Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Save a Bunch and Pack Your Lunch! (2nd Edition)

It’s that time of year again… back to school (up until college those were the worst words to hear)! Anyway, back to school means back to routine, which for many, can be a very positive thing when it comes to diet quality. In addition to making sure your child eats breakfast, has healthy snacks, and a well-balanced dinner, make sure they have a healthy lunch! One of my biggest tips to both children and adults is to PACK YOUR LUNCH!

I recommend you make buying lunch a special treat for your child, just as eating out should be a treat for adults and NOT the norm. If your child is old enough, teach them how to prepare a healthy lunch, so that way even if you are too busy to make it, your child can do it themselves. Packing lunch will create autonomy for your child, while also teaching them the life skills of how to prepare a healthy meal. Furthermore, if your child makes their own lunch, they will be way more inclined to eat it!!! I began packing my lunch around age 7 (my mom will confirm), and I can tell you, I have packed my lunch and snacks almost every day since!

Another benefit of packing lunch is the amount of money you will save. If your child gets just the school lunch every day, you may only be spending $2.35-$4/day… but if they buy a-la-carte items, those prices can add up very quickly. Some of my adult clients estimate they spend up to $2,000/year on eating out for just lunch! Furthermore, not to knock school lunches, but a lot of the options are cheese and fat-laden, and not as healthy as a homemade sandwich.
A healthy lunch should include a whole grain, lean protein, fruit, and ideally some form of dairy or dairy equivalent. There is no need for a child to have “dessert” after every meal, so don’t get them into this habit. A treat could be fruit or low-fat yogurt, and once a week something more indulgent. Below are some ideas for healthy and fun lunches for your children.

  • Chicken or turkey sandwich: 100% whole wheat bread w/ low-sodium lean meat, 1 slice reduced-fat Swiss cheese, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber.
  • Pizza roll-up: Whole wheat tortilla or Flat Out w/ 2 tbsp pizza sauce, 3 tbsp part-skim shredded mozzarella, baby spinach, tomatoes, and a few thin slices of chicken.
  • Strawberries & cream pita: ½ cup sliced strawberries, 1 tbsp. low-sugar strawberry jam & 1/3 c part-skim ricotta cheese inside a whole wheat pita
  • Ham roll-up: Ham, reduced-fat Swiss cheese, apple slices & spinach inside a whole wheat tortilla w/ mustard and/or olive oil mayo.
  • Tuna & Avocado pita: Mash canned (no-salt added) Albacore tuna w/ avocado- put inside pita with sliced cucumber & other veggies. Add spices as desired.
  • Cold quinoa & tofu salad: Mix ½ c cooked quinoa, 1 cup mixed Italian veggies (can use frozen), 2-3 oz tofu, and light-balsamic dressing in Tupperware container.
  • Parfait: Mix cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt with fruit and high-fiber cereal 
Sides: For any of these meals be sure to include all of the following:
  • 1 fruit (1/2 c- 1 c) 
  • Low-fat yogurt (like Chobani Champions or champions tubes, Stonyfield, etc)
  • Side of veggies (can pair with hummus or other low-fat dip)
Note: You can substitute any lean protein for any mentioned above (low-sodium turkey, ham, chicken, pork tenderloin, fish, tofu, edamame, etc).

So, in the end you will be saving a bunch of calories and money by packing your own lunch and having your child pack their lunch. It won't take very long, and in the end, the payoff is huge. Getting into good eating habits from an early age will make your child more likely to keep them throughout adulthood.

DID YOU KNOW? If you have Independence Blue Cross (Personal Choice or Keystone), AmeriHealth, or Aetna, you can receive FREE nutrition counseling sessions with me at my office in Wayne? Most plans do not require a co-pay or deductible. Back to school is a great time for families to start making healthy habits... I see children and adults of all ages with all different types of issues and concerns.Email me at: to inquire.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chemophobia: Don’t focus so much on chemicals in food; focus on the quality and quantity

I always recommend keeping variety in your diet and just eating healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (fish, beans), and non- or low-fat dairy/dairy equivalents. By doing this, you do not need to worry about every little additive in food and worry about meeting your nutrient needs- because if your diet is well balanced and varied, it should happen almost naturally.

Many people suffer from something called “chemophobia”, when they are afraid of synthetic and natural chemicals found on their foods. Chemistry Professor Gordon Gribble from Dartmouth recently published a paper in Food Security stating that the fear of chemicals in modern food may be unnecessary since they are usually harmless and may even be beneficial. He states that many of the man-made “poisons” such as PCB’s and certain pesticides have similar chemical concentrations to those found in nature. He argues that the bigger focus should be on food safety in terms of bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens which cause thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year.

My recommendations:  Again, I’m going to encourage you to try to eat the most natural diet as possible, and try to make 90% of that food “healthy”. Try to eat mostly whole foods (cooked grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, eggs, etc) the majority of the time. However, you don’t need to worry so much about few preservatives found in the whole-grain, low-sugar cereal you eat, because as long as you are natural-whole foods most of the time, that preservative most likely won’t do much harm to you. Eating lots of added sugars or not exercising will probably harm you. Eating charred red meat or sausages will also probably harm you. Furthermore, if you wear perfume or cologne, walk outside and breathe in car exhaust, rub lotion into your skin, wear makeup, etc… you are probably exposed to many more dangerous chemicals than you are by eating your morning breakfast cereal or eating a slice of whole grain bread that has one or two preservatives. So just relax, be rationale, and try to eat whole, non-processed, non-charred food products most of the time!

Reference:  Gordon W. Gribble, 'Food chemistry and chemophobia', Food Security April 2013, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 177-187 DOI: 10.1007/s12571-013-0251-2

Friday, August 16, 2013

Just Eat Healthy & Feel Better- Simple as That!

Too many people are easily influenced by diet trends and what diet or cleanse is currently popular in the fitness community. I am a firm believer that diets such as Paleo or Virgin make people feel better because they are cutting out junk that they used to eat, and replacing it with more healthy foods like vegetables. There is no reason one needs to cut legumes or beans out of their diet (as the Paleo diet has you do), since they have been long touted as one of the healthiest foods on earth. Most people are not getting fat from eating too many lentils, but more likely, the ice cream or cookies that you have eliminated while on the Paleo diet is the reason you are losing weight and feeling better.

Certainly, if you have a gluten or dairy allergy, by cutting those foods out of your diet you will feel much better. However, if you do not have an allergy or intolerance you will most likely feel much better if you just swap the bad with good: ice cream and pizza for low-fat plain yogurt and quinoa. By swapping junk foods with healthy foods, you will have more energy and be able to lose weight easier- no trendy diet involved! Most likely, you are not meeting your food group requirements: ALL whole grain products, TONS of vegetables (I’m talking more than 2 solid cups/day), lean proteins, fruits, and non- or low-fat dairy…and that is the real reason you are not functioning optimally.

My Recommendation: I find that people are too focused on avoiding certain additives or GMO’s, so that they forget about all the other stuff they are consuming that is doing the real damage. While at home you may be only eating organic Whole Foods products, but what is really making you feel lethargic or causing you to gain weight are those mini candy bars at the office and eating out a few nights a week. Of course, I advocate trying to eat as close to whole, real, natural foods as you can… but don’t become obsessed with avoiding certain additives or GMO’s (unless you have a valid ethical or well-supported reason) if you haven’t fully evaluated all the foods you are consuming on a regular basis. Look through your diet and try to identify what junk you can cut out. Replace that junk with vegetables and you will feel better, guaranteed! J

Friday, August 9, 2013

That's not pasta... its (unfried) Calamari!

Picture from YELP: Pulpo a la Parilla (Grilled Octopus) at Jamonera in the Market East section of Philadelphia

I lived in Madrid one summer during college and the first meal my seƱora made was Paella, with what I thought was pasta rings. After chewing, I realized this was no pasta at all, but rather, my first exposure to un-fried calamari! Last summer I went back to Spain to Barcelona and became even more accustomed to eating calamari (squid), “pulpo” (octopus), fresh sardines, anchovies, and other raw seafood with all the body parts! All of these sea foods are fantastic for you (when they aren’t fried!) and underappreciated in their true form in the United States. They are fantastic sources of protein for the fact that they are low in calories and high in omega-3’s. One 3-oz portion of calamari has only 78 calories, but 13 grams of protein and the little fat that is in calamari is predominately of the omega-3 variety. Calamari is also a rich source of vitamins B6, B12, E, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus.

Another benefit of wild market-caught squid/calamari is that it is incredibly sustainable and usually pretty cheap! So, it is a great way to get in one or two of your seafood servings each week. Always check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium site or other similar resources to find the most sustainable variety of seafood you plan to eat.

My recommendations: I get calamari steaks from Whole Foods since they are often very cheap there. You can also buy frozen squid at most supermarkets and definitely at fish markets. I recommend using squid in seafood stews or grilling. has plenty of “healthy” squid recipes for you to choose from. So this week I encourage you to try something new and experiment with squid, octopus, anchovies, or sardines (ideally fresh and not salted!).


Picture source: 

ATTENTION: If you live in the Philadelphia area and have Independence Blue Cross (Personal Choice/Keystone) or Aetna, you may receive at least 6 free sessions with me each year! Most plans require no co-pay or deductable. BC/BS and Medicare plans are not covered.
 Email me: if you are interested to see if you are covered and to schedule an appointment.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Get in the game... with game meats!

I encourage my clients who are red meat lovers to really try to limit their intake of it since study after study has shown that those who eat the most red and processed meats have the highest rates of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and dying early. New research shows there is more to it than just the high saturated fat content of red meat that is bad for you. Recent studies have shown that disease risk can be affected by the iron content in red meats, carcinogens formed when the meat is cooked, and carnitine content. Regardless, red meat in moderation (ie: 3 oz less than once/wk) should be okay. 

For those that really like the taste of beef, I always recommend venison (aka: deer meat) or bison. These are very lean game meats that taste like beef, but have lower levels of saturated fat, but very high levels of zinc- which is a very important nutrient for your immune system and reproduction. Zinc is difficult to get through most foods we eat, since the best sources are shellfish, grass-fed beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, and game meats. Game meats also tend to contain high levels of protein, Vitamin B12, and other B vitamins. One thing people need to be cautious of is that some game meats have higher levels of lead because of lead bullets used to kill the animal, so just be sure to look into that before you begin buying and eating game meats regularly.

I was recently shipped a sample of ground venison from the Michigan Venison Company, which was very easy to work with and delicious. I found that it tasted very similar to ground beef, even though it is significantly leaner . I mixed up a few patties with vegetables to add more moisture, oatmeal, and lots of spices (turmeric, garlic, chili and chipotle powders, and probably others...). I was very impressed with this company, because as you can read on their website ( deer they use is wild American whitetail deer. The venison is hand-packaged and even came shipped in a case with pine, so it smelled like  you were in the forest. 

My recommendations: As with any meat, I recommend sticking to the more natural forms (ie: steaks) as opposed to more processed varieties (ie: sausage), but do not be afraid to experiment with the game meats. You still need to keep your portion size down (you only need the palm of your hand sized meat/protein per day!), and be sure not to add things that would make these otherwise healthy meats not-so-healthy such as lots of cheese, bacon, or high-sodium sauces. Teresa’s Next Door in downtown Wayne, PA usually has a game meat dish available weekly, and there are some great restaurants in the Philadelphia area that offer these on their regular menus. So next time you are out, play a game and go wild!

Reference: Worlds Healthiest Foods, venison

Note: I was shipped a free sample of venison and was not paid or encouraged by the Michigan Venison Company to write a positive review.