(Step By Step)
Nutritionist Mia Rigden Reveals Her #1 Health Tip
It’s a game changer.
Sometimes it’s the smallest changes that can make a big impact. This rings especially true when it comes to one’s health. In TZR’s series Step-By-Step, tastemakers speak to the minor moves that can lead to mighty changes.
Keto. Paleo. Plant-based. Whole 30. There are so many diets out there that promise full-body and mind transformation, but often at the cost of a total lifestyle overhaul. But, if you ask nutritionist and chef Mia Rigden, the most “transformative” changes don’t often require such significant shifts. In fact, her latest cookbook, Foodwise: A Fresh Approach to Nutrition with 100 Delicious Recipes, tackles this exact idea. The whole food-focused guide offers easy and tasty recipes that help readers reset their minds and bodies and establish healthier eating habits through a 21-day elimination program that’s more flexible and nourishing than it is restrictive.
Seriously, recipes like Coconut Curry and Lime Soup, Sesame Broccoli Poppers (a fan favorite), and Za’atar Crusted Chicken Cutlets with Arugula will transform how you feel about clean eating — and that is Rigden’s exact goal. “In my practice, I have two rules that I never waiver on,” she says to TZR. “You have to like the food and it has to be easy. Because results and health come from consistency, not perfection. And that's the problem with a lot of diets is that they're cumbersome and they're not really that satisfying. And so then you stop and then you don't get the results that you're looking for.”
The three-week program also serves as a meditative practice of sorts in that it aims to help readers tune into their bodies and reflect on how they feel throughout the day. “I think that that gives people enough time to get a little bit of a win where they say, ‘OK, this is how good I can feel,’” Rigden explains. “‘Wow, I'm sleeping better. Wow, my stress levels have reduced. I'm craving less sugar. I'm feeling less anxious. I feel more comfortable in my clothes. I have more sustained energy throughout the day. I'm noticing that my skin feels more vibrant. I notice that I have more patience with my children and more energy to spend time with them in the evenings.’ These little things that I think can really improve your quality of life.”
Speaking of little things, Rigden says one of the biggest changes she’s made to her nutrition habits — that she also stresses in Foodwise — involved one simple but often overlooked thing: protein. In fact, the author says most people do not eat enough protein, which studies have found can help lower blood glucose and improves overall glucose control.
“I have found that, with most of the clients who come to me, that's one of the first things we start working on, balancing their blood sugar levels and making sure that they're getting enough protein in all of their meals,” she says. “And I find it makes an immediate difference within a day.” Yep, you heard that right. The results are almost instant with this one little adjustment. But how much protein should you be eating daily, you ask? Well, that depends. “Generally, I would say [to consume] at least one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight,” recommends Rigden. “I like to divide that between three meals and a snack. So if someone weighs 150 pounds, that's 68 grams of protein. So I would [suggest you have] at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a snack with 10 grams of protein.”
Often called the building blocks of the body, protein can do everything from improve muscle strength to boost your immune system. But Rigden says its biggest magic trick lies in the aforementioned blood sugar balancing act, something she’s experienced first-hand. “I think [one thing I like to prioritize is] energy,” explains Rigden. “I work a lot. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old. He's in school all day and when he gets home from school, I don't want to be dog-tired. I want to play with him. I want to engage with him. I want to have patience.”
In incorporating this simple rule to her daily diet, Rigden says she and her husband have noticed a huge difference in their energy levels. “We eat pretty healthy at home, but we were remarking about how much more energy we had in the evenings and how we were having these much fuller evenings with our son and how satisfying that was,” she says.
In keeping her blood sugar levels more balanced throughout the day, the nutritionist says improved quality of sleep has also been a welcome benefit. “Your cortisol levels operate off of a circadian rhythm, just like your sleep and everything, your hormones are operating off of these rhythms,” she explains. “And anytime your blood sugar spikes, your cortisol spikes. So especially in the evenings, if you're eating too close to bedtime, I find an earlier dinner is really wonderful if you can make that work for you. But less cortisol spikes throughout the day is going to help you manage your overall stress levels, which is going to help with your sleep.”
It comes as no surprise that sleep and energy conservation are a top priority for Rigden at the moment. The chef is preparing for her next big project — the birth of her second child, a girl, coming this fall. And even in the midst of change, and the onslaught of well-intentioned advice and opinions, Rigden says she’s continuing to follow her intuition as she tees up for baby number two, staying true to her regularly scheduled diet and exercise routines.
“I see it with so many women that there are saying like, ‘Oh, you're eating for two,’ or ‘Eat pizza and ice cream,’ which I will have all of those things,” she says. “But you also want to continue eating the foods that make you feel good because, A, you're nourishing another human. And, B, it's a lot on your body. So if you're already feeling a little tired, not a hundred percent like yourself, and your body's changing, and then you're not eating foods that are supportive of everybody, then you're just going to feel worse.”
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