Easy Recipes to the Rescue: A Book Review

snackgirlcoverLast October, I had the opportunity to meet Lisa Cain, aka, Snack Girl. She and I exchanged books to review.

Snack Girl to the Rescue is a book that provides 100 recipes under 400 calories. For middle aged women, such as myself, a 400 calorie/meal goal is a reasonable one. Considering that you may have a snack or two each day, sticking to 400 calories per meal will keep you in the healthy calorie range of 1400-1800 calories per day (about what most women over 45 need).

Lisa shares her journey in the Intro, and it’s very relatable to any busy career woman with children. Her eating tips in the first few chapters are also very reasonable and her diet advice is sound.

The recipes are great. They range from totally basic to a few fancier recipes. I love that she includes simple recipes like Easy Baked Brown Rice, because these are the kinds of dishes that you can realistically get onto the table on a weeknight. Nothing fancy, just simple and healthy! You’ll find great snacks to incorporate into your weekly diet or to bring to the next party. She’ll teach you how to roast vegetables – which is my favorite prep method to deliver the tastiest veggies. You’ll also find some go-to snack ideas, as well as slow cooker recipes and comfort foods.

I love the way she describes some foods as “entertainment” as opposed to nourishment. While she encourages you to reduce your intake of these types of more processed “entertaining” treats, she doesn’t scold you for enjoying them once in a while. I like that.

The chapter on food marketing makes some good points, and others that I could argue with, but Cain’s general message is to read labels and make the best choice. She refers to corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors as ingredients she tends to avoid – but these are all safe ingredients (corn syrup is glucose, high fructose corn syrup is about half glucose, half fructose – like table sugar and honey are).

All in all Cain gives some reasonable advice and encouragement in her book, and the recipes are very doable for even the less-experienced cook. She does a great job at outlining some no-cook meals and snacks to use daily, as well as delicious “makeover” dishes.

Check it out!

10 Easy Diet Tips that Don’t Come in a Pill

fruitPic Did you know that the DASH Diet is powerful medicine? Using the DASH Diet to guide your eating choices can help you manage weight, lower blood pressure, control diabetes, and stay healthy in general.

Rather than wait until the New Year, start improving your diet now. If you have high blood pressure, what you eat can lower it! It’s easy to begin incorporating some of the principles of the DASH Diet. Start this week.

Add more low fat dairy to your diet:

  • Include low fat milk or cottage cheese at breakfast
  • Enjoy a cup of yogurt as a mid-day snack
  • Use plain Greek yogurt for your holiday dips and recipes

Add nuts, seeds and more fruits and vegetables to your diet:

  • Put an apple and a clementine in your bag or briefcase in the morning, before you leave for work.Portion out about 20 almonds and enjoy them when you get home from work
  • Add 2 teaspoons of sunflower seeds to your tossed salad
  • Keep frozen vegetables in your freezer. Try the microwaveable bags to enjoy quick, steamed veggies as a side dish with dinner
  • Use those veggies with whole wheat pasta to make a healthy Alfredo sauce – make a roux by melting 1 tablespoon of butter, then adding 2 tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly for one minute. Add 2 cups 1% milk to boil, then simmer, stirring until thickened. Add 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Toss with 2 cups of cooked regular or whole wheat pasta, 2 cups of cooked veggies, 1 cup of chopped, cooked chicken
  • Chop apples or cranberries into your stuffing recipe
  • Add spinach to your soups or omelets

Cut back on Sodium:

  • Look for low sodium or sodium-free broth for cooking, and add less salt to foods
  • Use leftover meats (roast beef, turkey, chicken breast) instead of lunchmeat for sandwiches
  • Read labels, and choose lower sodium foods. These may not be labeled as “low sodium” but compare similar foods (bread for instance can vary greatly)

Over 40? Love Yourself for the Holidays: Focus on Health not Perfection

Have you heard about the new Barbie® doll that makes an attempt to mimic a real young women’s figure? Images abound that suggest what you “should” look like, and women are particularly susceptible to being impacted by them (although I’m sure 6-pack abs are airbrushed in on male photos too). Rather than pursue the perfect body, resolve to shift that focus to staying or getting healthier. Walkingshoe

One of my colleagues doesn’t weigh her clients any longer, because she found that weighing them at the beginning of their counseling session depressed their focus. Instead of being able to focus on positive steps and goals, they became fixated by a number.

Losing weight is, and has always been, difficult. For this reason alone, it’s worth fighting for prevention of weight gain in the first place. But if you are over forty years old this is easier said than done. Becoming comfortable with your new body shape and focusing more on health goals, as opposed to “swimsuit goals”, is a good idea.

As a younger person in your twenties or thirties, going to the doctor may not have been an annual thing, but it is very important to get regular check-ups in your forties and fifties. Things can change quickly at this point. Normal blood pressure, may not creep up, it may just bolt up. Seeing your doctor annually enables you to have your blood pressure and weight checked; two factors important to heart health that are very treatable. If you have a family history of diabetes (also a risk factor for heart disease), your doctor should know, and may even routinely screen for this, but if not, speak up. Your doctor can only treat you if he or she knows more about you.

Have you considered your overall health and disease risk? Consider this:

  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you know what your blood pressure is lately?
  • Do you have high blood cholesterol, specifically a high LDL?
  • Do you have high blood sugar or triglycerides?
  • Do you exercise regularly? Do you still have muscle tone?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Women- Do you have regular screening for breast and cervical cancers?
  • Men- have you had your annual prostate exam yet?
  • Are you aware of your own family history for disease (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer)
  • Do you have an annual visit with your physician?

Learning more about your overall health status can empower you to take small steps toward big long-term improvements in your health. We can’t change our genetic make-up but we can change our diets, exercise habits, how often we go to the doctor, and whether or not we smoke.

Talk to your physician about what is ailing you, what doesn’t feel right, or any pertinent family history (diabetes, heart disease, and cancer primarily; and any other diseases or disorders that you know of).

Then start setting health-minded goals, focus on the positive, and smile every time you look in the mirror.


The Holidays Are Marching In – Maintain a Healthy Diet

Well I don’t know about you, but the holiday season seems to have arrived at warp speed again this year. It doesn’t help that retail and grocery stores had the winter decorations up on Halloween day. Some also say that having a late Thanksgiving has an affect, since December will arrive just a few days from now!

courtesy Serge Bertasius Photography/

courtesy Serge Bertasius Photography/

While the holiday season is a time to enjoy gatherings of family, friends, food, and beverage, you certainly don’t want to neglect your health at this festive time of year. If you are following the DASH Diet, working on weight loss, have diabetes or other health issues that are strongly tied to dietary management, you can stick with it over the next month, and arrive healthy in January.

The reality is – there are lots of high calorie foods around at work and at home during the month of December – so starting a routine of simple and light meals now helps. Eating light during the week in preparation for special weekend gatherings can keep calories under control and help with weight control, even if you splurge a bit on the weekend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind, starting today:

  • Breakfast. Start every day off with a healthy, high fiber breakfast. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with a few options during the work week. Consider a hearty 1-cup serving of cooked oatmeal with low fat milk; an English Muffin with one egg; 8 ounces of plain yogurt topped with 1/4 cup nutty granola and sliced bananas. Or try a high protein smoothie using peanut butter powder and bananas.
  • Lunchtime.  A salad or half-sanwich with vegetable soup; a half sandwich with an apple and handful of nuts; a large green salad topped with low fat cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, and chopped veggies; a bowl of bean chili
  • Dinner. Cook at home more during the week to save calories. Focus your meals on protein and vegetables and skip the starches (starches are fine, but occasionally skipping the rice, potato or pasta dish and adding more low calorie vegetables is a good low-cal plan to balance our special occasions).
  • Skip Snacks. There are benefits to healthy snacking, but for many middle-aged folks, and women, the calories in snacks aren’t usually necessary unless you are in a situation where you have to skip a meal, or are highly active. Skip snacking during the week to allow for the extras  you may choose at a holiday party.
  • Get some fresh air daily! This is good for the mind and body. Even a short walk can be enough to keep your metabolism stoked.

You can do it. Focus on a few simple goals (smaller, lighter meals, with limited snacking) and you can balance out your intake, and enjoy every holiday party and day of the season!

Sugar, Soda, and other Treats: What is Moderate Consumption?

There’s been a lot of controversy over the year about sugar and soda. The recent election showed that the citizens of Berkley California supported a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The plan is to tax soda, and use that revenue to create or support health education to prevent or treat obesity. Health professionals are divided on this issue – some supporting the idea of taxing a sugary drink thinking it will curb intake and/or generate revenue for obesity treatment, but other health professionals are skeptical about whether this money will be set aside or not, and whether or not it will be properly utilized (that is, used to provide the delivery of individualized treatment by qualified nutrition professionals).

There certainly isn’t a lack of resources for exercise and healthy diet. It’s often the delivery of these services that is lacking – either it’s not covered by your insurance plan, or you aren’t willing or able to pay for it as an out of pocket expense. But the programs are there.

How Evil is Soda?

When people see me eating a piece of candy, or perhaps having a beer, they may chuckle and joke with me – since I’m a dietitian, they may feel I shouldn’t be consuming anything less nutritious than kale. But underneath my dietitian super suit, I am human. And I enjoy food and beverage. I like having a glass of wine or two with some good cheese and sliced apples. I have a sweet tooth and occasionally enjoy a rich dessert. I also treat myself to fried food on occasion (fried calamari and French Fries top the list).

Superhero RDs

Superhero RDs

So when it comes to soda – the same holds true. I personally don’t drink soda too often, and if I do, I choose a diet cola or ginger ale. Obviously soda (regular or diet) is void of nutrients and one could say “It’s not good for you”, but this doesn’t mean one sip will kill you, nor will drinking it in moderation, if you enjoy it. It’s about balancing the added calories that caloric beverages provide.

Research about Kids and Soda

A recent study showed that moderate amounts of fructose or glucose-sweetened beverages don’t alter metabolic health in adolescents. The question that begs for an answer: What is “moderation?” This study checked out 40 male and female adolescents whom took part in two 15-day trials. The groups consumed either a high-fructose beverage or a high-glucose beverage. During each trial, they consumed 710 milliliters (about 24 ounces, or 2 cans of soda) of the assigned beverage daily, on days 1-14, in addition to their typical diet. The high-fructose (HF) beverage provided 50 grams of fructose and 15 grams of glucose daily from the beverages, while the high-glucose (HG) trial was the opposite (50 grams glucose, 15 grams fructose). On day 15, the HF group consumed three liquid meals consisting of 50 grams of fructose, and the HG group consumed three liquid meals opposed of 20 grams of glucose, and 15 grams of fructose. Metabolic effects were measured for insulin sensitivity and cholesterol concentrations. Neither group showed any significant differences in these markers for metabolic health.

This study concludes that “moderate consumption” of any sugary beverage would be 50 grams per day. That is, this amount and frequency (about a 12 ounce can) was not shown to produce any deleterious metabolic effects.

Frequency and Portion

So rather than tax it or ban it, how about working toward educating families about exactly what “moderation” means. People are much more accepting of the advice “Have no more than 5 cans of soda a week” as opposed to “Absolutely no sugar, or soda, ever”. Of course if a person needs to lose weight, then even less soda, or water or a diet beverage, is a better choice. This needs to be individualized and the entire quality of the diet should also be considered.

No matter what ingredient you would like to blame for poor health, the most important thing to consider is frequency and portion. How much, and how often is what matters most.  Not the single ingredient.

You are going to eat or drink something that isn’t the most nutritious item, or isn’t even “needed” at all, but stay focused on including the good foods too, and getting regular exercise, and you will be able to maintain a healthy weight, and enjoy eating all at once.

As a nutrition communication consultant I occasionally write about topics related to the food industry clients I may serve, but my thoughts and opinions are my own.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Courtesy of artemisphoto via

Courtesy of artemisphoto via

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential. Omega-3s help control blood clotting and build cell membranes in the brain. Since our bodies don’t produce them, we need to get them from food. They’re found in fatty fish such as salmon, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna. They are also found in canola oil, flaxseed and walnuts. (This is just another good reason to include both nuts and fish as part of a heart-healthy DASH diet.)

Omega-3 fatty acids also have been shown to decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and may decrease triglyceride levels (a fat in the bloodstream).

Quick Facts:

  • Eat fish each week. Your goal is to include at least two servings (3-5 ounces = one serving) of fish per week. Choose baked or grilled fish for the most part.
  • Mercury. Mercury can be a concern for children or pregnant women. Fish such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel have the highest levels of mercury. Consuming canned tuna, salmon, shrimp, catfish and lake fish two to three times a week is not a concern. The benefits of eating fish outweigh any risk at older ages (middle aged or older men, and post-menopausal women).
  • Variety. Include a variety of fish in your diet. In general, variety is a key goal with all food groups. While research may often “suggest” that a component of a particular food is beneficial or important to health, we often do not know exactly which component is responsible for the benefit. By providing yourself a variety of vegetables, oils, fish, nuts, etc, you are assuring yourself key nutrients and components for good health.

It’s Easy

The great thing about fish is that it is so easy and quick to prepare. You can have dinner on the table in thirty minutes. Any fish can simply be popped into a baking dish coated with vegetable spray or a bit of olive oil and baked for 15-30 minutes, depending on the thickness (thicker “steak” cuts of fish take longer than thin fillets). Drizzle olive oil and some salt-free herbs or breadcrumbs on top and then bake or grill. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto it when serving. You can also place fish into a baking dish, add about 4 ounces of orange juice, top with a fruit salsa or minced red onions, and bake. Check out the easy recipes in our books and add some omega-3 fatty acids to your weekly diet!

Kitchen Confidence

Cleggcover_101Get a head start on the holiday season by arming yourself with a good kitchen basics book. Some believe that the general lack of culinary skills, particularly in those aged 18-38, may have a negative impact on health. Others argue that you don’t have to cook to eat healthfully. I think there’s a middle ground, but in general feel cooking is an important life skill, and can have a positive impact on your health, and that of your family’s.

I had the chance to review Holly Clegg’s cookbook Kitchen 101: Secrets to Cooking Confidence. Holly’s motto is “real food, real easy, for real people” and there’s no question that her books reflect this. The food is delicious, and the recipes are easy to put together. Most moms I know don’t have a lot of time during the week to put a meal together, and may not have a desire to do batch cooking on Sundays (ah….me). Holly’s recipes generally only require simple ingredients from your pantry, and she utilizes some convenience items such as baking mixes and canned or frozen vegetables.

As you tab through Kitchen 101, the photographs alone with encourage you to get cooking. This book is perfect for the upcoming holiday season when you may have overnight guests or unexpected company. You’ll find several easy go-to dinners and lots of decadent, yet simple, desserts to put together to impress the crowd, or to bring along to family gatherings.

I love that the book includes entertaining ideas such as “sports spread”, “southwestern soiree”, and “fancy foods”. She also includes fun everyday meal planning sections such as “comfort food”, “meatless Monday”, “Mediterranean menu” and “Chinese takeout”.

Finally, the first thing that struck me when I opened this book – the “how to set the table” pictorial on page 6. I love this! Setting a proper table is important and it’s likely that many children (and adults) don’t know how to do it. Learn how to set the table properly this holiday season, and you’ll never be in that awkward “which fork do I use?” situation again, and neither will your children.

Teaser: You’ll find a healthier homemade green bean casserole, homemade slice and bake chocolate chip cookies, chopped Greek salad, crabmeat brie dip, chicken marsala, and oven baked risotto, and much more. Grab a copy for the holidays, or buy one for a friend. Enjoy!

New Foods with Health in Mind

You may often hear the advice “cut back on processed food” in the media. While this can be good advice, the definition of  “processed” is vague, and many healthy foods that you may include in your diet have gone through some processing.

Unless you are picking the apple or bean straight from the tree or vine, it’s likely there is some processing involved. Most busy families can benefit from the convenience that processed foods offer. At my recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo I had the opportunity to sample and learn about some new products. I’m sharing some of those with you here, and you can check them out at your local markets and give them a try. But, as with any snack food, portion and frequency apple.

Barbara's High fiber, low sugar, cereals and snacks.

Barbara’s High fiber, low sugar, cereals and snacks. The Original Puffins® was quite tasty and provided 90 calories, ) saturated fat, 2 grams protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of sugar.

I also tried a calcium supplement in a chew form. If you like the taste of “cake batter” you’ll love the lemon-flavored chew. These were a bit too sweet for me, but they were smooth and not chalky.

Calcet® Calcium Chews

I also tried a calcium supplement (Calcet® Calcium Chews) in a chew form. If you like the taste of “cake batter” you’ll love the lemon-flavored chew. These were a bit too sweet for me, but they were smooth and not chalky.

I am a fan of LaraBars® but also tried Zing® bars. For me, Lara wins. Kind® are very good also, with lots of flavors, and many loaded with heart-healthy nuts.

I am a fan of LaraBars® but also tried Zing® bars. For me, Lara wins. Kind® are very good also, with lots of flavors, and many loaded with heart-healthy nuts.

Snapea Crisps.

Snapea Crisps. While eating vegetables is the best way to eat vegetables (!), sometimes we all enjoy a snack food. I loved these crunchy snacks made with actual peas, and provide 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per 130-calorie ounce.

Inspiration from Experts

Not only does the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, organized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offer educational sessions (on topics relating to food and nutrition science, business, entrepreneur, clinical nutrition, and food service) and a huge food product and service Expo, but it offers the opportunity to see a lot of people. As a member of the Academy, I am offered the incredible opportunity to meet and network with the largest group of nutrition professionals in the world.

Board Meeting: Nutrition Entrepreneur Practice Group

Board Meeting: Nutrition Entrepreneur Practice Group

I met a dietitian from Malaysia, who is the Country Representative for the American Overseas Dietetic Association. I met dietitians who work in television and have authored books. I met culinary dietitians who are chefs and provide innovative recipes to keep people healthy and satisfied with their diets. I met dietitians who make me laugh. I met “guy-a-titians” who represent <5% of our profession but are forging new territories (such as “how can I find a restroom around here?” – the men’s rooms in the convention hall are often taken over with a “women” sign). All of this diversity allows me access to more resources so that I can share more nutrition science with consumers.

It is so beneficial to belong to a professional association that connects you with thousands of colleagues across the nation. We have the opportunity to network with like minded professionals who are working in our niche by joining any one of over 25 Dietetic Practice Groups (DPG) that are offered. In addition, the Academy provides science-based position papers that support our practice by providing a summary of the available science on the topic.

In a world full of nutrition misinformation, it’s important to base our advice on science, not feelings or emotions. This is what separates us from the pseudo-professionals. So if you’re searching for sound diet, food, and nutrition advice, bookmark the Academy’s website and have access to the world’s largest group of nutrition professionals.

Protein Power

I just returned from the annual conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It was held in Atlanta this year, and I had a great time meeting up with colleagues and soaking in some of the latest food and nutrition facts. I’m planning on posting a few summaries over the next few weeks.

One of the popular sessions covered plant protein. While there have been some clinical trials that have shown a high protein diet can promote weight loss in the short term, it’s important to consider your protein source and other risk factors. stethoscope-heart

Some epidemiological studies have linked a high protein intake to lower risk of high blood pressure, but the type of protein is important. Studies have also linked high intakes of animal protein with increased diabetes risk.

The DASH Diet is a plant-protein based diet. DASH recommends only 5-6 ounces or less of animal protein daily (plus 2-3 servings of low fat dairy), but encourage larger portions of plant proteins (vegetables and whole grains). Research supports the role of plant-based proteins as a partial replacement for animal protein to prevent disease. The DASH diet research did show that including low fat dairy daily lowered blood pressure more than just increasing vegetables and fruits alone. For more blood-pressure-lowering power, include some low fat dairy as your total daily protein.

So if you have a some friends who are “Paleo-obessed”, or are consuming large amounts of meat, you may consider sharing some other research news with them about the benefits of plant proteins. There is a vast amount of research about plant-based diets and heart health, so there’s no question that these principles are wise to follow:

  • Add more plant protein to your diet: snack on small amounts of nuts, add nuts or seeds to green salads, include some whole grains in your diet, try some tofu or soy foods.
  • Eat more vegetables. Veggies contribute protein, and also loads of important vitamins.
  • Replace some of the red meat you eat with plant protein. Try a meatless meal once or twice a week. If you enjoy a steak (as I do occasionally), just eat a smaller portion, and eat it less frequently. It doesn’t have to be all or none, just less.
  • If you don’t want to include dairy, you can still follow the DASH Diet without it. Just include all of the other important food groups, healthy fats, and limit sodium, sweets, saturated fat (keep portions of meats small).
  • Rather than load up on protein at one meal, spread your protein throughout the day. Smaller portions of lean protein at each meal, including plant-based proteins, may help with satiety and weight control, as well as maintenance of lean body mass.

Easy Protein Power at Breakfast and Lunch

Often breakfast and lunch time may be where you are low on protein. It’s okay to include animal protein (including “red” meats – lean cuts of beef or pork), what’s key, is the portion.

  • Choose small portions (<5 ounces daily) of lean meats (skinless chicken, loin cuts of fresh beef or pork), and sub in plant protein on occasion.
  • Add in a variety – Try an egg, 1/2 cup of low fat cottage or ricotta cheese, or a tablespoon of nut butter for breakfast. An 8-ounce glass of low fat or non fat milk adds 8 grams of protein to any meal.
  • Choose a tofu wrap at lunch – add chunks of seasoned tofu and chopped lettuce and tomato with salsa to a wrap.
  • Grill a large portobello mushroom, or use chopped mushrooms to make “burgers”. At the conference, I enjoyed a tasty “blended mushroom burger” - cutting back on meat by adding plant protein.
  • Add 2-3 ounces of tuna to your green salad for lunch, along with 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts.
  • Or, try something new – sardines. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids (the good fats). I sampled some canned sardines from Wild Planet foods, and have to say they were delicious! (their tuna is great too).