A Naturopath Tells All: Part 2
We're back for the second half of a two-part interview with Dr. Kelly Simms, ND. In case you missed it, you can find part one here. Otherwise, read on as we discuss ingredients to look out for on nutrition labels, calories, how to sort through all the super foods, "healthy" food that isn't so healthy, Dr. Simms’ exercise philosophy, curbing your cravings and more.
If people are reading a nutrition label, do you have any tips or advice for what people should look out for or ingredients to stay away from?
If you're reading a label, nothing that says a hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup or any trans fats. Added sugar, that's another new label addition. That means in a fruit juice where there’s naturally occurring sugar, they add additional white sugar. I would look out for that on a nutrition label too and avoid anything with added sugar.
Do calories matter?
I think they do. I really think they do. If we're eating a healthy diet we should still do so within our caloric needs. Finding what works for you will be based on what's happening with your weight. If you really aren't losing weight, and you're following a really calorie-restricted diet, you can bet that you're probably under-eating. If you're just maintaining your weight and know things are going kind of status quo, you’re probably eating just enough calories to maintain.
So, too low, your metabolism slows down to compensate. Too high, you’re going to store as fat. Logging your food for a couple weeks to actually see how many calories you’re eating a day can be really eye-opening.
I read about ashwagandha, cordyceps, he shou wu, and superfoods like maca. Do people really need to be taking all of this stuff to stay healthy?
That goes back to my belief in tailoring a plan to the individual. One example where I would recommend ashwagandha would be for adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue. Ashwaganda is an adaptogenic herb, which just means that it helps your body adapt to stress. So if we have really high stress jobs or we’re feeling burnt out, ashwagandha can be really helpful. Another time ashwagandha can be helpful would be if there are any sleep issues or problems falling asleep.
All those herbs you just named fall into that adaptogenic category, just meaning they help your body adapt to stress.
In your opinion, what's the number one thing people are eating right now that they don't know is bad for them or would be surprised to hear is bad for them? For example, gluten-free foods.
Yeah, I think that can be because gluten-free foods are not healthier nutritionally. A lot of times they're “more healthy” because they remove a lot of fiber and it's highly refined flours like rice flour, potato flour, and those can actually raise your blood sugar a lot more than a conventional kind of bread would with lots of fiber and actually less of a processed nature than the refined gluten-free bread.
The other thing I was going to say is food bars. They are a processed food (they come in a package). It's just as easy to sub a food bar for a whole piece of fruit and a handful of nuts rather than carrying around food bars. A lot of them are good, they have a minimal number of ingredients (which is something to look out for), but I’m not a big fan of food bars. If you really are in a pinch, they're not a bad choice, especially given some of the other choices at a grocery store. Have a Kind bar versus a bag of Cheetos, but ideally, always think in the mindset of what's an unprocessed food option to have for a snack.
Do you have any diets or meal plans you’d recommend for the busy working professional?
I've been using a meal plan myself called PrepDish. All the ingredients are not processed. You can select either a gluten-free plan or paleo plan, and all the recipes are very vegetable-heavy. I think that's a really important part of eating well is making sure that most of your plate is vegetables. That meal planning service has really helped me as a busy working mom to plan healthy meals for my family.
(Bonus: you can link your list directly to Instacart!)
Do you have a breakfast food you’d recommend for busy professionals?
I think a smoothie is the best thing for a busy professional. A serving of greens, a serving of fruit and a protein source. A protein source could range from Greek yogurt (for someone that's not dairy sensitive) or a protein powder, ideally a whey or plant-based protein powder. You can also do a combination of nuts and seeds yourself for protein, like flax seeds and hemp seeds or hemp hearts and chia seeds. The fiber's going to fill you up, the protein is going to keep your blood sugar stable and keep your energy levels up, and with the protein options too, if you do the nuts and seeds, that has a little fat too, so that’s gonna keep you full too. And you can prep your blender the night before. Put all of that minus the frozen fruit in your blender the night before and just wake up, add your frozen fruit and then add liquid. Liquid could be water, a milk alternative (like almond milk or coconut milk), or it’s another cool way to actually use herbal teas.
If you make some herbal tea and just have that in your fridge kind of chilled, your herbal tea adds additional flavor and health benefits. I've had people make peppermint, green, turmeric or matcha tea to use as the base. It’s another way to add another layer of health to your smoothie. And again, you prep the tea beforehand so it's just like you're pouring out of a pitcher in the morning into your blender. It's pretty easy to do.
For the protein powder, do you recommend whey over plant-based if people aren't dairy sensitive?
Not necessarily. I think whey is lower calorie and really protein-dense. Plant-based sometimes runs a little bit lower-protein, so you have to have a little bit more perhaps. I don't always recommend one or the other. Whey has an additional benefit of supporting your liver health. It helps increase glutathione, which is one of our major antioxidants. So if you can tolerate dairy, whey is actually a good choice. If you use whey, then you're kind of lacking in the fat department in that smoothie, so add a tablespoon of coconut oil or some avocado to make it a little more filling. Sometimes liquid breakfasts just aren’t that filling, so fat can help with that.
Do you have a favorite brand of protein powder?
I recommend Vega. the other thing I guess I say with caution with protein powders is that they are a processed food. And that's why I'll say just do the seeds yourself. Then It's pretty unprocessed if you do scoops of your own hemp, chia, flaxseeds versus doing a processed powder. You just don't want it to say whey protein isolate. That would be the no-no.
Another one I read about the other day was pumpkin seed-based protein. So again, add some pumpkin seeds, grind ‘em up. That works really well.
If people are getting themselves back on track with their diet, Do you have any tips for curbing unhealthy food cravings?
I do. It depends on the food. if you're craving salt, sometimes that actually means you need to add salt to your food. Because if you think about going from a processed food diet to an unprocessed food diet, there’s not a lot of salt that's naturally occurring in unprocessed foods. Having good quality salt on hand and actually adding it to your unprocessed foods is really important to do because we need salt. And then I would say with things like sugar, kind of assess what you've taken out of your diet and see what you're lacking. I find that people crave sugar and sweets when they eliminate carbohydrates from their diet. So sometimes it can be adding back a sweet potato or having one serving of quinoa per day or something, so your brain isn't telling you you need that food. I think it's important to assess how you've shifted your diet and how you can make that up but in a healthier way.
My last question is, what's your exercise philosophy? It seems like there's a lot of differing views out there now about how much you actually need.
I think answering all three of those questions will help you determine what would be the right type of exercise for you. I always suggest making time for movement that is not draining. Going to boot camp seven days a week, I would probably recommend against because that's really intense physical activity. Your body really needs time to recover, and then again mentally, doing something that isn't perceived by your body as a stress because any exercise is a stress. If we’re doing it all the time, that can actually raise our overall level of stress that we perceive. So it's good to counterbalance intense physical activity with something that’s more restorative.
I’ve found the most effective exercise for building both cardiovascular strength and muscle tone would be an interval style training where you do something that's cardiovascular (let's say walking for five minutes) and then you do something that's more resistance-based for a few minutes, it can be as simple as that. Walking on a treadmill for five minutes, doing 20 pushups, walking on a treadmill for five minutes, doing squats for a minute. Just alternating weight bearing and cardiovascular exercise.