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Focusing on Habits not Fads

Super Bowl weekend may have found many of you going astray from the health goals you set for the new year. And, it’s only February. manasotaKeysunset

What can you do? For starters, you may want to take this week to reflect on your goals, and be sure that they are goals in which good habits can form. My mantra has always been “keep it fad free”. For almost 20 years, I wrote a newspaper column for the Meadville Tribune. My goal has always been to help people learn how to improve their diet and eating habits, without feeling guilty, and eating for both enjoyment and nourishment.

Fad diets infer short term fixes that seem easier than changing and getting to the root of your bad habits or thoughts. Of course the alternative choice is figuring out why you make the choices you make (eating too much, skipping exercise, give in to cravings) and learning to maintain healthy habits over your whole lifetime.

It’s the formation of healthy habits, not the adherence to food rules, or the deprivation of favorite foods, that creates lasting health. After all, “health” isn’t just good blood pressure, normal blood sugar levels, or a BMI between 20 and 24. It’s also about emotional health.

Health: “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially:  freedom from physical disease or pain” ~Merriam Webster

So if you felt you splurged too much during the weekend, or if you feel guilty because you missed your exercise class due to another obligation – lose the guilt and keep moving forward. Do think about the big picture however:

  • Make a list for your grocery shopping. Having a plan when you get to the store is always a good idea. You can only eat well if you have good choices in the refrigerator and pantry at home.
  • Be realistic. Instead of setting up unrealistic rules (“I’m going to quick eating bagels” or ” I’m not going to eat at the party”), allow yourself the foods you crave, but have a plan. Balance out your treat with healthy foods too. An example would be hosting a Make Your Own Pizza Night with homemade pizzas (purchase prepared thin crusts) and adding a tossed salad or fruit platter.
  • Don’t tempt yourself. If the candy bowl or potato chips calls your name too often, then store those treats elsewhere or bring them into the house or office less often.
  • Consider what hunger really is. Hunger is the feeling that your stomach is empty and you need energy. Often times we confuse our “appetite” with true hunger. It’s okay to “be hungry” for a short time before meal time.
  • Enjoy snacks only when you are hungry. We have lost the idea that snack time is nourishment that is used when the next meal is too far off. You may find yourself snacking when you aren’t hungry – those snack calories are likely unneeded to nourish you.
  • Choose exercises that you enjoy. There are many options. Gyms appeal to some people, while getting outdoor exercise appeals to others. Mix things up all through the year, but be sure your choices are a good fit for you so you can sustain them.
  • Stay positive. If you are working on weight loss, understand that the positive changes you make are more important than the scale. It you’ve set goals to do more exercise, choose healthier foods, eat smaller portions, be more mindful – embrace your “wins”. Skip the scale if it sabotages your mood. Making better choices will pay off over time.

Fat Tuesday can lead to Lean Wednesday and beyond, with a healthy body and mind. Reframe your goals, stay positive, move more, and feed yourself well.

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Flavor and Satiety – The Key to Weight Control?

doritobook+photoA friend of mine recommended this book to me. He’s not a dietitian. He’s a geologist who knows a lot about shale and hydraulic fracking. But like me, he loves to eat. He found The Dorito Effect a fascinating read and let me borrow his copy.

The book’s author, Mark Schatzker, is a food journalist who also loves to eat. He tells many true tales about a lot of different types of food lovers. There’s the overeater who discovered Weight Watchers, the kid who entered the Chicken of Tomorrow contest, and of course, Arch West – the guy who created the Dorito.

In 1962 while on a family road trip, Arch West sampled some tortilla chips at a Mexican snack shack in Southern California. He thought he could take this simple triangular corn chip, and make it taste like the whole taco. The result? The first Dorito: Taco Flavor was on store shelves by 1966.

“The food problem is a flavor problem. Why you can’t eat just one.”

Schatzker’s creates his hypothesis – The Dorito Effect- with a very thoughtful presentation of how flavor may be a primal part of satiety, and the loss of flavor in whole foods is why flavor-seeking humans turn to flavor-boosted food, and then can’t stop eating it due to a “void” that it does not fill. “The Dorito Effect” implies adding flavors to foods or beverages that wouldn’t naturally be paired to those foods (a corn chip flavored to be a complete taco, but not equivalent in satisfaction to the real taco). His hypothesis explores how all mammals are flavor-seeking creatures, describing research in which goats, sheep and cows will overeat when their food is laced with appealing flavors.

He presents that while raising chickens and livestock has changed to meet the needs of a growing population and variable natural resources, these changes inadvertently resulted in a loss of complex flavors in the foods. Therefore, the flavor industry was created to address the bland food. He uses chicken as the most notable example (today’s chicken tastes only like what you season it with – and spice consumption has increased 5-fold). A similar flavor loss has occurred with produce that’s been bred to withstand adverse weather, pests and travel.

He notes that for the past 50 years we’ve made the food people should eat more of (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed meats), taste less delicious.  Meanwhile, we’ve been making the foods we should be eating less of, even more delicious by adding layers and layers of flavors (think Jalapeno Ranch; Sundried Tomato & Basil; Blazin’ Buffalo or Smoky Chipotle).

Eat like an Italian

It’s funny because I have often thought about writing a book titled, Eat like an Italian, and Schatzker makes a few mentions about how Italians eat. All of my grandparents were born in Italy. My mother was born in 1925. My grandmother in 1896. These two women had the biggest influence on both my palate and my cooking skills. Growing up we ate dandelions and escarole (perhaps nurturing my tolerance for bitter flavors). Fresh cherries, peaches, plums, and pears grew on trees in my backyard. Fresh tomato sauce simmered on the stove every Sunday (made from the tomatoes grown in the garden the summer before), and the only jelly I put on my toast came from the concord grapes my grandfather grew in his backyard. I remember numerous times over my lifetime when my mother or grandmother made mention of how “chicken doesn’t taste like it used to” and how “you can’t buy a good tomato anymore”. My son, who doesn’t like tomatoes, loved the ones I encouraged him to eat on our first trip to Italy last summer – because they tasted the way tomatoes should taste, bold and sweet. Interestingly, The Dorito Effect uses both of these foods as prime examples of flavor loss.

Flavor and Nutrition are Intimately Connected

Perhaps what I found most intriguing about this read, is the idea that there is a connection between nutrition and flavor – that perhaps the biochemical changes that have occurred in these foods, results in a different flavor profile. In other words, it may be the amounts of ascorbic acid, flavonols, or omega-3 fatty acids themselves that help create or intensify flavors in plants (and the animals that eat them). The result – more flavor, more satisfaction, and we naturally know when to stop eating.

Ironically, unlike so many other journalists (and some health professionals) who are constantly telling you that “sugar is toxic” (or a similar fear-based statement), Schatzker states that we overeat items such as soft drinks and junk food (chips, crackers) because they are so NON-toxic!

The author dives deeper into his flavor hypothesis describing the natural mechanisms mammals have to avoid overindulging in toxic plants. Unlike the potential toxicity of plants, we don’t control our intake of junk foods because there is no natural mechanism present in them to make us stop eating. He suggests that it’s this “potential toxicity” in nature that allows mammals to enjoy eating plants, and naturally stop eating them when they’ve had enough.

So while the flavor industry created synthetic (and some “natural”) flavorings to replace the loss of flavors in the natural food supply, these flavors are sometimes paired up as they wouldn’t naturally occur (pineapple-flavored yogurt, vanilla flavored cereal), and these synthetic flavors don’t satisfy our primal needs.

When a strawberry is bitter, or a tomato is bland, we tend to consume less of them (or drown them in Ranch dressing). Schatzker believes that since we still crave the flavors, and we can’t get satisfied by eating the real food, we are always looking elsewhere, ending up with “strawberry-flavored yogurt” or “tomato basil crackers”.

Of course satisfying your yen for strawberries with a “fruit bar” doesn’t provide the body with the same nutrient package as what the fresh strawberry itself brings. A real strawberry provides over 25 nutrients including vitamins C, A, potassium, and literally thousands of phytochemicals. There’s really no way to reproduce this synthetically (which is why most dietitians believe in “food first” – eating a variety of foods, instead of depending on a vitamin-mineral supplement). On top of that, there is the calorie issue. The real strawberry, at only about 0.32 calories per gram, compared to the 5 calories per gram in a strawberry-flavored snack food, is a better bet for your waistline.

“Technology got us into this mess, technology can get us out.”

Final Word:

The Dorito Effect is a thought-provoking read. Obesity is more complex than one single cause, but this book may help you ponder the flavored foods you put in your grocery cart and motivate you to stay more mindful as you eat. What I applaud about this book is that unlike the writings of many food journalists and opinion-writers, Schatzker does not dwell in negativity and does not point a big finger at the food industry, nor agriculture. He includes some good science in the book, but his writing style doesn’t focus on mind boggling scientific terms or any strong political leanings – he simply tells a great story. The issue of flavor loss is documented, and the agricultural industry is looking into how to stay productive while naturally returning some of the nutrients and flavors to foods. While I don’t believe flavor is the only thing driving the obesity epidemic, it certainly may be part of the problem. Give it a go and let me know what your thoughts are.

 

 

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Resolving to Choose a Healthier Diet

beanSalad

Bean Salad Ingredients

It’s been a big year in food and nutrition news, and it’s only mid-January.

On December 29 (technically last year) PBS aired Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food documentary. Then on January 7th, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released. And a few days later US News and World Report published their annual best diet review.

When it comes to dietary advice, sometimes it seems like information overload.

In two weeks time, you’ve heard:

  • Pollan offering his “Nutritionism” theory (a term that suggests the food science industry has over-focused on the nutrients in food) and food rules
  • The news releases of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, (that seem vague but not much different than before)
  • And US News reporting their review on diets, concluding that the three best overall diets to follow are DASH, TLC, or MIND. Confused?

Nutrition and Health Are Closely Related

What you eat does have some impact on your health. Your diet supports your body weight and your risk of disease. Being overweight in itself is a risk factor for both diabetes and heart disease, and possibly even some cancers.

But the fact will always remain that there is no one way that every human should eat. And, there are things that we can’t control (genetics, age, gender, and sometimes even stress).

The fact that it’s important to include plants in your diet (vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, grains) doesn’t mean that you can’t find a healthy balance by also including animal-based products (meats, poultry, fish, cheese, dairy). In fact the DASH research showed that while blood pressure was reduced with a high intake of fruits and vegetables, it was lowered even more when lowfat milk was included. And small portions of low fat meats, poultry and fish are part of the DASH plan.

So what should you eat?

What you decide to include in your diet is up to you.

My theory is that you should choose food you enjoy, and since there is clearly a strong correlation between diet and health, you should try your best to eat a variety of foods. Start to think about food as medicine (particularly plant foods – including healthier choices in your diet, and investing some time in exercise, is definitely less expensive than prescription medicines!).

It’s up to you to decide to make healthier choices, reduce your portion sizes, eat out less, and add more vegetables and fruits to your diet.

The bottom line with establishing healthy eating habits, is behavior. In order to eat better, you have to be willing to take some time to change your behavior. Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • Try something new. Sometimes what you eat has as much to do with your routine, environment, and schedule, as it does the actual food. We can get stuck in ruts, that perhaps sabotage our eating habits. Try to change your schedule around, and see if this helps curb snack attacks, or portion sizes.
  • Exercise. Adding a new exercise routine can help change up your schedule and offers you the positive benefits of building strength. Try signing up for a class right after work – the workout will be a great stress buster, and may help suppress your appetite, helping you eat less at dinner.
  • More vegetables, nuts and seeds. These can be easier to add to your diet than you think. It’s about changing old ways. If you are used to grabbing a creamy macaroni salad from the deli, consider making a batch of something new (like my bean salad). If you have it ready, you can grab it as a dinner side dish, or pack it for lunch.
  • Give it a week to ten days. For instance, if you have a sweet tooth, it will be difficult to avoid your typical sweet choices at first. Give it a week, you’ll have to work at choosing another food or beverage instead to replace the sweet (sliced apples perhaps, or a cup of tea with a touch of honey), but after a week, you’ll find it gets easier. And you don’t have to eliminate your favorite sweet – just cut back for a while to establish new, healthier choices first.
  • Get proper sleep. Most people need 7-8 hours a night. Eating poorly can interfere with a good nights sleep, and chronic sleep deprivation can make if more difficult to make reasonable food and beverage choices. Exercise also can greatly improve your sleep quality.

 

 

 

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Easy Bean Salad

Sometimes healthy eating just needs to be easy. If you have a bowl of salad ready to eat in the fridge, you’ll make the right choice. This bean salad will last in the refrigerator for up to a week. It’s loaded with fiber and flavor, and so easy to make, you can enjoy it anytime!

Bean Salad with Spinach

Ingredients

15 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

half an avocado

Lime juice (1/4 cup or two limes)

1 bag of cleaned baby spinach leaves, chopped

1/3 cup sweet and sour type salad dressing

3 ounces crumbled feta cheese

beanSalad

Drain beans and place in a bowl.

beansalad#2

Add chopped tomatoes, avocado and lime juice.

beansalad#3

Coarsely chop spinach. Add to bowl.

beansalad#4

Add feta cheese to bowl.

beansalad#5

Add dressing, and mix gently.

beansaladbowl

Enjoy as a meal, with a slice of whole grain bread. Or serve as a side dish.

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Steps Toward Following the DASH Diet are Easier than You Think

DASHcoverYou’ve likely heard that DASH Diet was in the news again this week, rated by U.S. News and World Report as the #1 Best Overall Diet. The MIND Diet (at the crossroads of DASH and Mediterranean Diets, this diet plan focuses brain health and reducing Alzheimer risk) and the TLC Diet (Therapeutic Lifestyle Change – low fat) ranked second and third.

The great thing about this list is these top three diets are not fad diets. They are based on dietary patterns that have been tested and shown (via controlled clinical trials) to do what they set out to do. In the case of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the goal was to reduce blood pressure. Not only did the diet plan achieve that goal, but other aspects of health improved too (such as blood sugar control in diabetes, and reduced cancer risk).

With the diet news buzzing this week, I thought now would be a great time to give you some simple facts about the DASH Diet:

  • DASH focuses on fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, grains, nuts and seeds
  • DASH clinical trials compared the diet with and without the 2-3 daily servings of low fat dairy. Blood pressure reductions were still reported without dairy, but the dairy group had a more significant reduction in systolic pressure (the top number) than the fruit-vegetable group
  • DASH allows small servings of lean cuts of beef, pork, chicken, lamb and seafood
  • DASH limits added sugars and fat. This includes sweet treats such as cookies or donuts, and also sugary drinks and excess added fats (salad dressings, mayo, oils, etc)

So what do you specifically need to do to accomplish a DASH Diet? Here are some tips to help you head into the new year with a DASH Lifestyle:

  • Log your dairy intake. Your goal is 2-3 servings of low fat dairy for maximum blood-pressure lowering affect.
    • 1/2 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
    • 8 ounces 1% milk
    • 6 ounce Greek yogurt
  • Amp up those fruits and veggies
    • Add spinach leaves and tomato slices to sandwiches
    • Add some chopped vegetables into your grain and pasta dishes
    • Mince carrots into soups and stews
    • Slice apples and plate them up at home. If they are on the counter this way, everyone will grab-and-eat as they walk by
    • Enjoy a vegetable-fruit-yogurt smoothie after work or on the weekends
    • Add fruit to your tossed salads
    • Use more citrus in cooking as a flavor booster. Adding orange zest (from rind) to salads or poultry dishes adds flavor without salt. Slice the orange itself to add more flavor and fiber to the dish
    • Enjoy your oatmeal in the morning with a sliced banana or 2 tablespoons of dried fruit
    • Add veggies to your morning routine – melt an ounce of cheese and sliced tomatoes onto toast; add spinach leaves to a 2-egg omelet or egg sandwich; create a cheesy vegetable English muffin in your toaster oven
  • Enjoy smaller entrees of meat. I encourage you to try more meatless meals during the week but you can also allow for lean choices of beef, pork, or poultry too (this is why it’s also considered to be a plant-based diet – small portions of meats (5-8 ounce total daily, less red meats, more fish) lots of veggies, grains, and some nuts and seeds. The goal is to keep saturated fat intake low.
    • Enjoy 4 ounces sliced beef tenderloin alongside fresh green beans and 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
    • Try stuffing skinless turkey or chicken breasts with a stuffing made from whole grain bread, chopped celery and onion, dried cranberries, and sage.
    • Bake 4 ounce pork loin cutlets with sliced apples
  • Add some healthy fats to your diet, via fatty fish, nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocado, and healthy oils.
    • Try 1 tablespoon of natural peanut or almond butter on your apple slices or whole grain toast
    • Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a whole grain salad
    • Enjoy a cup of low fat cottage cheese sprinkled with 2 teaspoons of sunflower seeds and some sliced strawberries
    • Have 4 ounces of grilled salmon for lunch or dinner
    • Add oil packed tuna to a pita pocket with chopped tomatoes, peppers, spinach, lettuce or sprouts
    • Sprinkle nuts or seeds onto tossed salad
  • Plan snacks with DASH in mind. We all need a snack during the day. Think about the DASH goals when you choose one – fruit, nuts, yogurt, cottage cheese, all fit. When you host that Superbowl party, treat your guests to a delicious DASH Diet dip!

You can read the reviews and find many more tips and details in our book, DASH Diet For Dummies®.

For DASH Diet recipes, check out Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies®.

 

 

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2016 Resolution: Fact Check Your Source, Leave out the Politics

When I starting writing this blog four years ago my goal was to shed some light on the many misconceived views about food and nutrition. The new media has delivered. There continue to be so many conflicting messages, in some cases completely false, that get repeated by journalists and consumers until people believe they are true.

This may at times be intentional and at other times simply be the byproduct of soundbite news. A very small piece of the story is never the whole story, and consumers mistakenly use many of these soundbites to make decisions about what they choose to eat.

This past year has been abuzz with misconceptions about agricultural practices and our food supply. For the new year, I would like you to think critically, and not base your diet and health decisions on myth or misconstrued facts. Furthermore, do not give in to the fear-mongering (i.e., the attempt to use shock and awe tactics to make you feel that something is bad or dangerous or omnipresent).

Top Food and Nutrition Myths:

Myth: Hormone-free Poultry. It has been illegal for poultry to have hormones injected into them since the 1950s. Unfortunately some companies add “hormone-free” to their labels as a (misleading) marketing tool.

Myths About Milk. Folks are also overly concerned about hormones in milk. First off, it’s important to understand that hormones occur naturally in all plants and animals. Most hormones are protein-based. We tend to think about “hormones” in a negative way, perhaps envisioning steroid-type body-building hormones and such. But there are hundreds of various hormones circulating in humans and animals that we require for survival (insulin for one). Human milk contains growth hormones as well. BSH (bovine somatotropin hormone) is a growth hormone in cattle that is a naturally occurring protein. Around the 1950s it was discovered that BSH taken from a cow’s pituitary gland could be injected into the cow and increase milk production, and in 1993 a synthetic version (rBST, recombinant bovine somatotropin growth hormone) was created and approved for use. Even though these proteins are metabolized as any other protein – digested into amino acids, the “fear” of hormones has been one reason that people are avoiding cow’s milk in favor of almond milk. While these new “milks” can provide a calcium supplement to your diet, almond milk does not provide protein. So if you don’t tolerate cow’s milk, avoid it. But if you are substituting almond milk, understand that you are not getting the protein nor potassium benefit of cow’s milk.

Gluten-free Myths. Celiac disease is a real thing, and those who’ve been diagnosed properly by a gastroenterologist do need to avoid foods containing gluten. However, if you are following this trend because of something Gwyneth Paltrow said, then you may be suffering from a low fiber intake (among other issues). Most Americans only get about 15 grams of fiber daily, well below the recommended 25-38.

Cage-free Chickens Myths. Many of us enjoy a chicken dish every week. From Chicken Picatta to Chicken chili, to Chicken tenders, chicken is probably one of the most economical and versatile animal proteins available. Agriculture is an industry. Farmers are not growing pets, they are growing food. This idea that chickens are universally tortured by all chicken farmers is just wrong. Farmers generally know exactly what they are doing to raise the food that feeds the world. Misconceptions are generated when we confer human emotion to animals. I am not a farmer, nor a chicken expert, but we’ve had four to six backyard hens over the past few years. We keep them in a small “chicken tractor” and they lay eggs daily and seem happy (they also sometimes will peck each other, and will eat just about anything). If we were to let them roam our field, they’d probably get eaten by a fox, hawk, or raccoon (once a raccoon, we assumed, actually opened the hatch and helped himself to one of our hens. Nature finds a way).

Myth: Natural and Organic is Best. These two terms are often misinterpreted as “Better”. Not completely so. The term ‘natural’ has very little meaning, while the term Organic, referring to Certified Organic, is clearly defined. There is nothing wrong with choosing organic foods, but there is also no significant benefit overall. I don’t like to hear pro-organic people shaming others with “if it’s not organic it’s not as good” (Chipotle anyone?). And when it comes to packaged foods – there’s definitely no benefit to an organic cracker, cookie, snack bar, or other packaged snack food.

Myth: Organic food is better because they don’t use pesticides. Organic farming does indeed use pesticides to ward off pests. Organic can’t use synthetic (man-made) pesticides (or synthetic fertilizers). The pesticides they do use are chemicals nonetheless, they are just naturally occurring ones. You are falsely led to believe that a pesticide made with household detergent and vegetable oil is “better or less toxic” than a synthetically made one. They are all chemicals just the same, that kill bugs in the right dose. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is the most common pesticide used in organic farming, and coincidently, the same bacterium used in GM technology to produce pest-resistant plants.

Myth: You Need to Avoid Genetically Modified Food Ingredients. GMO is the buzz term du jour. Many people are avoiding “GMO” and have no idea why. Others confuse the potential environmental impact of GMO with food safety. Nature itself performs genetic modification daily. I have stray barn cats with six toes. Nature made them this way. The fact is, farmers use genetically modified seeds to produce hardier crops. Technology has made farming more productive and sustainable, and there’s quite a bit of scientific consensus that GMOs are safe.

Myth: Factory farming is bad. To this myth, I can only say two things – The production of food for 7 billion people has to be industrialized in order to provide the volumes needed. We should be grateful that we have choices (conventionally grown, locally grown, organically grown).

Chew the facts, not the myths.

My concern here is that it’s not only maddening to hear false claims, but also that when people believe these popular myths, they are either avoiding healthy foods unnecessarily. Keep in mind, when the media picks up a story, there is an entire profession that already knows everything about that story, and has been working in that industry for years and years. In other words, “it’s not news to them”. Whether it’s nutrition, aerospace, petroleum engineering, or the current hot topic: Agriculture; the professionals working in those fields know more about them than the news reporter.

It’s also important to keep in mind that food activism is what often brings these stories to the newsreel.

Activism: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.

 

Interestingly, I overheard a conversation about GMO in which an anti-GMO proponent was aghast that a pro-GMO scientist could have liberal political party leanings. The anti-GMO camp assumed that all pro-GMOers are Republican.

No matter what your political views may be, you should be considering all sides of an issue. In the case of food and diet, there are multiple sides that address complex eating behaviors and social environments beyond the food.

Note that the definition of activism includes “in support of or opposition to ONE SIDE…”.

This perception of political divisiveness emphasizes the need for open dialogue, about the facts, all the way around the block. Take politics out of the food-heatlh discussion, and we could get a lot further in the effort to improve public health on just the facts m’am.

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When Did “A Word from Your Sponsor” Become So Uncool?

I love what I do. I love to write. I love to speak with people about food, diet and lifestyle. I love spreading sound messages about nutrition, health and wellness to the public. I’ve worked in this field since 1986, and I’ve written five books, a textbook chapter, and hundreds of articles about food, nutrition, eating and health. I am not on a diet, but I essentially follow the DASH-Mediterranean Diet because it’s proven, and includes foods I enjoy that are part of my heritage.

But lately, the behind the scenes messaging about “good nutrition”, “common ground” and “the right diet” seems to be more of a popularity contest than good messaging.

I am a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I have been a member since the 80s (yeah, that’s the 20th century 80s). For my first 20 years of membership, we were regarded as one of the authorities on food, diet and nutrition (“dietetics” focuses on how food and nutrition impact the body’s health).

There is so much valuable information at the Academy’s website. Much of this information is written by freelance-writer dietitians (who do the research, actually have experience with patients and the many ways people eat). You can search just about any food and nutrition topic and find it there. Nutrient profiles, diet and disease risk, recipes, child nutrition, heart health, diabetes, vegetarian nutrition, food allergies, how to read a food label, food safety, ingredient profiles, and much more. And bonus – it’s totally user friendly. You can read about something there, and put it into action. Yes! Positivity!

For the most part, the Academy is still an authority and registered dietitians are still regarded as one of the most versatile credentialed nutrition professionals (as RDNs we can work in a variety of settings from very clinical hospital or research-based settings, to freelance media work, or nutrition counseling and coaching). However I am currently finding it troubling that there are so many “voices” present in social media and on television, that consumers are left with many confusing messages.

Worse, many in the media have resorted to bashing my profession and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a whole. Why?

I recently read one post on Twitter that stated “If the current food pyramid was the way to go, why are so many dietitians overweight?”

Wow. First off, there is no “current food pyramid”, there’s MyPlate. And secondly, reputable and credentialed registered dietitians do not weight shame (or food shame).

So what is the problem? Where are all of these “wannabe nutrition advisors” getting their angst?

Whose Turf Is It Anyway?

Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at NYU (and a visiting professor to Cornell’s Nutrition Science Department), is partially to thank for much of the complaints about dietitians and the field of nutrition. She teaches future registered dietitians but isn’t one. She’s written many books about the politics of food and food policy.  Sometimes I agree with her, most times I don’t. Recently she has been writing a post at her blog about industry-funded research (funny thing is, her premise is that industry funded research will be biased, but she is clearly biased against industry-funded research. There are many good scientists working in university settings doing good research. If the universities don’t have research funding, who is going to pay for the future of science?).

Michele Simon is a lawyer who is also interested in food politics in the name of public health, but most of her messages are just anti-soda, anti-Big-Food, anti-dairy, and anti-fast-food. She doesn’t seem to agree with “moderation messaging”.

Before Twitter, nobody was too concerned about sponsorship, or “industry-funded research” or any of those buzz words. After all, if not for sponsorship, how else is a non-profit or all-volunteer organization going to put on a conference or offer speakers to their members so they can satisfy their ongoing education locally?

Volunteer = $0 Sponsor = $$$

I am a volunteer for one of the national association’s specialty practice groups. There are hundreds of registered dietitians and dietetic technicians that volunteer their time and offer their leadership skills to the Academy and many local organizations. I am also a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and my local district association. I have served on the board of both. Board members are volunteers (they are not paid). Without these volunteers, none of these associations would exist.

My local association only has about 65 members because I am in a rural part of our state, so cash from membership dues is not enough to sponsor educational and networking opportunities. Regardless of our location, members are still required to log the same amount of continuing education as anyone who is closer to a metropolitan area. We also appreciate these local conferences to network and meet with colleagues in our state.

I mean (as Cage the Elephant says) money doesn’t grow on trees, and speakers can’t travel all over the country volunteering all year long, so we often engage a sponsor to cover the speakers honorarium, travel, and also provide coffee or tea during the mini-conferences.

Every large organization is imperfect. There isn’t a way to please everyone with every policy. But boy do I wish non-nutrition professionals would just butt out. Take a real look at what Registered Dietitians and the Academy offer. Meet up with a registered dietitian and actually have a face to face conversation.

One last note to consumers: The mission of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is not to tell you what you should eat. It’s vision is

Optimizing health through food and nutrition

And it’s mission is geared toward it’s members:

 Empowering members to be food and nutrition leaders.

Not a member? Then stop bashing and get on with your own business.

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You Name it, We’re Called it: Dietitians

Recently my colleagues had a funny email exchange about all of the various names we’ve been called over the years. I’m sure that dietitians aren’t the only health professionals who laugh about this – as I’m sure anyone wearing a white lab coat in a hospital has a story. In addition, I know many doctors who may be quite certain the patient they just visited in the hospital does not know what their specialty is, or even why they visited them. Of course I’m not blaming the patient, being in the hospital is a stressful experience. dietitianmeme

Anyhow, here’s a round up of the various names dietitians have been called:

  • Diabetic Intern
  • “Hey Dietary!” (The louder the better. Voted most annoying)
  • Food Lady
  • Waitress
  • Dietitianist
  • Nutritionalist
  • Dietitianer
  • Food Police
  • Dietologist
  • Dietrition
  • Nutritionalologist
  • Belly Robber
  • Vegetable Evangelist

And then there’s a favorite of Julie Satterfeal, MS, RDN, LD, when her son declared to his sister, 

“…you have to drink your milk, because mom is a healthyologist!”

Or this one from Danielle Heuseveldt, RD LDN CHWC,

“Once I ran into a high school friend and told him I was studying dietetics. He replied ‘you mean that book by L. Ron Hubbard?’ Um, no.” (yeah, he’s the founder of “Scientology”)

For the most part, these crazy names for dietitians come up all over the place. But in a hospital setting, like the one I worked in during the 1980s and 90s, dietitians and many health practitioners wear white lab coats. So the next time you are in a hospital, and see people walking around in white lab coats, don’t assume. Ask. They could be a doctor, nurse, dietitian, nurse’s aid, lab technician, and more.

My colleague Melissa Joy Dobbins  created her own t-shirts to confirm that we are not the food police!guiltFreeRD

Whatever you do, don’t call me Dietary. And yes, I went to school for this.

 

 

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The Holidays: Be Mindful with these 5 Tips

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year, but they can also be stressful. You may be dealing with added financial burdens, a heavier work load, scheduling conflicts, or are grieving a recent loss – it all adds up to stressful moments amongst the joyful.

That stress can lead to overeating, skipped meals, or poor eating choices too. Being mindful of your hunger and reasons for overeating are important all year through, but during this busy season, it’s an especially good idea to pay closer attention.

  • When your schedule is packed, it’s easy to lose track of when or what you are eating. Make it a point each day this month to take a few minutes each evening and morning to think about your meal plan. For instance, before you go to bed, think about what you’ll eat for breakfast, and make sure you are up in time. Then at breakfast, make a decision about lunch and snacks through the day (see ideas below). Self-talk can help you be accountable to yourself and remember that eating right is important.
  • If you are looking for a snack, ask the most important question: “Am I hungry?” If the answer is no, then take a moment to ask yourself why you feel you want to eat something. If the answer is yes, then enjoy a healthy snack.
  • Have fruit and nuts with you. Keeping fruit nearby makes it easy to make a good snack choice. Nuts are high in protein and fat, so can satisfy you (just keep portion control in mind).
  • Stay hydrated. When you’re on the go all day, be sure to keep a water bottle in the car, at your desk, or in your bag.
  • Feeling bad about what you are eating won’t help you feel better, so don’t be too hard on yourself on the day you overindulge. Make tomorrow a new day of healthy eating, lighter portions, and more movement.

Easy Snack Ideas

  • Fruit: Keep fruit with you in your briefcase or bag. Cut an apple or orange in quarters in the morning, put it into a zippered snack bag. Cut fruit is sometimes more enticing and easier to eat on the go that whole fruit.
  • Pack fruit cups in your desk drawer DASHlunchsnackphoto
  • Keep Greek yogurt in the fridge at work for a midday snack
  • Portion out 1/4 cup of almonds or mixed nuts into a small container or snack bag
  • Buy pre-portioned 200 calorie bags of trail mix
  • Use reusable containers to make yogurt parfaits, or add canned peaches to cottage cheese
  • Pair one string cheese with a sliced pear
  • Spread nut butter onto a banana

Quick and Light Breakfast and Lunch Ideas

  • Quick oats. Use the microwave, add chopped or sliced fruit or 1 TB dried fruit and 1 TB chopped nuts
  • Cottage cheese mixed with sliced grapes or banana
  • Whole grain toast spread with ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 Whole grain bagel spread with peanut butter, 8 ounces milk
  • Whole grain toast with a slice of melted cheese and tomato
  • Scrambled egg wrap (use a 100 calorie tortilla type wrap, add scrambled eggs. Garnish with a sprinkling of cheese or salsa)
  • Turkey and spinach leaves in a pita pocket, with a piece of fruit
  • Rice bowl with leftover meat and veggies on top
  • Chopped salad (make use of ready-to-eat salad kits. Prepare the night before, then pack for lunch or add as a side dish to dinner)
  • Mixed green salad with tuna or cottage cheese, dried fruit, 1 TB sunflower seeds (tuna, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese are easy ways to add protein to saladsDASHsaladphoto
  • Hummus in a pita pocket topped with alfalfa sprouts or mixed salad greens and chopped tomato. Add a piece of fruit and a one-ounce bag of potato chips
  • Ham and cheese on a flatbread, topped with spinach. Snack bag of carrots.

 

 

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Planning a Festive Table of Favorites

Thanksgiving will usher in the holiday season which most likely will include lots of family meals and parties. When planning your gatherings you can create healthy meals and enjoy yourself. Many recipes can be lightened up on calories, while still offering tons of flavor. Keep these simple tips in mind as you plan your menus over the next month:

  • Include fresh fruit and veggies for your pre-game. When folks arrive, they are usually hungry, so while you are putting the finishing touches on the main event, keep it light – offer up a platter of freshly cut vegetables (bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, carrots) and a plate of sliced fruit (e.g. apple or pear slices).
  • Color – Don’t serve a plate of white food. Add oranges and greens to the table with fresh salads, sweet potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli or green beans. Remember the “My Plate” strategy of filling half the plate with vegetables, and a smaller portion with starches.
  • Use less butter and sugar. While some make the argument that “fat is back”, it’s still prudent to monitor the amount of fat (especially saturated fat) in your diet. Fat carries with it a lot of calories, so by using 3 tablespoons of butter over a whole stick, you can reduce the calories in a recipe by 70 percent! The same can go for sugar – in the sweet potato casserole recipe below, I reduced the sugar from a traditional recipe from 3/4 cup to 1/3 cup.
  • Make mini-rolls and muffins. If you are baking up rolls, or using frozen bread dough – go small. Baking smaller rolls helps with portion control and allows guests to sample everything. I use mini muffin tins to bake cornbread with cranberries or mini banana muffins to go along with the meal.
  • Offer sparkling waters or your own flavor-infused water. 

Sweet Potato Casserole

This has been a family favorite at our house since my children were small. My son is older now but still requests it. I use less sugar and marshmallows than traditional recipes, but it still has all of the fiber and beta-carotene goodness of the sweet potatoes. sweets

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup 1% milk

3 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

Cooking spray

1 cup miniature marshmallows

METHOD

  1. Put a large pot of water on stove to boil over high heat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray a 9 by 13-inch pan with cooking spray, set aside.
  3. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 2 inch pieces
  4. Carefully put potatoes into boiling water and cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and soft. Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.
  5. Drain water and place potatoes into large stainless steel bowl and mash gently with a potato masher.
  6. Add sugar, milk, butter, salt and vanilla extract to bowl. Using a hand mixer or an immersion blender, mix potatoes for 1-2 minutes. Add eggs, continue mixing until well combined.
  7. Pour potatoes into prepared pan, spreading evenly, then bake in oven for 25 minutes.
  8. Remove potatoes from oven. Turn broiler on medium high.
  9. Pour miniature marshmallows evenly onto top of casserole, and place under broiler for about 1 minute (Watch carefully!) until lightly browned. Enjoy!

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