Friday, May 27, 2011

The kick-off to summer (Barbeque Parties!)

This weekend is one of the most fun & exciting of the year.... the kick-off to summer! Most people enjoy this special weekend by heading to the Jersey Shore, going to countless parties, and drinking endless supplies of beer (and let's not forget that this weekend is when most bars get into full swing!).

Most Memorial Day parties have similar food items: hotdogs, hamburgers, pasta salad, potato salad, baked beans, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and kegs of beer. Not the healthiest way to enjoy your friends, but hey, it's fun!

If you are a person that rarely eats processed meat (by rarely I mean less than once a month), then I am not going to tell you to avoid eating hot dogs and hamburgers at a party this weekend, since you obviously know that they are bad for you. Hot Dogs and hamburgers are not bad for you just because of their high fat and saturated fat contents, but also because studies show that when these products are cooked (especially on the grill) they form heterocyclic amines (HCA's) which have shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Burnt bacon is actually one of the worst for you in terms of HCA's, since it is a very fatty and highly processed meat- sorry bacon lovers! Below I show why hot dogs are not the greatest, but basically: high fat, high saturated fat, high sodium, low-nutritional benefit. However, if you are a person that eats  processed meat regularly (hot dogs, deli meat, ground beef, salami, pepperoni, etc), then you could probably benefit by skipping a serving this weekend ;-)

Anyway, here are my tips for taking on summer barbeques when healthy options are not always available:

1) BRING A HEALTHY SIDEDISH! This is my #1 recommendation, since every host loves a guest that brings something, and bringing a healthy sidedish can benefit everyone at the party (rather than giving just the host a bottle of wine which they don't need). Plus, if you know what is in your dish, you can load up on that instead of high-fat potato salad.

2) If you don't want to eat a hot dog or hamburger, don't! Unless you are staying at the party for >5 hours, chances are you can last that long without having protein. So, if healthier salads are available, eat those, or something else that isn't terrible for you. Baked beans, although usually containing high fructose corn syrup, would be a fine option since beans are extremely nutritious. Just watch your portion size! Be sure to eat a protein-rich meal before or after the party.

3) Instead of having a cheeseburger, make a cheese-sandwich with lots of tomatoes, lettuce, and onion, with 1 (maybe 2, if you must) slices of cheese. While I don't advocate eating a lot of cheese, this would be a better option than the cheeseburger.

4) Eat 1/2 of a hamburger. Again, load up on the extras (L,T,O, pickle), but you can definitely feel satisfied on just 1/2 of the burger. Don't think eating the burger without the bun is "healthy", it's not.

5) If you MUST choose hot dog versus hamburger, I vote burger. The burger is less processed and contains more protein than the hot dog. A 1.6 oz Oscar Meyer Beef Hotdog has 150 calories, 14 g fat (6 g SFA), 461 mg sodium (20%) and only 5 g of protein. A 4 oz. 20% fat hamburger (which most people buy) contains 307 calories, 20 g fat (7.5 g SFA), 85 mg sodium (4%), 30 g protein, and 16% DV for iron. So, ounce for ounce the burger is much more nutritious. If you ate the equivalent amount in hot dog, 4 oz would cost you 368 calories, 32 g fat (12 g SFA), over 50% DV sodium, and only 12 g protein.

As far as beer, try to limit yourself and drink glasses of water in between... plus, it's hot and humid!

If you are hosting a party I encourage you to offer 100% Whole Wheat buns, offer turkey burgers, grilled chicken, and/or boca burgers as an option, and definitely healthy salads as side dishes.

Have a great weekend and eat safe! (i.e.: be conscious of food safety... raw ground beef is not something you want to mess with).


SelfNutritionData (hot dogs and hamburgers)
ADA Times, Spring 2011, Vol 8, issue 3. "Analysis Explores Levels of Cancerous Compounds in Ready-to-Eat Meat Products"

Picture Source:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Everyone go NUTS!!!!

I'm assuming most of you have heard at some time or another that nuts are good for your health. You hear the Almond Board telling you that Almonds are good for your health and Snookie says that she eats pistachios because they are the "lowest calorie nut."

Side story: Growing up I used to hate nuts, I liked Peanut Butter, and sometimes could eat pistachios, but no one could ever convince me to eat almonds. Then... I studied nutrition and read research articles, and I was able to make myself like cashews.... then I learned that almonds are way healthier than cashews, and I learned to like almonds. Yes, through repetitive exposure to almonds, I made myself like almonds. I tell every parent this fact: it is likely that if you expose your child to a food enough times (research estimates 12-14 exposures) your child will learn to like the food. So, if you or your child doesn't like any vegetable now, keep giving them vegetables, and soon enough your child will like (some) vegetables (or at least tolerate them).

Anyway, as far as nuts go, they are all good for you so don't believe someone when they say cashews are bad for you, or nuts are going to make you fat. In fact, people that eat nuts regularly tend to have lower body weights than those that don't eat nuts. Why, you ask? Experts aren't entirely sure, but it is believed that nuts are more satiating (i.e: make you feel more satisfied after eating) than other foods because of their fat, protein, and fiber content. Furthermore, they don't think that nuts are well absorbed, meaning that even if you eat 200 calories worth of almonds, you might not actually extract, absorb, and store all of that energy.

So, why are nuts good for you?
- Nuts contain healthy monounsaturated fats (the "healthy" fat in olive oil) and omega-3 fatty acids (like in salmon!)
- Nuts are a good source of protein and fiber
- Nuts contain Vitamin E, a very powerful antioxidant that most of us don't get enough of
- Nuts contain phytosterols which help to lower your blood cholesterol levels
- Nuts contain phytonutrients which can potentially help prevent diseases like cancer

Which nuts are the best for you?
If I had to rank nuts through the research studies I have read, classes I have taken, and experts I have heard from, it would go something like this (best to 5th best):

1. Walnuts- just 12-14 walnut halves have 2.5 g ALA (an omega-3), 4 g protein, 2 g fiber, 10% DV of maganese and phosphorus, some calcium and iron, and 190 calories
2. Almonds- one ounce (~22 almonds) has 160 calories, 6 g protein, 3.5 g fiber, and contain high levels of antioxidants and Vitamin E
3. Pistachios- 1 ounce (~49 kernels) contains 170 calories, 20% DV of Vitamin B6 and 15% DV of thiamin, as well as 3 g of fiber
4. Peanuts (technically a legume)- 1 ounce (~3 tbsp peanuts) contains 170 calories, 25% DV of Vitamin E, 20% DV Niacin, 10% DV of potassium and phosphorus
5. Hazelnuts- 1 ounce (~21 nuts) contains 180 calories, 4 g protein, 3 g fiber, and contain the lowest levels of saturated fat (along with almonds & pine nuts) compared to other nuts

What do you recommend I eat and how much?
In most studies related to cardiovascular health, people eat 1.5 ounces (~1/3 cup) of nuts each day which will cost you about 220 calories on average. I recommend you eat whatever nuts you like, but if you do like any on my top 5, try to choose those (especially almonds & walnuts). Even though nuts are high in fat, they are high in HEALTHY fats and are chock full of other good-for-you nutrients. Remember, fat isn't what will make you fat, too many calories and lack of exercise will! If you don't like any of the nuts listed, but like the butter versions (e.g: almond butter, peanut butter), you will get similar health benefits from those.

So, try to enjoy nuts as a healthy snack each and every day!

"Nuts: Which Nuts Are the Best and Why?" RD411. June 2008.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May is National Salad Month!

May is National Salad Month! During this month, take advantage of the bounty of fruits and vegetables that are now in season across the country. Try to move past your traditional garden salad and experiment with new salad recipes and try vegetables you have never eaten before. Remember, while a green salad is usually the most nutritious, you can make healthy and unique versions of tuna salads (try oil & balsamic instead of mayo), potato salads (mix it up with sweet potatoes and light mayonnaise!), bean salads (all beans are super healthy!), and fruit salads (add in exotic fruits!). Here are some of my tips for sprucing up your traditional green salad:

Salad greens: use spinach, endive, or mixed-greens over dull and nutrient-void iceburg
Proteins: Add canned salmon (Costco has an excellent bone-free version, Kirkland brand), fresh cooked fish, hard boiled egg/egg whites, chickpeas, edamame, tuna, grilled chicken, tempeh, or cottage cheese
Add-ins: Try adding slivered almonds, pecans, walnuts, and/or a high-fiber cereal for extra crunch. Add avocado slices, beans and legumes, and a few pieces of dried fruit to make your salads more flavorful and exciting.
Unique veggie to try: Throw in some jicama (pronounced hick-a-ma)- it is a white vegetable available at Whole Foods and Gentiles Market-  it is very low-calorie, but high in Vitamin C and Potassium, and it adds a nice crunch!
Dressings: I always recommend balsamic & vinegar as the best choice for a dressing. However, you can add some pizzazz by making a Mexican salad with light sour cream & salsa, or try Mango salsa as a dressing on salads with chicken or fish.

Here are some recipes to get you started on your salad kick!

Tantatlizing Salad Recipes:

Spinach, fruit & chicken
2 cups raw spinach
1 tbsp. dried cranberries
1 tbsp. dried apricots, chopped
2 oz. roasted white meat chicken, sliced
1/4 red bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp. roasted pecans, chopped
2 tbsp. dressing (balsamic & vinegar, light raspberry, or whatever you'd like!)

Nutrition Info: (1 salad w/o dressing) 208 calories, 6.5 g fat, 24.48 g Carb (5 g fiber), 17 g protein

Healthy Tuna Salad
1 can chunk light tuna, drained of water
1 tablespoon no sugar added relish
1 tsp Smart Balance Light Mayo
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup plain nonfat vanilla yogurt
1 tbsp chopped onion
1/2 celery stalk, chopped

Nutrition Info (1/2 recipe ~ 1/4 cup) 130 calories, 1.5 g fat, 4.5 g Carb (1 g fiber), 23 g protein

Curried Sweet Potato Salad
2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped into cubes
1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 tbsp. Smart Balance light mayo
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 cup raisins
1 tbsp. onion, chopped
1/4 cup mango, diced

Put diced sweet potatoes into pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes until potatoes are soft, but not too mushy. Drain. Mix together all other ingredients, and once the potatoes have drained, add them to other ingredients. Mix together and chill for several hours before eating. Add salt to taste.

Nutrition Info, 4 servings (Per Serving) 130 calories, 3.5 g fat, 95 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate (3 g fiber), 3.5 g protein

Also, be sure to save yourself time by getting a salad spinner. Just put all dry salad ingredients in the spinner (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc), rinse with water, and then put in spinning contraption and spin! This is the easiest way to rinse and dry salad greens, and I definitely recommend that everyone has one in their kitchen! No more drying with paper towels or having soggy salads! Here's a link to an example of what a salad spinner looks like, but you can get them at TJ Maxx or any other store that sells homegoods! OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner

Friday, May 6, 2011

How are calories in foods determined?

Think back to your high school chemistry class and a very fun lab when you got to burn a piece of candy to determine the amount of calories released (I know Conestoga does it, and I hope you were so lucky to experience this lab!). As you may have learned from this lab, a calorie is a unit of energy and it is defined as the amount of energy needed to raise one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. In terms of nutrition labeling, the calorie we know is actually a kilocalorie since it is 1,000 times larger than what chemists and physicists use in their line of work. If you have ever come in to see me for a nutrition consultation you may notice I write things as "40 kcal, 100 kcal" (kcal= kilocalorie) since that is the way we had to write the units during my nutrition classes and other sciences courses in college.

Previously, calories had been determined by the FDA similar to the way we did it in high school labs, with a bomb calorimeter. The food was burned all the way and the rise in water temperature was then measured. However, this is an outdated method which is not incredibly accurate.

Fast forward to the present method: In 1990 the George H.W. Bush signed the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) which required most foods regulated by the FDA have nutrition information on their food label and that all nutritional claims ("low fat", "high fiber") meet the FDA regulations. This law also changed the way the calorie content of foods are determined. Instead of burning the foods, indirect calorimetry is done using the Atwater System... which basically breaks down the food into the energy containing nutrients (fat, protein, alcohol, and carbohdyrate). Fat= 9 kcal/gram, Protein= 4 kcal/ gram, Alcohol= 7 kcal/gram, and Carbohydrate= 4 kcal/gram. Knowing the calorie content per gram of macronutrient, scientists are able to calculate the caloric content of foods. This system is much more complicated than I will explain, but it gives a pretty good idea of the total available calories in a food... the human digestive tract is very efficient and will obtain most of the calories present (unless high amounts of dietary fiber are consumed).

I hope this little science lesson makes you more aware of where the calories come from in your food, I would go into much greater detail of how they determine the specific amount of each macronutrient (e.g: Nitrogen content -> protein estimation), and digestibility calculations, but I don't want to bore you. 

***EXCITING NEWS!!!: If you are a member of the Independence Blue Cross Personal Choice PPO Plan, you can have 6 free nutrition counseling sessions with me over the course of a year! To schedule an appointment, email me at:

"How do food manufacturers calculate the calorie count of packaged foods." Scientific American. 2006, July 31.

Agriculture and Consumer Protection. “The Relationship Between Food Composition and Available Energy.” 1981, Oct. 17.

Maynard, J. The Atwater System of Calculating the Caloric Value of Diets. 1944, Dec. 1.