Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

I had already decided that I would propose a “resolution” every month this year for myself and anyone who follows this blog when I came across Cooking Light’s 12 healthy habits.  Cooking Light is one of my favorite magazines, so I’m going to take their idea and run with it!

It just makes sense to spend 30 days working on a single habit to change, rather than creating a long list of resolutions without an endpoint. If this idea works for you, take these habits (one at a time) and work on them for a month.

Here is January’s healthy habit:

Add at least 3 servings of vegetables and fruit to your daily diet

Here’s some suggestions for how to accomplish this goal.  These are some of my ideas and other ideas compiled from suggestions on thedietchannel.com, nutrition.about.com, cancer.org, and health.harvard.edu

  • Take fresh fruit or veggies with you to work to eat as a morning and afternoon snack.  The best fruit for your pocket are apples, clementines carrot and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes (in a Ziplock bag), and grapes (in a Ziplock bag).
  • Cut-up celery, carrots, bell pepper, cucumber, etc and keep them front and center in your refrigerator for snacking.   If you don’t like them plain, dip them in hummus or ranch dressing.  They’ll be fresher if you do this yourself, but if you need to, buy them already cut up in the grocery store.
  • Add fruit like berries, a banana or a cut up peach to your cereal in the morning.
  • When you shop, buy the ingredients to make a mirepoix, chop them up and store them in the refrigerator.  A classic mirepoix is carrots, celery and onion.  The Cajun “trinity” is a variation – celery, onion and bell pepper.  Pick anything that can be cooked (mushrooms, bell peppers,  are a good addition), and chop them up when you get home.  Grab a handful for stir-fries, salads, omelettes or soup.
  • Steaming vegetables is really easy and very fast.  If you don’t have fresh vegetables (or don’t want to take the time to steam them), make sure you keep steam and serve frozen vegetables in your freezer as an easy way to add vegetables to your meals at home.
  • Keep frozen fruit in your freezer to throw in a blender with yogurt or milk to make smoothies.
  • Dried fruit is a good occasional substitute for fresh fruit, but beware – it’s very caloric!
  • If you are making a sandwich to take to work, pile on veggies – spinach, shredded carrots, cucumbers etc.  Use avocado instead of mayonnaise.
  • Fruit or vegetable juice is not a great substitute, but will do in a pinch.  Most fruit juices are high in calories.  It’s always better to eat the fruit if you can so you get the fiber and other nutrients, but if there are no other options, juice is better than nothing!
  • Applesauce and canned fruit (in water) can be bought in single serving portions, or you can share larger portions!
  • If you are buying food for lunch in a cafeteria or fast food restaurant, look for vegetable soup or a salad bar than lets you pile on the veggies.
  • Sweet potatoes can be microwaved in 10-12 minutes and make a great meal when paired with a salad or some frozen veggies.
  • Choose desserts that are fruit based – and have as much fruit as possible.  Chocolate dipped strawberries or a berry cobbler are better than cheesecake!

Easy Fast Recipes: The Six O’Clock Scramble

One of the keys to eating well as a resident is to plan your meals.  I’ve posted before about how to cook for yourself in medical school and residency (i.e. how to plan) but came across a site this morning I thought I should share. The Six O’Clock Scramble is a service you can subscribe to that sends you recipes (with shopping lists) for the week.  Most importantly, the recipes follow my “pizza rule” i.e. they take less time to cook than it takes to order a pizza.   You can customize it for vegetarian or other specific diet needs and also for the number of meals you want in the week.

logo_scramble

For those of you that “don’t cook” – here’s a FAQ from the Website:

I am not a very good cook and I actually hate cooking!  How can the Scramble® help someone like me?

 

Scramble® recipes are designed to be EASY with all instructions clearly spelled out and few, simple ingredients.  Most importantly, the Scramble® takes the stress out of planning for meals by designing a week’s worth of balanced menus complete with healthy sides.

I have used this site myself in the past – the recipes are good and they are easy!  They also come with complete nutritional information, so if you are trying to control calories, limit fat or increase protein, you will have the information.   This service is a good compromise for students and residents that want to plan their meals, but don’t have the time.

The main reason I am posting this today is I came across a deal to subscribe at a discount if you do this before December 25th: http://www.snack-girl.com/snack/healthy-dinner-recipes-six-oclock-scramble/ This would also make a great holiday gift for a busy medical student or resident!

Healthy Sandwiches

Making a healthy sandwich for lunch is a great way to insure that you don’t eat the leftover pizza from last night’s call team.  A really good sandwich which balances protein and carbs is also a great way to get through a long call night.  Keeping your energy up when you are up all night on call is difficult but there are tricks to maintain energy for call. The most important way to have good energy on call is to eat good quality food every 3-4 hours. Sandwiches are great for call because they are so easy to make, easy to store and easy to put in a pocket to eat on the go.

Pick good ingredients whenever you can.  It’s worth paying a little more to have food that is just food (and not a lot of fillers, corn syrup, transfats, etc).  Make sure you get high quality bread – 100% whole wheat is best, but if you really don’t like whole wheat, at least try to get as much whole grain in the bread as you can. Whenever possible, add veggies to add nutritional value.

Peanut butter sandwiches have the advantage of not needing refrigeration.  You can keep them in your white coat pocket if you want to (an advantage on a busy day).  You can stay traditional (i.e. peanut butter and jelly), or up the nutritional content by adding banana (or other fruit) or with other unusual combinations.

Egg salad sandwiches are great in the middle of the night when you are on call.  101cookbooks.com egg salad recipe is a pretty classic recipe which is really wonderful.  If you want to up the protein and decrease the fat leave out some or al of the egg yolks and use lowfat mayonnaise.  There are other options for traditional egg salad recipes, too

Tuna or chicken salad sandwiches can be made with classic recipes, or less traditional ingredients that up the nutritional content such as spicy tuna salad, or other unique tuna salad recipes.

Lean meat (chicken, ham, pork, beef) makes a great, high protein sandwich.  Add cheese, tomatoes, spinach, shredded carrots or other veggies to increase the nutritional value.  If you are watching your weight use low-fat cheese and avoid mayonnaise.  If you use hummus or avocado instead of mayonnaise or other spreads you’ll also make the sandwich more nutritious.

Here are a few other sites to help you be creative with your sandwich ideas:

Healthy Sandwich Recipes & Tips

Love Your Lunch: 10 Healthy Sandwich Recipes

Good Nutrition is in the Bag: Healthy Sandwich Alternatives

Farmer’s Markets

I just got back from my weekly (when I’m not on call) trip to the farmer’s market.    I’m going to try to convince you why buying food at a farmer’s market should be a regular habit for any medical student or resident (although I think it applies to everyone else, too).

What the heck is a farmer’s market?

In general, farmer’s markets are open air markets where local farmers bring their food to sell. They usually take place once a week (often on Saturdays).  If you want to know more about farmer’s markets, check out the website of Urban Harvest, which is responsible for the market I go to in Houston. 

How do I find out where they are?

The best way is to search the internet for your city.  Local harvest is a web site that covers most farmer’s markets, but there may be smaller (and possibly more convenient) markets in your city that aren’t listed here:   http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/

If it doesn’t look like there is a farmer’s market near you, another option is to buy a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  If you buy into a CSA you will pick up a fairly large quantity (usually a good sized box) of whatever is being grown at the time – usually once a week.   If you can find a group of friends to split this with, its a great option  http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

What should I do to look cool if I’ve never been to a farmer’s market before?

Bring your own bags. This isn’t an absolute requirement, but it’s much cooler than relying on the vendors.  They often have small paper or plastic bags, but it will be easier if you bring your own.  In the big picture, you should do this no matter where you shop (good environmental karma!).  Fortunately, the “give away” bags at medical meetings are perfect for this!   A lot of grocery stores sell reusable shopping bags or you can find them on the internet.

Bring cash. Some vendors may take credit cards but don’t count on it.

Does it cost more?

Yes (but not a lot more).  But don’t let that stop you!  Value isn’t always measured by money – even if you are poor student or resident.  It’s not going to be a lot more and it’s completely worth it. (see below)

If it costs more and it takes more time, why should I bother?

The food absolutely and unequivocally tastes better.  The first time I bought potatoes at a farmer’s market was a revelation for me.  I knew that tomatoes and peaches would be better, but I had no idea that a potato would be in the same category.  The produce you buy at a farmer’s market was in the ground (usually) less than 24 hours ago.  It is incredible how much better it tastes!

The food is probably better for you.  Most farmer’s markets sell organic or near organic food.  There’s good data that organic plants are higher in many nutrients and it’s intuitively obvious that avoiding pesticide residues on your food should be beneficial.

You’ll eat with the seasons. There are no data that this is better for you, but it really makes sense.  If nothing else, it will taste better and you’ll be helping the environment by not eating things that traveled thousands of miles to get to you.

You’ll get to know the people growing your food. This sounds trivial, but it’s really cool.  You can ask them about how they grow the food, and you’ll hear stories about what’s happening on their farms.  One of my favorite vendors, Blue Heron Farm, pictures brings pictures (usually baby goats) which she also shares on Twitter and Facebook. There is also something intangible (but cool) in knowing that someone (not just a big corporation) cares enough to grow your food.

The farmer’s market is a once a week “sanity break”. You are outside, surrounded by beautiful food and happy people.  At the market I usually go to, there is always some live music, too.  It’s a great experience and, combined with the fact that you are doing something healthy for yourself, it’s a once a week mood changer!

How to Eat Well On Call

It’s Saturday and I’m on call – and it’s going to be a busy day!  We have about 75 patients on the service, we already have 4 cases done and another 4 posted, and it’s still early (~4pm)   I have a fantastic resident with me today.  We just were chatting about what we are going to do for meals today.  He didn’t have breakfast and has only had a Coke and a “borrowed” bowel of Kix cereal from the recovery room so far.  I had whole wheat toast with some goat cheese before I left my house this morning, and I here’s what I have to eat today:

  • Strawberries
  • A handful of frozen cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce (they’ll thaw by the time I want to eat them)
  • Frozen peas (I put them in the microwave for a minute but, like the shrimp, frozen would be fine because they’ll thaw) + goat cheese, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper
  • Leftover whole wheat orzo, artichoke hearts, tuna and lemon pasta from last night
  • An apple
  • Lemon wedges for water

My resident’s Coke is probably more than I used to have as an intern… which is STUPID.   Eating well is important to feel well, perform well and do the right thing for your patients. There is one word that explains the difference between my resident (and what I used to do) and what I do now… planning.   “I’ll just get something from the restaurant across the street later…”, “There will probably be food leftover from the GI conference…” .. “I can always eat a bagel from the lounge..” … NOT.   When you finally have a minute to grab something to eat, you won’t usually have time to go look for the food.  It’s a lot easier if its’ there and ready to eat.

Here’s how to do this right:

1. Buy a good “lunch box” .

I like the hard plastic ones that fit in an outside, insulated carrying case.  It’s a lot easier to clean up if something spills than the usual “lunch box”.

You can use plastic (disposable) containers to carry your meals with you.  I’ve switched to glass containers because some of the data about heating the plastic containers in the microwave started sounding convincing.  It does mean you have to keep track of them and bring them home, but I suspect in the long run (if I don’t lose them) it will be cheaper than the plastic containers.   I particularly like the ones I bought because the seal is so tight that they don’t ever leak  (even for things like soup).

2. PLAN.

The night before call, figure out what you are going to take. Make it good stuff, too!  Call nights are not the “what I know I should eat” nights.  You need to have real food (i.e. not processed) but don’t skimp.  When you get to the “I really deserve those french fries” time of your call (which we all do) you will have really delicious and balanced food  in the refrigerator.

3. Pack your meals for the next day the night before (no matter how late it is or how tired you are).

It’s the only way you’ll actually do this.   None of us when we work this hard have the energy to put together meals for the day at 5am.  This takes a little effort but the payoff is real.  You will absolutely eat better, have more energy, maintain your weight and do a better job.  Don’t forget to throw some fruit in – and to make sure it’s washed so you can just pull it out of the refrigerator for a snack.

Preventing Weight Gain in Residency

This is the time of year when 4th year medical students are winding down and preparing for the “big move” into internship.  Our 4th year students take a special 3 week course to get them ready – a wonderful mix of small groups on professionalism, ACLS training, first night on call beeper emergencies…etc, etc.  It ends with a small group of senior faculty who talk about making the transition to residency.  I wish we’d recorded the talks – they were all really wonderful.  In addition to giving wonderful professional advice,  all of the faculty included advice on taking care of yourself.  It struck me that one of the specific issues that each of them mentioned (well, four out of five) was how much weight they had gained in their internship and residency.

Losing weight is not easy for those that struggle with this issue – but preventing weight gain is not as hard – and should be a goal for every intern and resident!   It’s not hard – you need to increase your activity (a little) and watch out for stupid food choices.   Here’s the “rules” I wish someone had given me before I started my residency (if you have rules you would add, please send a comment!)

1.  No junk food (doughnuts, pizza, hamburgers, etc)

2.  Take healthy food with you to work – especially for call nights.  Keep emergency healthy food in your locker i.e. high quality energy bars, dried fruit/nuts (in appropriate small portions).

3.  Make sure you get an hour of real exercise on days when you are not in the hospital

4.  Take the stairs instead of the elevators.

JAMA. 2010 Mar 24;303(12):1173-9.

Physical activity and weight gain prevention.

Lee IM, Djoussé L, Sesso HD, Wang L, Buring JE.

Division of Preventive Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA. ilee@rics.bwh.harvard.edu

CONTEXT: The amount of physical activity needed to prevent long-term weight gain is unclear. In 2008, federal guidelines recommended at least 150 minutes per week (7.5 metabolic equivalent [MET] hours per week) of moderate-intensity activity for “substantial health benefits.”

OBJECTIVE: To examine the association of different amounts of physical activity with long-term weight changes among women consuming a usual diet.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: A prospective cohort study involving 34,079 healthy US women (mean age, 54.2 years) from 1992-2007. At baseline and months 36, 72, 96, 120, 144, and 156, women reported their physical activity and body weight. Women were classified as expending less than 7.5, 7.5 to less than 21, and 21 or more MET hours per week of activity at each time. Repeated-measures regression prospectively examined physical activity and weight change over intervals averaging 3 years.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Change in weight.

RESULTS: Women gained a mean of 2.6 kg throughout the study. A multivariate analysis comparing women expending 21 or more MET hours per week with those expending from 7.5 to less than 21 MET hours per week showed that the latter group gained a mean (SD) 0.11 kg (0.04 kg; P = .003) over a mean interval of 3 years, and those expending less than 7.5 MET hours per week gained 0.12 kg (0.04; P = .002). There was a significant interaction with body mass index (BMI), such that there was an inverse dose-response relation between activity levels and weight gain among women with a BMI of less than 25 (P for trend < .001) but no relation among women with a BMI from 25 to 29.9 (P for trend = .56) or with a BMI of 30.0 or higher (P for trend = .50). A total of 4540 women (13.3%) with a BMI lower than 25 at study start successfully maintained their weight by gaining less than 2.3 kg throughout. Their mean activity level over the study was 21.5 MET hours per week (approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity).

CONCLUSIONS: Among women consuming a usual diet, physical activity was associated with less weight gain only among women whose BMI was lower than 25. Women successful in maintaining normal weight and gaining fewer than 2.3 kg over 13 years averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity throughout the study.

PMID: 20332403 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Post Call Recovery

I’m on call this weekend.  As we started rounds this morning, the conversation turned to one of our superstar residents who (uncharacteristically) was late to rounds.  He was up all night and overslept after falling asleep in the wee hours of the morning.  What struck me was what he told us… “I knew something was wrong when I woke up feeling good.”  Being on call, and being up all night is part of medical training (and practice).  And it’s not just an occasional event – we often have to do it every three or four days.  It’s essentially iatrogenic jet-lag and it takes some time to learn how to manage this kind of fatigue.

Photo credit

 

Being tired after call takes two major forms:  with sleep and without sleep.  Depending on the type of call, the recovery is different.  If you have been inundated with work, but were able to sleep, you will be physically (somewhat) and emotionally (a lot) tired.  The treatment for this is play.  You need to spend some time doing something that is not related to work, preferably in the company of friends.  You need time to process what you have just seen and done, but, more importantly, you need to feel like you are still connected to the world outside of work.  Physical activity is essential.  Even if you get home late, do something to stretch and use your body.  Even a 15 minute walk outside followed by 5 minutes of stretching will do the trick.  If you live with a significant other, make sure you have dinner together and really talk.  Put on some nice music.  Call a friend.  Go out to eat.  Whatever you do, don’t “numb out” by drinking a beer in front of the TV set.

Being tired without sleep is a physiologically abnormal state for human beings.  No matter how much the culture says you should be “tough enough” to go without sleep, it’s crazy.  We are designed to sleep 7-9 hours every night and, when we don’t, we don’t function as well.  There is an amazing amount of literature on the effect of sleep deprivation on performance, competence and health.  Suffice it to say that we all realize we don’t want the pilot of our plane to have been up for 24 hours prior to our flight.  It’s no different for a doctors.

There is  literature on this problem, but these are studies that doctors don’t often review.  A sleepless call night is basically a shift in your body clock i.e. jet-lag. The big difference is that the light cues are the same after call (unlike when you fly to Europe).  So what have business executives and airline pilots learned about dealing with this kind of time shift?

  • Stay hydrated.  It may sound silly, but paying attention to drinking enough water will make a big difference.  How much is enough?  Enough to keep your urine clear.  It is amazing how, during a busy day, you can forget to drink water.  Start looking for the drinking fountains and stop for a drink when you see them.  Carry a water bottle in your on-call bag and pull it out when you are doing sign outs, or taking a break.  Having a bag of cut up lemons helps, too.  A tall glass of ice water with fresh lemon in it is a fabulous treat in the middle of a busy night.  Mild dehydration will increase your level of fatigue.  Watch out for soft drinks and tea – the caffeine may give you a little kick (and there is nothing wrong with that from time to time) but, if you drink a lot of caffeine,  it will really mess up your sleep cycle when you do get to sleep.  Also, tea and coffee act as a diuretic, so your net hydration may be negative.  Water is by far the best choice.
  • Don’t skip meals.  Most importantly, don’t skip breakfast.  Most students and residents have to get up really early to get to work. And, most people just don’t feel like eating a big breakfast at 5:30 in the morning.  Eat something before you leave the house (a cereal bar or piece of fruit, for example) and then take something more substantial for later in the morning.  Even if it’s only an energy bar in the pocket of your white coat – take something and then eat it!
  • Don’t go too long without food during a long shift.  You need to eat something every 3-4 hours if you are working hard.  You should carry at least one snack in your coat pocket such as a small bag of nuts, an energy bar, some raisins, or some dried fruit.

Probably the worst mistake people make in recovering from call is what they do once they leave the hospital.  You can really help your recovery, enjoy your time off more, and return to work ready if you realize one fact:   You have shifted your biologic clock by staying awake all night.  If you go home the next morning (or afternoon) and sleep for 8-10 hours, you will have shifted it even more.   So how do you best recover?

  • No matter how tired you are, your first stop should be the gym, a park, or someplace you can work out.  This does not have to be (and shouldn’t be) a hard workout.  This should be a “work out the stress” workout.  Don’t push yourself hard, but work up a little sweat.  Even if it’s just 20 minutes of walking in a park, you will feel better.
  • Treat yourself well.  Take a nice long shower when you get home.  Make yourself a nice meal, but not junk food.  Eating a lot of protein and fat will put you in a fatigue tail-spin.
  • Take a nap, but make yourself get up so you can sleep that night.  3-4 hours is usually about right.  Make arrangements to have dinner with friends, if you live alone.  If you have a significant other, make plans to do something together in the evening.  If you want to have a glass of wine, or one beer, do so – but don’t have more than that.  It will mess up your sleep and it’s not worth it.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after the morning.   Even though you will be sluggish in the afternoon, don’t sabotage your night time sleep with caffeine.
  • Go to sleep early.  In addition to being sleep deprived, you will also feel socially deprived.  It’s natural to want to go out with friends when you feel this way.  However, they are not as sleep deprived as you are, and they don’t have to do this again in a few days.  If you’ve had a hard call, with very little sleep, you should plan to get 10-12 hours of sleep the next night.  You have to get at least 8 hours.  In other words, if you have to be up at 6, you should be in bed no later than 10 pm, but, as crazy as it sounds, if you can get to sleep at 8, it will be better.

Energy for Call

Food is fuel.  It’s also solice if you are stressed, and face it – it’s fun to eat. Other professions that deal with stress and physical labor have learned the lesson about not paying attention to nutrition.  The culture of medicine demands a “selflessness” that borders on the absurd.  It is often a badge of honor that you can go all day without eating.  But, when you consider the consequences of such behavior, it is really crazy.  There is no benefit to the patients, and clear harm to the doctor.

Eat often and eat well

When you are physically and intellectually busy (an average day on call in the hospital) you need to plan to eat every 3-4 hours.  In general, you will have one “meal” (i.e lunch) in the middle of the day and two snacks.  It’s not always going to possible to stop for lunch at lunchtime, but you should be able to find 10 minutes at some point in between 11 and 4 to eat a meal.  Different rotations have different demands, and you can certainly take this into account when planning your meals.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat requires no preparation, and no refrigeration (it can even go in the pocket of your white coat).  Alternatively, buy a loaf of whole wheat bread every week, and put the bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly in your locker. It takes 2 minutes to make a sandwich to put into your pocket on the way to a conference or a brief break.  Bring leftovers from the previous night’s dinner to reheat and have for lunch.  You need to plan to include fruits and vegetables as part of every meal and your snacks.  Buy a bag of apples once a week and put them in your locker.. and then make sure you eat the entire bag every week.  The snacks don’t need to be elaborate, but you do need to watch the clock and eat them – even if you are not hungry!

Examples of easy snacks for the hospital

  • “Meal replacement bars” (power bars, Luna bars, Kind bars etc)
  • “Meal replacement drinks” (Ensure, Boost, etc)
  • Skim milk with either graham crackers/peanut butter or a banana
  • Cheese stick and an apple
  • Melba toast or other crackers with sliced cheese plus some fruit
  • Yogurt