Whether you use the backyard patio or deck furniture, or go boating, or take one last dip in the pool, Labor Day is typically regarded as “the last weekend of summer” (even though summer isn’t officially over until September 22 this year).
Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882, with New York state being the first to officially adopt the day (always the first Monday in Septembers) in 1886. It originated as the beginning of the labor movement, recognizing the social and economic achievements of workers.
As always, your health is a 365 day a year job, so this weekend will be no different. Many Americans will celebrate the Labor Day weekend with a picnic and family gathering, so here are some ideas to incorporate heart health into your weekend plans.
- Take a walk, hike, or a bike ride each day
- Mix up a big batch of kale and wild rice salad on Friday to eat through the weekend. There are a lot of versions of this recipe – make it your own!
- Slice some melons and place them onto a platter for everyone to enjoy.
- Chop more vegetables into your pasta salad
- Mix up a chopped green salad with chopped nuts, chopped spinach, red leaf lettuce, minced bell peppers, celery, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and grape halves.
- Serve fish tacos for your picnic instead of the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs
- Make slider-sized burgers using a variety of low fat choices – extra lean ground beef, ground turkey breast, and garden-bean burgers
- Offer healthy toppings for your burgers – sautéed onions, mushrooms, spinach leaves – in addition to the traditional catsup, mustard, or cheese.
- Keep it simple. Sometimes we feel side dishes have to be fancy, or have a lot of ingredients. Try simply slicing tomatoes, chopping cucumbers, and adding an oil and apple cider vinegar mixture (1:1 ratio oil to vinegar). Done.
- If you mix up some lemonade, water it down a bit to lower sugar and calories, and add fresh herbs for an extra pop of flavor: Try mint leaves or thyme sprigs.
- Instead of mayo-based potato salad, try this one.
- Extra zucchini in the garden? Bring these Zippy Zucchini Bites to the neighbor’s picnic!
- Instead of gooey cupcakes, bake a simple sheet cake and top with fresh sliced berries and fresh whipped cream.
Just a bit of thoughtful planning and a few swaps can make your weekend picnic healthier! Enjoy the weekend.
AD: My newest book, DASH Diet For Dummies® will hit shelves in the next couple of weeks.
The DASH Diet is a lifestyle and meal plan that is proven to reduce blood pressure, and can also be effective for weight loss and blood sugar control (supports diabetes treatment). DASH Diet is not a fad diet, but a dietary plan based on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension clinical trials. The book provides you with all of the background on the research, as well as the true-to-life tools you can use right away to incorporate the diet into your lifestyle.
I co-authored the book with cardiologist Sarah Samaan, MD and registered dietitian and culinary expert Cindy Kleckner, RDN. Our team has done a great job at delivering information about the physiology of the heart with key, easy-to-understand information about heart disease, as well as kitchen tips and simple recipes to try in your own kitchen.
Do consider purchasing a copy (Kindle or paperback) to help you understand your heart health and healthy eating. Anyone, any age, can benefit from the information in the book, but it is especially useful if you are 40 years old or older, have heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, or any family history of these disorders.
Sugar continues to be a hot topic. While I don’t feel eliminating sugar from your diet is necessary, I do think everyone needs to evaluate their diet now and then. Sugar provides what we dietitians like to call “empty calories” – meaning it provides calories, without any essential nutrients (no vitamins or minerals). Sugar is simply a carbohydrate (a monosaccharide).
Sugar does however provide energy (calories, that is) and sometimes is useful in the diet. Sugar serves as quick energy as well, which is useful when refueling during sport activities – a time when perhaps a sports drink does the trick (perhaps during a 30 mile bike ride, or a marathon run). But in day to day life, sugar is simply a tasty addition to what should be nutritious diets. As your grandmother may have advised, “Save dessert for last” – after you’ve eaten your vegetables and essential protein, and other nutrients.
Your diet does impact your health. A high sugar, high fat (often over-processed) diet can increase your risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Your meals should be built on the platform of vegetables, grains, and some lean protein. There are a few ways to do this.
The Choose My Plate guideline is a simple pictorial of what a balanced diet may look like.
The DASH Diet is built on plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low fat dairy, and includes small amounts of protein (fish, meats, poultry, nuts)
Vegans choose to eliminate all animal products, and consume their essential nutrients from only plants.
In all cases, a healthy diet is one which limits sugar, but also includes balance, and a variety of whole foods. Here are 5 simple tips for you to work on:
- Set goals to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet can automatically displace the sugar. Have 2-3 pieces of fresh fruit daily, and you
- Don’t add sugar. Do you add sugar to coffee or iced tea? Try out an artificial sweetener. Depending on how sweet you like your drinks, a half packet of an artificial sweetener will be enough to sweeten it up.
- Stop the soda habit. There are a few options here. 1) Replace your soda with water or sugar-free seltzer, 2) Replace your soda with diet soda, 3) Reduce your portions to no more than 12 ounces daily or less may find that your candy craving disappears.
- Are you a candy fiend? Try the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. Don’t keep a candy dish on your desk. For some with severe cravings, it may be necessary to completely eliminate it. Others can do well to set limits on treats. For instance, make a conscious effort to only treat yourself to a candy bar or a donut or snack cake, once a month, and choose healthy snacks daily.
- Plan fruit into your dessert. Instead of banning dessert, consider some options. A fresh fruit crisp made with fruit and oats, is more nutritious than a cupcake heaped with 3 inches of icing.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has announced that every August will be Kids Eat Right Month. The timing is perfect as children across the country head back to school. Of course in my neck of the woods in the Northeast, school is not in session until the very end of the month, but in many other states, school has begun!
Often the school year, with its structured schedule, can help support healthy eating habits, so now is the time to think about getting organized.
- Take your child with you to the grocery store and make it a fun learning experience. This is an opportunity to learn about budgets, what they like or dislike, and also allows them to see the foods available.
- Make a grocery list ahead and ask your children for healthy snack ideas to add to the list
- Take some extra time in the produce aisle and talk about the different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
- School lunches are healthier than you think. Remind your child that all food groups are important, and that you should have a balanced plate
- Have healthy after school snacks available, and engage your child in helping you plan quick, healthy breakfasts, and healthy packed lunches.
QUICK ALL-IN-ONE BANANA WRAP
1 small whole wheat tortilla-type wrap
1 1/2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter
Directions: Lay wrap on flat surface, spread with peanut butter
Place peeled banana at the edge of the wrap. Roll up (you may want to break the banana in half for easier rolling).
Slice in small bit-sized pieces, or cut in half for a delicious after school snack.
The journal Obesity recently published an expert panel report reviewing what could be the most effective obesity treatment guidelines. The panel’s report intends to settle some of the arguments among health care providers in terms of what exactly is the best evidence-based approach to weight management.
While many enjoy arguing over the “best diet”, the panel concluded that there are many approaches to obesity and weight management (including referral for bariatric surgery in specific cases), insisting that it is time to stop arguing about various approaches. The panel addressed these key questions:
- Who needs to lose weight?
- What is the optimum level of weight loss?
- Which diet is the most effective for weight loss?
- Is diet and exercise the best way to lose weight?
- How can weight loss be maintained?
- Who should receive bariatric surgery?
When individuals consider weight loss, they are often lured in by the quick fix diet, or elimination diet (think: gluten-free) that appear simple to follow. We know however, that without long-term behavior change, these types of plans are only short-term fixes. We also seem to be a society obsessed with perfection, or at least the idea of it – toned bodies, smooth skin, and super-white teeth. This, while aesthetically appealing, does not always equate to “healthy”, and just as there is no one measure for beauty, there is also no one measure for “healthy”.
A person’s weight, while a huge factor in health and disease risk, is not a simple assessment. For this reason, physicians are wise to bring in the registered dietitian to evaluate an appropriate weight goal for individual patients. While BMI (body mass index) and weight charts can be useful, positive metabolic changes can occur with small amounts of weight loss.
As far as effective “diet”, the ability and motivation of an individual to maintain an eating style should be considered in addition to the basic dietary framework that is supported by evidence to reduce or prevent disease (the DASH Diet, vegetarian diets, and the Mediterranean diet all fit this bill).
The expert panel realized that while face to face counseling is very beneficial, other individuals can also benefit from telehealth options and online approaches. Hopefully this expert review will help improve the reimbursement for a variety of nutrition service approaches from qualified professionals.
If there is one thing we should agree on, it is that no one diet fits all, and neither does one lifestyle approach. Individuals need encouragement from professionals they can relate to, and need programs that are individualized to fit their lifestyle for long-term success.
In my 28 years of practice in the field of food and nutrition, I don’t remember a time when food and diet were so controversial. The Internet and social media have provided a platform for everyone – regardless of whether or not they have any background in nutrition or diet therapy – and, they want to tell you what to eat. As a registered dietitian-nutritionist whose charge is to clarify the science behind the claims for consumers, all of the published pseudoscience on the Internet keeps me busy.
Interestingly it seems that the extreme ends of the diet spectrum are the most passionate. Let’s take a look at the Paleolithic diet and the Vegan diet.
- Eat as your Paleolithic ancestors did, 12,000 years ago
- Focus on lots of protein from grass fed meats, fish
- Non-starchy Vegetables (claiming potatoes are bad)
- Avoid most grains, including wheat (no breads, cereals, pasta, rice)
- Avoid vegetable cooking oils
- Limit fruits
- Limit added sugar and fats
- Avoid all animal products – all meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, and products derived from them (which may include bees – no honey)
- Include vegetable protein, soy, nuts, and seeds
- Pure vegans also avoid other animal products (leather, wool) and are usually vocal proponents of animal welfare.
I can advocate a vegan diet (when planned properly) for health, but I can’t advocate the Paleo lifestyle for long-term health. The only benefit to a Paleo diet is, perhaps, short-term weight loss. A vegan diet is a very healthy way to eat, but for some, it may not always be the most enjoyable choice. There’s no question that plants are more medicinal than meats, but I like to help people improve their health by choosing a diet they enjoy, and can sustain. If Vegan is that choice for them, great, but many people can achieve good health and prevent disease, meeting somewhere in the middle: Less meat, and more plants.
Many proponents of both the Paleo and Vegan diets and lifestyles however, support their choices as if it were a religion, and in some cases are using diet as a political statement. We are blessed with a wide variety of food to eat in our country. I encourage everyone to also consider the environmental impact your diet may have, and do your best to conserve energy in general, but it’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can meet halfway.
The DASH and the Mediterranean Diets are the dietary middle ground. Both of these diets promote a good dose of vegetables and fruit, and small amounts of animal protein. The DASH diet also includes 3 servings of low fat dairy, since the research trials showed that the groups who included the dairy daily lowered blood pressure more than the groups who did not. A wide variety of foods can be included with both diets, and the diets are sustainable and evidence-based.
In terms of overall public health, there’s not one meal plan for all. Everyone has individual food preferences, and some people may be intolerant to certain foods or beverages. Yet everyone can choose to eat a healthy diet – and would especially benefit by meeting with a nutrition counselor. A registered dietitian can help you make choices that are going to based on what you enjoy eating, your health, and what your body tolerates, among other things (culture, traditions, budget, region, availability of various foods, medical nutrition needs).
If you choose to “go on a diet”, or subscribe to a restrictive lifestyle, that’s your choice. I don’t think it’s appropriate to convince everyone that your choice is the best choice for everyone. What is clear (and supported by science) is that everyone benefits from adding more vegetables to their diet, and science does back up a plant-based diet. Let’s just agree on that, and leave the rest to personal preference.
What do these terms mean to you? For a few years now, food manufacturers like to use the word “natural” on product labels since consumers seem to gravitate toward it. Unfortunately, from a food labeling standpoint, there is no clear definition of “natural”, so products labeled as such can intermingle with some “not-as-natural” products, and that the label alone doesn’t always mean much.
So what is a natural food? Well, an easy definition could be foods that are available as they are found in nature. A green bean that’s snipped off the vine, and apple plucked off the tree, a walnut from its shell, and a fresh egg straight from the hen house.
But what about all of the packaged foods on the market that make the “natural” claim? For instance, during a recent trip to the store, I noticed a company called Rice Works makes snack chips that are made from brown rice. So you may think: “Brown rice is better for me and higher in fiber” and that’s true. But do you benefit from getting your daily dose of fiber from a packaged snack food? And are these types of snacks really better than the old-fashioned potato chips (which they apparently aim to be replacements for)? Well, basically, no.
Take a close look at the bottom line on the Nutrition Facts label.
One ounce of the Rice Works chips provide:
6 grams of fat
120 milligrams of sodium (up to 200 mg in some flavors)
1 gram of fiber
The Rice Works chips contain brown rice and up to 20 other ingredients
Compare this to an ounce of Cape Cod Original potato chips:
8 grams of fat
150 milligrams of sodium
The potato chips contain potatoes, oil and salt.
So which is “healthier”?
This is the dilemma that many consumers have, although it’s really not a dilemma at all. The answer? Neither product is healthy if consumed in large quantities, every day. They aren’t “every day” foods, they are both “sometimes” foods. I recommend eating the one you enjoy more, but not putting the health halo on the brown rice chip.
It’s not about which snack you choose, it’s about how often you choose them and the size of the portion you consume. But, it is interesting that the Rice Chip tries to act like a health food, and yet the good ‘ole potato chip has simply three ingredients and a very similar calorie, fat and sodium profile.
Remember this as you check out new products in the “health food section” of the grocery store. Take a close look at them, and don’t assume that just because they are packaged in healthy-looking wrappers, they are automatically healthier than the original or alternative. A packaged treat is just that – a treat.
Side Note – My Healthy Snack On the Go
Almonds are one of our favorite snacks. We keep a large jar in the van for road trips, and I keep a small tin of them in my purse for times when I’m late for a meal and hungry. The purpose of snack time is to offer you some nutrition and energy to hold you over until the next meal, so snacks can play an important role in your diet. Stick to the basic food groups for snacks – fresh fruits and veggies, nuts – and enjoy packaged snacks only as a treat on occasion, or perhaps when traveling (some packaged snacks are particularly conducive to picnicking, hiking, biking and similar activities).
You may be familiar with the term snake oil salesman. This term refers to someone who tries to sell a fraudulent health product that is unproven. They say history repeats itself, well here we are, believing the snake oil salesmen again.
There’s the Fed Up Movie mantra:
“Everything you’ve been told about diet and exercise is dead wrong”
Actually, almost everything you’ve heard for the past 20 or 30 years about diet and exercise IS true. Fresh vegetables and fruits are good for you. Don’t eat too much cake or candy. Choose leaner cuts of meat. Use butter in moderation. Add some real fiber to your diet (nuts, beans, whole grain). Eat more home-cooked meals. Grow a vegetable garden.
But guess what? Some people just plain don’t want to do it!
Others are just overwhelmed with other priorities, or confused about the nutrition information they hear.
From my perspective, and that of many of my dietitian colleagues, the misconception that the dietary advice (meaning the therapeutic use of food as medicine) that RDs have been preaching for decades is “dead wrong”, is just that – a misconception and misperception.
For those of us who have been working in the field of food and nutrition for decades – there is no mystery here. But the media, and a few self-proclaimed experts (i.e. no formal education in the science of nutrition) continue to make it more and more confusing.
Another example is the book Sugar Savvy, recently reviewed by an RDN. Written by Kathy Dulgin (aka High Voltage). While I support Kathy’s efforts (and Dr. Oz’s) to engage people in pursuing a healthier lifestyle, I can’t support engaging them with false statement about food, sugar, and nutrition science in general. Tell people to cut back on sugar. Give them ideas about how they can do it. But don’t tell them sugar is “killing us” and that people have no responsibility or control over what they choose to eat.
The Draw of the Wizard
I guess everyone just wants to wish their troubles away. Twenty years ago, most doctors were not paying any attention at all to how therapeutic diets or a referral to a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator could help their patients. Now everyone is suddenly interested. Shall we call this another aspect of the “Oz effect” ?
The recent Oz commentary during his Senate hearings included this:
“I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact. Nevertheless, I would give my audience the same advice I give my family, and I have given my family these products.”
So in other words, Oz doesn’t care if there is any science to support the claims he makes on stage, he just “believes” in it and feels good recommending it to his audience (which he seems to think is only the people actually in the studio, not the millions watching).
This is not what medicine is supposed to be like. The Practice of Medicine (and registered dietitians practice under the umbrella) is supposed to be evidence-based. Peer-reviewed. Shown to do no harm.
Between Dr. Oz and so many unscience-based diet books on the market, I have to ask: How did we get here?
It’s time for America to show the snake oil salesmen what you’re made of. Make better choices at the grocery store, cook at home more often, buy less packaged food. Sorry, I won’t lie – it’s not going to be easy, it never has been. Losing weight is hard (which is why it is worth working on preventing weight gain in the first place). It’s not easy to eat right and exercise. But your health and happiness is worth it.
This really isn’t news to many, but cooking at home is good for your health. Cooking at home through the week will likely result in better food, more nutrients, less calories and less sodium than eating out too often. It also can heighten the family’s awareness about where food comes from and tune you into your body’s hunger cues.
These key points lead to healthier eating:
- Eat more vegetables
- Consume ‘good fats’ (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts, olives, avocados)
- Consume ‘good carbs’ (limit refined sugar and white flours, and add more whole grain carbohydrates: oats, barley, brown rice, whole grain breads and cereals)
- Eat Mindfully (be aware of what, how much, and when you are eating)
Most people need to include more vegetables in their diet, and keep in mind that food should taste good. If you think you or a family member doesn’t like vegetables, it’s probably because you have never prepared them properly (or have never had them prepared properly for you). Just steamed? Boring.
Try these simple cooking techniques to add some zing to your diet:
- Use your grill. And not just for meats, chicken, seafood, and vegetables. You can even grill fruit. Grilled peaches or pineapple make delicious accompaniments to meats. Grilling veggies this season, and toss them into pasta (hot or cold) for a great side dish or meal. Slice zucchini, onions, eggplant, and bell peppers and toss together in an oven safe glass dish. Drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast in the oven for about an hour. The result: a sweet, tender, delicious taste sensation.
- Don’t be afraid to pan sauté. It may sound difficult, but it’s easy and a great-tasting alternative to deep-frying, and it’s a way to add ‘good fat’ to a tasty meal. And it’s quick, and won’t heat up your kitchen. Try breading thin cuts of chicken breast or pork loin. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive or peanut oil in a six to ten inch sauté pan, place meat into hot oil and cook until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes per side.
- Add carbohydrate; don’t remove it from your diet, but balance it through the day. If you think you are going to get fat, or stay fat, by eating a bagel in the morning, or a roll with your salad, or a bowl of rice, think again. These foods are enjoyable to most people – the key thing here is portions, and balance. If you have a bagel for breakfast, try soup and salad for lunch and skip the roll. If you have oatmeal in the morning, enjoy a sandwich for lunch. Balance and variety and moderation – the foundation of a healthy diet.
- Change the focus. Instead of the pasta being the main focus of a “pasta salad”, how about making the veggies the main attraction? Just add 2/3 veggies to 1/3 pasta or barley or couscous!
What will undo your weight loss plan: too much junk food, candy, processed cakes and cookies, sugary drinks, tubs of icing, too many granola bars, and not moving your body enough. Or in general, too much of anything is not a good thing.
Be mindful. Do you even know what you ate today? Were you hungry? Do you know how small or large your portion was? Did you count the handful of candy you took from your coworker’s desk? Being aware of what and how much you eat is important when it comes to changing behaviors for the better. Consider keeping a food journal.
Use the summertime to start preparing more healthful food that your family will enjoy. Share some links to some favorite recipes!
Summer has arrived. For many, a cold beer never tastes as good as it does in summertime. It’s Father’s Day weekend, and there’s are a lot of articles about what to get dad, or what kind of special dinner you can cook him, but what do dads really want?
Most likely: Peace, quiet, and beer.
My husband and I love beer. As with food, moderation is important. Health authorities recommend that while binge-drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks on one occasion) is an unhealthy habit, moderate intake (women can have no more than 1 drink per day, and men no more than 2 drinks per day) seems to have no harmful effects. In fact, a moderate intake of alcohol may even have some benefit.
To keep in mind -
- Guidelines. You may choose to have 3 beers one day when celebrating a special occasion, and not have any on other days, and that’s probably okay.
“The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” ~ Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean
- Calories count too. Calories in beer come from its alcohol content, so a higher the alcohol content, yields a higher calorie count. I personally would rather just have one good beer, than three light beers, but that’s up to you. Just don’t overdo it too often.
Sure, I want all dads to be as healthy as they can be, but I also want them to be happy. This means eating food you enjoy, but balancing it out with moderation and exercise. While you enjoy a healthy spread of food this Sunday (perhaps some grilled vegetables and a nice lean steak), allow yourself to enjoy a cold brew with it.
Here’s a review of some of our (me and the dad in the house) favorite picks (including % abv – alcohol by volume) for adventurous beer drinkers to try out:
- Sierra Nevada IPA. We fell in love with this beer in 1991 when we went to visit a friend in Reno, Nevada. Nobody I knew in the East was drinking IPA then. It’s still one of my all-time favorite IPAs. We also love that it comes in cans, which is great for picnics, poolside or boat docks. It’s 5.6% abv.
- Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA. I’ll admit right now, I’m partial to IPAs. We visited the Dogfish Head pub in Rehoboth Beach around 1999 and have been enjoying this beer ever since. Maybe the 6% abv does it?
- Southern Tier 2xIPA. Let’s just say one’s enough. At 8.2% abv, this is darker, and complex than their standard IPA
- Founder’s Centennial IPA. Founder’s brews some great beers. This IPA is piney and floral, with a lot of other complex flavors I can’t describe. 7.2% abv
- Southern Tier Goat Boy. Another confession: We’re partial to goats. Sort of. Well, we don’t like them actually. My husband is a cyclist and has also competed in triathlons. Two summers ago he was out riding on country roads of Maryland, and a goat ran straight out into the road in front of him, putting him head over tin cup. He got scraped up pretty good, and hurt his shoulder. Ever since, he’s had a love-hate relationship with goats. So we admit, even before tasting a beer called Goat Boy – we liked it. To boot, they put their goat on a bicycle when creating the logo, so what’s not to love? (“Ein bock” is German for billy goat – for that reason bock beers often have goat references.) This is a German style bock beer – an imperial weizenbok. Dark and malty.
I admit, I’m what some folks call a beer snob. Please don’t take offense. For folks who really don’t like “beer”, but like to drink beer, these may be good summertime picks:
- Bud Light Lime. Beer Advocate rates this as “awful”, but if you’re not a serious beer drinker, you don’t like microbrews, and are just looking for something refreshing to drink on a hot day – this may be the beer for you. It’s only 4.2% abv, and has a light hint of lime
- Amstel Light. This is a light, 100 calorie lager-style beer. 3.5% abv
- Stella Artois. Belgium beers are nice in the summertime, and Stella practically got the whole “beer can be poured into a cool glass” thing going (The “chalice”). 5.0% abv
We are very fortunate to have a couple of fantastic breweries in town:
- Big Black Voodoo Daddy. If you like stout, check it out. It has coffee and chocolate flavors, and is exceptionally smooth. Packs a punch at 12.5% abv
- Pilzilla is a lighter tasting beer. 7% abv
- Good Vibes is a hoppy beer, with some fruit in the background. 7.3% abv
- Love Child. This smooth Belgium-style beer is brewed with Passion fruit. Raspberry, cherry and spices. Word in town is that if you drink too many of these, you may indeed have a love child. 10.5% abv
- Liberty Blond – a refreshing, malted, golden ale that has mass appeal
- Fresh Squeezed IPA – hoppy and delicious
- Werkzeug Stadt – a German style beer with a nice balance of malt and hops
- Black Bear – a dark stout, full-bodied with hints of coffee and chocolate. My husband loves a good stout anytime, I prefer mine for dessert
Drink responsibly, and Happy Father’s Day.