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Friday, June 29, 2012

Fourth of July Foods

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD


Fourth of July, red white and blue, and berry season. Coincidence? Yes I think it is, but we can pretend that nature is just being patriotic. So while you are showing off your American spirit in the most outrageous red white and blue get up, enjoy the trifecta in the edible form as well.

Red jello and white cake or frosting don’t count. America the beautiful gives us incredible food off of those fruited plains — show her some appreciation and skip the artificial stuff. The color of produce corresponds with the antioxidants and flavonoids that are in it, and by eating different colors you get a variety of health benefits. So show off that American pride and make it your duty to consume the benefits of red, white, and blue:

Red produce contains lycopene and anthocyanides, nutrients that may help prevent against prostate and breast cancers and cardiac disease. Try: strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, cherries, tomatoes, cabbage, and red peppers.

Dark blue and purple fruits and veggies are full of flavonoids and anthocyanidins. These are anti-aging compounds that help protect against neurological diseases, cancers, and inflammation. Get your youth on with blackberries, blueberries, purple grapes, plums, and beets.

White produce might sound like a bad thing as you’ve been told a million times to avoid white breads and flours. But in nature the color white is related to phytonutrients called indoles. They support healthy bones and your circulatory system. Keep that bod in tip-top shape by noshing on cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms, bananas, and white varieties of peaches, nectarines, and grapes.

I browsed on Pinterest and the 4th of July foods are unreal. I plan to keep it simple by sliding sliced strawberries, blueberries, and bananas on skewers. Add a dash of whipped cream or a scoop of Ice cream, and ta da, its a party in the USA!

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 5:39 am


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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Eaters

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

Healthy Eating

Many people struggle with eating in our food-centric environment. But there are those who are successful despite all the distractions, fad diets, and larger-than-life portions. While some of these people have eaten well most their life, others have found a way to sustain positive change.

These “successful eaters” eat nutritious foods most of the time, prepare meals in ways that work for them, enjoy eating, and regulate food intake well. So with some input from top-notch registered dietitians, I’ve listed 7 key factors that increase the likelihood someone will have success with eating.

1. Prefers fruits and vegetables: A 2012 study published in Appetite showed that women who sustained healthy diets actually had taste preferences for fruits and vegetables. People who are successful with eating consume healthy foods for taste just as much as nutrition.

“I think that the most successful eaters rely on whole plant-based foods and lots of vegetables,” says Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, The Veggie Queen. “Generally, they know how to cook the ‘real’ foods that they eat.”

2. Has a flexible eating style: The research on restrained eaters shows that those with “rigid control” gain more weight over time than those with “flexible control.” Successful eaters are flexible with their eating — a better fit for real life.

“I like to describe eating on a 10-point scale, where 1 is being super strict and following all the diet rules to an extreme. Most of the people I work with who live like this eventually can’t stand it anymore and jump over to 10 where they follow no diet rules and eat as if they might get hit by a bus tomorrow, ” says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, author of Diabetes Weight Loss—Week by Week. “Those who are successful tend to eat in the 4-5-6 range. Maybe 6 is when they’re on vacation, 4 when they’ve gained a couple of pounds or just returned from a vacation, and 5 is the rest of the time.”

3. Focus on the positive: When I talk to people about food they always start with their weakness or what they need to avoid. The problem with this strategy is the mind tends to focus on whatever you think about most. Instead, successful eaters focus on the yummy, nutritious foods you want to include in their diet.

“In my experience, successful eaters don’t deprive themselves of their favorite foods,” says Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods. “They eat in moderation, relish variety, and savor and enjoy all foods.”

4. Trust the body’s wisdom: I used to sit in amazement when someone would turn down cake because they were full or allow ice cream to sit in their fridge for months. But now I understand that trusting and listening to your body, instead of your head, may be the most important success factor for eating well.

“The clients who have been the most successful in returning to their inborn intuitive eating skills are the ones who make true peace with food–no lingering judgment,” says Elyse Resch, MS, RD, coauthor of Intuitive Eating: a Revolutionary Program that Works. “They also understand the difference between restriction (which is planned in advance) and setting limits (which is an internal process, based on fullness signals).”

5. Make it a lifestyle: When I first became interested in nutrition, I would eat ultra healthy all week and go hog wild all weekend. At the time I didn’t know how to live in both worlds sensibly — and I constantly felt conflicted. Successful eaters eat healthy a majority of the time (on vacation and weekends!) because it is a preferred lifestyle.

Creating this healthy lifestyle takes time and patience but is well worth it. Making small changes, deciding which foods do it for you, fitting in activity, and constantly reevaluating what’s working and not, are key.

6. Remove perceived barriers. The 2012 study in Appetite showed that nutritious eaters were also less likely to perceive barriers to healthy eating such as time and cost. Successful eaters are able to eat well under most circumstances, which means their confidence and desire to maintain health habits is high.

“Whether it is a quick trip to the grocery store or a longer time spent away from home, the healthy eater is always prepared,” says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD. “Being prepared may include having a healthy snack on hand or knowing where you can get a healthy meal.”

7. Keep nutrition in perspective: Successful eaters don’t jump on every new nutrition trend or react negatively to the latest health and nutrition report. Instead, they are consistent with their diets and include healthy foods that are filling and satisfying.

“Successful eaters are those who include water, fiber and protein in many of their meals,” says Kathryn Fink, MS, RD. “This helps with awareness of hunger and fullness and being mindful”

Do any of these success factors ring true with you? Are some more challenging than others? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo: Stockbyte

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 5:16 am


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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Help Your Kids Eat Right this Summer

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

Girl Eating Watermelon

Summer is in full swing, and your otherwise healthy eating habits are quickly going south. The school bell rings for the final time, and kids, and their parents, including me, often relax the reins on healthy eating.

Nearly every day, my children expect to have foods that they typically eat once in a while during the school year, including ice cream after dinner, chips with lunch at the beach, and lemonade instead of water to quench their thirst. I’m not above giving in to their requests.

You would think that, with the bounty of summertime foods that are relatively low in calories, such as fruit and vegetables, kids would eat better. You might also suppose that the warm weather would mean more physical activity for children.

Yet, research suggests that children gain excess weight during the summer months, probably because they are out of their school-year routine, which may include more structured times for meals, snacks, and exercise.

Letting a healthy lifestyle get too far off track can have unintended consequences for your child’s weight. Here’s how to help kids of all ages stay healthy and happy this summer, whether they’re off to day camp, the beach, or to a part-time job.

• Serve healthy breakfasts.

Breakfast fuels kids up for the day. A balanced morning meal with protein from foods such as milk, yogurt, eggs, and peanut butter combined with whole grains, including cereal and bread, and fruit helps to keep kids fuller for longer.

Fruit paired with cereal and milk or eggs and toast are simple at-home meals. When kids are on the go, have them bring breakfast along. A whole wheat bagel or two whole grain waffles smeared with sunflower seed butter or peanut butter and a banana makes a nutritious take-along meal.

Some children don’t like traditional breakfast foods. That’s OK. A combination of nutritious foods is fine for breakfast, including whole grain crackers, a peeled hard cooked egg, and fruit or fruit juice. Other nutritious breakfast ideas include half a sandwich and milk, and a slice of healthy pizza and orange juice.

• Snack smart.

Kids snack so often that between-meal eating should be mini-meals, not treats like Goldfish, chips, and cookies. Here are 19 healthy snacking ideas for kids that work during the summertime and the rest of the year, too.

• Plan for dinner.

Don’t let summer spontaneity ruin your resolve to eat healthy dinners. Having healthy ingredients on hand for relaxed summer meals saves you money and makes for better family nutrition.

Shopping on a regular basis decreases your reliance on take-out and processed foods, which are often more expensive and higher in fat and calories than what you would prepare at home.

• Allow treats.

I complain about my kids clamoring for unhealthy foods, but I also know there’s room for “fun” summer foods in everyone’s diet. Hot dogs, French fries, and deep-fried Twinkies from the state fair can be part of a child’s eating plan, as long as he eats healthy foods most of the time and works off extra calories with physical activity.

Photo: Brand X Pictures

Posted by: Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD at 7:04 am


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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Well-Fed Med Diet

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

Pasta Dish

The traditional Mediterranean diet is often described as the dietary pattern that emerged in coastal olive-growing countries bordering the Mediterranean region in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was a period of recovery from World War II and growth for Europe before the influence of Western culture and obesity-promoting fast food fully arrived. The diet itself is characterized by an abundance of vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts, and cereals (mainly unrefined); a high intake of monounsaturated-rich olive oil but a low intake of saturated fats from marbled meats and full-fat dairy; a moderately high intake of fish; a low-to-moderate intake of dairy products in the form of yogurt and cheese; a low intake of meat and poultry; and a regular but moderate intake of alcohol, mainly from wine and generally drunk during meals.

The Science

There are several possible explanations for why following a Mediterranean diet may help in the battle of the bulge. The Mediterranean diet is high in hunger-busting and digestion-promoting fiber, which may help shave off excess calories. Those same fiber-rich foods don’t bring with them a truckload of calories, so you can load up on volumes of produce, for example, and not worry about blowing your calorie budget. Several researchers feel the diet’s success may be due to its low glycemic load, which studies suggest may help control blood sugar and appetite.

The science indicates a Mediterranean-style diet targets dangerous belly fat that contributes to inflammation associated with heart disease and obesity. A meta-analysis of 16 different studies found that the Mediterranean diet helped participants lose weight and maintain the weight loss, especially when they kept an eye on their calorie intake, exercised regularly, and participated in a follow-up program that lasted at least six months. Put all of those elements together and you have the makings of a healthy diet and lifestyle program no matter what part of the world you live in. Is there an advantage of a Mediterranean diet over other cuisines of the world? Unfortunately, research is somewhat wanting when it comes to comparing equally healthy traditional diets the world over.

It’s a healthy way of eating, for sure, but even for Mediterraneans, it can be a struggle to follow, especially in today’s world, filled with tempting, cheap, hyperpalatable food as evidenced by the obesity explosion in Greece. Hey…Westernization happens.

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: David Grotto, RD, LDN at 9:45 am


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Friday, June 22, 2012

Best Recipe Sites

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

Woman Using Laptop

Are you in a meal or recipe rut? We all have our go-to foods but if you’ve been doing the same grilled chicken recipe or had one too many nights reaching for frozen meals/pizza bagels, it’s time to try something new

I’m sure you know from your Facebook newsfeed – or more likely from your “Blocked from Newsfeed” list – that anyone can start a blog. Cooking blogs and recipe websites are no different. In the overwhelming number of them, some are inspiring and others are total garbage. Nothing drives me crazier than when a client gets motivated to get in the kitchen only to be deterred by a daunting number of options, sending them back to the dull baked chicken.

I’ve done my fair share of analyzing and ogling over mouthwatering recipes and pictures. Occasionally I even try them out (I’m a nutritionist, not a chef, and I have a NYC kitchen). But these are my first stops when it comes to recipe sites and blogs – and I admit it, I’m a sucker for pretty pictures.

Healthy Aperture: There are tons of foodsharing websites to “feed your eyes” (foodgawker, tastespotting, punchfork) but pictures aren’t everything; ingredients are.  Healthy Aperture is a genius idea; started by nutritionists Regan Jones and (fab WebMD blogger) Janet Helm, it takes care of the healthy criteria for you. So you can peruse and choose your next recipe based on looks — yes, be superficial, not artificial, with your food. While Healthy Aperture is picky with its content, the best part is it’s not extreme: Watermelon and Bacon Salad made the cut. Check out their recipe redux section for slimmed down versions of classic comfort foods.

My New Roots: I mentioned Sarah Britton’s blog in my post on nut butters, but there’s so much more – she’s full of simple basics with new flavors (Za’atar, anyone?) It’s all vegetarian, so I often use her dishes as sides to compliment fish or chicken. Perfect for the summertime heat: these very cool Cabbage “Earth Bowls” or Garbanzo Bean Salad with Mexican Mango Dressing.

Food 52: While not always healthy per se, food52 is a “crowd sourced cookbook.” Recipes are vetted via recipe contests. No more fingers crossed that your 4th of July pie won’t turn into a crumble – read the notes from everyone who’s cooked it, reviews, and, of course, check out their food photos. Try this healthy “community pick”: raw kale salad with lentils and sweet apricot vinaigrette.

So what are your favorite recipe websites and blogs? What kind of recipe ruts do you find yourself in? Do you get overwhelmed by options?

Photo: Fuse

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 6:42 am


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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Baby Boomer Nutrition

By Janet Helm, MS, RD

Woman Eating a Salad

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are part of the largest, best-educated, and most influential generation our country has ever seen. Boomers have driven some of the most powerful cultural shifts in our nation’s history, and that includes food.

This huge demographic is behind many of today’s food trends – everything from nutritionally enhanced foods and functional beverages to fresh local produce and artisanal foods. Nearly 80 million strong, this generation may have grown up on meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and tuna casserole, but now they’re seeking foods that can help them stay young – or at least feel young.

Even though Boomers may have traded in their Tang for orange juice fortified with ingredients that can lower their cholesterol, and ditched their beloved Pop-Tarts for high-fiber flaxseed cereal, they may be still holding on to old-fashioned diet beliefs. Just like hairstyles and wardrobes that can look like they’re frozen in time, diet mindsets may also need an update.

  • Carbs are not the enemy

Boomers lived through the Atkins era and many still suffer from carb phobia, which often makes it tough to get adequate amounts of whole grains. Rather than low carb, today’s modern-day mantra is good carb – whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.

  • Not all fat is bad

After years of stocking their kitchen with “fat-free” foods, many Boomers have a hard time embracing the notion that some fats are actually good for you. Nuts, avocados, and olives were once eschewed for their fat content, but these plant sources of monounsaturated fat have impressive cholesterol-lowering powers. Many of these good fats also provide vitamin E, an antioxidant that is good for your heart and your brain.

  • A hamburger patty with a scoop of cottage cheese is not a “diet plate.”

Still lingering on some restaurant menus, this retro meal likely provides 600 calories and almost a day’s worth of saturated fat. A better diet-friendly meal is a plate of grilled fish or skinless chicken with a small scoop of brown rice and large pile of colorful steamed vegetables. Vegetables and fruits are a dieter’s best friend because they provide fiber and water – a dynamic duo for feeling full on few calories.

  • An egg a day may be OK.

Boomers grew up fearful of eggs, but that paranoia is based on outdated science. Years ago, the advice was to avoid foods high in cholesterol if your blood cholesterol was high. But now scientists know saturated fat and trans fat have a greater impact on the cholesterol in our blood. Eggs are high in cholesterol, but they’re low in saturated fat. They also supply valuable nutrients, including lutein and zeaxanthin, that may protect against age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.

Share Your Thoughts: Did or do you believe any of these claims? How has your approach to food and eating changed over the years? Share your opinions in the comments section below:

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Janet Helm, MS, RD at 6:11 am


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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Portion Size: The New Abnormal

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

Burger and Fries

Portions have steadily increased over the last several decades, both in restaurants and at home. While the general population is aware of this, most don’t realize how this affects what we see as “normal.”

Let’s take a step back and look how much things have changed — and why it matters.

How this looks

Thanks to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we now have a good visual for how this new abnormal plays out. According to their website, the average restaurant meal is four times larger than it was in the 1950′s.

For example, a hamburger in the 50′s was 3.9 ounces, French fries 2.4 ounces, and soda 7 ounces. Today those numbers have jumped to 12 ounces (hamburger), 6.7 ounces (fries) and 42 ounces (soda).

And according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood website, a bagel has increased from a 3-inch diameter (130 calories) to 6 inches (350 calories) while a blueberry muffin has more than tripled in size from 1.5 ounces (210 calories) to 5 ounces (500 calories).

These are BIG changes!

How it affects eating

According to a 2009 review in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, people eat at least 30% more with larger portions. Frequent exposure to these bigger-than-life portions affects people’s perception as well, leading consumers to see them as an appropriate size, something health professionals call “portion distortion.”

Research done by Barbara Rolls shows that while people eat more with larger portions, they don’t report increased levels of satisfaction or fullness.

Question the need for large portions

I think everyone needs to think about how portions affect intake — and the future intake of their children. Research shows that a majority of parents encourage their young children to eat more at meals and snacks. As children age and enter the world of huge portions, this can have negative consequences.

And adults who eat until their plate is finished can rethink this strategy. A 2007 study in Obesity found that normal-weight individuals were more likely to use internal cues such as fullness to stop eating, while those at higher weights relied more on external cues.

Because feelings of satisfaction are similar, people can also question this idea that large portions provide extra value for the money. This showcases how different food is from other products we buy.

Take the quiz

Take the CDC quiz , to see just how much portions have changed through the years. I believe if more people questioned the value of large portions, split entrees at restaurants, and ordered the smallest servings, we would see some change in what (and how much) is offered.

What do you think about the portions you see while dining out? Does it affect how much you eat?

Photo: Photodisc

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 6:04 am


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Monday, June 18, 2012

7 Must-Have Foods for the Seasoned Road Warrior

By David Grotto, RD

Couple on Road Trip

Whether you’re haulin’ an 18 wheeler cross country or just the fam on a three-hour weekend getaway, having the right fuel is essential to keep your mind sharp and your vehicle on the road where it belongs. But you also don’t want to overdo the calories, especially when you aren’t burning many by watching the speedometer, gas gauge, mile markers and the kids arguing in your rearview mirror. So, what are the best foods to bring with you when you’re traveling? For this assignment, I enlisted none other than Wendy Jo Petersen, MS, RD, otherwise known as the “Fuelin Roadie” for her expert advice on the best travel grub to have on hand.

“Long nights on the road are an understatement for my clients, for musicians the van or bus rolls out around 3 a.m. and they are off to their next gig,” says Petersen. “The biggest challenge I have seen is that very little is open in the wee hours of the morning, except fast food and gas stations. Fueling up on greasy foods will leave you feeling heavy and tired during your journey. For anyone who ventures out on the road it’s essential to pack your car with the right fuel to help you get to your destination safely!”

So to help send you packing, Wendy Jo came up with a list of foods that are tasty, easy, and convenient for your traveling pleasure.

1. Nut & fruit bars make the top of the list! Before you grab any ol’bar take a peak at the ingredient list and choose ones with less than 7 ingredients. Keep the bar as simple as possible. Nuts add a little fat and protein to help tide you over and keep you satiated as you journey across the great wide open. Honey or a sweetener holds the bar together and adds just enough sweet to keep your taste buds happy. Bars also help keep your portions under control, whereas a bag of nuts and dried fruit can tempt you to keep reaching for more out of boredom, not hunger.

2. Cherries, berries, and grapes are the best finger food for the road. These bold-colored fruits curb the sweet tooth, fill you up, and are packed with antioxidants. Most foods people pack are loaded with salt and are often dried, so the freshness of fruit will make your mouth smile. Pick up what’s in season and start munching. Just be aware of how many you eat, because the fiber can send you running to nearest rest stop!  Spitting cherry seeds can really add to the entertainment on the road!

3. Nut butters can be transported squeeze packets or in small containers for personal dipping. A little crunch from carrots, celery, and apple slices act as a great delivery system for nut butters or you can simply eat them on their own. The omega-3 content in nuts will keep your mind sharp and focused on getting you where you need to go.

4. Edamame (boiled soybeans) are easy to pop open and enjoy on the road. Nutritionally loaded with fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, soybeans will keep you alert and filled up.

5. Boiled eggs are not only packed with protein, but are also a great source of Vitamin D to help keep your immune system strong! Crack and peel before you set out to keep your hands free and your eyes on the road!

6. Coffee or tea will help keep your eyes clear and mind alert with a slight boost of caffeine. No need to pick up a $4 coffee, just brew your favorite at home. A good thermos will keep your beverage hot or opt for an iced variety. These caffeinated beverages get a bad rap, but are truly much better for you than a bottled boost of energy. Before you sip too much be sure you are not too far from a rest area.

7. Kefir or yogurt drinks give you a double shot of probiotics to keep your gut happy and healthy. Many folks find themselves sick or lacking “regularity” during their travels, and a little boost of healthy bacteria delivered in a delicious lactose-free drink can be just what is needed.

Wendy also suggests stocking these essential “must haves” before you even put the car into drive:

-Thermos to keep your hot beverages smoldering

-Compact coolers that can be plugged into your adapter and keep things chill even when road rage spikes your internal temps

-Excellent tunes to keep your fingers tapping and your mind sharp

Sounds like the makings of a great trip. How do you like to fuel for the road? Any foods or beverages that you like to eat to keep you sharp on the road? Please share in the comments below.

Photo: Comstock

Posted by: David Grotto, RD, LDN at 5:46 am


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Friday, June 15, 2012


By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD


I’m a new-found smoothie addict. They’re perfect for the summer – all you really need to invest in is a blender and it feels like having softserve ice cream for breakfast (or lunch/snack or even for dinner). The best part about smoothies, nutritionally speaking: they’re an opportunity to sneak in extra boosters you might not normally go out of your way to eat.

Before we get to the smoothie basics, let’s hit the no-no’s:  there is really no reason for one to come supersized. Too much of a good thing; you may as well eat the ice cream.  Other smoothie no no’s: ice cream / fro yo, sorbets, sugar or brown sugar, fruit juice (unless it’s green juice), or granola.

Now that we know the no-no’s you can really do no wrong. Quantities are all estimates as it depends on your ideal texture, but it’s as easy as tossing it all into a blender and smoothie-ing away. So here are the smoothie basics:

* 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit: Of course fresh is ideal, but in the real world you’re pressed for time and a half a bag of frozen fruit is a lifesaver. The frozen fruit blends give you automatic variety and also replace ice.

* ½ cup liquid: Almond milk is my personal favorite, but alternatives like coconut or hemp milk, green tea or even plain ol’ water are great too.

* Protein powder: 2 scoops of an organic whey or hemp powder. Ingredients in protein powders can get lengthy and nasty so be sure to check them out. I love Tera’s Whey and SunWarrior hemp brands.

* 1-2 tbsp healthy fats: I adore chia; tossing some whole or milled chia in is a great way to up the omega 3 ante. Flax is great too, but it needs to be ground up for the health benefits (or use a tbsp. of the oil). Another option: Avocado! I’ve gotten into adding 1/3 of an avocado to my morning smoothies, it’s a great way to make them creamy.

Those are the basics, but here are a few ideas for extras to boost your smoothie

* A few handfuls of leafy greens like spinach or kale add iron and calcium – no one will taste ‘em, I swear

* A few sprigs of herbs like mint, cilantro, or basil will give your smoothie a little kick

* A tsp of spices like turmeric or cinnamon or a sliver of ginger will pump your smoothie full of antioxidants and anti inflammatories

* A splash of almond (or vanilla) extract – my sister recently introduced this to me and it’s now my essential add in!

* Sweeten things up with a few drops of stevia

Play around with different ingredients and quantities — you’re bound to end up with something delicious.

So, are you a smoothie junkie yet or are you just off to buy a blender? What’s your favorite recipe/ingredient?

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 5:51 am


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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Will Banning Super-Sized Sodas Quell Obesity?

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD


If you’ve been keeping up on health news, you know that Mayor Bloomberg is attempting to ban large-sized sodas (16 ounce or bigger) in New York City. It appears most people do not agree, with a recent survey showing two-thirds don’t support the ban.

I’m not bringing this topic up to stir the age-old debate of government’s role in food choice.  Instead, I think everyone needs to take a step back to see if tactics like this are effective in the first place.

Will these changes work?

“Taxes on unhealthy foods have been around a long time, at least 90 years,” says David Frisvold, PhD, Assistant Professor of Economics at Emory University. “And complete bans have been used in schools.”

Frisvold explains how restrictive policies can result in substitution patterns, blunting their effects. For example, when soft drinks are less accessible, people tend to substitute by consuming other high calorie beverages.

“What we found for kids is that when taxes go up kids drink less soda,” he says.  “But total calories don’t change and there is no real effects on obesity.”

He also explains that bans on sodas in schools have not resulted in less consumption, as research shows that children and adolescents simply go elsewhere to buy drinks and often have access in their own homes.

Frisvold makes the point that “single policies won’t work,” and that multiple, more broad ones (on more food items for example) have the best chances of success.  But even with that he admits that “You don’t know it will work until you try it.”

Comparing tobacco to food (apples and oranges?)

Using tobacco as a model for public policies around food doesn’t work because they are different beasts. Frisvold says, “dealing with excess of food is harder than with cigarettes where any amount is bad.”

Another key factor driving policies for cigarette smoking was the data showing negative health effects to others. The argument regarding obesity is that while it doesn’t affect the health of others, it can affect people’s wallets in the form of excess healthcare costs.

But the biggest difference may be that obesity has many influences in addition to food.  Lifestyles have changed — more stress, less sleep, less activity, and a technology boom that has kids glued to iPads, Facebook, and X-boxes. And anyone who works with individuals struggling with weight knows that no two people are alike.

For example, a 2012 study in Obesity Review looked at various studies and found only small or inconsistent evidence for a relationship between excess weight and skipping breakfast, eating frequency, snacking, irregular meals, eating away from home, consumption of fast food, and large portions and eating style.

A call for new ideas

I think we are in need of new ideas and solutions to this issue. One example is what Brian Wansink is doing with Smarter Lunchrooms, making small changes in how food is presented, resulting in better food choices for students.

Frisvold mentions government programs like Head Start having a positive impact with low-income families. And according to a 2010 article in Harvard Business Review, when done right, corporate wellness programs can have a big impact on health and productivity of employees, as well as healthcare costs to companies.

If I thought that banning large sodas would quell obesity, I would be for it.  But it’s going to take a lot more than this ban to create a culture that values health and wellbeing.

What is your take on all of this?

Photo: Polka Dot

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 6:47 am


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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why You Should Snack

By Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD

Woman Eating an Apple

Our snacking habits have taken it on the chin lately, and with good reason. We’re a nation of “serial snackers” who appear to give little thought to what we nibble between meals.

Many adults eat nearly a meal’s worth of calories from snacks every day. According to government research, snacks contribute up to 650 calories a day for men and about 465 calories a day for many women. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that most snacks are rich in added sugars and solid fats.

Kids don’t do fare much better. A recent International Quarterly of Community Health Education study found that fourth and fifth graders took in, on average, 302 calories a day from snacks such as cookies, chips, and candy.

If you’re hungry, eating between meals is fine. Here’s the problem: snacking has become synonymous with low-nutrient foods that may also contribute to weight control problems in kids and adults.

The snacking solution

When done right, snacks help fill in nutritional gaps, head off between-meal energy slumps, and help you to fuel up before exercise.

Snacking may actually lead to eating less. Research recently presented at the Canadian Nutrition Society Annual Meeting in Vancouver, B.C., found that munching on raisins increased feelings of fullness in children and prevented excessive calorie intake.

You may snack once a day or five times. No matter, as long as you maximize nutrition within your personal calorie “salary,” the number of daily calories you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight.

When you fail to tally the calories snacks supply, noshing can easily sabotage weight control efforts. Mindless munching not only risks packing on pounds, it can also produce nutrient deficiencies, especially when your meals are not balanced.

Snack on!

Snacking is here to stay, especially during the summer when we’re more often on the go. For better nutrition and easier weight control, think of snacks as mini-meals not meal wreckers, and plan snacks into your day.

Snack only when you’re hungry. “Spend” no more than about 200 calories on snacks. Always include foods with protein and fiber to keep you fuller for longer, and keeps snacks low-sugar.

The following examples fit my idea of super summer snacks:

• Hard cooked egg + 6 whole grain crackers

• KIND Nuts & Spices Bar

• 1 ½ cups edamame in the pod

• 6-ounce container of fat-free fruit Greek yogurt

• 1 ounce of pistachios in the shell

• String cheese + a peach or nectarine

• ¼ cup hummus + 10 baby carrots

• Banana Berry Smoothie: Place ½ cup fat-free milk, ½ banana, 1 cup mixed berries, and 1-2 ice cubes in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into a tall glass. Serve immediately. (Makes one serving).

Photo: Stockbyte

Posted by: Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD at 5:49 am


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Monday, June 11, 2012

Bloat Busters

By David Grotto, RD

Feeling Bloated

Fluid retention, puffiness, or bloating refers to the abnormal accumulation of fluid throughout the body. Quite often this extra fluid settles in the ankles, face, hands, legs, and abdomen. It can be caused by a whole host of reasons, including the less serious such as eating more salty foods than usual, PMS symptoms, standing or sitting for long periods of time, or sitting on a long flight. Sometimes, more serious health challenges such as thyroid disorder, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and liver disease can contribute to an abnormal amount of fluid build-up. Of course, medical attention should be sought if fluid retention is a chronic problem.

Kidneys make urine by filtering out impurities, water, sodium, and potassium from the blood. Excess water goes into the bladder as urine and most of the sodium and potassium go back into your circulatory system. When this system is impaired, diuretics, whether prescribed as a medication or purchased as a natural remedy, have the same purpose: to increase the amount of urine you excrete. You should know that any weight loss you see as a result of diuretic use will only be temporary if the reason that you are retaining fluid is not addressed. Prolonged use of any diuretics without medical supervision may lead to dehydration, which can cause kidney damage and an imbalance in the levels of electrolytes (e.g., sodium and potassium), which are vital to heart, kidney, and liver function. When electrolytes are out of balance, you’re at high risk for heart failure and sudden death. Not good!

For occasional bloating, here are some simple remedies to try:

Reduce Sodium

You may be thinking to yourself that you don’t use the salt shaker much. But sodium is so pervasive in many of the foods we eat, such as seafood, frozen and canned foods, processed meats and cheeses, and snack foods. Reducing excess sodium may be one of the best methods of reducing the bloat.

Increase Water

Everyone’s fluid needs are different so the old adage of drinking 8 glasses of water a day may not apply to you. By now, you may have heard of the ol’ pee test as a method of checking your hydration status. To check if you are adequately hydrated, your urine should be clear or straw colored without much of an odor to it. Believe it or not, the lack of fluid, especially when combined with high sodium intake, can contribute to fluid retention.

Chew on Asparagus

One cup of asparagus contains about 400 milligrams of potassium and virtually no sodium, the

primary mineral responsible for water retention. One of the side consequences of eating asparagus may be increased odor in your urine. It doesn’t happen to everyone but it is something to consider if you are planning on eating it often.


Melon is about 91% water. A cup of cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon contains 170-430 milligrams of potassium and 12-60 milligrams of Vitamin C. These three nutrients — water, potassium, and vitamin C — make melon a great natural diuretic because they encourage the right balance of electrolytes in the cells, including sodium. Some like to sprinkle a little salt on watermelon to enhance the flavor. Obviously, don’t do this if your goal is less fluid retention!

Tea  and Coffee

Some find coffee and tea helps decrease fluid build up. This is thought to be due in part to its natural caffeine content. Caffeine in a six-ounce cup of coffee can range between 72-150 milligrams, depending on the strain, blend, and roast. Interestingly, research has shown that up to 450mg of caffeine daily (about 3 cups of strongly brewed coffee) may not promote more urination, especially if you are a habitual tea and coffee drinker. Beyond that, the opposite is true. Be careful — excess caffeine may be problematic, especially if you suffer from insomnia or have caffeine sensitivity.

“Natural” diuretics also include celery, corn silk, parsley, hawthorn berry, onion, eggplant, and vitamin B6. Consult with your doctor or registered dietitian before taking herbs and\or dietary supplements to manage your bloat as they may interfere with medications. Alcohol also has a diuretic effect but is never recommended as a means to regulate fluids in your body.

Lastly, get moving! Physical activity helps the lymphatic system do its part in fluid management, too.

Do you have any tricks up your sleeves that help keep your fluids in balance? Feel free to share!


Posted by: David Grotto, RD, LDN at 12:17 pm


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Friday, June 8, 2012

Depression: Part II

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

Eating Junk Food

What we eat turns into every cell in our body, so it’s no wonder what you choose to eat directly impacts your mood, energy, and how you look. Last week I blogged about the best mood boosting foods — there’s a lot of research that shows how beneficial omega 3s, whole grains and beans, spices, and even dark chocolate can be for depression. But on the flip side are the foods that negatively affect mood and anxiety and it probably comes as no surprise these are typically the ones we reach for when bummin’. So in addition to adding in the beneficial foods, here are the ones to limit:

-       Sugar: Not only is sugar nutrient-less, constant treats like soda and candy mess with your blood sugar and hormones, then lead to that lethargic “sugar hangover” and becomes a cycle. As we say at Foodtrainers “sweet begets sweet;” the more sweet you eat, the more you crave.

-       Fake sugars, flavors, and food dyes: Those pretty pink, yellow, and blue packets of fake sugar aren’t any better. First, they desensitize you to sweetness, pushing you further into that sweet craving cycle. Even worse, remember that what you eat turns into your body’s cells – no need for artificial chemicals.

-       “White” breads/flours/pasta/baked goods and other super-processed foods: the more something is processed, the less nutrients and fiber it has. It might not taste sweet but you’re essentially eating sugar and you have the same blood sugar and hormone fluctuations.

-       Excess caffeine: one or two small cups a day has lots of health benefits, but research shows that drinking over 700 mg of caffeine (the equivelant to 4-5 cups) a day may increase depressive symptoms. Even if you’re a daily joe-drinker, excess caffeine can affect sleep quality and cause anxiety and irritability.

Over (or under) eating when things are rough is more common than not – and we all know it’s rarely about the food. I hear the phrase “eating my feelings” daily from clients. Therapy is amazing (depressed or not!) and as someone tweeted to me last week, another essential mood booster is exercise. But when all else fails, please upgrade the tub of ice cream to a bowl of popcorn and a piece of dark chocolate.

Do you notice how any of these foods impact your mood? Any others? Can you relate to “eating your feelings”?

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 6:53 am


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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Nurturing a Preschooler’s Palate

By Janet Helm, MS, RD

Child Eating Fruit

Offering healthier kids’ meals is one of the top trends identified by the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 What’s Hot Survey, an annual poll of professional chefs affiliated with the American Culinary Federation. The food service industry is dramatically changing kids’ meals and a new initiative by the NRA called Kids LiveWell is helping to spark these changes.

That’s all great, because the typical kids’ meal in this country needs an upgrade. I’m not even sure at what point kids got their own food, but that’s the situation we’re in today. In virtually all other cultures in the world, kids eat what the parents eat. Yet, American kids tend to eat a beige-colored, deep-fried diet that’s often washed down with a neon-colored sugary drink–which is certainly one reason American children are gaining weight at alarming rates. But beyond the childhood obesity threat, this modern-day kiddie meal and sweet drinks may be doing something equally insidious to young kids: deadening their developing palates.

Barb Stuckey, author of the new book “Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good,” believes we’re growing a generation of kids with flabby palates — preferring sweetness over bitterness—and that’s one reason that our physiques have become flabby. With each new overly sweet food that we consume, whether it is high in calories or not, we dull our palates to other tastes and flavors, especially those of nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Too much sweetness and not enough bitterness makes food taste flabby, she says. To help kids avoid flabby palates, Stuckey thinks we should be teaching children about taste. With palate education comes the desire for palate stimulation. If we made this part of school curriculum, she says, we’d raise kids that not only appreciate the difference between bitter and sour, salty and umami, but actually seek challenging flavors to entertain and enthrall themselves at the table.

Expanding our palates is especially important for young preschool children. You’re helping to train their tongues for a lifetime of healthy eating. Keith Ayoob, pediatric nutritionist at Albert Einstein Medical Center in New York City, says our children’s palates are being dumbed down by greasy, salty and sweet foods and drinks. Once they get used to these flavors, the taste threshold is set so high that fresh fruits aren’t sweet enough and vegetables taste too bitter, he says.

Dr. David Ludwig, a childhood obesity expert in Boston and author of “Ending the Food Fight:  Guide Your Child to a Healthy Weight in a Fast Food/Fake Food World,” worries we’re stunting children’s taste buds. He said the extra-intense artificial flavors that dominate “kid food” interfere with a child’s natural tendency to develop a broader palate. Our taste preferences, by nature, are designed to broaden over time, but we’re short-circuiting basic biological pathways and warping children’s taste buds. We’re essentially putting the brakes on children’s palates and preventing them from appreciating more natural and healthful food, he says.

So how do you raise an adventurous eater?  Here are some tips to help you develop your child’s palate.

Take control. Remember, you’re in charge here. Parents need to play an active role in shaping their young children’s food preferences, which will serve them well for life. When you shop for a preschooler, your job is not to simply buy the foods your child likes, but to teach your child to like what you buy.

Cook with your child. Never underestimate the value of getting your kids in the kitchen.  Children are much more likely to try something new if they’ve had a hand at preparing it.

Bury your own food bias. Don’t let your own food preferences keep you from introducing new vegetables or other foods to your child. If you hate broccoli or Brussels sprouts, don’t pass on that bias to your child. Continue to expose your child to new foods, even if that means you need to “put on your poker face” and take a bite yourself.

Do not automatically default to the children’s menu. Consider other options when dining out:  share your plate, request half orders, or combine an appetizer with a side dish. Check out ethnic restaurants so your child can be exposed to wide variety of flavors and textures.

Be a role model. One of the best ways to get your children to eat a diverse diet is to see you do the same. That means you may need to examine your own eating habits, which may be one of the most powerful influences of all – for better or worse.

Sit down to dinner. Scores of studies show that children who sit down to family dinners (with the TV turned off) have better diets and are less likely to be obese. Children who frequently have dinner with their families eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more milk, consume fewer fried foods, and drink fewer sodas.

Aim for progress, not perfection. Don’t feel defeated if you find yourself heading to the drive-thru or resorting to frozen nuggets. Just look for ways you can enhance those meals with more veggies and fruits and lowfat milk in place of sugary drinks. Keep introducing new foods – it may take multiple attempts, so don’t give up.

Photo: Stockbyte

Posted by: Janet Helm, MS, RD at 12:02 pm


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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

5 Barriers to Mindful Eating

By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD


I am a big fan of a mindful eating approach. One in which you listen to feelings of hunger and fullness, detach from outside messages about food, and give food your full attention while eating. But after finishing the writing of my first book, I experienced barriers that encouraged the opposite: mindless eating.

I think this happens to a lot of people — they try to eat mindfully only to find it doesn’t pan out. Instead of blaming the approach, you might want to consider the barriers that can get in the way.

1. Too Much Stress: A little stress is good, but when it gets to be too much, it can impact how we eat. As I’ve written before, stress is associated with excess weight. For me, the intense stress I was feeling was short term, and I knew that once I turned in the manuscript I could get back to the way things were. But I found myself rushing through meals and eating to distract myself from all I had to do.

Short-term stressors probably have few long-term effects. But when the stress is chronic, it’s important to consider changing the stressful circumstances or finding a more effective way to deal with them.

2. Lack of Sleep: Stress and lack of sleep usually go hand in hand. It may be that we take more time to relax at night by staying up late or work into the night to get more done. Because I was getting up each morning at 4:30 a.m. to write, I was getting less sleep than usual. And towards the end I was staying up late and getting up early.

Research shows that lack of sleep increases hunger hormones, causing increased hunger and eating. This is what I found over the last couple of months: I always felt hungry. It was hard to for me to satisfy my appetite because it was out of whack.

3. Dichotomous Thinking: This is a term researchers use for looking at the world as black or white. When it comes to food, many look at eating as all or nothing (good/bad, healthy/unhealthy). I’m grateful I dropped this thinking years ago —otherwise I’m sure I would have gained excess weight during this time.

The problem with dichotomous thinking about food is that it can cause people to eat more than they otherwise would, something I call the “excuse-to-eat syndrome.” For example, a 2002 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found those who anticipated future dieting ate more than those who didn’t. Taking the judgment out of food is key to avoiding the binge, restrict, binge cycle discussed in books like Michelle May’s Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

4. Strict Rules: Someone recently told me a mindful eating approach didn’t work for them because they couldn’t follow the “eat only when hungry” rule. I understand this because whenever we adopt strict rules with eating, it’s human nature to want to break them. At first these rules empower, but then they tend to backfire because of their inflexibility.

It’s important to remember that being mindful is not about what you do, it’s about being aware during the process of eating so you can make the best decisions.

5. Skipping Meals: It’s tough to stay mindful when you don’t manage hunger well and find yourself famished or not hungry for meals. This can happen when people skip meals, graze on food, or make feeding themselves a low priority. I noticed this happened when I didn’t plan meals and ended up grabbing the lame sandwich for lunch instead of the satisfying lunch I’m used to (sandwich, salad, and fruit).

It’s only been three days since I turned in my manuscript, but I already feel a world of difference. I’m well rested, have my meals planned for the week, and don’t feel constant hunger. Maybe the secret to mindful eating is putting yourself (and food!) at the top of the priority list (at least most of the time).

Do you follow a mindful eating approach? If not, what gets in your way?

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD at 5:51 am


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