Eating continues to get really complicated. Or at least some people make it that way.
I recently listened in on a video interview of three doctors discussing which diet is best – Paleo, Gluten-Free, or Vegan. After listening to them for about 10 minutes, I thought – no wonder people are so confused as to who to believe, and what to eat! Only one of them referenced evidence based data (vegan), and one outright stated that he didn’t care about the science (gluten-free), and respects anecdotal information more.
I have to admit, it’s a little scary to me to hear a physician say he doesn’t care about science. I understand that building worthwhile evidence takes time, but the notion that all of the evidence we have isn’t valid or worth consideration, is ridiculous.
Let me clarify – if you view the video mentioned here, please understand that these three dietary approaches are in no way “the only 3 ways to eat”, and I don’t really relate to any of them. As David Katz recently put it – eat the way you want to. Because between the doctors who can’t agree (or more likely simply want their ego to be the one “diet” you follow. God forbid we collaborate), and the psuedo-nutritionist media personalities out there such as the Food Babe who spouts nonsense, deciphering nutrition advice, in the words of Roald Dahl, has become a clustercuss.
I mostly always agree with Dr. Katz about food, nutrition, and diet (Katz heads up Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, and is an MD and has a Master’s degree in Public Health). Of course, Katz has much more clout that I do, yet I fear still, that nobody is listening. Or at best, we are preaching to the choir.
Set aside, for a moment, your own set of rules (perhaps you are a vegan, anti-GMO, anti-packaged foods, anti-grain-fed beef, anti-Big food, or whatever your world view). Consider that physicians such as David Katz and dietitians like me, are not just thinking of you. We are thinking about a wide range of the population. People who span the full socioeconomic and sociocultural spectrum. People of all genders, races, and ages…There’s no way one set of food rules is going to work.
So – just eat good food. Work on the bad habits (because we all have them, and you know what they are). Use some common sense. Avoid fear-mongering.
- Eat the best food you can.
- Eat more fresh vegetables – buy what’s on sale, wash them, eat them raw, juice or blend them if you like, cook them, add them to soups. Find easy ways to include them into your lifestyle.
- Have a fresh piece of fruit at least once a day as a snack.
- Drink more water.
- Slow down. Enjoy each bite. Try not to multitask when eating.
- Enjoy whole grains, and limit the more processed ones.
- Enjoy fresh bakery breads – but limit portions to about 2 slices a day
- Enjoy small portions of poultry, lean beef, learn pork – choose mostly unprocessed meats.
- Add more green salads to your diet.
- If you have children, offer them milk with meals once they are weaned from breast milk or formula. Despite some fear-mongering that goes on about milk, data shows that children who drink milk have better diet quality, and generally consume less sugary drinks.
- Enjoy the pleasures of eating and drinking – and do so without guilt, and without overdoing any of it.
Now get the cuss out of here and just go eat.
My previous post gave you a glimpse of my recent cattle farm tour. This post will offer you some facts about cattle farming.
I was aware, prior to my tour to the cattle farm, that there is a lot of misconception about cattle farming; particularly feedlot versus grass-fed. Cattle are amazing animals. Cattle are unique in that they are protein-builders. They can take grass, and create protein. As more people are wanting to know “where does my food come from”, I want to share what I saw and learned during this tour.
Dr. Scott Barao has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and a PhD in beef cattle nutrition and management. In addition to serving as Executive Director of the farm, he currently develops and demonstrating profitable and sustainable models of beef cattle production for producers int eh Mid-Atlantic region.
Jim Hogue is a founding partner in Agri-Basics, Inc and is a Livestock Nutritionist. He formulates livestock rations, works in feed management, and provides nutrition recommendations to cattle feeders and producers in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
Q: What is the difference between grass-fed and a feedlot?
A: While Hedgeapple is a grass-finished farm, raising and finishing the cattle at pasture on grasses and hay, other farms have different models. Barao told us farms should be managed based on their resources and land. In contrast to a pasture-raised system like the one at Hedgeapple Farm, other farms may raise calves on pasture, and then transport them to another farm. When old enough, they move them to a feedlot, which provides grain-based feed in addition to grass or hay in the pasture. Larger farms require higher production, and the animal adapts to a feed ration that promotes growth.
Q: Is a pasture-raised model safer or better than feedlot raised model?
A: Not exactly. The supplemental feed rations that include grain, fatten the cattle up a bit more quickly. “We aren’t really feeding the animal, we’re feeding the rumen”, says Barao. The rumen is a digestive organ unique to cows and other “ruminant” animals (goats, sheep). The food they eat enters the rumen before the stomach and small intestine, and the bacteria and protozoa in the rumen work at breaking down the food so it can eventually be absorbed. When you hear the term “chewing their cud”, this refers to the partially digested material that the cow essentially “spits up” and then chews some more (letting saliva do some digestion) before swallowing for further digestion.
The bottom line is, in some parts of the country, there’s just never going to be enough grass available for cows to eat.
Life exists because of 6 inches of topsoil, and because it rains once in a while. ~ Jim Hogue
Q: It is true that cows can’t really digest grain, and all cows should only e eating grass?
Jim Hogue shared some great insight into how cows eat and what they tolerate. It’s true that a cow can naturally digest grass, however it’s also true that they are adaptable. In addition, farms must also meet the demand for beef, and grain feeding helps with production. Mature cows (1-1 ½ years old) will be delivered to a feedlot and are “finished” there for 4-6 months by feeding on the ration. When a cow is introduced to grain-based feed, or other plant material (fruit, vegetables), it has to be done gradually over a period of about 10-21 days and with supervision. Once the rumen adapts, the food is digested without issue. This gradual introduction happens with any sort of new feed ration (consider that some farms may purchase leftover fruits and vegetables from grocery stores that would otherwise be wasted and end up in a land fill – cows doing their share for the environment). Rations may also include ionophores – FDA-approved antibiotics that alter the rumen by creating “good bacteria” (as a environmental bonus – these ionophores also reduce methane gases). So the next time you think, “cows were only meant to eat grass”, consider the scientific-balanced formula that is individualized for cattle on every single farm.
Q: Is grass-finished beef more nutritious or healthier?
A: While grass-finished beef touts a better nutrition profile (it’s is often lower in fat, higher in omega-3 fatty acids, and higher in CLA, and higher in beta-carotene) I don’t count this as significant.
It’s a great idea to buy local when you can, but it’s also still fine to include traditional cuts of lean grain-fed beef in your diet as well. While you do want to increase your omega-3 fatty acids, I wouldn’t suggest doing so by eating beef (you want to include plant-based sources of omega-3 instead, such as olive oil or walnuts). And you’ll also want to get your beta-carotene from eating more vegetables.
There’s one thing for sure – all of these animals are well taken care of. I’ve never doubted this myself, living in a 4-H area, but I know there are some Americans who may. Farmers, and the veterinarians and scientists that they work with, care about the land, and they care for the animals they raise. The other interesting point, is that cattle nutrition needs should be as individualized as human nutrition. Farmland methods also needs to be individualized based on land, manpower, and natural resources. Our future productivity of food depends on the science and strategy of experts such as the ones we met during this tour.
I’ll be following up this blog next week with some nutrition information about beef, and the BOLD study compares to DASH.
Disclosure: I was invited by the Northeast Beef Promotion board to tour Hedgeapple Cattle Farm, but I was not paid to write this post.
I enjoyed the opportunity to tour Hedgeapple Farm (run by the Jorgensen Family Foundation, Inc) this week. The farm sits on about 310 acres near Frederick Maryland and raises Black Angus cattle.The tour began with a brief overview by Executive Director Dr. Scott Barao who shared th history of the farm and the definition of grass fed. While consumers may relate to the term “Grass fed”, the detail is actually in how the cow is “finished”. “Grass-finished” cattle are only offered pasture grass and hay through their entire life. This is the case with the Angus at Hedgeapple Farm.
After our short chat in the country store, we jumped on a hay wagon and toured the property. Our first stop gave us a view of the fall calves. Calves are born in the fall and spring generally, and will nurse and graze for about 6-8 months at which point they are weaned from their mothers and moved to another pasture.
We then stopped by a field where cows were almost ready to be shipped for processing. It takes about 2-3 years to bring beef from farm to fork, and there’s a lot of care and attention that occurs during that time.
Bulls are kept in their own areas, of course.
Finally, we toured the barn, where cattle are brought for health inspection or any medical intervention. While there’s no reason to give antibiotics here unless there is an infection or illness, they will of course treat the animals if they get sick.
The day closed with a panel discussion and an opportunity for the dietitians in the audience to ask unlimited questions. I’ll have a follow-up blog with more news about that Q&A later this week.
Disclosure: I was invited by the Northeast Beef Promotion board to tour Hedgeapple Cattle Farm, but I was not paid to write this post.
I recently read a “Facebook conversation” about children and snacking. I was going to post a comment, but thought – This is not a cut and dry topic, and one comment won’t do the topic justice. Hence, today’s blog post!
The topic was brought up because a local school suggested a mid-morning snack to hold the kids over until lunch time. The parent however didn’t feel that her child needs a snack every day at that time, and on top of that, is concerned about the “soccer snack” that also occurs later in the day after school.
Ah….the Evils of the Soccer Snack
I chalk this one up to the same genius who invented [insert sarcasm] “party favor bags” (which often included wasteful plastic crap you’d throw away a few months later, or mini games and candy) . My children are older, and we are over both birthday party favors and soccer snacks, but let’s say I have for sure “been there, done that”. I admit that I played along with the party favor bags and I also played along with soccer snack (mostly providing a portion-controlled juice or water and a package of crackers or a granola bar). Now mind you, I’m aware that many granola bars are glorified candy bars, but some are calorie-controlled, low in saturated fat, provide some protein, and may even be fortified with some B vitamins – in general better than a snack cake or a bag of chips when looking for something easy and portable. But my purpose here is not to dissect the minutia of the Nutrition Facts about various packaged snacks, my purpose is to help you understand that everyone has different nutrition and eaten pattern needs.
As the Facebook mom said, “I brought oranges once. Nobody took them”. That’s sad but true. The soccer children have been conditioned to get some sort of sweet or salty treat afterward, and sadly they don’t view orange wedges as a treat (although they are the perfect post-soccer treat for a 7 year old).
And side note – water is the best beverage for little tyke soccer players and amateur athletes and exercisers alike. You don’t need a sports drink unless you’re sweating bullets after doing some long, intense workout (such as a 30 mile bike ride).
Who Should Snack?
I do encourage providing children with a healthy food and beverage at snack time, but snacks do not always have to be scheduled. One train of thought is that all children and adults need to eat every 2-3 hours (the 6-meals-a-day idea), but everyone actually has custom needs. This is the tough thing about parenting – there is no simple rule book! Young children (ages 2-7) generally do need healthy snacks to meet their complete nutrient needs, while older children may not. I prefer to allow a child (and an adult for that matter) to also learn to recognize their hunger cues (when they are hungry – eat. When the are full – stop). When this concept is introduced early in life, an active child can eat normally, and maintain a healthy weight. Of course, some children begin to gain weight pre-puberty no matter how they eat, and their needs should be individualized.
Five Simple Snack Guidelines:
- Young children are growing rapidly, and their small stomachs often can only hold so much, so smaller meals, with healthy snacks in between is often a good fit for young children
- Most young children only require a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack, but this may depend on their individual activity levels
- It’s normal for children to be more hungry at times (perhaps during a growth spurt). Support their cues on this.
- Do make snack time fun. While I encourage healthy snacks (fresh fruit, raw veggies, whole grain crackers or wraps, some protein, low fat milk or yogurt) for the most part, an occasional treat of chocolate pudding or two cookies is fine.
- If older children (10-15) are participating in after school sports, they can carry a snack with them if hunger hits, and they should hydrate with water often. Some children prefer to go to practice on an empty stomach due to gastrointestinal upset. Be sure to provide a simple recovery snack for older children doing after school sports – a glass of chocolate milk, a 4 ounce yogurt, cheese with 6 crackers, or a small 8-ounce smoothie can do the trick.
This brings me to my final point: Meal planning is not one-size-fits-all. Every child doesn’t need a 10am snack. Some may need no snacks, some one snack, and some may need more frequent snacks every day. It depends on the child, their environment, their activity level, their genetic predisposition, and so on. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, or eating habits, consider setting up a meeting with a registered dietitian in your area.
Whether you use the backyard patio or deck furniture, or go boating, or take one last dip in the pool, Labor Day is typically regarded as “the last weekend of summer” (even though summer isn’t officially over until September 22 this year).
Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882, with New York state being the first to officially adopt the day (always the first Monday in Septembers) in 1886. It originated as the beginning of the labor movement, recognizing the social and economic achievements of workers.
As always, your health is a 365 day a year job, so this weekend will be no different. Many Americans will celebrate the Labor Day weekend with a picnic and family gathering, so here are some ideas to incorporate heart health into your weekend plans.
- Take a walk, hike, or a bike ride each day
- Mix up a big batch of kale and wild rice salad on Friday to eat through the weekend. There are a lot of versions of this recipe – make it your own!
- Slice some melons and place them onto a platter for everyone to enjoy.
- Chop more vegetables into your pasta salad
- Mix up a chopped green salad with chopped nuts, chopped spinach, red leaf lettuce, minced bell peppers, celery, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and grape halves.
- Serve fish tacos for your picnic instead of the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs
- Make slider-sized burgers using a variety of low fat choices – extra lean ground beef, ground turkey breast, and garden-bean burgers
- Offer healthy toppings for your burgers – sautéed onions, mushrooms, spinach leaves – in addition to the traditional catsup, mustard, or cheese.
- Keep it simple. Sometimes we feel side dishes have to be fancy, or have a lot of ingredients. Try simply slicing tomatoes, chopping cucumbers, and adding an oil and apple cider vinegar mixture (1:1 ratio oil to vinegar). Done.
- If you mix up some lemonade, water it down a bit to lower sugar and calories, and add fresh herbs for an extra pop of flavor: Try mint leaves or thyme sprigs.
- Instead of mayo-based potato salad, try this one.
- Extra zucchini in the garden? Bring these Zippy Zucchini Bites to the neighbor’s picnic!
- Instead of gooey cupcakes, bake a simple sheet cake and top with fresh sliced berries and fresh whipped cream.
Just a bit of thoughtful planning and a few swaps can make your weekend picnic healthier! Enjoy the weekend.
AD: My newest book, DASH Diet For Dummies® will hit shelves in the next couple of weeks.
The DASH Diet is a lifestyle and meal plan that is proven to reduce blood pressure, and can also be effective for weight loss and blood sugar control (supports diabetes treatment). DASH Diet is not a fad diet, but a dietary plan based on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension clinical trials. The book provides you with all of the background on the research, as well as the true-to-life tools you can use right away to incorporate the diet into your lifestyle.
I co-authored the book with cardiologist Sarah Samaan, MD and registered dietitian and culinary expert Cindy Kleckner, RDN. Our team has done a great job at delivering information about the physiology of the heart with key, easy-to-understand information about heart disease, as well as kitchen tips and simple recipes to try in your own kitchen.
Do consider purchasing a copy (Kindle or paperback) to help you understand your heart health and healthy eating. Anyone, any age, can benefit from the information in the book, but it is especially useful if you are 40 years old or older, have heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, or any family history of these disorders.
Sugar continues to be a hot topic. While I don’t feel eliminating sugar from your diet is necessary, I do think everyone needs to evaluate their diet now and then. Sugar provides what we dietitians like to call “empty calories” – meaning it provides calories, without any essential nutrients (no vitamins or minerals). Sugar is simply a carbohydrate (a monosaccharide).
Sugar does however provide energy (calories, that is) and sometimes is useful in the diet. Sugar serves as quick energy as well, which is useful when refueling during sport activities – a time when perhaps a sports drink does the trick (perhaps during a 30 mile bike ride, or a marathon run). But in day to day life, sugar is simply a tasty addition to what should be nutritious diets. As your grandmother may have advised, “Save dessert for last” – after you’ve eaten your vegetables and essential protein, and other nutrients.
Your diet does impact your health. A high sugar, high fat (often over-processed) diet can increase your risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Your meals should be built on the platform of vegetables, grains, and some lean protein. There are a few ways to do this.
The Choose My Plate guideline is a simple pictorial of what a balanced diet may look like.
The DASH Diet is built on plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low fat dairy, and includes small amounts of protein (fish, meats, poultry, nuts)
Vegans choose to eliminate all animal products, and consume their essential nutrients from only plants.
In all cases, a healthy diet is one which limits sugar, but also includes balance, and a variety of whole foods. Here are 5 simple tips for you to work on:
- Set goals to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet can automatically displace the sugar. Have 2-3 pieces of fresh fruit daily, and you
- Don’t add sugar. Do you add sugar to coffee or iced tea? Try out an artificial sweetener. Depending on how sweet you like your drinks, a half packet of an artificial sweetener will be enough to sweeten it up.
- Stop the soda habit. There are a few options here. 1) Replace your soda with water or sugar-free seltzer, 2) Replace your soda with diet soda, 3) Reduce your portions to no more than 12 ounces daily or less may find that your candy craving disappears.
- Are you a candy fiend? Try the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. Don’t keep a candy dish on your desk. For some with severe cravings, it may be necessary to completely eliminate it. Others can do well to set limits on treats. For instance, make a conscious effort to only treat yourself to a candy bar or a donut or snack cake, once a month, and choose healthy snacks daily.
- Plan fruit into your dessert. Instead of banning dessert, consider some options. A fresh fruit crisp made with fruit and oats, is more nutritious than a cupcake heaped with 3 inches of icing.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has announced that every August will be Kids Eat Right Month. The timing is perfect as children across the country head back to school. Of course in my neck of the woods in the Northeast, school is not in session until the very end of the month, but in many other states, school has begun!
Often the school year, with its structured schedule, can help support healthy eating habits, so now is the time to think about getting organized.
- Take your child with you to the grocery store and make it a fun learning experience. This is an opportunity to learn about budgets, what they like or dislike, and also allows them to see the foods available.
- Make a grocery list ahead and ask your children for healthy snack ideas to add to the list
- Take some extra time in the produce aisle and talk about the different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
- School lunches are healthier than you think. Remind your child that all food groups are important, and that you should have a balanced plate
- Have healthy after school snacks available, and engage your child in helping you plan quick, healthy breakfasts, and healthy packed lunches.
QUICK ALL-IN-ONE BANANA WRAP
1 small whole wheat tortilla-type wrap
1 1/2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter
Directions: Lay wrap on flat surface, spread with peanut butter
Place peeled banana at the edge of the wrap. Roll up (you may want to break the banana in half for easier rolling).
Slice in small bit-sized pieces, or cut in half for a delicious after school snack.
The journal Obesity recently published an expert panel report reviewing what could be the most effective obesity treatment guidelines. The panel’s report intends to settle some of the arguments among health care providers in terms of what exactly is the best evidence-based approach to weight management.
While many enjoy arguing over the “best diet”, the panel concluded that there are many approaches to obesity and weight management (including referral for bariatric surgery in specific cases), insisting that it is time to stop arguing about various approaches. The panel addressed these key questions:
- Who needs to lose weight?
- What is the optimum level of weight loss?
- Which diet is the most effective for weight loss?
- Is diet and exercise the best way to lose weight?
- How can weight loss be maintained?
- Who should receive bariatric surgery?
When individuals consider weight loss, they are often lured in by the quick fix diet, or elimination diet (think: gluten-free) that appear simple to follow. We know however, that without long-term behavior change, these types of plans are only short-term fixes. We also seem to be a society obsessed with perfection, or at least the idea of it – toned bodies, smooth skin, and super-white teeth. This, while aesthetically appealing, does not always equate to “healthy”, and just as there is no one measure for beauty, there is also no one measure for “healthy”.
A person’s weight, while a huge factor in health and disease risk, is not a simple assessment. For this reason, physicians are wise to bring in the registered dietitian to evaluate an appropriate weight goal for individual patients. While BMI (body mass index) and weight charts can be useful, positive metabolic changes can occur with small amounts of weight loss.
As far as effective “diet”, the ability and motivation of an individual to maintain an eating style should be considered in addition to the basic dietary framework that is supported by evidence to reduce or prevent disease (the DASH Diet, vegetarian diets, and the Mediterranean diet all fit this bill).
The expert panel realized that while face to face counseling is very beneficial, other individuals can also benefit from telehealth options and online approaches. Hopefully this expert review will help improve the reimbursement for a variety of nutrition service approaches from qualified professionals.
If there is one thing we should agree on, it is that no one diet fits all, and neither does one lifestyle approach. Individuals need encouragement from professionals they can relate to, and need programs that are individualized to fit their lifestyle for long-term success.
In my 28 years of practice in the field of food and nutrition, I don’t remember a time when food and diet were so controversial. The Internet and social media have provided a platform for everyone – regardless of whether or not they have any background in nutrition or diet therapy – and, they want to tell you what to eat. As a registered dietitian-nutritionist whose charge is to clarify the science behind the claims for consumers, all of the published pseudoscience on the Internet keeps me busy.
Interestingly it seems that the extreme ends of the diet spectrum are the most passionate. Let’s take a look at the Paleolithic diet and the Vegan diet.
- Eat as your Paleolithic ancestors did, 12,000 years ago
- Focus on lots of protein from grass fed meats, fish
- Non-starchy Vegetables (claiming potatoes are bad)
- Avoid most grains, including wheat (no breads, cereals, pasta, rice)
- Avoid vegetable cooking oils
- Limit fruits
- Limit added sugar and fats
- Avoid all animal products – all meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, and products derived from them (which may include bees – no honey)
- Include vegetable protein, soy, nuts, and seeds
- Pure vegans also avoid other animal products (leather, wool) and are usually vocal proponents of animal welfare.
I can advocate a vegan diet (when planned properly) for health, but I can’t advocate the Paleo lifestyle for long-term health. The only benefit to a Paleo diet is, perhaps, short-term weight loss. A vegan diet is a very healthy way to eat, but for some, it may not always be the most enjoyable choice. There’s no question that plants are more medicinal than meats, but I like to help people improve their health by choosing a diet they enjoy, and can sustain. If Vegan is that choice for them, great, but many people can achieve good health and prevent disease, meeting somewhere in the middle: Less meat, and more plants.
Many proponents of both the Paleo and Vegan diets and lifestyles however, support their choices as if it were a religion, and in some cases are using diet as a political statement. We are blessed with a wide variety of food to eat in our country. I encourage everyone to also consider the environmental impact your diet may have, and do your best to conserve energy in general, but it’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can meet halfway.
The DASH and the Mediterranean Diets are the dietary middle ground. Both of these diets promote a good dose of vegetables and fruit, and small amounts of animal protein. The DASH diet also includes 3 servings of low fat dairy, since the research trials showed that the groups who included the dairy daily lowered blood pressure more than the groups who did not. A wide variety of foods can be included with both diets, and the diets are sustainable and evidence-based.
In terms of overall public health, there’s not one meal plan for all. Everyone has individual food preferences, and some people may be intolerant to certain foods or beverages. Yet everyone can choose to eat a healthy diet – and would especially benefit by meeting with a nutrition counselor. A registered dietitian can help you make choices that are going to based on what you enjoy eating, your health, and what your body tolerates, among other things (culture, traditions, budget, region, availability of various foods, medical nutrition needs).
If you choose to “go on a diet”, or subscribe to a restrictive lifestyle, that’s your choice. I don’t think it’s appropriate to convince everyone that your choice is the best choice for everyone. What is clear (and supported by science) is that everyone benefits from adding more vegetables to their diet, and science does back up a plant-based diet. Let’s just agree on that, and leave the rest to personal preference.