Finding your “Why”?

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Have you ever paused to take a look at your family’s health history? I was required to do an assignment for a college nutrition course where I gathered information for my own “health genome”. This informs of any health issues in siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I was supposed to make a report of any known instances of cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease (heart diseases, high cholesterol, etc), type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, eating disorders, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, my extended family on both sides is HUGE! My mom was one of seven children, and my dad is one of seventeen children (yes, you read that right! Three of those are half siblings). As I began to pull in health information from as many of them as possible, I learned that three of my four grandparents experienced adverse heart conditions. Of my 22 aunts and uncles, there are six known cases of various types of cancer, a good handful of pre-cancerous polyps, a high number of them are on blood pressure medication, and there are a handful of other recurring medical conditions among the bunch…

I’ve lived over 3/4 of my life without my mom alive. She passed away in a car accident when I was young and this has had a profound effect on how I view life with my family. From this, I am highly motivated to do everything I can so that my own kids don’t have to experience the same loss. Knowing that my own chances for developing a variety of health conditions are high, I find myself wanting to do everything in my power to be my healthiest. There are many good reasons for wanting to lose weight, but in my opinion, working towards optimal health is the best reason of all.

Before I go on, I want to make sure to stress that I realize that sometimes these things just happen. Sometimes we develop health conditions for reasons that we don’t understand. I assure you, I pass zero judgement upon anyone for their unfortunate health circumstances. But I do know that there are actions that we can take to reduce our risk of developing such conditions.

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

– Hippocrates (460-370 BC)

The following are a list of the top chronic conditions that we have the ability to reduce the risk of developing based on our diet choices:


The United States is facing a major obesity epidemic. With our over abundance of “quick grab food” options at the drive through, the processed foods in the grocery store, and the lack of physical activity (perhaps due to too much Netflix binging?) it’s a no brainer that America’s waistline is expanding at an alarming rate.

Check out these facts about obesity from the CDC:

  • The prevalence of obesity was 42.4% in 2017~2018. [Read CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data brief]
  • From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. [Read CDC NCHS data brief]
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. [Read guidelinesexternal icon]
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. [Read paperexternal icon]

Obesity-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, are the leading causes of preventable, premature death (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013). 

Obesity can be decreased or overcome through these effective tips:

  • Choose to eat foods which are low in saturated fat
  • Choose food and beverages which are low in added sugar
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Reduce intake of fatty meats, processed foods, and foods with high salt content
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (or not at all)

Heart Disease

Heart disease includes blood vessel disease (coronary artery disease), heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), heart valve disease, disease of the heart muscle, and heart infections. These diseases can lead to larger complications such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, peripheral artery disease, or sudden cardiac arrest. The good news is that many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices!

The Mayo Clinic has a hefty list of recommendations for avoiding heart disease, but we’ll just focus on the dietary recommendations:

  • Control your portion sizes
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • East more whole grains
  • Limit unhealthy fats (no more than 5-6% of total calories from saturated fat & NO trans fats); monounsaturated fats are preferred
  • Choose low fat protein sources such as fish, lean meat, legumes, and low fat dairy products
  • Reduce sodium intake (no more than 1500 mg per day)
  • Plan and create menus ahead of time
  • Treat yourself on occasion


Decades of research have effectively demonstrated that diet can directly affect cancer risk. Some of the foods we eat, such as red meat, salt, and highly processed food, have been shown to heighten the risk of developing cancer. While cancer can be developed by genetics and environment, these two factors usually amount to smaller than 30% of one’s lifetime risk of getting cancer. We have control of the majority of factors that help in reducing risk of cancer. These dietary recommendations are associated with a lower incidence of cancer rates:

  • Eat foods high in anti-oxidants. These come in the form of our bright colored fruits and veggies (i.e. dark green leafy kale, orange bell pepper or fruit, purple beets, red tomatoes, etc.)
  • Eat low glycemic foods (This article from will teach you about the glycemic index, and what a low glycemic food is); High glycemic foods are associated with greater risk of developing certain types of cancer
  • Increase your dietary calcium intake (Foods highest in calcium: dairy products, dark leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, fortified cereals and fortified orange juice)
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Type 2 Diabetes

The connection between Type 2 diabetes and diet is overwhelming (There is a small number of occurrences where type 2 diabetes is caused through genetics, or occur naturally). Both type 2 diabetes and obesity are strongly tied with each other, and are both influenced by dietary choices. Sedentary lifestyles and dietary habits are both the cause of rapidly increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes. Rapid and substantial weight gain, combined with high quantities of added sugar in food and drinks play a major role in developing Type 2 diabetes. The dietary recommendation for preventing type 2 diabetes is to consume a diet low in added sugar and total calories

What would it be worth to you to conduct your own personal family medical research to identify and work to avoid these health conditions? What if you were to find out for yourself that you have effectively eliminated your own risk of developing obesity, heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes by living your healthiest lifestyle? So here’s your homework, if you’re able, go call your grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, and siblings (they’ll love catching up with you!), compile a list of all of the health challenges they are facing (this will help you to identify the risks that you are up against). Then go and implement the health recommendations to overcome your specific risks. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

An awesome side effect of eating more fruits and veggies, avoiding processed foods and added sugars, and all of the other above recommendations, will be the weight that you will lose in the process!

Let’s do this! Let’s make our “why” to be the healthiest version of ourselves!

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Nutrition Jargon: What you need to know about calories and macronutrients

The nutrition world really does have its own language. If you’re newer to the scene, you might find yourself hearing something that leaves you with a blank stare, not sure what it means. There are some major buzz words floating around that you might hear as you’re contemplating adopting a new eating strategy. I’m going to help you to understand these along the way. So lets jump in and demystify the world of nutrition starting with calories and macronutrients.

Calorie related terms:

Calorie: If you want to get technical, one calorie is the measure of heat needed to warm one kilogram of water by one degree Centigrade (snoozer). But that is not what is usually understood when you hear the term calorie. More simply put, a calorie is a unit of food energy. When broken down in the body, different foods produce varying amounts of energy as heat. This energy is what is known as a calorie. Carbohydrates and proteins provide four calories per gram, fat has nine calories per gram, and alcohol contains seven calories per gram. To explain this a little bit further, we’ll use the example of a serving of chicken breast weighing 4 ounces. According to the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) who regulates aspects of food quality, safety, and nutrition labeling, there are 26 grams of protein in 4 ounces of Chicken. We then multiply 26 grams times 4 calories which gives us 104 calories. But we know that chicken breast also might contain about 1.5 grams of fat, so we multiply that by 9 grams and get 13.5 calories of fat. Add our protein calories (104) and fat calories (13.5) and we find out that the total calorie content of our serving of chicken breast is 117.5.

Calorie Deficit: This can be accomplished two ways. First, through exercise, where your body is burning calories. Second, through diet, where you reduce your caloric intake from your daily required amount. When you intake less food energy than your body requires, your body draws on the fat it has stored to burn the extra energy it needs, resulting in weight loss. As a general rule, to lose 1 pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories. Couple these two strategies together, and you have yourself a sweet weight loss plan!

Empty Calories: These are the foods and beverages which provide energy but little to no nutritional value. These are void of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, essential fatty acids, or fiber. These food items are made up of sugar, fats or oils, or alcohol containing beverages. What’s your favorite empty calorie? Mine is cookies, hands down!

Macronutrient related terms:

Macronutrients: These are the largest nutrition components of food which provide energy for our body and aid in the body structure, functions and systems. There are three categories of macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Our body needs each of these to function at it’s best, but each individual person may feel their best and succeed in weight loss at varying ratios of macronutrients quantities.

The acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDR) set forth by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommend that people get :

  • 45–65% of their calories from carbs
  • 20–35% of their calories from fats
  • 10–35% of their calories from proteins

The best macronutrient range for weight loss is the one that you can stick to! (For example, for this journey, I plan to land in a high protein, low carb, high fat range, but I’m slowly easing myself into that since my carbohydrate intake was super high before starting out).

Protein: Like carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the three macronutrients. It is commonly characterized as the building blocks of the body. Proteins are made up of large, complex molecules that are essential for sound structure, regulation and function of our organs and tissues. Within a protein, you’ll find large chains of smaller units which are known as amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to make a protein. You’ll find dietary protein in foods like beans, dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, nuts, poultry and tofu.

Carbohydrates: Carbs provide a significant source of energy for the body. They break down in the body into blood glucose, which is used to make energy for cells, tissues and organs. When we consume excess carbohydrates, our liver might further break down the sugar and stow it away as body fat.

The two categories of carbohydrates include simple carbs and complex carbs. There are only one or two sugar molecules in simple carbs, (sometimes referred to as simple sugars). The body digests these sugars quickly, and utilizes them as a quick energy source. You’ll find simple carbs in table sugar, honey, candy, jams, soft drinks, and other sugars that may be added in processed foods.

Complex carbs are formed from lengthy strings of sugar molecules and they typically digest at a slower pace. You’ll find complex carbs in starchy vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), and whole grain cereals and breads). Complex carbs are a far better choice over simple carbs because of the higher nutrient content and the excellent source of fiber they provide.

Fat: This is the third component in our trio of macronutrients. Like carbohydrates, fat provides energy for the body. It is also instrumental in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are known as the fat soluble vitamins. There are multiple types of fats that we find in food. These include monounsaturated fat (MUFA), polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), saturated fats, and trans fats.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are dubbed as the “good fats”. You’ll find these in nuts, avocado, olive oil, peanut butter, almond butter, and seeds. They’re considered good fats because they help contribute to lowering blood cholesterol levels, which in turn reduces risk of heart disease. They may also aid in appetite suppression because of their role in blood sugar stabilization. They also minimize risk of developing diabetes.

We find saturated fats in red meat, whole milk and cheese, and coconut oil. The jury is still out on what role saturated fat might play in increasing both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol which is known as the “bad cholesterol” for causing complications with the heart and arteries. More recent research has caused experts to be less than convinced of the relationship between heart disease and saturated fat. Until science and researchers get completely on the same page, it’s still in your best interest to trade out the saturated fats for the MUFA’s and PUFA’s.

Trans fats are highly processed and turn oils from liquids into solids. This process in known as hydrogenation. Scientists agree that the amount of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) is increased and “good” cholesterol (HDL) is reduced in the bloodstream with the consumption of foods which are high in trans fats. Inflammation, which is linked to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions has also been shown to occur because of consumption of trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration even estimates that a whopping 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 premature deaths per year can be prevented by eliminating trans fats from our diets! You’ll find trans fats in foods such as shortening, stick margarine, processed baked goods, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough (biscuits, and rolls), fried foods (including French fries, doughnuts, and fried chicken), and non-dairy creamer.

Since we as humans really only have an 8 second attention span, shorter than that of a goldfish, I might have already pushed my luck at holding yours with all the science. I’m going to go ahead and stop here for today. There’s still much to share of the nutrition lingo, so don’t you worry, I’ll be back with more installments at a later date!

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