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Bad Moms Go Back to School

Usually I post about food and nutrition science, but this week’s post is a bit more philosophical. It concludes with some simple tips for back to school nutrition and wellness, so feel free to skip ahead…

As a mother of 3 sons who are teenagers and beyond, I am at the point in my life where I ask “Did I do enough? Teach the right things? Grow a good person?”

I’m going to pat myself on the back and say, “yes”. I probably did too much at times, taught the wrong things, and wasn’t always a perfect role model, but you know what? Who is perfect? Nobody.

As parents you go through quite the lifecycle. You have babies that you feed well, cuddle and nurture. You make sure they are accomplishing their birth age development skills, you take them to the pediatrician when they’re sick. When they become school-age (now at age 3 for preschool), you make sure they can separate and become social creatures. You help with homework and pack healthy lunches and snacks all through elementary school. You buy a cool backpack for the awkward middle school years, hoping they’ll find a place to fit in. Then high school begins and you have to start letting go.  What’s done is done, and they have to start making choices that you pray are the right ones. You become a safety net. You take the late night calls, you breathe a sigh of relief when the garage door opens and your teen get home safely, you worry less about their soda consumption or obsession with smoothies, and more about their safety and overall well-being.


Health Halo: Junk foods that market “healthy”

Back to School, Drop the Shame

Which brings me to the Back to School theme and the Bad Moms movie. I went to see the movie Bad Moms with a few girl friends last week. I did laugh out loud. The movie was over the top (on purpose) to show us how crazy and warped parenting rules have become.

I’m calling all moms of school aged children to cut themselves a break. There is so much food shaming out there that even the most level headed mother will start to question herself. Personally, I feel the Organic food industry invented the notion of feeling shameful for choosing a treat for your child. I’m not talking about organic apples, carrots, or bananas, but the huge industry of packed Organic snacks that have a health halo around them. Since moms continue to be the primary shopper in the household, there’s no question that this industry is marketing to them.

Me? I’m old school  I buy my kids original junk food.


Now that school is back in session, or soon to be, give yourself a break. Be a “Bad Mom” (i.e., imperfect but balanced, allowing time for yourself, and providing a reasonably healthy diet for your kids, along with enough downtime for everyone). Consider this:

  1. Don’t overdo it. It’s okay to bring your B game to the first day of school.  Remember that there’s plenty of time the first few weeks of school to pick up snacks or school supplies. For whatever reason, we moms tend to go into “nesting” mode the days leading up to school. As if you can’t buy notebooks or a pair of jeans on September 10th or something.
  2. If you don’t get a photo of “the first day”, let it go. This obsession with fancy Pinterest-worthy photo moments of kids holding a plaque of their grade on a cute little chalk board, drawn with  perfect calligraphy, is a bit much. And way too much pressure for moms who don’t have the time or skill for such things. Trust me, when you child moves to college they aren’t going to care about their outfit on the first day of 6th grade. Matter of fact, they may wish to erase that memory.
  3. Encourage breakfast. While the research that breakfast improves school performance is now being questioned, fueling the body in the morning is a good idea, especially for younger children. Keep it quick and simple: A small bowl of cereal with milk, fruit, a glass of milk or yogurt smoothie, and English muffin or frozen waffle with peanut butter.
  4. It’s okay to pack potato chips. My children love a lunch box that includes a small 1-ounce bag of chips. Love. It. Check here for more.
  5. Fruit and veggies balance out the chips. Pack either packaged or fresh – and be sure they are the ones your kids will eat. As we dietitians like to say, “It’s not nutrition if you don’t eat it”. Pack at least one likable fruit or veggie every day in the lunch bag or box.
  6. I recommend variety, but I can tell you that during the school year my children were pretty happy with routine. They often would pack the same things daily: peanut butter and jelly, a ham sandwich, applesauce or grapes, yogurt, chips, milk. We used the variety rule during the summer. If you can get your child to embrace mixing it up, awesome. But if you can’t, don’t worry. Not all kids are born to crave turkey wraps with sprouts and avocado. I love those, but my kids don’t (Exposure is good though. It’s good that your child can identify the vegetable or fruit, but don’t force them to eat it). And truthfully, I didn’t eat avocados or sprouts until my twenties when I took a trip to Nevada and California. So there’s plenty of time for your child to try new foods and embrace them on his own terms.
  7. Do have an after school snack plan. If your child stays at school, offer to bring something healthy in. If they are old enough to come home alone, have a plate of sliced cheese with fruit ready in the fridge, easy-to-reheat leftovers, or a sandwich ready to eat. Encourage teens to have something substantial and healthy over junk food after school.
  8. Fuel an athlete. Once your child is in middle or high school, they might begin to understand reason that what they eat does impact their performance. Pour them a big glass of chocolate milk when they get home along with a sandwich. Then have a balanced dinner too.
  9. Do try to have dinner together, even with teens. It gets to be a real challenge to get teens to the table, but do your best, even if this means dinner is at 7:30 or 8:00pm. When you children are young, there’s more time to cook and plan meals. With teenagers, you’ll find yourself doing a lot more pick ups and drop offs, leaving you less time for planning, shopping and cooking. Keep it simple: Soup and sandwich night, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Friday, etc. Keep kid-friendly canned green beans or corn on hand, fresh fruit or a bagged salad that you can easily add to the table.  What is important is that you sit at the table, chat, and eat. Expect your children to help clear the table, and wash dishes or load dishwasher too as part of the nightly ritual.
  10. Take some Me Time. If your children are always exposed to an exhausted woman who is constantly setting rules about what to eat, or keeping up a perfect household, they will tune out and may even become stressed or anxiety ridden themselves. Schedule regular exercise, find a hobby and realize your children can and will grown up in spite of you. They may not even need you as much as you once thought, so make some popcorn, pour yourself an iced tea, and put your feet up.

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Summer’s Bounty and Leftovers with Endless Possibilities

Our backyard vegetable garden yielded a lot of cucumbers this summer. Often the veggies come in faster than you can eat them but cooking in batches and making the most of leftovers is always a good plan. For instance a cucumber and tomato salad tossed with vinegar and oil will last for a few days. We also have quite a few banana peppers – loaded with antioxidants! You can stuff them with sausage and bake with tomato sauce, or just slice them and saute them in oil, then add to pizza or omelets.

Some people enjoy batch cooking on Sundays. I prefer to relax on the weekend (and unless it’s celebration – no, I dont’ find batch cooking relaxing). Instead, I often cook extra staples during the week. If I make pasta or rice, I’ll cook extra for leftovers. If I’m grilling chicken, I’ll throw on extra pieces. It’s just as easy to roast or grill four pounds of meat as it is two pounds, and you can use the extra in different ways through the week. Last night I did just that – marinated two pieces of lean pork loin and grilled them both. I sliced the grilled roasts and we enjoyed them for dinner with corn on the cob, grilled peaches, cabbage slaw, and a cucumber tomato salad. I made my own version of “pepper poppers” by stuffing banana peppers with cream cheese and roasted those too. (For an appetizer, you can stuff each pepper with plain or herbed cream cheese or goat cheese, then wrap with refrigerated dough and bake for 10-15 minutes. Delicious!)

When you cook extra, the leftovers can serve as ingredients for a whole new meal or dish, and save you lots of time the next night. Yes, leftovers can taste good!


A few notes about the meal:

  • Buy fresh pork loin or pork tenderloin. There are a lot of packages in the meat case that are pre-marinated, but not only are these really high in sodium, they also lack flavor. To me, they taste salty yet very bland. It’s so easy to marinate meat. All you need is vinegar or citrus juice. For tougher cuts of meat, pineapple is a great tenderizer also. See the easy marinade I used, and look for other options in cookbooks or online.
  • If a recipe says “marinate overnight” you don’t always have to. If it is a tougher cut of meat, you may want to, but marinating for an hour or more still provides flavor and tenderness.
  • Chop all the garden veggies you have into a salad or slaw. or roast them all together with onions and garlic in the oven. Peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and other squash varieties are delicious roasted. Just cube them, toss in olive oil, add a pinch of salt, two crushed garlic cloves, and roast for 35-45 minutes.
  • Variety in the diet is important, but during sweet corn season? Eat it every night if you want to!
  • Add fruit to your meals. Grilled fruit is so delicious with pork and chicken, and can be used in fresh fruit salsas on fish.

Grilled Pork Loin with Peaches

2-4 pounds pork loin, trimmed of fat

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves

4-6 fresh peaches, washed, halved without pit

1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar

  1. Begin by mixing marinade. Put brown sugar into a gallon zippered storage bag. Add vinegar, water, salt, and oregano. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Add pork loin and seal bag well. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or up to overnight (when ready to grill, remove roast from bag, discard marinade). While pork is marinating, or just before you are ready to grill, prepare peaches. Halve peaches, discard pit. Sprinkle a bit of sugar onto each half.
  2. Be sure grill is preheated, then turn to low. If you have more than one burner, only turn on one or two, and place pork loin onto grill area in indirect heat. When roast is almost done, place the peaches on the hot grill, skin side up. Turn them in about 10 minutes. Cook pork until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I use a meat thermometer.
  3. When pork loin is done, remove from grill to platter and tent with foil. Remove peaches from grill when they are fork tender and slightly caramelized in color.
  4. Slice the roast into 1/2-inch slices and sere with grilled peaches.

I added steamed corn on the cob, grilled pepper poppers, and cole slaw to this meal.

The Next Day: Peachy Soft Tacos with Slaw

Slice leftover pork and grilled peaches into bite sized pieces. Place pork pieces onto soft tortilla. Microwave for about a minute on 70% power. Top with a few spoons of cole slaw.



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Ditching Preservatives: A market strategy or a journey to food-borne illness?

A recent news story about a case in the European Union court concluding that health and nutrition professionals really can’t be in a position to have up to date knowledge about all foods – almost had a “trust no one” stance to it. This reminded me of the decision Panera Bread® has made recently about their new menu, as well as Chipotle’s® marketing strategies (Chipotle’s® most recent advertisement, i.e., short film, tries to downplay artificial colors or flavors drawing a “big is bad” conclusion in it’s way-too-long quirky film. I categorize their ads as fear-mongering, and their decisions have led to some problems).

So far, so good for Panera® (at least from a marketing and food-borne illness standpoint) in their decision to remove all artificial ingredients and preservatives from their product line. They claim this is aligned with the “clean eating” theme they’ve created. They are removing:

  • Artificial flavors
  • Preservatives
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Artificial Colors
  • Meat treated with antibiotics, and more

So if you have diabetes and wanted to enjoy a diet or sugar free beverage, your choice apparently will now be water, plain coffee or tea.  And did you know it’s usually a good thing for animals to be treated with antibiotics when they have an infection?

It’s kind of a crazy list, and what’s the point?

Well, of course the point is money. These nouveau fast food companies are answering a supposed public cry for “natural” feel-good foods and beverages. I guess that is what food marketing is all about – appeal to the most popular consumer. A few years ago the northeast grocery store, Wegman’s, followed the same crowd by coming up with their “food you feel good about®” store label. That label was used on all foods or beverages that didn’t have artificial flavors or colors, trans fats, hormones, antibiotics, or high fructose corn syrup. An interesting and random list.

I find it maddening that, by creating a “no-no” list, these companies perpetuate the notion that these safe ingredients are somehow not good for you. This is not just misleading, but untrue! And in most cases, they know it. Time will tell if this trend will lead to more food borne illness. Or at the least, moldy bread.

Preservatives Play a Role in Food Safety

I view preservatives as a functional and progressive way to reduce waste and improve shelf life. Artificial colors? Well, they provide mostly aesthetics, so I can go along with the trend of substituting naturally occurring colors to enhance food. Artificial sweeteners however provide a variety of options for weight control – both for people with diabetes and people who are minding their calorie intake by reducing empty calories from sugar. In moderation, there is no concern with their safety.

It always comes down to balance and moderation. Convenience is clearly in demand, as people are eating in restaurants and picking up partially prepped food at the grocery store, more and more. But this “clean eating” trend? I don’t know.

Here’s a picture of the salad I ate today.

saladIs it “clean”? Well, the cucumbers, greens, and tomato happen to be from our garden. I washed them, but it’s possible bugs crawled all over them, and maybe a deer urinated on part of something. And there’s also salmon in there – the packaged type. It contains lemon juice and citric acid acting as preservatives, and maltodextrin – likely used as a thickener. I’m not worried about any of it.

My point is, that removing artificial flavors, or preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup, aren’t going to make or break your diet. Don’t fear these types of ingredients. They are safe, and in some cases, offer beneficial preservative properties (even sweeteners have functional properties beyond sweetening). Eat a well balanced diet, adding more plants (vegetables, fruits, grains), and enjoy small portions of your favorite treat foods. I know it sounds boring, but balance and moderation still rule.

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Charred Chard: Chock Full of Vitamins, DASH Diet Friendly

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

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

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


Move Over Kale

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

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

Simple ways to enjoy Swiss Chard:

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

Roasted cauliflower and chick peas with chard and feta. 

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Serves 5-6 

Serving size: 1 cup


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Super-sized or Super-mindless?

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

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

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

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

Super-sized or Super-mindless?

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

Rather than diss sugar, why not fight for:

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

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

Humans like salty and sweet things. We just do.

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

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

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

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

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

“XXX is Poisoning You”

“XYZ is toxic”

“Never eat this one food!”

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

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Poorly Designed Studies: Association is not Cause

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

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

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

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

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

The study authors conclude –

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

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

The authors do admit this shortcoming:

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

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

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

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Will Adding More to the Food Label Quell Confusion?

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

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

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

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


Yep, this is a random day in my fridge.

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

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

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

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

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

Always read past the headlines.

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

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


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Nuts About You After Your Workout

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

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

Q: How can protein help with sports performance?

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

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

Q: How much protein is optimal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[the dreaded bonk]

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

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

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


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The Case for Wheat

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

What is gluten?

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

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


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

Are you avoiding gluten for no good reason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some may ask – Why fortify or enrich?

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

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

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

Final Word

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

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Gaming for Nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SKNBerries Food Leap

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


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

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

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

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