(WASHINGTON POST) - Even when you try your best to eat well, it's difficult to know everything about nutrition. I often talk with clients who believe they are making good choices and don't realise that little oversights stand in their way of optimal health. Here's a top 10 list of common but easy-to-repair nutrition mistakes.
1. You add whole flaxseeds to your breakfast
Flaxseeds are filled with omega-3 fats, fibre and lignans (antioxidants), which all benefit heart health. But whole flaxseeds may pass through the intestines undigested, which means you'll miss out on the health benefits inside the seed. Buy ground flax seeds instead, or put them in a coffee or spice grinder.
2. You blend a nutritious smoothie, but it's a calorie bomb
It's easy to toss a combination of superfoods into a blender. Blueberries, cashew butter, chia, kale, bananas and coconut milk sound like a dreamy breakfast elixir, but these concoctions can quickly become calorie bombs. Keep smoothies in the 300-calorie range by serving smaller portions (about 226ml to 340ml), using more vegetables than fruit, and by going easy on the high-calorie nuts and seeds.
3. You take your supplements with coffee
Caffeine from coffee can hinder your body's ability to absorb some of the vitamins and minerals in your supplements, including calcium, iron, B-vitamins and vitamin D. And it's not just coffee - beverages such as tea and cola contain caffeine, too. Enjoy your coffee about an hour before taking your supplements, and swallow pills with water instead.
4. You use regular canned beans for your meatless meals
Beans are an amazing source of fibre and protein, but canned varieties may have close to 1,000 mg of sodium per cup - that's two-thirds of what you need in an entire day. Look for cans that say "no-salt-added" or "low-sodium". If you can't find them, drain and rinse your canned beans, which will eliminate about 40 per cent of the sodium.
5. To cut back on sugar, you cut out fruit
The top source of sugar in the American diet is sweetened beverages, not fruit. Sugary soft drinks have no beneficial nutrients, while fruit has fibre, vitamins and protective antioxidants. Plus, we don't tend to overeat fruit, but do tend to drink too much soda. Consider how much easier it is to down a 600ml soda, as opposed to eating six bananas at one time. Both pack 16 teaspoons of sugar. Choose fruit and skip the soda.
6. You trust claims like 'low-fat' and 'sugar-free'
For many years, we've relied on label claims that tell us what our food doesn't contain - fat, sugar, gluten. It's more important to look at what the food does contain. Ultra-processed foods may be fat-free or sugar-free, but also loaded with preservatives or refined ingredients. Read ingredient lists and choose foods that are as close to nature as possible.
7. You drink almond milk for calcium but don't shake the carton first
Milk alternatives made from soy, almonds, cashews, rice, etc. are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. But the added nutrients don't stay in the liquid very well, and tend to sink to the bottom of the container. If you drink without shaking first, you can't reap the benefits of the added vitamins and minerals. Shake well before serving.
8. You skip the dressing on salad
Vegetables contain fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K, and a host of antioxidants that require fat to be absorbed. If you skip the oil and vinegar, you miss out on key nutrients from the salad. Serve your greens with oil-based dressing, nuts, seeds or avocado to dramatically boost your body's ability to soak up the veggies' beneficial nutrients.
9. You miss out on probiotics by buying the wrong type of yogurt
Yogurt is fermented milk, and fermented foods contain probiotics. So, logic would dictate that all yogurts are probiotic-rich, but unfortunately that's not the case. If yogurt has been heated or pasteurised, probiotics are destroyed and may not be added back in. Look for the words "live active cultures," or check ingredient lists for names of specific probiotics (lactobacillus acidophilus, L bulgaricus, etc.) to ensure you're getting these beneficial bacteria, which aid digestion and support the immune system.
10. You refuel with sports drinks
Sports drinks are meant to replace fluid and electrolytes that are lost when you sweat excessively, and are suitable after endurance sports like a soccer game or marathon. But the extra sugar and salt in sports drinks are not needed for casual exercise with minimal perspiration. After a stroll, hydrating with water is the best choice.