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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sweets for the Sweet: Choose Wisely

We are a country of sweet-tooth addicts.  Notice that I didn't say "sugar-addicts"?  There's much more to the story than just table sugar.  It's true that sugar is very prevalent in our current food supply of processed, packaged food-like substances.  However, sweeteners of all kinds may be just as much to blame.  

The size and extent of the sweetener aisle in the grocery store says it all.

Artificial sweeteners may be more of a diet de-railer than other sweeteners since they trigger  the sweet-reward center of the brain more than natural sweeteners. Drinking diet may actually amp up your brain's sweet tooth and cause you to get caught up in the unhealthy loop of more and more craving. 

Is there any cure?  You bet!  We can all retrain our tastebuds.  After 2 weeks of cutting down the amount of sweet foods you eat you'll start to notice that you are more content with less sweetness.   A few months will turn that into a habit, and soon you'll lose the desire for overly sweet treats altogether.  

Case-in-point: my nephew could down soda, candy and other sweet things with the best of his teenage peers, but after spending 2 years in Ghana and consuming essentially no added sugars, he lost his taste for sweet.  Just prior to returning home, he was served pancakes with syrup and had a hard time choking it down because it was sickeningly sweet to him.  

Do we all need to remove sweeteners altogether from out diets?  No - which is good news since apart from moving to Africa or some other low-sugar country, it would be very difficult.  The take home message is this: Don't miss the forest for the trees.  The forest - or the big picture - is our out-of-control sweet tooth and the trees are the sweeteners.  Moderation, moderation, moderation.  

  • Enjoy nature's dessert (fruit) more often
  • Don't drink sweet 
  • Enjoy sweet treats on an occasional basis.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beauty of a Brown Bag

I know, this is hardly high art, but I think it's beautiful nonetheless. Here's 5 reasons why I think so:
  1. Simplicity. Mine had a pb&j, clementines, grapes, carrot sticks and snap peas. Ok, in the spirit of full disclosure I did include a little dark chocolate. 
  2. Time. It takes about 5 minutes at most to pack a stellar sack lunch. You don't have to wait in line, wait for a server or any other time-wasting activity. You haveore time to enjoy your food in a leisurely fashion, allowing your body time to savor, digest and register fullness. 
  3. Money. You can easily save $2,000 per year by packing a lunch instead of eating out. I don't know about you, but there's lots of ways I'd rather spend 2 grand than on extra sodium, calories and styrofoam containers. 
  4. Balance. Assuming you don't stuff yor bag with chips, cookies, crackers and candy bars, your bound to end up with a more nutritionally balanced lunch than you would probably end up with from takeout. 
  5. Freedom. Have bag will travel - literally. You are free to eat lunch anywhere. You're welcome to stray from the cafeteria, desk or drive-thru. In fact, think about all the relaxation and stress reduction that awaits you when you take that bag out in the fresh air of the outdoors. 

So there you have my top 5 reasons I think a crumpled up lunch bag on a park bench is a beautiful thing - that, and the fact that I got to brown-bag it with my daughter on the last field trip of her elementary school career. After drinking it in, I highly recommend packing a beautiful brown-bag lunch break. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Healthy Food Relationships: Food & Emotion vs. Emotional Eating

Food at it's most basic level is fuel, but that one statement fails to capture all of the roles that food fills, and in my informed opinion, is designed to fill.  Food is culture and history and pleasure.  Right now you may be asking yourself, "wait a second, this is starting to sound a lot like emotional eating and that is a fate worse than death, right?"  Don't get your turnip greens in a twist just yet.  Most of us understand that there are dangers associated with emotional eating.  However, emotional eating is distinct and separate from evoking emotion with food. Let's differentiate between emotional eating and evoking emotion with food:

Emotional Eating:

With emotional eating, healthy coping skills are lacking and food is used as an emotional salve, emotional numbing agent, or even a substitute therapist. Often food is consumed in inappropriate quantities in a mindless matter - for example, after a particularly stressful and emotional day, plopping down on the couch and 30 minutes later noticing the pint of ice cream is empty and you still have to check the label to see just what flavor it was.  Food should not be used as a mindless method of drowning your sorrows or emotions.  Yes, that behavior is unhealthy and negative and ok, I'll just come right out and say it: bad!

Evoking Emotion with Food:

There’s nothing wrong with sharing a romantic dessert of heart-shaped, chocolate-dipped strawberries with a loved one.  Food that makes you smile and pay more attention to the eating experience is actually a healthful, connected way to eat.  This ties you to traditions, to memories of family and often strengthens your relationship with others as well as your own identity of self.  
Evoking emotions with food is a hallmark of good culinary culmination.  Chicken soup that is so hearty and soothing it transports you back in time to your grandma's kitchen, or eating a salad of heirloom tomatoes that have such vibrant flavor it takes you back to a warm August afternoon are just a few examples.  Food nourishes us in many ways, and nutritionally is just one.  Food also nourishes and sustains us in cultural, familial and historical ways.  There is a distinct difference between manipulating behavior with food restrictions or rewards and showing someone how much you care by preparing them a special meal.  So don't be afraid to communicate some emotion with food whether it be a love note cooked into a pancake, or passing on a favorite recipe to a friend. 

Keep in mind that our bodies are designed to absorb and utilize more vitamins and minerals from food that is appealing and appetizing to us.  So there is design connection in our physiology that links our emotional and nutritional health together. In fact, the more we accept this connection, the less we will be tempted to abuse food with unhealthy, disconnected, emotional eating.   
Couldn't say it better myself Louise!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fast, Cheap & Easy: A Sad Summary of Our Food Culture


Americans spend just over an hour a day eating.  Comparing this to the average time spent eating of 34 other western countries at 1 hour and 40 minutes, it should come as no surprise that our obesity rate is double theirs and the highest in the world. 

The magic ingredient we are missing is time.  


Americans spend less of their income on food than any other country in the world.  In America, 6.4% of our consumer expenditures are spent on food.  In India, where food is the cheapest on the planet,  25% of their expenditures are spent on food.  Even in high-income countries like Sweden spend 11% on food. Lingering over food is not an American hallmark, and quite possible that fact may be one of the most significant pitfalls when it comes to our health.  


It should come as no surprise that Americans consume more fast food than any other nation in the world.  Over the past century, the percentage of meals eaten at home compared to eaten out (away from home) has plummeted from 90% to 50%.  Drive-thru and convenience, pre-packaged, processed meals have become the rule not the exception.

So it should come as no surprise that:
  • Our obesity rate is double that of these countries.  
  • 53 diseases are related to obesity.
  • The US spends $3.8 trillion on health care.  (That number is so large the zeros don't fit!)
  • That's about $11,000 per person per year is spent on health care. 

Perhaps we should take "cheap" out of our identity label.  The cost of a dollar menu habit is clearly more than it appears.  

If fast, cheap and easy sums up our eating and food culture, I dare say the adage: "you are what you eat" fits us painfully well.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Don't know how to eat healthy? Nonsense!

"I just don't know how to eat healthy", "I don't know what to eat anymore" and  "I don't know what foods I should be eating" are some of the most common comments I hear as a dietitian.  With the exception of a few individuals with very specific disease conditions, my response is "Nonsense!"  Ok, so what actually comes out of my mouth is generally softer and couched in more diplomatic verbiage, but let's face it - in my head I'm shouting "Nonsense!"
If groundhogs can figure out how to eat, we must be able to!
How do you think humans survived and thrived for millennia?  More to the point, how do you think your ancestors survived 100 years ago?
Eating is an intuitive action that we unfortunately un-learn as we grow up.
You may be saying in your head, "yeah, but they didn't have all this fast food and packaged, marketed-out-the-ying-yang foodstuffs."  At which point, a lightbulb should go on inside or possibly above your head.  Listen to yourself.  Listen to your body.  What is real food?  What truly nourishes?  In case the lightbulb inside your head didn't fully clarify, let me sum up:
  • Eat lots of produce.  Fruits and veggies of all kinds - fresh, frozen and canned should make up half of every meal (and snack) you consume.  
  • Balance the rest of your plate with more whole grains than refined ones.
  • Cook and prepare your meals.  Restaurants and remade/convenience foods should be a once-in-a-while, occasional thing.
  • Drink lots of water.  As a rule, don't drink your calories.
  • Move your body.  Regular, varied physical activity helps to balance your appetite and metabolism.  
  • Listen to your body.  Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full.  If you're not truly hungry, don't eat - do something else.  Slow down and give your body time to send it's fullness signals and then heed them by stopping eating.  Don't depend on portions in packaged foods or portions at restaurants.  
Healthy eating isn't rocket science, but as you relearn nutritious eating, you may need some reminders along the way.
Notice anything new or earth-shattering?  Nope.  See I told you that you know how to eat.  To quote the movie Princess Bride, "Anyone who says differently is selling something."  Truer words were never spoken.  I've said for a long time that guilt and fear sells, but I think I'll have to add confusion to that list as well.  

Why see an RDN?

Ok, so I just posted that you already know how to eat (see Nonsense post).  You may be thinking, "hmmm, interesting business strategy here - she just convinced everyone they already know how to eat so why would we ever need her services?"  Well, the fact remains that most of you probably do, and I'll give you my top 5 list of:

Why does one need the expert services of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?  
  1. Recognition - Being so close to a situation sometimes blinds us from the realities.  You may not always recognize the eating, shopping and physical activity (or lack thereof) behaviors that are a part of your life and routine.
  2. Clarification/Information - RDNs can explain nuances, the why's and wherefores when it comes to how to select and prepare food to maximize nutrition.  
  3. Direction - Menu planning, grocery shopping, restaurant navigation and multiple other helpful skills and strategies may be challenging for some, and downright foreign to others.  RDNs help you find the resources you need to succeed in the skills of "relearning" how to eat.
  4. Accountability - Few things make us focus more than being accountable to a third party.
  5. Recollection/Repetition - Remembering and repeating and such keys to long term learning and behavior change.  Goals aren't achieved overnight and lifestyles aren't altered quickly.  Being able to check-in, get reassurance and motivation from an expert throughout the process is invaluable.  
A dietitian's services can be invaluable when it comes to relearning healthy eating habits.

So when you're fed up with all the nutrition mumbo-jumbo out there and ready to step off of the diet-industry's marketing-merry-go-round, give me a call, or text, or email, or tweet, or . . . you get the idea.  Information on my Pricing and Services

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Food is more than nutrients, it's family, culture and love

Extended family crowding into grandma's family room after a potluck meal to sing happy birthday to (fill-i one of many family member's names), and after the candles are blown out, what will be carved up and served to all and sundry?  Carrot cake.  My husband's family has a strong carrot cake culture that I first observed while I was dating my future spouse.  Family gatherings always meant grandma's signature (and uniquely moist and delicious) carrot cake.  And yes, (with a somewhat cruel smirk on my face) I'm going to make your mouth water over this delectable sheet cake frosted with cream cheese frosting that creates heaven in a sheet pan . . . but no, I'm not going to divulge the recipe.  Food is certainly a method of conveying nutrients into our bodies, but if that is all food means to you, you have my deepest sympathy (and need for a consult from a willing RDN such as myself).  Food is culture, family, love, memories, tradition and occasionally a time machine.  I remember distinctly the menu for the Sunday dinner when I first invited the love of my life over for dinner.  A raspberry shake always transports me to LaBeau's Drive in at Bear Lake, and I still think fondly of the soup my sweet neighbor brought over after the birth of my second child.  Food is more than calories and percentages.  Food tells a story of some of the most momentous and bittersweet moments of our lives.  So in honor of National Carrot Cake Day, I challenge to you embrace your own family's food culture - and think carefully of what your own food story will tell.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Got Milk? Maybe, but which kind?

Cow's milk is the nutritional gold standard.  It provides a good amount of protein as well as a great source of Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and loads of other minerals, vitamins and nutrients.  However, there are times when you can't digest or choose not to drink cow's milk.  What then?  Here's a look at the options out there and how to navigate this ever changing and increasing aisle of your grocery store.  Remember that nutrition is only as good as it tastes, so if you don't like the taste of the milk substitute, you won't end up drinking it and all the nutrition in the world doesn't mean a thing if it only sits on a shelf in your fridge.