Anatomy of a Protein Shake

Happy New Year!  It’s that time again, when we set our resolutions for the year ahead.  For most of us, that list includes a health-related goal, such as losing weight, getting back in the gym, fitting back in our “skinny” jeans, etc.  Even if you don’t have weight to lose, you may just be ready to cleanse from all the heavy holiday eating.  A great way to detox, shed pounds and feel better all around is starting the day off with a protein shake.

A new year is a great time to reset your health!

A new year is a great time to reset your health!

When you hear the words “protein shake,” you may picture the big bulky man at the gym who wears MC hammer pants and a big support belt as he strains to bench hundreds of pounds.  But protein shakes aren’t just for weight lifters and those trying to bulk up.  They make a very healthy meal replacement and are a convenient way to pack a lot of nutritional punch.  If you’ve always wanted to try a protein shake, but you feel overwhelmed by all the options out there, this blog post is here to help!

Protein Shakes to Avoid

When it comes to selecting a high-quality shake, the first step is knowing what ingredients to stay away from.  Just because it’s sold at your local health food store, GNC or gym, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.  Avoid shakes that contain the following ingredients:

  • Artificial Sweeteners, Colors and Preservatives – Stay away from dyes, MSG and other additives.   If you see the words “aspartame,” “high fructose corn syrup,” or sucralose on the label, put it down!  Artificial sweeteners are so harmful to your health, and they can spike your blood sugar worse than regular sugar does.  
  • Hydrogenated Oils – Not all shakes contain oils, but there are a few out there that contain soybean oil and other hydrogenated oils that are harmful to your heart.
  • Soy Protein- Many people who are dairy sensitive use soy protein shakes thinking they are a healthier option, but most soy protein is highly processed, containing MSG, phyto-estrogens and other unhealthy ingredients.  Here is some more in-depth information about the dangers of processed soy.
  • Synthetic Vitamins and Minerals – You know all those words that you can’t pronounce on the back of supplement labels?  Well your body has a hard time recognizing them too!  In order to be most efficiently utilized by the body, most of the ingredients in your shake should come from the ground…not the lab!

I won’t name any names, but here is the list of ingredients in a very popular protein shake sold in gyms, GNCs and grocery stores everywhere.  See if you can pick out all the harmful ingredients.

micellar alpha and beta caseins and ceseinates, whey concentrates rich in alpha-lactalbumin, whey isolates, whey peptides, colostrum extract, l-glutamine, taurine, lactoferrin), leanlipids (trans fat free lipic complex consisiting of canola oil, sunflower and/or safflower oil, mct’s, l-carnitine), fructose, cocoa powder maltodextin, cytovite 1 (vitamin and mineral premix consisting of vitamin A acetate, cholecalciferol, d-alpha-tocopherol acetate, ascorbic acid, folate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, niacinamide, pyridoxine hcl, cyanocobalamin, biotin, pantothenic acid, di-calcium phosphate, potassium iodide, potassium chloride, ferrous fumerate, magnesium oxide, copper gluconate, zinc oxide, chromium nicotinate), GCC (proprietary endogenous creatine precursor consisiting of glycocyamine, betaine anhydrous), natural and artificial flavors, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, soy lecithin.

What to Look for in a Protein Shake

Now that you know what to stay away from, here is a list of acceptable protein shake ingredients:

  • High-Quality Protein Source – The main ingredient should be non-denatured whey, brown rice, pea or hemp protein.  A good option should have at least 17 grams of protein per serving. 
  • Natural Sweeteners –  Select a shake that is sweetened with natural ingredients such as stevia, organic coconut palm sugar, evaporated cane juice, cocoa powder, natural vanilla, etc.  Many high-quality product lines are removing fructose, or fruit sugar, from their protein shakes to make them a better low-glycemic option for those with diabetes and other blood sugar issues.   All the protein shakes at Longevity have less than 9 grams of sugar per serving!
  • Beneficial Fat – If your shake contains oil, it should come from organic coconut oil or another stable fatty acid.
  • Whole Food Ingredients – Some of my favorite shakes contain extra antioxidants, vitamins and minerals  and anti-inflammatory ingredients.  Ideally these ingredients should come from organic fruits and vegetables and other whole food and plant sources.
  • Value-Add Ingredients – Many high-quality shakes contain extra amino acids, digestive enzymes and antioxidants.  To me this is an added bonus and it means I have less pills to swallow!

How to Make a Protein Shake

I like to bulk up my protein shake so that it’s nice and filling and holds me over until lunch.  I put a serving of protein (usually two scoops), a cup of frozen berries and about 8 oz of water into the blender.   I also add a beneficial fat (flax seeds or oil, coconut oil), D3 liquid, and something green (a greens powder or chlorophyll liquid).  You might want to use almond milk or coconut milk if you like your protein shake on the creamier side.  Make it your own so that you’ll look forward to having it for breakfast every day!   Protein shakes take about 3 minutes to prepare, and you can drink them on the go.  They are also a great breakfast option for children, especially for picky eaters who aren’t as interested in protein and vegetables.

This whey protein contains all the amino acids and a blend of organic fruits and greens, making it perfect for children who are picky eaters.

This whey protein contains all the amino acids and a blend of organic fruits and greens, making it perfect for children who are picky eaters.

Young or old, we all need protein in the morning.  Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, and if you stick to no other resolutions this year, you should make sure you and your family start the day with a high-protein meal.  Try a healthy protein shake in the morning, and I bet you’ll notice you have better energy, focus and mood all day.  I tend to crave less sugar and starchy carbohydrates on my shake days.

opticleanse-ghi-vanillawm

One of my favorite shake brands is the OptiCleanse GHI. This brown-rice protein is gluten, dairy and soy free, and it contains ingredients that mend the gut, support the liver and clear inflammation.

Longevity has several high-quality protein shakes in our walk-in pharmacy, and knowledgeable staff members that can help you find the best one for you.  We each have our own favorite brands we can recommend!  Every shake we carry is gluten-free, and we have both vegan and non-denatured whey options.  We also carry shakes that help mend the gastrointestinal tract, balance hormones and cater to those with blood sugar imbalances.  All our shakes are 15% off in the month of January, just in time to help you jump-start your New Year’s resolutions.  We’re also discounting our healthy oils, hemp hearts, greens powders and chlorophyll liquid, all wonderful additions to your morning shake.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2013!

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Healthy Holiday Appetizer Solution: Sweet Potato Quinoa Patties

Tis the season for eating!  This time of year, we’re all on the prowl for something festive and tasty to bring and serve at holiday celebrations and dinner parties.  But you shouldn’t always have to sacrifice good nutrition in order to please your friends and family members’ taste buds!

These Sweet Potato Quinoa Patties caught my eye (On Pinterest of course!) first because of the festive flavors like cranberry and sweet potato.  When I saw that they are protein-packed, gluten-free, and most importantly, simple to prepare, I was sold!

This dish can be made into bite-size appetizers, or formed into larger patties to serve over a salad or on their own.  The opportunities are endless!

I decided to try both the bite-sized and the larger patties.

Ingredients:
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup quinoa, cooked according to package instructions
1 cup wild rice, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cook quinoa and wild rice according to package instructions.  Set each aside to cool.
  • Steam sweet potato chunks for 20-25 minutes.  Puree with blender, mixer or food processor.  Set aside to cool.

Sweet potatoes can add holiday pizzazz to hum-drum recipes!

  • Combine sweet potatoes, cooked quinoa, cooked rice, green onions, cranberries and seasonings.

You’ll need to really get in there with your hands to make sure the dough ingredients are evenly combined, so wash up and don’t be afraid to get dirty.

  • Form the dough into patties (whatever size that suits your fancy!).
  • Arrange the patties on lightly greased parchment paper or stoneware and bake for 20 minutes, or until patties are lightly brown and crisp on the outside.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.  Or let them chill in the fridge and serve over salad.  The choice is yours!

Colorful and delicious!  Who knew holiday comfort food could be healthy?

Your kids might even like this dish, at least my 9 month old did!  This recipe renders a large quantity, so if you’re not serving it at a party, be prepared to eat some leftovers.  I checked, and they are just as good for lunch the next day!

I love recipes that you can switch up and do a little different every time.  Keep the sweet potatoes, rice and quinoa, and then feel free to mix up your other ingredients and seasonings.  Next time I might put a southwest spin on this dish and replace the cranberries and sage with cilantro and black beans and a side of salsa.  I also saw this slightly more complicated but very tasty looking recipe here.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and that you have a blessed, safe and healthy holiday season!

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Holiday Inspiration: Autumn Harvest Soup

It’s time to get ready for my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving!  You just can’t top a day that is solely dedicated to eating delicious food and counting your blessings.  Butternut squash is one of the must-haves for this time of year, and I was looking for a comforting soup that incorporated it as well as many other fall staples.  I found this recipe in Natural Health Magazine, one of my go-to inspiration sources.  It’s simple, gluten-free, vegan and perfect for serving at holiday gatherings.  It’s also low in fat, and high in fiber and protein.

Nothing says fall like butternut squash, apples and nutmeg together in one recipe!

Ingredients
1 tbsp oil
2 diced onions
5 cups vegetable broth
1 diced medium butternut squash
2 diced green apples
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 tsp dried sage
1∕4 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp honey
Garnish: toasted walnuts

Preparation Instructions

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Add the broth, squash, apples, ginger, sage and nutmeg.

Now all the fabulous fall flavors can start mingling!

  • Add salt to taste and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the honey (Great for soothing coughs and scratchy throats this time of year)

When it looks like this, you’re ready to purée.

  • Purée in a VitaMix or food processor, serve and garnish with toasted walnuts. Enjoy!

Mmmm, the perfect comfort food for a chilly night!

This soup made the perfect warming meal on our first chilly weekend of the year.  My 8-month old couldn’t get enough of it, so I froze the leftovers in small containers for him to enjoy over the coming weeks.

Whether it’s for a big holiday crowd or just for your family, I know you’ll love this soup.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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Comfort with a Kick: Pumpkin Tortilla Soup

Now that Fall is in full swing, I’m craving everything pumpkin.  I’ve already enjoyed more than my share of Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks, and last weekend I made my Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.  You don’t have to look far to find recipes for decadent pumpkin desserts, but they can cause one to “fluff up” pretty quickly if you know what I mean!  I’ve been on the prowl for a lighter, nutrient-dense pumpkin recipe, and something a little unique to pass along to you.  I stumbled across this Pumpkin Tortilla Soup recipe on Pinterest, and I only needed to make a couple of tweaks to make it a bit more nutritious.  I’ve had my eye on it for a couple of weeks, and I was so excited to finally give it a try this weekend.  It’s vegetarian, gluten-free and packed with delicious fall flavor.

Ingredients (Serves 6):

12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of finely chopped cilantro, plus more sprigs for garnish
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (Depending how much of a kick you want!)
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
5 cups unsalted vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
Coconut oil for frying
1-2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and cubed

Preparation Instructions:

  • Cut 6 of the tortillas into 1/2-inch squares.

This soup can be prepped in under five minutes!

  • Heat oil (preferably a more stable fat like avocado or coconut oil) in a pot over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, cilantro, and chopped tortillas, stirring frequently, until onion is soft.
  • Add the cumin and cayenne and sauté for another minute.
  • Add pumpkin, tomatoes, vegetable stock, and salt and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and let simmer until you’re ready to serve.

Let the soup simmer awhile so that all the delicious flavors have time to combine!

  • While the soup is simmering, cut the remaining 6 tortillas into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Heat 1/2 inch of coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it’s very hot, but not smoking. Fry tortilla strips in two batches until crisp and light golden (about a minute). Using a slotted spoon, transfer tortilla strips onto paper towels to drain.  Season with a little coarse sea salt if you wish.

The recipe I used called for frying in veggie oil, but I used coconut oil as it’s a much more stable fat and won’t lose all of its nutritional value when heated.

  • To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips, avocado, and cilantro.

Colorful, Hearty, Spicy and Delicious!

If you want even more kick like I did, season your bowl with some habanero or Tobasco sauce.

I absolutely loved this twist on a typical tortilla soup, and I’ll definitely be making it again this Fall.  In fact, it’s now in my top ten list of recipes I’ve blogged about the last couple years!  Give it a try and make it your own by switching up the seasonings or adding some dried peppers or chopped jalapeno.  It can stand on its own, or you can serve it with a side salad and chips and salsa.  The options are endless.

Happy Fall, Ya’ll!

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Eating with the Seasons: Autumn

We’re experiencing the first hint of fall weather here in Atlanta, and I’m as giddy as a school girl!  I love everything about fall, from hot drinks to chilly nights to the smell of pumpkin in the air, and it’s so nice to get a break after months of oppressive Atlanta heat.  Whenever the weather changes, I start thinking about how I can incorporate seasonal produce into my cooking.  Cooler temperatures mean we can look forward to curling up to some good old comfort food!

It’s really important to think seasonally when it comes to selecting your produce at the grocery store .  You’ll get better freshness and flavor, and it will be more affordable.  So literally, you’ll get the most nutritional bang for your buck!

This may sound like a simple enough concept, but today it’s so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat.  Modern food processing and worldwide distribution make most fruits and vegetables available year-round, and grocery store produce sections look much the same in February as they do in August.  We also tend to be creatures of habit, purchasing the exact same items every week and eating the same foods every day.  Not only does this make life boring, but it keeps us from getting the variety and nutrition our body needs.

So in the coming weeks, build your meals around all things autumn!  Turn toward more warming root vegetables, like sweet potatoes, carrots and squash.  Incorporate fresh pears, apples and figs into your salads and desserts.  Also emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including sage, ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds.

Enjoy these colorful fall veggies as often as you can this fall!

Here are a few fall recipes from Cooking Light Magazine to help inspire you!

Also, check out my recipes for Sweet Potato Chili, Autumn Burst Salad, Roasted Pears with Herbed Goat Cheese, Pumpkin Raisin Bars, Walnicot Chicken Delight, Beet SaladItalian Butter Bean Soup and Apricot and Mushroom Rice Pilaf.

I hope you’re getting into the fall spirit like I am.  Lots of seasonal recipes to come in the coming weeks!

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Gourmet on the Go: Spinach and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken

Now that summer is officially drawing to a close and the kids are back in school and their various activities, many parents are already stressed out and over committed.  It’s pretty sad, but most people are burned out by Labor Day!  As a result, wholesome meals are often sacrificed for the sake of time and convenience.  Many of our patients at Longevity as well as my friends tell me they just don’t have time to cook healthy meals, so they rely on microwave meals and drive-thru dinners.  That just won’t do!

I’m always on the prowl for quick and simple meals that can feed an active family without skimping on good nutrition.  That’s what inspired this four-item dinner recipe.  Yes, you read that right, FOUR items!  Chicken, goat cheese, fresh spinach leaves and Trader Joe’s jarred bruschetta.  This dish is high in protein, gluten-free, and can be prepped in minutes.  That’s my kind of meal!

Ingredients (Serves 4):
4 chicken breasts
1 bag of baby spinach leaves
4 oz of goat cheese (I used the garlic and herb kind to add a little more flavor)
1 jar of TJ’s jarred bruschetta

This is a delicious TJ’s staple to keep in the house for meals and appetizers!

Preparation Instructions:

  • Cut a slit (Butterfly Cut) in the side of each chicken breast and lay them flat in a large casserole dish.
  • Open the breasts and spread 1 oz of goat cheese inside each one.
  • Lay about 5 spinach leaves on top of the cheese inside each breast.
  • Close the breasts back up.  Empty the jar of bruschetta on top and spread evenly.
  • Cook for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the chicken is at least 160 degrees and tender.  Serve and enjoy!

You may even be able to use this recipe to sneak some antioxidant-rich spinach into your unsuspecting kids!

I served the chicken with whole wheat couscous and salad.

There are several ways you could tweak this recipe.  You could switch out the spinach for fresh basil.  Or, you could switch out the goat cheese for pepper jack, feta or another cheese that tickles your fancy.  If you don’t have a TJ’s near you or can’t find a good bruschetta you like, you can use marinara sauce instead and serve the chicken over pasta for a more Italian spin.  You could also serve it with quinoa, brown rice, or just skip the starch all together and go with veggies.  Some of the different recipes I used for inspiration called for turkey bacon inside the breasts.  The options are endless!

So you see, a nutritious, family friendly dinner is possible despite your crazy schedule!  Do you have a go-to meal that helps your family get good nutrition on the run?  (Some of the “old faithfuls” in my repertoire include chicken lettuce wraps, white bean chicken chili and turkey and vegetable meatloaf.)  Please feel free to share your secrets with me and my readers!

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Get Your Drink On: Tips for Staying Hydrated This Summer

I’ve written about the importance of staying hydrated on numerous occasions throughout the life of this blog.  As Patient Coordinator at Longevity Health Center, I also end up talking about it with every patient that walks through our doors.  Some days I feel like a broken record!

But even though we’ve learned about the importance of hydration since we were in elementary school, most people simply don’t get enough water on a daily basis.  They fill up on coffee, juices, soft drinks and other diuretics, which only serve to further dehydrate them.  It’s no wonder that water is the number one nutritional deficiency in our country.

Why is water so important?

Water makes up about 60% of our body composition, and we can only go a matter of days without it.  Here are just a few of its other roles in the body.

  • Improves oxygen delivery to cells
  • Transports nutrients
  • Enables cellular hydration
  • Moistens oxygen for easier breathing
  • Cushions bones and joints
  • Absorbs shocks to the joints and organs
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Removes wastes
  • Flushes toxins
  • Lubricates the joints
  • Improves cell-to-cell communication
  • Maintains normal electrical properties of cells
  • Empowers the body’s natural healing process

Is it just me, or is there some really important stuff on that list?  What more reason do you need to get sipping?

Tips for staying adequately hydrated:

  • Know how much water you need on a daily basis.  The body can only produce about 8% of its daily water needs through metabolic processes, and the remaining 92% must be ingested through our foods and beverages.  Since we can’t store it, we have to be diligent about staying hydrated every single day.  Take your body weight and divide it in half.  That is how many ounces of water you should be drinking a day (not to exceed 100 ounces).  You should drink an additional 12-15 ounces for every 6 ounces of diuretics you drink.
  • Be a sipper, not a chugger!  Some people do drink enough water, but they tend to let hours go by before chugging a large quantity all at once, drowning their kidneys and maybe even doing more harm than good.  When we sip, we give the water to the kidneys at a rate that they can most effectively use it.  During these humid summer months in Georgia, it’s even more important to drink throughout the day to replace all the water we lose when we sweat.
  • Find a water bottle you love.  If you’re going to be a steady sipper, then you’ll need a reliable bottle that you can take everywhere you go.  There are several great brands on the market.  I’m a fan of the 750 ml Camelbaks because they fit in the cup holders in the car and the cardio equipment at the gym, and they don’t break if you drop them.

You will seldom find me without my Camelbak water bottle. Make sure everyone in your family has their very own water bottle that goes everywhere with them this summer.

  • Add fresh lemon or lime to your water.  This will make it more refreshing, and you’ll likely drink more.  Lemon and lime also serve as an antioxidant boost and help keep your systemic pH balanced.
  • Flavor it up for kids.  If you think it’s hard for adults to remember to drink water, it’s even harder to keep our kids adequately hydrated.  With all the running around they do, they tend to lose more moisture through sweat as well.  For years I’ve been urging my friends and Longevity patients to stay away from Crystal Light packets, because they were full of artificial sweeteners.  At last, this company got with the program and came out with an all-natural variety, Crystal Light Pure.  They are sweetened with stevia and real sugar (less than a teaspoon per serving) and contain 15 calories per serving.  Trader Joe’s makes a similar product called Fast Flavor Sticks (also 15 calories per serving).  These flavor packets might just do the trick in getting your child to drink enough water!   Please keep your family away from any beverages or flavor packets sweetened with high artificial sweeteners like fructose corn syrup, Splenda or aspartame!

The TJ’s flavor sticks come in pomegranate cherry and iced tea with lemon flavors. They are super sweet, so you’ll only need about half a packet for a large glass of water.

  • Kill two birds with one stone.  Or as my husband says, hit two ducks in the butt with one rock!  As long as you’re drinking water, you might as well add other things your body could use as well.  I personally love Emergen-C packets.  They can be purchased in a variety of flavors at any grocery store and they’re a great way to increase electrolytes, combat cellular damage and boost the immune system.  Sometimes I also add a little liquid chlorophyll to my water to help increase my mineral intake.

Add Chlorophyll to your water to help increase energy, stamina and mental clarity.

  • Know the signs of dehydration.  Fatigue, irritability, anxiety, cravings, cramps and headaches are all signals that you could be dehydrated.  (We’re so quick to take pain medicine for these symptoms when what we really need is to DRINK WATER!)  Unfortunately, by the time we recognize these symptoms, we’re already very behind on our water intake.  That’s why it’s best to proactively drink all day long!

So if you’re reading this, you know what to do.  Get up right now and get yourself a nice tall glass of water!  It’s one of the easiest things we can do to take care of our health and meet our bodies’ nutritional needs today.  I’ll drink to that!

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