Merry Christmas!

Donut with red, white, and green sprinkles on a paper napkin
Here’s a picture of a festive donut for you 🙂

Hope you get to enjoy some festive and special foods today and tomorrow! (Or some tasty foods regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas)

Also on my heart this year are those who don’t have access to enough healthy and nourishing foods. Recently, I have been learning more about how complicated and widespread this problem is as well as how much it can impact people’s health. I’m also seeing it firsthand in my work. While there is a lot of big work to be done and nothing will be solved tomorrow, these are some organizations that are working hard to get more good food to more people who need it.

No Kid Hungrythey work in different channels, including school meals, nutrition education, and public policy to make sure kids get fed. (It’s a sister organization to Cooking Matters which provides free culinary and nutrition education to families to get the most out of their food budget. I have volunteered with them before and they are awesome, but in the current season limited in their ability to do cooking classes right now due to safety and health guidelines.)

Feeding America – a country-wide network of food banks and food panties, that are also working to make sure more people have the skills to remain food secure or click here to find a local food bank near you.

Project Angel Heart or God’s Love We Deliver – both are organizations that provide free, medically-tailored meals to those who have life-changing diseases and can’t afford or have trouble preparing the type of foods they need. The meals they provide greatly improve the health of the recipients – if you like to see measurable results, both of these organizations have encouraging statistics about their work you can read on their website!

Samaritan’s Purse – provides international disaster relief, some of which includes providing food in various forms – supplies for refugees, hot meals to children, or farming or business assistance so poor families can more effectively provide for themselves and escape the cycle of poverty

These are just a few of the organizations working in this area. If you know of another one, feel free to share in the comments! If this is a cause that touches your heart, please consider donating your time, skills, or money.

If you need help with having enough food for yourself or your family, this page has a lot of great resources, and in the U.S., you can always call 2-1-1 to speak with someone who can help connect you with local community services!

How much protein should you eat?

Read about which foods are considered protein foods here. Read about protein and amino acids here.

As always, this post is meant to be informative and educational and is not a prescription or recommendation for you as I cannot know your individual situation and needs. If you have concerns about your protein intake and want a specific recommendation, speak with a dietitian!

My goal in writing these blogs is to give you practical, easy to understand, not overwhelming nutrition information. Breaking down how to eat protein has been more difficult than I expected because there are so many different opinions about what the best amount of protein to eat is.

While this can be confusing and overwhelming, my takeaway for you is this: there is a wide range of protein intake that can be healthy. The amount of protein you eat can be flexible and for the most part can be adjusted to your preferences. (It is harder to get it wrong than a lot of people would like you to think it is.)

Two fast and easy ways to know how much protein to eat:

MyPlate is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended eating pattern. It isn’t perfect, but if about 1/4 of what you eat is protein food, you will most likely get enough protein – pretty easy to visualize if most of your meals are eaten on a plate.

If you only eat plant protein (vegans, and maybe some vegetarians), this still applies, but it is especially important for you to make sure you eat plenty of whole grains and vegetables as well. Keep reading here, but check out this post next.

Another super quick and easy method is to aim for about a palm-sized serving of protein foods with each meal. I like this method because it scales to the size of each person. A large person (who will need more protein) generally has a larger hand size. A tiny toddler (who needs less protein) has a tiny palm.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

These two illustrations are also helpful because there is some research showing that eating your protein throughout the day (with each meal) is more beneficial than eating it all at once. (As your body uses protein throughout the day for many many purposes)

Now, as I said above, the amount of protein in a healthy diet can be very flexible, so you can eat more protein than this and totally still be healthy, as long as you aren’t excluding other necessary foods.

Do you like to do math and want to calculate the amount of protein you need? This section is for you.

(If you don’t like math, just skip to the next section 🙂 )

The minimum amount of protein required to prevent loss of lean body mass (muscle) in adults with no physical activity is generally calculated by dietitians as 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. (0.8g protein x kg of body weight). Factoring in a minimal amount of physical activity raises needs to about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. In case you don’t feel like converting kilos to pounds, this works out to about 0.45g of protein per pound of body weight. If someone is critically ill, more active, or pregnant, this amount could increase, up to 2.0g/kg.

In terms of actual food, 1g per kg works out to about 1 oz of “meat equivalents” per 15 lbs of body weight. This is a rough estimate best suited to finding the base amount of protein you should eat. If you are concerned about your protein intake, or have questions, consult a dietitian! (I know I said it before – but it’s important! Also that’s what dietitians are here for!)

1 oz “meat equivalent = 1 oz meat, poultry or fish – about matchbox-sized
About 7g protein=1 egg
1 8-oz glass of cow milk or soy milk*
1 oz cheese – about thumb sized
1/2 cup beans or lentils
1/4 cup or 1 oz nuts or seeds
2 Tbsp peanut butter or other nut butter
1/4 cup Greek yogurt or 1 cup regular yogurt (check the label)
2 oz tofu
*almond milk, rice milk, and other alternative milks generally have less protein, check the label.

Whole grains and vegetables also contribute a small amount of protein (2-3g per serving)

There are some people who believe that everyone should eat more than this amount, and there are studies showing benefits of higher protein intake – such as improved muscle maintenance and function in older adults (1-1.2 g per kg body weight), improved satiety, and improved blood glucose control, among other things. Most people can eat up to 2g protein per kilogram of body weight without problems (those with chronic kidney disease would be an exception).

For some perspective, The Institute of Medicine recommends 10-35% of calories come from protein. For a 2000 calorie diet (which is the one used to calculate Nutrition Facts on labels), that is between 50 and 175 g of protein, or between 7 and 25 1-oz “meat equivalents”. Quite a large window. If 10-35% of your calories come from protein foods and you are above the 1g per kg minimum, you will probably be fine. Of course, (yes I’m going to say it again) if you have concerns, speak with a registered dietitian.

Question time!

What happens if you don’t eat enough protein?

Too little protein intake results in a loss of lean body mass (muscle) because your body will break down the protein it is already carrying (muscle) to maintain its function. That’s why it is important that you are eating at least the minimum that your body needs. See this post for more information about how protein is used in your body.

Can you eat too much protein?

Yes. But if you don’t have a specific condition that would make it directly harmful, harm from eating too much protein is much more likely to be from two other causes:

1. Not eating enough from other food groups, like fruits, vegetables, and grains because of eating so much protein. This might mean missing out on important nutrients like vitamin C or fiber that come from those other food groups. This is especially likely when eating only animal protein foods.

2. Getting too much of the other nutrients that are often present in protein-rich foods. For example, cheese is high in saturated fat and sodium, which can be harmful for blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Many processed meats are very high in sodium and saturated fat as well. Again, this is more likely to be a concern with animal protein foods.

Extremely high protein intake can be harmful to the kidneys, however this is usually only in extremely high intake (like more than 2.0g/kg) over a long period of time. If you are getting most of your protein from foods, incorporating your other food groups, not taking excessive protein supplements, and don’t have any medical conditions, you are unlikely to be harmed by eating too much protein. Again, if you are concerned that you may be eating too much protein, consult a dietitian.

If you eat a lot of protein, will it make your muscles grow automatically?. No

If you aren’t exercising (or growing, or using steroids) to stimulate muscle growth, that extra protein will just be used for energy or stored as fat. See this post if you want more information about how this works.

Can you eat as much protein as you want without gaining weight? No

If you eat more protein than your body needs for its building and energy needs, it will still be converted to fat, just like any other food. See this post if you have more questions.

However, diets that allow unlimited protein (and limit carbohydrates or fats) have been shown to be helpful for weight loss. So why is this?

Protein tends to be more satisfying than carbohydrates or fats, so the thought is that eating more protein than other food groups makes you “full” faster and so limits the total amount you end up eating, resulting in weight loss.

So protein isn’t a magical weight loss food. But if it helps you eat less and still be satisfied, then it may help you lose weight (and as long as you are getting all the other nutrients you need, that’s fine).

What if I don’t eat meat? What about plant-based proteins?

Plant-based protein post coming next week! (I tried to fit it all in one post but it was too long!)

What other questions do you have about protein? Leave me a comment!

Resources if you would like to learn more:

When Meal Planning Tips Are More Overwhelming Than Helpful

Finding and choosing recipes, constructing meals out of ingredients we have, grocery shopping – these are all valuable skills. But they are skills that take time and effort to learn!

"Meal Planning Tips"
Before buying, see what food you have at home.
Practice "first in, first out" rule to eat oldest food before newer items.
Create menus around foods you have on hand.
Choose recipes for the week that incorporate overlapping ingredients.
This is a post from @eatright_pro on Instagram. Embedding the post directly didn’t work, so this is my solution.

It can be overwhelming to suddenly find yourself cooking at home 5x more than you’re used to, or meal planning because you can’t grocery shop as often as you normally do. (Especially if you are dealing with an extra stressful environment, which so many of us are right now). So if the tips above seem like just ONE MORE THING to think about, it’s ok. You just do your best and it’s the best you can do.

I started Nutrition for Real Humans to make healthy eating less overwhelming. My goal here is to make things like meal planning, and using the tips above, easier and more accessible. I hope the resources you find on my blog, resources page, and my Pinterest help provide some inspiration or helpful advice.

One super useful resource is Yummly, a recipe search engine, where you can look up recipes by the ingredient you want to use. They even have a new meal planner that will generate a shopping list from the recipes you’ve chosen!

Also, I’m super excited about this

I will soon have meal plans available for instant download!

They will include:
  • delicious and nutritious recipes
  • a complete shopping list
  • easy to follow directions, including
  • step-by-step directions for prepping ingredients all at once to make each day’s meal time super easy
  • friendly and positive nutrition notes

Look for them early next week! Sign up for my email list or follow me on social media if you want to know as soon as they are available!

(Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page for email signup and my social media)

I can also work with you personally to create a meal plan just for you with the things you already have at home – or with the things you usually have in your pantry – or a flexible meal plan that has a little give so it will still work if you can’t find a specific ingredient. Click here to schedule with me for a free, no-obligation consult.

Take care!

Tuna Tomato Pasta: The Pantry Friendliest Recipe I Know

Tuna tomato pasta – simple and flavorful. Basically a meal in a dish although I usually try and add a side vegetable.

So I am writing this post because I wanted to link to this recipe but realized I have been making it so long (and have changed it so much) that I no longer know where I learned the original recipe. It is one of my brainless crowdpleasers and an easy and affordable way to eat more fish (for those healthy omega-3 fatty acids).

This is probably the meal I am most likely to be able to make from what is in my pantry. I realize not everyone has the same pantry, but the instructions are pretty flexible so you can adapt the ingredients to what you might have available.

Here’s what you need:
  • 1/2 an onion (or like 1 small onion, usually my grocery store has giant onions)
  • Garlic, a few cloves (or you could use 1 tsp garlic powder or granulated garlic)
  • 15-oz can tomatoes/tomato sauce or 1 small can tomato paste + enough water to make it about 15-oz/2 cups
  • 1-2 cans tuna (you can probably also use canned chicken or canned beans/lentils)
  • 1/2-1 lb pasta (I like to use whole wheat, but use what you have – gluten-free, lentil pasta, or rice pasta should work just as well)
  • Oil of some kind – I used olive
  • Spices (I like dried basil primarily for this, but last time I threw in some thyme and rosemary as well and it was good. You can also use an Italian seasoning)
  • Salt
In this picture, there are the ingredients I use: olive oil, canned tomatoes, salt, onion, garlic, tuna, whole wheat pasta, and a container of dried basil

You will also need a cutting board and a knife to chop your onions, a small pot/pan to make the sauce in, and a pot to boil your pasta. And a stove.

Here’s how to make it:
  1. Cut up your onion – smaller is better, but don’t stress too much about it.
  2. Put a few tablespoons of oil in a pot over medium-high heat and once that is warm, add your onions and a little bit of salt (like 1/2 teaspoon) and let them cook while you…
  3. Mince up a few cloves of garlic, or if you are using minced garlic or garlic powder, skip to the next step.
  4. Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic and cook for just 30 seconds-1 minute (garlic burns fast).
  5. Add your spices. I like to use a lot of dried basil, but you can use Italian seasoning, rosemary, thyme, oregano, or a combination.
  6. Dump in your canned tomatoes or tomato sauce or the tomato paste that you have mixed with water.
  7. Stir this so it’s combined, then turn up the heat to bring to a simmer (so it is very slowly bubbling). Then cover it with a lid and turn it to low.
  8. While this is simmering, cook your pasta according to the directions on the box – I find this takes 15-20 minutes counting the time for the water to boil which is a good amount of time for the sauce to simmer.
  9. Once your pasta is cooked and drained, drain the tuna as well and flake it into the sauce and stir until it’s combined, then combine the sauce with the pasta

This is even pretty good leftover and doesn’t even smell too fishy when you warm it up. It’s also good with Parmesan on top.

This is what the pasta looks like

As you can see the amounts are flexible – if you like a saucier pasta, use less pasta or more tomatoes. If you want a higher protein/lower carb ratio, use less pasta and more tuna. If you used canned tomatoes and don’t like chunks, mash the sauce or use an immersion blender or food processor (in small batches please) to blend it before you combine with the pasta and tuna.

This batch was made with ~1/2 lb of pasta, 2 cans of tuna, and 1 can of tomatoes, just give you an idea of what those ratios look like.

Below is the recipe card I dug out of the box – in case you want to just have a picture of the recipe 🙂

Happy eating 🙂

Roasting Winter Vegetables

Skip right to the instructions.

I realize it’s almost spring, but it is still the time for winter vegetables – at least in the northern hemisphere. I’m thinking of squashes: butternut squash, acorn squash, kobacha, and delicata squash. I’m also thinking of those hearty root vegetables: potatoes, turnips, carrots, and onions to name a few.

I’m here to tell you that if you have an oven, or even a toaster oven, roasting vegetables is highly recommendable. Why?

  1. Out of the total cooking time, only a small portion actually requires you to be in the kitchen. The rest is done by your oven while you read a book or wash your dishes or make the rest of your dinner or scroll through Instagram. I am writing this post while Brussels Sprouts roast in the oven
  2. It brings out the natural sweetness and tenderness of these veggies – sometimes this can make them more palatable to kids (or adults) who aren’t vegetable fans
  3. Roasted vegetables are versatile: they can be a side for meat or eggs, stirred into pasta or cooked grains, cooled and put in a salad, or pureed to go in a soup or sauce.
  4. Everyone needs to eat vegetables. Roasted vegetables is a delicious way to eat vegetables that is adaptable to almost any diet pattern
  5. It’s a flexible and pretty forgiving method for cooking
  6. It will warm up your house and make it smell good

Imagine half your plate full of delicious roasted vegetables, either tender and sweetly-flavored or savory, browned, and crisp.

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven so it can be heating up while you prepare your vegetables. Preheat to 350 F if you want slow-cooked, tender and sweeter vegetables. Preheat to 500 F if you want crispy, browned vegetables that will roast faster. Or go for something in the middle. If you have something else you are baking (meat, fish, bread) and it needs a certain temperature, you can roast the vegetables at that temperature so it can all be in the oven at the same time. It’s flexible 🙂

2. Wash and cut your vegetables so they are pretty evenly sized (or skip this step altogether by using frozen vegetables, which are already washed and cut for you). It doesn’t really matter what size the pieces are as long as the size is fairly consistent. This is important so they will cook at the same rate. If they’re not exactly the same, it’s ok; they’ll just be cooked to slightly different levels. Watch this video from America’s Test Kitchen for instructions on how to cut vegetables safely. (Have a butternut squash? Here’s a video specifically on how to cut this sometimes tricky vegetable)

3. Put your veggies in a bowl and toss with oil. I like to add oil because it helps the seasonings stick, and it helps the vegetables not stick to the pan.

From a nutritional perspective, using a vegetable oil like olive oil, canola oil, or avocado oil can add some healthy fats, which are important for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A (which you’ll be getting from those yellow and orange veggies). Use a small amount if you are aiming for a low-fat or low-calorie diet (a teaspoon will go a long way). If you prefer to avoid adding oil altogether, I will refer you to the Minimalist Baker who has written this great post about oil-free vegetable roasting; it’s not an area where I have much experience.

4. Add seasoning and toss some more. This can be as simple as salt and pepper or a seasoned-salt. You can also get creative – use curry powder or garlic powder and oregano or taco seasoning – whatever sounds good to you. For a lower-sodium option, use only spices for flavor – no salt. Go light on seasoning at first. You can add more after it’s cooked if it’s too bland.

5. Roast! Spread the veggies out on a baking pan. You can line the pan with parchment paper, foil, or a silicone mat to help with clean up, but it’s not necessary (especially since you added some oil to your veggies). Now put them into the oven! Set your timer for 15 minutes.

6. After 15 minutes, shuffle the vegetables around on the pan by pushing them around with a big spoon or spatula and check to see if they are done by poking them with a fork to see how tender or crisp they are.

7. Keep roasting for 5-30 more minutes, (unless they are already done) until they are the texture you like. The amount of time will depend on which vegetables you are using (harder vegetables will take longer), the temperature of your oven, the size of the cut, and the texture you want.

Eat and enjoy!

What vegetables do you like to roast? How do you like to eat them? Share in the comments, or on instagram or facebook with #nutritionforrealhumans

31 Meals that Require Zero Cooking: Sandwiches and Wraps

It seems to me that there are infinite “easy” cooking recipes out there that range from actually easy, to probably easy for someone who grew up in the kitchen, to maybe easy for a trained chef who has a fully stocked kitchen and a sous chef.

The goal with this series (starting with sandwiches and wraps) is to be a list of ideas that require (as the title says) zero cooking. Because maybe you like cooking, but are in a crazy busy season of life and don’t have time. Maybe you live in a place with only a mini fridge and no utensils to prep with. Or maybe you just don’t like cooking and have better things to do than spend time chopping, slicing, braising, sauteing, and/or cleaning up. Granted, some of these things will take a little prep, but – stay with me – it’s mostly opening packages and dumping things together or maybe spreading something with a knife. I’ve even made this list so you don’t even need to heat anything up.

The components for all of these meals are a bread or grain wrap + filling (usually protein) + fruit or vegetable

This model makes sure the meal includes at least 3 food groups on USDA’s MyPlate. If there is already a fruit or vegetable in the filling, adding another fruit or veggie on the side, makes it even closer to the goal of 1/2 the plate being fruit and/or vegetables.

For more information on USDA’s MyPlate, visit choosemyplate.gov

Bread or Wrap:

  1. Sliced whole grain bread
  2. Hoagie roll
  3. Sliced sourdough
  4. Whole grain tortilla
  5. Whole grain pita
  6. Gluten-free sandwich wrap
  7. Whole grain waffles

These are just some examples, as there are so many bread options. Choosing a whole grain option will make for a higher-fiber and more filling meal.

Fruit or Vegetable:

  1. You can use a whole fruit or vegetable that’s ready to eat, like an apple or carrot (just rinse these) or banana or mandarin orange.
  2. You can also use packaged produce that is already prepared, like bagged spinach, baby carrots, or a jar of pickles.
  3. Most grocery stores also sell pre-washed and cut fruits and veggies in the produce section.
  4. A grocery store with a pay-by-weight salad bar can also be a resource for purchasing already washed and prepared veggies in smaller amounts (think shredded cabbage, pickled beets, or sliced cucumbers).

Protein fillings:

  1. Peanut/almond/cashew/sun butter
  2. Nut butter and jelly
  3. Nut butter and honey
  4. Nut butter and sliced fruit
  5. Nut butter and lettuce/spinach + optional mayo (I know it sounds weird, but some people like it)
  6. Turkey (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish or even guacamole)
  7. Turkey and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
  8. Turkey and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
  9. Turkey and cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
  10. Roast beef (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  11. Roast beef and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  12. Roast beef and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  13. Ham (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, or guacamole – not sure if guac would go well with ham but fine if you want to try it)
  14. Ham and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
  15. Baloney (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
  16. Cheese (any cheese besides cream cheese can work as a protein food)
  17. Cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
  18. Salami/pastrami/hot dog (salami and other sausages are higher in fat and sodium, so better to choose this less often, however – still provides protein)
  19. Tuna salad (many stores sell tuna salad already mixed OR make your own by mixing canned tuna with mayo or guac or yogurt and some salt or pepper)
  20. Chicken salad (see above – you can add flavor to either of these with garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, or a spice mix packet)
  21. Hummus and veggies – particularly ones with crunch – snap peas, lettuce, shredded carrots, small tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, sliced cabbage
  22. Egg salad (buy egg salad already made or mash up some hard-boiled eggs with mustard, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, paprika or whatever other spices you like in your hard-boiled eggs)
  23. Eggless salad (same as egg salad, but mash up tofu instead)
  24. Tofu and veggies (definitely want to add some flavor to this using soy sauce, hot sauce, Sriracha, etc. as tofu is pretty bland)*
  25. Pre-cooked chicken, lettuce, and Caesar dressing*
  26. Beans (baked beans or black beans, pinto beans or garbanzo beans, chili beans or white beans – add hot sauce, garlic powder, chili powder, or taco seasoning to plain beans)*
  27. Bean and cheese *
  28. Bean and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
  29. Bean and cheese and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
  30. Yogurt and fruit*
  31. Yogurt and fruit and nuts*

*These would probably work best as a wrap, but you could certainly make them into a messy sandwich

Some of these ideas might seem obvious, but just because they are super easy and common doesn’t mean they aren’t a good meal. Feel free to share your sandwich/wrap ideas in the comments.

And of course, this are general ideas and guidelines. They are not intended to treat any specific health condition. Speak with your doctor or dietitian about your specific dietary needs.