mackerel have Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 can help reduce inflammation. Go for two servings of fish every week. A study from Japan found that women who ate more fish had lower levels of hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis.
5. Kefir is a yogurtdrink that contains probiotics. These are good-for-you bacteria that live in your gut. Rosen says they may help prevent and even treat seasonal allergies. You can get probiotics in fermented foods. Look for yogurts that say “live active cultures” on the label. Sauerkraut and kimchi are also good sources.
6. Local Honey. The research is mixed on whether local honey helps you head off allergies.
“If you take small doses of the honey early in the season,” Rosen says, “you may develop a tolerance toward pollen in your area.
” One study found that people who ate birch pollen honey had fewer symptoms of birch pollen allergy than those who ate regular honey. It’s not a sure thing, but see if it works for you.
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Common Seasonal Allergy Triggers.”
Lawrence Rosen, MD.
Kompauer, I. Public Health Nutrition, June 2006.
Ruiter, B. Clinical and Experimental Allergy, July 2015.
Elson Haas, MD, author; integrative family doctor.
University of Maryland Medical Center: “Allergic Rhinitis.”
Pavan, R. Biotechnology Research International, 2012.
Secor, E. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, September/October 2012.
Schubert, R. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, March 2009.
American Heart Association: “Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”
Miyake, Y. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, June 2007.
Nwaru, B. The British Journal of Nutrition, August 2012.
Gui, Y. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, August 2013.
Panzer, A. Current Opinion in Rheumatology, July 2015.
© 2015 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
7 Diet Tweaks For Weight Loss – Kath Eats Real Food
Weight loss can be very dramatic. Someone who drinks 2,000 calories a day can decide to give up Coke and drop lots of pounds fairly quickly. But most of the time, weight loss comes in very small packages.
These little tweaks for weight loss lead to a gradual loss over time (gain also works this way too, unfortunately!) Luckily small tweaks can make weight loss happen almost without noticing.
Here are 7 tweaks I have made lately to aim to create some deeper dips in my squiggly line.
1. Brush your teeth after lunch
One change that has made quite a bit of an impact is brushing my teeth after lunch. I can’t tell you how often I just want to eat to have something change the way my mouth tastes.
When I worked outside of the home I often brushed after lunch, but at home it’s easier to just pop a piece of chocolate.
Instead of looking for something sweet, I’ve been brushing and any nibbling that used to happen from 1-4pm is no more.
2. I don’t have any dessert in my house
I mean ANY!! I used to keep chocolate chips on hand for a batch of cookies, some ice cream in the freezer for a Saturday night, Biscoff cookies and dark chocolate bars for unexpected company or an every-now-and-then craving. For the longest time I could resist them.
One of the bags of dark chocolate chunks I ate this spring for dessert I had had since a blog conference years before! Something to do with breastfeeding or my emotions/hormones after having a baby caused all of my self control to go out the window.
I didn’t get rid of any of the desserts – I ate them all gradually over time. And then I refused to buy more. I no longer feel deprived because there’s nothing in the house to deprive myself of.
I am a very all-or-nothing type and I find it’s easier to not have any available than it is to know it’s there and resist. Willpower is hard, so I try not to even test it.
3. Go grocery shopping when you’re full
Speaking of not buying more, I’ve been going grocery shopping when I’m satisfied and feeling healthy and motivated. After a workout, perhaps. And usually in the mornings verses the late afternoon. I make better choices while there and then the food in my house is healthier when I get home.
4. Lighten up snacks
My favorite afternoon snack is a bowl of yogurt topped with granola, peanut butter and any other crunchy toppings. It’s really filling, but also can really pack a lot of calories into a few bites. While there’s nothing unhealthy about this combo, I’m sure I don’t need a snack that big to get me to dinner.
Instead of a yogurt bowl I’ve been turning to the fruit bowl and I’ve kept the granola the house for the short term (along with other foods that are way too easy/fun to overeat). I’ll still add some yogurt or crunch to my fruit in the form of cereal or chia seeds, but I make the fruit the star of the show.
This is especially fun now that berry and stone fruit season is here!
5. Have a vegetable-based lunch
In the spirit of this post, I’ve been having a salad for lunch everyday. My proteins and toppings change, but the salad is the same. The good news is I love salads, so this is a no brainer for lunch and guarantees I’ll get at least one bowl of greens in everyday.
6. Keep sweets sight
It is so easy to get control when I’m around our sweets. But if I don’t see them, I forget them! Store them way sight – maybe even in another room – if you must have them at home at all.
7. Have one choice, not 10
Also in the spirit of keeping variety to a minimum, I’ve been making an effort to have only one open nut butter at a time.
OK, two Because they don’t go bad, it’s easy to get carried away with 5-6 different open kinds – each with their own use – to choose between. And that can lead to a taste-test-a-thon.
But sticking to one, especially if it’s a simple peanut, sunflower or almond butter, makes overindulging much less ly.
MORE POSTS ON WEIGHT CHANGE:
Do you need to tweak your diet?
Are you trying to conceive, already pregnant or breastfeeding? Are you in the throes of menopause or recovering from injury or surgery? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, there are nutritional ‘tweaks’ you can make to meet the changing needs of your body.
We often eat the same way for our whole lives; stick within a food comfort zone because it’s easy and familiar. While this may work most of the time, there are times when nutritional requirements change.
The best advice is to make sure you have a healthy baseline diet in the first place, and then tweak this when your needs or situation change.
Remember, the tweaks are fine tuning — a healthy baseline diet is fundamental before tweaking is really effective.
What is a healthy baseline diet?
A healthy diet provides the nutrients you need to stay well and have a healthy weight. While quantities may vary (for different-sized people and in different life stages) it’s recommended you keep processed food to a minimum and include each day:
- Plenty of vegetables and fruit — as many serves as you of non-starchy vegetables such as carrots and salad greens, plus limited quantities (¼ plate maximum) of starchy vegetables such as potatoes, taro, kumara and yams
- Plenty of breads and cereals, preferably wholegrain — quantity depends on level of activity
- Milk and milk products, mostly reduced or low-fat options
- Fish, seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs and/or other protein alternatives such as legumes
- Foods with minimal added fat (especially saturated fat), salt and sugar*
- Foods that are low in salt; if using salt, choose iodised salt
- Plenty of fluids, especially water.
- If choosing to drink alcohol, limit your intake.
*For optimal health, the World Health Organization suggests we limit free sugar consumption to six teaspoons (adults) or three teaspoons (children) per day.
Trying to conceive or thinking of it?
It’s common knowledge that a healthy mother is more ly to produce healthy children. This is down to her genetics (and epigenetics*) and environment — her eating habits, to which her children will be exposed.
Research is now emerging, however, that the father’s diet and lifestyle before conception also influences the health and future health of his children, not just environmentally, but genetically and epigenetically too.
So the best advice if planning to have a child is for both parents to ensure a healthy baseline diet with a ‘for life’ approach, not just as an interim measure. Then, in order to meet extra nutritional needs, the mother is advised to take folic acid supplements, 800mcg per day for at least a month before conception.
*Epigenetic factors such as age, the environment, lifestyle and disease can affect how the information contained in our genes is used, even though the actual information (the DNA code) doesn’t change.
The science of epigenetics — which literally means ‘outside conventional genetics’ — relates to this information which can be passed to the next generation but is not contained within the DNA code.
Once pregnant you don’t need to change your diet dramatically; your extra nutrition needs are small and you are not eating for two.
During the second trimester you only need around 1400kJ more each day and in the third trimester, it’s around 1900kJ.
Pregnancy ‘tweaks’ are more about getting the right nutrients for healthy baby growth and minimising foods that could compromise baby health.
Increase calcium from 1000mg to 1300mg per day to support bone growth in your baby. An extra glass of milk or extra pottle of yoghurt each day will be enough.
Make sure you’re having enough iron for healthy development of your baby and to prevent iron deficiency in yourself. Lean meats, chicken, seafood and eggs are easily absorbed sources. Adding vitamin C (from foods such as citrus fruit, kiwifruit and tomatoes) will enhance iron absorption from vegetarian sources such as legumes and wholegrains.
Take folic acid tablets (800mcg per day) to help prevent neural tube defects. Ideally it would be good to get enough folate from the diet, but the increased needs in pregnancy make this hard to achieve so supplements are recommended from at least a month before conceiving until 12 weeks into the pregnancy.
Take iodine tablets to help healthy brain development. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to take a registered 150mcg iodine only tablet daily.
Watch vitamin A — while having enough is important for the health of both mother and baby, too much can be harmful to the baby’s development. Avoid any supplements containing vitamin A (including multivitamin supplements) and avoid liver and liver pâtés.
Avoid contact with listeria and other food-borne disease by taking these precautions
- Cook eggs until both yolk and white are solid:
- Avoid prepared sandwiches and salads
- Avoid pâté, hummus-based dips and spreads
- Steer clear of ham and all other chilled pre-cooked meat products including chicken, salami and other fermented/dried sausages
- Avoid foods containing raw fish, shellfish or seafood such as sushi
- Wash and dry vegetables and fruit before eating
- Avoid eating soft cheeses (such as brie and camembert), soft-serve ice cream and unpasteurised milk.
You’ll need more energy (kilojoules) to produce milk, so your appetite will naturally increase. If you have put on a lot of weight during pregnancy, extra kilojoules can come from fat stores and this will help you get back to your normal weight. It is important to get enough nutrients, so dieting to lose weight is not recommended.
The best advice is to:
- Maintain your healthy baseline diet and have more of the same food if you’re still hungry.
- Stay away from nutrient-poor foods such as cake and potato chips. They have no benefit and can make getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight difficult.
- Drink plenty of fluids as you are losing more than normal through breast milk. Water is the best.
- See a breastfeeding specialist if you think some foods may be upsetting your baby. Since it is difficult to pinpoint problem foods, you risk missing out on essential nutrients if you avoid some of them.
Perimenopausal or menopausal?
While some sail through this time with ease, other women are plagued by symptoms such as hot flushes, brain fog, fatigue and weight gain.
As levels of oestrogen drop, the risk of bone loss and heart disease also increases. Again, a healthy baseline diet and exercise, stress management and plenty of sleep will help.
There are several important nutritional tweaks that will also help maintain your health as you enter a new phase of life.
Some of the most important are around bone health:
Increase your calcium. As oestrogen drops, so does its protective effect on your bones and it is common for women to see a rapid dip in bone density after menopause.
While you can’t stop this loss entirely, there is plenty you can do to slow it down; one way is to increase calcium intake to 1300mg per day (from 1000mg).
An extra glass of milk or pottle of yoghurt should be enough.
Make sure you have enough vitamin D. You may need a blood test to establish this and if you are not getting enough from the sun, you may need to take a supplement.
Watch your alcohol. Too much can increase your risk of cancer as well as compromising bone health.
Keep active. Although not a nutritional tweak, this can’t go without a mention as it is essential for maintaining and promoting bone health.
Other benefits will come if you:
Get enough fibre. Many women around menopause report bloating and other digestive disturbances. Try to get enough fibre as this will help keep your digestive system happy. Chew your food properly (until liquid in the mouth). This encourages digestion to start in the mouth which will also help prevent digestive problems further down.
Watch portion size because weight gain around the middle is common around menopause, and because this increases risk of conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, it is important to work on maintaining a healthy weight. While losing kilograms may prove difficult, preventing weight gain is a worthwhile goal, and more achievable and realistic.
Eat food that keeps you well and limit energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods.
As kilojoule requirements reduce with age (due to decreasing muscle mass and resulting decrease in metabolic rate) and nutrient requirements go up or stay the same, there is less room in the diet for ‘empty kilojoule’ foods such as cakes, biscuits, confectionary, fried food etc. Fill your diet with foods that keep you well and you are less ly to want such foods anyway.
Doing a lot of exercise?
Whether you are an elite athlete, a recreational sportsperson or just enjoy lots of exercise, good nutrition is fundamental to staying well and performing at your best. It will also help you recover well and stay fit.
Again, there is no magic bullet; it all starts with a good healthy baseline diet.
For those who simply to keep fit through walking, running, going to the gym or playing a round of golf, apart from taking care to stay hydrated, a healthy baseline diet will meet your needs.
When you’re exercising a lot, there are important tweaks that will help before, during and after exercise.
Make sure you are getting enough carbohydrates. Carbs are a key energy source for exercise, especially during prolonged or high-intensity exercise.
The body can store carbs in the form of muscle glycogen, but capacity is limited. Eating enough carbs before and during such exercise is important as it spares muscle glycogen.
And getting enough carbs after exercise ensures glycogen reserves are restocked. The type of carbs for each situation is important however:
Before exercise, slow-release carbs such as high-fibre breads and cereals or legumes are good choices as they provide a slow and even supply of glucose to the blood and muscles while exercising (thus sparing muscle glycogen).
During prolonged exercise such as a marathon/triathlon, quick-release carbs are good for providing fuel and sparing glycogen. Sports drinks, bars and gels are specially formulated for this, but an easy-to-eat form of glucose will work just as well.
After activity, quick-release carbs will replenish depleted glycogen stores. A small amount of protein is also recommended to repair damaged muscles.
Examples of foods that combine fast-release carbs with a little protein are white bread and chicken or egg sandwiches, fruit yoghurt or flavoured milk.
Your muscles will recover better if such food is eaten as soon as possible after exercise.
Do you need protein supplements?
Endurance athletes and strength athletes do need additional protein. They also need additional kilojoules because their increased activity requires increased fuel.
By increasing the amount of food eaten, you also increase the amount of protein eaten and this is generally considered to be more than enough to meet increased protein needs. In other words, the percentage of protein in the diet can stay the same as more food means more protein.
Some people may find supplements such as protein powders convenient but they are not necessary and can add more kilojoules than realised.
Recovering from injury or surgery?
If you have minor injuries through sport or are recovering at home from surgery, good nutrition boosts healing and will help lift your mood too.
Inflammation is the first response to injury or surgery and is critical as it begins the repair process. Too much however can cause further damage and slow healing.
Promote a healthy inflammatory response with the following tweaks to your healthy baseline diet:
- Eat more anti-inflammatory fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish and fish oil.
- Include curcumin-providing herbs and spices such as turmeric and curry powder.
- Eat more garlic.
- Include antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, green tea and dark cocoa or chocolate.
- Avoid alcohol, particularly in the early stages. Drinking alcohol after soft tissue injury significantly slows down recovery times.
To promote healing once inflammation has died down, continue your healthy baseline diet but take care to:
- Eat enough lean protein as protein helps repair damaged tissue. Fish, unprocessed meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds are all good choices.
- Lean meat will also add iron and zinc — important minerals to promote healing.
- Limit foods with little nutrition. As you will be doing less exercise you’ll require fewer kilojoules each day. You’ll need all the good nutrients, however, but in a smaller food package. If you don’t want to put on weight, cut out nutritionally poor foods such as biscuits, cakes, confectionary and sugary drinks.