Let’s talk about PROTEIN

Let’s talk about PROTEIN

By: Sarena Candelaria, NDTR

Protein has become an abundantly popular nutrient in the health realm over the years. Protein shakes, protein cake, protein balls, donuts, pancakes, oatmeal… protein is advertised everywhere we look. Is protein really the focus of a healthy diet? What even is protein, and do you need more of it? If these are questions that you have asked yourself, feel free to read on to learn a bit more about this popular macronutrient.

To start, let’s talk about what protein is. Along with fat and carbohydrate, protein is one of the three macronutrients that our bodies need to function. Protein is found in every cell of the human body, from your organs and muscles to your hair, skin, and nails. It is also used to make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and many more tiny molecules that are essential for our body to survive. 

Protein’s structure is made up of smaller molecules called amino acids that are linked together in a chain. There are two types of amino acids: nonessential and essential. Nonessential amino acids are produced by the body while essential amino acids are obtained through the foods we eat, so there is no doubt that maintaining protein in your diet is important. However, it is a balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrate that your body utilizes best.

So, how much protein does a person really need? Well, protein requirements vary from person to person and are based on weight, height, and activity level. The recommended daily allowance for protein for the average person starts at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Protein requirements can increase with age or if someone wants to increase muscle mass. Athletes who endure rigorous training can need between 1.2 grams to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Regardless, protein intake should only make up 10-35% of an individual’s daily calorie intake. With a well-balanced diet, it can be easy to meet daily protein needs. High-protein diets are widely popular and promoted as an easy way to lose weight because lean sources of protein are known to keep you fuller for longer periods of time and 1 gram of protein clocks in at only 4 calories; but it is important to keep in mind that many of these diets, while increasing protein, decrease your intake of carbohydrates and fats, and usually prohibit the consumption of many calorie-dense foods. When eliminating foods that are processed, high in fat, and/or high in sugar, and consuming more whole foods and lean sources of protein, you are automatically decreasing your calorie intake and encouraging weight loss.

Protein shakes and other protein products are HUGE on the market right now and a lot of them are advertised for weight loss or muscle building. Needing protein shakes or supplements can vary from person to person based on lifestyle and physical activity. The best way to meet protein or any other nutrient needs is through food first, and if those needs can’t be met through meals and snacks, THEN we look into the need for a supplement. However, protein shakes and supplements work very well for individuals who frequently workout at a high intensity for long durations of time and need protein to replenish and recover. Protein supplements can also help those who are needing to increase their protein for muscle building and can’t meet those requirements through food. Individuals who often skip meals throughout the day can benefit from a protein shake to supplement their nutrient needs for the day, but not as a meal-replacement. Protein shakes and supplements should not be used as meal-replacements for weight loss as many of these supplements are calorie-dense and can come with a lot of added sugars. If you are able to meet your daily calorie and protein needs through your meals and snacks, adding in a protein shake or supplement will likely lead to unnecessary calorie intake. Remember that lean sources of protein may be low in calories, but they are still calories and excess calories is what can lead to weight gain.

Wondering what foods you can incorporate into your diet to make sure you meet your daily protein needs? There are animal-based protein sources and there are plant-based protein sources! The only difference is that animal proteins are considered “complete” proteins because they contain all of the essential amino acids that we talked about earlier. Plant proteins are “incomplete” proteins because they are missing one or two of the essential amino acids needed to make a complete protein chain. But this doesn’t make them less efficient! As long as you are eating a variety of plant proteins throughout the day, your body will have the amino acids it needs to create complete proteins. See the list below for foods that can help you meet your daily protein needs.

Animal-based Protein Sources:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Fish

Plant-based Protein Sources:

  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
  • Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat)
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds (hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed)

Being aware of your protein needs is important, but it’s key to keep in mind that as long as you are eating a variety of foods and maintaining a balanced diet, your nutrient needs should be met. If you are otherwise concerned that you are not meeting your nutrition needs, contact Sara Rima, RD!

Interested in Nutrition Coaching?


Chocolate Zucchini Bread

I spend 50% of my time working at a local children’s hospital as an oncology dietitian. I meet A LOT of picky eaters during my work day. I find myself giving the same rehearsed education to many parents over and over again but occasionally there is a kiddo that we have tried EVERYTHING. The parents have done everything “right” but the child still will not touch a green veggie.

Are you struggling with getting your kiddo to eat fruits and veggies? Even more, are YOU struggling to get yourself to eat fruits and veggies? Hiding fruits and veggies into desserts that your children, or you, already love may be the answer. This chocolate zucchini bread not only has zucchini but the base of the bread is banana!

This may be the answer to your prayers! 😉

Peach Salsa

There’s nothing like a fresh peach in the summertime. I grew up in the Central Valley of California and let me tell you…they do peach season right! Our extremely hot summers produce the best fruit in the world!

This salsa is inspired by the moment you get out of the pool on a hot day and a hunger and pure joy come over you! If you know, you know.

Make a batch of this fresh salsa, go for a dip in the pool, and enjoy that sweet and spicy flavors of my favorite California fruit salsa.

Kale Caesar Salad

There’s a local cafe that serves one of the most incredible salads I have ever had! After trying it I knew I needed to make a copy cat version at home. Although it will never match the savory flavors of this cafe’s salad, I knew others would love the flavor combination.

The kale caesar salad includes sautéed cauliflower, parmesan cheese, kale, croutons and chicken. The cauliflower and kale are truly what brings this classic up a notch! Kale isn’t a fan favorite but if you tend to it correctly it can be a great addition to meals.

Before adding Kale to your salads add a small amount of lemon or lime juice. With you hands break down and massage the kale. The acid from the lemon/lime juice and the mechanical movement of your hands will break down the outer membrane of the kale that gives it that bitter flavor.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Is there anything better than a warm bowl of chicken tortilla soup on a rainy day? I have to admit, my California hometown doesn’t get very many of those rainy days. But when it does, this soup is on the stove!

This simple recipe was actually the first meal I learned to make. As an 11-year-old girl, I became obsessed with Rachel Ray. I mean what 11-year-old girl didn’t dream of having her own cooking show? I remember coming across this Food Network magazine in the grocery store check-out line. I convinced my mom to get it, specifically for the chicken tortilla soup recipe. With mom’s approval, we grabbed the magazine, got out of line, and looked for the ingredients we would need to make this recipe for dinner. That one recipe triggered my love for food and likely played a role in me becoming a registered dietitian. This recipe may not look exactly like the magazine recipe I made that day, but it has been a staple in my life, in more ways than one.

I have to admit, I don’t follow recipes anymore. After learning from a handful of recipes, I quickly figured out how to make my own recipes on the fly. This recipe will always have a special place in my heart and I hope you LOVE it!

Also Rachel, may I call you Rachel? If you’re reading this, thank you for being an inspiration. This one’s for you!

Citrus Slaw Tacos

There’s just something about citrus slaw that adds a bright, fresh, and delicious taste to any taco. There’s a local Mexican restaurant in my home town that serves up the BEST citrus slaw shrimp tacos. This recipe is inspired by this local staple and my favorite go-to on a hot summer day!

Have you ever heard of “mise en place?” This is a fancy french word for “setting up.” This phrase was used constantly during my cooking classes in college. This fresh recipe is made best with mise en place which means having everything chopped and prepped before combining all the ingredients.

Pair the citrus slaw with your favorite taco meat. I recommend adding to steak, fish, or shrimp tacos.

Weight DOES NOT Determine Value


This wasn’t a scheduled blog post on my calendar. In fact it was just the text on an inspirational infographic that I was going to post. As I began writing out the caption I realized that I’m advertising as a “weight loss expert.” See, I have debated whether I should call myself a “weight loss expert” or not. This label says that weight loss is my desired outcome for my clients. I think this tagline actually has the potential to make people think that “Weight DOES determine value.” I wanted to make it very clear to my clients and followers why I decided to carry this label if I truly believe that weight is NOT a determinant of value. So if I don’t believe that weight is a marker of worth why did I become a “weight loss expert?”

When you are a virtual nutrition coach, it’s essential that your Instagram is attracting your “ideal client.” The first thing a new client or follower will see is my tagline or bio. I have a second of their attention span to spark their interest. No, weight loss is not my desired outcome FOR my ideal client but weight loss is the desired outcome OF my ideal client. I want to work with women who are seeking weight loss because I want to be the voice of encouragement and truth that is telling them how worthy and valuable they are while they work to achieve their goal. I want to be able to offer them support and resources that stop the negative cycle of self-loathing and instead kickstart the cycle of sustainable healthy habits. My heart for my clients is that they would live a life of freedom; freedom from guilt, shame and distorted body image.

Weight loss will be an outcome of my nutrition plans and coaching packages because of the nature of my services. But just because weight loss is a product doesn’t mean it’s the purpose. True empowerment doesn’t come from changing something you dislike about yourself. Empowerment comes from appreciating and loving the body that God gave you and having the strength and the discipline to give it what it needs. Culture will define beauty and health as perfection. Social media posts, magazine covers, and television may not explicitly tell you that beauty = perfection but the content that they feed you portrays an unrealistic expectation. Don’t even get my started on the message behind fad diets!

My intention for my coaching packages and nutrition plans are to first help you understand that you are valuable right now before the successes and failures. In fact, your value will be EXACTLY the same after those successes and failures. How do I do this? I take the power away from the culture of perfection and I put it back into my client’s hands. Step one, of my 5-step plan, begins with YOU defining what health is. I provide you with a handful of questions that help you to determine your own definition of health. This definition then becomes the standard. We then assess and evaluate your current and future health on this standard that you have defined. Empowered women don’t allow themselves to be compared to a standard created by someone else. Empowered women set the standard.

The second step of my nutrition plan includes assessing both the strengths and weaknesses of your current health and/or lifestyle. Step three you will set goals that will help to redirect your habits to help you meet the new expectations that you have set. This change doesn’t come overnight. In fact, I ask that only one to three goals be set at a time. The beauty is in the process and the change is in the everyday. Step four of the coaching packing is planning. I provide resources and tools to help you make a plan that leads to success. During this stage we create realistic plans that fit into your everyday life. Step five is the Evaluation step. We use this same definition that you created at the beginning of the 5-step plan to evaluate your progress. This step is crucial because we begin to uncover any unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves and expose lies or and negative self-talk that you experienced throughout the weeks of the program.

The second step of my nutrition plan includes assessing both the strengths and weaknesses of your current health and/or lifestyle. Step three you will set goals that will help to redirect your habits to help you meet the new expectations that you have set. This change doesn’t come overnight. In fact, I ask that only one to three goals be set at a time. The beauty is in the process and the change is in the everyday. Step four of the coaching packing is planning. I provide resources and tools to help you make a plan that leads to success. During this stage we create realistic plans that fit into your everyday life. Step five is the Evaluation step. We use this same definition that you created at the beginning of the 5-step plan to evaluate your progress. This step is crucial because we begin to uncover any unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves and expose lies or and negative self-talk that you experienced throughout the weeks of the program.

Labeling myself as a weight loss expert is a very tricky move on my part. My goal is to help you achieve your own goals, even if weight loss is one of them. But my purpose is to teach you to value yourself for who you are no matter the number of the scale….by the way we won’t be weighing ourselves during the program, sorry. Be sure to click “contact” above if you have questions about the program and packages. And remember, “Your weight DOES NOT determine your value.”

Interested in Nutrition Coaching?

Let’s Talk about Carbs

Carbs vs weight loss…the classic debate. I continually find myself advocating for people to keep carbohydrates in their diet. The rapid weight loss that people experience with eliminating carb-rich foods often prevents them from believing the experts. So if people are seeing results with cutting out carbs, why do I encourage carbohydrate intake? (1) Eliminating whole food groups feeds into diet culture and (2) carbohydrates are essential to a healthy lifestyle.

When we feed into a culture that encourages cutting out whole food groups then we continue this cycle of unsuccessful dieting. When people create a lifestyle of “yo-yo dieting” or weight cycling they are reducing the efficiency of their metabolism and making it harder on their body to maintain a healthy weight. When you become a cyclic dieter you are actually doing your metabolism more harm than good. When your weight fluctuates drastically eventually your body’s metabolism stops allowing you to lose weight at a desired pace.

I don’t center my client’s success around weight loss but I also know that many people associated “health” with weight. Diet culture promotes the false-assumption that if someone is thin then they are “healthy.” Which is why so many buy into the carb-free trend. In the following paragraphs I hope to demonstrate not only why carbohydrates are essential to your diet but why this assumption is dangerous and inaccurate.

There is a variety of science-based evidence that demonstrates the vital role of carbohydrates in the diet. Carbohydrates are essential to energy production, they provide insoluble and soluble fiber, and can aid in weight loss and weight maintenance. Due to the lack of accurate information in our society I meet one too many people that are willing to put their health at risk to lose a few pounds.

Let me break down a few of the functions that I listed above. Our brain runs on glucose, which if you recall my last post, is the energy source that our cells need. Have you ever been so hungry that you aren’t able to think straight?? That’s because your brain didn’t have enough carbohydrates to allow your cells to complete metabolism. Metabolism is the system that our cells uses to create energy for our body to function. Glucose is the star of this show which means our body doesn’t do what it needs to do if we don’t have carbohydrates.

The fiber that carbohydrates provides goes beyond our gut health. We often know fiber as the source of a healthy bowel but what you might not know is that fiber is essential to reducing cholesterol in the blood. Fiber does this incredible thing…it grabs the cholesterol in our gut and allows our body to excrete it rather than absorb it into our blood. Do you know where fiber comes from?? CARBOHYDRATES. So to all my high-cholesterol friends trying to lower your cholesterol with the keto diet. That might not be the best idea.

Now I’m not ignorant to the fact that our society functions on energy dense foods with minimal nutrient content (i.e. “junk food.”) I am also not unaware that many of these foods fall into the carbohydrate category. Although I am not an advocate for eliminating carbs from the diet, I am a proponent of including nutrient-dense carbohydrates into your diet. When deciding on what type of carbohydrates to include in your diet choose minimally processed items. Fruits and vegetables are a great example of an unprocessed or minimally processed carbohydrates. These should be the foundation of our diets. They provide vitamins and minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Whether they are raw, cooked, canned, frozen, or juiced they should be the bulk of what we are eating.

Another type of carbohydrate that is minimally processed are whole grains like brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread, quinoa, barley, oats, etc. The last type of carb in this family are your processed grains and flours. These should be consumed in moderation. They include sweet treats such as cake, cookies, and brownies. As well as processed white bread and white rice.

I encourage you to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate with whole grains and include the processed carbohydrates in moderation. If you only take away one statement from this article let it be this; All types of carbs can be part of a healthy diet and all food is good food.

Interested in Nutrition Coaching?

Carbs, Good or Bad?

Carbs have been portrayed as the enemy to weight loss in recent years. Many think that their presence in a diet will wreak havoc on their weight goals. I have great news for my bread loving people! Carbs are friends and food!  I invite you to take a moment to allow me to educate you on what carbohydrates are, what foods fall into this category, and how they can actually be part of a healthy balanced diet. Remember nutrition is a science, so get ready for a small science lesson! As we talk about the different types of carbohydrates remember that the main function of any sugar/carb is to provide the body with energy. I will use the words, sugar and carb interchangeably because sugar is a type of carbohydrate and both provide energy for your body’s cells. You will also see that I use the word Glucose which is the type of sugar in our blood and is the main source of energy for our brain. 

To begin, let’s define carbohydrates.  A carbohydrate is a group of foods that are made up of different types of sugars; such as glucose, fructose, galactose, and more. There are different types of carbohydrates that perform different functions. When we think of carbohydrates we often think of bread, rice, cake, cookies, and potatoes. But what if I told you the carbohydrate category actually holds fruits, vegetables, sugary treats, and grains? This often comes as a surprise to many of my clients. Fruits and vegetables have carbohydrates just like grains and sugary treats do. Before you start throwing out ALL fruits and vegetables from your diet let’s talk about the difference between these types of carbohydrates and how they affect the body. The two most common types are Simple Sugars and Complex Carbs.

Simple Sugars provide quick energy for the body. Don’t let the name “Simple Sugars” send you into a frenzy. The title does not take away the value and nutrient content of these foods. Simple Sugars are made up of monosaccharides and disaccharides, which is just a fancy way of saying that your food has one type of sugar or two types of sugar.  Foods that might fall into this category are fruits, vegetables, white rice, and foods with processed white flour such as cake and cookies. It’s important to note that just because fruits and vegetables are in the same category as historically “unhealthy foods” does not mean that they themselves are unhealthy. It simply means that healthy or not, foods with these types of sugar will be processed very quickly. If a food is processed quickly then the body can use that sugar for energy much quicker. Simple Sugars are essential to exercises that require a quick release of energy, such as sprinting. 

Complex Carbohydrates are polysaccharides which are made up of a lot of different types of sugar. They differ from Simple Sugars because they take longer to break down and digest because they have more to breakdown. For example, the primary sugar in fruit is fructose which means the body only has to breakdown fructose. This causes energy to be released quicker to the body. A Complex Carbohydrate like brown rice is made of three different types of sugar (glucose, maltotriose, and maltose) which means it will take longer for the body to breakdown this complex food. This type of food will provide slow energy release. Complex Carbs are great for long distance or endurance exercises that require long lasting energy.

Though the body processes these carbohydrates at a different speed, it does not affect weight in the way we often assume. When it comes to weight loss the biggest impactor is actually calories, not carbs. Calories are the energy that is provided through food. Our body uses energy for a variety of different reasons. We need energy for our heart to beat, lungs to breathe, and cells to perform. If you’re exercising, taking a test, or just walking to your car, your body will require energy. Calories provide this energy through protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  Weight loss is simply an energy deficit. When we eat, our body processes our food and creates the energy that we need.  When we don’t use up the energy that we consume by walking to the car, exercising, or performing basic functions then it is stored on our body as fat to prepare ourselves for times of energy deficit. Now the best way to lose weight isn’t to cut specific food groups out, it’s to limit our calorie intake. 

Vegetables contain the same type of carbohydrates that a piece of cake does. This may come as a surprise since we have demonized sweet treats as a society. The difference between the cake and that vegetable, when it comes to weight management, is not their carbohydrate content but their calorie content. It’s simple, vegetables are only made up of vegetable. Nothing has been added to it. Where a cake is the product of many ingredients that are providing calories; such as the eggs, oil, flour, and sugar. Now if we were to take sugar from the cake and the same amount of sugar from our vegetable they would actually equal the same amount of calories. Because sugar is sugar to the body. The reason that you see drastic weight loss in diets like paleo and keto, isn’t because of the types of foods that they are cutting out, it’s because they are simply lowering their calories by eliminating these foods.

It’s important to understand that carbs are not the enemy of weight loss, and neither are calories. All food can be part of a healthy balanced diet that allows you to lose or maintain weight. When it comes to nutrition the best rule of thumb is moderation. When we learn to incorporate all types of food into our diets in a healthy and balanced way, then we create a sustainable lifestyle.

 Cutting out certain macronutrients can actually be more harmful than helpful. There is a variety of science-based evidence that demonstrates the vital role of carbohydrates in the diet. Carbohydrates are essential to energy production, provide insoluble and soluble fiber, and can aid in weight loss and weight maintenance.

Interested in Nutrition Coaching?