Chew the Facts™ Blog

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3 Easy Steps to Planning Family Snack Time

I’ve written about family mealtime in the past, and have supported the idea of “eating together is better” since the late 1990s. Since we know sitting down to eat together supports the physical and emotional growth of children – but consumer data is showing that snacks are often making up 40-60% of people’s eating occasions – perhaps we should combine these thoughts?

How about letting go of all of the pressure to have more meals together during the week, and start a new tradition – Family Snack Time!

  1. Choose a time of the day to get your family together
  2. Plan an easy, healthy snack
  3. Involve the children in planning the snack

Pick the Best Times, on the Best Days

Life is busy when you are raising children. With different schools, different extracurricular activities, different work schedules, it can be challenging to all come together on the same time each day. Take a day off to think about everyone’s schedule and determine which days and times will work best for convening in the kitchen at home. This may be a Tuesday morning at 7am, or a Thursday night at 7pm. Maybe you can meet up every night at 7:30pm. Or maybe your teens have time alone at home from 3:30 to 5:00pm when they could prep their own healthy snack.

Whatever time or day, choose a few during the week, when the pressure of planning and preparing a meal is off, and you’ll simply have a great snack together.

Planning Better Snacks

While you may be worrying about meal time, and grocery shopping for it, don’t forget about snack planning. Consumer data suggests that eating patterns are changing. If half of Americans are snacking, with many replacing meals with snacks, it’s then important to make those snacks count. As snacks become more appealing as meal replacements, more healthy options come onto the market. Overall, consumers are choosing healthier packaged snacks, more fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions, than five years ago. This is good news!

The food industry uses consumer market surveys to decide which direction to go. I had the opportunity to sample a new snack created by iconic bean company Bush’s, who has decided to follow the snack trend with some healthy snacks of their own, including roasted chickpeas (A funny side note – years ago I wrote an article titled Beans are Good Food. It is one of my most successful posts to date). These low sugar, crunchy snacks offer up 5 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber per ounce.

Kids, We’re Having Snacks for Dinner

Families are busier than ever. Relinquish the pressure of family meal time by substituting healthy snacks instead. Make some weeknight “dinners” into snacks. Think of them as mini-meals. You still can sit together and enjoy them as a family, but in less time and with less stress. You can serve these at a dining table or on TV trays or the coffee table. The important thing is to prepare them and enjoy them together.

Involve the children in planning the snack using the following 3 guidelines: 1) It has to include a fruit or vegetable, 2) it has to be made from “real food” (yet potato chips aren’t a great choice), 3) it has to be the right size or amount. In addition to healthy packaged snacks, do continue with the trend to include  fruits and vegetables for snack time. While some single-serving packaged foods clearly “look like” a snack, other packaged items can help keep things quick and available during your busy week. If you find that snacks fit into your diet better than meals here are some other convenient snack ideas that can turn a snack into a family meal:

  • Plain Greek yogurt topped with flax seed granola and unsweetened canned peaches.
  • Flavored tuna or salmon pouches. Adding herbs and spices to tried and true foods can make them more appealing and add variety to your eating experience. Let everyone choose a flavored pouch, and add a plate of raw veggies and whole grain crackers to the table to eat along with it.
  • Nuts and nut bars. Look for bars that are low in sugar and contain nuts. Be careful however, some “nutrition bars” are really glorified candy bars.
  • Sometimes you really want a chip right? Instead of regular potato chips, try some of the baked chips or a tortilla chip. Bush’s is launching a new Bean Chip that has similar calorie and fat numbers to tortilla chips, but with twice the protein and four times the fiber (and they taste great). Serve these along with a bean dip or salsa and some carrot sticks. Add a glass of milk or sparkling water.
  • Sit down together, and enjoy bowl of cereal. You can’t beat the nutrition in a bowl of ready-to-eat cereal. Most are fortified with iron, vitamins and minerals, and many contain whole grains (a great source of fiber). Look for 3 grams of fiber or more, and 10 grams or less of sugar. Create a “cereal buffet bar” for dinner. Set out 3-4 types of healthy cereal. Include calcium and protein-rich low fat milk, and offer sliced bananas, fresh blueberries, or canned peaches for toppings and extra nutrition.
  • Sit at the coffee table with Cheesy Toast. Top slices of bread with slices of cheese and toast in the toaster oven until the cheese melts. Cut them into triangles and serve these slices along with apple or pear slices and a glass of milk.

 

Bush Beans provided me with free samples of their new snack products, but did not pay for this post. My thoughts and opinions here are my own.

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St. Paddy’s Day = Beer and Good Food

St. Patrick’s Day is almost synonymous with beer right? I’m sure those of Irish decent, and those who love the Irish, will be enjoying a beer or two this weekend.

If you are trying to lose weight, alcohol of all types can contribute a lot of extra calories. All beer gets most of its calories from alcohol. Light beers have less calories than regular beers, and the choice is usually a personal taste preference. Darker beers, like porters and stouts, actually have less calories than ales, and lagers usually are lower in calories still. But a Pale Ale (my favorite) and most craft microbrews are going to have higher calorie counts.

Like every other food or beverage, it’s all about portion control. I’d rather have one or two IPAs than three regular beers, so that’s my choice. Calories from alcohol count, so you need to manage liquid calories just as you do food.

Take the high road and enjoy your weekend: Drink responsibly, and eat good food along with your beers – never drink on an empty stomach! Try this Ploughman’s Lunch from Cooking Light®

Cheers!

APPROXIMATE CALORIES PER PINT (16 fl. oz)
Guinness Stout: 170
Guinness Draught: 210
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: 230
Budweiser: 195
Heineken Lager: 210
Killian”s (Coors): 220
Rolling Rock: 190
Coors Light: 135

But, if you’re enjoying a craft beer, with upwards to 6.5% or even 9% ABV? Then look out – the calories per pint are 260-360 calories.

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Are Snacks Replacing Mealtime?

It seems that Americans continue to idealize a traditional mealtime routine, even though eating rarely happens that way. I recently attended a conference session, sponsored by Bush Brothers & Company, that addressed the topic of meals and snacks. Consumer data was presented showing how meals have been redefined over the years, and how proper snacks may help fill nutrient gaps.

Even though it’s 2019, many of us may still think that including a “sit down meal” in your day is important when it comes to healthy eating styles. I am one of those people. I do believe there is a lot that can happen (beyond nutrition) when people sit together at a table and share food. Several studies have suggested that children do better in school and engage in less risky habits when families sit down regularly to share a meal. But the reality is, people aren’t doing it.

Rather than try to convince you to schedule better mealtimes, and cook more meals at home, I’m going to go with the flow. Understanding that you simply don’t have the time or energy to make meals happen every day, I want to help you make better snack choices – and maybe even work on “planned family snack time” as well (look for more tips in next week’s post).

What is a Snack?

Defining a “meal” or “snack” can be tricky. Let’s take a look at some typical definitions of meals and snacks, and some of the recent consumer data on eating styles.

The standard definition of “meal” is – “an act or the time of eating a portion of food to satisfy appetite”.

A snack is defined as “a light meal; food eaten between regular meals”.

The terms are a bit fuzzy. What people actually perceive a snack to be can vary too. For instance, to me, a slice of toast with peanut butter is a meal (breakfast) but to someone else, it’s a snack. Since eating and drinking can happen anywhere at any time of the day, snacking has become a popular eating style. New data suggests that people are sitting at the table less and less at home.

What Shapes Our Food Choices?

Lots of things shape the way people eat and the food choices they make. Surprisingly, even though many pictured the “ideal family mealtime” of the early 20th century as one where the whole family sits together eating a home-cooked-from-scratch-meal, it really didn’t happen that way for most. Flash forward to the 21st century, and you see a rise in single person households, with only 28% of households having children under age 18, and a smaller middle class. This demographic results in more people eating alone, with less meal rituals. Grocery shopping routines have changes as well. Rather than one large trip that plans out a whole week, people are shopping as needed with 63% of food choices decided within an hour of consumption.

Image and data from The Hartman Group, “Snackification” FoodFluence Presentation, Pew Research Center data included, used with permission

Even though you may dream about eating “3 meals a day and cooking them from scratch”, reality looks more like this –

Breakfast: skipped, or grabbing leftovers or a bar

Lunch: Catered at work, or a fast casual pick up

Dinner: Skipped at work, or eaten out

The History of Eating

Current eating habits actually look more like those of the Native Americans and early Colonists, who simply ate when they were hungry (snack-like foods such as berries or nuts) often while walking or standing. It was during the Industrial Revolution of the mid 1800s that we began sitting at a formally set table, where conversation became an art, as did table-settings.  During WWII snacks became an expression of American freedom, as soldiers enjoyed rations of chocolate bars, and food companies were actively marketing new “fun foods”.

According to the Hartman Group, 91% of consumers snack multiple times throughout the day, with an overall 50% of eating coming from snack occasions. Forty-two percent of Millennials (and 30% of all consumers) say that snacking allows them to try out global flavors. Millennials also use snacks as a source of fuel pre- or post-workout. The data suggests that several factors are at play that have resulted in the snack habit – time pressures, competing commitments, lack of cooking skills, changes in wellness and culinary trends (nutrition, wanting to try new foods), and the sheer availability of food that enables constant choices, and consumption. The result – about 42% of consumers are replacing meals with snacks. Other less healthy snack habits happen too, with 22% of all snacking being aimless (due to boredom or to cope with stress).

Image from The Hartman Group, “Snackification” FoodFluence Presentation, Pew Research Center data included, used with permission

It’s suggested that Americans will spend 200 billion dollars on snacks in the year 2020. Coincidentally, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) will be reviewed and updated at that time. Since Americans are consuming so much of their food via snack time, it will be a good idea to create guidelines for snacking that are consistent with the DGA. People want healthy snacks that are easy to prepare and make them feel good (i.e., not a “guilty indulgence” but rather, a nutritious choice). Food companies are working to meet this new “healthier snack” goal, by providing more options that offer better nutrition, calorie control, and convenience.

Moving toward Nourishment and Optimization

People are looking for snacks for three main reasons:

  1. Nourishment (key nutrients, managing appetite)
  2. Optimization (energy, mid-day pick me up, fueling a workout
  3. Pleasure (comfort, reward, new flavors)

Moving toward the goals of nourishment and optimization when choosing snacks may be the answer to improving overall nutrition, weight management, and health goals. Perhaps you can view snacks more like “mini-meals” and not indulgences.

The next time you think you need a snack, consider why you think you need it. Give snack time more thought, and plan snacks that can fill important nutrition needs, help you manage hunger (and weight), and support your overall health goals.

 

Bush Beans sponsored a continuing education session about consumer meal and snack data, but did not pay for this post. My thoughts and opinions here are my own.

 

 

 

 

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Where Are You Getting Your Nutrition Advice?

March ushers in National Nutrition Month® – a month to reflect on your eating and exercise habits, and make positive lifestyle changes. It’s also a time when registered dietitians try to convince you to find your diet and nutrition advice from a credentialed professional.

Why a Registered Dietitian?

The registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) must meet a minimum education requirement and have a supervised training experience, prior to being eligible to sit for the registration exam. They must also continue their education each year throughout his or her career, in order to maintain that credential.

All of this includes a deep dive into not just food and nutrition, but also human physiology, biochemistry, and a general understanding for how the body’s digestive, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems work.

How to Spot A Poser

Many who may claim to be diet experts (on the Internet – Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms) have absolutely no science background or formal education in food or nutrition science. Often, they have a huge social media following, and some of these imposters even write best-selling books. Despite the numbers, many of these self-claimed “experts” don’t have all of the information, and worse, don’t have any governing bodies requiring them to be ethical. In other words – they can say anything (most medical professionals, such as RDNs, have a Code of Ethics).

Who are these folks? Well, they are often someone who has had a personal experience with weight loss, or has achieved a level of fitness (it’s often the superficial “look” that they may market to sell their diet or products). Others may indeed have a medical background (like physicians) but may force their own personal eating styles (bias), as opposed to fully embracing all of the evidence and the vast number of lifestyle, behavioral, and cultural factors involved in a person’s food choices.

Other times these “experts” are “science journalists”. I have nothing against journalists, but just because you can do research on a subject, does not make you the same kind of expert as the person who has both studied, researched, and applied the topic in practice. Diet book authors who are only journalists have no medical or science background (dietetics and nutrition fall into both the medical and science categories), may use small surveys of individuals to create their hypotheses or support their positions on how people should eat.

Nutrition poser’s usually have these things in common:

  • Recommend you avoid sugar (“because it’s toxic”)
  • Usually promotes rigid “rules” to eating which eliminates most carbohydrates (especially wheat – bread, pasta, crackers, baked goods)
  • Recommends eating mostly meats and protein or fatty food (keto-style, Whole 30)
  • Uses catchy titles make the the diet plan seem easy
  • They make the diet plans sound appealing by asking you “do you suffer from low energy?” and other ridiculous questions (everyone has lows and highs in energy levels from week to week)
  • Strong statements claiming that certain food groups (almost always carbohydrates) are secretly having a negative impact on your health and fitness
  • Promises weight loss in the shortest time possible, and use buff body photos to sell it.

The problems with the above blanket recommendation? There is no science to support this sort of diet and lifestyle. It also can leave you with a diet deficient in many vitamins and minerals, requiring you to take supplements. And, it’s likely not sustainable for long term health (and life!).

For instance, there’s no evidence of the long-term health impact of a very high fat, low carbohydrate diet, and no evidence that it’s “better” than a low fat, high carbohydrate diet for weight loss (when calories are controlled). Can a low carbohydrate diet work for weight loss? Absolutely. But it’s not the only option, and it doesn’t mean “sugar is toxic” nor that your “energy levels will be through the roof!” as soon as you adopt it.

Eating well can be easy at times, but it can also be quite difficult to maintain on a day to day basis. There’s a lot of junk food out there to contend with. I’m never going to tell you that you should never treat yourself (or feel guilty about it!), nor that you should completely avoid any one food or food gruop. Since most people enjoy indulging in food and drink once in a while (pizza, potato chips, dessert, birthday cake, cocktails, burgers, fried food, etc), some may find that is seems easier following a strict set of rules instead of just managing cravings or splurges on a regular basis. But does it really work for long-term health?

If you find that “challenging” yourself to eliminate certain foods for a week (or two weeks, or 30 days) helps you stay on track, fine. But if you find yourself having to do it over and over, year after year, and you are not sustaining your weight, or sustaining better biomarkers (thinks like blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and lipids), then you might conclude that these temporary fixes aren’t really worth it, nor are they working.

Be A Critical Thinker

The tricky part is that some of the information these diet book authors dole out is plausible, however most of it is misleading, or downright false. They generally don’t support evidence-based (well-researched) dietary plans. I am biased for adopting a DASH Diet, a Mediterranean Diet (because they are both evidence-based), or a plant-based diet, but I certainly don’t assume everyone should, or needs to, eat this way.

That’s just one of many differences between a Poser and a Registered Dietitian. An RDN is not going to automatically suggest a diet plan for you. He’s going to fully assess your health, medical history, social history, and more – to make a determination about what sort of dietary plan may work best for you.

I recommend you celebrate National Nutrition Month® this year with some critical thinking. Don’t share every sounds-too-good-to-be true or sounds-a-bit-wacky advice you see posted on Facebook or elsewhere. THINK. Ask questions such as “Where did this originate?” “What do other experts have to say on the topic?”

And – Check in with a registered dietitian to confirm what’s best for you. 

 

 

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Snacking Can Be Heart-Healthy

It’s Heart Month, and it’s a good idea to gradually add more heart-healthy foods to your overall diet. If you are trying to follow a DASH Diet plan and lifestyle, one strategy is to choose well at snack time.

Research about how consumers eat is showing that snacks are becoming more frequent, and often used as meal replacements. You may be wondering if you can still adhere to DASH Diet guidelines and include snacks during your day.

The answer is – Yes. Of course tried and true healthy snack foods, like fresh fruits and veggies or nuts, are always a great snack to enjoy anytime:

  • Fresh apples or pears
  • Citrus fruit
  • Fresh berries or melon
  • Raw carrots and bell pepper slices – dip in hummus
  • Banana with a smidge of peanut butter
  • 15-20 almonds or walnuts

But are there other ways to make snacks a little more exciting? Absolutely! For instance one of my favorite ways to use up leftover bananas (the overripe ones that nobody in my house likes to eat) is to turn them into oatmeal muffin cups. Just mash two bananas up, add 1 beaten egg, 1 cup of oats, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 TB brown sugar, stir until well-combined. Spoon into muffin cups, bake at 350 F. for 12-15 minutes. Boom! You have banana oatmeal cups to go! These also work well as a great DASH Diet breakfast snack on-the-go.

Since the DASH diet guidelines also encourage you to include 2-3 servings of low fat dairy daily – add a glass of milk or a low fat Latte to these muffins. Other ideas – enjoy a low fat yogurt or an ounce of low fat cheese at snack time. Low fat string cheese is convenient, and the individually wrapped sticks are easy to take with you.

Health Food On the Go

Having healthy snacks with you when you are away from home is a good strategy to ensure you choose well, and include heart-healthy nutrients into your diet. Along with fresh fruit, almonds, walnuts or peanuts are easy favorites. I keep a small tin of nuts in my purse for times when I’m late for a meal and hungry.

Popcorn can fit too. Popping your own with unsaturated oil (like peanut or canola oil) is best, and popcorn provides a good dose of fiber too. Don’t over-salt it.

Craving something sweet or crunchy?

While nuts and fruit make great snacks, sometimes you may be craving something else, or you may simply need something non-perishable and convenient. For this reason, I recommend keeping some healthy packaged snacks on hand for those “on-the-run” times. There are so many choices on the market – some make more sense than others. Many of the single-packaged snacks have me yawning (or scowling because I feel the packaging is wasteful), but others can really serve a purpose in adding healthy food, with convenience, to your diet.

KIND occasionally sends me snack bar samples. They are mostly nuts, and some contain some fruit. The nut bars are higher in protein, and each bar provides 180-220 calories and about 3-5 grams of fiber. If you suffer from any food intolerances, they are gluten free (and some are wheat free and dairy free as well). They also offer “mini” bars, which are great for middle-aged women needed to add just the right amount of nuts (and calories) to her diet.

Two things I like about these bars: 1. They taste really good! 2. They have simple ingredients, with fruit offering the sweetness (and they add chicory root fiber, inulin, which is a prebiotic fiber – a good thing).

Another great snack that’s been trending, are roasted chick peas. These make a great snack by the handful, or a great topping for salads. You can add either sweet or savory flavorings to suit your taste. If you don’t have time to make these at home, Bush’s Beans have created some new snacks that offer creative ways to get more beans and legumes into your diet. Their chick pea snacks are tasty and convenient. They offer a simple way to add beans to the diet for people who may not have experience cooking beans, or have otherwise not incorporated this healthy food group into their diet.

Always read the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged snack bars – check out the calories, sugar, and fiber content. Many may market products as “good source of protein” but this doesn’t mean they are necessarily high in protein, or that the product is healthier. Some “health bars” are really glorified candy bars. I recently compared one popular brand to a Snickers® bar, and while the “health bar” had 4 more grams of protein, it also had 5 more grams of sugar.

The Future of Snacking

The purpose of planning better snacks is to add more nutrition to your diet, plus provide energy to hold you over until the next meal, but they may also be used as substitute for a meal, at times when your schedule is hectic.

Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more data in future posts about how meals and snacks have changed over the years – and you may be surprised to learn that snacking may be a great way to improve your eating habits!

 

 

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The Growing Probiotic Market

Probiotics. You’ve probably heard about them. People toss the term around in a positive context: “You need probiotics. They’re good for your gut!”

But what are they? What types of probiotics are out there, how do they work, and what should you be looking for? I recently attended a conference session presented by Dr. Anthony Thomas and sponsored by Jarrow Formulas that threw my own understanding for a loop. You see, going into this session my understanding was that probiotics were mostly judged by quantity and availability. When you see numbers such as “5 billion cultures” it seems like a good thing right?

It is, but I also learned that the strain of the probiotic is important, and that not all good bacteria have probiotic properties. Checking labels, I realize that some foods or supplements include a probiotic, and identify the strain, and others may not.

Probiotics and Health: The Strain Matters

Research on the health benefits of probiotics is ongoing. Some studies have linked a positive relationship between probiotics and depression.  There have also been mice studies suggesting how probiotics can impact blood pressure. Gut microbes may even impact the risk of stroke. 

I truly find the research about our gut microbiota to be a fascinating new frontier in medicine and treatment of disease. There will be a lot more to come which is why the focus on probiotic strain will likely be very important for future treatment models.

Probiotics and the Gut

Probiotics are live microorganisms that promote a health benefit, such as healthy bowel function in the gut.

Research about gut microbiota has been ongoing for several years. Disruption of the gut microbiota has been associated with poor health. The theory is that probiotics can help restore the normal microbial environment in your intestines. If that sounds too simple, you’re right – it’s complicated. Not all probiotics will have the same impact on your gut or your health, but the bacteria in your gut impacts your health.

It may be that you aren’t “what you eat” but more like “You are what the microorganisms in your gut produce after you eat”.

A Quick Bio Refresher

Remember all of those Latin terms, family, genus, species…in animals? Well, bacteria also follows its own taxonomy. Even though the bacteria of the same species may share characteristics, their function differs by strain.

Many of you may be familiar with Lactobacillus acidophilus. It’s a bacteria found in the human body. Lactobacillus is the genus, acidophilus is the species. There are many strains. The strain may appear at the end of the name, and may be noted with letters or numbers.

How Can I Get Probiotics Into My Diet?

Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are two common probiotic bacteria. Probiotics can be found in foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, aged cheeses, kefir (a fermented dairy drink) or yogurt. You often hear “Eat yogurt for probiotics”. This is sometimes, but not always true. All yogurt is a good source of calcium, protein and potassium, but it may not always contain probiotic bacteria, and it may not always be labeled. You may also not know what strain of probiotic is present in sauerkraut, for instance, either (although it’s high in Lactobacillus).

The Activia® Yogurt in the photo here lists L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus, and also the active probiotic B. Lactis with strain numbers (Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010/CNCM I-2494). While probiotic strain is important, not all brands will list the strain, even if they know what it is. This may change as we learn more about strain.

Lactobacillus (genus) bulgaricus (species) and Streptococcus (genus) thermophilus (species), are used to create yogurt. The Oikos® Triple Zero contains active yogurt cultures, but not probiotic cultures. The other store brand Greek yogurt doesn’t list strain either, but may contain an active probiotic strain. I encourage you to check the labels on your favorite yogurt and other potential probiotics.

In addition to yogurts with added probiotic strains, you can take a probiotic supplement with identified strains. As the research gets stronger, it will likely become more clear which strain is associated with which health benefit (memory, mood, blood pressure, reduced stroke risk, or anti-aging benefits).

Devil in the Details

Now that we know there could be a link to better health with proper probiotic products, many companies quickly get on the bandwagon – and they may, or may not, be offering products that are effective and quality-controlled. It’s important to proceed with caution, and seek information from credible sources, and understand that the research is still emerging.

As far as probiotics go, identifying specific probiotic strains is going to be important, however, as you evaluate your choices of probiotics.

 

 

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Trends in Nutrition

January has come and gone, and I want to share what I have brewing on the blog calendar over the next several months. I’m really excited about this upcoming content.

Gut Health

Each year for the past few years, we’ve continued to see emerging science about gut health. The gut is indeed connected to the brain, and to the heart. There is something called the gut-brain axis, and scientists believe that the gut may act as a “second brain”. Improving your gut health may be a first line of defense to keep everything else in check. Gaining a better understanding of both prebiotic foods (certain food fibers that benefit the microbes that live in us) and probiotic microorganisms will be important.

Refined Grains

Have you been avoiding refined grains? Well, brain melt: Refined grains aren’t bad for you!

I have always shared that I don’t like whole wheat pasta, and use regular (usually imported from Italy). I always have bought a variety of breads – including white, Italian, French, and multi-grain. You can too! Somehow, the message has been mixed up – putting a slice of white bread in the same category as pie or sweet rolls. The recommendation is to make half of your grains whole grains. This means that refined grains fit into your diet too. So go make yourself some really good toast with Italian bread, allow your child to enjoy his peanut butter sandwich on white bread, and don’t worry about enjoying some white rice or pasta this week.

Nutrigenomics

Nutrisystem® recently began using a genetic test that may give you insight into what type of diet your body favors, and which nutrients are of concern for your body’s metabolism. It’s called DNA Body Blueprint® and I had the chance to use the test (I was sent a free test to try). The results were surprisingly on target, and I’ll be sharing more about that in a later post.

Nutrigenomics will definitely continue to be trending as more science becomes available to evaluate metabolism to determine how food and genes interact. If we eventually have good science that can personalize diet therapy, we could have improved health outcomes. You’ll still have to change your behavior, however.

On the Blog

Over the next several months, I’ll be exploring these topics further, including:

  • An evolution of meal planning. New data suggests that people are sitting at the table less and less at home. I hope to explore this topic, and come up with new strategies for you, so you can make healthy meals and snacks happen.
  • More about why grains (including refined grains) should still be making it to your plate.
  • The emerging science of what impacts the gut microbiome is fascinating. You certainly have likely seen ads coming through your feed with products to promise to nourish your gut microbiome. Unfortunately some of it may be valid, and some of it may just be another money-driven supplement. I’ll be sharing some facts about what may impact gut health, and what may not.
  • The difference between a prebiotic (certain types of fiber) fiber and other fibers. This continues to be an area of confusion, as science is still researching how these fibers work in the body. Eventually we’ll have a broader list of which fibers can be classified as prebiotic.
  • There’s also more to learn about probiotics, and how knowing what the probiotic strain is determines whether a product is useful or not. You may often see products boasting the number (millions) of probiotic bacteria, but it’s the specific strain that you’ll want be on the lookout for.
  • Further study will emerge on genetics and how the human genome may provide selective information to personalize nutrition recommendations. Nutrigenomics is the integration of genomic science with nutrition and other lifestyle variables. Nutrigenomics may indeed be the future of diet therapy prescription. The science isn’t quite there yet (but it’s getting close).
  • Plant gene editing may help solve real problems in farming (with climate change, a growing population). I recently mentioned this to a neighbor who replied “I didn’t know plants had DNA!” So, there’s definitely more to learn.
  • More news about how important early feeding is. The first 1000 days of an infant’s life serve to set them up for health, for better or worse. The more parents can focus on proper feeding (age-appropriate introduction of solid food, fostering good habits), the better chance a child has for better development.

My goal has always been to decipher the data and provide you with information you can use. I also want to encourage you to be a more savvy consumer – taking in all of the dietary information and food fads that you hear every day, and pausing to think critically about them.

You often may hear “the scientists (or doctors or dietitians) can’t make up their mind!” But that’s exactly it, nutrition is an evolving science. Nutrition scientists and registered dietitians continually evaluate new data based on current research to determine how it all fits together. Stay tuned for what’s on the table!

I had the opportunity to attend a food and nutrition conference last month covering hot topics in nutrition science and the food trends that follow it. Part of my travel expenses and my continuing education credits were paid for but I was not paid to write this or any future posts. 

 

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5 Quick Tips to Ditching the Detox Mentality

I just read that January 17 is usually when people ditch their big exercise plans they resolved to in the new year. This means that fitness “resolutions” that are unrealistic last less than three weeks! Three weeks won’t get you far.

While a regular exercise program is an important part of healthy lifestyle, eating well is also important, especially if you need to lose weight. Exercise does support health in terms of maintaining muscle (strength, balance, bone support), but there’s some research that’s shown exercise alone isn’t going to impact your metabolism significantly over time (genetics plays a role in how the body responds to exercise), so diet has to be managed too.

Just as it’s unrealistic to maintain long-term over-the-top exercise goals, extreme dietary changes don’t last either. “Detox diets” are popular this time of year, but they aren’t necessary. Eliminating food groups (“I’m swearing off bread!”) or obsessively avoiding ingredients (“I’m completely eliminating sugar!”) also tends to backfire. While sugar and alcohol supply empty calories (void of nutrients, high in calorie), they can still be incorporated into a diet, if chosen with moderation in mind. Bread is also not “bad” (but sure, you can overdo it). Whole grains supply the bulk of the fiber you need in your diet, so you can include bread in your diet and still maintain a healthy weight.

The “deadly” breadbox, is not deadly.

Here are my 5 Quick Tips to Ditching the Detox Mentality:

  1. Value food as nourishment. It is not toxic. Choose to plan meals based on both nourishment and enjoyment. Respect your personal food tolerances or intolerances, but don’t eliminate foods if it isn’t necessary (such as going gluten-free when you do not have diagnosed gluten intolerance).
  2. Choose fitness routines that are of interest to you and that you enjoy. Think about whether you are an intrinsic or extrinsic exerciser. If you need support, find it by enlisting a friend to work out with, joining a gym, signing up for a session of classes.
  3. Once you have a routine you can stick with, embrace your body. Be mindful of how your body works, and what it is capable of doing.
  4. Be accountable. Announce your goals to a friend or family member, or even as a personal journal entry. Writing it out, or speaking it, can make it seem more real. If weight loss is a goal, it’s probably not a good idea to weigh yourself more than once a week, but weigh in on occasion. Keep in mind however that weight changes aren’t the only measure of successful lifestyle change. How you feel, reduction in blood pressure, increased energy, ease of movement – all are gains.
  5. If you want to be one of the 40% or so people who do maintain their diet and fitness goals, cut yourself some slack. Nobody’s perfect. If you slip up, honor that and move on to better choices at the next meal or the next day.

I’ve written many words over the years about setting small, realistic goals. Changing a habit takes time, and it begins by being ready, and then choosing a goal you can achieve and stick to. There will be slip-ups, because life throws curve balls all of the time, and we never have complete control over our environment. Find the support you need to stick to your goals and you’ll do your best.

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Dry January & Other Temporary Solutions I Don’t Recommend

Dry January. It’s trending.

After the holidays – a resolution to abstain from alcohol during the whole month of January may seem like a fine idea. For some, this may be a welcome break from the overindulgence of food, cocktails, wine and champagne over the holiday season. But for others, is it necessary? What sort of mindset does it create going forward?

Think about the goals you set or the behaviors you changed last January or February? Did they stick? Did you lose weight, then gain it back by August? Did you improve your fitness level? Did any of your health parameters improve (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight)?

There are plenty of cultures that enjoy alcohol as part of their meals, social occasions, and lifestyles. In Italy, for instance, the meal time begins with a small plate and an “aperitivo” in the early evening after work (around 6:00). This is often a small cocktail or bitter liqueur (such as a Negroni, Aperol spritz, or Campari on ice). The purpose of the aperitivo is to relax and ready you for the 8:30 dinner meal. Wine is poured and enjoyed with the dinner meal, and often another liqueur may be served as a digestive after the meal. Nothing is rushed or overdone. Alcohol is part of the culture, it’s not vilified. This is a beautiful way to live in my opinion.

This lifestyle should not be confused with excess or binge drinking. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will definitely have adverse affects on your health. But having a glass of wine (or two) with dinner can be fine as long as you pour properly. “One glass” is equivalent to a 5-ounce pour of wine. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that moderate drinking is defined as one glass per day for women, and two for men. A serving of alcohol equivalents are:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (bourbon, whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, etc)
  • 12 ounces of regular beer (a craft beer equivalent may be a smaller 8-10 ounce portion)

Root of Bad Behaviors

The wine industry has grown exponentially in the United States since the 1970s. Facebook memes regarding wine-drinking have become common and many “Book Clubs” are as much (if not more) about the wine than the literature discussion.

Rather than feel the need to go on the dry wagon in January, I challenge you to become more aware of your daily habits all year long. Every day. Every week.

Sure, a stressful Friday (or Tuesday) may come your way that has you pouring heavily at 5pm to bring your stress level down. This isn’t a good thing to do routinely, but I get it. If it’s an occasional occurrence, it’s probably not a problem, but it’s good to be mindful of how often you seek a glass of wine or a cocktail to handle your stress.

Working on healthier solutions (exercise, yoga, meditation, talking it out over a cup of herbal tea) to address your stress takes some effort, but is important to managing stress in a healthy way. It’s okay to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine – but it’s not okay to habitually go overboard. There’s a difference. Many social situations revolve around alcohol, but there are certainly many other ways to socialize and have fun:

  • Meet a group of friends for a walk
  • Plan a cross country ski party followed by a hearty breakfast
  • Host a Sunday Movie with flavored bubbly waters served in fancy glasses and plenty of popcorn
  • Meet a friend for tea or coffee

Keep in mind though, abstinence does not work for everyone. For some, completely abstaining from something that is tagged “bad” may only increase thoughts about that food or beverage. Instead you may consider what is driving your behavior to drink too much, or too often, and set goals to change the frequency or manner in which you drink. This could be taking a week or two off, or perhaps setting goals for a 1-2 drink limit, no more than once or twice a week. It also could simply be that pouring a glass of wine after work has become a routine you’ve gotten into, and you can replace it with a cup of herbal tea or a nice glass of ice water with lemon or cucumber. Maybe it’s just that “ahhh” moment of being able to sit down, relax, get your mind off work, and sip something soothing that you need.

The Perfect Pour

When you are going to imbibe, it’s important to realize how much you are drinking. We’ve all seen the meme with the “I only had one glass of wine!” and the woman is holding a 3 gallon wine glass.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to dine at a fine restaurant where they bring a small single wine carafe and pour your wine into the glass table-side. This is not only a nice presentation, but it’s also a portion (and cost) control gesture. Remember, a 5-ounce pour is the standard wine portion (equivalent of “one serving of alcohol”).

I’m always preaching “portions matter”, and being aware and mindful about alcoholic portions is important too. From a sommelier’s perspective, you aren’t supposed to fill any wine glass to the rim. The wine should have room to be moved in the glass (when you see someone swirling their wine, they are incorporating oxygen, which can mellow the tannins).

Martini glass on the left holds 5 ounces, versus the vintage glass on the right, holding 2 ounces.

Check out some of the glasses you are served at restaurants, and then check the ones you have at home. I used to a glass measuring cup to measure various glasses from my bar that you see pictured here. It’s always interesting to see how differently shaped glassware and dinnerware look when holding the same volume of liquid or food.

A 5-ounce pour. This wine glass holds 20 ounces if filled to the rim!

A 5-ounce pour. This stemless glass holds 16 ounces, which is a pint!

A 5-ounce pour. This glass holds only 9 ounces if filled to the rim.

Going to Extremes

By all means, if someone has a drinking problem, or truly feels that they need to make a serious change in their habits, they should take a complete break from alcohol.

There is solid evidence that links cancer to excessive alcohol intake. In addition, excessive alcohol damages the liver and other organs over time. Alcohol also raises your blood pressure, which can weaken your blood vessels and impacts your heart health.

Dry January however, seems to be another trendy hashtag that encourages an extreme behavior that is temporary. Just as “going sugar-free” (#sugarfreechallenge) will likely be temporary, doing #DryJanuary may not solve your issues with alcohol, weight, or adopting healthy behaviors. It may just be another excuse to adopt a short-term, unrealistic goal.

Instead, consider setting realistic goals to change the way you handle stress, have fun, and how often and how much you enjoy an alcoholic beverage. Best wishes for a healthy 2019.

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A Quick Word of Advice

Happy New Year!

The years seem to go by so quickly, right? While you may find yourself reflective every January, please don’t stress over any need to become a whole new you.

December can be rough. The holidays are stressful. They are a lot of work, there’s a lot of opportunities to eat and drink, and the season may bring sad times because of lost loved ones who are missed. Then January hits and you are bombarded with advertisements for weight loss:

“Lose 10 pounds in two days!”

“Start your skinny journey!”

“Make this the year you achieve results!”

Relax

Stop. Ignore those ads. For many folks, they just send messages like “I’m not good enough”.

You can choose to make improvements in yourself – but this does not mean that the improvement has to be about achieving some unrealistic body weight, shape, or form. You may want to change your attitude about life, you may want to change some of the unhealthy choices you’ve made (whether that be junk food, too much alcohol, working too much, or letting toxic people or situations get under your skin). Maybe you are a “giver” and you need to work on creating more time for your own needs.

But you don’t have to go on a crazy restrictive diet and start an insane exercise regime.

Just get back to a normal routine. My goal has always been to help people be comfortable with themselves, learn about how the body works, and focus on health, not appearance. Sure, we all want to be comfortable in our jeans, but jean size isn’t the only measure of health.

Weight management is just that – it’s day to day management of what you eat and how much you move. This isn’t something to “do in January”, this is something to work on continuously. When you do this, you aren’t ever “on a diet”, you are just setting new goals to live a healthier life. Because our lives change – we age, our living situation changes, our health may impact our activity (e.g. arthritis, an injury, or a heart condition), our schedules change – there are many variables – which is why you have to continually set small goals.

Yes, weight absolutely impacts your health status, but you don’t have to be skinny to be healthy. Add movement. Add healthy meals and snacks. Choose activities you enjoy. For me, that’s fresh air walks, yoga class, and meeting my trainer at the gym for weight lifting. Start the year off by planning healthy meals, and make these habits something you do every week – all 52 of them! Sure, some weeks will be “off”. That’s life! Stock the refrigerator or freezer with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, salad, cut frozen veggies, lean meats and low fat dairy. Add some whole grains to your pantry like granola, whole grain cereal, barley, quinoa, or brown rice. Keep easy items on hand, and use simple recipes.

2019 Best Diets

US News and World Report once again has published their Best Diets 2019. This year, after 8 consecutive years of being ranked #1, the DASH Diet is ranked at number 2. The number one diet this year is the Mediterranean Diet. The top three are Mediterranean, DASH Diet, and Flexitarian Diet. Any of these are great choices for living a healthy life. Learn more here.

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