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Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Get Fish Into Your Family’s Diet

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

family eating fish

You’ve probably heard the recommendations to eat fish at least twice a week. As a mom of two children, 5 and 7, and as the primary shopper and cook in the family, I strive to help my family meet this goal. Am I always successful? No.  But I do have a game plan.

I plan my meals a month in advance. I tweak the plan along the way and shop weekly. This allows me to look at the variety of our meals for the whole month and strategically insert fish and other items. I plan for at least one weekly dinner meal to include fish, whether it’s salmon, trout, shrimp, or fish tacos. And I strive for one lunch per week to be fish-oriented, whether it’s a tuna sandwich or salmon cakes.

Now, to the reality. Although both my husband and I love fish, we have one child who will eat it and another who will not.

Both my kids ate fish in the first couple of years of life, but both dropped it once they hit the picky stage (ages 2-6). I kept serving it, though, and my daughter would take a bite here and there. She really likes breaded food, so I tried turning salmon into nuggets and she loved it.  More recently she has graduated to eating fish in its “naked” form.

My son, the younger one, still shows no interest in fish in any form, but I don’t push it.  I know that if I nag him or make him take a bite, he may stay wary of fish for the rest of his life, as so many people seem to do. (In fact, research shows fish is one of the foods most forced onto kids.) So for now, he just watches the rest of us enjoy it. I’m confident he will eventually join in. Since he’s a pasta lover, I’m working on a recipe for a tuna casserole that will hopefully work as a stepping stone. We’ll see.

And, despite my best efforts, we do still take fish oil as a back-up. For my son it’s every week, and for the rest of us it’s on those weeks when life throws a curveball and fish just doesn’t end up on the table.

If you’re looking for ways to get your family eating fish, here’s a recipe for salmon sticks that (may) appeal to young kids. (It worked with my daughter.) You don’t have to make all the fish this way. Try cutting off a portion of the fish to make the breaded sticks.


1 pound salmon

Melted butter or one egg beaten

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

Instructions: Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut fish into 1-1.5 inch pieces. In a bowl, mix the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and salt. In another bowl, melt butter or whisk the egg. Dip each piece into the butter or egg and roll in bread crumb mix and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Serve immediately.

Do you and your family eat fish? Any favorite recipes to share?

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 2:04 pm

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Making Sense of Saturated Fat

By Janet Helm, MS, RD


Maybe you’ve seen headlines declaring that the war on saturated fat is over. The media was buzzing about recent research showing that people who eat less saturated fat tend to have the same rates of heart disease as people who eat higher amounts. So, does this mean “bring on the butter?” Not so fast. Even though some researchers now question the link between saturated fat and heart disease, that doesn’t mean saturated fat is completely off the hook.

Most people still need to keep sight of the total saturated fat they eat – while avoiding trans fats entirely (there’s no debate about the danger of these artificial fats). Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

Vary your dairy. You don’t need to automatically default to the fat-free version every time. Maybe you prefer to drink 2% milk, have half-and-half in your coffee, make creamed spinach with heavy cream, and pour fat-free milk on your cereal.  And when it comes to yogurt, perhaps you want a low-fat, fruit-flavored cup for a snack, but prefer to cook with whole-milk yogurt, which stands up better to heating. It’s fine to mix it up.

Avoid sneaky sources. If you’re going to eat food with saturated fat, make sure you’re choosing foods where you can taste the lusciousness, instead of wasting your “quota” on choices where it’s hidden. Much of the saturated fat we eat is buried in muffins, donuts, pastries, cookies, cakes, pies, pizza crusts, and other refined grains. If you’re easing into eating more saturated fat, cut back on the amounts of refined carbs you snack on.

Do not assume you must delete red meat. Aim for two servings of fish a week, one meatless day, and then fill in with the meat of your choice – yes, even red meats. The leanest versions have “loin” in the name, but you can enjoy whatever cut you prefer as long as the portions are in check.  A deck of cards represents a 3-ounce serving, but you can double that at dinner if you skip the meat at lunch. Thinly sliced meats fanned out on the plate or served in a stir-fry help the servings appear larger.

Embrace the butter. Yes, butter does not have to be banned entirely. It’s certainly better than stick margarines, which contain trans fats. Some of the softer tub margarines made with vegetable oils are better than sticks, but in my book, they just can’t match the taste of real butter. You may also want to try some of the butter-olive oil spreads that are now widely available, or use a combination of butter and olive oil when you sauté. A tablespoon or two of butter a day can typically fit in, but use it judiciously. For instance, use butter to flavor vegetables, rather than piling it on hunks of bread.

Say real cheese, please. In my opinion, cheese is a wondrous thing, so I rarely consider reduced-fat or fat-free versions (except part-skim mozzarella and low-fat ricotta). I would much prefer to have a small amount of the real deal, although these days you can find some better-tasting reduced fat cheeses – especially the pre-grated packages that are convenient for cooking. Fat-free cheeses cross the line for me. Guidelines suggest three servings a day of dairy. So for cheese, a serving is 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, which translates to about four dice-sized cubes.

Balance your fats. While you’re relishing in the idea of eating saturated fats without guilt, just don’t overlook the poly- and monounsaturated fats that are deserving of your attention.  Instead of butter some mornings, spread your toast with almond butter or mashed avocado. Rather than bacon bits in your salad, sprinkle on some olives and chopped pistachios. Dip your baguette into olive oil instead of smearing it with butter. Layer your sandwich with avocado slices instead of brie.

Posted by: Janet Helm, MS, RD at 1:02 pm

Friday, June 20, 2014

Diet Scams: Don’t Be Fooled

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

diet foods

You may have heard that a Senate committee held a hearing this week about false advertising of weight-loss products. Dr. Mehmet Oz was the star witness.

When the senators questioned why Dr. Oz would praise products on his TV show that aren’t proven by research, he said they can help jump-start a diet and give people hope.

But this goes against research showing that when people have unrealistic weight loss expectations, they tend to drop out of the game earlier or are more likely to experience weight cycling. Yes, a new product may get them excited initially, but eventually the truth comes out and people are usually worse off – both in their weight and in their wallets.

Although Dr. Oz was in the spotlight, you don’t have to look far to find products that make false weight loss claims. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it is serious about limiting these claims.  According to the agency’s web site, here are seven claims that signal a product is a weight-loss scam:

1. Lose more than 1-2 pounds per week without diet or exercise.

2. Lose weight regardless of how much you eat.

3. Permanent weight loss without ever needing to diet again!

4. Blocks the absorption of fat or calories, resulting in large weight loss.

5. A safe way to lose large amounts of weight: 3 pounds a week for more than 4 weeks.

6. Is one-size-fits all because it works for everyone!

7. Lose weight by wearing a product or rubbing it into your skin.

And remember – even weight loss drugs approved by the FDA, with mounds of research behind them, stress the importance of diet and exercise and gradual weight loss.

So the next time you see a miracle product – no matter where it is — ask yourself if it’s too good to be true.  If the answer is yes, save your money.

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 11:31 am

Thursday, June 19, 2014

5 Ways to Keep Grocery Costs Down

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

food shopping

I’ve never been one to closely watch my grocery bill.  But when I decided to quit my day job to work from home, I knew I had to become more careful with my spending. I’m not a huge fan of couponing (always forget them).  And I always seem to be in too much of a rush to comparison shop. So I came up with a few other ways to keep costs down without sacrificing quality:

1. Buy package-free items: A lot of money goes into packaging food, so it always helps when you can buy food that skips this step.  Find stores that sell staples like rice, cereal, grains, nuts, and spices in bulk.  You spoon out as much as you need and put them in a bag to be weighed at checkout.

One of my favorite items to buy in bulk is spices.  I simply wash and reuse old containers to store them at home.  It’s good for the environment, too!

2. Know exactly what you have in your kitchen: I got tired of cabinets full of food I don’t make on a regular basis.  So I cleaned everything out and decided to only store food I use regularly.  I even made lists so I can keep these key items on hand all the time.

This not only makes life easier, it also helps you look closely at your purchasing habits. Once you become more conscious of what you buy on a regular basis, you can keep an eye out for those items at the stores you typically go to and comparison shop.

3. Get the most out of the food you buy: It started bothering me that I didn’t know how long mayo stayed good or how long other items can be used after you opened them (like grated cheese and deli meat).  I realized that I was throwing food out before it was spoiled, because that voice in my head was saying, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

That’s why I developed this comprehensive food storage list. Now I shop smart and plan meals around how long ingredients will last – being mindful of the limited shelf life of certain veggies or food in opened packages. And as I’ve cut back waste, I’ve been able to cut back the grocery bill.

4. Pick and choose your produce: You may be familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen — a list of fruits and vegetables found to have the most pesticides.  They tend to be thin-skinned items like peaches instead of those with a thicker skin like bananas.  I keep this list in mind as a guide to help me choose which produce to buy organic and which I can buy conventional. But what matters most is getting those healthful fruits and veggies in your diet, whether organic or not.

5. Think outside of the fish box: Fatty fish is an important part of a healthy diet, but it is also expensive.  I balance this out by using canned fish frequently, whether it’s the easy tuna sandwich or adding tuna or salmon to pasta dishes.  And with the right sauce, salmon cakes (made from canned salmon) hit the spot and can be frozen for an easy future meal.

And farmed salmon, which is less expensive than wild, is becoming a smarter choice due to new standards from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).

So these are the things I do to keep costs down. How about you?

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 3:14 pm

Monday, June 16, 2014

Confessions of a Nutritionist

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

eating chocolate

I once dated a guy who said he was pleasantly surprised I wasn’t as uptight about food as he expected I’d be. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or proud. I think some people believe we nutritionists all religiously follow super-strict dietary guidelines, always have our 5 vegetables a day, and are basically boring food squares. Well, as my friends and family would gladly tell you, that’s far from the truth. Though I am undoubtedly obsessed with eating good-quality food, and avoid processed foods as much as possible, I am far from perfect. I am happy to admit I have some food and drink weaknesses. A few of my vices:

Milk chocolate: Okay, I’ve mostly replaced it with dark, but I do really LOVE the milky good stuff that has barely, if any, real chocolate/cacao left in it. I usually eat some form of chocolate – mostly dark – 3-4 times a week.  Also, my favorite restaurant in N.Y., the Lighthouse, makes a dessert called pa pie that is basically like next-level pecan pie. (I’m told I don’t want to know how much butter and sugar go in it.)  It’s really the only dessert I have out at a restaurant, probably once a month.

White wine/Prosecco/jalapeno margaritas: I am trying to be much more mindful of my drinking these days, partially because I’m finding that hangovers get worse with age (a topic for another day). But still, a day at the beach or a night out with friends, and a few drinks can easily turn into a few more. Oops! I do try to keep it to single digits for the week, though. Some weeks this happens, some it doesn’t.

Pizza: Pizza is like a religion in my family. And while I try to steer clear of the ones topped with bacon AND sausage (I call those my dad’s Lipitor pizzas), I don’t drive myself too crazy. I’m fine trying a little of this and a little of that on those rare and wonderful family party days.

Bread: I’ve curbed my starchy habit quite a bit, but I will come out and say it: I love a good piece of gluteny, delicious bread with olive oil at a really great restaurant. And if it’s really good, I’ll have two.

I’m pretty honest with myself about my food weaknesses and don’t hate on myself for them. I really try to focus on maintaining a balance, being mindful about what and how much I’m eating, and most importantly, making sure that my food and drink indulgences are high-quality. Day to day, I really do practice what I preach, but I think it’s important to be able to eat an occasional sweet and not be too uptight about it – no one wants to be a total type-A eater!

So what are your food weaknesses?

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 8:00 am

Thursday, June 5, 2014

5 Summer Health Pitfalls to Avoid

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

summer eating

Summer is here, and as in any season, there are health pitfalls. Here are the top 5 I see most often:

1. Giving up because you didn’t get that swimsuit body: There are certain times of year when you may feel extra pressure to get in shape – summer is definitely one of them.  And if you aren’t able to get to your swimsuit goal in time for summer, you might be tempted to throw your hands in the air, say “oh well, maybe next year,” and then throw healthy habits out the window for the next 3 months.

But it’s important to understand that the real problem with focusing on a swimsuit goal is that you are tying healthy habits to a specific outcome, which is de-motivating.  Instead, form healthy habits for the daily benefits you get, like feeling good, better sleep, and general health.  Bottom line: Focus more on the enjoyment a healthy lifestyle brings than the changes in appearance you expect.

2. Not exercising because it’s too hot: For many, the summer heat throws a monkey wrench into exercise routines.  It doesn’t make sense to go for a run midday when temperatures are at their hottest.  But stopping exercise all summer long isn’t beneficial, either.

Summer is a great time to mix things up with different activities like swimming, hiking, or late afternoon walks or runs (try early morning, too).  And don’t forget – the gym is nice and cool.

3. Ditching meal-plans for the drive-thru: The carefree days of summer might make you too carefree with meal preparation.  When this happens, it’s all too easy to run through the drive-through or graze all day.  Instead, continue planning weekly meals, but keep things simple and leave room for spontaneity (like picnic dinners).

4. Grilling only meat: I enjoy a good hamburger like the next person, but if you cook hamburgers and hotdogs every time you grill, you’ll be missing out on other nutritious foods. Experiment with grilling vegetables, fruit, shrimp, turkey burgers, fish, and even pizza!  And work on some easy, nutritious sides like beans, green and whole-grain salads, and fresh fruit.

5. Getting too many daily calories from beverages: Who doesn’t crave a cool beverage when it’s hot?  But if you start your day with an iced cafe mocha (320 calories), have lemonade with your lunch (150 calories for a 12-ounce serving), and end the day with a few beers (300 calories), your body’s getting extra energy — and sugar — without the same feeling of fullness that food provides.

So choose your beverages wisely by sensibly prioritizing your favorites while experimenting with some new, smarter ones (like lightly sweetened iced tea).  It’s a balancing act!

How does summer change your healthy habits?

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 2:38 pm

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Food Safety: 5 Myths That Could Put You at Risk

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

washing vegetables

As the head cook for my family, I want to make sure the food I serve is not only tasty and nutritious, but safe to eat. And I’m sure you do, too.

As I’ve learned more about keeping food safe, I’ve noticed that there are a few myths out there that are causing many of us to keep dangerous habits. Here are five myths that may be putting you at risk:

1. Leftovers are fine as long as you refrigerate them: Let’s say you’re eating at a restaurant and your meal comes out around 6:30pm. You only eat about half and decide to take the rest home.  By the time you’re done at dinner it’s after 8pm and then after 9pm by the time you get home, and you stick the meal in the fridge to keep it safe.

The problem is that bacteria can start to grow just 2 hours after perishable items are cooked.  So if you’re taking home leftovers from a restaurant or want to save some of the food you put out for a party you threw, consider the 2-hour rule. If you do get the food in the fridge within 2 hours, be sure to enjoy the leftovers within 4 days.

2. If it tastes okay and doesn’t smell, it’s good: Unfortunately, bacteria that are responsible for food poisoning doesn’t have a taste or smell. Get familiar with storage guidelines for various foods, and try to use up (or freeze) items before the time they could go bad. And make sure your fridge is below 40F and your freezer below 0F.

3. As long as you haven’t reached the date on package, it’s okay to eat: Except with infant formula, there are no laws requiring food expiration dates — and most relate to quality, not food safety. That’s why it’s so important to understand proper handling and storage.

“Sell By” dates let the store know how long to sell the product, so it’s best for consumers to buy before this date.  “Best if Used By (or Before)” indicates the timeframe the product will have optimal quality and flavor – it is not a food safety date.  “Use-By” is the last date recommended for using a product and is determined by the manufacturer.

Where things get tricky is when packaged food, like shredded cheese, is opened but not finished. Even though the date on the cheese is 2 months from now, once it’s opened the storage time decreases significantly. To look up your favorite products, go to Still Tasty.

4. You should always wash raw meat and poultry: The problem with washing raw meat and poultry is that their bacteria can spread to areas in your kitchen such as your sink and countertops.  So skip this step even when recipes tell you to do so.

Don’t forget to keep raw meat (and droppings) from other foods in the refrigerator, and cook meat to the right internal temperature.

5. I don’t eat meat, so food safety is not an issue for me: According to a study by the CDC, twice as many foodborne illnesses are due to contaminated produce as to meat and poultry, although the latter kinds are deadlier. The biggest culprit is leafy greens.

So pick produce carefully, wash it with running water (scrub hard produce like zucchini), and dry it off with a clean towel or paper towel.  When it comes to lettuce and cabbage, discard the outer-most leaves where bacteria may breed.  And don’t forget to wash your hands before handing food!

With a little forethought, you can significantly decrease your chance of being one of the 48 million people who get sick every year from foodborne illness.

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 10:52 am

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ditching the Diet for Intuitive Eating

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD


Around the age of 25, after years of dieting to “control” my weight, I changed my approach to food. I started focusing more on nutrition and health. I began listening to my body, enjoying food, and ignoring stringent food rules. Not only did my food struggle disappear, but I found myself eating healthier and experiencing a sharp decline in my craving for sweets. And my weight? It stayed very stable for the next decade until I became pregnant.

The eating style I had developed is similar to what dietitians now call intuitive eating, or mindful eating. The key component to an intuitive eating style is to be aware during meals while letting hunger and fullness guide eating. And research has been suggesting that the benefits that I experienced in shifting to intuitive eating might be backed up by science.

A study published in the May edition of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looks at 20 peer-reviewed research studies comparing non-diet approaches to traditional weight loss. Some of the differences seen in the non-diet approach include:

  • Listening to and honoring internal cues of hunger and fullness instead of restricting calorie and portions
  • Unconditional permission to eat, instead of sticking to specific food rules (i.e. low carb, low fat)
  • Accepting one’s body instead of trying to change it by losing weight
  • Focusing on health instead of weight and body shape
  • Exercising to feel good instead of to burn calories or lose weight

Of these 20 studies, six showed that intuitive eating helped people lose weight. Other studies showed that it helped people maintain their weight, and one resulted in weight gain. In the five studies that looked at outcomes related to the heart and blood vessels, findings were mixed, but most of the studies resulted in improved blood pressure. The studies that had a physical activity component showed increased physical activity.

Most of the studies revealed that the people who practiced intuitive eating dieted less and restricted what they ate less. Those who learned to eat intuitively also did less binge eating and showed fewer signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Body image, satisfaction, and negative self-talk all improved as well.  Overall, there were decreases in depression and anxiety with increases in self esteem.

This study suggests that an intuitive eating approach might improve weight, health, and general well-being. I know it did for me.

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 12:50 pm

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Are We Too Sweet on Sugar?

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

sugar crash

You’ve almost certainly read it somewhere over this past year: Sugar is the devil, sugar is toxic, sugar is as addictive as cocaine, sugar is killing us all! EEK! The “don’t eat that” tide completely turned from watching how much fat we’re eating to policing all things sweet.  As a chocolate lover (I may be a nutritionist, but I’m human, after all), this was pretty alarming. Should we skip all things sweet? Or is it “everything in moderation”?

Well I certainly am not planning on cutting chocolate out of my life, and I don’t think the average person has to skip sweets entirely. At the same time, I don’t love the idea of the moderation argument – mostly because our idea of moderation is way off.

According to the USDA, we Americans have increased our sweet habit by 39% between 1950 and 2000.  It’s estimated that the average American now eats 3 lbs of sugar a week. Holy sweet tooth! Besides, on the moderation note, as we say at Foodtrainers, who wants to feel moderately good?

Back to the sweet stuff. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) changed the sugar guidelines, dropping the recommendation from 10% of your daily calorie intake to 5% (approximately 6 tsp or 25g/day). What do those numbers mean though? Well, consider that a can of soda has 40g; you’re well on your way to doubling your allotted sugar intake with one can of pop. And that’s not taking into consideration all the sugar snuck into most processed foods, from bread to soups and yogurts and even to deli meat/cold cuts! Ick!

Instead of moderation, let’s all practice being mindful of our sugar intake. How can you start?

  • Before you reach for the calorie free sweeteners, reconsider.  One of my favorite Foodtrainers tenets is “Sweet begets sweet; the more sweets you eat the more sweets you crave” Give yourself a sweet-free day (or two!) where you don’t even add sweetener to your coffee. If you must sweeten it up, try stevia, a plant-based low-calorie alternative.
  • Get fruity – go for the real deal (berries are coming into season!). Fruits don’t count toward that 5% of added sugar calories. In general, 2 servings (cups) of fruit per day is a great addition and can curb that need for sweet.
  • Read ingredient labels: Sugar is snuck into so many foods, and not just in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (though avoid that first and foremost).  Look also for glucose, fruit concentrates, dextrose, sucrose, and evaporated cane juice. For a good list, look here.

I know since becoming more aware of my sugar intake (and skipping sweetener in my coffee), my sweet tooth has decreased big time.

So are you a sugar addict? Or have you cut back on your sugar intake recently? What foods are you most surprised to see sugar is added to?

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 2:08 pm

Thursday, April 24, 2014

10 Salad Dressings With 5 (or Less) Ingredients

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD


I stopped buying salad dressing years ago when I realized how easy and tasty it is to make your own. Every Monday, I make enough salad dressing to last the week, keeping it in the fridge for quick access.

I reached out to other registered dietitians to find out what their favorite simple salad dressing recipes were and compiled a list of 10 excellent options. Warning: what you are about to read will make you want to eat a salad!

1. Sort of Sweet Balsamic Dressing: This is my favorite salad dressing. It’s three parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar (usually about 1/4 cup olive oil to 1-1.5 tablespoons balsamic).  I add a crushed garlic clove, a pinch of brown sugar, and a splash (about 1/2 teaspoon) of red wine vinegar.

2. Basic Vinaigrette: This recipe is courtesy Kristen Smith, MS, RD, who blogs at 360 Family Nutrition. It makes about 1/2 cup or four servings: 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1-3 teaspoons spicy mustard, 1 garlic clove (minced), 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Everyday Salad Dressing: Kimberly Buchholz, MS, RDN, shares her favorite dressing, which she says is best when made fresh each time. In a small bowl, add and whisk 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. With your whisk moving the whole time, add 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a small stream, until dressing is combined. “To serve two, use half of each of the first four ingredient amounts,” she adds. “For the olive oil, use 3 tablespoons.”

4. Lemon-Thyme Dressing: Jessica Levinson from Nutritioulicious likes this dressing with her Spinach Pear Salad With Goat Cheese: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon  honey, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

5. Lemon Avocado Salad Dressing: Lindsay Livingston, RD, who blogs at The Lean Green Bean, shares a simple dressing with creamy avocado: 1/3 cup mashed avocado, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon honey, and 2-3 tablespoons water (to reach desired consistency).

6. Maple Cider Vinaigrette: Ayla Withee, MS, RDN, from Eat Simply shares a salad dressing with just three ingredients: 1/3 cup olive oil, 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, and 2 tablespoons real maple syrup.

7. Simple Mustardy Dressing: This one comes from Kate Scarlata, RDN, LDN, best-selling co-author of The 21-Day Tummy: 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons fresh chives (chopped), 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Mix the first three ingredients, and let sit to let flavors infuse. Whisk in Dijon and olive oil.

8. Lime Salad Dressing: Julie Beyer, MA, RDN, shares this simple combination with the option of fresh chopped cilantro: 1/2 cup of olive oil, the juice of one lime, 2 tablespoons of honey, and salt and pepper to taste. “It is adds a burst of flavor when drizzled on fresh pineapple!” she says.

9. Beyond Basic Vinaigrette: Christine Palumbo, MBA, RDN, keeps it basic with the super-simple vinaigrette she grew up eating: equal amounts extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar (option is garlic-flavored red wine vinegar), a pinch of dried oregano, crushed between finger and thumb, to taste, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. “To make it a Greek dressing, substitute freshly squeezed lemon juice for the vinegar,” she says. “The amounts depend upon how much salad you are making. If you’re making a salad for two, about 1 tablespoon of each oil and acid.”

10. Greek Yogurt Balsamic Vinaigrette: This one from Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, cofounder of the Nutrition Babes, is lower in fat and calories than traditional vinaigrettes: 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon nonfat plan Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon honey, and salt and pepper to taste.

What’s your favorite simple homemade salad dressing?

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 11:04 am

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

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