THE BLOG
05/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Nutrition Tips: Real Food For Real People

In honor of National Nutrition Month, I thought I'd tackle the question I get the most: "What's a snack that I can grab and take with me or get when I'm out that will taste great and satisfy?" I thought I'd help with some ideas I call: Real Food for Real People.

Are You a "Real People?"
Let's start with the "Real People" part as lesson number one. Who are Real People? I use this term to distinguish from the people you might see on TV or read about in a magazine, who either for their job, or for a contest, are getting their food provided to them daily. While their daily meal plan may work for you too, if you don't have someone bringing you food daily or hourly, then access may prove a real challenge. So "Real People," my clients and maybe you, are ones who don't always have time to prepare their eating occasions the night before. You, like they, may not have the option of organic food delivery or a personal chef to portion and provide optimal nutrition eating occasions (although these are more prevalent in cities around the country. Real People may be at work during the day and not get longer than 10-15 minutes for a break to eat and use the restroom and stretch their legs or other body parts). They, like you, may be responsible for feeding a family or a partner, as well as themselves, so the recommendations need to fit more than their food preferences. And Real People may have real financial issues, so the right eating occasion must come in at a price that fits in their purse as well.

Skip 'Snack' or 'Meal': Have an Eating Occasion Instead:
You will notice that I also use the term "Eating occasion" here as opposed to snack; this is my second lesson for all Real People. Why? The terms "meal" and "snack" carry certain connotations that may cause one to overlook the body's actual needs in favor of what the term means. For example, let's say that it's noon and you are rushing around with little time for a "meal" so you grab an organic apple and peanut butter. While you may be satisfied and get energy and enjoyable taste from this combo, your thought now and certainly later is "I missed lunch, I didn't have a meal." This can lead to overeating later. Similarly, let's say you are starving at 3 p.m. and run to the store and make a large salad with vegetables, beans and dressing -- or perhaps you grab a wrap that has vegetables and turkey. Now you feel that at 'snack' time you've eaten a 'meal' so the question becomes what do you do later for dinner -- skip it? Possibly, but then are you making popcorn or grabbing ice cream at 9 p.m.? So for these examples and for one scientifically proven reason -- that your body doesn't care what term you use -- I avoid the terms 'snack' and 'meal' and recommend using 'eating occasions' or if we want to make the point that your latte and juice have nutrients, we could use the term 'nutrient occasion' too.

An eating occasion should ideally be comprised of each macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat -- see categories and portion sizes here) and should occur about every three hours. Why? Our bodies are designed like race cars as opposed to street cars. Whereas a streetcar stores the energy and uses it on an as-needed basis, our bodies don't use storage without consequence -- extra energy becomes fat and it's not readily called upon when the body needs energy. Instead, when our bodies need energy, they cry out for more, and we typically answer that cry with the quickest for of energy (carbohydrates) as well as the most available energy form (i.e. whatever we encounter first), which can result in eating less good quality food or overeating. For optimal efficiency and energy, our bodies need "pit stops," just like a race car. Think carbs for 'gas,' protein for 'air in the tires' and fats for 'oil.' Just as the pit team refuels, adds air and oil as needed at each pit stop, we need to do the same for our bodies.

Real Food, Really Easy:
So what have we learned so far? "Real People" need nutrient-balanced eating occasions with regular frequency. Okay, so where does "Real Food" fit in? "Real Food" means the stuff that the body recognizes. It also means the foods that you prefer, including taste, religious, ethical, and personal preferences. When the body gets items that it recognizes its workload feels manageable, and it responds favorably -- allocating nutrients appropriately as well as taking time for rest and recovery. When the body gets food it recognizes, in addition to the aforementioned macronutrients it needs, it gets vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and phytochemicals. Examples of this include eating whole grains (this doesn't mean whole grain flour) and you get the magnesium and B vitamins the body needs to de-stress, energize and support heart health.

Instead of a "hydration" beverage, if you eat or drink foods rich in potassium, you get other electrolytes as well, and avoid the risk of getting too much of anyone nutrient or getting nutrients in the form the body doesn't recognize. Potassium-rich foods that contain other electrolytes include: plain coconut water, potatoes, avocado, and lima beans. And if you eat wild salmon as opposed to farm-raised, you support the health of the oceans as well as get omega-3 fatty acids which have significant health benefits.

What's not "Real Food?" Anything that starts, ends or pit-stops through a lab for alteration is not "Real." It's pretty simple. These include items that have to tell you what they are by their name "Cheese Food," for example, or "Blue Lake #5." Or items that have hyphenated or otherwise connected, confusing or unintelligible descriptions: "high-fructose corn syrup" (despite the commercials where Geek gets Girl, this product isn't a "Real Food" it's "Real Science"), "texturized vegetable protein," (vegetable protein is vegetable protein, it doesn't need to have any further texture created), or partially hydrogenated oil (until you can show me how nature 'partially' hydrogenates anything, skip this one).

Putting It All Together:
So if you've nodded your head to the above points, believe yourself to be a "Real People" and recognize the benefits of "Real Food," but still don't know what to eat, the following should help.

1. If you want grains, grab whole grains and top them with some nuts and cinnamon. If you take a packet of instant organic oats to work along with the chopped nuts (you can add the cinnamon at home or stock some spices at the office) -- this is a 'just add water' eating occasion.

2. If you want to have chips, yes you can. But have chips made from real potatoes as they contain potassium for hydration. Also, make sure to portion control -- perhaps with a 100-calorie pack or check the label for what 15 grams of total carbohydrate looks like. Also, keep the fat and sodium low, with baked, low sodium versions. And then, make a dip from organic Greek yogurt which is naturally low in carbohydrate and high in protein. Add some spices and even some organic chives and this Chip and Dip snack will have you crunching with a nutrient-balanced, energized smile.

3. Go organic, especially with your produce, so you eat Food versus Food plus Chemicals. Make an apple or pear sandwich with delicious nut butter in the middle or use my recipe for Omega-3 pesto and top your favorite fruit or veggie for a more savory treat (hint: hempseeds are a complete protein so this completes your eating occasion.

4. Latte please? Sure thing, but go for a small or cappuccino, noting that a serving of milk is six ounces. And use nonfat, as dairy fat is less healthy for us than that in a serving of nuts and seeds ...so Latte plus nut and seed mixture could be a perfect eating occasion.

5. Gorilla sandwich anyone? Got an appetite that won't quit? Grab a cucumber -- hollow it out by using an iced tea spoon to remove the seeds -- and stuff it with hummus. King Kong says Yum to this one.

6. What about a taco? Take a corn tortilla (palm-sized) and top it with salsa, guacamole, and organic chicken for a delicious and nutritious eating occasion.

7. Sea this eating occasion. Sea vegetables like seaweed are rich in nutrients and add crackle to any snack - take seaweed and top it with hummus for a cracker-less eating occasion that still crackles in your mouth.

What's your favorite eating occasion idea? Email me at aka@ashleykoffapproved.com and in the next month I will be choosing several to post in an upcoming "Real People, Real Food" blog - if I select yours, I will also be sending you a prize package featuring some AshleyKoffApproved products.