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Does Your Diet have the Power of Poison?

Photo taken at Power of Poison in the Natural World exhibit, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

What’s worse, sugar or fat? Is salt good or bad? How much of it should you include in your diet? Will a “sugar detox” improve my health? Are plants sprayed with glyphosate poisoning us?

These are questions I hear often. There’s much debate about which substance in our diet is the most harmful, and the big picture is often lost when we focus on one substance, such as sugar, fat, or salt. In actuality, there are upper limits set for just about every nutrient.

When debating whether salt, fat or sugar, and more recently, glyphosate (the weed control herbicide) may impact your health, it’s really important to understand the concepts of hazard and risk.

Hazard Versus Risk

Since taking a toxicology class in grad school, I’ve always been fascinated with the human body’s response to toxins and the presence of natural toxins all around us. As a dietitian, you may not think I’d need to understand anything about toxicology, but there are many basic principles of toxicology that are actually very important to understand.

I recently took a trip the the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh where they are hosting an exhibit this summer called The Power of Poison in the Natural World.  The exhibit illustrated this difference using a broad range of poisonous hazards within nature around the globe.

The adage “the dose makes the poison” is one I use often, both in my professional discussions as well as during dinner table chats. This notion of dosage describes the simple difference between a substance being a “risk” versus a “hazard”. Hazard is defined as something that can cause harm. Epidemiological nutrition studies consider how a hazard may pose harm by increasing risk of diseases like cancer, or damage to major organs (liver, kidneys, lungs, or the reproductive system), or something that can cause birth defects or have neurotoxic effects.

A hazard is defined as something that can cause harm. Risk is the potential for a hazard to cause harm.

An example would be the foxglove, or digitalis, plant. We have this beautiful flower growing in our wildflower garden. It’s beautiful, but toxic in the wrong dose. The plant is used to make the drug digoxin, which has been used for atrial fibrillation and heart failure. So sometimes small amounts of toxins (or hazards) can actually produce beneficial properties. The dose makes the poison.

Photo taken at Power of Poison in the Natural World exhibit, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Snake Bites Versus Our Diet

As my science-loving son often reminds me, most snakes won’t hurt you unless taunted. A viper presents a hazard when the snack bites, but risk increases if you get in its way and pursue it. You reduce your risk by leaving snakes alone when you see them. (Fun fact: baby snakes are more hazardous than adult snakes, because they lack control of the amount they venom they inject into their prey).

Risk equals hazard plus degrees of exposure. In the case of a bite from a venomous pit viper, the outcome is grim, as any level of exposure to that sort of venom is debilitating or even deadly, depending on the speed of anti-venom treatment.

The degree of exposure to components of our diet however are a bit different. I could put a half teaspoon of sugar on my oatmeal, eat two Hershey Kisses, have a glass of wine, eat 2 pieces of fruit, drink 6 ounces of orange juice, and enjoy a half cup of ice cream, every single day and not be at risk for sugar poisoning. I can also cook with salt, consume processed meat for lunch twice a week, and used canned food daily, for example, and not be at risk for salt poisoning.

Are Americans poisoning themselves with sugar or salt? I don’t think so. It’s not necessary to “detox” by completely eliminating the hazard. Think about all of the hazards you encounter every day: the sun, the road, insects, the bleach you may use to brighten your clothing or disinfect something, your pet, your plants, soap, wine. Would you want to completely eliminate all them by never going outside, not planting a flower pot, not bathing, and not leaving your home? Never visit another winery?

In reference to a large bowl of salt which could be fatal. Photo taken at Power of Poison in the Natural World exhibit, Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Be Sensible

You can drink too much wine. You can expose yourself to too much sun without sunscreen. Could some people reduce how much sugar or sodium they consume? Absolutely. But I don’t feel that scare-tactics are needed to motivate them to do so. Here are some simple ways to reduce your sugar and salt intake:

  • Drink more water to quench your thirst in place of soft drinks or lemonade. Substitute sparking waters or diet soda for regular. If you love soda, set a goal to limit it to 12 ounces or less daily (if you have diabetes, or need to lose weight, you should completely eliminate it).
  • Limit desserts and bakery items such as cinnamon buns, donuts, danish, cake, cookies, to just once a week.
  • Limit your portion of ice cream. Summertime screams ice cream right? Enjoy it in smaller portions. Order the small cone or sundae. Use a small ramekin to portion out a half-cup scoop at home.
  • Eat less candy and avoid “King Size” unless you share it.
  • Shake less salt on your food, and read labels for sodium. Choose more low sodium foods.
  • Reduce the number of bread products you consume in a day (3-4 servings, with one slice or 6-8 crackers being one serving).
  • Read labels on seasonings and choose more salt-free herb blends, and spices, in lieu of salts.
  • Calm down. Eat and drink sensibly.

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Fighting Obesity in the First 1000 Days

I attended an intriguing lecture about early feeding, sponsored by Nestle (Gerber baby products) but was not paid to write this post. As a mother of three, I believe whole-heartedly in the importance of early feeding, and Gerber supports research about early feeding and offers some excellent educational tools for mothers. 

I believe that early feeding is very important to health, and may be the most effective way to reduce the incidence of obesity. I don’t have solid evidence just yet, but there are some compelling trends showing up about the unique window of opportunity the first 1000 days of life to influence future health through nutrition. These 1000 days span the:

  • 270 days during pregnancy
  • 365 days during the child’s first year of life
  • 365 days during the child’s second year of life

So much happens both nutritionally and behaviorally during this time frame. The mother’s diet supports the developing fetus as the infant is nurtured through pregnancy. Appropriate nutrition and the support a child receives during this time can have a huge impact on the child’s future health. Finding the sweet-spot of getting nutrition and weight gain “just right” during pregnancy is key.

The First Two Years Are Crucial

This happy 2 month old’s nutrition comes exclusively from breast milk and formula.

During the first six months, the infant gets her nutrition from either breastmilk, infant formula, or a combination of both. At four to six months, complementary feeding begins with the introduction of some developmentally appropriate table foods or baby foods. By age two, the child’s diet continues to expand and this is a time to foster independent eating.

How can the first two years of a child’s eating be so impactful? Well, poor dietary habits start in infancy. During pregnancy, proper nutrition supports normal growth and development of the fetus, but once the child is born and begins feeding, the subtle cues exchanged between mother and infant have a real impact on feeding and behavior. In other words, a mother is essentially “programming” the infant during the first two years. This programing during pregnancy through age one impacts the child’s metabolic system, immunity, and growth. From age one to two, the mother and caregivers are also providing programming for satiety (knowing when you are full), along with programming for the behavior and development of eating.

There are several modifiable dietary factors that may increase the risk of childhood obesity during the first 2 years of life:

  • lack of breastfeeding
  • early introduction (before 4 months) of solid foods
  • high intake of sugar sweetened beverages
  • low intake of fruits and vegetables

According to the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) average calorie and protein intake exceeded requirements for age from birth to 35 months (interestingly, hot dogs, bacon and sausage are among the high calorie foods in an infants diet age 6-24 months. There are many better choices).

In a nutshell, to be sure your baby is getting off to a good start, consider these healthy habits from birth to age two:

  • Birth to four months: Provide only breastmilk or infant formula. If bottle feeding, pay close attention to when the baby is done. The bottle doesn’t have to be emptied every time.
  • Four to Six Months through one year: Begin to offer small servings of baby foods or mashed table foods in the appropriate consistency and portion. Offer cooked cereal (like oatmeal), fruits and vegetables first. Avoid choking hazards. Check with your pediatrician to be sure your baby is ready.
  • One to two years: Offer healthy “table foods” from the basic food groups (cooked vegetables, soft meats, fresh fruit, cheese, eggs, crackers, toast, low sugar cereals). Avoid fast food and sugary beverages during the first two years (soda, fruity drinks). At age one, the baby can begin drinking milk (begin using a cup at 6 months, and avoid bottle feeding after age one). The American Academy of Pediatrics just released a statement recommending no fruit juice during first year.

When Are Babies Actually Beginning Solid Food?

While it’s ideal to avoid solid food until after age 4 months, parents aren’t always listening to that advice. Unfortunately, many parents begin feeding solid food too early. Research has shown that many factors relate to introducing foods too early. Mothers reported several reasons for offering food to infants younger than four months:

  • the baby seemed hungry
  • the baby was old enough
  • the baby wanted the food they were eating
  • they thought the baby would sleep better
  • a doctor or health care professional recommended to begin feeding

Ideally, an infant should not be provided with any food besides breast milk or infant formula the first four to six months. At that time, the infant should be able to hold his head up and sit upright, weigh at least 13 pounds, can close mouth around spoon, and can move food from front to the back of mouth.

Waiting until at least four months of age, and looking for cues that the baby is ready, supports long-term eating habits, nutrition and healthy weights. There are also behavior-related factors that increase the risk of childhood obesity:

  • Lack of responsive feeding practices from caregiver
    • Not paying attention to hunger and satiety (“I’m full”) cues, e.g. baby turns head away, squirms, stops feeding, etc.
  • Improper sleep habits
  • Lack of family meals
  • Screen time
  • Inadequate active play

What Are Toddlers Eating?

courtesy of José M. Saavedra, MD Chief Medical Officer Nestlé Nutrition

I’m alarmed at the amounts and types of foods being fed to children under the age of four.

  • 41% of children aged two to three consume fast food one to two times per week
  • 10% consume fast food more than three times per week

French Fries logs in as the top vegetable consumed by two to four year olds (along with mashed potatoes, broccoli, corn, carrots and green beans), yet most parents, when asked, think their child gets enough vegetables. I have nothing against fast food, but age one to four is an important time period to nurture healthy eating habits by introducing fruits, vegetables, and grains so the child can develop a palate for these healthy foods. Save fast food for the teen years.

courtesy of José M. Saavedra, MD Chief Medical Officer Nestlé Nutrition

Young children are also consuming too much sodium, inadequate whole grains, and too many “empty calories” (foods that are high in calorie and low in nutrition) like sweetened beverages.

Making Feeding Easier for Mothers

There’s no question that moms need guidance about early feeding. Perhaps parents do not have access to the information, a support system that encourages proper feeding, or they feel guilty or confused over what and how much to feed baby. While on the one hand there is a baby-led weaning movement going on, and a direction to “eat more whole foods”, on the other hand, there’s clearly a disconnect when it comes to feeding babies the first two years. This shouldn’t create guilt for mothers who may do well to rely on some convenience.

The baby-led weaning philosophy encourages children to eat what they tolerate, need, and then stop. It also encourages parents to be tuned into eating behaviors. But if the family isn’t already eating a healthy diet, this approach may not be the best fit.

One of the benefits of using some packaged “baby foods” is the clear direction given on labels about what age the food is appropriate for, and also how much a serving should be per age. In addition, packaged baby foods are often fortified (iron, B vitamins) which can benefit the overall nutrient profile for the child.

Don’t Miss Your Opportunity

The recent research about the importance of these first 1000 days supports how important parents are in setting up a child for successful eating throughout life. Take the time to watch the infant, look for cues that he is done, or needing more. Never force feed or use food to withhold/reward behaviors. And just like adults, infants and children also need a proper sleep schedule and some structure to function and eat properly.

Ten years ago I wrote a piece titled “Parenting Food”. The current research showing that authoritative parenting styles are most effective (responds to signals, is nurturing and structured), also applies to feeding. Being too restrictive, or too indulgent, won’t result in a child that can self-regulate and stay healthy.

Good nutrition starts early. Effective early feeding strategies will be an important part of the solution to childhood obesity.

 

 

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Why I Don’t Eat “Clean”

I will be blogging about food facts and sharing information about modern agricultural practices over the next several months. These posts will be notes as sponsored by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, but are expressions of my own.

Clean eating. I get it. Eating more whole foods (vegetables, fruits, fresh meats, nuts, oats) is a good idea. While the initial idea of this term was to encourage people to reduce the intake of packaged food and thereby improve their diet and eat well, it’s now a blurred trend that denotes removing all sorts of things from the diet. I cringe when I see marketing ads for the “eat clean” philosophy that direct you to avoid “processed” food, GMOs and foods with “too many ingredients.”

Many food trends seem to be driven by restaurants, food companies or even celebrities—and their claims frequently aren’t fact-based. For example, let’s consider Chipolte’s misleading marketing statement, “Chipotle should be a place where people can eat food made with non-GMO ingredients”. The statement indirectly implies that GMO ingredients are “bad,” or even harmful, despite and abundance of research and consensus they are extremely safe.

In addition, McDonald’s recently announced that they’ll be switching to only fresh meat (not frozen) in their quarter pounders next year. Other restaurants are also joining in on the “fresh” trend that seems to be a focus for food companies. Is this necessary? In my opinion, not necessarily. Frozen meat is practical, and completely safe and healthy.

I understand that food companies are responding mostly to consumer demand. But I have to ask, are consumers demanding these things because they are misinformed? Company marketing statements provide the illusion of enhanced nutrition, more sustainable and fostering a healthier environment. But when companies switch out or eliminate ingredients, it’s in my opinion, primarily to benefit their bottom line and increase sales.

Here’s a list of buzz words used on the front of package labeling that can confuse and mislead consumers:

  • Gluten-free
  • Hormone-free
  • No High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Cage-free
  • non-GMO
  • Grass fed
  • Fresh
  • Natural
  • Clean

In many instances, these claims have nothing to do with the quality or health of the food. At times, they can even be misleading. For instance:

  • When foods like corn chips that never contained gluten are labeled “Gluten-free.”
  • Chicken that’s labeled “hormone-free” despite the fact that farmers don’t use hormones in poultry (and, it’s illegal).
  • Foods where there are actually no GMO alternatives, are labeled non-GMO.
  • Cage-free eggs suggest that hens kept in cages aren’t healthy or cared for properly. I’ve never met a farmer that didn’t care about his or her animals.

I don’t like trendy diet and health-focused terms. Consumers deserve to have access to food facts without the demonization of our safe and abundant food supply. Then they can relax and just enjoy eating.

I’m not worried about “eating clean” because I know that there’s no real metabolic difference between consuming a slightly processed food over a fresh food. The key to a healthy diet is variety and balance, and there are many ways to create a healthy diet.

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Book Review: How a Family Garden Can Nourish Your Life

My colleague Jen Haugen is a mom first, a dietitian second. I certainly can relate to that.

Since becoming a mother twenty two years ago, I have always noted “mom” as my primary role and identity. I may not be perfect (there are empty pages and missing years in my children’s school scrapbooks), but I am content in knowing that I was present in my time with my children, and enjoyed just about every minute of it.

The Family Garden

As a child, I grew up with a family garden. My grandfather brought his green thumb from “the old country” (Italy), my father brought his artistic design to the garden with neat squares, straight rows, and perfectly weeded beds, and my mother and grandmother helped with harvesting and procurement. We had a very large garden. In addition to tomatoes, beans, peas, potatoes, beets, carrots, broccoli, swiss chard, corn, onions, and herbs, we also had dozens of fruit trees.

Me and my grandfather in 1968 holding the biggest beets every harvested.

Nurture the Soil and Yourself

Jen’s book, A Mom’s Guide to a Nourishing Garden, isn’t just a how-to-start-a-garden book. It also encourages you to embark on a reflective journey of motherhood. It is a journey, let me tell you (check out Jen’s “How Moms Can Change the World” TedxTalk). Jen uses analogy and metaphor to illustrate how the plan for nurturing plants and nurturing your own needs are similarly important, and must be done with intention, with margins and with compost. And of course, don’t forget to keep up with the weeds!

The funny thing is, that while I really appreciate garden-fresh produce, I am not enthusiastic about working in my own vegetable garden. I’m more passionate about planting and arranging flowers. Luckily, I married a wonderful man who didn’t grow up with a garden, so he has sought to raise some vegetables for us, and plant some fruit trees, and we’ve always have anything from pots to full plots of herbs and vegetables.

Sit Down for a Quiet Read

This book is an easy read for any mother who is interested in planning and planting a garden for her young family. Fresh air and dirt are good for young children, and most young ones are very enthusiastic about helping out, and playing in the dirt. I love that Jen offers lots of ideas from container gardens, to deck gardens, to raised beds or plots – something to fit everyone’s needs. I especially love her garden theme ideas in Chapter 8 (you’ll have to order the book to find out more!).

At the end of each chapter is a short work session with four to six questions to help you think about your goals, reflect, and create an action plan.

You can easily read this book in a weekend. So give yourself this gift. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, find a cozy, quiet corner, and read it.

 

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More Matters: Canned Veggies can be Easy Ways to Add More Veggies

You know that adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet should be a weekly goal. This dish is a variation of my coauthor and culinary dietitian Cindy Kleckner’s Southwest Corn with Chipotle Peppers, from DASH Diet For Dummies® (check out Toby Smithson’s video here). Adding black beans provides more fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium phosphorous, and B-vitamins (especially folate) to the dish. It’s also super easy to throw together.

I also want to point out here, that you don’t always have to follow a recipe exactly (baking, yes, but cooking? Not always). Let’s say you don’t have fresh corn on hand (as used in original recipe), or don’t have time to grill it – you can use canned or frozen corn.

Canned vegetables seem to have a poor image – and they shouldn’t! Not too many people can always have fresh produce on hand. Canned vegetables help fill that gap, when you don’t have time to “run to the store”, and canned staples such as tomatoes, beans, corn, and Mexican style peppers, will help you create tasty healthy meals or side dishes.

 

 

Fire up the Grill! Pork Loin with Peaches

For those who live in seasonal weather, there’s nothing better than being able to get outdoors, enjoy fresh warm air, and fire up the grill. Outdoor grilling is an American tradition, and can be a great way to get the family together for quality time and good nutrition.

Pork loin is low in saturated fat, and easy to cook. You can add a multitude of different flavors to it – BBQ, fresh herbs (rosemary, oregano), garlic, or a spice rub (cumin, cinnamon, turmeric). It’s much better to add your own seasoning over purchasing the pre-seasoned pork loins (which tend to be very high in sodium), and it’s really very easy.

To note – the USDA modified the cooking guidelines for safe temperature of cooked pork.

Try this recipe for your next gathering. If you cook a larger pork loin, you’ll have leftovers that you can make soft tacos with or slice onto a tossed salad.

 

What are Plant Stanols?

As a Nutrition Communications Consultant and blogger, I sometimes am sent free samples of products, but with no obligation to promote the products. When products provide evidence-based information, and I feel could be helpful to incorporate into a diet, I’ll write about them and share posts on social media. I was not compensated to write this post.

Have you heard of plant stanol esters? They are naturally found in all plant foods and help block the absorption of cholesterol in your body, lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. 

I recently tried a free sample of Benecol® with a coupon that was sent to me. This is a vegetable oil spread with plant stanol esters added to it, that you can use on toast, bread, or vegetables. The product claims to reduce cholesterol when used daily, and numerous studies have shown that plant stanols can reduce cholesterol levels. Of course, a heart-healthy lifestyle also requires exercise and an overall healthy diet, that’s low in saturated fat.

Cholesterol Lowering Diet

It’s definitely worth working on your diet if you have high cholesterol levels. Having high cholesterol adds to your risk of heart disease (along with high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle). Include foods such as:

  • Vegetables and whole grains should be the showcase on your plate. Be sure to include a variety of vegetables and legumes, and choose grains such as barley, brown rice, or quinoa.
  • Include fruit. Like vegetables, fruit supplies fiber and antioxidants.
  • Make breakfast count. Including oatmeal into your meal plan can help lower cholesterol. Sweeten it naturally with fresh or frozen fruit.
  • Use healthy fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, corn, or soybean oil. Choosing a variety of vegetable oils is your best bet (oils high in polyunsaturated fat, or PUFAs, may have adverse affects, the key is to use all fats sparingly, and substitute vegetable oil for butter or shortening in baking when possible).
  • Add nuts and seeds to your diet. These foods are high in fiber and healthy fats. Snack on small servings of nuts, and add seeds to salads or in baking.
  • As you add more vegetables, reduce your portions of meat. To reduce saturated fat, choose lean cuts of meat, remove skin from poultry. Add more fish to your diet, which can add omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Limit sugar, high fat desserts and fried food. Don’t overdo sweets, and cut back on the total amount of sugar in your diet. Try baking your own treats, and using fruit as a weekday dessert. Any form of sugar (table sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar) provides calories and no nutrients. It can also impact your triglyceride level if you are prone to high triglycerides.

If you have high cholesterol and you are already using a vegetable oil spread every day, it certainly can’t hurt to try a product like Benecol® along with a healthy diet. I found it tasty on toast (I love toast), and I think I’ll try spiking my oatmeal with some too.

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Pasta Cici

Growing up Catholic with an Italian mother and grandmother, we went meatless on Fridays during Lent. Unlike many of our other Catholic counterparts who did fish fries, we usually at what my mother used to call “peasant food”. Meals such as polenta, pasta fajole, or pasta cici were common. She also baked fish, such as flounder or cod, that would be topped with a mixture of bread crumbs, herbs, and olive oil, then baked.

I recently made this pasta dish for a lenten Friday. The simple photo was so popular, I decided to share the recipe here. It’s a delicious comfort food to me, and it’s fairly simple to make. Enjoy!


Why Aren’t You Following the DASH Diet?

“The DASH diet is proven to work. Why hasn’t it caught on?”

This was the title of a recent article from the Washington Post by Christy Brissette that has gotten a lot of shares this past week, offering thoughts as to why the diet hasn’t been adopted (despite being ranked #1 by US News and World Report for several years).

Brissette reports that while the original research studies for the diet were directed toward managing and preventing high blood pressure, the diet also has additional appeal.

“…the model eating plan for all Americans is the DASH diet, because it outlines a generally healthy diet from which anyone can benefit. Following the DASH diet’s principles will mean you’re eating a nutrient-rich yet not calorie-dense diet that has been shown to be helpful for promoting weight loss and maintenance. A growing body of evidence suggests DASH is also helpful for managing diabetes, preventing cancer and improving kidney health.”

The Post article offered opinions as to what the barriers may be in not adopting an evidence based plan for health. Let’s take a look.

People Don’t Have Access to the Foods and It’s Expensive

This is an easy excuse. Dori Steinberg, a research scholar at Duke University, suggests that people don’t adopt the diet because they may not have access to the foods included. This may be the case in some geographic areas, but there are many people who do have access to markets, have transportation, and could indeed follow the diet plan if they wanted to. Or, if they knew about it.

While “food deserts” exist, there are many who have plenty of access to supermarkets that aren’t following the diet. The notion that it’s too expensive doesn’t fly with me. You don’t have to eat avocados everyday. You don’t have to eat the most expensive cuts of meat. You don’t have to buy designer food. You can buy the vegetables that are on sale or in season, you can look for BOGO fruits (buy one, get one half off or free), you can rinse canned beans (which are very inexpensive), you can purchase store brand barley or brown rice, or store-brand yogurt. You can buy frozen vegetables or canned fruits, that are on sale, or try store brands, which are generally less expensive. There are lots of options.

Patients also need to begin to view some of the more expensive food items as an “investment” in their health. For instance, nuts are expensive; but you are only supposed to eating about 1/4 cup serving, so they can last a while. In the long run, fruits and vegetables are not more expensive than junk food or convenience food (the foods you’ll need to cut back on). Meats are to be consumed in smaller portions (3-6 ounces), so you can spend less, and stretch the portion out for four people.

Do People Who Could be Following the DASH Diet Actually Know What they are Supposed to Eat?

This is my thought – despite the news reports that tout the benefit of the DASH Diet lifestyle, and despite my own efforts to market the diet plan – people, in general, still don’t know what the diet plan includes, or how to follow it, or why they should.

I couldn’t agree more with Ms Brissette:

“The key to helping people eat better is giving them the tools they need to put nutrition information into action.”

For the most part, this education should begin in the doctor’s office. We need more primary care physicians to promote the DASH Diet as an option for “how to eat well”. And then, give the patient some resources. It’s great to say “Well, you should try the DASH Diet or the Mediterranean Diet”, but if your patient has no idea what that means, then the “advice” is useless. Whether the direction to “follow the DASH Diet” comes with a simple flyer, one-pager, a book referral, or a referral to a registered dietitian for counseling, there must be a “next step”.

Next Step: Proper Health Education and Follow-Up

You’d think we’d have this figured out by now. This has been one of my pet peeves for thirty years: Physicians telling their patients to “go on a diet”, “lose weight” or “try the DASH Diet” without any further instruction or support. When I worked in a health center, one of my favorite things to do was clean out the “nutrition education” file drawer that the doctors and their nurses kept…the handouts filed in there were generally outdated, and unappealing. Nobody will take a faded, poorly printed or unprofessional-looking document seriously.

Most patients need the extra step of seeing a registered dietitian to guide them in the first steps of adopting the eating plan. It may only take a few visits.

My goal is to continue to help people understand what the DASH Diet is, and how to set goals to adopt it. As always, my advice is to set small goals, and build on them to create healthy, long-term habits. Nobody can be perfect every day. The goal is to adopt a lifestyle. This means continuously setting goals each week to eat well and exercise. It’s never an all-or-nothing deal, and you don’t have to be an overnight-success.

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Food Safety Fact-Check: Storing and Cooking Beef

I will be blogging this month about how you can incorporate beef into your healthy diet. These posts are sponsored by the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative and the Pennsylvania Beef Council, but are expressions of my own.

When designing a kitchen, you may be looking for the shiniest range or refrigerator, but don’t put proper food safety on the back burner.

As National Nutrition Month® comes to a close, I want you to continue to put your Best Fork Forward with proper food handling knowledge. Past posts this month have featured fabulous recipes showing you how to incorporate various cuts of beef into your healthy diet. This one will provide you with tips for proper storage and cooking methods for beef, keeping your whole kitchen healthy.

Proper storage of beef

How long can you keep fresh beef in the refrigerator?

It depends on the cut, but a general rule of thumb is three days for steaks and roasts, and 1-2 days for ground beef. If you aren’t going to use the beef you purchased in that time frame, you can freeze it up to twelve months.

How should I defrost frozen beef?

Always defrost meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter (you can also thaw in the microwave). Foodborne illness is prevented when foods remain at safe temperatures (that bacteria can’t grow in). Be sure the meat is on a plate or in a container that can hold any raw juices as it defrosts.

A note about cutting boards

One of the handiest items you’ll use when cooking, is the cutting board. Try to stock a few different cutting boards, using one for meats, another for vegetables or fruits, and another for breads. Always be sure to clean the boards with hot soapy water after each use. Never cut something on a board that you had raw meat on until it’s washed (be sure not to reuse the plate you had raw meat on either). 

Cooking Beef

There are so many quick and easy ways to cook beef, making it a great choice for busy weeknights and special occasions alike. Here are some terms to be familiar with:

  • Grilling is probably one of the most popular ways to prepare beef steaks and burgers. You can light up the grill and cook the whole meal here. Use foil pouches to steam vegetables, or just toss veggies with olive oil, and cook them right on the grill. Set the  veggies aside and keep warm, while you finish grilling the beef. You may also enjoy marinating less tender cuts for the grill. The marinade adds flavor and tenderizes.  
  • Roasting. Using your oven is great for large beef roasts (such as a rib roast). Simply season the roast, and place into a roasting pan with rack.
  • Braising. Who doesn’t love pot roast? This cooking method requires browning the beef first, and then simmering (I often just brown it in the same pot I’ll roast it in). After browning, season the beef, transfer to large stock pot, add liquid (water, red wine, low sodium stock), and simmer.
  • Stewing. All the nutrients get sealed into the liquid with comforting stews. Try our Easy Beef Burgundy from Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies®
  • Stir-Frying. This is a great way to stretch your food budget. Try slicing beef sirloin into thin strips, and adding sliced peppers, broccoli, or other favorite vegetables. Serve over rice, creating a delicious meal.

How do you determine doneness?

You are probably familiar with the terms rare, medium rare, and medium or well done. They each relate to a certain temperature. Using a meat thermometer, place it into the thickest part of the steak or roast to test (145 degrees is medium-rare, 160 is medium, and 170 is well done).

Ground beef (burgers, meatloaf) should always be cooked to at least medium, or 160 degrees. Also, keep in mind that temperatures will continue to rise about 5-15 degrees for larger roasts once you remove them from the oven.

Keep your kitchen clean, organized, and food-safe to enjoy meal planning, and stay healthy!

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