Food (and Water) for Thought – Interview

by | Feb 1, 2019 | Healthy Bites | 1 comment


Food (and Water) for Thought

Compiled By Sarah Thomas Pagels

For the Fall Focus on Wellness, we are providing some food for thought about food and water. The following is an excerpt of an interview with a Nicole Kerneen, RD, CD, CSSD, a registered dietician, sports dietician, certified personal trainer and physical fitness instructor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As we roll from summer into fall, here are some great tips and tricks from Nicole for us all to get back into the daily grind by fueling our bodies to support our brains.

Why is nutrition so important to those in the legal profession (or anyone who is a high stress/sedentary profession)?
Anyone in higher stress jobs, or who juggle between family, being the family taxi, as well as holding a full-time job, needs to hone in on good nutrition to help them combat negative effects of stress. Most notably, the presence of cortisol, a stress hormone that elevates when we have a flight or fight response, or when we are under pressure to complete something. It’s inevitable that we will experience the cortisol rise in our days and lives, and it’s that much more important that we become aware of the effects it has on our health. Stress, chronic or acute, is the number one killer in our country in particular. This translates into heart disease and sudden cardiac effects. The good news is, with heightened awareness of and good practices, we can do the best we can to balance out our lives.

Nicole’s Top Nutrition Tips to combat stress:
Get your B-vitamins in! That means, don’t skimp on carbs. Enough already – they are GREAT for you. We are meant to have them. We are also meant to have the right ones, fruit, 100% whole grain – brown rice, quinoa, teff, oatmeal, amaranth, wild rice, sprouted grain bread, beans, bean pastas, quinoa pasta etc. These are the only things that give us the most B-vitamins. B-vitamins are the ONLY things that combat stress effectively. They are considered the “happy vitamin”. When we are low in B’s, we have higher cortisol levels in general and lower stress fighting hormone serotonin. Without B-vitamins we cannot produce enough serotonin to combat the cortisol rise. This disrupts everything from our sleep, creates anxiety, lessens our ability to focus, and makes us have food cravings – usually for carbs. However, when our bodies are so depleted, our brains want fast acting – low nutrition carbs that make us feel better for literally 1 minute, but it does not last. If you spread your carbohydrates throughout the day, this helps maintain good blood sugar level . Other benefits include mood regulation, helps with cramping and keeping muscles happy, and decreases cravings. Eating the right (high fiber) carbs throughout the day also keeps us fuller longer and helps us not be ravenously hungry by the end of the day (though more is involved with that..,but a good high fiber carbohydrate intake is a big key).

Keep caffeine to a minimum. Can’t stress this one enough – pun intended. Caffeine causes a direct increase in cortisol. If you are relying on it all day, it is constantly keeping cortisol elevated, which in turn decreases your body’s ability to burn body fat for energy during the day and also depletes your body of more B-vitamins. Yes, caffeine actually requires nutrition just to metabolize it! It has been well documented that 325mg/caffeine/day is maximum. Less is more in general. You want your body to be sensitive to it so a little goes a long way. Be careful, that morning venti Starbucks already exceeds the 325 mg and can be as high as 425mg just in that one “cup” of coffee. Caffeine also stays in your system for a long time. This is where it can interfere with your sleep, keeping cortisol levels elevated overnight. This in turn starts a vicious cycle – the caffeine level causes a high cortisol level, which can cause muscle loss and encourages fat gain because it creates so much stress on the body – the thing we all want to avoid.

Get your protein in! Like good carbs, you also need lean sources of protein throughout the day. Whenever you eat, ideally, you want to mix high fiber carbs and lean proteins at each meal and snack. It’s the perfect combo to keep cortisol low and to create an environment for your body to burn body fat for energy. That’s what we want! Too much protein isn’t good either. Women can only assimilate a max of 35gms per meal – the rest is turned into body fat or turned into carbohydrates, and that creates stress on the body and raises cortisol levels and inhibits your body to burn body fat for energy! You see these trends here? Balance is everything. 3oz of any lean meat – the size of your palm or less if you have a larger hand, provides about 21gms of protein. An egg provides 7gms, string cheese 5-7gms, and a half-cup cottage cheese about 15gms. These are just a few examples. Vegans (no dairy), can try a cup of beans – 16 gms of protein, Vegan Veggie Patties, or Glo Bars (12-15 gms protein per bar) – combine with a big salad for a meal. Vegetarians (dairy) can get their protein through cottage cheese (1 cup = 24 gms), 1 c. Greek yogurt (24 gms), protein powder (20 gms per serving), low-fat string cheese (2 pieces – 10-14gms) or tofu (3 oz. = 24 gms). For on the go-protein, consider Epic bars, soy nuts (1/2 c = 16gms and 8gms fiber – WOW!), Quest bars (20gms protein and 17 gms fiber). Consider bringing your own breakfast (flaxmeal and oatmeal) – 1/3 to ½ c. dry whole oats to 2 Tbsp flaxmeal gives you 10 gms of protein. If you add ½ c of soy nuts, you get crunch and a tremendously filling and well-balanced, easy meal.

What tips do you have for managing stress through nutrition?
As stated above. Also, stay consistent. Your body does much better with routine. Fight to maintain that routine as much as possible. Eat every 3-4 hours and try not to eat before 3 hours and try not to go beyond 4 hours, even if it’s just a quick snack or handful of nuts to tide you over. Bottom line is that you are trying not to stress your body out by not eating. Your body wants to work with your normal blood sugar level curves (which operate in a 3-4 hour cycle).

Most importantly: Avoid sugary foods, drinks and alcohol during stressful times. Ironic, since that’s what we gravitate towards! This is a red flag that we are out of balance. Our bodies need care, balanced nutrition, proper hydration and rest. Not stimulants, depressants and sweets!
It’s important we learn stress management techniques and leave food out of it. We forget that food has a purpose. It’s not a drug, it’s not a crutch, it’s not a best friend, it’s simply there to nourish our cells, keep our immunity strong, keep your mind sharp and help prevent diseases.

Why is eating enough protein so important? How much protein is enough?
Protein helps regulate the blood sugar level (not by itself, but with carbohydrate), it helps strengthen immunity and conserve our muscle mass during and after exercise as well as during times when we are eating a reduced calorie diet. The lower your calorie intake is, the higher your protein needs to be to counteract the negative effects of low calories. Typically, people need 1gm of protein per pound of muscle. Unless you know your body composition, it’s hard to figure out what that actually means. On average, most women need 100gms/protein/day and studies show us that it is important not to get less than 80gms.

Protein should be spread out throughout the day. Not larger servings at one time. This is how your body properly uses the amino acids. Otherwise, like any food/calories we take in, too much at one time stresses the body out and can cause an increase in body fat.

What if I don’t have enough time in the day to cook a real meal. What kinds of ready-made products are out there that will provide the protein I need?
I’ve mentioned many of those above. Otherwise, frozen meals with 20-25gms protein and no more than 30-45gms carbohydrate – 5-14gms fiber

Protein shakes – find a shake with 20-30gms protein

Drink it Up!

You recommend that everyone drink half of their body weight in ounces per day – which is a TON of water when all I’m doing is sitting at my desk. Why so much water? What benefits does it provide?

Water fuels metabolism. It is the carrier to all nutrients. If your cells can not get the nutrients from what you eat, you will feel tired, achy, sluggish and foggy. Being fully hydrated also helps your body determine true hunger levels versus thirst. It also keeps your skin softer and more hydrated. Also helps the muscles contract and you will be less stiff.

What about coffee and wine?
Coffee neither hydrates nor dehydrates…decaf coffee will hydrate, while regular caffeinated coffee will not. Similarly, wine is dehydrating. 5oz of wine is a serving. Woman are to exceed no more than 1 each day max. Alcohol in general also slows metabolism by about 30% and can remain slow for up to 72 hours. It also breaks down muscle mass because it increases cortisol levels, which in turn decrease the quality of sleep you may get. So unless you are burning that all off through hours of evening dancing. I’d recommend pulling the reigns in with wine consumption on a school night.

Does the time of day that I consume the water matter? Why or why not?
You want to get 75% of your water in by 4 or 5 with just a glass or 2 necessary up to about 1 ½ – 2 hours before bed. At that time, you really want to refrain from liquid or literally just sip to wet your pallatte, not drinking a whole lot. This will help you avoid the need to vacate that water too much during the course of the night.

What about water before/during/after exercise?
High intensity – high heart rate exercise for 30 min or more will disrupt sleep as it increases metabolism as well as elevates cortisol levels. Your body has a natural wave of cortisol production – peaks at 9am and slowly falls the rest of the day and then melatonin and ideally serotonin rises and by-passes cortisol getting you ready for sleep and rejuvenation at night.
A simple walk or easy weights at night is fine for exercise. Ideally, no high intensity a good 4-5 hours before bed. Low intensity is fine, but still, because it raises heart rate and increases circulation, it will still disrupt sleep. You want to make sure this is completed at least 3 hours before bed.

Move it!
If I’m not exercising, what tips do you have for working it into your day?
Find ways to move. I tell my clients to set a timer – walk 5 minutes every hour or 10min every hour and a half. Stand up and march in place for 1 min – do 1 min of jumping jacks – followed by 1 min of lunges and maybe 1 min of tricep dips off your chair with 1 min of stretching! Wow! You just increased your energy, metabolism and mental alertness on top of giving your body a huge “little” workout and got rid of some stress! Super effective!

Also, stand for phone calls, if you feel mentally stuck over something get up and do some deep breaths and stretch….clear your mind, get some oxygen in you and you can return with more energy and clarity.

If you can walk 10-15min before or after lunch – fit it in. If you can do the stairs for 5 min – up and down – do that. Anything!! Just make a concerted effort to do more than sit.

Bio information

Sarah Thomas Pagels is a partner at Laffey, Leitner & Goode, LLC in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ms. Thomas Pagels advises her clients on personal injury, transportation, toxic tort, and commercial litigation matters. She also guides them on navigating the e-discovery process creatively and cost-effectively in preparation for trial or alternative resolution. She specializes in leading a team of attorneys and paralegals in high-volume, document-intensive cases, using technology to manage costs and locate key facts. 

Nicole Kerneen, RD,CD,CSSD is a registered dietician, sports dietician, certified personal trainer and physical fitness instructor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is the owner of Way of Life Nutrition and Fitness, as well as the dietician for the Milwaukee Brewers.*

Way of Life Nutrition and Fitness

*Full disclosure – Nicole is Sarah’s personal nutritionist and has been working with me for the last year to provide guidance on how to better fuel my body and brain!

Photo Credit: Markus Spiske – unsplash

Meet Nicole

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Nicole is recognized state-wide and nationally as a Registered Dietitian and is also a Certified dietitian through the state of Wisconsin. She is also a Board Certified Sports Dietitian and a Certified Personal Trainer and Physical Fitness Instructor.

Nicole’s areas of expertise include: Wellness and lifestyle coaching, weight management, behavior modification, eating disorders, vegetarian lifestyles, gluten-free living, sports nutrition, recipe and menu design and development.







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