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Food for the Mind, Body & Spirit: FAQs

EatingWell's nutrition experts answer your questions on eating for mind, body & spirit.

I'm busy and it's hard for me to prepare meals. Do you have any suggestions for eating healthfully on a timed schedule?

There are many things you can do to make healthy eating easier when you’re always on the go. Prepare lean meats in batches, advises Cynthanne Duryea, R.D., a dietitian who specializes in preventive and cardiovascular nutrition at Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. “Bake, broil, or grill chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, or lean beef fillets in amounts that can be used for a second or third meal.” The meat can be sliced and refrigerated, and tossed onto a salad, or into a sandwich or a whole-wheat pasta dish, she says. “Use a slow cooker. Place lean pork chops or chicken into a crockpot along with onions, garlic, celery, carrots. When you get home at the end of the day, dinner will be ready.”

Take advantage of the convenience of prewashed salads, well worth the price; simply add tomato or additional veggies to add color and nutrients. And don’t ignore frozen veggies—the nutrient quality rivals that of fresh vegetables, says Duryea. Smoothies are another great option for a quick, light meal: add a soy- or whey-based protein powder to 1 cup of unsweetened frozen berries, 1 frozen banana and 1 cup of skim milk or soymilk. And finally, soothe yourself with soup: heat a canned lentil/bean-based soup (protein-packed and fiber-rich). Top with low-fat cheese, add a few whole-wheat crackers and dinner’s ready.

Which is better for breakfast—eggs or oatmeal?

Both eggs and oatmeal are great breakfast choices, says Cooper Clinic dietitian Jennifer Neily, R.D. “I love oatmeal because ¾ cup of the dry oats provides 3 grams of soluble oat fiber needed for cholesterol-lowering. If you’re trying to lower your LDL cholesterol, oat fiber is a daily requirement. And even if cholesterol isn’t an issue, switching it up is still a good idea.”

Neily adds that “there’s also something about a hot breakfast that gives a ‘stick to the ribs’ feeling and is very satiating for most people.” For some extra protein, she advises, make it with nonfat or 1% milk or vanilla soymilk instead of water. “Throw in some frozen berries and you've got a great breakfast.”

As for eggs, they’re an excellent source of protein that makes for a solid breakfast, says Neily. Research has also shown that protein can help keep you fuller, since protein takes longer to digest. Try putting one whole egg and a couple of egg whites in a small bowl and microwaving on medium power until fluffy, about 1 minute. Put the eggs on a whole-grain English muffin, add a piece of cooked Canadian bacon and a slice of 2% cheese, and you've got an easy breakfast sandwich, she suggests. Add a piece of fruit for extra fiber.

Does eating turkey really make you sleepy?

Turkey alone will not make you sleepy. It’s true that L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in turkey and many other protein foods, can have a sedative effect in some people, says Linda Yerardi, R.D., a diabetes nutrition educator at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. But its effects are blunted by the presence of other amino acids in turkey, which compete for the same binding sites in the brain for absorption, she notes. “You’d have to take L-tryptophan alone (with no other amino acids present) and on an empty stomach to produce any drowsiness.” Consuming tryptophan-rich foods may cause blood levels of the amino acid to rise, but not enough tryptophan will reach your brain to have a sedative effect.

“Lots of other foods, including ground beef and chicken, contain L-tryptophan, too, and don't have this reputation. Turkey gets a bad rap because of Thanksgiving,” Yerardi continues. “People get sleepy after this meal for a variety of factors, not the L-tryptophan alone. The more likely reason is that it takes a great deal of energy to digest a large meal. A full stomach means that blood is directed away from other bodily functions and systems, including your nervous system, which can make you sleepy.”

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