Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Gatherings

Picture Source:
We are in the midst of Hanukkah, 2 days from Christmas, and 8 days away from New Year's Eve. Certainly we look forward to fun parties and seeing friends and family, but these holiday parties involve lots of eating and drinking. Do not fret! There are two simple ways to stay slim during the holiday season: don’t lag on your workouts, and practice self-control when it comes to eating and drinking. When faced with endless amounts of hors d’oeuvres, sweets, and cocktails, you should educate yourself so that you can determine those that are good choices and those that are not. In order to ensure that there will be a healthy food choice at a party, offer to bring something that you can make yourself. Consequently, you will know exactly what is in the dish and whether it is healthy or not. A good word of advice is that anything wrapped in pastry, deep fried, containing ground meat, or loaded with cheese (cream cheese included) is probably not the best option for your waistline.

When it comes to cocktails, try mixing in a calorie-free beverage (club soda, diet Sprite) into your cranberry/vodka or choose “light” beer. Drink water WITH and in between cocktails and stray away from calorie-laden ciders, any specialty drinks like “holiday punch”, and especially egg nog. On average, one serving of any alcohol will have about 120 calories (5 oz wine, 1.5 oz liquor, 12 oz beer)- of course that calorie number depends on the % alcohol of whatever you are drinking (1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories).

Here are my main tips to avoid overdoing it at any party:
1. Stay away from the food trays- it is true: out of sight, out of mind. Humans are naturally lazy creatures, so if you have to walk an extra few feet to get more food, you are less likely to. Furthermore, you will have more time to think about whether you want it or not (mindful eating).

2. Only put 2 pieces of food on your plate at any one time. The first two bites of any food taste the best, so you get in trouble if you load your plate with 10 mini appetizers. Place 2 on your plate and if you are really hungry for more, go back and get 1-2 more.

3. Use small plates and serving utensils. We eat with our eyes, so if you have a small plate, the food will look like more than it is. If you  use a small spoon, you will eat less at each bite which will slow down your eating.

4. BE THE TALKER! If you are talking, you can't be eating (unless you have no manners whatsoever). People tend to migrate to the food table if they have no one to talk to. So, get out there and make friends; your waistline and social life will thank you.

5. Enjoy foods you like, but don't eat unnecessary items. Surely you can eat a good meal over the holidays, but avoid eating foods just because they are there. Only eat things that are nutritious or that you rarely have access to and really appreciate.

By no means deprive yourself during the holidays, just be conscious of what you are eating and how much you consume.


Friday, December 9, 2011

I'm Soy Confused!

Almost everyday I come across someone who avoids soy because they think eating soy products will do one of the following: a) increase their risk of cancer; b) if they had breast cancer, will make it worse or come back; or c) will mess up their hormones (and, therefore, turn men into women). If you are concerned about choice c, please refer to my blog from January 13, 2011 entitled: “PhytoeSTROGEN's: A little hormonal, yes. But immasculating? No!” I ask these people why they think these things about soy, and usually they say they heard it from a friend, saw it on some daytime talk show, or read an article once. If you are going to cut something out of your diet that has as many benefits as soy, I urge you to look to first look to reputable health sources, or review the meta-analysis studies on your own. So, this goes not just for soy, but if you hear in the future that dairy is bad- don't cut it out immediately, first do your research! (FYI: I would not advise cutting dairy out of your diet, only high-fat dairy).

Anyway, I am always thoroughly confused why there is so much negative thinking about soy, when in fact, the majority of the nutrition research shows soy being nothing but beneficial for a whole slew of health issues. The nutritional benefits of soy include that it is:

1.                  An excellent source of complete protein (containing all the essential amino acids)
2.                  Low in saturated fat
3.                  Cholesterol Free
4.                  High in mono- and poly- unsaturated fats
5.                  Usually fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12
6.                  A good source of fiber

The health benefits of consuming soy include, but are not limited to:

1.                  When substituting soy protein for traditional protein sources (meat, dairy), total cholesterol, LDL’s, and VLDLs and triglycerides are lowered while HDL’s (the good cholesterol) are increased in adults and children
2.                  Soy intake during childhood and adolescence is associated with up to a 60% reduction of breast cancer risk later in life.
3.                  Soy protein has also shown to decrease blood pressure when compared to milk protein.
4.                  Soy contains high levels of antioxidants, which help to combat free radicals in the body which can speed up the aging process and increase disease risk.

Even though I wrote about phytoestrogens in a previous blog post, I will refresh your memory on this debate. “In adult men, clinical studies show that neither isoflavone supplements nor soyfoods affect circulating testosterone or estrogen levels or sperm or semen parameters. Although soy may have minor effects on hormone levels in adult women, it is likely these effects are clinically irrelevant”(1). One study published by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition came to the conclusion that: “[. . .] soy isoflavones have little biologically relevant estrogenic effect in vivo in postmenopausal women (4).” This means that from their study, soy does appear to change the estrogen levels in women.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ((AHRQ) which reviews all relevant research articles and scientific literature to develop scientific information for organizations to base clinical guidelines, performance measures, and other quality improvement tools), soy products do not cause cancer. The AHRQ states:
Twenty-four trials evaluated subjects without a history of cancer for effects of soy on tumor-related biomarkers. No study reported the development of cancer as an outcome. Most studies measured the effect of soy on estrogens and estrogen metabolites as well as on estrogenicity indicators. There were also trials that evaluated correlations between soy and possible cellular pathways of cancer prevention. No causal relationship could be established between these markers and cancer because they do not represent known risk factors for cancer disease. Only 4 studies reported on testosterone levels, which is a risk factor for prostate cancer, and are discussed under Endocrine Function (5). discusses how the benefits of soy for breast cancer survivors outweigh any possible risk:

Overall, I believe soy foods are incredibly good for your health. Asian populations have been eating the isoflavones from soyfoods for centuries with no adverse effects, and actually, these populations tend to be much healthier than Americans. Soy is a great way to get in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and complete protein into the diet. I recommend trying to stick to organic soy products (tofu, soymilk, edamame, etc.) and avoiding isoflavone supplements (I’m not a believer in most isolated supplements anyway….). Don’t be paranoid about soy, there are probably a lot of things in your diet that are doing much more harm that you haven’t cut out (alcohol, candy, soda, etc………).

1.                   Diggers, J. “Soy Can Supply Key Nutrients to Children and Adolescents.” The Soy Connection. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Fall 2011.
2.                   Hamilton-Reeves JM, Vazquez G, Duval SJ, Phipps WR, Kurzer MS, Messina MJ. Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis. Fertil Steril 2010 94(3): 997-1007.
3.                   Messina M. Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: a critical examination of the clinical evidence. Fertil. Steril. 2010, 93, 2095-104.
4.                   Teede HJ, Dalais FS, McGrath BP. Dietary soy containing phytoestrogens does not have detectable estrogenic effects on hepatic protein synthesis in postmenopausal women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004 Mar;79(3):396-401
5.                   Balk E, Chung M, Chew P, et al. Effects of Soy on Health Outcomes. Summary, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 126. AHRQ Publication Number 05-E024-1, August 2005. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipe #3: Lighter Mashed Potatoes!

For most people, Thanksgiving is about turkey and mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes have a special place in most people's hearts, and they don't want them messed with. Thanksgiving is not the day that I would have you add cauliflower to the potatoes to make it more nutrient rich, since you may make many of your guests angry if they notice. However, I do suggest that you lighten up the traditional mashed potato, and I can almost guarantee that no one will notice. Plus, most people layer on the gravy, and many end up mixing everything together anyway- so they won't notice if the potatoes are a little lighter on the butter and cream.

Below is my recipe for enlightened mashed potatoes. Please be aware that this recipe is not super nutritious, if I were trying to do that I wouldn't have you peel them and would have you add cauliflower. I simply want to make these a healthier version than what you would normally get at a Thanksgiving feast.


3 pounds baking potatoes -- peeled and cut in 3" chunks
3 tablespoons light butter

3/4 cup skim milk
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt or light yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch white pepper
Spices (cayenne, chives, etc.)

Place potatoes in cold water for a few minutes to remove excess starch.

Boil potatoes in water for 15-20 minutes until fork can poke through easily. Drain and return to pot. Over high heat, dry potatoes by keeping them over the heat for 1-2 minutes until all extra moisture is evaporated.

Mash potatoes in large bowl. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine butter and milk and bring to a simmer. Pour the liquid over potatoes and mix. Add yogurt, salt, pepper and any spices and blend well into potatoes. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to serving bowl and serve immediately.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Average Nutritional Value of Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Just in case you were trying to prioritize what goes on your plate on Thanksgiving, I have listed the average nutritional value of the average Thanksgiving meal. Please keep in mind that I came up with these numbers by looking at typical recipes for the menu items and calculating the averages- so there will be some variation based on quantity used and types of ingredients used (light butter vs. regular, whole milk vs. 2%, etc). I recommend loading half your plate with straight veggies (i.e: not casseroles, or creamy vegetable dishes) if that's an option (perhaps steal some from the appetizer veggie tray?), light meat turkey- NO SKIN!, corn, and sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce/relish if they are made like I suggested in my blogs from earlier this week (or just w/o copious amounts of butter and sugar). My best recommendation is to go light on the stuffing and mashed potatoes, those are loaded with unhealthy fats and the calories add up quickly.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't feel tired after your Thanksgiving meal from just the Turkey. While it is true that Turkey contains tryptophan which makes you sleepy, it contains no more than eggs, chicken, lentils, peanuts, and many other protein-containing foods. What makes you tired is the amount of carbohydrates you consume with the turkey (carbohydates increase tryptophan and serotonin in the brain, thus making you sleepy), the amount of food you eat (the blood is directed to your gut instead of other parts of the body instead of your appendages), and the alcohol if you choose to drink. So, if you don't want to feel tired, stick with proper portion size and create a well-balanced plate (veg, protein, starches, fruit, dairy), go light on the alcohol, and take a walk after you eat!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipe #2: Orange-Cranberry Relish

Canned cranberry sauce not only looks gross, but the ingredients make you second guessing whether it actually counts as a fruit serving: INGREDIENTS: Cranberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Corn Syrup.
Don't be fooled by "whole berry" canned cranberry sauce- most of these are just the same concoction of HFCS and corn syrup, but the cranberries are not pureed: INGREDIENTS: Cranberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Corn Syrup

Making homemade cranberry sauce is not difficult and takes very little time. Even if you use full-sugar recipes, they will still be better than using the can which is shelf-stable for years. You will be consuming real fruit with higher levels of antioxidants, and you have control over what type of sugar you add in.

Below is my recipe for a Honey Cranberry Orange Relish. Orange zest adds a nice flavor and more antioxidants to any recipe (I forgot to mention to add it to the sweet potato casserole!). I even add orange zest to my oat bran in the morning. A cranberry relish is a nice twist on the usual cranberry sauce, and is much lower in sugar.

Honey Cranberry Orange Relish

1 bag fresh cranberries
1 large navel orange, chopped fine w/ peel on
1/3 cup sugar (or use a sugar substitute to make even lower-calorie)
1/4 cup honey or agave
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash of salt
dash of vanilla or almond extract

Rinse cranberries & scrub orange peel (I recommend using organic for this recipe). Put all ingredients into pot on stove. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until cranberries pop and sauce begins to get thick. Remove from heat and let cool. 

Makes 10 servings (> 2 tbsp each).
NUTRITION PER SERVING: 78 calories, 0 g fat, 20 g carb (2 g fiber), 17 g sugar, 25% DV Vit C

*Source: Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce Label

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipe #1: Sweet Potato & Apple Casserole

This blog marks my first healthy Thanksgiving recipe of the week (more to come!). Sweet potatoes are my favorite food and most people seem to really enjoy these starchy vegetables on Thanksgiving. However, the typical sweet potato casserole is loaded with sugar and butter, which is completely unnecessary and ruins the integrity of the sweet potato. The problem is that most of these recipes have you boil the sweet potatoes, which is a sin and almost as bad as microwaving a sweet potato. Boiling or microwaving does not allow the potato to develop its sugars and become syrupy on its own. The only way to make this happen is to bake or grill the potato. That is why, for any sweet potato dish, ALWAYS bake or grill, and NEVER microwave or boil.

The following recipe is simple and healthy, and really, you don't need a recipe at all. Each year I add new things and come up with a brand new casserole every Thanksgiving. Here is just a basic recipe to get you thinking of how to make a casserole and adapt it to your tastes and ingredients on hand. You can add vanilla, raisins, dates, oats, whatever you want to it- make it your own!

5 medium sweet potatoes
2 large apples (whatever variety you want)
1/3 cup brown sugar (or you can substitute agave, honey, light maple syrup, Splenda for baking, etc)
Dash of vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Scrub and rinse sweet potatoes. Place in tin foil in pan and bake for about an hour at 375-400 (if you are baking other things, use whatever temperature you want). You want potatoes to be 75% done, not completely soft at this point. Take them out of the oven.

Let potatoes cool and peel (you can use a knife to cut off skins- save and eat later- delicious & nutritious!).

Chop apples with the skin on. Slice potatoes into 1" thick slices. In a small bowl, mix together cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar (or sugar substitute).

Spray a baking dish (whatever size will fit the potatoes & apples- 8" x 8" or 9" x 13") with PAM.

Layer apples, potatoes, and spice mixture in pan. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, light butter, and chopped pecans. Spread on top of potatoes & apples.

Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes until browning and apples & potatoes are soft.


Makes 10 Servings.
Estimation of nutrition using all real, packed brown sugar:
166 Calories, 4.5 g fat, 61 mg sodium, 340 mg potassium, 36 g carb (3.5 g fiber), 2 g protein, 72% DV Vit A, 12% DV B6, 15% DV Vit C, 6% DV Iron)

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm on Yelp!

Hello my blog followers. I am now able to be found on Yelp and would appreciate anyone who has met with me for nutrition counseling to write a review:

If you haven't met with me and would like to, please know that if you have: 
INDEPENDENCE BLUE CROSS Insurance (Personal Choice or Keystone Health Plan East) you get 6 free sessions each year with a registered dietitian (me!). In the next few weeks I will also begin taking AETNA Health Plan which has a similar benefit.

If you are interested in meeting with me or have any questions, please contact me at:

UPDATE ON ALMOND MILK RECOMMENDATION: I have tried several brands of unsweetened vanilla almond milks and thus far I have determined that Trader Joe's variety is by far the  most delicious. It is creamy, flavorful, and super nutritious (high in calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E at just $3.00 for a half-gallon and only 40 calories/cup). Use in oat bran, high protein cereals, or drink on its own or with low-sugar hot chocolate. This almond milk I can even put in coffee and it tastes good! (I find that other varieties add a strange taste). Let me know what you think!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Eating Pumpkin can help you avoid chunkin’ (up)

       Halloween is one week away and pumpkins are available everywhere. Sure, they are fun to carve and look at, but did you know that pumpkin is an incredibly nutritious food? Pumpkin itself, whether baked, or canned, is a low-calorie food that is incredibly high in the antioxidant beta-carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A). A ½ cup serving of canned pumpkin has only 40 calories, 9 g carb (5 g fiber), 350% DV (Daily Value) Vitamin A, 8% DV Vitamin C, and 10% DV Iron.  
            Beta-carotene has shown to help prevent cancer and heart disease, boosts immunity, aids in reproductive function, and supports good vision. Pumpkins are an easy way to get a large dose of beta-carotene, but other good sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash and dark leafy greens (spinach, collards, kale, etc.).
            In addition to pumpkins being an easy way to get a large dose of a healthy antioxidant, pumpkins can help lower the caloric value of recipes. Here are some tips to try:
·        Add canned pumpkin instead of eggs, oil, and other ingredients to boxed cake mix to create a lower-fat and calorie dessert (with more fiber and antioxidants!)
·        Use canned pumpkin in replace of fat in other baked goods (e.g: sub for butter)
·        Add 1 cup of pumpkin to 1 jar of tomato sauce to reduce the sodium and boost fiber and micronutrient content.
·        Use in soups, sauces, and stews to add a creaminess without adding actual cream or fat

Here are some of my favorite recipes using pumpkin:
  • Pumpkin Butter:
    • Combine 1 15-oz can of pumpkin w/ 2/3 c brown sugar, ¼ cup honey, 1 tbsp lemon juice, ¼ tsp cinnamon & 1/8 tsp ground cloves in a heavy saucepan. Boil then reduce to low and cook for 20-25 minutes. Makes 2 cups (32, 1 tbsp servings). 30 calories/tbsp.
    • NOTE: Trader Joe’s also has a delicious pumpkin butter that is now in stock!
    • I recommend mixing 1 tbsp of pumpkin butter with ½ cup cottage cheese; add some vanilla & cinnamon for a delicious & healthy dessert!
  • Pumpkin Hummus:
    • Mix 1- 15.5 oz can chickpeas, ¾ cup canned pumpkin, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp water, 1 clove garlic (chopped), ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp black pepper, and 2 tbsp parsley in a food processor.  Add water as needed to get the consistency you like. Serve with whole wheat pita, whole grain crackers, or veggies. Makes 16 servings- 2 tbsp= 20 calories.
  • Pumpkin Smoothie:
    • Blend ½ cup pumpkin, ½ banana, 6 oz container of nonfat light vanilla yogurt, 1 tsp honey, ½ cup ice, pack of truvia or other sweetener, and a dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract. Top with whipped topping if desired. Makes 1 large serving= 200 calories, 1 g fat,  7 g protein, 20% DV Calcium, 358% DV Vitamin A, 20% DV Vitamin D
  • Healthy Pumpkin Pie
    • Opt for homemade pumpkin pie where you control what goes in. Use fat-free sweetened condensed milk, lower the sugar by ¼, use egg whites instead of whole eggs, and go crust-less or make a lower fat graham cracker crust (most of the fat in pies comes from the crust!).

Okay, now you have all the tools and recipes to use pumpkin. If you are really inspired, here is one last recipe for cooking a real pumpkin:
1.                  Select a “pie pumpkin” – they are smaller (<6” diameter) than jack-o-lantern pumpkins
2.                  Cut the pumpkin in half
3.                  Scrape out the seeds (but save to roast later!)
4.                  Remove the stem and place the halves in a microwaveable bowl. Fill with a few inches of water, cover with lid.
5.                  Microwave for around 15 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.
6.                  Then you can scoop out the pumpkin and puree to use in recipes (use this puree instead of canned pumpkin in the above recipes/tips.).
7.                  Enjoy!

Image from: Cyber Cauldron website
Recipes adapted from: Libby's Very Best Baking Recipe website
Information from: USDA food and nutrient database, World's Healthiest Food website

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spice Up Your Life!

               Adding spices to food is a great way to add flavor without adding any sodium. In fact, many salt alternatives are created purely from spices! For example, Mrs. Dash seasoning blend is nothing but onion, pepper, chili pepper, parsley, celery, basil, and other herbs and spices- blends like this add great flavor and antioxidants to any dish without any sodium. There have been many research studies using spices in-vitro (isolated in a lab) that have shown incredible antioxidant power. 
            Additionally, adding antioxidant-rich spices like turmeric, chili, and cinnamon can negate the ill effects of a high fat meal. Penn State (my alma-mater, sighhh) researchers found that adding spices to a high fat meal reduced the triglyceride response by 30% (high TG’s are a risk factor for heart disease). They used a group of 6 healthy but overweight men and fed them a normal meal one week, had a week of rest in between, then fed them a meal with 14 grams of high antioxidant spice blend (rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika)- all other variables accounted for. They tested blood 30 minutes before, and in 30 minute intervals for a total of 3 1/2 hours after the consumption of the meals. The researchers found that these high spiced meal decreased blood glucose levels by 21% and blood triglycerides by 31% after the meal. The conclusion of the study was that by adding antioxidant rich spices to meals, you could potentially lower your risk of developing heart disease and improve existing diabetes.

Below I list some of the benefits of certain herbs and spices:
Cinnamon- Can lower blood sugar, triglycerides, LDLs and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. Add to yogurt, cereal, coffee, etc!

Cloves- These are especially high in antioxidants and are antibacterial, which can help to treat cancers. Use in all your holiday baking (sweet potatoes, apples, hot cider, etc.).

Cilantro/Coriander- Can control blood sugar, cholesterol, and free radical production (what antioxidants fight off). Add cilantro to spicy dishes and coriander to different dinner recipes.

Garlic- May kill cancer and tumor cells, can decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and can protect against inflammation of the blood vessels. I recommend adding garlic to any dish you prepare that is savory (soup, eggs, chicken, roast for bread, etc.).... unless you are going out on a date later ;-)

Ginger- Is anti-inflammatory, can help with gastrointestinal distress, and protect against colorectal and ovarian cancers. Keep ginger in the freezer to preserve- add to stiry fries, cereals, and teas!

Chili Pepper- Can reduce blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels after meals- cultures with diets rich in chili peppers have lower rates of heart attacks and stroke. Chilis also can improve your immune system and aid in weight loss by boosting thermogenesis (why you get hot), which boosts the metabolism. Add hot peppers to any dish, buy hot pepper sauces and use frequently (just watch the sodium content!).

So don't eat boring food, spice up your life and reap the health benefits!!!!!!!!!!!

1. A. C. Skulas-Ray, P. M. Kris-Etherton, D. L. Teeter, C.-Y. O. Chen, J. P. Vanden Heuvel, S. G. West. A High Antioxidant Spice Blend Attenuates Postprandial Insulin and Triglyceride Responses and Increases Some Plasma Measures of Antioxidant Activity in Healthy, Overweight Men. Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 141 (8): 1451
2. World's Healthiest Foods Website

Turmeric- Contains a powerful anti-cancer agent (Curcumin), can lower blood cholesterol, improve IBD symptoms, and even has shown to help prevent Alzheimers in some studies- it has been used to help treat a variety of problems and diseases including cystic fibrosis and rheumatoid arthritis. This is one spice I would recommend adding to everything (especially eggs!).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Beware of “Healthified” Versions of Junk Food

Because of the big push from the government to make Americans healthier and prevent obesity, food manufacturers and restaurants have started reformulating old recipes and creating new “healthy” products to sell. Most of the changes have been positive; for example, decreasing the amount of hydrogenated oils (trans fat) and sodium used to prepare certain foods. However, many food manufacturers have taken advantage of consumers by tricking them into thinking that certain junk foods are healthy by fortifying them with certain nutrients. They know most people like sugar, fat, and sodium, so why not fortify foods high in those components with nutrients that are lacking in the American diet and market them as “healthy”?

Junk + fortified with nutrients= recipe for successful sales

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts 20% Daily Value Fiber - Frosted Strawberry, 8 count box (Pack of 6)The most popular additive to a food to make it sound healthy is fiber. Think about it, food companies are now selling brownies with fiber, high-sugar cereals that contain fiber, ice cream with fiber, candy with fiber, etc. If someone sees that an otherwise junk food is high in fiber they might mistakenly assume it is made with whole grains and other nutritious ingredients. On the contrary, most of these products are made with refined grains and sugars and just have added inulin or chicory root extract as the fiber. So basically, it’s like eating a piece of birthday cake and taking a Metamucil and thinking that’s healthy. Similarly, beverage companies sell high-sugar carbonated beverages but fortify them with 1000% of your daily value of certain vitamins and minerals so they can be marketed as a nutritional supplement… and therefore, “healthy.”

I have met dozens of people that eat a diet low in fiber and most major vitamins and minerals (i.e: low in fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy), but tell me they take a multivitamin and Metamucil everyday- so they’re okay, right? Some people believe if they take a calcium pill, they don’t need to eat any foods that naturally high in calcium. Basically, they may eat a 2,000 calorie diet full of junk, but take supplements to make up for it. While supplements can make up for certain lacking nutrients, I, and most health professionals, always recommend obtaining all your nutrients from real food. If you consume >2,000 calories it is easy to get all your nutrients from natural food sources. At calorie levels <2,000, it is possible, but usually takes lots of planning and analysis (which can be done by an R.D.) to ensure you are getting all your nutrients in.
Fiber One Chewy Bars, Oats & Chocolate, 5-Count Boxes (Pack of 12)
The majority of reputable studies on possible health effects of certain nutrients are done by epidemiological, or population, studies. Yes, fiber is known to benefit colon health and may help to prevent diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other costly diseases. ). However, the populations studied have high fiber diets because they eat natural foods with naturally occurring fiber (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds). The nutrients and phyto-chemicals found in natural foods are what keep these people in good health, not just the actual fiber.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Don’t fall into the marketing scams. A food is not “healthy” if it is made with refined grains, added sugars, and a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronounce…. even if it has added fiber, or is fortified with loads of vitamins and minerals. Stick with foods that you know are good for you: 100% whole grain bread, nature’s dessert: fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, soy, beans, nuts, seeds, etc.


NUTRITIONAL COUNSELING IS 100% FREE FOR INDEPENDENCE BLUE CROSS- PERSONAL CHOICE PPO & KEYSTONE HEALTH PLAN EAST MEMBERS!!!! As an IBC member, you are entitled to 6 free nutritional sessions (1- 1 hr initial consult and 5- 30 min follow-ups) each year with a registered dietitian. Contact Kelly: to set you your appointment!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chew, chew, and chew some more! (40x)

Bakers & Chefs Dinner Forks - 36 pcs.My brother is the slowest eater I know. People think I'm slow, but when you get our family together, Cub (his name for this blog post to conceal his identity) will take at least twice as long as anyone else at the table. I am always amazed when we eat with friends, some can consume a whole bowl of cereal within 2 minutes, while it takes us Strogen kids (not so much kids anymore...) over 15 minutes to eat. I often wonder if people actually chew, because I feel like I need to chew several dozen times so that I don't choke.

Well... it may be good for our waistlines that we take so long to eat and chew so much. Yes, you have always heard you should never rush eating, and the rationale behind it was always because it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to register that you're full. When the stomach sends signals to the brain that it is full, the "hunger hormone" ghrelin is reduced in the GI tract. Also, if you only have 30 min for lunch, and it takes you 29 minutes to eat a sandwich, you don't have time for those french fries or to think of anything else to consume...

In one study in China, lean and obese men fasted for over 12 hours and then were given a traditional Chinese breakfast (pork pie). The researchers found that obese men took similar bite sizes as the lean men, but chewed less per bite, and therefore, ended up consuming more calories by the end of the meal. The researchers then decided to try another study where they gave men pork pie one day and told them to chew 15 times per bite. The next study day they had them eat the same meal, but asked them to chew 40 times per bite. The findings were that, on average, when men (obese or lean) chewed 40 times, they consumed 12% fewer calories compared to when they chewed only 15 times/bite. Blood tests after the eating study revealed that ghrelin was lower after chewing 40x/bite compared to 15x.

Another study in 2008 published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that when women were forced to slow down their eating (putting a spoon down in between bites) and told to chew more (20-30x/bite) consumed, on average, 70 fewer calories compared to the day that they ate normally.

These types of studies suggest that slowing down your pace of eating will give your body time to signal to the brain that you are no longer hungry. Additionally, having more time to savor the aroma, texture, and tasting the flavors may have something to do with it.

Another added benefit to consider when chewing more is that you will burn more calories. Sure, it is few, but think of taking 40 extra steps compared to just 15 for a task you do several times a day... that will add up!

My recommendations: SIT DOWN to a meal, chew each bite thoroughly, and DO NOT RUSH!

1) Jie Li, Na Zhang, Lizhen Hu, Ze Li, Rui Li, Cong Li, and Shuran Wang.
Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men.Am J Clin Nutr, Aug 2011: First published online 20 July 2011, doi: 10.3945/​ ajcn.111.015164
2) Andrade A, Greene GW, Melanson KJ. Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008; 108 (7): 1186-1191.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Eat MORE…. of healthy foods

As a dietitian at a health club, I find that most of my clients say they eat “healthy”, but just eat too much. So, as a result, I often focus on portion size, but also place a huge emphasis on eating lots of vegetables, as well as eating the recommended amount of servings for low-fat dairy, whole-grains, and nuts/seeds/beans/lean protein/seafood. I also always emphasize the importance of exercise, getting enough sleep, and I focus on overall wellness (not smoking, limiting alcohol, reducing stress, etc.). Luckily, a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health backs up my nutrition and wellness philosophy and suggests that what you eat is more important than how much you eat, and having good wellness habitats can keep you trim.
The study found that encouraging people to “eat less and exercise more” tends to lead to eating smaller quantities of calorically dense and nutrient poor foods, even if you exercise.  The study followed 120,877 non-obese women and men (at baseline) for 20 years and evaluated lifestyle factors and weight change every four years. For the average person in the study, about one pound was gained each year.

The foods that caused the most weight gain over each 4 year period were:
·        French Fries (2 lbs)
·        Potato Chips (1.69 lbs)
·        Potatoes (1.28 lbs)
·        Sugar-sweetened beverages (1 lb)
·        Red meat (.95 lbs)
·        Processed meat (.93 lbs)
·        Sweets and desserts (.41 lbs)

Foods that caused the most weight loss were:
·        Yogurt (-0.82 lbs)
·        Nuts (-0.57 lbs)
·        Fruits (-0.49 lbs)
·        Whole Grains (-.37 lbs)
·        Vegetables (-0.22 lbs)

Other lifestyle factors affecting weight:
·        Physical Activity (-1.76 lb across quintiles)
·        Alcohol (+0.41 lbs per drink/day)
·        Smoking (+5.41 lbs for new quitters, 0.14 lbs for former smokers)
·        Sleep (more weight gain with <6 or >8 hours of sleep)
·        TV watching (+0.31 lb per hour/day)

The take home message here is to follow all the recommendations everyone knows and loves: Eat healthy foods (more veggies, whole grains, nuts, fruit, yogurt) and don’t eat junk (French fries, chips, sugary drinks & foods, red & processed meats, etc), exercise, limit alcohol, don’t smoke, limit screen time, and get 6-8 hours of sleep every night. If you do all of this, chances are, you will not have too much trouble maintaining your weight.

D. Mozaffarian et al. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 364, June 23, 2011. Available at:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Use restaurant calorie labeling as a guide, not the only factor when choosing a meal.

A team of scientists recently purchased food from 42 fast food/ chain restaurants (including Olive Garden, Outback, Burger King, and McDonald’s) in Indiana, Arkansas, and Massachusetts and compared the calorie content of the foods purchased with the restaurant’s calorie labeling. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The major findings were:

  • Only 7% of the 249 foods were within 10 calories of the posted calories
  • Almost 20% of foods actually contained >100 calories more than listed
  • Sit-down restaurants seemed to be the most inaccurate, averaging a 225 calorie discrepancy between the actual and posted calories
  • Boston Market’s dark meat chicken listed as 358 calories, but was actually >500
  • A cranberry pecan chicken salad at Bob Evans listed as 841 calories, but was actually>1,100
  • Fast food chains averaged a 134 calorie discrepancy for each menu item
  • Foods listed with higher calorie contents tended to contain fewer calories, while foods listed with lower calorie contents tended to contain more calories.
  • Overall, restaurant calorie labeling was usually pretty accurate, but large discrepancies did occur for individual food items (as shown above).
The take-home message here is to use the calorie information as a guide… but also use common sense. If something sounds like it’s worse for you than the calories posted, it probably is. Be sure to keep dressings on the side, order the lean way (light dressings on side, no cheese, no mayo, etc.), and choose foods that you know are nutritious (vegetables, fruit, lean meats, whole grains). Restaurant calorie labeling is definitely a positive step... even if some of the numbers are off, oftentimes it can be an eye-opener just to see an estimate of how many calories are jammed into such a small dish!

 L. E. Urban, M. A. McCrory, G. E. Dallal, S. K. Das, E. Saltzman, J. L. Weber, S. B. Roberts. Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Restaurant Foods. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2011; 306 (3): 287 DOI:,0,3492869.story

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July is National Blueberry Month!

Toro Blueberry Plant -Huge Berries-Early - Self Fertile

On May 8, 1999 the US Department of Agriculture proclaimed July as National Blueberry Month… as if we need another reason to enjoy the delicious fruit! At just 80 calories/cup, virtually no fat, and jam packed with antioxidants, polyphenols, and other phytonutrients (all antioxidants/anti-inflammatory agents), blueberries make a healthy addition to any breakfast cereal, yogurt, smoothie, and are just delicious on their own. They are consistently ranked among the highest in terms of antioxidant content (compared with other fruits, veggies, spices & seasonings). Studies suggest that blueberries may help to improve memory, blood glucose values, cardiovascular health, vision, and have many anti-cancer properties.

When it comes to blueberries, bigger is usually better since they tend to be sweeter. Look for large and plump blueberries with a vibrant color that are not shriveled up or wet looking. Once purchased, you can store covered in the refrigerator for up to three days in a covered container (leaving out may cause them to mold quicker). I do not recommend following Rachael Ray's advice of washing before storing (this will increase the chance for mold to grow). If you get a great deal on blueberries, you can simply freeze in a container, although this will change the texture slightly. Always wash briefly immediately before eating unless you are eating wild organic blueberries (then you do not need to wash- this will leave the protective bloom on the berry).

Low-fat Blueberry Muffin Recipe


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup non-fat milk or soymilk
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with re-usable muffin sleeves or spray with PA<. In a large bowl, stir together all dry ingredients (except for blueberries). In a small bowl, combine milk, canola oil, egg, and vanilla extract.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add milk, oil and egg mixture. Stir until just moist and then fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake 18-20 minutes until golden. Cool on wire rack.
Makes 12 muffins.
Per Muffin: Calories 140, Total Fat 3 g, Cholesterol 18mg, Sodium 160 mg, Carbohydrate 24 g, Fiber 2 g, Protein 3.5 g
Recipe adapted from:

World's Healthiest Foods, Blueberries:
US Highbush Council:
North American Blueberry Council: