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Food Bans Don’t Add up to Health

There’s absolutely no question that eating a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight is good for your health.

There’s also no question that there are no guarantees in life.

Even if there’s not one more bit of nutrition or fitness research done, I’m pretty darn sure that:

  1. Fruits and vegetables are filled with “good chemicals”
  2. You need adequate calories and protein to sustain your body and
  3. Exercise and maintaining muscle tone, is good for your health and well-being.

Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about whether partnering with food companies is a good or bad idea for health organizations and education. On the surface this may appear to be problematic, but if proper sponsorship guidelines are in place, dietitians partnering with food companies makes perfect sense. Dietitians help patients and consumers learn how to evaluate food and plan meals. They help them create realistic eating plans and encourage healthy eating behaviors and habits.

The “Eat This Not That” Mentality


While a recent story about Coca Cola stepping down from sponsorship of several organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition, there are other food companies involved in similar ways, including health-washed food products from the Organic industry, the reporter writing about the Coke sponsorship story interviewed like-minded individuals who are anti-soda, offering the public only one glimpse of a complicated story. The dietitians, pediatricians, and obesity experts quoted feel it was a victory to have Coke walk away from these organizations, and they often imply that this kind of news will result in improved health outcomes somewhere along with the way.

They want to give you the impression that it’s just about soda, and that if Big Soda is less involved in marketing to health professionals, people will drink less soda, and better public health results. But it’s not that simple. Many anti-soda groups also have an agenda with the USDA, and other brands within the food industry that may not be on their “approved” list, and are making a strong push for “Big Organic”. The recent stories about how Coca Cola partners with organizations or individuals is no different than the way other food companies (including health-washed food products from the Organic industry) are involved with health professionals.

Ashley Koff, RD, is a dietitian who offers a shopping service to clients with “Ashley Approved” food items. She partners with many Organic, non-GMO brands and products.

For instance, she recommends an organic frozen waffle product by Nature’s Path with these ingredients:

Water, brown rice flour*, potato starch*, corn flour*,soy oil*, tapioca starch*, evaporated cane juice*, potato flour*, leavening agent (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, non GMO cornstarch, and monocalcium phosphate), soy lecithin*, pear* and/or grape* juice concentrate, natural flavor, sea salt.

I don’t work for any specific company, but I have these in my freezer – Aunt Jemima Frozen Waffles. They contain:

Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Sugar, Whey. Contains 2% Or Less Of: Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate [Soy Lecithin]), Whole Eggs, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Chloride, Salt, Corn Syrup[ Solids, Corn Starch, Colored With (Yellow 5, Yellow 6), Fortified With (Reduced Iron, Niacinamide,, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride [Vitamin B6], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Cyanocobalamin [Vitamin B12]), Natural And Artificial Flavor (Dextrose, Corn Starch, Natural And Artificial Flavors), Soy Lecithin.

There aren’t any unsafe ingredients in the Aunt Jemima® waffle (you can argue amongst yourselves in regard to artificial color or flavoring with FDA approved ingredients). This product is also fortified with B vitamins, and is not meant to be a gluten free product, therefore is made with wheat flour. The Aunt Jemima waffle is lower in sugar and fat however, and contributes 4 grams of protein to only 1 gram in the Nature’s Path Organic item. They are both perfectly fine to eat once in a while – choose one if you have Celiac disease, or choose the one that tastes best, or fits your budget.

There are many reasons to make different choices at the grocery store.

Too Many Voices

My point here is that it doesn’t matter what the food or beverage products is, in terms of sponsorship. All products are going to have an influence, and it’s up to the individual professional to distinguish this, and recognize it. While you can argue that a soda is not the same an an “organic waffle”, in many ways they are the same. They are processed, packaged, and your diet would be imbalanced over-consuming them.

You’d think that folks who are so passionately against sponsorship are truly interested in people’s health, would champion efforts to get more health care coverage for dietitian visits. After all, RDNs are the most qualified, registered health professional to provide appropriate nutrition assessment and counseling to patients. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not utilize the members of the health care team that are already there, and offer increases availability of their services in outpatient settings? It’s clear that one-on-one visit with a dietitian has much more influence than an ad in a magazine.

Dietitians have been in this business for nearly 100 years! And we aren’t in business to tell people which brands to buy, but to help them work within their own budgets and lifestyles towards better health. People were actually healthier before Michael Pollan wrote his books and Dr. Oz appeared on television…

Banning Cupcakes

chocolate cupcake

Some may argue that consumers are “more concerned than ever” about their health and the food supply. Many schools across the country have banned cupcakes or other treat items for birthdays or holidays in recent years. Yet children eating those same cupcakes (although smaller, and with less icing) in 1978 were at normal weights and a decent fitness level. If that’s the goal (normal weights, good health and fitness level), where have food bans and food shaming got us?

All of the efforts to ban cupcakes, tax soda, reduce sugar, have not led to better health of the population. In reality, more are sick, and obesity continues to be a common thread leading to disease. Children are nowhere near as healthy as they were during the 20th century (when they ate white bread, drank whole milk, had a simple supper of meat, potato and vegetable, and snacked on homemade cookies and cakes).

Flash forward, and you hear stories about how cake mixes and other packaged foods are “toxic” for your body and full of “chemicals” (and maybe even GMOs – BTW, the Non GMO Project’s Standard’s Committee includes representatives from the Organic Industry. Why doesn’t the New York Times run a story on that?). We see crazy images on Pinterest or Instagram showing the lovely kale salad you could offer your child after school. babyhatesKale

On the other hand, exercise science experts like Steven Blair are publicly shamed because they have used funding from the soft drink industry to educate young and old about the important of fitness. The lack of physical activity is a reality, yet efforts to bring that to the forefront got put down by the press, not to mention completely misconstrued.

The reporting on food and diet is out of hand. Frankly we need to get back to basics, allow trained professionals to provide and report on diet information, fitness, and nutrition…the general population would be better off, healthier, and definitely less pissed off.


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Up Close to Biotech – GM May Not be What You Think It Is

I was recently invited to a workshop about farming and technology, sponsored by the IMG_6845Monsanto company. My travel, hotel and meals were covered, however I was not compensated, nor paid to write this blog or any other social media communication.


Are you afraid of GMOs? Do you know what the acronym means? Have you ever been  on a farm? Recently? Have you ever spoken with a geneticist, toxicologist, animal scientist, or farmer? Did you know that modern farming is highly technical, and that essentially most farmers are scientists as well?

Knowledge Alleviates Fear – Distance from the farm may add to it.

I’m fortunate, in my work, to be able to get up close looks into the food industry, and have enjoyed learning more about agriculture over the past year. There’s always two sides to the story, and there is a lot of disagreement about the need or safety of genetically modified crops. Some people are completely against them, perhaps in favor of organic food or “natural” foods (a term without much meaning), while others feel the technology allows for more cost-effective farming and agriculture – for instance, pest resistant crops are more consistent, yielding more food or feed per acre. When the farmer can till less often, by using cover crops, and plant crops closer together (because of better weed management and consistent yields), the farmer is able to be much more productive and cost-effective (less energy use, less time, more output). 

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. GM crops have been on the market in the U.S. since the mid-1990’s. As of now, there are currently seven GM food crops available on the commercial market in the U.S, (as well as cotton):

  • Corn
  • Soybeans
  • Canola
  • Sugar beets
  • Alfalfa
  • Papaya
  • Squash
  • Cotton

Two additional crops, potatoes and apples, are approved to grow and sell and should be coming to the market soon. Using this GM technology is incredibly more precise than traditional cross-breeding. You can think of genetic modification as simply introducing one desirable gene into a sequence, whereas traditional plant breeding introduces multiple ones.

Did You Know….

  • Use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides tripled from 1960-1980, but use of all have DECREASED since 1980.
  • Livestock consumes forages (grasses) and byproducts indigestible by humans, but in turn provide protein and calories consumable for humans.
  • Biotechnology supports the world’s food demands, not just your local area. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that world meat consumption has grown with increases in population. The average global per capita meat consumption is around 40-45 kg/year, more in developing countries. Biotech both increases efficiency in breeding, and increases animal health and welfare.
  • Nature, on its own, changes its genome constantly.

Who is Monsanto?

Monsanto, like any large corporation, is filled with people. You may know that Monsanto develops herbicide tolerant, insect tolerant, and draught resistant crops. What people don’t know, is that much of Monsanto’s work over the years (past and present) involves innovating farming technologies, such as improving tractor attachments and equipment, enhancing the machinery that makes planting and picking much more efficient (economical, time-efficient, fuel-efficient, and environmentally sound) for the farmer. In addition, Monsanto spends a lot of time and effort on non-GMO seed development for new types of vegetables that have better yields, better flavor, and in some cases, better nutrition profiles. Monsanto created “Round-Up Ready” plants to encourage lower use of herbicides (plants that tolerate small doses of herbicide, which kills the problem weeds, but doesn’t harm the crops. Unlike popular belief, plants aren’t “doused” but diluted concentrations are sprayed early in the crop’s life). Insect tolerant plants are those in which one specific gene is genetically inserted into the plant to resist pests to that plant (such as Bacillus thuringiensis Corn that repels the corn borer). The benefit of these methods include reduced tillage (and labor), conservation of soil and fuel, and overall reduced use of herbicides. I visited three cattle farms over the past year, including one in Iowa, and I’ve learned a lot about beef and dairy production by visiting each of them (and the other two are not connected to Monsanto). I think the best way to learn about any science or specialty is to speak directly to the scientists who work in that area daily. As a dietitian, I have a fairly strong science background, but I’m no biochemist or geneticist. In my experience over the years, every scientist I’ve met in person, is a really nice, laid back, super-smart, geek (I mean that in a good way). The smart men and women I met, on my visit to Monsanto’s Huxley Learning Center in Des Moines, work for the company because they have the education required, love what they do, and love the land. They truly want to work with farmers to help make their jobs easier.

“Biotech crops are most thoroughly tested crops in history of ag” says John Vicini, PhD, animal scientist, food safety expert.

Who to Trust? I say scientists, over Food-babe-types

There’s a huge trust and literacy gap between scientists and the public. A recent Pew Research Study showed that 88% of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) scientists think eating GM food is safe, while only 37% of the public believes that’s true. The question is, why is there such lack of trust when there’s strong scientific consensus that GMO crops are safe? While scientists attempt to communicate the facts about GMO, celebrities dish out nonsense. And it’s the science that often doesn’t get the ear of mass media. There is a sector of the public who want all foods with any GMO ingredients to be labeled as such. While they argue it’s a “right to know” issue, it seems unnecessary since there’s scientific consensus on GMO safety.

Unfortunately there are also extreme non-science-based-consumer-advocates (e.g. Food Babe) demanding food label legislation, misleading and inducing consumer fear while putting pressure on the biotech industry. Sadly, many anti-GMO activists will say just about anything, and many are spreading misinformation on a variety of food and nutrition topics. There’s this push-pull between “big food” and the “organic industry”, when in fact, there’s room in the market for both (and it’s completely unrealistic, and would not be energy-conservative, to grow and provide only organic crops). Presently, if consumers choose to avoid GMOs, they can choose certified organic foods (which are already GMO-free as part of the organic certification system).

There are a lot of GMO-haters out there and the Monsanto company in particular is often singled out even though they do other work and aren’t the only company working in biotech. I ask you this: If you are against GMOs, at least make an effort to speak with a scientists who studies them for a living, or read some of the science literature for yourself. Ask the scientists your questions directly. Progress doesn’t happen without some sacrifice, but in the absence of a plan, there is no progress. And not moving forward has a negative impact on the world as well. Consider asking intelligent questions and understanding both sides of the issue.

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Back to School with Breakfast

Breakfast is often viewed as the most important meal of the day. This can be debatable, as it wafflewfruitphotodepends on the day, but for school-age children and teens, breakfast truly is important in terms of good health and proper growth. Breakfast is an opportunity to include important nutrients such as calcium, protein and vitamin C. As a bonus, ensuring that your child gets a healthy breakfast each morning may help them stay on task during their morning at school.

Try these 5 simple tips to get breakfast into your children each morning before school:

  • Make it ahead. Try baking up egg cups or egg sandwiches on Sunday afternoon, then refrigerate or freeze. See the simple recipe below.
  • Stock up. If you don’t have it in the fridge or pantry, nobody can eat it! Keep easy breakfast items on hand daily: English muffins, hard cooked eggs, peanut butter, frozen waffles, cheese sticks, bananas, dry cereal, oatmeal, milk, instant breakfast mix, yogurt cups, yogurt smoothies
  • Plan in threes. Include a starch, a protein, and a serving of dairy for a balanced breakfast. If nothing else, offering a large glass of chocolate milk to your teen is better than sending him off on empty.
  • Add 4 ounces of juice for daily vitamin C. Fruit juices are high in sugar, so it’s the portion that counts. A small 4-6 ounce juice cup offers you all of the Vitamin C you need daily.
  • Use convenience. Don’t go for the mom-of-the-year award. I know you’re busy. A packaged granola bar (ones packed with nuts are great choices, but enlist your teen in choosing a favorite) or “breakfast cookie” paired with a glass of milk, is fine. A frozen waffle “sandwich” with peanut butter can be eaten on the way out the door. Wrap up the egg sandwich to go.

You don’t have to be the perfect parent each day, but do help your children prepare for the day ahead. Even teens need help. They are often in such a rush in the morning, that they won’t take the time to make breakfast – with some conveniences and some planning ahead, you can make a great team.


Easy Egg Cups


  • 4-5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • Add ins – minced bell peppers, onions, chopped mushrooms or spinach


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray a 6-cup muffin pan with nonstick pan on medium heat. Whisk eggs and milk together until well blended. Sprinkle in cheese or other additions, gently stir to combine.
  3. Pour eggs into muffin tin.
  4. Place into oven, and bake eggs for 20 minutes, or until firm.
  5. Remove from oven, and cool. Remove from muffin tins and store in refrigerator or freezer.
  6. To heat, simply place egg cup in microwave and reheat on 80% power for one minute.


A Note About Restrictions

It can take years to develop healthy habits, so giving your children a head start now will develop healthy lifelong eating behaviors. It’s my opinion that restricting or forbidding foods that may be considered “treats”, “sweets” or “junk”, doesn’t work. I prefer to allow these foods in portion-controlled servings, and not make a big deal about it. At first, you may find your child overeats the “once-forbidden” food, but in a few weeks, the novelty may wear down.




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Podcasts Worth a Listen

Several of my colleagues have been putting together podcasts to help consumers understand topics revolving around diet, food, and lifestyles. Podcasts are a great media choice to deliver information in a light, personal, and informal way.

As podcasts become more and more popular, I’m finally finding ways to fit them into my week. They are a great way to get information when you don’t have time to read about a topic, or you like to occasionally multi-task. You can listen while sitting in traffic during your morning commute, listen in while cooking dinner or folding laundry, or when sitting in a waiting room.

Since I recently did a “Best Kept Diet Secret” interview with Melissa Joy Dobbins, I thought this was a great time to share a short list of diet/food/nutrition podcast suggestions for you to get hooked on.

Listen in to gain some tips to improve your diet and lifestyle –

  • Sound Bites, Inc. with Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE (love her motto: “Food shouldn’t make you feel bad!”)


  • Susan Mitchell, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND, is the host Breaking Down Nutrition, and she also provides medical professionals with Breaking Down Nutrition: Your Digest for What Works, What Doesn’t for medical professionals via their association.



  • Donna P. Feldman MS RDN does a podcast with her co-host Kathy Isacks RD CDE called Walk Talk Nutrition.


Which podcasts do you enjoy tuning in to?

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Healthy Weight Control = Eat, Be Happy with Small Changes

I don’t really like to present things in a negative light, but sometimes there are habits or perspectives that you should shift. Life can be complicated, and it’s easy to make a lot for why “now’s not a good time” to lose weight, or exercise more, or change behaviors. Any month of the year is a good month to begin making healthy choices in your life. Small changes will result in improved health. Losing even small amounts of weight can bring blood pressure down, lower blood cholesterol, and reduce the burden on your heart and your joints. Not to mention lowering your risk for diabetes.

So as summer continues to unfold, keep these Do’s and Don’ts in mind.



    Don’t set unrealistic goals. If you haven’t exercised in fifteen years, don’t say “Okay, next week I’m going to walk 10 miles and lift weights for 30 minutes every day, and go to a boot camp class” Your body won’t handle it, nor like it. The negative body messages (excessive soreness, heavy breathing) will get you down. Slowly ease back into exercise you enjoy.

  • Don’t quit eating. If you go on a crash diet, you will lower your metabolic rate. This will cause you to burn fewer calories. Your goal is to burn more calories.
  • Don’t say: “I’m going on a diet” Realize that you can both enjoy your favorite foods, but also try some new ones. You simply have to change some habits related to your eating.
  • Don’t give yourself a time limit. Saying “I will lose 30 pounds by Christmas” will only make you anxious and pressured to lead a miserable life for the next 4 months.
  • Don’t underestimate exercise. Yes you have to eat less, but exercise counts to. Both an aerobic workout (one that increases your heart rate) and weight bearing exercise is important to long term weight loss and management.
  • Don’t underestimate the need for support. Having a good friend to meet you for your walks is priceless. This can keep you both committed.
  • Don’t sabotage yourself or put yourself down. While it may take a while once you start changing your dietary habits and exercising, doing nothing gets you nowhere. Set reasonable goals and don’t get upset. Slow progress is still progress.


  • Do set realistic goals. Work on small goals, 2-3 at a time. Say “I will eat 2 pieces of fruit every day” and “I will take a 20 minute walk, and stretch afterward, 3-4 days a week.” Gradually working on goals leads to success and confidence. Keep a list, and check things off.
  • Do eat! You have to eat to lose weight. Digestion burns calories, so shoot for 3 small meals with 2-3 healthy snacks in between. Choose well, and eat often.
  • Do start enjoying your food. Take your time when you eat, enjoy every bite. Splurge on small portions of your favorites without guilt.
  • Do be patient. Weight loss takes time. If you begin making better choices in your diet, and exercise regularly, you will absolutely see results. Life happens in between. Your daughter may get married, you may go on vacation, and a holiday may come up. These are times to enjoy, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be in control. Enjoy special times then resume your best habits the next day.



  • Do start exercising more. If you haven’t exercised in a while, start with walking. Set short-term goals. Begin with a walk around the block or just a 20-minute walk at a comfortable pace. Then add five minutes a week to your routine. Over time, increase your speed. After a month, add 15 minutes of hand weights 3-4 times a week. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so start building muscle.
  • Do consider a personal trainer or nutrition coach to help you reach your goals. A little support can go a long way.
  • Do stay positive. Think about what you are doing, not just the long-term results. Focus on the healthy dietary changes you are making and the exercise you have added to your lifestyle.


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Food Fears: Admitting Uncertainty is Hard

I’ve been writing about fad diets for years. Being “fad-free” has built the framework of my brand. While I’m the first to say that nutrition science has provided as many questions as answers, I’m more certain that promising “cures” or “quick weight loss” is a red flag that should cue you: Buyer beware.

glutenLiebook_coverAlan Levinovitz sent me a copy of his newest book, The Gluten Lie, for review. It’s a fascinating read about how diet fads come to fruition through the eyes of a Philosophy and Religion Scholar. The author provides a review of popular fad diets, debunking popular books such as Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, and takes some jabs at ex-Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy and Joseph Mercola for all of their fad-diet advice (the popularity of which sadly gave McCarthy a diet-guru platform. She’s now launched into an anti-vaccine crusade).

As Levinovitz highlights anecdotal diet therapies over the past century, he presents the idea that nutrition misinformation still looks like science, not religion, and this especially makes diet myths like those presented by Mercola easier to swallow. He notes how the language we use surrounding food choices bristle with moral and religious vocabulary. Words such as “good”, “bad” or “natural” attach morals to food. Current terms that make me cringe include “clean”, “whole” or “real” food – suggesting any other “type” of food is “bad” or “unhealthy”. The term “processed” is being used to elicit negative emotions, as you argue about whether an orange squeezed into juice at home is “better” than oranges squeezed into juice by “industry” (a.k.a. Big Food). You like to make things easy by simply making blanket statements that “Processed food is evil” and create your own definitions for such.

Alan reviews many aspects of fad diets, and how they come to be. In addition to examining the current gluten-free-craze, he examines fat, sugar, salt, and the idea of “detox”. He discusses the idea that the “fat free” craze of the 90s was misguided, which I agree, it was. (But I’m still on the fence about the role saturated fat plays in not just heart health, but brain health and cancer risk as well. For now, I’ll stick with recommending a moderate intake.)

Opinions Misinterpreted as Facts

The book introduces readers to the idea that many times, expert “opinions” are misinterpreted as facts. Topics often launch from a simple letter to the editor of a medical journal that create a country-wide falsehood that “x caused y”.

Levinovitz presents how this was the case with “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” and MSG, and I can attest it was also the more recent case with high fructose corn syrup. I remember writing a paper about the MSG controversy while in college in the early 1980s. Symptoms of headache and general malaise, were blamed on the MSG ingredient in foods. I’d almost forgotten about “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” until Levinovitz brings it up in the book. “No MSG” was once a banner proclamation, as we see today on food labels for “No high fructose corn syrup”. The “High Fructose Corn Syrup” scare was born after a letter to the editor was published about how obesity rates rose as high fructose corn syrup came onto the market. No proven cause, nor research, just observation of possible correlation written as a letter, but the letter took hold in the medical community and eventually made a huge impact on how the consumer perceived HFCS (disclosure: since I’m often called out as being a “paid shill”, I’ll disclose here. Having never bought into this HFCS scare, and because my practice is built on the idea of balance and moderation, I have worked with the Corn Refiner’s Association).

Can One Ingredient be the Cause of All Health Problems?

Levinovitz makes a strong argument that many registered dietitians share – it’s very difficult to blame one nutrient or ingredient on a host of ailments. Obesity in particular, is a very complex physiological and psychological issue, so the notion that if we simply took gluten or sugar out of the diet, it would stamp out obesity for all, is wishful thinking.

As humans, we like the path of least resistance, just as most mammals do. We want some things to be easy, since life is often so challenging. Yet we want to eat what we want. So rather than consider the effort in preparing a home cooked meal with fresh vegetables and homemade whipped potatoes, you decide to just eliminate the whole bread group and pasta from your diet, and avoid anything “packaged” (or some other food rule), and continue to eat everything else in sight – Then proclaim how much better you feel (as to not admit you may have been wrong, or that you really can’t sustain such food rules for more than 5 months).

The placebo-effect is real. We all experience it at one time or another. Sometimes it may even be a healthy defense mechanism, but other times – we’re just fooling ourselves.

In addition to writing and nutrition coaching, part of my work also includes serving as a nutrition communication consultant to the food industry. I spend much of my time dispelling myths that, as The Gluten Lie author points out, are the result of emotional outrage and anger from the unwavering faith people place in their own dietary diagnoses. I’ve learned that there is only so much fact you can put out there, because as Levinovitz points out:

“For true believers, the myth will always be more sacred than the evidence”

There is a strong notion that many physical problems may be brought on psychologically, and this is something that makes people feel vulnerable.

“When it comes to food sensitivities, people are incredibly unwilling to question self-diagnoses”

Doctors and dietitians certainly aren’t immune to the power of suggestion, as is witnessed by the plethora of books on the shelves promising miracle dietary cures authored by health professionals. Of course there are just as many, if not more, written by non-medical professionals too. However, while Levinovitz understands that some people do have food intolerances, and that gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease do indeed exist, he echoes the notion of many medical experts who agree that it’s not a healthier diet for those who do not need it. He writes:

“If we are serious about the quest for good health, physical and mental, we cannot be slaves to fear and to our desire for easy answers.”

That’s diet and nutrition misinformation in a nutshell. I guess I’ll just keep on writing about moderation, and how the science of food and nutrition fits into that, and not worry about who may believe me, or not.



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Easy Picnic Potatoes

Wine and cheese anyone?It’s picnic season, and if you’re like me, you’re always looking for something new to bring to your next pot-luck. If you’re getting tired of cole slaw, potato or pasta salad, then try these easy potatoes. They’ll be a sure-fire hit at your next outdoor gathering.

Grilled Potato Bites

All you need is enough potatoes for your crowd. You can use either a white baking potato or a sweet potato – or both! Count one medium-large potato as two servings, and plan accordingly for the number of people you need to serve. The steps below are based on using 4 potatoes, or 8 servings. Sweetskins2

Tip: You can also use these as appetizers. If so, cut each half in half after grilled, then place on a pretty platter, with topping added.

Step 1: Wash potatoes. Arrange potatoes on a baking sheet and put into a pre-heated 400 degree F oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Step 2: Allow potatoes to cool, then cut each in half. Scoop out about half of the potato flesh of each potato. (If using sweets and white potatoes, scoop separately and remove pulp to two separate bowls.)

Step 3: Prepare filling. Add 2 spoonfuls of Plain Greek Yogurt to the potato pulp, and gently combine. Add freshly ground black pepper – about 8 turns, or to taste. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt (optional). Add 1/4 cup of your favorite shredded or grated cheese (pepper jack, bleu, or cheddar work). Mix together well.

Step 4: Refill potato skins. Fill each potato skin with a spoonful of the filling, distributing filling evenly between the potatoes. Sprinkle with paprika. (NOTE: you can complete steps 1-4 the day before the picnic. Place filled potatoes onto baking sheet or platter, cover potato halves with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Go on to Step 5 on the day of party). 

Step 5: Prepare potatoes for grill. Preheat grill to medium heat. Place potato skins directly onto hot grill, and cook until skins are slightly crunchy on the bottom, and potato is heated through.

Step 6: Add healthy toppings. Serve the potato skins with a variety of toppings – or if you’re bringing these to a picnic to grab and eat, top them before you go.

Topping options: Black beans, freshly chopped chives, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, chopped plum tomatoes, shredded cheese.

Tip: You can even make these into a meal! Offer a “loaded potato bar” and include heartier toppings such as seasoned ground lean beef, BBQ pulled chicken or pork, thinly sliced pork tenderloin, or grilled shrimp

Tip: For more pizazz, you can marble the white and sweet potato pulp together in Step 3. Bake 2 sweet potatoes and 2 white potatoes. Scoop out pulp into separate bowls and mix each filling separately. Then add the sweet potato mixture to the white potato mixture, gently cutting it through for a marbleized (not completely mixed) effect. Add this filling to each of the white and sweet potato shells.



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Dear TV Doctors: Please Stop Making Up Diets

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image courtesy of vectorolie &

There is a wide body of dietary research that gets reviewed when coming up with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. The guidelines are based on actual scientific research, and the committee charged with the development of updated recommendations go through serious review of the literature and have thorough discussions steeped in science.

But who pays any attention to this? Not too many people I guess, including some medical doctors who enjoy coming up with the next gimmicky diet plan. Enter: Pegan. I was hoping it was a quick fad news story that would go away, but it hasn’t.

On the surface it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. Just the fact that it’s a combination of the Paleo diet craze and a Vegan diet – creates absurdity, since the paleo diet is all about living like a caveman and eating a lot of meat (while a Vegan diet eliminates all animal products – food and otherwise). The premise is to eat as those in the Paleolithic era did (2.5 million years ago), as hunter-gatherers.

The Paleo diet focuses on animal protein. It also emphasizes eating a variety of vegetables (this is always a good thing, and of course a Vegan diet shares this aspect of Paleo). Paleo is all about food products such as “clarified grass fed butter”, coconut products, and some healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds. A Paleo diet shuns wheat, favoring almond meal and coconut flour. Other than your clarified butter, you have to say goodbye to dairy foods too if you want to “go Paleo”. It’s essentially a gluten-free diet, that eliminates grains, including corn, oats, rice, rye, wheat and quinoa. The craziest thing about the Paleo diet is that eliminates beans, peanuts, and legumes – all nutrition powerhouses!

So how in the world can a Paleo diet mesh with a Vegan diet which is heavy in beans, legumes, soy, grains and vegetables? Who thinks up this stuff?

The pegan diet focuses primarily on fruits and vegetables — specifically, filling 75 percent of your diet with plants, and rounding out the other 25 percent with animal protein and high-quality fats”

myplateWhat? The principles of the so-called Pegan Diet are essentially the same as both the USDA’s My Plate and the well-researched, and evidence-based DASH Diet, with one exception – Pegan eliminates dairy and legumes. If you are dairy-intolerant, fine, limit dairy. But do we need another fad diet term? (It doesn’t help that celebrity doctors such as Dr. Mark Hyman support these crazy diet ideas, usually for their own gain.)

Why do we need “high profile physicians” making up new diet names when we have a perfectly healthy, and evidence-based diet already on the books? I guess new words such as “Pegan” make better talk-show soundbites than “scientific research shows DASH Diet is beneficial in lowering blood pressure, managing diabetes, and weight control”.

Makes me wonder how invested they really are in your health.

So before you announce to all of your friends this summer,

“I am going on the Pegan Diet!”

…let me let you in on a secret: It’s actually MyPlate, without the dairy, that you are going to be following, so it’s not really that cool. veganMyPlate

I guess I’m not that cool either, and we’ll both have to come to terms with that (JK – Science is totally cool).

For more information about the DASH Diet, see the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and of course, our books. 


PS – the term ‘grass-fed’ is a misnomer. Farmers will explain that a more accurate term is ‘grass-finished’ as all cows eat grass. Learn more by reading my grass-finished beef farm tour blog. 


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Why Portions Matter Most – Sodium, Fat, Calories

When I help people understand the principles of the DASH Diet, I emphasize eating more vegetables, fruit and lowfat dairy. But I also must mention that saturated fat, sodium and calories are important too. Sometimes folks will ask about reading food labels, and how to choose a food based on its label. This is always tricky, especially if you don’t have a food label in hand, or are asking about a specific food or food group.

Since the Nutrition Facts label can be a little overwhelming, I generally tell people to just look at 4 line items when considering heart health:

  • Serving Size
  • Calories
  • Saturated Fat
  • Sodium

Serving Size Math

It is important to glance at the serving size on the label. This serving size is the amount of that food or beverage in which all of the following information (calories, grams and milligrams of everything) is based. If you eat double the serving size, then double up all of the other information as well (see the bread labels below – one bread labels 2 slices as one serving; the other labels 1 slice as one serving).


We can argue as long as the day is long about what a calorie is, or if a “calorie is a calorie”, but as you age, you do need to be paying attention to calories. Yes, it is difficult to eat 300 calories of broccoli, and quite easy to eat a 300 calorie banana muffin, so while calories differ in terms of the foods they are delivered by, the total calories still matter. In general, you don’t need to “count” calories in the whole fruits or vegetables you eat. Eat more of them – as much as you want. But other food groups – especially the meat group and the bread and grain group – you do need to be more aware of daily portion sizes.

Saturated Fat

The Nutrition Facts label will have several lines on it about fat: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat. A recently published meta-analysis determined that saturated fat may not have the strong correlation to heart disease risk as previously believed. This is still under fierce debate and it’s still prudent to limit your saturated fat intake which will primarily keep LDL (low density lipoproteins, or ‘bad’ cholesterol) levels low, as well as including a variety of fats in your diet. Portions and balance are also important.


Finally, sodium is found in a multitude of foods. The DASH recommendation for sodium is 1500-2300 milligrams daily. It’s quite a challenge to keep your sodium intake this low, and rather than “count” milligrams of sodium everyday, I encourage you to gradually reduce your intake by becoming aware of the sodium in packaged foods that you use. Read the labels – again, checking the serving size first, and then the sodium content. Surprisingly bread products contribute a large amount of sodium to the diet. I am a fan of carbohydrates, so I won’t bash bread, but you do need to be aware of the fact that the more servings you eat daily, the higher your sodium intake may be. Compare different brands of your favorite breads, and try to choose lower sodium ones more often. See the food labels below. One is a standard Italian sandwich bread, the other a standard wheat sandwich bread. You will note that at a glance you may only look at the sodium content, and think “oh, this bread is higher in sodium” But upon further analysis, you’ll see that one brand shows one serving to be two slices, while the other shows one serving to be only one slice.

This loaf shows 1 serving = 2 slices. Therefore each slice contains 115 mg sodium, and 65 calories.

This loaf shows 1 serving = 2 slices. Therefore each slice contains 115 mg sodium, and 65 calories.

This bread shows 1 serving = 1 slice, therefore each slice contributes 80 calories and 170 mg sodium. More calories and more sodium.

This bread shows 1 serving = 1 slice, therefore each slice contributes 80 calories and 170 mg sodium. More calories and more sodium.

A note on sugars

If you have diabetes, you may also be interested in looking at the carbohydrates, or the sugars line, but in general, I feel this isn’t the best way to gauge diet quality when reading labels. Whether you have diabetes or are overweight and at risk – calories (and thereby portions) are most important. People with diabetes should consumer a ‘low sugar’ diet, but do not have to avoid all foods with a “grams of sugar” in them. So by checking the portion sizes on a package, you’ll be controlling calories (and sugar).

My recommendation in terms of limiting sweets is not to over-analyze every 4 grams of sugar on a food label, but to limit your portions of obviously sweet foods and beverage. You know what a “sweet” is right? Foods such as candy, cake, pie, cookies, muffins, sweet rolls, soda, fruit juices and drinks – are all sweet foods. They all contain a good bit of sugar. So rather than get hung up on how much sugar is in catsup or salad dressing, or your favorite cracked wheat bread – just limit the obvious sweets (both portion and frequency). For example, a 12-ounce serving of soda provides 38 grams of sugar, so this puts the 1-2 grams of sugar in a slice of bread or the 1-4 grams of sugar in a tablespoon of salad dressing, in perspective. Of course a 12-ounce diet soda has 0 grams of sugar.

Variety and Portions

Choosing a variety of foods to eat each week, and eating smaller portions of higher calorie foods (huge sandwich buns, huge bakery muffins, chips, candy, baked goods, large orders of fried food, etc) is the easiest way to ensure a balanced diet that provides the calories and nutrients your body needs. Rather than getting hung up on questions such as “butter or margarine?”, just use small amounts, of a variety of fats (olive oil, or other vegetable oil, butter, spread margarine). Instead of worrying about whether bananas cause belly fat (they don’t by the way!), choose a variety of fruit. Mix it up – have a banana with breakfast one day, sliced melon another, and add blueberries to your oatmeal on another day. Limit portions of packaged foods, and add more fruits and veggies into your diet in any portion, and you will be on the road to a healthier you! No guilt, no deprivation.


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If You Could Only Choose 5 Foods, What Would They Be?

If you were to be deserted and had access to only 4-5 foods or beverages, what would your choices be?

Me? Cheese, nuts, bread, and berries. And of course, water!!

  • I love cheese, and a hard cheese would keep a while (but maybe not on an island:)). Cheese contributes both protein and calcium, and requires no cooking!
  • Nuts are high in protein, and fiber. They are an excellent high-energy snack – a little goes a long way.
  • I love good, crusty bread. So if I could have a variety of whole grain breads, and a good crusty French Baguette available, I’d be set.
  • Berries are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and other phytochemicals (healthy substances found in deep-colored fruits and veggies). They also require no peeling, coring, or seeding, and have little to no waste.
  • Finally, you can’t live without water. I guess it might be nice to have rum and juice on an island too but nothing beats water as a thirst-quencher. It’s best to include at least 4 glasses of plain water every day in addition to the other calorie-free liquids you may consume (plain coffee, tea, diet soda, flavored waters).


Share your 5 foods or beverages choices if you were deserted in the Comment section!


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