Last month we talked about "Laying the foundation;" meaning finding your desired calorie range customized to you personally. This month, I want to help you make the best use of those calories to help you look and feel your best. SO, I will share my top 5 tips for choosing the right foods for your body! Not all calories are created equal. For example choosing a 100 calorie "snack pack" of cracker vs. choosing half of an apple and 7 walnuts makes a huge difference in the way that they affect your appetite, your energy level, and your long-term health. Take a look at this list to help YOU identify the fuel you need for your amazing body!

1. Taste the RAINBOW!
Roughly half of each meal should contain fruits and vegetables. It’s simple; they are low in calories, high in fiber, and filling. A wide variety of frozen or fresh produce will provide nutrients and minerals that help stave off disease, and keep your bones, muscles, metabolism, heart, and lungs in tip-top condition. Choose from the following:

• The dark green veggie family (ex. spinach and kale) are iron rich and will help to maintain the health of red blood cells, which deliver oxygen-rich blood to the body. BOOM! It will help you feel great at work, and help you CRUSH your workouts.
• Foods rich in vitamin C, like oranges and strawberries, help the body absorb the iron. Red tomatoes and peppers also have vitamin C, lycopene, lutein, potassium, beta-carotene, and vitamin B6. WOOO!
• Potassium rich foods like Blueberries, blackberries, bananas, beets, and eggplant helps the muscles contract properly.
• Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables like butternut squash, pineapple, yellow peppers, mangos, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and apricots are rich in beta-carotene, lutein, potassium, manganese, copper, folate, and vitamins C, A, and B6.

2. Labels---Shmabels.
Now, I say this, but I still want you to read labels. Let me explain; most of the time, products that sound healthy are actually junk foods in disguise. Examples may be:

• Reduced-Fat and Fat-Free (usually has added sugar for flavor. In most cases, buy the full-fat version and use less of it.)
• All-Natural (Accodring to theUSDA, a product can be called "all natural" if the food is minimally processed, and has no artificial colors or ingredients. However, they can be high in fat and sodium.)
• Light (doesn’t always mean lower calorie.)
• Whole Grain (see explanation below.)

I want to dive deeper into the word "whole grain" because this seems to be confusing for a lot of my clients. Whole grain chips, whole grain crackers, and whole grain breads are filling the shelves at the grocery store with promises of health benefits, however, it is quite the contrary.

Starchy and sugary foods (low quality whole grains) cause our blood sugar to spike, which in turn triggers a surge of insulin. Surging insulin plummets our blood sugar resulting in increasing hunger and sugar cravings. This blood sugar roller coaster in ends up making our cells store fat. The more insulin that surges from our pancreas, the more belly fat we store. Yikes, right?

Does this mean you have to nix bread, chips, crackers, cereals, etc. from your life for good? NO. It just means you should consider choosing high quality whole grains like quinoa, and consider limiting your whole grain processed foods daily. Work toward getting most of your nutrition from other whole foods like the ones listed above.

3. Become friends with fiber.
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and high quality whole grains (quinoa & bulgar.) Aim for roughly 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Water-soluble fiber, found mostly in fruits, vegetables, and beans, helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Insoluble fiber is found mostly in whole grains. It will help to keep the colon clean, which can also help prevent cancer and digestive disorders. Spread your fiber intake out throughout your meals, aiming for 5-7 grams per meal.

Have a workout planned? Save high fiber meals and snacks for after the workout to avoid a stomach mishap. Also, remember to drink lots of water daily to help the fiber move through your system properly. Drinking adequate water will help you avoid potential issues with gas, bloating, and constipation (this can occur when you become more intentional about your consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.)

4. The fear of fat is so 1990s.
Over the last 20 years, there has been a landslide of low-fat and fat-free products hitting the market. According to the most current research, we now know that unsaturated fats like the ones you can get from olive oil, avocados, canola oil, nuts, seeds, and almonds will actually help boost your heart health.

They will also leave you feeling satiated longer and can lower your risk of injuries like stress fractures. BONUS-right?

Steer clear of saturated fat and trans fat because they can raise your "bad" cholesterol levels and decrease your "good" cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can raise your risk for heart disease. Yes, fat can be very beneficial for your health, but you still need to enjoy fats in moderation because they are high calorically.

5. Sugar- Sugar.
The World Health Organization recommends keeping sugar intake to no more than 10% of daily calories. For many, that should be around 50 grams of sugar per day. If you are working to shed pounds, you should shoot for much lower.

That handful of Hot Tamales seems harmless enough, right? (a big vice at the Carrigan house!) A serving has 140 calories and 0 grams of fat. That’s not too bad-right? Unfortunately the 25 grams of sugar per serving is where the negative side effects come in. Let me explain; shortly after you indulge, plan for a sugar high and a nasty sugar crash that will send you on a rollercoaster ride with energy spikes and pitfalls. Then, it will set the stage for more cravings. Habitually indulging in sugary cravings can lead to weight gain and health problems like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Look for products with the fewest grams of sugar, and aim for less than 2.5 grams of sugar per 100 calories.

Your best source of sugar is fresh fruit, which provides vitamins and minerals, along with fiber. If you MUST indulge in candy, enjoy it right after a tough workout. In the 20 to 30 minutes immediately following a workout, your body is especially efficient at metabolizing sugar. Again, remember; not all calories are created equal. Choose wisely, and enjoy sugar in moderation.

TIP: Unsure if your food choices contain sugar? Here are some common code words to look for on your food labels:
• Corn syrup
• Corn sugar
• High fructose corn syrup
• Maltodextrin
• Sucrose
• Dextrose
• Honey
• Molasses
• Turbinado sugar
• Brown sugar

OK, now you have a set of tools to CRUSH it in the kitchen. If you are looking for simple ways to move the needle on your health and fitness goals, connect with me on Facebook. I’d love to help you look and feel your BEST! Next month: fitness+nutrition=success!

Nickie Carrigan is a fitness business owner in the Twin Cities. As a passionate fitness professional, she strives to help others across the country build and/or maintain active and healthy lifestyles. To contact Nickie visit