Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Baby is Here!

I am proud to announce the birth of our son, Robert Austin. He was born October 19, 2009, at 2:03 AM, 7 pounds, 2 ounces and 22 inches.

This is our first child and the first grandchild for both of our parents. Because my world has been turned upside down, but for a wonderful reason, I will be taking a "maternity leave" from blogging for the next couple of months.

Food Chat will return shortly with more commentary and news on nutrition and exercise. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Do you have food rules?

Diet lunch 1
Michael Pollan’s New York Times article Rules to Eat By stirred up quite a bit of controversy, looking at the 790 and counting comments posted on Tara Parker-Pope’s blog post about the article.  His article bashes Splenda with fiber, questions Froot Loops receiving a Smart Choices check mark, and second-guesses science that made us switch from good old butter to trans-fat-laden margarine.

According to Pollan, it is difficult for us to rely on marketers, the government and even nutritionists to help us make the right choices with food. I have to admit, I agree with him in some cases.  So what helps us get through this? Food rules, or according to Pollan:  “rules of thumb about eating that have been passed down in our families or plucked from the cultural conversation.”

Do you have any food rules? Although I do not believe in placing rules on eating habits, such as restriction or labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, I do believe in some food rules. For instance, a vegetarian’s rule to not eat meat. Or a diabetic’s rule to watch his refined carbohydrate intake to keep his blood sugar stable. 
I have a food rule that gets me into trouble at times:
Do not eat when you do not feel like eating or care for the food placed in front of you.
Here are two examples: 

There is a lunch being catered at my job. But I have already packed a healthy lunch that I was truly looking forward to eating. Everyone wants me to join them at lunch and I do, but I opt to eat my brown-bag lunch. Everyone says “I’m on a diet” or makes some comment about me being a dietitian.  No, I’m not on a diet and dietitians eat crap too!  I just truly didn’t want those wraps and cookies and was looking forward to my awesome leftovers from last night’s dinner.

On the flip side, let’s say I packed a pretty gross lunch and really wanted the catered food instead. But I have this silly rule that the catered food is “bad”. If this were the case, this would be restriction. This is not a good way to build harmony with food and a poor use of a food rule. 

Dessert. I love dessert. But sometimes at a party, family gathering, or restaurant, the huge meal I just ate was enough to fill my bursting stomach with little room for dessert. Sometimes I just need a couple of hours and then I’m looking for something sweet. Other times I just truly do not want dessert. I have found some people take this personally if it is their own dessert I am refusing. In restaurant situations, I think people secretly get angry that they are eating dessert but I opted not to. Whatever the case, you should never eat for the sake of pleasing other people!

Another dessert one is cake at the workplace. Years ago at a former job I swear every week we were celebrating someone’s birthday with cake. I am not a big fan of the typical bakery, butter cream birthday cake. And when there is a constant abundance of cake in the middle of the day, I just don’t want it.  People don’t understand that you truly don’t like or want these foods and think you are on a diet or you are being “good”.

I like wine, beer and a great cosmopolitan. But if I’m out with someone who does not drink, I don’t say “C’mon, you don’t want a rum and coke?”  I leave the person alone. 

What food rules do you have that others may not approve of? Send a comment, I’d love to hear!

Image from: www.istockphoto.com

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Does eating at night make your butt grow?

7 o clock Some think they cannot eat anything past 6 or 7 PM if they want to lose weight. If that strategy works for an individual, great. But what if you want a snack at 8 PM? Or what if your job makes it virtually impossible to eat dinner before 8:30 PM? Are you doomed to be fat for the rest of your life?

The answer is: NO. You can eat past 7 PM and still meet your weight loss (or maintenance) goals. When it comes to eating at night, each individual needs to look at their own diet with a magnifying glass.

Are you eating enough during the day? If you are skipping meals and/or snacks throughout the day, chances are you will come home starving and rifle endlessly through the kitchen. Before you know it, you have had dinner and a barrage of ongoing snacks all night long.

Are you staying up too late? The longer you stay up and the more tired you are, the more inclined you will be to eat. When we are tired, our bodies are zapped of energy. What your body needs at this time is sleep. The longer you stay up, the more your body will crave energy in the form of food, especially carbohydrates.

What if I eat dinner at 8 PM? If you eat regular, healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, plan ahead for dinner. Make your heavier meal earlier in the day. For dinner, go light with a lean protein (chicken, fish, beans) and some vegetables.  Try not to make your heaviest meal at dinner when you may be going to bed in two or three hours. But by no means do you need to skip dinner.

Forego the nightly snack? I eat a snack every night after dinner.  If a snack is around 200 calories or less and fits into regular, healthy eating throughout the day, this should not cause weight gain. The trouble with nightly snacks is when you are “grazing” all night long.  A few cookies, followed by some pretzels, then a couple handfuls of nuts - before you know it, your nightly snack could be upwards of 500 calories or more. That is not a snack. It’s a meal!

EXERCISE, silly! And as I always say, exercise will be your best weapon in the battle of the bulge. If you are not moving your butt, you are not burning calories. Why scrutinize every little thing you put in your mouth and at what time you ate this or that? Get to the gym or go speed walking outside. This will help make all the difference in the world.

For more great tips and insights to night time eating, check out Diet Truth or Myth: Eating at Night Causes Weight Gain.


Image from www.istockphoto.com

Thursday, October 8, 2009

These days, food is poison

By Alison
fruits and veggies Food is nourishing. It is preventive medicine.  It is fuel for our bodies.  Food makes us happy. It is social and defines culture. 

But these days, food is also deadly.  There is mercury in fish, BPA in water bottles, artery-clogging trans fats in baked goods, sodium-laden foods sending our blood pressure through the roof, and sugar rotting our teeth and making us a nation of energy-zapped zombies.  Maybe we should all stop eating. 

Two articles came out recently to cause more fear over what we eat.  The first, 7 Foods That Should Never Cross Your Lips, from Prevention magazine lists canned tomatoes, corn-fed beef, microwave popcorn, non-organic potatoes, farmed salmon, milk produced with artificial hormones and conventional apples as the deadly seven. The second, Where’s the Beef? 10 Unexpectedly Risky Foods (ABC News), is one of many recent articles based on a report released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on the ten riskiest foods regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). 

Prevention magazine’s article mentions so-called “risky” foods I have heard before, such as apples and milk produced with artificial hormones.  In recent years, peppers and apples being high on the pesticide hit-list. There has been a good amount of evidence to back up these claims, so I switched to organic apples. Organic apples are easy to find and in many cases, taste better. Organic peppers on the other hand are not an easy find, at least in my neck of the woods, and can be extremely pricey.

Canned tomatoes were also listed in Prevention’s article. I am a tomato connoisseur and will eat them from a garden, jar of salsa, or from a can. I always use canned tomatoes to zest up my meals. The article claims there is bisphenol-A (BPA) lining the tin cans, and that acid from tomatoes will cause BPA to leach out into the food. I am not 100% sold on this one yet, especially in light of some recent research that the latest BPA studies may have been flawed.

The list of the ten riskiest foods regulated by the FDA may confuse some:
  1. Leafy Greens
  2. Eggs
  3. Tuna
  4. Oysters
  5. Potatoes
  6. Cheese
  7. Ice Cream
  8. Tomatoes
  9. Sprouts
  10. Berries
Leafy greens are a greater risk than beef?  Please keep in mind that this is a list of the riskiest foods regulated by the FDA. The FDA regulates produce, seafood, shell eggs and dairy products.  The FDA does not regulate beef. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates meat and poultry, therefore you will not find ground beef or deli meats on this list. 

It is important for the public to be educated on food safety. However, many times news like this can scare people into avoiding foods that are very healthy, such as leafy greens, apples, fish and tomatoes to name a few.  Is it a better choice to start eating less healthy, packaged foods as an alternative? 

My advice is to not fall off the deep end every time reports like these come out.  If you hear of a food repeatedly causing health concerns, then you may want consider your alternatives. For instance, is an organic apple or organic milk a better choice for you? 

Here are some great websites to check into the latest on food safety issues.  Remember, some have strong opinions in one direction so it is important you keep an open mind and form your own opinion: 

Food Navigator – Science & Nutrition headlines
Food Safety News

Image from: www.istockphoto.com

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nagging food cravings during pregnancy

By Alison
Pregnant woman in kitchen eating a salad smiling Check out my article, Smart Food Strategies for Pregnancy, live online today at a fabulous website, Skinny and the City.  The article briefly reviews some theories on why pregnant women crave certain foods, plus offers tips on how to save yourself from eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s.  These tips are from me, a registered dietitian in her ninth month of pregnancy who struggles with an ice cream addiction every day!
Skinny and the City is a website run by Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, author of The F-Factor Diet: Discover the Secret to Permanent Weight Loss, and a team of registered dietitians.  The website gives readers “The Skinny” on the latest diet trends, including scrumptious recipe ideas, beauty and fashion advice, restaurant reviews and guides, and general nutrition information.  Check out the website for the latest information related to weight loss and healthy eating by qualified nutrition experts – registered dietitians!

Image source: http://www.skinnyandthecity.com/tanyas-tips/main/

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You must move your butt

By Alison
I have heard every excuse in the book. “I have no time,” is the number one excuse I hear when it comes to exercise. Another big excuse is “I’m too tired”.
Treadmill I found this great article in the Chicago Tribune: Exercise vs. counting calories as weight-loss strategy (September 28, 2009).  The title is a bit misleading, because as the article reports, you must have a well-balanced diet and exercise in order to lose weight.  It’s not really a one-or-the-other choice.

Can you lose weight cutting calories alone? Sure you can. But you will also lose muscle mass, and this will not help your metabolism at all. We all lose muscle as we age. Muscle is a highly metabolic tissue that keeps our metabolism moving. The more we lose, the more sluggish our metabolism becomes, and this means burning less calories during activity and rest.
When you tell yourself you have no time for exercise, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What can you do to find time?
  • Wake up 30-60 minutes earlier and try morning workouts. Getting exercise over first thing in the morning means you’ve accomplished one very important thing for the day.
  • Find a gym near your job and workout during a lunch break.
  • Take inventory of how much time you may waste during the day on activities such as surfing the net, watching TV, even doing household chores.
  • If your to-do list is too long, cut one thing out to give yourself one hour for a workout.
  • Moms: schedule a babysitter so you can workout. Buy a baby jogger and bring your little one on a speed walk or jog with you! Find a gym that offers babysitting – then actually use your membership.
Are you too tired? Exercise will help give you energy. It may be tough at first, but after a few weeks, you will begin to feel energized and fall into a routine. Fatigue can sometimes be what my father calls a “false tiredness”. If you worked all day long, you may be mentally or physically exhausted, or both. Here’s some tips on beating fatigue and getting your butt to the gym:
  • If you are trying to workout in the early morning, make sure you are getting to bed early enough. Allow for 7-8 hours of sleep.  Give yourself a few weeks to adjust to your alarm going off at 4 or 5 AM before giving up.
  • For after-work workouts, pack your gym bag and leave it in your car. Go straight to the gym after work.  If you are going for a speed walk or jog outside, change into your running clothes as soon as you get home. Do not sit on the couch, check your mail, make a snack… all of these things could easily suck you in to “feeling tired” and talk you out of working out.
  • Eat properly.  If you are packing in high sugar foods all day long, these will leave you feeling lethargic at the end of the day. Try eating lean protein, high fiber and heart-healthy sources of fats in meals and snacks every 3-4 hours.
Do not fool yourself into thinking that cutting calories and following fad diets will be the solution to your weight loss problems. Exercise will not only aid in your weight loss efforts, but will help you to maintain weight loss. It is what helped me to lose 30 pounds ten years ago and never gain an ounce of it back.

On the flip side, do not kid yourself thinking that regular exercise is a license to eat however you please.  Yes, routine moderate and strenuous exercise does allow room for fun treats like a pint of beer and a burger.  But if your diet is consistently high in sugar and saturated fat, exercise alone will not help with a weight problem.

Bottom line: the more excuses you make, the more you will believe them, the less you will move, and the higher the scale will climb. 

Now get going!

 Image from: www.istockphoto.com

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting calcium can be easier than you think

By Alison

Calcium is not just for women suffering from bone loss. It's a mineral we all need, no matter what our gender or age. We learn at a young age the importance of calcium in bone and teeth development. But did you know it also helps in muscle contraction, blood clotting, protects against high blood pressure and may aid in the prevention of high blood cholesterol, diabetes, colon cancer and obesity?

The article How to Boost Your Calcium, from Julie's Health Club (Chicago Tribune, 9/25), offers a snapshot on how much calcium your body needs, food sources, and what the deal is with calcium supplements. The article is geared toward a woman looking to prevent bone loss, but much of the information is applicable to all of us.

To elaborate on the article, healthy men and women age 19-50 years old need approximately 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Men and women age 51-70 years old need approximately 1,200 mg per day.

How can you reach 1,000 mg per day?
  • One 8 oz glass of low-fat milk split in your cereal and morning coffee = 300 mg
  • One 8 oz low-fat yogurt as a morning snack = 300 mg
  • One slice of mozzarella cheese on your sandwich = 184 mg
  • One cup (8 fl. oz.) low-fat frozen yogurt for dessert = 200 mg
  • One cup cooked broccoli at dinner = 94 mg
Even vegetarians can find sources of calcium in vegetables, fruits like oranges, soy milk, blackstrap molasses and tofu.

It is best to get your calcium from low-fat, healthy foods like those mentioned above and in the article. If for some reason you cannot meet your calcium needs through food, then supplements may be a wise choice. Read more about what to look for when choosing calcium supplements here.

Image from: www.istockphoto.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chowing down to chase the flu

By Alison

The H1N1 virus is turning everyone into a germaphobe. Antibacterial products are flying off the shelves. Food companies will no doubt jump on the bandwagon and play into our fears with ads promising immune-boosting yogurt drinks and supplements hold the key to flu prevention.

The article, Foods Won't Give Your Immune System an Anti-Flu Boost (Washington Post, 9/22/09), sums up nicely how eating healthy foods in moderation may help in flu prevention, but overdosing on any of these immune-boosting foods won't really help. The major keys to flu prevention are frequent hand-washing, getting enough sleep, and adding nutrients with known immune-boosting properties moderately into your diet. In other words, don't start stockpiling any one food in hopes to prevent the flu.

When it comes to food and immunity, the key is to include a sampling of foods that contain micronutrients known to help with immunity. These include the antioxidants Vitamin E, C, and beta carotene; the minerals selenium and zinc; Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. Here's a quick list as an example:

Vitamin E: vegetable oils, wheat germ oil, fortified cereals, green leafy veggies, nuts, beans, and whole grains.

Vitamin C: red bell peppers, kiwi, oranges, broccoli, strawberries, tomato juice, watermelon, potatoes, bananas, and carrots.

Beta Carotene: Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Selenium: Meat, chicken, seafood, fish, eggs, Brazil nuts, grains, garlic, and mushrooms.

Zinc: Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, milk products, whole grains, fortified cereal, and legumes.

Vitamin D (the "sunshine" vitamin): fatty fish including salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel; milk and some breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin D; egg yolk, beef liver and Swiss cheese.

Omega 3 fatty acids: fatty fish including mackerel, sardines, salmon and herring; yogurts, bread, eggs and other foods fortified with omega 3 fatty acids; soy and tofu; almonds, walnuts, pine nuts and flax seed; oils including flax seed oil, canola, and soybean oil.
Do not be fooled into into buying a case of immunity-boosting yogurt drinks or obsessively popping echinacea. Scan the list above and include some of these foods into your daily diet. Always go for fresh, whole foods first before considering processed foods that claim to be enhanced with any of these nutrients.

Stay well!

Antioxidants and your immune system: super foods for optimal health. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/antioxidants-your-immune-system-super-foods-optimal-health

Nutrition 101
. Retrieved from http://www.healthcastle.com/nutrition101basics.shtml

Tsang, G (2007, May). Health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Retrieved from http://www.healthcastle.com/omega3.shtml

Image: www.istockphoto.com

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Macaroni Grill working to save your waistline

By Alison

Restaurants are trying to appear more responsible when it comes to obesity prevention. Many states are requiring by law that chain restaurants post nutrition information visibly. This way when you are trying to be healthy choosing a lunch salad, you may find out your salad choice packs a whopping 1,000 calories. Not a waist-watcher after all.

From a business perspective, restaurants introducing healthier alternatives could be a death sentence in terms of sales. Most people want to indulge when they go out, even if that means ingesting 1,800 calories in one meal alone. A "healthy fare" section on a menu may make a dieter feel deprived and restricted, causing him to rebel and glance over at the fat- and calorie-laden menu options.

Despite the unsure business move of healthier menus, Macaroni Grill has recently made headlines as it ventures to decrease portion sizes and remove some gut-busting entrees from the menu. According to a recent article, Macaroni Grill's Order: Cut Calories, Keep Customers (Wall Street Journal), Macaroni Grill's chicken and artichoke sandwich was described as having "the calorie equivalent of 16 Fudgesicles" on the Today Show. A January issue of Men's Health magazine revealed the restaurant's ravioli dessert has a whopping 1,630 calories. Macaroni Grill responded by removing the ravioli dessert from its menu and reformulating the chicken sandwich.

The restaurant's plan is to create a menu offering Mediterranean-Italian cuisine. This menu will feature the key ingredients of a Mediterranean diet including leaner cuts of meat, seafood and extra virgin olive oil, according to Macaroni Grill's Chief Executive Brad Blum. Macaroni Grill's first change was to its tomato bruschetta, using less olive oil, thus cutting its calories by 36%. The cost of this dish also decreased from $6.40 to $5.99, making it a better choice overall for diners.

Still, the tomato bruschetta appetizer has 630 calories. Even if you split this with friend, you are eating 315 calories before you get to the main meal. It's a better choice than the tapenade trio, 940 calories, or the calamari fritti, 960 calories. Yet the best appetizer choices are the new roasted vegetables or the mozzarella alla caprese, both 330 calories. To find more nutritional information, visit Macaroni Grill's website.

Restaurants need to keep pursuing healthy options that will both please diners and drive sales. There are alternatives to tampering with tried and true recipes diners have come to love. Perhaps some restaurants can add icons next to heavier entrees that can be shared by 2-3 people. Or restaurants can offer a small dinner portion and package the rest for take-home leftovers. This way there is no sacrifice in taste or the amount of food, so diners will not feel cheated while reaping the benefits of eating less.

Menus can also post substitutions that would make a dish less calorie-dense. For instance, instead of having a pasta dish with sausage and a cream sauce, try the pasta tossed with veggies and marinara sauce. These are suggestions diners can make on their own, but if restaurants take part in educating and offering these ideas on the menu, diners may be more apt to take part.

Healthy Foods 101: Apples

By Alison

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year. Every October, my husband and I venture to New Paltz, NY, and pick tons of crisp, juicy apples. The next few days are spent making apple crisp, apple sauce, and snacking on apples with peanut butter.

Read my Examiner.com article, Healthy Foods 101: Apples, and find out why apples are not only great-tasting, but a superb, all-natural health food.

Happy crunching!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Seafood confusion

By Alison

fish dinner image Seafood is probably one of the most confusing foods out there right now. One day the news boasts all of the benefits fish can offer. Then the news warns that certain types are being fished so heavily that they are on the verge of extinction. Not to mention the toxins associated with fish, mercury being the worst offender.

First the good news. Seafood absolutely is good for you. It is a lean source of protein, making it a great choice over fatty cuts of red meat, dark meat chicken or turkey, and processed meats like hot dogs. It is rich in the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are the goodies we seek out when taking fish oil capsules. They help to decrease triglycerides, blood pressure, and reduce inflammation, thus leading to a decrease in heart disease.

The health benefits of eating fish two or more times per week far outweigh the risks. When cooking fish, remember that fish loses most of its health appeal once it is deep fried, as in fish ‘n chips. Avoid cream sauces and butter, and try to stick with healthy toppings like olive oil and lemon, hummus, herbs and seasonings.

Educate yourself on the fish that are highest in mercury. Think large and predator-type fish when it comes to high mercury levels. These include swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel. Tuna is another high mercury fish, but this does not mean you should avoid it completely. Try chunk light tuna for a lower-mercury option.

This is a great website to calculate your intake of mercury:

Sea Turtle Restoration Project : Got Mercury? Enter your body weight, the type of fish you plan to eat, amount you will eat in a week and it will generate a mercury exposure percentage, based on EPA and FDA data.

The other problem with fish is one of environmental concern. The large, predator fish that pose a mercury threat are also victims of near extinction. There are many tasty fish out there that are harvested in an eco-friendly manner. The September 2009 issue of Environmental Nutrition published a great chart listing fish to avoid, or eat sparingly, and fish to include in your diet.

Eat these fish

These fish are low in mercury, eco-friendly and provide a good source of omega-3s (from Environmental Nutrition):

Arctic Char
Barramundi, U.S. farmed
Catfish, U.S.
Clams, farmed
Cod, Pacific
Crab, Dungeness
Oysters, farmed
Pollock, Alaska wild
Salmon, Alaska wild
Sardines, Pacific, U.S.
Scallops, bay, Farmed
Shrimp, Pink, Oregon
Striped Bass, farmed
Tilapia, U.S. farmed
Trout, Rainbow, U.S. farmed

Avoid these fish

These fish are either high in toxins and/or overfished to the point of near extinction (from Environmental Nutrition):

Chilean Sea Bass
Cod, Atlantic
Crab, King
Flounder, Sole, Atlantic
Halibut, Atlantic
Lobster, spiny, Caribbean
Mahi mahi, imported
Orange Roughy
Rockfish, Pacific (trawled)
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed
Shrimp, imported farmed or wild
Swordfish, imported
Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic)
Tuna, bigeye/yellowfin (imported)
Tuna, bluefin
Yellowtail, farmed Australian or Japan.

When it comes to mercury levels, some populations need to pay more attention than others. Pregnant women, women who are nursing, and young children should try their best to avoid eating high mercury fish on a regular basis. See the post Eating for Two? for more information on eating fish while pregnant.

Note: Environmental Nutrition notes that not all fish were included on either of these lists. More fish selection recommendations can be found at www.EnvironmentalDefenseFund.org.


Palmer, S. (2009, September). The Best Catch of the Day: EN’s Guide to Eco-friendly, Healthy and Safe Fish. Environmental Nutrition, 32(9), Retrieved from http://www.environmentalnutrition.com/issues/32_9/features/151902-1.html

Got Mercury? http://www.gotmercury.org/article.php?list=type&type=75

Image from: www.istockphoto.com