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Charred Chard: Chock Full of Vitamins, DASH Diet Friendly

“Eat your greens” said my grandmother. Growing up, my Italian immigrant grandparents always grew vegetables in the summer, and my dad followed suit. Now my husband is the gardener of the house. My grandfather built a “hot bed” in which he’d start some greens or small plants, like tomatoes or peppers, early and then transplant them into the larger garden. My husband also has constructed a raised hot bed for lettuce and swiss chard.

People my age remember watching Popeye’s arms bulge every time he reached for a can of spinach and gulped it down…

Greens are good for you. They also have a unique flavor, sometimes bitter, sometimes pungent. For this reason, many people turn their noses up if offered to eat kale, spinach, swiss chard, or collards. But like many vegetables, if they are cooked properly and creatively, they can be delicious, and if they aren’t made to be delicious, who is going to eat them? Nobody.


Move Over Kale

This year, my husband grew quite a great crop of tender swiss chard. There are basically two types – white or red. Chard is a medium to deep green color, has visible “veins”, but the stem may be red or white (light green). When picked fresh, the broad leaves are very hearty. It’s way better than kale (IMO) and is rich in Vitamin K, and also a good source of vitamins C, E and A – both antioxidants. It also provides magnesium, potassium and iron. Of course it’s high in fiber, and very low in calories, and is a great addition to your DASH Diet eating style – helping you lower blood pressure and stay heart healthy.

My husband made a salad with it one day, and this isn’t really the best way to enjoy it – the leaves are fairly thick, and not as tender raw. But there are numerous ways to cook it.

Simple ways to enjoy Swiss Chard:

  • Always clean your greens. Rinse well with water, running your fingers along each leaf. Then drain and dry a bit either in a colander or with a paper towel or salad spinner.
  • Once clean, you can chop the chard and saute in hot olive oil with garlic. It will cook in minutes.
  • Chard is delicious with eggs. After the greens begin to wilt in the pan, add 3-4 scrambled eggs and cook. You could also remove greens from pan, pour in eggs and make an omelet with chard and cheese.
  • You can also roast or grill chard. To grill, drizzle greens with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then place whole leaves in bunches onto grill pan on grill. Turn with tongs once wilted.
  • Roasting chard is quick and delicious too. You can coarsely chop it, or roast whole leaves. Place onto baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and cook in 425 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes or until slightly charred. You can eat it as is, or add it to grain salads. Try my delicious recipe below. It makes a great side dish, or can be a main dish, portioned over rice or another grain.

Roasted cauliflower and chick peas with chard and feta. 

1. Clean 1 head cauliflower, rinse, break into flowerettes

2. Open a 7.75 ounce can of garbanzo beans (chick peas). Rinse well, drain and let dry. 

3. Place cauliflower and beans onto large baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 TB olive oil and toss to coat.


4. Roast in 400 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. 

5. While vegetables are baking, clean Swiss chard and dry. Chop coarsely. 

6. Add Swiss chard to pan, about 20-25 minutes into roasting cauliflower mixturre (cooking chard for 10 minutes)


7. Remove pan from oven. Add 3 ounces crumbled feta to a serving bowl. Transfer cauliflower-bean-chard mixture to serving bowl and mix gently.

8. Top dish with 3 TB Panko crumbs. Drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons olive oil and return to oven for 10-15 minutes. 

Serves 5-6 

Serving size: 1 cup


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Super-sized or Super-mindless?

I’ve been a dietitian for a long time. I’ve seen sick patients, well patients, patients with diabetes, heart disease, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, kidney disease, obese patients, and patients with eating disorders.

Genetics and physiology play a role in the development of some disease, but lifestyle and behavior also contributes. There’s never been a time when food has been more political or polarizing. Some people who choose organic judge others who don’t. Some want to point fingers at the food or beverage industry for causing the behaviors that lead to obesity and obesity-related disease (primarily diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease). Some want to blame childhood obesity on school lunches, chocolate milk or soda, while others feel a vegan lifestyle is the solution to our public health woes.

Luscious looking cakes in an Italian bakery are not causing obesity.

Luscious looking cakes in an Italian bakery are not causing obesity.

Super-sized or Super-mindless?

At what point will experts and the media pick up on the behavior end of the story? At what point will someone finally step up and say – it’s not just what you eat, but how and how much of it. It’s not bread or gluten’s fault – it’s the fact that your plate is unbalanced or perhaps your bagel or bun is just too darn huge. It’s not fat’s fault, but eating avocados by the half dozen isn’t going to help anymore than restricting butter. It’s not sugar’s fault, but serving up giant blueberry muffins or guzzling 20 ounce sweet teas or soda on-the-daily could be part of it.

Rather than diss sugar, why not fight for:

  • Regular sized muffins (the ones that were the size of your grandma’s cupcake tin)
  • Normal sized bagels (2.5 inch diameter, not 4 inch diameter)
  • 8-inch wraps (not 10 or 12-inch)
  • 8 ounce beverage cups
  • 6 ounce juice glasses
  • Smaller pieces of cake
  • Not having food around every where you turn

Many anti-sugar fanatics, however, will insist that controlling the food supply is the answer to obesity, while other experts suggest that the fact that “early learning is constrained by children’s genetic predispositions, which include the unlearned preference for sweet tastes, salty tastes, and the rejection of sour and bitter tastes.” has an impact here.

Humans like salty and sweet things. We just do.

A recent study about behavior concluded that the frequency of eating junk food is unrelated to an adult’s body mass index. Well I could have told you that by looking at my 18 year old son who mostly sustains himself on potato chips, popcorn, cereal, milk, and water (save your judging – he eats some vegetables and real meals too). But seriously, behaviors count, and they can be modified!

One of the study authors, Brian Wansink, has done a lot of research into the psychology of eating.

“…clinicians and practitioners seeking to help individuals obtain a healthy weight should examine how overall consumption patterns such as snacking and physical activity influence weight, instead of just eliminating “junk foods” from patient’s diets.”

Registered dietitians know this. The media, and perhaps some celebrity doctors, want to point the finger at the food industry, instead of helping individuals understand their own behavior and helping them modify it in a way that allows them successful, long term weight management.

So don’t buy into the scary headlines that say:

“XXX is Poisoning You”

“XYZ is toxic”

“Never eat this one food!”

Trust a dietitian who is willing to actually interview you, find out about your lifestyle and history, and help you set goals that you can achieve.

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Poorly Designed Studies: Association is not Cause

FoodDetectiveIt’s just my nature to question things. Almost every single day you may read a health-related headline. Often times the headline may correlate a diet, food or ingredient to a health issue. But you may not realize that it’s a correlation, since the headline may mislead you into thinking it’s an absolute link.

In the nutrition science world, it’s vital to be careful of the terminology we use. While there may be good research showing a link between a food or nutrient and health and disease, this often can not be applied to all people of all races, genders, and ages. While our physiology is standard, humans are still very individual. This is why being evaluated by a registered dietitian who can fully analyze your individual diet and healthy history is the best way to get proper dietary advice. It’s common for qualified health professionals to use language such as “may cause” or “may be linked to”, with emphasis on the word “may”.

A recent news story that was reported widely on social media recently with a headline “Prenatal BPA exposure linked to child obesity”. The study was published in an environmental health journal. Even though the study had several limitations, and did not control for diet, obtain any dietary data, nor data about physical activity and pre-pregnancy or postpartum weight, the authors concluded a link to obesity with BPA exposure.

Huh? How can you design a study that draws a conclusion about obesity without at least monitoring and documenting dietary intake and physical activity? Well controlled dietary studies are difficult to do, but even self-reported diet intake is better than nothing.

This recent news is a perfect example of why you need to read beyond the headline and also consider finding the original study to review. In this particular study, 727 women, specifically of African American or Dominican who had resided in Northern Manhattan or the South Bronx for at least 1 year before pregnancy, were chosen for the study. They had to be nonsmokers, non drug users, and without diabetes or hypertension or known HIV, and were selected during their 3rd trimester of pregnancy. Urinary BPA concentrations were measured in both the mothers and children through the study. The only weight history recorded for the mothers was a self-reported weight history taken during the third trimester of pregnancy.

The study authors conclude –

“These results suggest prenatal BPA exposure is associated with overall body fat and central adiposity, accounting for height.”

Is this a positive correlation? Sure, but not independent of several other uncontrolled variables (e.g. dietary data nor information about sedentary versus active lifestyles. remember – epidemiological studies can’t show causation).

The authors do admit this shortcoming:

“While our study was limited by the lack of dietary data during pregnancy and childhood, accurate dietary data are extremely difficult to acquire from young children given age-related development of language skills and recall ability. Dietary measures would also require quantification of BPA in food items, which was outside the scope of this study.”

Even getting some general dietary data from the children would have helped (did the mother breast or bottle feed, when was the child weaned to solid food, what beverages did the child consume most frequently from age 1-7? etc). The weight history and dietary history of the mother would be good information to have also.

Don’t use a headline to draw conclusions. If a headline leaves you scratching your head, read further. Correlation is not causation.

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Will Adding More to the Food Label Quell Confusion?

I tend to have a standing grocery list. I buy foods my family enjoys, which includes what may be deemed “healthy” and also snacks that could be called “treats”, “junk”, or “occasional foods”. I buy “big” brands, store labels, fresh, organic, frozen and canned. It helps to have a standby list when I shop. Mine looks something like this:

  • Bananas, spinach, mixed salad greens, berries (or other fruit on sale), grapes, apples, carrots, broccoli, asparagus
  • Canned or jarred foods: beans, tomatoes, tuna, corn (my son loves canned corn), salsa
  • Pasta: all varieties of imported pasta from Italy
  • Rice: brown and white, sometimes instant, also other grains such as quinoa, farro, or barley
  • Bread and cereal: sliced for peanut butter sandwiches, a hearty loaf for toasting, bagels, English muffins, breakfast cereals, quick oats, pizza shells
  • Meat: fresh beef, chicken, pork, fish
  • Frozen: waffles, vegetables, ice cream, sherbet, French bread pizza (kids love it when on their own), frozen shrimp or fish
  • 1% milk, sometimes chocolate milk, half and half cream, yogurt (plain Greek and several flavored varieties), butter
  • Snacks: potato and tortilla chips (we almost always have tortilla chips and salsa in the house)

That’s pretty much it. Of course I buy more than just these items, but these are the items that make it into the house regularly. We don’t have to buy eggs because we have four hens in the backyard that give us about 2-3 a day.

I make almost all of my choices based on taste, quality, and price.


Yep, this is a random day in my fridge.

Everyone has a different list. As a registered dietitian, I try to help people make better choices, but I don’t tell them which brands are “better”. Everyone values their dollars differently. What I may view as a waste of money, someone else may value as important. It’s not my place to judge them, but to help them understand what a healthy choice is, how they can work healthy choices they enjoy into their meal planning, and that some foods they may deem as “unhealthy” may indeed be just fine to incorporate into the diet. I do encourage more of what we may term as “whole” foods (nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs, fresh meats), but I wouldn’t want to do away with all convenience.

What you read on the front of the package is really not too useful.

The Nutrition Facts label gives you an idea about the nutrition a food provides, but still, that food or beverage is only one little part of your overall diet. The ingredient label may also be useful, especially in terms of food intolerance or allergy. But what you see on the front of package is often there to simply lure consumers into buying. Take these label claims for instance:

  • Natural
  • Organic
  • Non GMO
  • No high fructose corn syrup

These statements could be put on a number of different types of food, and the statement itself does absolutely nothing to guarantee you a healthy diet.  You may hear or read messages every day in the media, such as “Avoid Big Food” or “Avoid GMOs” or “Conventional farming is bad for the environment” or “Soda is what’s making everyone fat” or “5 foods a dietitian would never eat”.

Always read past the headlines.

Statements like those are simply rubbish. Click bate. Most choices are made based on misunderstood guidelines or advice – for instance some consumer surveys have shown that over 70% of consumers choose foods labeled as “natural” even though that term has no meaningful definition, or benefit.

My advice: Meet with a registered dietitian to get specific answers about the foods you put in your cart.


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Nuts About You After Your Workout

almondsnutsMy husband has been an avid cyclist and triathlete for years. He won many races, and never spent money on a fancy energy or protein bar, or supplements, to do it. In addition to regular training, good food (hello – he’s married to me) and good hydration, some of the staple snacks in his repertoire include: Bananas, fig bars, yogurt, and nuts. And yeah, he never ate a low carb diet.

I caught up with the folks at to discuss the importance of refueling after a workout, and posed a few questions. Here’s what they had to say:

Q: How can protein help with sports performance?

A: Primarily, protein helps to build and repair muscles. During the course of a workout your muscles experience micro tears, and one of the many benefits of consuming protein is its ability to facilitate the recovery process because muscles are made of protein filaments.

You’re essentially replenishing the amino acid building blocks of your muscle tissue by eating protein. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are particularly important because they help preserve muscle tissue during high intensity exercise. The body cannot produce them on its own despite muscle tissue being made up over a third BCAAs, so they have to be ingested. BCAAs are essential to fighting muscle breakdown and fatigue, in addition to aiding in recovery. BCAAs can also be burned as energy during endurance workouts, however protein is not a preferred source of energy for the body during workouts.

Q: How much protein is optimal?

A: This question is a little more complex, in that it depends on the lifestyle of the individual and their fitness regimen. For an athlete, ten to fifteen percent of your daily calorie intake should consist of protein. There should be sufficient room in your daily calorie intake for carbohydrates and fats, so that your body has sufficient energy to handle your workout. It is not ideal for your body to have to burn protein. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in conjunction with Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine gave these recommendations:

  • Power athletes (strength or speed): 1.2 to 1.7 grams/kilogram a day
  • Endurance athletes: 1.2 to 1.4 grams/kilogram a day

[So to put that in perspective folks – we’re talking about 110-150 grams protein/day for a 200 pound power athlete or 85-100 grams protein/day for a 160 pound endurance athlete]

Q: Is there a certain time you should ingest them?

A: It’s a commonly held convention that consuming protein during a workout has the added benefit of jumpstarting protein synthesis – the biological process of building new and repairing damaged proteins – but that claim hasn’t been backed up by any recent study. Staying hydrated, replenishing electrolytes, and ingesting carbohydrates are the most important things to consider during a workout to affect performance.

You should, however, consume protein before a workout in your regular diet and within three hours or so of finishing a workout. Immediately following (within 30 minutes of concluding) a workout you’ll want to have a nutritious snack with a mixture of carbohydrates and protein, with a larger ratio of unrefined/unprocessed carbohydrates at about four to one to replace the energy your muscles burned during your workout. Following your snack, within three hours of finishing your workout, you should have a more protein-rich meal.

Q: Carbohydrate is really important too – what do you suggest in terms of pairing carbs with protein?

A: Carbohydrates produce glycogen, your muscles’ preferred source of energy to burn during a high-intensity workout (Alternatively, your body burns fat during low and moderate intensity workout). If an athlete doesn’t replenish glycogen stores in the body, they can experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, which include extreme exhaustion and less commonly collapsing and hallucinations.

[the dreaded bonk]

These macronutrients are critical for optimal performance. The ideal amount of each depends on the individual athlete and their body’s needs at the time and your fitness goals. The general rule of thumb is to balance the ratio of carbohydrates and proteins at three or four to one, depending on your type of workout, be it endurance or power.

Q: Does every workout require a post-workout replacement?

A: Yes! Every workout should be followed by a post-workout snack or meal, plain and simple. Working out, especially at high intensity and long intervals means that your body needs to replace crucial glycogen stores and amino acids to get you through the rest of your day. It means the difference between feeling lethargic and droning at your desk after your morning spin class and having the energy to lead a meeting.


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The Case for Wheat

We enjoy a variety of breads and grains in our kitchen since nobody in my household suffers from gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease. As I’m sure you are aware “Gluten Free Diets” are very popular these days, even among those who physiologically have no intolerance to gluten. There is popular belief that gluten is bad for all – this is not true. Unless you have Celiac Disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), there’s no evidence that shows any health benefits to avoiding gluten. It’s estimated that anywhere from 1 in 100 to 150 people have Celiac Disease (once properly diagnosed, seek nutrition care). This also means that 99 of 100 people don’t have a problem with gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. These grains contribute fiber and important vitamins and minerals to the diet. Wheat is actually higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate than other cereal grains (like corn or rice). People with Celiac Disease (a disease of the small intestine) can’t properly digest gluten.

Over recent years, awareness for Celiac Disease has increased and in 2013 the FDA reviewed the labeling regulations for “Gluten Free” products to ensure they are clear of gluten. On a recent trip sponsored by General Mills, I learned they revised the way they package Cheerios® to ensure the product is completely gluten-free (Cheerios® are made with oats, which are gluten-free, but the new FDA guideline requires insurance that no gluten was touched through processing and packaging).


Oat & wheat cereals with nuts and dried fruit over yogurt. Breakfast cereals improve dietary profiles, so enjoying cereal with milk in the morning can ensure the intake of nutrients of concern (those often lacking in the typical American diet – Vitamins C, A, D and the mineral calcium)

Are you avoiding gluten for no good reason?

It’s understandable, if you have some belly aches or gastrointestinal distress from time to time, you may think “Hmn, I wonder if going gluten-free will help?”

The problem with elimination diets, is that it’s difficult to determine exactly what aspect of the foods you eliminate brings the change (in how you feel, or your weight for instance). The other risk you take when eliminating foods or food groups is nutrient deficiency or imbalance.

If you substitute an egg and fruit (~150 calories) for the 300 calorie bagel you used to have for breakfast; or you  eat a salad with tuna (~150 calories) for lunch instead of a tuna salad sandwich (~300 calories), you’ve created a calorie deficit, and therefore some weight loss. If someone removes all of the wheat products from their diet however – no toast, bagels, buns, pasta, wheat or bran cereals, or rolls with dinner – it may also result in vitamin deficiency.

At the end of the day, calories do matter, and it’s the calorie deficit – not the avoidance of bread or wheat – that promotes weight loss. You can however balance the carbohydrate, protein and fat in your diet, while including bread and grains.

If You Don’t have Celiac Disease, Don’t Avoid Wheat!

Wheat is a member of the grass family, and wheat flour is the most widely used grain in the United States, therefore has the potential to provide a lot of nutrients as well as fiber to the American Diet. Wheat products such as whole wheat breads and grain products such as wheat cereals, whole wheat couscous and pasta, all provide fiber to the diet. These foods also help create delicious and enjoyable meals!

Many studies have shown the benefits of consuming grains. Including whole grains in the diet may reduce your risk for heart disease and certain cancers. There are a variety of ways to include whole grains in the diet which may include consuming whole grain breads, whole grain cereals, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta.

In addition, cereal and bread products are fortified with vitamins and minerals (nutrition professionals know these added micronutrients as “nutrients of concern” – which means that a large part of the population are at risk for not getting enough of these nutrients in the diet).

Some may ask – Why fortify or enrich?

“If cereals or flours made with wheat don’t have folic acid in them, why add it? And if milling removes some vitamins, why process them?”

There is a good reason we fortify some foods with certain vitamins and minerals – it’s an effective way to reach a large population and prevent deficiency. For instance, since 1941, we’ve been enriching refined grain products with iron and three B vitamins (thiamin, niacin and riboflavin). Years ago, many people suffered from deficiency diseases such as beriberi and pellegra. These two diseases are corrected simply by ensuring there is enough thiamin and niacin in the diet. In 1998, folic acid was also added as part of the enrichment process after it was determined that a diet deficient in folic acid (another B vitamin) was connected to birth defects, specifically neural tube defects.

Enriching common food products with these essential vitamins is a safe and simple way to ensure public health across the board. These essential vitamins are added to foods that everyone has easy access to.

Final Word

If you are suffering from gastrointestinal or other medical problems, you should follow up with your doctor. If you have a confirmed disease, diet therapy is important, and you should see a registered dietitian who is trained in that area. In any case, chew the facts about gluten and wheat. If you don’t have Celiac Disease or NCGS, enjoy variety in your diet!

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Gaming for Nutrition

I caught up with Melissa Halas-Liang, mom, dietitian and founder of the popular children’s nutrition site to ask her about her new free app, FoodLeap and her thoughts on helping kids eat healthier.

Can you share with my readers, the new research on incentivizing healthy food choices and also discuss using foods as rewards.

Well, you definitely don’t want to reward good behavior in general with unhealthful food choices. For example, giving a donut to your child if they make it through church quietly isn’t going to make them want to eat vegetables. In fact, it teaches children to treat junk food like gold. When you offer a food as a reward, children begin to believe that food holds special value. So the donut, for example becomes excessively glorified. It teaches that junk food is more important than healthy food. It’s also confusing because it’s saying, “do something good, like behave, and I’ll give you something bad for your body.” These foods should be enjoyed separate from behavior and not consumed everyday.

Parents who struggle with picky eaters often hear that if they offer healthy foods, avoid using pressure tactics, and act as positive role models, their kids will eventually eat their veggies. But what happens when this doesn’t work?

We’re starting to see that rewarding healthy food choices with small prizes or praise results in kids trying and accepting new healthy foods, in effect incentivizing good habits in kids. One new study found that when parents offered their kids the same fruit or vegetable on several occasions and gave them a small, tangible reward for tasting it, the kids consumed more of the new food and were more likely to learn to like it. Another study found really good results in fruit and veggie intakes among kids when parents, schools, and supermarkets offered fruits and vegetables in a more fun and visually appealing way.

Eating out gets a bad rap? How can parents give their kids nutritious meals if they’re eating out?

While that’s the common belief that homemade meals are best, you actually can feed your child healthy foods at restaurants. In fact, some of the menu options provided by restaurants participating in the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program may even prove to be more nutritious than homemade meals! It all depends on what choices you make at restaurants.

To get your kids interested in making healthy choices when dining out, try the new fun and FREE app, FoodLeap available on iphone and ipad. In the game, Super Baby Abigail leaps and bounds through the different colored levels of Rainbow Road, catching and collecting healthful, colorful foods while outsmarting hostile kitchenware (tea cups, tongs, spoons). Each healthful food gives a dose of antioxidant power to boost Abigail’s speed, so she can leap over or fly through the obstacles, moving faster to the next level. As she completes each level of Rainbow Road, she unlocks fun and tasty facts about the foods that she’s captured.

SKNBerries Food Leap

Just like reading books can bring up conversation on important topics, games can do the same. After you play Food Leap, you can engage in conversations about your favorite ways to you enjoy the healthy foods featured in the game. FoodLeap also links to the free Kids LiveWell app, which helps you locate a restaurant that offers healthy kids choices.


How do you combat society’s constant lure towards junk and living an unhealthy lifestyle?

First, be committed to the change you want to see in the world. These words are famous for a reason! You have to demand quality foods as a consumer—if you show a demand, restaurants and the industry will respond.  You’re going against the grain by doing this, and it may not be easy. 60% of overweight 5-10 year olds already have 1 precursor to heart disease—we clearly need to change how we eat as a nation.  By giving in and fitting in, you’re not saying “yes” to health. So step out of your comfort zone and really be an advocate for your health. And as a consumer, always watch out for:

  • Commercial influence, including, TV ads, magazines, magazine ads, billboards, and posters in public places like the subway. These marketing tools are trying to get you to choose foods that are not good for your body. As parents, we should demand that companies start using cartoon characters not to entice children toward junk but toward healthy foods! This is actually one of the reasons the Super Crew kids are so important to me. Let’s reverse the trend and make cartoons, like the Super Crew, appear only on foods that are good for kids minds and bodies!
  • Always plan ahead, and don’t go hungry!  Make sure you’re bringing a healthy dish when you go to parties.  Be prepared for play dates and sports events by bringing your own snacks. 
  • Peer influence—whether you’re 5 or 50, we are all influenced by our peers’ food choices, many of which are not good for health.  Whether it’s diet soda, chemical cuisines, sweetened beverages, salt or sugar laden pre-packaged foods, etc.—probably 80% of calories come from those foods. So put your needs first, smile and graciously don’t let the choices of others impact your choices.
  • When they’re young, teach your kids the difference between choices that make their body feel, look, and think its best. Make them aware of what advertisers are doing the next time you see a TV advertisement with a cartoon sponsoring a junk food. It’s not always going to be easy; it will be challenging.  But as a parent, you want to make the right choice, not the easy choice. Luckily, games like FoodLeap are being created to help reverse the trend by using cartoons and games to actually encourage kids to be healthy, to eat nourishing foods, and to be active.

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Rainy Day on the Farm

I’m in western Pennsylvania this week at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics conference and expo, which offered a pre-conference tour of Soergel’s Beef Farm, a local area farm. It was a rainy day, and quite chilly, which prevented us from really touring the grounds, but we had to chance to listen to Warren Soergel, who works on the farm that his uncle owns.

Was too muddy for a full tour today.

Was too muddy for a full tour today.

Over the past few years, dietitians have had the opportunity to tour a variety of farms as part of our continuing education requirements. As consumers want to know more about where their food comes from, and the media often misinterprets the facts, I’m always eager to see farms in action, learn more about agriculture, and talk with farmers.


Farmers love the land, their animals, and their families. Here are a few things you may not think about when you think about farmers:

  • They aren’t like “Old MacDonald. They may not wear overalls, and they are more often than not college educated
  • Many farmers have Bachelor of Science degrees in Animal Science or Agriculture
  • Farming is a science
  • Farming is an industry that strives for efficiency – using the least amount of energy, for the most output
  • Farmers often refer to “feeding the rumen, not the cow”. The nutrition formula, or “ration”, they use is very specific to maintain the pH of the rumen, and also promote growth.
  • Hormones that are used in cattle production (testosterone and estrogen) to enhance growth and reduce production costs, are delivered via an ear implant. The difference between beef from an implanted cow versus one not given the hormone implant is insignificant. Beef from an implanted cow contains .06-.09 nanograms estrogen per ounce. Beef from a non-implanted cow contains .03-.06 nanograms per ounce. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram, and would be visually equivalent to a blade of grass in a football field. So don’t be worried about “hormones in meat” (and they are always naturally present anyhow).
  • Almost every cattle corral is designed using the concepts of Temple Grandin.

Cattle corral for this small farm

To learn more visit the Pennsylvania Beef Council – where you’ll find recipes, nutrition information, and more.

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Easy Cheesy Shrimp Grits

I love good food, but day in and day out cooking can be a drag to me sometimes. Weeknight meals are generally simple ones that I can throw together quickly with what’s in the pantry. On weekdays, I try to eat my salad or veggies at lunchtime, in case I’m short at dinner (which, yes, sometimes happens for this dietitian). I also keep convenient items on hand, such as frozen shrimp, frozen peas, frozen bread dough, frozen onions and peppers, pasta, rice (including quick cooking rice), grain mixes, and quick cooking grits.

I’ll often use frozen shrimp as a protein to throw together with pasta and veggies. This week, I made this simple comfort dish, and thought I’d share it here.

Easy Cheesy Shrimp-N-Grits

Serves 2


1/2 cup Quick cooking Grits

pinch of salt

6 ounces Frozen shrimp

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 cup shredded smoked Gruyere or cheddar cheese

Freshly ground pepper


  1. Bring 2 1/4 cup water to boiling, adding salt if desired. Slowly add grits, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, cover, and occasionally stir (watch closely) to be sure grits aren’t sticking.
  2. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until water is absorbed.
  3. While grits are cooking, heat medium pan until hot, add olive oil, onions and garlic, cook until the onions are soft, then add shrimp and sauté for about 5 minutes. Keep warm.
  4. After grits are done, remove from heat, and stir in shredded cheese until smooth.
  5. Spoon cheese grits into bowls, top with shrimp and cracked pepper.


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Will GMO-free Labeling Really Sell?

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was to help people search out the facts about nutrition, food, and diet trends, and sort out the false claims and fear-mongering headlines. With factual information, you can make better choices that are right for you (your health, and your food budget), avoid false promises, and enjoy eating for better health.

I’ve written about GMOs before, and they continue to be a hotly debated topic in the news. Many “controversial” topics often bring emotions into the opinions and reactions, but I encourage you to consider the facts, and also consider the source, giving credit to scientists who are evaluating scientific topics.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • At the moment, there is consensus among the scientific community siding with the safety of genetically modified foods on the market.
  • The most popular “issue” seems to be labeling. This is usually presented as a “right to know” argument
  • Many behind the labeling push are political advocacy groups affiliated with the Organic food industry (e.g. US Right to Know, Just Label It). The push for mandated labeling is perplexing since by definition, the Certified Organic label already requires the food is GMO-free
  • Labeling laws are being proposed in some states across the country, and mostly getting rejected.

So while the labeling proponents claim that they want all foods, that may contain GMO ingredients, labeled as such in the name of “your safety”, it seems that there could be an ulterior motive. I’m not against choice – I feel everyone should be able to put what they want in their cart, just don’t misinterpret a “GMO-free” food as better or healthier. And don’t force companies to change how they label their products when consumers already have a choice to choose Certified Organic if they want to.

My beef with the whole thing is when food manufacturers start slapping health claims or other claims on packaging, it does more to mislead the customer rather than inform. This has happened for years. In many cases products are labeled as “free” of something they never even contained. For instance in the 80s and 90s everything was labeled “cholesterol free” even if they did not contain cholesterol in the first place. “Sugar free” ice creams or apple pies are labeled as such since no sugar was “added”, but they may still contain natural sugars from the milk or fruit. Foods such as peanuts (peanuts have never contained gluten) or potato chips that naturally don’t contain gluten are labeled Gluten-free giving a false “health-halo” notion to shoppers.


The GMO labeling will bring the same confusion, and will provide no useful information to customers concerned about choosing a balanced diet to improve their health. It’s already encouraging food manufacturers to slap random labels on their products.

My Plea to Food Companies

Just yesterday Del Monte announced that they are moving away from GMO ingredients. Sadly, Vani Hari, aka Food Babe, endorsed this move as super-awesome-great-news!. Worse, Del Monte publicly applauded Vani on Twitter and happily accepted being part of the “Food Babe Army” (aka a bunch of people with little to no food science background who protest food ingredients for no good reason).

Last fall Chobani announced their products would be “GMO Free”. And of course you’ve likely heard all about Chipotle, and their “food integrity” campaign which shuns GMOs.

Please stop.

I understand that food marketing is about a bottom line. Without sales, there’s no company. Food marketers are constantly looking at their target consumer, and will cater to them no matter what. It seems that whatever the consumer wants on the label, is put there to sell more of the product. Such is the case for many of the voluntary GMO-free products on the market. Some companies have caved and removed all GMO ingredients in an effort to please the consumer. Some companies may even admit that they know there is no safety issue or functionality issue for the change in ingredients, they are literally doing it only to please the confused consumer.

GMO Crops Currently Available

DelMonte is now labeling their fruits and vegetables as GMO Free. But guess what? There are no GMO peaches or peas! There are currently nine GMO crops on the market, and one of them isn’t food (cotton). A GMO apple (non-browning) will also soon be on the market:

  1. Corn (Feed corn is both insect resistant and herbicide tolerant. Corn for humans is insect resistant)
  2. Soybeans (insect resistant, herbicide tolerant)
  3. Sugar beets (herbicide tolerant)
  4. Alfalfa (herbicide tolerant)
  5. Canola (herbicide tolerant)
  6. Papaya (disease resistant)
  7. Potatoes (reduced bruising, non browning)
  8. Squash (disease resistant)
  9. Cotton (insect resistant and herbicide tolerant. )

This list are foods that MAY be genetically modified, and does not mean that for instance, all potatoes are GMO.

To learn more about the science behind GMO and biotechnology visit GMO Answers.

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