Well I don’t know about you, but the holiday season seems to have arrived at warp speed again this year. It doesn’t help that retail and grocery stores had the winter decorations up on Halloween day. Some also say that having a late Thanksgiving has an affect, since December will arrive just a few days from now!
While the holiday season is a time to enjoy gatherings of family, friends, food, and beverage, you certainly don’t want to neglect your health at this festive time of year. If you are following the DASH Diet, working on weight loss, have diabetes or other health issues that are strongly tied to dietary management, you can stick with it over the next month, and arrive healthy in January.
The reality is – there are lots of high calorie foods around at work and at home during the month of December – so starting a routine of simple and light meals now helps. Eating light during the week in preparation for special weekend gatherings can keep calories under control and help with weight control, even if you splurge a bit on the weekend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind, starting today:
- Breakfast. Start every day off with a healthy, high fiber breakfast. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with a few options during the work week. Consider a hearty 1-cup serving of cooked oatmeal with low fat milk; an English Muffin with one egg; 8 ounces of plain yogurt topped with 1/4 cup nutty granola and sliced bananas. Or try a high protein smoothie using peanut butter powder and bananas.
- Lunchtime. A salad or half-sanwich with vegetable soup; a half sandwich with an apple and handful of nuts; a large green salad topped with low fat cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, and chopped veggies; a bowl of bean chili
- Dinner. Cook at home more during the week to save calories. Focus your meals on protein and vegetables and skip the starches (starches are fine, but occasionally skipping the rice, potato or pasta dish and adding more low calorie vegetables is a good low-cal plan to balance our special occasions).
- Skip Snacks. There are benefits to healthy snacking, but for many middle-aged folks, and women, the calories in snacks aren’t usually necessary unless you are in a situation where you have to skip a meal, or are highly active. Skip snacking during the week to allow for the extras you may choose at a holiday party.
- Get some fresh air daily! This is good for the mind and body. Even a short walk can be enough to keep your metabolism stoked.
You can do it. Focus on a few simple goals (smaller, lighter meals, with limited snacking) and you can balance out your intake, and enjoy every holiday party and day of the season!
There’s been a lot of controversy over the year about sugar and soda. The recent election showed that the citizens of Berkley California supported a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The plan is to tax soda, and use that revenue to create or support health education to prevent or treat obesity. Health professionals are divided on this issue – some supporting the idea of taxing a sugary drink thinking it will curb intake and/or generate revenue for obesity treatment, but other health professionals are skeptical about whether this money will be set aside or not, and whether or not it will be properly utilized (that is, used to provide the delivery of individualized treatment by qualified nutrition professionals).
There certainly isn’t a lack of resources for exercise and healthy diet. It’s often the delivery of these services that is lacking – either it’s not covered by your insurance plan, or you aren’t willing or able to pay for it as an out of pocket expense. But the programs are there.
How Evil is Soda?
When people see me eating a piece of candy, or perhaps having a beer, they may chuckle and joke with me – since I’m a dietitian, they may feel I shouldn’t be consuming anything less nutritious than kale. But underneath my dietitian super suit, I am human. And I enjoy food and beverage. I like having a glass of wine or two with some good cheese and sliced apples. I have a sweet tooth and occasionally enjoy a rich dessert. I also treat myself to fried food on occasion (fried calamari and French Fries top the list).
So when it comes to soda – the same holds true. I personally don’t drink soda too often, and if I do, I choose a diet cola or ginger ale. Obviously soda (regular or diet) is void of nutrients and one could say “It’s not good for you”, but this doesn’t mean one sip will kill you, nor will drinking it in moderation, if you enjoy it. It’s about balancing the added calories that caloric beverages provide.
Research about Kids and Soda
A recent study showed that moderate amounts of fructose or glucose-sweetened beverages don’t alter metabolic health in adolescents. The question that begs for an answer: What is “moderation?” This study checked out 40 male and female adolescents whom took part in two 15-day trials. The groups consumed either a high-fructose beverage or a high-glucose beverage. During each trial, they consumed 710 milliliters (about 24 ounces, or 2 cans of soda) of the assigned beverage daily, on days 1-14, in addition to their typical diet. The high-fructose (HF) beverage provided 50 grams of fructose and 15 grams of glucose daily from the beverages, while the high-glucose (HG) trial was the opposite (50 grams glucose, 15 grams fructose). On day 15, the HF group consumed three liquid meals consisting of 50 grams of fructose, and the HG group consumed three liquid meals opposed of 20 grams of glucose, and 15 grams of fructose. Metabolic effects were measured for insulin sensitivity and cholesterol concentrations. Neither group showed any significant differences in these markers for metabolic health.
This study concludes that “moderate consumption” of any sugary beverage would be 50 grams per day. That is, this amount and frequency (about a 12 ounce can) was not shown to produce any deleterious metabolic effects.
Frequency and Portion
So rather than tax it or ban it, how about working toward educating families about exactly what “moderation” means. People are much more accepting of the advice “Have no more than 5 cans of soda a week” as opposed to “Absolutely no sugar, or soda, ever”. Of course if a person needs to lose weight, then even less soda, or water or a diet beverage, is a better choice. This needs to be individualized and the entire quality of the diet should also be considered.
No matter what ingredient you would like to blame for poor health, the most important thing to consider is frequency and portion. How much, and how often is what matters most. Not the single ingredient.
You are going to eat or drink something that isn’t the most nutritious item, or isn’t even “needed” at all, but stay focused on including the good foods too, and getting regular exercise, and you will be able to maintain a healthy weight, and enjoy eating all at once.
As a nutrition communication consultant I occasionally write about topics related to the food industry clients I may serve, but my thoughts and opinions are my own.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential. Omega-3s help control blood clotting and build cell membranes in the brain. Since our bodies don’t produce them, we need to get them from food. They’re found in fatty fish such as salmon, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna. They are also found in canola oil, flaxseed and walnuts. (This is just another good reason to include both nuts and fish as part of a heart-healthy DASH diet.)
Omega-3 fatty acids also have been shown to decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and may decrease triglyceride levels (a fat in the bloodstream).
- Eat fish each week. Your goal is to include at least two servings (3-5 ounces = one serving) of fish per week. Choose baked or grilled fish for the most part.
- Mercury. Mercury can be a concern for children or pregnant women. Fish such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel have the highest levels of mercury. Consuming canned tuna, salmon, shrimp, catfish and lake fish two to three times a week is not a concern. The benefits of eating fish outweigh any risk at older ages (middle aged or older men, and post-menopausal women).
- Variety. Include a variety of fish in your diet. In general, variety is a key goal with all food groups. While research may often “suggest” that a component of a particular food is beneficial or important to health, we often do not know exactly which component is responsible for the benefit. By providing yourself a variety of vegetables, oils, fish, nuts, etc, you are assuring yourself key nutrients and components for good health.
The great thing about fish is that it is so easy and quick to prepare. You can have dinner on the table in thirty minutes. Any fish can simply be popped into a baking dish coated with vegetable spray or a bit of olive oil and baked for 15-30 minutes, depending on the thickness (thicker “steak” cuts of fish take longer than thin fillets). Drizzle olive oil and some salt-free herbs or breadcrumbs on top and then bake or grill. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto it when serving. You can also place fish into a baking dish, add about 4 ounces of orange juice, top with a fruit salsa or minced red onions, and bake. Check out the easy recipes in our books and add some omega-3 fatty acids to your weekly diet!
Get a head start on the holiday season by arming yourself with a good kitchen basics book. Some believe that the general lack of culinary skills, particularly in those aged 18-38, may have a negative impact on health. Others argue that you don’t have to cook to eat healthfully. I think there’s a middle ground, but in general feel cooking is an important life skill, and can have a positive impact on your health, and that of your family’s.
I had the chance to review Holly Clegg’s cookbook Kitchen 101: Secrets to Cooking Confidence. Holly’s motto is “real food, real easy, for real people” and there’s no question that her books reflect this. The food is delicious, and the recipes are easy to put together. Most moms I know don’t have a lot of time during the week to put a meal together, and may not have a desire to do batch cooking on Sundays (ah….me). Holly’s recipes generally only require simple ingredients from your pantry, and she utilizes some convenience items such as baking mixes and canned or frozen vegetables.
As you tab through Kitchen 101, the photographs alone with encourage you to get cooking. This book is perfect for the upcoming holiday season when you may have overnight guests or unexpected company. You’ll find several easy go-to dinners and lots of decadent, yet simple, desserts to put together to impress the crowd, or to bring along to family gatherings.
I love that the book includes entertaining ideas such as “sports spread”, “southwestern soiree”, and “fancy foods”. She also includes fun everyday meal planning sections such as “comfort food”, “meatless Monday”, “Mediterranean menu” and “Chinese takeout”.
Finally, the first thing that struck me when I opened this book – the “how to set the table” pictorial on page 6. I love this! Setting a proper table is important and it’s likely that many children (and adults) don’t know how to do it. Learn how to set the table properly this holiday season, and you’ll never be in that awkward “which fork do I use?” situation again, and neither will your children.
Teaser: You’ll find a healthier homemade green bean casserole, homemade slice and bake chocolate chip cookies, chopped Greek salad, crabmeat brie dip, chicken marsala, and oven baked risotto, and much more. Grab a copy for the holidays, or buy one for a friend. Enjoy!
You may often hear the advice “cut back on processed food” in the media. While this can be good advice, the definition of “processed” is vague, and many healthy foods that you may include in your diet have gone through some processing.
Unless you are picking the apple or bean straight from the tree or vine, it’s likely there is some processing involved. Most busy families can benefit from the convenience that processed foods offer. At my recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo I had the opportunity to sample and learn about some new products. I’m sharing some of those with you here, and you can check them out at your local markets and give them a try. But, as with any snack food, portion and frequency apple.
I also tried a calcium supplement in a chew form. If you like the taste of “cake batter” you’ll love the lemon-flavored chew. These were a bit too sweet for me, but they were smooth and not chalky.
Not only does the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, organized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offer educational sessions (on topics relating to food and nutrition science, business, entrepreneur, clinical nutrition, and food service) and a huge food product and service Expo, but it offers the opportunity to see a lot of people. As a member of the Academy, I am offered the incredible opportunity to meet and network with the largest group of nutrition professionals in the world.
I met a dietitian from Malaysia, who is the Country Representative for the American Overseas Dietetic Association. I met dietitians who work in television and have authored books. I met culinary dietitians who are chefs and provide innovative recipes to keep people healthy and satisfied with their diets. I met dietitians who make me laugh. I met “guy-a-titians” who represent <5% of our profession but are forging new territories (such as “how can I find a restroom around here?” – the men’s rooms in the convention hall are often taken over with a “women” sign). All of this diversity allows me access to more resources so that I can share more nutrition science with consumers.
It is so beneficial to belong to a professional association that connects you with thousands of colleagues across the nation. We have the opportunity to network with like minded professionals who are working in our niche by joining any one of over 25 Dietetic Practice Groups (DPG) that are offered. In addition, the Academy provides science-based position papers that support our practice by providing a summary of the available science on the topic.
In a world full of nutrition misinformation, it’s important to base our advice on science, not feelings or emotions. This is what separates us from the pseudo-professionals. So if you’re searching for sound diet, food, and nutrition advice, bookmark the Academy’s website and have access to the world’s largest group of nutrition professionals.
I just returned from the annual conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It was held in Atlanta this year, and I had a great time meeting up with colleagues and soaking in some of the latest food and nutrition facts. I’m planning on posting a few summaries over the next few weeks.
One of the popular sessions covered plant protein. While there have been some clinical trials that have shown a high protein diet can promote weight loss in the short term, it’s important to consider your protein source and other risk factors.
Some epidemiological studies have linked a high protein intake to lower risk of high blood pressure, but the type of protein is important. Studies have also linked high intakes of animal protein with increased diabetes risk.
The DASH Diet is a plant-protein based diet. DASH recommends only 5-6 ounces or less of animal protein daily (plus 2-3 servings of low fat dairy), but encourage larger portions of plant proteins (vegetables and whole grains). Research supports the role of plant-based proteins as a partial replacement for animal protein to prevent disease. The DASH diet research did show that including low fat dairy daily lowered blood pressure more than just increasing vegetables and fruits alone. For more blood-pressure-lowering power, include some low fat dairy as your total daily protein.
So if you have a some friends who are “Paleo-obessed”, or are consuming large amounts of meat, you may consider sharing some other research news with them about the benefits of plant proteins. There is a vast amount of research about plant-based diets and heart health, so there’s no question that these principles are wise to follow:
- Add more plant protein to your diet: snack on small amounts of nuts, add nuts or seeds to green salads, include some whole grains in your diet, try some tofu or soy foods.
- Eat more vegetables. Veggies contribute protein, and also loads of important vitamins.
- Replace some of the red meat you eat with plant protein. Try a meatless meal once or twice a week. If you enjoy a steak (as I do occasionally), just eat a smaller portion, and eat it less frequently. It doesn’t have to be all or none, just less.
- If you don’t want to include dairy, you can still follow the DASH Diet without it. Just include all of the other important food groups, healthy fats, and limit sodium, sweets, saturated fat (keep portions of meats small).
- Rather than load up on protein at one meal, spread your protein throughout the day. Smaller portions of lean protein at each meal, including plant-based proteins, may help with satiety and weight control, as well as maintenance of lean body mass.
Easy Protein Power at Breakfast and Lunch
Often breakfast and lunch time may be where you are low on protein. It’s okay to include animal protein (including “red” meats – lean cuts of beef or pork), what’s key, is the portion.
- Choose small portions (<5 ounces daily) of lean meats (skinless chicken, loin cuts of fresh beef or pork), and sub in plant protein on occasion.
- Add in a variety – Try an egg, 1/2 cup of low fat cottage or ricotta cheese, or a tablespoon of nut butter for breakfast. An 8-ounce glass of low fat or non fat milk adds 8 grams of protein to any meal.
- Choose a tofu wrap at lunch – add chunks of seasoned tofu and chopped lettuce and tomato with salsa to a wrap.
- Grill a large portobello mushroom, or use chopped mushrooms to make “burgers”. At the conference, I enjoyed a tasty “blended mushroom burger” - cutting back on meat by adding plant protein.
- Add 2-3 ounces of tuna to your green salad for lunch, along with 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts.
- Or, try something new – sardines. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids (the good fats). I sampled some canned sardines from Wild Planet foods, and have to say they were delicious! (their tuna is great too).
It’s October. That means dietitians all over the country are getting packed up and ready to attend the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (aka FNCE®, pronounced “fen-see”). This year’s conference is being held in Atlanta Georgia, and I’m excited to be getting a Press Pass this year. I’ll be writing up some news for The Meadville Tribune, as well as collecting science tidbits for my blog here.
The conference is supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest nutrition organization, with over 75,000 members. Members include registered dietitians who are credentialed through the Commission for Dietetic Registration.
It will bring together food, nutrition and health care professionals from around the world for four days of learning, debating and networking, all in the interest of improving the nutritional health of all people.
In addition to all of the updates on the latest nutrition research and food products, I’ll also have the chance to network with my colleagues from all over the country. Being a freelance writer can be lonely at time, so I can’t wait to chat with my colleagues as we share our passion for our profession! What a joy to love one’s work.
Look for some new information covered in the upcoming weeks. Off to Atlanta!
Think back. Was there a time when you ate, and didn’t even think about it? You just ate because you were hungry, your body needed fueled, and you enjoyed the food you ate. I can remember this. It was probably my entire life until about 10 years ago. The conversation about diet changed around then, and because my profession requires me to read about the latest research and trends in the food and nutrition world, I’m was keenly aware of the constant chatter about diet. The media began focusing on what to eat, what not to eat. Sure, there were occasional news reports in the 80s or 90s about diabetes and diet, or a certain type of diet that’s good for your heart, but in general, other than Oprah, prior to 2000 nobody was talking about it.
The media’s focus on “good food-bad food” didn’t really change my point of view, nor my eating habits, but it did subliminally make me begin to feel bad at times about eating certain foods. “Maybe the bread did make me gain those 5 pounds” I’d think. Of course I know it’s not, but there are so many negative messages circulating about food, that even us dietitians start to wonder.
The 21st century has opened the floodgates for misinformation. The Internet has given a voice to anyone who can type and has some time on his or her hands. The notion that “skinny” is the ultimate goal is perpetuated by the media, particularly for women (you may think it’s motivated by “health”, but in most cases, it’s vanity, poor self-image, insecurity, and possibly an eating disorder). This issue is worsened by the self-proclaimed experts out there. Any old Facebook user can proclaim: “Well, I’m thin and don’t take any medication, and I eat healthy, so I obviously know what I’m doin’, and because of that, I feel entitled to tell you how you should eat!”
As a dietitian, who received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nutrition (and has literally spent thousands and thousands of hours counseling others), I find this incredibly frustrating. When do other professional areas of expertise follow suit? Let’s say a stay-at-home mom, or lawyer, or nurse, or refuse truck driver, just invested in a great stock that took off, would this accomplishment make the person feel comfortable publicly posting about financial planning advice on Facebook or Twitter? My son once installed a toilet in our home, a DIY lesson from my husband – do you think he is doling out plumbing expertise now? Heck no.
Everyone eats, therefore everyone has an opinion about what food is best. Some people really enjoy cooking, so they may post food pics or recipes. Some have good intentions:
“Hey, I tried chia seeds to my oatmeal, and it helps hold off my hunger through lunch” or “I make this slow cooker recipe once a week to get a quick family dinner on the table”.
Other times it’s just annoying:
“I never buy anything from the freezer case” or “Sugar will kill you.” or “If we do buy soda, it’s only the kind that’s made with pure cane sugar”
I chose the field of nutrition as a career because, as a young person, I had food sensitivities. I clearly understood that there is a link between diet and health. The more I learned about the science, and also my own food intolerances, the more I realized what and how you eat is a very individual thing, and there is no one way to eat a healthy diet. Thank goodness – options!
So why is there now such a desire to know what is “best” to eat. Does it make any sense at all? Consider the planet. What if, and how could, everyone eat the same things every day, every week? And why would anyone want to?
For many years, I have tried to convey to people that it’s not what you eat, it’s how you eat (and sometimes good health doesn’t have to do with eating at all). It’s also how you perceive yourself and your health (sadly in many cases, people choose to eat or avoid foods solely for the purpose of weight control, with no regard to a greater sense of health and wellbeing).
So the next time you dole out your advice about what you eat and why, consider:
- It’s a challenge for most people to eat a balanced diet everyday (for many reasons – socioeconomic, busy schedules, health). It’s often a bigger challenge for folks who work 50 hours a week to fit in a regular exercise program. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that there may be a lot of other more important things going on. And, some people don’t like physical activity as much as others. For them I often encourage more daily movement, not exercise. Some people may not enjoy cooking either, and there are easier options.
- I encourage you to enjoy healthy food but not to think that one food or food group is going to contain some sort of magical ingredient that will make you skinny or healthy (not synonomous). So when you read about Granny Smith apples – understand they also help with weight control because they fill your stomach and controls hunger. Not because it contains a singular magic ingredient. And you should enjoy eating them if you so choose.
- It’s okay for food to be enjoyed for pleasure as well. Whatever your pleasure is – foods that you know aren’t real healthy (dessert, chips, candy), or don’t contribute any important nutrients – are still enjoyable, obviously. So enjoy them. Learn how to fit them into your life without excess.
- Understand that everyone is not as obsessed as you are about dieting. I often hear people talking in public about what very particular foods they do eat (“you must try this coconut avocado shake. It is THE only way I’m able to lose weight), as well as what they “don’t eat”, and make open comments about demonizing certain ingredients (“oh I’m skipping gluten and all starches in general”).
Finally, don’t ask me out to lunch or dinner if you aren’t going to eat, because I still want to enjoy eating and the entire dining experience. I may even treat myself to French Fries.
As much as I try to steer clear of talking about sugar, I find I can’t get away from it. It’s constantly in the news. It’s been a major topic of discussion at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans roundtable.
Sugar continues to be a hot button topic in the nutrition and diet world. In addition to writing consumer books about heart health and weight loss, some of my work is in “the sugar arena”. I’ll be speaking about sweeteners and diet quality at an upcoming conference (and I’m expecting to see a few sugar-bashers in the audience). I also continue to provide my perspective about sugar (fructose in particular) to the Calorie Control Council, as they continue to clear up information about both caloric and non-caloric sweeteners.
From nationally promoted “sugar-free challenges” to the demonization of soft drinks, to the “no cupcakes allowed” rules at elementary schools – sugar is portrayed as the root of all evil. And it seems to be a no-win situation.
If you consume too much sugar or sugary drinks, you are also chastised if you switch to a diet (sugar-free) drink. Let’s say you reduce, by half, the sugar you put on your oatmeal in the morning – you’re still chastised for adding any sugar. When the American Beverage Association partners up with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to reduce soda calories, they are still bashed, and their effort is written off as a PR ploy.
Some of my fellow communications colleagues and I are either publicly or privately questioned on occasion because we consult for companies that manufacture sweeteners. “How can a nutritionist or dietitian be promoting sugar?” Well, as my Twitter handle states: “I have a sweet tooth but I don’t sugarcoat.”
The reality is that people are not going to just exist on plants, and they are going to want to drink something besides water sometimes.
I am passionate about getting factual, sensible messages out to the public about sweeteners because it’s natural to enjoy sweetness! Sweeteners are part of many people’s diets, and that’s okay.
Secondly, I am a dietitian, and my major focus in on health (I support the DASH Diet and I push messages about adding more vegetables and healthy fats to your diet as often as I say a little bit of sugar is ok). I would hope that other health professionals or advocates are also aware of how different people eat very differently. My profession focuses on health and disease, but it is also is focused around food and behavior. And, while I’m a dietitian who does her best to eat a healthy balanced diet, I still consume (knowingly and willingly) some added sugar.
People eat food. People celebrate life’s occasions with food. And drink. I’m even allowing my 17 year old son to brew his own sugary root beer! Why? (besides the fact that we are coolest parents in the world) – because he’s interested in the science of root beer making. What a great project to experiment with!
Imagine if I were to squelch his interest in this project by saying “Oh honey, no, you can’t do that, because fructose is toxic”?
Will the obsession over sugar define it as so taboo that it only becomes more alluring?
There is no one guideline on how much sugar you should consume, but there are guidelines. Still, no matter the guideline, everyone’s dietary needs are different. A triathlete’s needs are not the same as a 70 year old woman’s, or a 4 year old’s, or a 50 year old sedentary man with diabetes. The idea that sugar can’t coexist in a diet with healthy plants, grains, healthy fats, and lean protein, is unrealistic.
FACT: Sugar is a pleasure. It is not a need. There are no nutrients in it at all (including honey – negligible). It will not help your child grow. It will promote tooth decay (brush 3 times a day). It is what we call an “empty calorie”. Yet there is no research to prove that including a moderate intake of sugar causes poor diet quality.
FACT: We need to include more plants in a healthy diet. Taking a good look at what is missing from your diet can have far more benefit than the sugar you’re consuming. Let’s start focusing on that, because it’s easy to consume sugar, it’s much more difficult to consume vegetables (they generally require prep and cooking). Finding easier ways to do so, and placing more value in that effort, is key.
As a nutrition communication consultant I occasionally write about topics related to the food industry clients I may serve, but my thoughts and opinions are my own.