Grains: The Misunderstood Food Group

I attended a food and nutrition conference in which Julie Miller Jones spoke about popular weight loss diets in a session sponsored by the Grain Foods Foundation, but the following thoughts and opinions are my own.

With the popularity of the “keto diet” fad and other low carbohydrate diets, grains are getting lost in the shuffle. Many people are avoiding grains for no good reason. Over the past several years, several books have shunned bread and other grain foods as the cause of obesity or diabetes. The truth is, while these books have some grains of truth in them, they are very misleading and base claims on poor scientific studies.

If you are a regular reader, you know I promote balance and realistic dietary goals. And, I’m a carb fan. Not only do carbohydrate foods provides lots of nutrients and energy, they make a diet delicious to eat. The recent news this week about low carb diets not being any more effective for weight loss than low fat diets, has people thinking. Maybe bread isn’t so bad after all?

Julie Miller Jones is a board certified and Licensed Nutritionist and holds a bachelor of science degree from Iowa State University and a PhD in Home Economics/Food Science and Nutrition. She is Professor Emerita, Foods and Nutrition, St. Catherine University, and a Scientific Advisor to the Grains Foods Foundation. I recently had the chance to chat with Julie, and asked her these questions:

Q: How are diet books such as Whole 30, Wheat Belly, and Grain Brain misleading the public about carbohydrate foods?

My concern about these types of books, is the net result is stating “carbohydrates are bad” and cause all the health problems. As long as we do this we won’t address the whole problem. The issue isn’t about one particular food, it’s that we eat too much of one thing and not enough of another.

These books misleads the public. They do have some truth in them (correlating increased consumption with increases in weight) but they’re riddled with pseudoscience. This idea people are “addicted to wheat” is based on an in vitro experiment in 1979 using test tubes with foods treated with enzymes then placed on the opioid receptor of a frog. These books try to give their theses some academic rigor with these correlational studies that don’t actually prove anything.

Bottom line: Any diet that suggests abandoning an entire food group is unhealthy.

Q: What are the hard data about grain foods and weight loss?

We have data that shows when comparing groups who ate 200 grams of carbohydrate versus 260 grams, those who ate the least carbohydrate had the highest BMI. Those on both extremes don’t have healthy weights.

Q: Many consumers are eliminating (or restricting) bread from the diet. Is this justified?

We seem to want a scapegoat instead of identifying the real eating problems. When you eliminate this food group, you are missing out on important nutrients, and not getting adequate fiber into the diet. If you can lose 2 pounds a month you can lose 20 pounds in a year, which in the long run is going to be more sustainable.

Q: What does the evidence show about low carbohydrate diets and fiber intake?

The data is there that shows we need a variety of fibers. While we want people to include fruits and vegetables in their diets, they alone aren’t going to provide the variety of fibers our guts need. This is an issue with GI cancer risk. Fiber provides the fuel for the microorganisms in the bowel, and are broken down to produce short chain fatty acids. Consuming grains results in more short chain fatty acids (the result of fermentation of dietary fibers) supporting gut health with ‘good’ bacteria colonizing.

Q: What are your thoughts on the DASH Diet, Mediterranean, and Flexitarian diets?

I love these diets because they promote BALANCE, eating all foods in the right amounts. Mediterranean and Flexitarian diets are both reasonable. I love the DASH Diet, and we should be dashing to use it because it has so much data behind it. It’s perfect for the American lifestyle. It’s easy to maintain for the long haul.

Somehow though, we’ve not been able to make DASH readily transmittable to the general population.

Q: What about gluten? Is “today’s wheat” really different than the wheat flours used 30 or 40 years ago?

The gluten-free diet craze is really just another low carb diet. The University of Saskatchewan (1857 wheat), and Albany, and UK, track data on wheat at their Ag experiment stations. They’ve evaluated wheats in the seed bank for years and have grown them in controlled conditions. While there are slight variations with growing conditions, they don’t see a significant difference in the starch, protein, and carb of the grain.  
William Davis has said “short straw wheat” is an issue. The genetics of length aren’t effecting the quality of the wheat kernel. And keep in mind, there is NO GENETICALLY MODIFIED WHEAT!

Norman Borlaug experimented with this short straw to avoid lodge, because the head is larger and straw is short. The head of wheat that “lodges” is heavy so it falls to the ground, and it’s more ideal to have more energy and soil nutrients to go to the wheat kernel rather than into the straw, so breeding a tall straw wheat is less efficient. Borlaug developed this wheat for countries such as India and Mexico. This advance shifted them from being importers of wheat to exporters of wheat.

The consensus on gluten is simply, if you don’t need to eliminate it, you shouldn’t.

Q: What are your thoughts on ketogenic diets (Keto)?

They can be used safely for short term weight loss needs (getting to a certain weight for a surgery, or other immediate needs). A few studies show that short term weight loss with ketogenic diet can improve diabetic control. These are also “therapeutic uses” not intended to be used without medical supervision. But this isn’t a safe and sustainable diet for the general population.


Our portions are often too big. It’s not the bagel, it’s the fact that a bagel in 2018 weighs two to three times what it did in 1980. Consumers need to understand that a balanced diet includes foods from a variety of food groups, but in the right amount. Eating the proper amount for health and weight control (or weight loss) is about the recognizing that your diet may not be balanced for carbohydrate, protein and fat.

So instead of having a giant submarine sandwich, have a sandwich on a small roll or two slices of whole grain bread, and have a piece of fruit or a cup of vegetables with it. Or instead of having a giant 450 calorie 3-cup plate of pasta, have a 450 calorie plate with 1 cup of pasta along with 3 ounces of chicken, lean beef, or fish, and a cup of vegetable or salad.

It’s not the foods themselves, but the portion and balance of those foods across food groups, and how you balance your plate.


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Food Allergy is no Laughing Matter, but Cartoons Should Be

When my children were young, I read books to them daily. This was a time to relax and have fun, and sometimes have a teaching moment. The Peter Rabbit series, by Beatrix Potter, was a set that I read over and over. We had a book set that included a little plush Peter, and a ceramic watering can that I still use for spring decorating.

The Peter Rabbit movie just hit theaters this week. I loved the previews I saw, and am looking for seeing the film at some point (even though the film is not on my children’s list anymore). I was shocked to hear that there’s a scene in the film creating a huge fuss, where naughty Peter and his friends shoot blackberries at Mr. McGregor (a new neighbor with a big garden). Mr. McGregor in the film is apparently allergic to blackberries (not a common allergen) so the bunnies invent a scheme to do him in (so they can have free reign to his abundant, but overprotected, garden). Mr. McGregor has a severe anaphylactic reaction, which causes him to use his epi-pen in the film.

There’s no question that severe food allergy is no laughing matter, and that in some cases (even with an epi-pen nearby) can cause death.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation has issued a warning about this movie, perhaps at the request of parental complaints. They caution parents raising children with food allergy that some scenes in the film may be disturbing for young viewers with food allergies. I reviewed some of comments on the AAFP’s Facebook page, and saw that some parents claim that the movie is not just poking fun at those with food allergies, but worse, downplaying the seriousness of some food allergies. Some parents feel that a student could “reenact” the actions of Peter Rabbit at school, and target an “allergy kid” by somehow giving him or her the allergen.

Cartoons VS The Real World

Movies are meant to entertain. I can see that this scene might be disturbing to a child with a severe allergy, who wasn’t prepared to see this in the movie. But, there are all kinds of movies that we choose see (or not) that have potentially sensitive content in them. There are many scenes or plots in animated films that could be viewed as disturbing. In the Lion King, Simba’s father dies at his own evil brother’s hand. Snow White “goes to sleep”after biting a poisoned apple, and is on her death bed. I had a Snow White book as a child, and I remember literally being afraid to turn the page where the evil witch showed up. But my parents helped me understand the difference between real and not real, while at the same time teaching me that there are evil witches (or villains) of sorts in the world.

While bunnies are real, and food allergies are real (in humans), the outcomes in real life, are not always as cartoons depict them.

As with any situation, it’s great to find the teaching moment. In this case, you might tell your child that bullying or playing pranks isn’t very nice. But it does happen in life. And some pranks can be funny, if they are not ill-intended and cause no real harm. You could also be sure your child understands that some people do have food allergies, but not all food allergies include anaphylactic (inability to breathe due to swollen airway) symptoms. Those who do, require special monitoring of their diet and surroundings.

The Facts and the Stats

I am not undermining the seriousness of food allergies here. I had childhood allergies myself (it’s one of the reasons I decided to study food and nutrition). I just want to put things into context. Food allergy affects about 4 to 6 percent of U.S. children.

The most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, and fish/shellfish. Food allergies are common in young children, and, allergies to eggs, wheat, milk and soy are often outgrown. Allergies to nuts and fish typically last a lifetime however. In addition, children with food allergies are more likely to have asthma, or other allergies.

Allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. Symptoms can vary, and range from hives (or other skin irritation), itchiness, watery eyes, runny nose. There may also be GI issues (stomach pain, diarrhea). A more severe reaction involves trouble breathing, or swelling of the mouth and throat, which can lead to a life-threatening situation. People may be allergic to drugs, foods, bugs, mold, plants, pets or pollen.

It’s also important to note that not all people who react to a certain food, have a food allergy. It may be a food intolerance or sensitivity.

A Rabbit with a Blue Jacket and No Pants

This animated film is a modern take on the classic storybooks. Peter was always getting into mischief and doing very naughty things. And in the original books, Mr. McGregor is essentially “the villain”. So in that context, the audience usually wants something bad to happen to the villain.

There are even some edgy descriptive scenes in the original Potter stories. Mrs. Rabbit (Peter’s widowed mother) warns her bunnies early on that they are to stay away from Mr. McGregor’s garden because  “your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor”.

Well, that’s a scary thought isn’t it? But we shouldn’t’ be worried that daddy will be made into pie should we?

Laughter is Good Medicine

I wonder how the Brits are reacting to the movie boycott over this issue? The Brits have a great (and sometimes crass) sense of humor and make light (or you could say make fun) of just about everything. In my life, laughter is good medicine, and almost everything we laugh at is at someone or something’s expense. This doesn’t mean we are insensitive, it means we need to laugh to keep real life in check.

Laughing at the scenes in the Peter Rabbit movie (including when the hedgehog, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, is almost electrocuted) is okay in my mind. Laughing at real-life tragedies is not. I’ve taught my sons to treat all people with kindness and respect. Through at some points in life, every child is challenged to do this (peer pressure, insecurities, etc), so we keep reminding.

Be sure to let your children know that some people do have severe allergies in real life, and probably have a medical plan in place for when or if they occur. And, that it would be very wrong to do what Peter does in this movie. Help your children understand the difference between the movies, and real life, and use movies and books as teaching moments.




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High Blood Pressure: Know Your Numbers

The guidelines for high blood pressure have changed. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is now defined as a blood pressure of 130/80 (stated “130 over 80”). The first number (130) is the systolic pressure measurement, and the second number (80) is the diastolic pressure.

There may be disagreement over exact blood pressure numbers, but there’s no disagreement that walnuts are good for you.

There’s some disagreement about the new guideline in the medical so the best thing to do is to check in with your physician during an annual visit, and let him or her determine what your blood pressure means. Blood pressure rises with age and with body weight. For this reason, checking in with your doctor is the first step to managing blood pressure. The next step is asking for a referral to a registered dietitian to discuss diet therapy.  And, if you are overweight or obese, losing weight is a first-line treatment for lowering blood pressure.


Knowledge is Power – Know Your Numbers

You should know what your blood pressure is. Checking in each year with your physician is a good idea. At your visit, you’ll get your blood pressure checked. If you have high blood pressure, you are at twice the risk for heart issues as those without high blood pressure. You may, or may not, require medication, but you do want to know what your numbers are.

According to the American College of Cardiology, blood pressure categories in the new guideline are:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
  • High Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
  • High Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg
  • Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120 (may require immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage)

And what about your blood cholesterol numbers? These are also important. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk for heart disease. A normal blood cholesterol is <200 (200-239 is borderline high, and >240 is high). In addition to the Total Cholesterol numbers, your doctor may review multiple factors, including other fats in the blood, called lipoproteins (HDL and LDN – sometimes referred to as “good” and “bad” blood fats), in determining what your risk is, and whether or not you need a cholesterol-lowering medications. You complete risk is dependent on considering all of these risk factors, including your family history, weight, and whether or not you have diabetes and high blood pressure.

Lifestyle Changes

The DASH diet plan is a good fit for anyone with either known heart disease, diabetes, or at risk for either. Remember, this eating plan isn’t just a low salt diet. DASH has been proven to lower systolic pressure, whether it’s low salt or not. A lower sodium diet does help control blood pressure, but nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium are important too.

Rather than thinking about the DASH Diet as a “diet” (the preconceived notion that you are going “on” a diet), think of it as a lifestyle. Making lifestyle changes means creating a different environment in which you live. It’s not just eating well, but moving more, not smoking, setting up an annual doctor’s visit, preventive care and stress management. It’s also helps to change your perspective on healthy eating and healthy living. Rather than focusing on a food as a magic bullet, consider how your whole diet can impact your health. Consider how taking weekends off to relax and do something fun, can improve your stress level. Consider how sitting at a table together with family and friends (instead of in front of the TV), can improve your lifestyle and food choices.

Small changes every day can make a difference. Know your numbers. Know your risk. Live well.

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Eat Fish, Stay Sharp: Make Omega-3s Part of Your Weekly Intake

You’ve heard fish is part of a healthy diet, but are you eating it regularly? What’s stopping you? The smell? The taste? Bad experiences with poorly prepared fish? Or do you just ‘think’ you don’t like it and haven’t really tried different varieties? Maybe you love canned tuna? Or only salmon. Great! Eat what you like! It all counts.

February is heart month, and including fish in your diet is heart-healthy, but it’s also brain-healthy.

This open-faced fish taco is smothered in juicy sweet mango , red cabbage and lime juice.

Here are some quick fish facts:

  • Seafood high in omega-3 are good sources of DHA and EPA. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
  • The Dietary Guidelines suggest a supplement of 250-500 mg of omega-3s (DHA+EPA) per day, or a variety of seafood twice a week.
  • In fact, studies have shown that people who eat fish every week have more grey matter in their brain (the part that regulates emotion and memory). Stay sharp, eat fish!
  • Salmon, anchovies, sardines, trout (>1000mg omega 3s per 4 ounces cooked) albacore tuna, mussels, squid, sea bass, and walleye (500-1000 mg) are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Other fish and shellfish also provide some omega-3s, just smaller amounts per serving (shrimp, mahi-mahi, lobster, scallops, tilapia, cod, all offer <250 mg omega 3s per 4 ounce serving)
  • Shellfish are very low in saturated fat.
  • Ounce for ounce, fish provides as much protein as beef, pork or poultry.
  • Fish is a good source of Vitamin D.
  • If you’re worried about mercury content in fish, keep in mind that a recent joint study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the health benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks. Pregnant women should avoid high mercury fish (tilefish, shark, swordfish) but there any many other varieties of fish that are perfectly safe for pregnant women to consume. In fact, since EPA and DHA are so important to brain development, it’s highly recommended that pregnant women consume fish 2-3 times per week.
  • Eating fish may even help with depression.

Here are some easy ways to incorporate fish twice a week into your diet:

  • Add cooked shrimp to your salad or use cooked frozen shimp for a quick meal. Saute freshly cut bell peppers, broccoli, and snow peas in 1-2 TB olive oil until cooked crisp-tender. Add the shrimp to heat. Toss over whole grain rice or pasta.
  • Pair fish with fruit. Try grilled salmon with pineapple chunks over a salad or rice. Or try adding chopped apples into a tuna salad.
  • Purchase convenient tuna pouches to incorporate into a quick snack or lunch.
  • Add smoked salmon to your bagel or eggs for breakfast.
  • Make fish tacos for Taco Tuesday. Use frozen cod or tilapia. Place fish in glass baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and add 1/4 tsp chipotle powder and a shake of salt. Bake the fish for 15-20 minutes. Flake and add to whole grain tortillas. Add chopped veggies, sour cream, mango salsa, and shredded cheese.
  • The Seafood Nutrition Partnership has lots of easy recipes that even the “non-fish-lover” may like! Try more fish – it’s good for you!


If you really don’t think it’s realistic for you to consume fish twice a week, then consider an omega-3 fatty acid that provides 500 milligrams of EPA+DHA.

  • Look for a supplement that contains both EPA and DHA.
  • Check the nutrition facts for the amount of EPA and DHA. The front of the label may say “1000mg of fish oil” but it’s the amount of EPA-DHA that you want to know about. You are looking to supplement 250-500mg EPA-DHA per day (check with your health professional, and consider the EPA and DHA you are also getting from food in your diet).
  • Check the expiration date, as fish oil supplements can go rancid.
  • Good choices should have the GOED seal (Global Organization for EPA and DHA) which ensures both quality ingredients that are sourced in an environmentally responsible way. For more information check out GOED



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Down and Dirty for Heart Month

You hear a lot in the news about “eating clean”, going “plant-based”, and avoiding “chemicals” in your diet. Well, here’s the thing, food IS chemistry. We eat chemicals. We are made of chemicals. They aren’t all scary.

The ingredients here may seem scary, but they aren’t. This label is the nutrition facts for a popular healthy nut bar.

Nutrition Facts

Instead of focusing on tiny details, and reading food labels with a paranoid obsession, step back and look at your diet and lifestyle from a different perspective. There is no magic in eating certain foods, brands, or supplements. There is value in balancing your diet, so that you get a little bit of everything through the week, and then benefit from a variety of nutrients. And hey, food should taste good!

Nutrition science is not an exact science, and the truth is, really good, well-controlled human studies are limited because humans are difficult to keep captive. There is also the problem of controlling nutrients. No two tomatoes are exactly the same every time. The nutrient values assigned to foods are good estimates, because we can’t always control for every variable. Foods can vary a little from harvest to harvest (think of how wine is different every year with every harvest depending on sun, water, etc).

This doesn’t mean that we should ignore the Nutrition Facts. These values are based in science, and are good estimates. They just aren’t exact, and your daily eating doesn’t have to be exact either. Overall, you should limit your saturated fat intake. Include some good fats every day like olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. The best advice – eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that you enjoy every week, include more whole grains (fiber), eat smaller portions of meats, cheeses, and packaged food, and exercise regularly. And don’t judge a food just by an ingredient that you may not be familiar with.

Do I have to go Vegetarian?

Short answer, no. “Plant-based” and vegetarian diets are currently trending, but you don’t have to go vegetarian to eat a heart-healthy diet. A vegetarian diet is not always better (but of course, if you choose a vegetarian diet, that’s fine. Be sure to consult with a registered dietitian to be sure it’s adequate). You can however add certain foods to your grocery cart this month to make some simple changes that can impact your overall heart health.

For heart health specifically, there are definitely plant foods that research show are important. We can’t control our destiny, but we can control how we live our lives.

Do Add Soluble Fiber to Your Diet

Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol, keep your gut healthy, and keep you full longer. You can easily add soluble fiber by eating more vegetables, canned beans, apples, blueberries, oats, barley, and nuts to your diet.

  • Cook barley as a side dish, or add it to a vegetable salad.
  • While overnight oats and steel cut oats may sound “better”, old fashioned oats are great too, especially if you are short on time. Have quick oats for breakfast (don’t add too much sugar, try slicing a banana or adding blueberries and walnuts to your oatmeal).
  • Use beans differently. Don’t like kidney beans? Add pinto beans or black beans to your chili. Add black beans to prepared salsa to give it a big vitamin and fiber boost. Make your own bean dip with cannelloni beans – just add a can of drained beans, a garlic clove, some seasoning to a food processor and blend.
  • When time is short, pick up some prepped veggies such as bagged green beans or snow peas for a quick side dish. Make use of frozen vegetables too. Keep a bag in the freezer to add to soups or stews or for an easy side dish.
  • Love pasta? No problem. Pasta is a great base for lots of healthy add-ins. Consider vegetable “noodles” with pasta. Begin boiling linguine in water. Add vegetable noodles (sometimes called “zoodles”) during the last 2-3 minutes. Top with your favorite tomato sauce or an olive oil dressing.

    Half Zoodles, Half Linguine, plus a handful of spinach.

  • Apples are a great source of soluble fiber. Of course apples make a great snack, but you can also add sliced or chopped apples to salads, serve thin apple slices with a cheese tray, and use them in cooking. Top a 4 ounce pork loin chop with thinly sliced apples in baking dish, pour 1/2 cup of apple cider or low sodium broth over pork, bake for 25 minutes.

Down and Dirty for Heart Month: You Don’t Have to Eat Clean or Extreme

The notion of “clean eating” prevails in the popular press, but it has nothing to do with diet quality. There’s nothing magic about a food that “has only 4 simple ingredients” nor is there anything evil about a food with “ingredients you can’t pronounce”. Often food additives and preservatives are a good thing. Here is a good read on that topic.

Here are some great ways to improve your diet quality:

  • Use the MyPlate visual. It’s a simple lesson in balance. Fill half of your plate with salad or some other veggie for lunch and dinner as often as possible. 
  • Eat what you like. By this statement I don’t mean “eat anything”, I mean don’t obsess over all of the packaged foods you buy. Yes, buy less packaged food, but enjoy the ones you eat. Rather than comb over ingredient lists on bread or cereal boxes, choosing the one that is “clean”, that you hate, choose the ones you actually enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the taste of something, you aren’t going to stick with it. You are better off choosing a cereal you enjoy, even if it has a bit of added sugar (<11 grams is okay) or has some additives. A serving of quick oats that you are willing to prepare and eat is way better than any organic steel cut oats that sits in the back of your cupboard.
  • You can include “red meat” in the diet, in addition to poultry and fish. Beef is an excellent source of iron, and iron is essential to carry oxygen and carbon dioxide within the red blood cell from one body tissue to another. Iron is also necessary for the production of energy and immune system support. As far as fat goes, a 3-ounce serving of beef sirloin has only 8 grams of fat (2 saturated), about the same as a skinless chicken thigh. And, Today’s pork has been bred to be leaner, and a 3 ounce portion of pork tenderloin has only 3 grams of fat, and only 1 gram of saturated fat (just as low in fat as skinless chicken breast).
  • Get Omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. The research is strong that these fatty acids are good for our hearts, brains, and maybe even our mood. Balance out the red meat by choosing fish, twice a week when possible (this includes canned or packed tuna, sardines, or salmon). Add walnuts to your diet (chop them into oats, top your yogurt parfait with them, add them to salads or stir fries).
  • Create a delicious meatless dinner once a week. It doesn’t have to be on Mondays, and it doesn’t have to include tofu. Cooking Light has some great ideas. Your goal here is to include lots of vegetables, beans, and grains. These homemade veggie sliders include beans, quinoa, pistachios, and dried cranberries. 

Finally, be sure to stay as active as you can. Check with your doctor about any physical limitations, and get moving. Walking, jogging, resistance exercise, tennis, Zumba. Just like choosing the healthy foods you enjoy helps you sustain a good diet, choosing an activity you enjoy will help you stick with it too.

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Add Some Healthy to Your Super Bowl Spread: Berry Walnut Crisp

Another year, two more “other” teams. I’m not too jazzed about this year’s Super Bowl, so I’m not even picking a team.

But face it, for many folks, Super Bowl Sunday = Party Food.

If you are attending or hosting a Super Bowl Party, here are some quick and simple tips to balance out the wings and chips with some healthy grub that everyone will like:

  • Beans: Just add beans in any form to any table, and voila, you just added a nutrition powerhouse. Beans are loaded with fiber and B vitamins. Try this crunchy garbanzo bean snack from Bush’s for this weekend’s spread, or just mix a can of drained pinto beans into some prepared salsa from the deli. You’ll feed twice as many, and they won’t even notice all of the extra nutrition they are scooping onto their chip.
  • Fruits and veggies: My take is that people really do want to eat more fruits and vegetables but they don’t want to do the food prep. I find that any time I put out a bowl of sliced fruit, or a platter of ready-to-eat veggies, people eat them all up. So be the best-mom-ever and take the time to cut some melon, chop some sweet peppers, and put them out for your crew.
  • Nuts: Nuts are worth the cost. A little goes a long way. Put a bowl of mixed nuts on the table, or add a few walnuts to your cheese tray. All nuts offer your body healthy fats, and walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • A Healthy Dessert: Most everyone enjoys that sweet ending to a meal or a sweet treat on the party buffet. Why not incorporate some fruit and nuts into your dessert repertoire? Try Cindy Kleckner’s DASH Diet Very Berry Walnut Crisp from Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies®

May the best team win!

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A Fresh Look at Fish

I was invited to attend a food and nutrition conference this month in Lisbon, Portugal (part of my travel was sponsored), and was excited to learn more about current research on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and including seafood in the diet. Lisbon is a beautiful city by the water, so the local diet is rich in fish. During my visit, I consumed fresh fish or seafood daily, and also had the opportunity to bring some absolutely delicious canned tuna and sardines home.

What you may not know is that the benefits of eating fish go beyond heart health, and can also impact brain development, cognitive health, and perhaps even treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders.

Regular fish consumption is recommended in the DASH Diet guidelines, and the diet has the potential to support cardiovascular, but eating fish every week helps your body from the neck up too. It’s also important that pregnant women get enough DHA in the diet (DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid crucial to brain development). Some studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acid may also help in the treatment of depression, and eye health.

Omega-3s and Cognitive Health

One of the scientific sessions: “Fish on the Brain: The Latest Seafood Recommendations and Research in Omega-3s for Cognitive Health” (sponsored by DSM Nutritional Products, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), and the Seafood Nutrition Partnership) was presented by Tom Brenna, a lipid expert, who discussed ways to build a better brain. He made the comparison that DHA is to the brain as calcium is to the bones. The research is intriguing, showing how pregnant women who were supplemented with DHA had offspring with improved verbal development IQs compared to women who did not take the supplement. DHA is essential for brain development in infants, and for the normal brain function of adults.

John Paul SanGiovanni, associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology at Georgetown University School of Medicine, presented his research about the potential impact DHA and EPA may have on depression and anxiety disorders.

Fish and Mercury

There’s no question that the benefits of eating fish twice a week outweigh any risks. Mercury in fish is really only a concern for women of child-bearing age. Studies following women who included fish in the diet have associated a diet adequate in fish with better verbal development in the children. I’ll be writing more about mercury concerns in a future post, but the FDA’s 2014 report on the net effect on fetal neurodevelopment from eating commercial fish, shows that a reasonable amount of fish can be consumed without ill effect. In fact, even small amounts of a high mercury fish like tile fish can be consumed by pregnant women, but I’d recommend avoiding high mercury fish (tlle fish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel) during pregnancy, and instead enjoy any other fish high in omega-3s (like tuna, sardines and salmon).

If you aren’t a regular fish eater, consider adding it to your weekly diet. If you don’t like fish, give it another try. Today’s choices may surprise you.

Canned tuna with olive oil makes a great appetizer or snack. Open can, add fresh clove of garlic, rosemary or other herbs. Heat in 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes and serve with crackers.


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New Year, No Fools

I began this blog to help consumers distinguish nutrition myth from fact. There continues to be no shortage of nutrition myths out there as well as bad dietary advice.

To start off the year right I’m offering up the facts about 10 nutrition myths:

  1. Poultry does not have hormones added to it. So when you see “hormone free” labeling it’s simply a marketing thing.
  2. Gluten is not exactly “the glue that holds bread together” but it does help foods maintain their shape. It’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. People with Celiac Disease or non-Celiac gluten intolerance should avoid or limit gluten.
  3. Water is two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule. It really can’t be anything else. Yes, vitamins or sweeteners can be added to it, but please don’t fall for fancy, expensive waters marketing to your fears or desires (gluten free water, power water, black water, etc)
  4. Definitely don’t fall for the “raw water” trend. It’s completely ridiculous and dangerous.
  5. While “Antibiotic Free” may sound healthy, animals can and do get sick (just like  other mammals) and the humane thing to do when they have a bacterial infection is to treat them with antibiotics (most farmers work with an animal vet who knows when to treat, in the right dose, and closely considers withdrawal time).
  6. Farmers understand their livestock better than you or I do. I recently heard an “activist chef” pledging to promote “responsible and ethical farming”. Was she suggesting most farmers are not already responsible and ethical? News flash: farmers work hard and can’t afford to be irresponsible with their land and resources.
  7. Many myths abound surrounding cow’s milk. You may not tolerate milk (and there are many low lactose products such Lactaid and Fairlife available. A2Milk helps people enjoy milk who are intolerant of the A1 protein in milk). Milk provides a multitude of nutrients, including protein, potassium calcium, and vitamin D. It does a body good in my book.
  8. You probably continue to hear someone insinuating that “carbs are bad”. Carbohydrates are a major source of fuel for the body. Our body breaks down carbohydrates of all kinds to form glucose, which fuels our cells. Carbohydrates help us function at our best. Glucose supplies almost all of the energy to our brains.
  9. Okay, so some carbs are okay, but “sugar is toxic!” No, sugar is not toxic unless it’s consumed in unpalatable amounts (anything can be toxic in the right dose).
  10. There’s no quick fix. It’s human nature to want to take the easiest path, but weight control and good health take effort. They’re lifelong struggles for most. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Take it one day at a time, and set realistic goals.

After the holidays and the dark days of winter, it’s hard to get back to healthy habits. But you don’t have to detox and establish drastic restrictions. Just get back to basics – more veggies, soups, salads, fruit, chicken and fish. Less butter, bread, fried food, and fatty meats. That is all.

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The DASH Diet is Clean Eating

I just read a trend report that states that “clean eating” and plant-based and ketogenic diets are “in”, and the DASH Diet is “out”.


DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – is a well researched diet plan that not only improves blood pressure (hypertension is high blood pressure) but also support weight loss and fits into meal planning for diabetes. The “diet” is well balanced, encouraging lots of plant foods and other sources of potassium (dairy), encouraging nuts and seeds, while limiting fatty or high sodium meats.

So you see? The DASH Diet is both plant-based and “clean”.

What is Clean Eating?

Clean eating is a trendy term, not a science-based one.

The idea of eating less processed food and more whole, “real” food, such as vegetables, fruit, grains and nuts, is a good one, but the behavior associated with this sort of eating can border on disordered if you’re not careful about where you get your info.

Rather than “going clean”, the best way to improve your eating is to do so gradually, limiting (not eliminate at all times) processed foods, while adding more whole foods to your daily diet. This sets you up for success, not failure.

Processed food is not all bad, but the more processed a food is, the more likely it’s devoid of important nutrients, and also higher in sodium and fat. The DASH Diet discourages highly processed food (you’ll see more detail about this in Chapter 5 – “Presenting Your DASH Nutrition Primer. You can “look inside” here).

Clean eating foods include: fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts, unprocessed grains, unprocessed meats, and dairy.

Hmmn, these sounds like DASH Diet foods.

Here’s Why DASH is Plant-Based:

A plant-based diet is a diet that emphasizes plant foods, but is not completely vegetarian. The DASH Diet includes mostly plants, but allows for small portions of meats (loin and lean cuts of beef, pork, skinless poultry) and encourages fish weekly. It also includes 2-3 servings daily of dairy foods, because low fat dairy has been strongly associated with lower risk of high blood pressure, and is a great source of potassium, calcium, vitamin D (not to mention protein).

On the plant end, DASH Diet:

  • Emphasizes fruits and vegetables. Offers blood pressure-lowering potassium, fiber, a variety of vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Encourages whole grains. Whole grains offer fiber, magnesium and some antioxidants. All types can be included including gluten-free oats, quinoa, or rice.
  • Includes nuts, seeds and legumes. Provides healthy fats, fiber, and magnesium.

You’ve seen our book, and the science is clear: DASH Diet is still one of the most well-rounded and well-researched diet plan for good health! Making it one of your new health goals is easier than you may think.


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Clean Pantry, Less Waste

While I don’t love the vaguely defined term “clean eating”, I do love a clean kitchen. Many of you may find a lot of leftover goodies in your chaotic kitchen this week, and next week you’ll be anxious to get back to normal eating.

January is a great time to reorganize your kitchen so you can start the year off on a healthy foot. Start with the refrigerator, and then move on to the pantry and cabinets. Finally, clean the whole room.

  • Literally empty the refrigerator, one shelf at a time, then doors. Wipe shelves down with a kitchen disinfectant spray, working from top to bottom, including doors
  • Sort the food you removed from the refrigerator, check dates, determine if it should go back in or not (or on another shelf). Continue this process until you’ve emptied everything out, checked, sorted, and put back.
  • Move open items to the front. If there’s only a few tablespoons left in a jar, it may be worth pitching now. Or you can figure out a way to work it into a recipe. Take note of any cheese or cream cheese that’s expiring and plan a meal around it before expiration.
  • Use up leftover veggies. Do you have a leftover veggie tray or the bag of broccoli you never got around to cooking? Now is a great time to whip up a stir fry or make veggie soup. This soup recipe makes a vegetable puree for the soup base.
  • Have leftover shrimp cocktail? Chop it and make our salsa for the next football game.
  • Chop leftover ham or roasts into bitesize pieces and freeze. This can then be pulled out of the freezer for a quick dinner, stew, fajita, or Western omelet.
  • Did you get too many candy gifts or have leftover cookies? Take unopened packages to your local food bank or freeze them for a future gathering.
  • If you overbought canned goods or other pantry ingredients, consider donating them to your food bank or church. I’ve often kept items in the pantry, and after all of the cooking over the holidays, they end up staying there too long. Make the donation now while the “best buy” date is still good.
  • If you have leftover chips or other tempting junk food, send it into your child’s school for the teacher lounge, or send it back with your college student to share with friends.

Photo by on / CC BY-ND

Keep Counters Clear and Clean

It’s still flu season, so once your refrigerator and cabinets are cleaned, wipe down everything. Use a kitchen disinfectant spray on all counter tops and faucets, and wipe down the outside of your cabinets with a damp cloth. Fill the sink with hot, soapy water, and drop things into it that are sticky or marked (microwave turntable, utensils, toaster oven ‘crumb catcher’, coffee carafe).

Don’t forget to wipe down all appliances, including the top of the refrigerator or microwave, and vacuum and mop the floor.

A clean kitchen keeps food safe, and so does proper hand-washing. Always remember to wash your hands frequently when handling and cooking food, and be sure your children do as well (it’s always a good idea to have your children wash their hands right after school).

This is my idea of clean eating. Happy New Year!


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