My friend Jenna recently received her Masters in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University and just completed her Dietetic Internship. She also happens to be one of the biggest foodies I know and she runs her own food blog, The Rebel Pea. I met up with her the other day to discuss her tips for portion control, her new favorite health food trend and the food item she totally thinks is worth splurging on.
How did you get into nutrition?
I’ve always been really passionate about food and cooking. When I was in high school I wanted to go to culinary school and throughout college I knew I wanted a career that involved food somehow, but I wasn’t quite sure what that was. Meanwhile, as a runner and a competitive figure skater, I often struggled to find a healthy balance when it came to my relationship with food. Despite my interest in food and cooking, it wasn’t until I began training for my first marathon, that I started to realize the importance of nutrition. Though it may sound counterintuitive, the intensity of marathon training made me really understand how important it is to refuel my body with the proper nutrition.
How can someone with a busy lifestyle make sure that they’re eating a healthy and balanced diet?
I think meal planning is really important, especially if you have a busy lifestyle. Going into the week with a food strategy can be really helpful. Use your weekend to plan it all out and remember the goal is not to make the most elaborate meals possible. The goal is to eat as many fruits and veggies as you can. I think that’s often the biggest misconception people have about eating healthy. We often think eating healthy is really difficult because it has to be elaborate or expensive. The truth is healthy eating is pretty simple when you shift your focus away from restrictive, fad diets that require exotic, expensive ingredients and labor-intensive recipes. All you have to do is eat more fruits and veggies. That’s it. Cut up some raw fruits/veggies for snacks, throw together a big salad or simply roast some veggies to have on hand for the week– it only takes about twenty minutes on a Sunday! Eating well doesn’t have to be hard, it can be really simple if you just plan ahead and loosen up.
What’s your biggest healthy eating tip you can give us?
Eat whole foods and steer clear of anything processed. Whole foods are foods that have no added ingredients in them and are minimally processed. A good rule of thumb is that you should shop predominately along the perimeter of the grocery store because those are whole foods as opposed to the items in the center aisles. Additionally, it’s important to read labels; if you can recognize the ingredients on the label, then you’re probably eating a whole food. Eating whole foods rather than processed ones will not only make you feel better and more satiated, but it will always lend itself to good nutrition.
What food item do you think remains underrated?
Honestly, I think greek yogurt can be a little underrated. It’s so versatile and nutritious! You can eat it alone, you can bake with it, you can put it in smoothies, it can act as sour cream, you can put it in sauces or make home made dressings with it. It adds a ton of protein and provides probiotics, which help your digestive system. I love Fage 2% greek yogurt. And if I’m looking for a sweetened yogurt, I really like Siggi’s. I like Siggi’s because it contains only whole ingredients and way less sugar than most yogurt brands. Plus it’s grass-fed yogurt; which actually makes a huge difference nutritionally, boasting way more omega 3s, compared to conventionally fed cows.
Any recommendations for eating healthy on a budget?
Yes! I’ve been a student for eternity now so I’m always mindful of my budget when it comes to eating clean. Again, I recommend sticking to whole foods. The four budget-friendly whole foods I highly recommend are: eggs, greek yogurt, sweet potatoes and kale. I probably use them the most because they’re affordable and extremely versatile. I actually wrote a blog post about the 7 whole food staples that won’t break the bank.
Is there a food that people think is really healthy but isn’t?
Juice cleanses and detoxes; this trend is so frustrating to me. They make all of these health claims and charge an arm and a leg for a product with little nutritional value. By taking out all the benefits (the fiber) of fruit to make the juice, you’re essentially drinking sugar water, which leaves you feeling unsatisfied and hangry. Juicing also takes away the colorful skins, where you’ll find nutrients, fiber, and antioxidant rich phytochemicals. Additionally, there is nothing detoxifying about juice. Any “toxins” you might have in your body are processed by your liver and eventually get excreted by your kidneys. My advice to people who like juices is to drink a smoothie instead. By blending up whole fruits and veggies, you’ll be getting the all of the fiber and nutrients from those ingredients. My go to smoothie is: half a banana, mango, mint, spinach and almond milk. It’s so refreshing and delicious!
Do you have any tips for portion control?
The best tip is to fill your plate with a large amount of nutrient, dense vegetables and to put only a small amount of the rich, caloric food on your plate. I have a huge appetite so I’ll fill most of my plate up with veggies or a salad and then a small amount of something more indulgent like pizza! It’s important to not restrict yourself but to carefully strategize what’s going on your plate and how much of it.
What are the foods we should be eating after working out?
Definitely a good source of protein and a carb – greek yogurt and a piece of fruit, an egg with toast, apple and peanut butter. If you’re planning to eat a meal after you work out than there’s really no need to take protein supplements or shakes.
Do you have any suggestions for curbing cravings?
I think satisfying your cravings is really important, especially in moderation. If you want a burger or a pizza, do it. Restricting yourself is more detrimental than just recognizing your cravings and addressing them appropriately. I always recommend sharing the indulgence with someone else so that you’re not eating it all on your own and balancing it out with something nutritious. As a dietitian we often talk about the 80/20 balance. 80% of the time you should be aware of what you’re eating – get in as many fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats and fish. The remaining 20% should be reserved for treats and make it count! This 80/20 balance is a more sustainable way to approach nutrition. There are way too many delicious foods out there in the world. It’s important to LIVE A LITTLE.
What’s your one go-to treat that you have to splurge on?
A great chocolate chip cookie. Levain cookies are my favorite but I also recommend this amazing chocolate chip cookie recipe. I use brown butter and it offers a deeper, more caramelized flavor. I also use nice flakey sea salt. I’ll make the cookie dough ahead of time and put it in the freezer and then only make a couple of cookies at a time so that I only have them only when I really want them. This way I’m eating a controlled amount when they’re hot and fresh out of the oven. It’s great because there’s no big batch of cookies laying around the house, tempting me to break a piece off here and there (I can be a huge cookie monster).
What’s your current favorite health food trend?
I’m so into the bowl thing right now. I like the bowl trend because you can customize them to your liking and you can add a ton of different toppings–grain bowls, yogurt bowls, smoothie bowls. They’re beautiful and delicious. I’ve recently tried Poke, it’s a Hawaiian fish bowl. It’s basically like sushi in a bowl with lots of fresh fish, veggies, and seaweed.
What’s your go to recipe for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Breakfast: I love yogurt bowls and making them really beautiful by using fruit and seeds. I’ll drizzle a little bit of natural creamy peanut butter on top. I’ll also make my own granola. It’s essentially oats, nuts and seeds, unsweetened coconut flakes, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup of maple syrup and sea salt. I’ll bake it for 30 minutes on 350 degrees and toss it half way through to make sure it’s all evenly browned. I take pride in making my breakfast beautiful because it starts my day right.
Lunch: I typically try to get in as many veggies as I can. I’ll make some kind of slaw or salad and pair it with a good protein. Avocado is almost always involved too. I make a really good dijon dressing: dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. It’s super good.
Dinner: We love Mexican food so we make a lot of fresh, authentic-style tacos. We have this consistent weekly burrito thing going on with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, avocado crema, and hot sauce. It’s amazing!
If you’d like to see more recipes and healthy eating tips from Jenna, check out her blog The Rebel Pea or follow her on Instagram.