Chew the Facts® Blog

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Easy Ways to Create a Plant-Based Summer Menu

The calendar may not officially say “summer” but that summertime vibe is definitely here. Somehow summertime seems to be less scheduled than other months of the year. This lack of structure can unknowingly impact your eating plan. You may find yourself on vacation, taking a long weekend, running out the door to a baseball or soccer game every night, or just sitting on the porch more often. So what happens to dinner? It likely is eaten on the run, or worse, at the concessions stand.

A little bit of planning ahead can make the most of the nights that you have to run out the door. Side dishes are usually the most time-intensive part of the meal to pull together. Choose a night of the week (or perhaps a Sunday evening) when you do have time to mix up 2 batches of side dishes to have ready when the time-crunched nights hit.

The bonus here is that you’ll be adding more plants to your diet. You can pair any of these with grilled chicken, fish, or steak, or even eat some of these as a main dish. To keep the meal plant-based, focus your plate on the whole grain-vegetable side dish, with smaller portions of meat.

Here are a few simple ideas for do-ahead dishes:

  • Potato salad. Potatoes are rich in potassium. Boil up some small red potatoes (they cook more quickly, saving time) and try adding Greek yogurt instead of mayo for a richer, more nutrient-dense salad. Cook 2 pounds of red potatoes, cool slightly then add ¼ cup mayonnaise, ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, 2-3 tablespoons of fresh, chopped dill (or 2 teaspoons dried), chopped chives, shredded carrots, a pinch of salt, and ground pepper.
  • Grilled veggies. These are simple enough to do anytime, but if you grill a big batch some ahead, they will be ready in the fridge and will only need to be reheated or added to a salad. Green beans, asparagus, eggplant and zucchini slices (about ¼ inch thick) are all quick to grill. Lightly toss the cleaned vegetable with some olive oil and your favorite fresh or dried herbs (I love Herbs de Provence). Place onto hot grill for about 5 minutes, turning half way through cooking. You can also use a grill pan for this – spray it with cooking oil, and place tossed veggies onto it.
  • Pasta or Grain salad. This is such a great thing to have ready in the refrigerator since the healthy options are endless. A grain salad mixed with a vinaigrette (oil with vinegar, lemon or lime juice, and herbs or spices) keeps for about 5 days in the refrigerator too. You can chop and add those grilled vegetables to it, or a rinsed can of beans (garbanzo, black beans, cannelloni beans), chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, fresh peas, or chopped bell peppers. Add the veggies to pasta  (any type – try whole wheat or tricolor), rice, or orzo.
  • Use More Whole Grains: Try adding whole grains like farro, or barley to salads in place of pasta. Farro is an ancient Italian grain that cooks in 20 minutes (similar to method for lentils). Or try quinoa or freekeh, both high protein. Freekeh is an ancient grain made from green (young) wheat, and is quick to prepare. Lentils are also nutrient-rich and easy to cook. Add 1 cup lentils to 4 cups boiling water, cover, reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. You can freeze cooked lentils in zippered freezer bags for later use. 
  • Make use of frozen vegetables. While summer is a great time for farmer’s markets, when you are in a time crunch, items such as frozen bell peppers and onions, or cubed butternut squash, can be real time savers. Sauté butternut squash with a chopped onion in olive oil, and then mix it into a cooked grain like barley or farro. Add a few dried cranberries, and toss. 

Spend a little bit of time making a big batch of a healthy side dish you love, and you’ll have more time to enjoy a meal when you are too busy to cook.

Even if you have nowhere to go, it’s nice having something ready in the refrigerator so you can take a night off from cooking. Dine al fresco, and enjoy your summer evenings.

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Walnuts and Gut Health

I attended a food and nutrition conference earlier this year including a session sponsored by California Walnuts, but the following thoughts and opinions are my own based on recent research. 

Could eating walnuts increase the good bacteria in your gut? According to a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois, it may be worth adding more walnuts to your diet. The study was partly funded by the California Walnuts Commission, but as with any research, the funding does not determine the outcome. It’s the data that we want to evaluate. Even though this was a small study, preliminary research is showing a healthy connection with walnuts to a healthy gut.

All high fiber foods have a positive impact on the gut microbiome. This study found that consuming walnuts correlated to a higher relative abundance of three bacteria: FaecalibacteriumRoseburia, and Clostridium.

Faecalibacterium is of particular interest because it has been shown to reduce inflammation in animals, and animals with high amounts of this bacteria are also more insulin sensitive.

Also to note is the effect walnuts had on lowering LDL, or low density lipoproteins (your “bad cholesterol”). High LDL is related to heart disease risk. The higher the number the higher the risk. This is all good news for those with high blood pressure, since insulin resistance is a risk for diabetes, and increases heart disease risk. We absolutely know that walnuts are high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Enjoy More Walnuts

Adding a handful of walnuts to your diet each day is pretty easy (or as often as you can) and will not only add fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein to your diet, but may also help reduce inflammation thereby reducing your disease risk. Even though diet may not be the sole treatment for diseases like hypertension (high blood pressure) or diabetes, a healthy diet reduces your overall risk, and helps you live better (and likely longer). It may also help you require less medication.

Nuts are to be included in the blood-pressure-lowering DASH Diet, so try these easy ways to add walnuts to your meals:

  • Add chopped walnuts with fruit to your oatmeal
  • Add chopped walnuts to your tossed salads
  • Keep a small bag of walnuts in your bag or in the car for snacktime
  • Add a walnuts to a sheet pan of cubed vegetables, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes
  • Treats should be eaten in small portions, occasionally, but you can add chopped walnuts to homemade chocolate chip cookies, or top each brownie square with a beautiful walnut half.
  • Add walnuts to basil instead of pine nuts for a pesto recipe
  • My co-author Cindy Kleckner’s Penne with Zucchini Yogurt Sauce and Walnuts is easy to make, and delicious!
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Take the DASH Diet Challenge

May is High Blood Pressure Month. If you have hypertension (high blood pressure), I encourage you to adopt the DASH Diet lifestyle. DASH Diet has been shown to lower blood pressure, and is also linked to better brain health, good diabetes control, less depression, and weight control.

While you may need medication to treat your hypertension, you may be able to take less medication if you adopt the diet. Even those who are only at risk for high blood pressure definitely should be following DASH Diet as a preventive measure.

 

How do you know if you are at increased risk for high blood pressure?

  • You have a family history of heart disease (your parents or siblings had a heart attack, stroke, or coronary artery disease)
  • You have a family history of high blood pressure or diabetes
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You are sedentary
  • You eat a poor diet (high salt, high fat, high sugar, low fiber)
  • You are African American
  • You have high cholesterol
  • You have a high stress lifestyle
  • You are a heavy drinker
  • You are a smoker

Stay or Get Active

In addition to following the basic guidelines of the DASH Diet, you also want to add regular exercise and stress reduction to your lifestyle. Making the effort to schedule in some movement every day is important. Look for support to keep you on track – use an exercise tracker bracelet/watch, enroll in a set of classes and pay ahead, or enlist a friend to exercise with. While all forms of exercise count, you can consider including a yoga practice with a weekly yoga class to help you combat stress. Having a variety of different activities scheduled into your week will help you enjoy exercise more, and not get bored with any one activity.

Change Up Your Daily Diet

The foods you eat play a powerful role in monitoring your blood pressure. DASH Diet is not just about low salt or less sodium. If you’re still not convinced you should adopt the DASH Diet, consider this challenge: Try the simple changes below for two weeks, and check your blood pressure during that 2-week period using a home monitor.

DASH Diet Challenge: Add 2 more servings of fruit, 2 more vegetables, and one more 8-ounce glasses of milk to your day

  • Choose whatever fruit you enjoy, and add two more servings of it daily.
    • Ideas: Make a smoothie with a cup of strawberries and 8 ounces of 1% milk, plus 3 ice cubes
    • Slice a banana into oatmeal or top your cereal with berries for breakfast
    • Add an apple or orange as a snack in the afternoon.
  • Drink a glass of milk as a snack to hold you over to the next meal, or have an 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk after exercise.
  • Enjoy a yogurt parfait – top plain yogurt with 1/2 cup of fresh berries, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. You can also add 2 TB of granola to it.
  • Add 2 more vegetables daily.
    • Think of vegetables that can easily be added to dinner meal: A baked potato, a sweet potato, a cup of green beans, sauteed spinach, a cup of cooked broccoli
    • Put raw carrots or bell pepper strips into your lunch box to enjoy with lunch or as a snack
    • Add shredded cabbage and slivers of mango or apple to your wrap sandwich
    • Create lunches that are vegetable-focused. Potatoes are a fantastic source of potassium and vitamin C! Get away from sandwiches, and instead top potatoes or salads with things you’d add to a sandwich. Baked potatoes can be topped with anything – chopped chicken, sliced leftover beef, beans, or a little cheese and broccoli.
    • Salads can also be topped with fish, leftover chicken/pork/beef, extra vegetables, cottage cheese, tuna, or beans (drain and rinse canned beans for an easy high fiber, potassium and vitamin-rich protein).
    • Use the oven to easily cook veggies. Cut just about any vegetable into cubes, place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, and bake for 20-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. You can make one big batch of these, and then just heat them up all week for dinner, or top salads or pasta with them.

I would love to hear about your results. Adopt these simple changes, and track your blood pressure, then let me know about your results in the comment section below!

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Beer + Food = More Flavors for Foodies

Truth: I love food, wine, craft cocktails and beer. For my birthday in 2011, my husband and I attended Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show. I remember my two highlights: A fun food demo by Bobbie Flay, and a beer garden feature, which included a guided food and beer pairing. I was experienced in learning about pairing food with wine, but this was the first time I had ever experienced a food-beer pairing event. As with wine, food can change your palate for different styles of beer as well.

Fabulous Food Show 2011

One of the beers we sampled was Hoegaarden, a white ale that mimics a “heffie” (or Hefeweizen, which is a German style of beer). We also sampled a lager and a stout. While wheat beers are not my favorite, I was intrigued that trying it with different foods, changed my perception. These beers were paired with simple foods – smoked sausage, cheese, and dark chocolate.

As someone who loves food expos and tastings, and summer beer festivals, (and is the the kind of person that excitedly reviews the menu of the restaurants I want to visit before I travel), I was excited to meet fellow foodie and beer lover Lori Rice last year when we both attended a farm tour. Lori is a photographer, writer, and has a degree in nutrition and exercise scientist. It’s always fun meeting a girl who enjoys craft beer, and Lori had just authored the book Food on Tap: Cooking with Craft Beer. She sent me a copy to review.

Enter – going even beyond pairing foods with beer, but also cooking and baking with beer. Mind. Blown.

There’s More to Beer than Drinking

If you think of “craft beer drinkers” and picture a snobby hipster sipping expensive beer from a chalice, this book may open you up to broader thoughts about beer, and craft beer consumers. If you’re a cook, you most likely have used wine in your cooking, but this book inspires you to incorporate more beer into your cooking.

Like anything food and beverage, it’s not about “this beer is better than that one”, it’s about your own palate, and what you like. As Lori points out in her Introduction, anyone who enjoys craft beer most likely enjoys new food experiences too. I love IPAs (India Pale Ale). The more hoppy and “citrusy” the better. Other folks love wheat beers (low on my list), and some like lagers or stouts.

Food on Tap isn’t just a cookbook; it includes a brief but thorough education about the different styles of beer. Chapter 2 offers up some beer basics, and you’ll learn how different types of beers work in different recipes (for instance, my citrusy IPA can work great in a vinaigrette dressing for a salad). The book is neatly divided into chapter, like most cookbooks, that include: Brunch, Starters, Mains, Sides, Dessert. Lori also encourages experimentation in her book.

I like to think that mistakes are just new recipes waiting to happen. ~ Lori Rice

Sure you may have baked a Guinness chocolate cake or added beer to a rich beef stew, but how about trying a sour beer to make Lori’s Sour Soaked Strawberry Muffins? Or her California Common Fig and Walnut Flatbread that incorporates a simple California common beer (or blonde ale) into it?

I’m pretty excited to try several of the recipes in this book. Since we always have IPA in the house, I definitely plan on making her salad and vegetable dressings with it (the Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Spinach Salad is definitely a winner). The brunch chapter really has me excited too because I love to host brunch. Our local microbrewery, Voodoo Brewery, offers up a “Met-mosa” which I’ve served at home for brunches, using their Gran Met mixed with orange juice. How about using some Gran Met for the Giant Witbier Egg Biscuit (a wheat style beer is incorporated into the biscuit) from Chapter 3? And, when you have zucchini coming out of your ears this summer, you will die for her Pilsner Battered Fried Summer Squash Slices with Creamy Ranch Beer Dip.

I always find the photos in a cookbook to be a huge inspiration for trying the recipe, and Lori is an amazing photographer, making this a lovely book to look at. This book also makes a great conversation starter when displayed on your coffee table.

Every beer and food lover I know will be thrilled to be able to open their favorite beer, pour out 3 ounces for cooking, and sip the rest. Grab a copy here, and enjoy some new experiences in the kitchen! Enjoy.

 

Remember, if you drink, drink in moderation (the recommended amount is one drink per day for women, one to two per day for men). 

 

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Myths About Meat

There are many nutrition myths that circulate around the Internet, and myths about meat are included in them. Some people have concerns that may be health-related, or that relate to animal welfare and the environment. Can meat be part of a healthy diet? Are there unintended nutrition consequences to not eating meat? How are livestock animals actually treated? And what about the impact agriculture has on the environment.

Everyone is entitled to make their own choice, but I wanted to share some quick facts and figures that may help you with your choice.

Health Benefits

There are health benefits to consuming meat:

  • Meat (beef, pork, poultry) is a good source of protein and B vitamins (B12 and B6 and niacin), riboflavin, iron and zinc.
  • 60% of beef cuts today are considered “Lean” by definition due to improved agricultural practices.
  • According to the American Heart Association, as long as sodium, saturated fat, and calories are controlled, meat can be part of a healthy diet. The DASH Diet allows small portions of meat to be incorporated into your eating plan.
  • In some cases, there may be risks for eliminating meat. B12 deficiency are common in vegetarian diets, so vegetarian diets, especially vegan diets, need to be planned accordingly.

Animal Welfare Myths

There are many myths about the treatment of livestock. You may hear people talk about animal mistreatment, or the idea that pigs shouldn’t be in stalls or barns, chickens should all be ‘cage-free’ , or that cows are only meant to eat grass. Unfortunately it’s true that some operations may not be perfect, but animal cruelty seems to be the rare exception, not the rule. And there are guidelines in place to ensure animals are treated humanely, as well as consequences if they aren’t followed.

  • Under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (enacted in 1958 and revised in 1978), all livestock must be treated humanely. All animals must have water at all times, be fed properly (most farms employ a Veterinarian who prescribes feed which delivers precise nutrition), and animals must be handled humanely in a way that does not cause stress.
  • The US Meat packing industry is highly monitored. No other sector of animal agriculture has the level of oversight that the packing industry has. USDA inspectors are required by law to be in a meat packing facility any time it’s running. If a plant fails an audit, suspensions and fees apply, and contracts may be lost.

To address how the environment may impact stress levels in pigs, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that all pig production systems had no significant difference in the stress levels of sows (pregnant pigs), no matter their environment (barns, stalls, indoors or outdoors). While no one system is perfect, and all may have some disadvantages, stalls seem to work well for sows.

Used properly, sow stalls can “minimize aggression and injury, reduce competition, allow individual feeding and assist in control of body condition.”

While no one system is perfect, and all may have some disadvantages, stalls seem to work well for sows. The most critical part of animal care is the farmer. It’s the farmer’s day to day care for the animals, and not the pigs physical environment seem to matter most. Farmers understand their animals, and their behavior, even though their are advantages and disadvantages to all systems. Also, not only is it humane to treat animals properly, but optimal animal handling results in higher quality meat.

Temple Grandin, PhD is an animal welfare expert and a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. In addition to creating physical structures to manage cows that reduces their stress levels and improves animal and farmer safety (both for medical check ups and to slaughter), she also has written standards for the industry.

“There a certain percentage of people who shouldn’t be handling animals,” she says. “…They shouldn’t be there. But there’s an even bigger percentage that know what the right thing to do is, when they see it. They just need to be taught.” ~Temple Grandin

She has done research about humane handling of animals and has written extensively on the topic, and she even created a video to show the public what happens at a meat processing plant (note – very informational, with some graphic images). I happen to side with Grandin – some people choose not to eat meat, and I support that, but I choose to include meat in my diet. 

Environmental Impact of Ag

There are lots of myths about how much water it takes to produce meat. If you do an Internet search, you’ll find numbers from 4 gallons per pound, to 400 to 1600 gallons per pound. There seem to be a lot of variables in the way this is measured. There are also a lot of sensationalized facts about methane emissions that can be put into context.

  • According to the North American Meat Institute, it takes 441 gallons of water to make a pound of beef. All food production requires water. 
  • Beef producers have improved significantly, and one way farmers conserve water is by feeding cows grain. Interestingly, many people believe that cows should only eat grass, but all cows do eat grass, however some are finished with grain (cows are ruminants and can handle a change in diet as long as the pH of their rumen stays in check). Animals fed grain grow to market size over 200 days faster than grass fed ones, which conserves water.
  • Greenhouse gas from livestock is only part of the environmental impact of emissions. US Environmental Protection Agency data show that all of agriculture contributes 8.6% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture contributing 3.8%. To put this into more perspective, transportation accounts for 27 percent.

Bottom Line

  • Lean meat, in controlled portions, and consumed within the recommended limits for sodium, saturate fat, and calories, can be part of a healthy diet
  • Eliminating meat may have unintended nutrition consequences. Simply declaring “I’m not eating meat” is not a healthy vegetarian diet plan.
  • US Animal Agriculture has come a long way over the years and today is able to produce leaner cuts of beef and pork while raising animals in a humane way. US Farmers have a vested interest in protecting the environment in which they live, and as a whole, continue to produce food using less resources than ever before. Like any industry, they are continually looking for ways to improve and do the right thing.
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Absence Claim Labeling: Is it guiding what you put in your cart?

Is your food authentic?

Gluten free.

Vegan.

No High Fructose Corn Syrup.

GMO-free. Non GMO.

No artificial colors or preservatives.

Dairy free.

Are you using “free-from” claims as the ultimate guide to what you put into your grocery cart? Are you more concerned about what’s not in your food rather than what is in it?

What really get me is that food labels sometimes market “free from” ingredients that were never in that product in the first place.

These “free” messages don’t equal “healthy”. You shouldn’t feel guilty anyhow.

I had the honor to speak on a panel (sponsored by the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance) this month at the SXSW festival and conference in Austin, TX. The panel focused on how food is delivered from farm to fork, and how food manufacturers are the middle men who add claims to food labels that may or may not be helpful, and may not even have anything to do with that food.

I’ve written about food labels and health before, and I continue to believe that many front of package claims can be confusing, or are used solely as a marketing technique. Food companies think this is what you, the consumer, wants (and in this case, they are highlighting ingredients that they think you don’t want). But what are these claims actually doing for you, and are they helping you actually improve your diet and health? Are the helping improve the nutrition status of the population as a whole? Let’s think about it.

Gluten Free

A food with this label means it contains no gluten. This can be really useful for those with Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity, or those following a Low FODMAP diet. It makes great sense when a loaf of bread or a box of pasta is labeled “gluten free”, but it makes less sense when almonds, bottled water, meat, or vegetables include this label.

If you do not have Celiac disease or any sensitivity to gluten, avoiding gluten isn’t improving your diet or health. Rather than look for gluten-free labels, try cutting back on your portions of bread, and add more vegetables to your diet.

Vegan

Adopting a vegan lifestyle requires that you remove all animal products from your life. This includes food products derived from (or processed with) animal products, as well as clothing, personal items, or household products derived from animals.

It takes some effort, planning, and focus to be Vegan, and most vegans do their due diligence in making the decision. This label may help support vegan choices since it ensures that no part of the animal was used in processing. For the average non-Vegan consumer, the Vegan label is not a simple ticket to health (there are Vegan cookies, chips, and snacks on the market too, that aren’t healthy to overeat).

I still find the Vegan label on foods like peanuts humorous.

No High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a caloric sweetener made from corn. It is a sugar, joining table sugar (sucrose), honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, or cane sugar. Teaspoon for teaspoon they all contribute about the same amount of calories.

Since one of the goals of healthier eating includes reducing your total sugar intake, it doesn’t matter whether you cut out HFCS or cane sugar – your goal is to reduce all sugars. Therefore, I’m not impressed for instance, by a protein bar that provides 15 grams of protein along with 18 grams of sugar, even if it “Contains No High Fructose Corn Syrup”.

Nor am I impressed with an expensive bottle of soda that uses “Pure Cane Sugar” as opposed to HFCS or GMO sugar beets (To note – there is no genetic material from the GMO beets or corn left in the final sugar products). Which brings me to the next absence claim.

Non GMO

We are talking about food and health here. Not the environment, not pesticides, not types of farming. Some people who are “anti GMO” tend to focus on the herbicide glyphosate or the use of pesticides in farming. Both of these topics deserve a quite separate conversation.

We absolutely know that vegetables are good for you. We also know that hardly anyone actually consumes enough vegetables – it’s something you have to work on every single day. When you think about GMOs, it’s important to understand two things: 1) There currently are only nine GMO food products on the US market, 2) Genetic modification of plants is generally used to solve a problem (bacterial disease of the plant, pest issues, or other issue that was interfering with growth or making it impossible for the plant to survive or produce).

Packaged food that includes either a “GMO Free” or “Non GMO Project Verified” label, are not guaranteeing you anything other than there is no genetically modified crop (or ingredient made from that crop, such as soybean oil) in that food.

Is a bag of potato chips with the Non GMO Project label better than another brand of potato chips without the seal? Nope. Is a wheat cracker better for you now that the brand added “Non GMO” to it’s label? Nope. This label is especially confusing when it’s used on products that never had any genetically modified ingredients in them in the first place.

No Artificial Colors. No Preservatives

The FDA regulates colors, additives, and preservatives. Removing these from foods make those foods no better, no more nutritious, but in some cases may make them less appealing. Additives and preservatives can serve an important role in food processing and food safety. These ingredients help ensure the availability of flavorful, nutritious, safe, convenient, appealing, and affordable foods year-round.

Dairy Free

Lots of people experience lactose intolerance at one time or another. Some are more prone to this, and even those who aren’t will experience some lactose intolerance at one time or another. Lactase is the enzyme that helps metabolizes lactose (the sugar in milk). Lactase is predominantly found in our small intestine, and it is susceptible to being disrupted, especially during any period of diarrhea. But in healthy people, the intestine will regenerate the enzyme once the diarrhea resolves.

Choosing foods labeled dairy free only benefit vegans or people who are intolerant to dairy. Otherwise, dairy adds a lot of nutritional quality to your diet. In addition, the DASH Diet plan includes three servings a day because the clinical research showed that those who added dairy (in addition to lots of fruits and vegetables) lowered blood pressure more.

On another note, I sometimes hear people worry about “GMO milk” (perhaps because some dairy brands are choosing to label their milk and milk products as “non GMO”, inferring that other brands are GMO). There is no GMO cow’s milk. Even if an animal eats a genetically modified plant, the milk or meat from that animal will not have that genetic material from the plants or grains it ate in it. GMO corn is digested and metabolized the same way as non GMO corn. No content from the feed ends up in the consumable.

My final word: Choose a variety of food from each food group. Cook more vegetable dishes. Limit packaged snacks. Use common sense, and don’t judge food based on absence claims.

 

 

 

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Sweet and Savory Salmon

Salmon is loaded with protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s so easy to prepare. It’s recommended you eat seafood twice a week to get the omega-3 fatty acids you need for heart, brain and eye health.

This recipe comes together in less than 30 minutes start to finish. I used a cedar plank (thanks to a free gift from the Seafood Nutrition Partnership) but you can simply use a glass baking dish. I baked mine in the oven, but you can also grill it.


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5 Reasons to Get Referred to a Registered Dietitian

There are all sorts of people in the media offering you diet advice. Doctors, celebrities, naturopaths, chiropractors, holistic wellness coaches and other self-proclaimed nutritionists. Most of them focus on foods that you absolutely must eliminate (with an unsubstantiated focus on “organic”, “natural” and their perceived ideas about conventional foods). In some cases, supplements are sold (for high profits) with the pitch. How do you know how qualified they are?

When you see a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) you know that a minimum, standardized qualification has been met in the science of food and nutrition. If you are perfectly healthy, and only need to lose weight, a nutritionist or personal trainer can probably help you. But if you have any existing disease (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease), it’s important to have an RDN overseeing your diet. If you have a strong family history of diabetes or heart disease, or are over the age of 40, it’s also a good idea to skip the fad diets and speak with a trained professional.

When a registered dietitian evaluates a patient, he or she considers multiple factors: their medical and social history, lab work, medications, what/where they eat, as well as their weight-change and fitness history. RDNs help you figure out what diet plan is best for your life. They can do the planning work for you, and help you set goals.

Don’t Take Diet Advice from Just Anyone

When your friend says “I heard [insert food or ingredient] was bad for you”, don’t take it for fact. If you are using “doctor Google”, be sure to look for quotes and articles written by registered dietitians (RD or RDN will follow their name). When you scan a nutrition topic in the news, check more than one source. RDNs are trained to read the research, interpret the results, and create sensible advice based on the whole body of research, not just one study. Most dietitians take a “non diet” lifestyle approach. We combine a background in medicine, food, nutrition analysis, and eating behavior and patterns, and combine this into personalized advice.

While I recommend the DASH Diet and a Mediterranean style of eating, keep in mind the term “diet” here doesn’t infer weight loss, but instead simply describes a diet plan and a way of eating – a lifestyle. Long term weight maintenance and health depend on day to day behaviors. You can’t just eat well for a few weeks, and call it a year. Nor can you exercise for three months, and sit on the sofa for the other nine. 

Ask Your Doctor to Refer You. Find A Good Fit.

Just like you choose a doctor based on qualifications and bedside manner, you want to find a dietitian that you are comfortable with. If your visit doesn’t go well, or you’re not comfortable, ask to see someone else.

A healthy diet isn’t just about food choices, but it’s also about the “how” and “why” you eat. In addition, there isn’t one meal plan that would fit everyone. What you need to eat depends on what you like (nobody is going to sustain a diet of food they don’t like) and what you need. While basic nutrition can be generalized as far as nutrient needs go, there are many ways to get adequate amounts of the nutrients you need into your diet.

Some doctors forget they can refer their patients to a dietitian, so ask for a referral. Most insurances cover a minimum amount of visits with a dietitian.

Here are 5 reasons to see an RDN over other nutritionists:

  • If you schedule an appointment with a dietitian he or she is going to help you with your habits, and provide you with science-based dietary advice
  • Diet therapy offered by registered dietitians is based in science. Dietitians have a broad understand about diet and disease, and how to evaluate your nutrition status based on your medical history, lab results, and diet and weight history
  • If you have diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, or heart disease, you should definitely check in with a dietitian regularly to help you manage your disease and feel your best
  • Registered dietitians are trained to evaluate your health status, your diet, and help you create a lifelong plan. Sorry, no quick fixes or fad diet plans work, and are especially harmful if you are treating life-long diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.
  • Once you have a relationship with an RDN, it’s a good idea to check in with your dietitian once every couple of years too, or when you are experiencing a transition or shift in your life. Plus, you can rely on that dietitian to answer any questions about “that advice your friend gave you about…”

Happy National Nutrition Month!

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You May Be a Dietitian If…

March is National Nutrition Month® and March 14 is Registered Dietitian Day. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The number of registered dietitians has grown five fold since 1969, and there are now 100,000 registered dietitian nutritionists! About half of those hold advanced degrees, and many specialize.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are the food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living.

Confusion in the Nutrition Space

As an RDN it can be frustrating to hear non-nutrition professionals spout nonsense about diet, food and and nutrition. Unlike popular pseudoscience-pushing personalities such as the Food Babe or Dr. Mercola, RDNs have to adhere to ethics standards. We can’t just “say anything” or make empty promises. 

RDNs complete a standardized education and training, that include formal education in the science of food, nutrition, and human physiology (RDNs minimally have a Bachelor’s Degree, undertake a supervised practice internship, and have to pass a rigorous nutrition certification exam). These experiences makes them a dependable resource for nutrition information. 

So I beg you, stop sharing random diet or nutrition posts on Facebook by uneducated personalities. You are just funding their vacations.

Let’s Get Real

I love what I do, but there are times when I get annoyed with both the lack of understanding for what a dietitian is trained to do, and also how easily consumers believe everything they hear about food from non-credentialed nutritionists, or really, just about anyone.

Often the public views all dietitians as someone who wants to “put you on a diet”. In addition, those seeking lifestyles that focus on looks, and a sexy body (not health) bash dietitians as being clueless or claiming their advice doesn’t work. People who only seek advice from their gym, their pal, or someone on the Internet telling them what they want to hear (or that it’s going to be easy) most likely will relapse with weight loss. Worse, they are missing out on science-based information about medical conditions that can benefit from a particular diet therapy.

RDN’s come at it with a “big picture” philosophy. Our advice works for the long haul, it’s not a quick fix. We help people personalize their diet and make positive lifestyle changes. We are honest, because frankly, it’s going to be difficult to maintain healthy habits for a lifetime. We don’t offer empty promises such as, “this is easy, lose 10 pounds this week, have great abs by Sunday”.

We are for real. And real takes effort on your part. Long-term effort. But it works, can improve your health, doesn’t backfire, and it’s safe.

You May Be a Dietitian If…

In celebrating Dietitian Day, I thought I’d add some of my pet peeves about common misconceptions about dietitians.

Just because I’m a dietitian doesn’t mean…

  • I am constantly screening your meals, what you have in your grocery cart, or what you choose at a party buffet.
  • I am judging you when you eat French fries or a candy bar.
  • I eat kale every day (and BTW, I really don’t like smoothies much).
  • I wear a white lab coat.
  • I work in a hospital. This is a common misnomer. I did work in a hospital setting early on in my 30 year career, and some dietitians are employed by hospitals. But, I’ve been a consultant now (work-for-hire, freelance writing, adjunct teaching, nutrition communications, advisor) for over 20 years, yet people in my town still come up to me and swear I must have worked at the hospital here. Nope.
  • I don’t get food cravings, struggle to maintain a reasonable weight, or am challenged to keep up my exercise routine.
  • I can’t enjoy a cocktail or a sweet whenever I want (but yeah, moderation).
  • I need you to proclaim to me that you eat “real food”. (Potato chips are made from real potatoes, real oil and real salt). Please stop with the food fad words.

And, yeah, if you’re still wondering, we “went to school for that”.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists have degrees in nutrition, dietetics, public health or a related field from well-respected, accredited colleges and universities, completed an internship and passed an examination.

Happy RDN Day!

I’d love to hear from other RDNs. Leave your pet peeve in the comments.

 

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Headlines Change, Habits Can Too

You probably read something in the news everyday about diet or what you should or shouldn’t eat. I can understand how frustrating it is to read these headlines every week. One day they proclaim coffee is good for you, the next it isn’t.

Sorry – There’s No Quick Fix, Only Empty Promises

I know it’s not a popular message, but I’m sticking to it – you have to change your behaviors in order to lose weight and maintain it. This is true, no matter the age. 

In the case of feeding children, it’s really essential to start them off right. Obesity in a child is not the same physiological picture as obesity in a 40 or 60 year old. Children that have weight issues at a young age are set up for a lifelong struggle to obtain a healthy weight. Set limits, and create a regular meal schedule for your child.

Losing weight is always difficult to do, which is why preventing, or controlling, weight gain is the best strategy. It’s known that many people experience weight gain as they age. This is normal physiology, but being overweight as a child makes lifelong weight maintenance an even bigger challenge. Even for those who hadn’t been overweight, a few pounds may creep on every year and add up. Metabolism slows down for most people in mid-life, so this is a time that eating well and exercising regularly is really important. Just avoiding weight gain is a win, even if you are struggling with losing those ten or fifteen pounds. 

Correlation Does Not Mean Causation

Most headlines you read are reporting on a “correlation”. That is, a study that suggested that “X might be related to Y”. Nutrition is an evolving science. Ethical practitioners only make recommendations based on the data we have. There is a lot of good published nutrition research, but research studies about diet and disease is difficult to do. Unlike research on specific substances, such as a drug or one particular isolated nutrient, proving that a dietary plan directly impacts disease or health is a challenge (which is why so may studies use rats, and rat ≠ human). The supplement industry, for instance, banks on the preliminary correlations found in research to sell an unproven outcome. This doesn’t mean we should disregard every nutrition study that’s published, however, it’s important to understand how to interpret them.

Spotted this at the store recently. While a quick fix looks appealing, it’s not healthy and doesn’t provide the promised health benefits.

Eating Less and Moving More

Some argue that you don’t have to actually eat less, you have to eat more of the right foods (while this is true, calories still count). Foods higher in fiber are important because they literally fill you up faster (plus have lots of gut-healthy properties). Including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your side dishes and meals, will add more bulk (volume) but not at a high calorie cost.

This is just one more reason the DASH Diet is beneficial – it encourages you to eat more fiber (fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grain side dishes). It also include healthy fats (olive oil, avocado), 2-3 servings of dairy daily (for potassium, calcium, vitamin D), and smaller portions of meat and refined carbohydrates. This high fiber diet helps with weight control by providing important nutrients and controlling hunger and satiety.

As you work on adding nutrition through food to your diet, you also must find ways to move your bodies more – every day. You may enjoy sedentary activities such as reading, sewing, or watching Netflix, and that’s fine. You just have to be aware of how much time is being spent sitting. Using a sport watch or smart watch may help you with this. You can set cues that remind you it’s time to stand up, or that you haven’t moved enough today. Often people overlook daily activity, but it’s as important as exercise. The movement in your routine day counts.

A regular exercise routine is important to both weight management and health. Find an activity you will enjoy doing every week – walking, a yoga class, an aerobics class, bicycling, kayaking, zumba, an exercise video – anything you can stick with. Find a friend to pair up with so you can keep accountable. Very few people who are managing their weight are doing it without regular physical activity.

Get moving – set new goals for eating well and moving more every day. Some days, you won’t meet goals, that’s normal! Just keep setting them every single day. Add more veggies to meals. Make snacks nutritious and “unpackaged”. Snack on fruit, raw veggies, yogurt or small amounts of nuts or cheese. Move more daily – do extra housework, take the stairs, walk instead of ride. And find a weekly exercise routine you can schedule 3-4 times a week, and sustain.

 

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