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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Moving to a New Beet

By Janet Helm, MS, RD


If there’s one vegetable that could kick kale off its pedestal, it just might be beets. Yes, this humble root veggie that was once widely maligned — much like Brussels sprouts — is now enjoying its star turn.

Just like you may have hated Brussels sprouts when you were younger (until you discovered the wondrous flavor when these little orbs are roasted), beets might stir up similar negative memories.  Many of us think of the sad-looking pickled beets on a salad bar. Or perhaps the syrupy sweet-sour Harvard Beets made with canned beets are what you remember from your youth.

Forget all that. These are not your grandmother’s beets.

Today, beets are a favorite of chefs and have become a sought-after super food (although I think all vegetables and fruits deserve super-food status).

And beets are hot with food bloggers — we’ve curated nearly 200 creative beet recipes on Healthy Aperture (a site that I helped create with fellow dietitian blogger Regan Jones). Who knew beets could be transformed into everything from hummus and smoothies to pasta, paninis, and naturally colored red-velvet cake?

Beets are also showing up in lots of new products on supermarket shelves, including juices, sports drinks, yogurt, snack bars, chips, and even baby food. Now you can find cooked and peeled beets in the refrigerated product section, which makes them so convenient to add to salads and other recipes at home.

This beet renaissance seems to have been sparked by the health-related research on this root vegetable. Beets are rich in natural compounds known as betalains, which provide the distinctive red color. Similar to other plant pigments, the betalains provide more than color — they contribute to the health-promoting properties. Beets are also one of the richest sources of nitrates (along with dark leafy greens). Our bodies convert dietary nitrates to nitric oxide, which helps enhance blood flow and lower blood pressure.

And in recent years, there’s been growing research on the use of beet juice to enhance sports performance. Some of these studies suggest that beet juice may boost stamina when we work out, allowing us to exercise longer. That’s why all of a sudden you can find beet juice products (including sports drinks, powdered supplements, and “shots”) promoted to athletes.

I prefer to eat my beets instead of drink them. I love the traditional red beet, but sometimes I buy a mixture of red and golden beets for roasting. Wrap them in foil and drizzle with olive oil for roasting, which intensifies their sweetness and makes their skins easy to peel.

I’ve also enjoyed experimenting with the baby-striped beet. When sliced it displays a dramatic fuchsia-and-cream striped pattern. You can eat these beets raw — sliced paper thin to top salads or stacked together with filling for a creative faux ravioli.

I just bought a big container of steamed and peeled baby beets at Costco, which I used to make a crostini-type appetizer last weekend, and plan to dice for salads this week.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy beets?

Posted by: Janet Helm, MS, RD at 12:12 pm

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beware the Buffet!

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD


I was in Las Vegas last weekend. In a town that celebrates indulgence, “all inclusive, all you can eat/drink” hotel deals are everywhere you look.  And they’re tempting. Who doesn’t want an all-inclusive and inexpensive deal? But we know that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas — especially when we’re talking about the choices you make at the buffet.

Of course, I’m not talking only about Las Vegas.  Whether it’s spring break or summer vacation, close to home or on a cruise, unlimited buffets are a situation many of my clients face on a regular basis.

At Foodtrainers, the buffet is what we call “pupu platter syndrome” to the max. The more options you have, the more you eat. A little of this and a little of that equals a lot of everything. So here are a few ways to navigate the buffet so you’re not feeling the need to unbutton your pants later.

  1. Have a one-plate rule — no getting up for seconds unless it’s for vegetables.
  2. Fill half of that plate with either fruit or vegetables. (French fries don’t count, nice try.)
  3. Stick to one grain/carb (a fist-sized helping of rice or pasta, or a small potato), or two pieces of toast or two pancakes per meal.
  4. Choose a number of drinks (cocktails) that you’ll have per day. An “all-inclusive drinks” deal generally means sugar bombs, and trust that the hotel’s not wasting its fancy top-shelf liquor. Holy hangover! So, pace yourself and go for the simpler drinks like a vodka soda or wine.


And remember: You don’t have to try everything all at once. It will still be there at your next meal. When in doubt, “KISS,” or Keep It Simple, Silly, and enjoy your vacation!

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 11:17 am

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Avoiding Extremes

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

woman running

If something is good for you, more of it must be better…right?

Two recent articles reminded me why this isn’t true.  The first was about the potential negative effects of excessive running.  Researchers now believe that years of too much pounding can actually increase the risk of heart disease from wear and tear.  As someone who used to run marathons, this caught my eye.

The second was the reminder of negative effects of being underweight. Did you know that being underweight puts people at a higher risk for death than being overweight?  Bottom line: weight shouldn’t be like a limbo contest.

This information doesn’t make me think I don’t exercise or that should try to gain weight. But it reinforces something I’ve come to embrace: moderation is key for good health and self care.

I’m not talking about moderation being used as an excuse to eat, like the person going for round three of donuts reminding everyone that “everything in moderation” is okay.  Instead, I’m sharing an important truism: just because something is good for us doesn’t mean excessive amounts are also good.  We have plenty of research to show this is true — and moderation seems to win every time.

For me, moderation is the intersection of healthy habits and a joyful life. It’s the sweet spot where you keep things healthy without losing pleasure in life, which is ever-changing.  What I enjoy in my forties is different than in my twenties.

Practicing moderation has helped me appreciate and tend to the health of my mind.  If the diet and exercise choices I make stress me out, or take all of my energy, that also hinders my health. I have come to believe that good health is a mix of a nourishing diet, physical activity and good mental health and not just what someone eats or the type of exercises they do.

What does moderation look like in my daily life?  Well, I eat nourishing meals with all the food groups and work good nutrition in while focusing on enjoyment and listening to my body. I usually have something sweet each day like dark chocolate but I also enjoy ice cream and cookies sometimes.  I look to be active most days for about an hour which includes running and gym classes and I also incorporate strength exercises like yoga and weights. If I’m tired one day, I’m fine skipping a workout (and Sunday workouts never seem to happen).  I accept that my weight is a bit higher now that I’m over 40m but it feels like its where it should be.

Moderation may not be popular or sexy, but avoiding the extremes has helped keep me healthy and happy. I just wish it would catch on.

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 12:58 pm

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shopping Healthy on a Budget

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

produce shopping

It’s not news that making changes toward healthier eating can add up to be a pricey undertaking.  Of course, one way to manage costs is to buy in bulk at Costco or Sams Club – and they actually have a solid organic selection. But, if you’re like me – only shopping for one or two people and/or live in an apartment the size of most people’s closets, buying in bulk is not really an option. Since I can’t stock up at discount stores, I’ve had to come up with a few tricks to keep costs down.

Here are a few:

  • Buy from bulk bins (this doesn’t mean in bulk quantities, necessarily). The bins at grocery stores are full of nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and dried fruits. Just skip the ones with candy.
  • Skip the packaged produce. There are bulk bins in the produce aisles too, below all the neatly prepackaged salad mixes and bags of baby carrots. Grab a plastic bag and use tongs to grab a bag of spinach or arugula. And another for unbundled carrots and mushrooms too. Be SURE to clean well when you get home.
  • Shop on sale! Check out the signs and store pamphlets for what fruits and vegetables are on sale, it typically means they are in season too.
  • Shop FROZEN. If you are like me and make spontaneous dinner plans, buying fresh fish and vegetables wont always do you good if it spoils before you have a chance to use it. So unless you’re SURE you’re cooking it in the next few days, it’s okay to buy fish, meat, and fruits and veggies from the freezer aisle. IT’s typically FAR less expensive too, which means you don’t have to feel bad spending the extra dollar or two on organic meat, right?
  • Go with a grocery list and a recipe. 90% of grocery store purchases are impulse buys and there it’s the worst to get home and having a fridge full of food with nothing to eat. This always reminds me of “a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear”. So shop smart and plan a little in advance.

Do you worry about your food budget? Are there items you more willing to spend money on than others?

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 9:38 am

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to Choose Olive Oil

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

olive oil

Who doesn’t love olive oil? Known for its starring role in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil contains active compounds that benefit health. These include oleic acid (monounsaturated fatty acids) and phenolic compounds (antioxidants) that help reduce the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease and certain cancers.

But when you go to the store to pick out an olive oil, how do you know you’re getting the best one?  Well, as you will see, it takes a little investigative work.

Type of olive oil

The difference in the type of olive comes down to processing. In the case of extra virgin olive oil, considered the highest quality olive oil, there are no chemicals or high heat used when making it, just a mechanical or physical process. This helps to preserve the health-promoting phenolic compounds of the olive.

According to the Olive Oil Source: “If you are especially interested in the health benefit aspects of olive oil, the best choice is extra virgin olive oil, preferably a very high quality one, as it is likely that its production method left most anti-oxidants and other healthy components intact. ”

What about all the other types of olive oils on the market? According to the Olive Oil Source, virgin olive oil is of lower quality than extra virgin due to higher acidity and taste. Refined olive oil (also termed pure olive oil) is made with charcoal or other chemical/physical filters to make lower quality virgin oil more appealing by eliminating defects and taste issues.  Because refined oils are tasteless, some virgin olive oil is mixed in with it. If not labeled “virgin” or “extra virgin,” olive oil such as “light” or “extra light,” is usually a mix of refined and virgin olive oils.

Is it really extra virgin olive oil?

Just knowing extra virgin olive oil is a great choice isn’t enough. “You have to buy ‘real’ extra virgin olive oil, not some adulterated version,” says Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, Research Dietitian and Associate Professor at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University. “A lot of the olive oil imported into the US, especially from Italy, is adulterated, meaning it is really vegetable (seed) oil and doctored up to ‘taste’ like olive oil to Americans.”

According to the Olive Oil Source, there is no federal standard to guarantee that oil labeled as extra virgin is indeed extra virgin. The USDA is working on new standards. New laws now exist in some states.”

A 2011 report from UC Davis Olive Center found that 69% of imported and 10% of California extra virgin olive oils failed to meet standards. The specifics, included brands that did well, are detailed in this report.

Here are some things to look for when shopping for a high quality extra virgin olive oil:

  • “Harvest date” on the bottle, buying as close to that date as possible.
  • Olive oil in a dark bottle versus light colored bottles (light degrades the oil faster).

To give you an example, I went from buying an extra virgin olive oil in a light bottle with no date said to be “packed in Italy” to a dark green bottle with the California Olive Oil Council seal with a harvest date.

Is it worth buying extra virgin olive oil without these clues that it’s high quality? I say, don’t waste your money. Just go with a less expensive oil — olive oil or otherwise. At least you’ll know what you are getting.

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 10:53 am

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Time to Spring Clean Your Health Routines

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

happy woman

More sunlight is a welcome sign that spring is coming, especially if you’ve been schlepping through the polar vortex this winter.  Sure that hour less of sleep is always tough to recover from, and you might be feeling it right now. But this is also the perfect opportunity to recalibrate, maybe do some internal and external spring cleaning and revamp your healthy living.

So, as a start, let’s rewind. Remember those “New Years resolutions”? Now’s a great time to check in and see where you are with them. It’s more than okay if you need to press the restart button. Or maybe you need to change them or make entirely new goals.

Sometimes a little rule making is great for the soul, and for your internal/external spring cleaning. At Foodtrainers, last week we launched our annual “non religious Lent”, aka #NRL.  This is how Foodtrainers owner/nutritionist Lauren Slayton and I “met” (via twitter) several years ago, after I fell in love with her idea of giving up vices other than food, like elevators (below the 7th floor).

And sure Lent started last week but it is not too late to join in! In our office, we’re seeing clients ditch everything from sugar and booze to elevators and taxi cabs, too. There are no rules, but it should be something challenging for you to give up. Research says healthy habits take 3 weeks to stick; let’s see what we can do over the next few weeks.

But it’s not only about giving things up. What are you adding to your routines this spring that’s just for you? It could be a yoga class, a walk outside, or getting some variety into your veggie repertoire. Personally, I’m adding tea in as a routine “nightcap” (it’s great for hydration and I love those little inspirational quotes on bags of Yogitea…).

So spring has almost sprung, what are you doing to spring clean your routine?

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 11:03 am

Monday, March 3, 2014

What Is “Processed Food” Exactly?

By David Grotto, RDN, LDN

guy shopping

It’s National Nutrition month,  a perfect time to think and act on healthier eating habits. When you’re shopping for food, you may think that words such as “fresh”, “local” and “organic” and never “processed” mean healthier choices, right? Not so fast.

When you hear the word “processed” in the context of food, what comes to mind? I took the liberty of asking 5,000 Facebook friends. Let me share some of their responses:

  • Never watered
  • American cheese
  • In a can or box
  • Anything in a snack food aisle
  • “When ingredients are used that I don’t have at home”
  • Commercially prepared
  • “Anything other than whole foods”
  • Simulated or ‘fake’

The list goes on and on. And in fact, in the context of food, the word “processed” is not legally defined … yet. The International Food Information Council Foundation defines processed foods as “Any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat.” So, chopping up some vegetables, making a smoothie and cooking your food can all fit this “processed” definition as well as the vast majority of foods found in the grocery store. Are these foods less healthy?

Many people assume that “processed,” regardless of the definition, means inferior or not nutritious. It could mean that the pre-packaged lettuce bag that you purchased for dinner or the canned pumpkin puree you bought back at Thanksgiving or even the lean chicken breast from the meat department, would all be fair game for less worthy status. That’s a bunch of hogwash!

Take the example of triple washed organic mixed greens. It does come in a container and a plastic one at that. But I think most would argue that merely because it is sorted, washed and packed in a plastic container doesn’t mean it’s not good for you. In fact, I would argue that washed lettuce has single handedly removed a barrier to eating it.

Now let’s go for a harder example: American cheese. You may have heard that Kraft singles have had a bit of a makeover. Kraft removed any artificial preservatives and flavors and replaced them with natural ones. The rest of the ingredients include various dairy products such as whey and real cheese, salts, enzymes and vitamin D. Even with these improvements, Kraft technically still has to call it “processed cheese” because of the way the product is made. Still, the singles are comparable to other “natural” cheeses – no more or no less healthy.

More examples? Here are some healthy exceptions to the remaining definitions of “processed:”

  • In a can or box. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables (low-sodium canned vegetables and fruits that are packed in water or its own juices) can be just as nutritious.
  • Anything in a snack food aisle. The snack food aisle has plenty of bars that contain whole grains, nuts and seeds and other healthy ingredients.
  • When ingredients are used that I don’t have at home. Unless you have the ultimate pantry, you are likely to be missing an ingredient or two that you might find in a “processed” food. Just because you can’t pronounce it or know what it is does not mean that it isn’t safe or nutritious.
  • Commercially prepared. I would not expect to see a bunch of grandmas in the basement of a house making my jarred sauerkraut!
  • Simulated or ‘fake’. Vegan cheese, soy, rice or almond milk, and veggie lunch meat would all be considered “fake” or “simulated” but many might perceive (especially vegetarians) these examples as “better for you” options.
  • Anything other than whole foods. Are romaine hearts, hearts of palm, canned pumpkin puree or oat bran cereal unhealthy food choices? Technically, none of these examples would be considered “whole foods” in its strictest form.
  • Never watered. All food, regardless of final form, was once watered (plant or animal)

Maybe we need to stop using this word or at least all agree on a standardized definition. Even foods that we probably agree would fall under the definition of “processed,” such as 100% refined flour white bread, candy and chocolate chip cookies can still be included occasionally in an overall healthy diet.

What do you think would be a better word than processed?  Do you have other food examples that are processed that might be good for you? Comment below!

Posted by: David Grotto, RD, LDN at 12:47 pm

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Power of Probiotics

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD


You’ve probably heard the term “probiotics” tossed around recently on labels and in the news. I swear by them and recommend them to so many Foodtrainers clients. People tend to think of bacteria as something to get rid of, but actually a huge amount of the bacteria in your body are the good guys,  in fact your gut is home to over 500 bacterial species or probiotics. And a lot of the time, if you take antibiotics or just generally have a pretty processed diet, many of these good guys get wiped out.

Here’s the “good bacteria” 101:

  • Probiotics help with digestion and help break down nutrients. So if you have any tummy issues, whether chronic or acute, probiotics may help.
  • They are also major immune boosters. The more probiotics in your belly and along your digestive tract, the harder it is for the bad bacteria and viruses to get in. Probiotics also make a compound called bacteriocins which researchers think may quash harmful bacteria.
  • Research is showing that probiotics may benefit everything from GI issues from constipation and diarrhea to IBS to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s, as well as mood disorders and depression. When I’m feeling off, whether from traveling or a little too much fun, I make sure that probiotic is getting in my supplement regimen daily.

So where do you get them? Not all probiotics are created equal – the “live and active cultures” sticker on most yogurts is not worthy. Fermented dairy like kefir, and probiotic shots are readily available. Other fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha (fermented tea) and miso are fantastic sources of probiotics. This is one area I also recommend supplementing – ReNew Life and Garden of Life are two of my favorites.

So do you take a probiotic? Have you noticed the benefits?

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 3:03 pm

Thursday, February 13, 2014

5 Dieting Rules to Break

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

Seems like just when I think there couldn’t possibly be another fad diet, a new book comes out to prove me wrong. Yet over the long run, dieting is more likely to lead to weight gain than loss, or even maintenance.  Take a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where 163 women were followed over 6 years. The women who were dieting at the start of the study gained more weight over the course of the study than the non-dieters.

Since diets don’t work, doesn’t it makes sense that going against the typical “diet formula” will lead people in the right direction? Let’s take a look…

Rule #1: Start extreme: Almost every diet starts with their kick-start phase. This is the phase that is the most restrictive and also provides the biggest results.  The problem is that once individuals stop losing weight at the same rate and move to the second, less restrictive phase they feel discouraged. And when weight loss plateaus, like it always does, it’s hard to stay the course.

Break it: Start smart: Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine followed two groups of women. One group was taught 8-week’s worth of weight maintenance skills before trying to lose weight, while the second group started losing weight from the get-go. Both groups lost the same amount of weight but a year later, the weight maintenance group regained less than half (3 pounds) the weight as the weight loss first group (7 pounds) did. Bottom line: learn the skills you need to maintain healthy habits before focusing on weight loss.

Rule #2: Avoid the “bad” food: Every diet has some type of ingredient or food group they ask people to avoid. It might be sugar, all processed foods, grains/wheat or different types of fat and carbs. Initially this works great because it’s simple and the “bad” food tends to be in lots of non-nutritious items. But a recent study in Plus One shows why food avoidance fails. Chocolate eaters were asked to abstain from eating chocolate for one week. This led to increased liking, desire to eat and increased consumption of chocolate once they could eat it.

Break it: Nourish yourself: Instead of focusing on what not to eat, which leads to feelings of deprivation, take time to nourish yourself with quality food. And find sensible ways to satisfy your desires for any non-nutritious food that you love.

Rule #3: Have a singular focus: Every diet has an angle as to what causes weight gain and health problems. But over time, just focusing on one aspect of diet ends up being ineffective because there are many pieces to adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Break it: Focus on the big picture: In his bestselling book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell points out that epidemics occur not because of one isolated event, but a bunch of small things that add up. This is exactly what has happened with the obesity epidemic. So focus on all the pieces of the puzzle: what you eat, how much you eat, moving your body, stress management, sleep and so on.

Rule #4: Success = pounds lost: Dieting success is always measured in pounds lost. Yet this makes it easy for people to feel discouraged when weight doesn’t come off as fast as they want it to, something researchers call The False Hope Syndrome. In a 2012 study in Eating Behavior, middle-aged men and women who had higher expectations of becoming thin were significantly more likely to weight cycle.

Break it: Success = better quality of life: Feeling good, having energy, sleeping well, being more productive and enjoying meals are tangible benefits people can feel every day. While weight loss can be part of this, the scale and dreams of a 6-pack aren’t enough to motivate people to engage in healthy habits over the long haul.

Rule #5: The expert knows best: Most of the diets I’ve read about leave very little room for individual differences and personal preferences. Yet in one study, women who with autonomous eating style (driven by personal interests and values) weighed less than those with a more controlled one (focusing on external pressures to eat well).

Break it: Declare yourself the expert: As I see it, the job of health professionals is not to tell people what to do, it’s to coach them along their health journey.  Only you can decide what is right for you. Because when you are in the driver seat, you can actually see where you are going and know where to turn to get to your happy place.  When you are in the back seat allowing someone else to drive, you don’t have much control and probably won’t like where you end up.

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 1:18 pm

Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting Healthy with Social Media

By Janet Helm, MS, RD

social media

Is it good to tweet what you eat?  Can you pin to get thin?  Will snapping an Instagram photo of your meal or taking a selfie help you stick to a new healthy eating routine?  You bet.

Social media has been transformative in many ways – changing the way we get information, connect with friends and engage with companies.  But it can also be a powerful tool to help you lose weight and meet your healthy lifestyle goals.

Just ask Rebecca Regnier who used Twitter to help her lose 20 pounds. She chronicled her story in The Twitter Diet, and blogs about how you can use social media to aid weight loss at Does This Blog Make Us Look Fat? Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill started tweeting her diet and exercise routines and eventually lost 50 pounds.

It makes sense.  Studies show that social support is a huge factor – so why not turn to your online friends to help motivate and keep you on track. There’s also something about publicly declaring your intentions to make you more accountable. You’ll practice what you preach when you preach it online, says Regnier.

There’s power in groups — and that came to life in an experiment conducted by the folks at Cooking Light magazine who created the Social Diet. The staffers lost 128 pounds using food and fitness apps like MyFitnessPal, LoseIt!, and FitBit that hooked them into a network for some friendly competition and encouragement. The lonely work of weight loss became an animated, purposeful social project, said editor Scott Mowbray, who lost 20 pounds on the Social Diet.

Pinterest may be known for showcasing double-stuffed cookies, cake pops, red velvet desserts and other indulgent creations, but registered dietitian and uber Pinterest user Mitzi Dulan (with over 3 million followers) says this popular social media platform can be an effective source of inspiration and support for losing weight. In The Pinterest Diet, Dulan maps out a plan for pinning healthy recipes, exercises, inspirational quotes and products to help with weight loss.

If you’re spending a lot of time online, why not use those hours to support your healthy habits.  Here’s how you can maximize social media to help meet your goals:

  • Follow healthy food blogs. If you only browse blogs full of food porn (you know, deep-fried, bacon-wrapped this and sugary, ooey-gooey that), then you need a new source of cooking inspiration. As an anecdote to existing online galleries that tend to showcase major calorie bombs, a fellow dietitian, Regan Jones, and I created an online food photo gallery called Healthy Aperture that features some of the best healthy food bloggers on the web. Some of my other favorite healthy food blogs include Kalyn’s Kitchen, Iowa Girl Eats, Cookin’ Canuck, My New Roots, and Fannetastic Food. You can search for healthy food bloggers on Nutrition Blog Network, which features more than 600 blogs written by registered dietitians.
  • Get inspired by fitness bloggers. Look to blogs that are part of a network called FitFluential, to help motivate you to run your first 5K, start a new exercise class or find a workout routine that you can do at home. Many of these fitness bloggers are documenting their own journey – sharing their struggles and successes.  These blogs might provide just the kind of kick-start and inspiration that you need. However, be careful — don’t jump on the bandwagon of a restrictive juice cleanse or buy a bunch of supplements just because it worked for someone else. And before starting any new type of exercise, be sure to consult with your doctor.
  • Track what you eat. Undoubtedly, keeping a food diary works. Any type of self-monitoring makes you more aware of your choices and can serve as a deterrent for overindulging. Instead of writing down what you eat and drink, now there are lots of different free apps you can download on your smartphone that will calculate the calories for you. Even taking a photo of your food can serve as a virtual food diary – helping you be more aware of portion sizes.
  • Post your progress. If you’ve established specific goals – whether that’s measured in pounds, steps or miles – you may find it helpful to share your achievements on Facebook. Getting praise through “likes” may help keep you motivated. When you see your friends share similar stories or post a photo of their healthy meals – you’ll be more likely to do the same. Studies tell us this is true – your social network has a strong influence on your health behaviors.  Positive changes can be contagious.
  • Make new connections. Follow people, media outlets, companies and groups on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn that will continuously provide helpful nutrition and fitness articles, weight-loss tips, inspirational stories, and healthy recipes. Fill your newsfeed with content that will educate, empower and inspire you to make healthy changes and stay on track. Participate in Twitter chats to ask questions of experts, and join online communities with discussion boards to interact with other people who are on a similar healthy lifestyle journey.

While there’s still a lot of misinformation about diet and health online – and the recipes that seem to go viral are often over-the-top indulgent — social media holds incredible potential to help you meet your health goals.

Posted by: Janet Helm, MS, RD at 1:45 pm

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why I’m Not a Fan of “Biggest Loser” Extremes

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD


“The Biggest Loser” has been all over the news and blogosphere since its season finale earlier this week. The $250,000 winner, Rachel, lost 59% of her body weight. That’s a totally staggering statistic.

On the whole, I’ve been disappointed in how the show features extreme weight loss and suggests that the measures contestants go to are “healthy” and realistic. And while I’m not sure what goes on behind the scenes, most of the focus of the show is on excessive exercise. In any other circumstance this would be classified as an eating disorder (compulsive exercising).

So let’s talk about realistic weight loss for a moment. At Foodtrainers, the private practice where I work, we aim for a rate of weight loss of 1-2 lbs per week for our clients – and this is for ALL clients, regardless of whether their long term weight loss goal is 5 lbs or 150 lbs. This might seem slow, but that can add up to 8-10 lbs per month. In the beginning, if you have more weight to lose, loss can be faster, sure. But when I have people coming in losing more than 4-5lbs per week, truth be told, I am not happy and don’t feel like I am doing my job correctly. Starvation and restriction are NOT nutrition.

Then there is the question of scales, something I could have a field day on. In a given day, the scale tends to fluctuate around 4-5 lbs. This is not actual “weight gain”. Food, vitamins and minerals, hydration, exercise and bathroom habits all affect this number. At Foodtrainers we weigh everyone backwards – we literally make them turn around so they don’t see the number. While we do discuss numbers, this is on an individual basis. We find that for too many people, focusing on the numbers can effect their entire day and how they feel about themselves. We would much rather you focus on your energy and how your clothes fit and the great changes you’re making –  because at the end of the day, that’s what will get you to your goals.

So do you watch “The Biggest Loser”? What are your thoughts?

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 12:09 pm

Thursday, January 30, 2014

3 Tips to Keep Your Resolution on Track

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD


As January comes to a close, the motivation that goes with it begins to wane.  I found myself extremely peppy this New Year, cleaning out my house and working out like a crazy women.  But my biggest commitment, New Year’s Resolution, goal, or whatever you want to call it, has been to meditate every single day.

About a week in to the new year, I was struck with the flu.  I couldn’t do anything for 4 days, and I really didn’t feel like my old self until about 2 weeks later.  Food didn’t taste the same, I couldn’t work out, and I was completely distracted while meditating. And then, once I did feel better and ready to move, an old case of shoulder tendinitis flared up.

I started the whole “poor me” routine, but then I caught myself.  What about all those people with chronic diseases who feel way worse, with no end in sight?  No matter what I was going through, I knew it was temporary.

But, still, I felt kind of robbed of some of that beginning-of-the-year motivation. It’s challenging to keep that kind of motivation going all year long.  When the ups and downs of life – working late, getting sick, busy schedules – start getting in the way, the commitment we’ve made is tested. But believe it or not, this conflict is actually good because it allows you to see where you need to make tweaks to your goal – or your approach to it – so that the new behavior fits around the grooves of your life.  The problem is, we usually see trouble as a sign of failure and give up.  When, in reality, all we need to do is make adjustments. This is when creativity and problem solving come in handy.

Here are some ideas:

1) Revisit your goal: Was it realistic?  If you decided to give up sugar, maybe a better plan is to cut back or focus on something you want to add to your diet.  If you said you wanted to exercise for an hour daily, maybe 30 minutes is more realistic.  Don’t look at this change as a regression, but a way for you to maintain and build on a beneficial behavior.

2) Find a different source of motivation: Often the goal we choose – losing weight or getting healthy – are poor long-term motivators. In fact, a research study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity revealed that women who exercised for their weight and health exercised less often that those who did it for enhanced quality of life.  So remember that moving your body gives you more energy throughout the day and helps you sleep better, a daily payoff that makes the behavior sustainable.

3) Check the enjoyment factor: People don’t do what they don’t enjoy.  If you chose a diet or exercise plan that is extreme or out of your comfort zone, it might bring results, but you’re likely to start looking for excuses to not do it when those results slow down. So, if you started a new running routine but are finding yourself dreading actually doing it, then switch to something else – dance or afternoon walks, or whatever feels more enjoyable.  Whatever it is, if you can focus on ways to make the activity enjoyable you’ll find yourself wanting to do it.

I applied all of these tips to my stalled meditation resolution. Now I’m focusing on the daily benefits I get from sitting still instead of focusing on the big goals.  I’m finding new places to meditate that fit better with my schedule, like after workouts.  I’m allowing myself to do less than my goal of 15 minutes on certain days if that’s what it takes to keep it enjoyable.

And you know what? I’m going to keep changing my approach as needed because I really want this new behavior to stick.  Life is not static, so why should our healthy behaviors be?

How is your New Year’s resolution going?

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 10:13 am

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snack Strategy for the Super Bowl

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

super bowl

Super Bowl Sunday is almost here! And thanks to my family Fantasy Football league I can officially name the teams playing! No matter who you’re cheering for (go Broncos!), it is easy to make a lot of food fumbles on game day. The Monday after Super Bowl Sunday boasts to be one of the top “call out sick” days, as well as one of the peak days for antacid sales. I’ll probably be going for guacamole and a green juice cocktail, but I took a little survey (thank you, Facebook) to see what “normal” people (not nutrition nerds) eat during the Super Bowl.

I took my FB friends’ feedback and separated out by healthy choices (green), not-so healthy (yellow), and “please don’t eat that!” (red):

Green (generally super healthy, these foods may be prepped in less than ideal ways but they have ingredients that compensate nutritionally):

  • Hummus
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole
  • Veggie crudité plate
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Anything grilled
  • Popcorn

Yellow (some healthy ingredients, though they can be calorie bombs – so choose 1 or 2 max):

  • Spinach and artichoke dip
  • Buffalo chicken wings
  • Ribs
  • Sub-style sandwiches
  • Ordered-in cheesy pizza (especially limit meat toppings)

Red (few to no redemptive ingredients, get the antacids ready! PASS or have a bite only!)

  • Potato chips/chips
  • Mac and cheese
  • 7 layer dip
  • Ranch/blue cheese dressing

Of course, your best bet is to BYO — here are some of the homemade, nutrition-friendly, snacks that my friends are cooking up:

  • Turkey burgers
  • Homemade veggie pizzas
  • Healthy baked buffalo chicken wings
  • Greek yogurt “ranch” dressing or tzatziki
  • Green chili (apparently a Colorado app that’s great paired with chips!)
  • Turkey or chicken chili (here’s a great recipe from Ina Garten)
  • Black bean brownies (my fellow blogger, Dave Grotto, has a special recipe here – and it has avocados, too!)

What are you planning on eating during the Super Bowl?

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 9:48 am

Friday, January 17, 2014

Is Organic Milk Worth the Price?

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD


A few months ago, I quit my day job.  And I began wondering if it was worth it for me to pay twice as much for organic milk.  In general, a gallon of milk where I shop is about $2.99 and the organic is right at $6.00.

That’s a big difference.

So, when it comes to milk, what does “organic” mean, exactly? According to the USDA,  organic farmers cannot give their cows hormones or antibiotics and need to give them organic feed.  They also have to make sure cows have “access to pasture.” Here’s how it translates in terms of some of the common, hot-button arguments made in the battles of organic vs non:

Pesticides: Unlike fruits and vegetables, pesticides are not the issue when it comes to organic milk.  The National Dairy Council says that milk is among the agricultural products with the lowest detectable amounts of pesticides.  The Organic Center claims that more sensitive testing developed by the USDA shows milk does contain more residues than previously thought, but they are still are far below safety cut offs.

Antibiotics: What about antibiotics?  All milk is tested for antibiotics. It’s thrown out if any are found.

Hormones: It’s pretty easy to find conventional milk cartons with the claim “made without rbST” (recumbent growth hormone bovine hormone), if that’s a concern.  The FDA claims there isn’t a difference between milk from cows given this hormone and those not given it.

Nutritional benefits: A recent study out of Washington State University highlights organic milk’s biggest perk in terms of nutrition: organic milk was found to contain 25% less omega-6 fatty acids and 62% more omega-3 fatty acids, likely due to the cows being at least partially pasture fed. Some experts believe diets high in omega 6 and low in omega 3 increase the risk of inflammation, but not all health professionals agree. Additionally, milk is not the key source of omega-6 fatty acids in people’s diets as this study points out – it’s the dramatic increase in soybean oil the food supply. It’s also important to note that studies like the one from Washington State were done with whole milk, so if you drink low or fat-free milk, these results may seem less impressive.

There are also considerations around environmental impact that can influence people’s decision to go organic. “I’ve also read, and personally noticed, that organic milk lasts longer,” says Lisa Raum, RD. “I’ve been buying organic milk for years because we’re huge advocates of environmental sustainability and other organic-related attributes.”

And then, of course, there’s the cost. Some health professionals are less than thrilled to pay double price. “I have never bought organic milk for my household and have raised 3 healthy kids, ” says Rosanne Rust, MS, RD. “It’s up to individuals to decide.”

So what did I decide?  Well as I’ve written about before, my husband and I drink fat-free milk (mainly in oatmeal) and we will not be buying organic.  When my kids were little and drinking whole milk, it was organic milk for sure, and I’d make that choice again.  But now that they are older and drink low fat milk, we are going to try conventional for a change.  That’s not saying we won’t buy other organic dairy products, but with my unemployed status, I’m not sure I can justify the price of organic milk.

What type of milk do you buy and why?

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 9:20 am

Monday, January 13, 2014

Eating in 2014: Tips and Trends


It’s that time of year when many of us are thinking about how and what we eat. What’s the best way to get started? And what about some of those food trends we’ve been hearing about? We asked two of our Real Life Nutrition bloggers, Carolyn Brown, MS, RD, and Dave Grotto, RD, LDN, to weigh in on these topics to get you headed in the right direction. Read below for their thoughts on creating healthy habits, which food made the “desert island” list, and ch ch ch chia.

Are there any tips or tricks you recommend for people trying to make healthier food choices?

Carolyn: Definitely! Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Drinking enough water and getting enough sleep (7-8 hrs!) are 2 essentials that can set you up for a healthy, energized day.
  • Baby steps! Don’t overhaul your entire diet. Start with just trying to improve one meal (I like breakfast)
  • ALWAYS carry a safety snack in your purse or car so you’re never in a “my only option is unhealthy” situation.
  • Plan, plan, plan. You plan meetings, classes and dinners – why not plan what you’re going to eat? This is kind of the opposite of food journaling – we call it menu mapping. Think about your at-home meals, snacks for on the go AND check out restaurant menus online if that is a big part of your life. You are far less likely to go for the lasagna or fried chicken if you’ve already mentally committed to the fish entree.

What mistake do you most often see people make in terms of food?

Dave: Not having a plan on how to add-in healthier choices – especially ones that they are not familiar with. I’ve seen lots of veggies purchased with the best of intents only to rot away in the crisper bins because my patient forgot they were there or didn’t know what to do with it. Plan BEFORE shopping!

What would you say to someone who is cutting carbs out of their diet to lose weight?

Carolyn: Cutting ANY entire food group out does not typically end well. Our brains require carbs. Instead, I recommend limiting carbs and choosing the good ones (brown rice, quinoa, beans, sweet potatoes). Have one serving max per day or about 5 per week. One serving is the size of your fist.

“Gluten-free” was a buzz phrase in 2013. For people who do not have Celiac disease, are there health or weight-loss benefits to reducing gluten?

Dave: If there isn’t a bona fide sensitivity/intolerance to gluten, there is NOT a health advantage to avoiding foods that contain gluten. On the contrary, of the patients that I do counsel on a gluten free diet, I find it can be a challenge finding products they enjoy that make up for the short gap in nutrients that gluten containing whole grains shine in such as fiber and b-vitamins.

What is your favorite natural, healthy “junk food” remake?

Carolyn: Hands-down, homemade peanut butter cups!! You can make them at home with 5 ingredients, and without all of the junk in the store-brought version. These are kid and skeptic-approved, I promise.

What foods do you recommend for an energy boost?

Dave: Besides the aforementioned beans, other carb-rich foods also work well for an energy boost and as post recovery workout foods – Lowfat chocolate milk with reduced sugar; bananas, cherries, kefir/yogurt, oatmeal and raisins are some of my top choices.   Quite often I find dehydration can contribute to fatigue so a nice glass of water or green tea does the trick.

A lot of readers are searching for information about chia seeds. Can you talk a bit about the benefits of chia seeds – and the best ways to incorporate them into our diets?

Carolyn: Chia is one of my favorites! Chia is loaded with omega 3’s, fiber, good fats and protein – it’s truly a superfood. It’s great for weight loss because it expands in water to 10x its size – making you feel full on less – and is continually hydrating. This also makes it great for athletes and runners.  Try making chia pudding by mixing 3 tbsp chia seeds with 1/3 cup almond or coconut milk. You can add a little sweetener and cinnamon or vanilla extract and top with berries voila, an incredibly healthy, satiating breakfast.

We’ve seen a lot of coconut water products popping up – is this just another fad or does it have real health benefits that are worth spending money on?

Dave: Truth be told, I don’t get it. Coconut water does not seem to be any more hydrating than water or common sports beverages according to a small 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. If you can afford it and enjoy coconut water as an alternative beverage for hydration or just enjoyment, go for it. Other than that, it provides no additional health benefit.

What is your favorite way to prepare kale?

Carolyn: Kale can be tough to eat raw – you generally have to (literally) massage it with olive oil to make it more tender. So I prefer it sautéed in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper and a bit of salt. Simplicity is key!!

What food do you think almost everyone could use more of?

Dave: I’ve always said if I was stuck on an island and there was one food that I could choose, it would have to be beans. Of course, others on the island might move to the other side. Ha! But seriously, I was amazed at how many categories that beans scored highest in nutrients when I conducted research for The Best Things You Can Eat. Beans provide an excellent source of both soluble (good for lower cholesterol and blood glucose) and insoluble fiber (laxation). Beans are also a great complex carb source for energy and provide protein, calcium, iron and other vital nutrients.

Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 1:15 pm

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