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Rebirth

October 15, 2014
ItsAblog

Wow…I didn’t mean to take such a hiatus from my blog, but…gosh, where did the past 2 years go?? I can tell you one thing – I didn’t age one bit! Nuh, uh…no way!

Well, I’m glad to be back and to breathe some new life into this blog. I have a few fun features in mind to spice up Sprinkle of Sage, and don’t be surprised if we have a new look and feel coming soon! In the meantime, this is what I’ve been cooking up over the past two years:

  • My little preschooler has become a bona-fide grade-schooler! Her kindergarten year was a learning experience for both of us. She learned how to read and do math, and I learned that school lunch is so much different than what it was when I was a kid. It’s actually really good, and she was buying lunch more than she was bringing (which is a relief to me when my creativity wore thin!)
  • My newborn is now a preschooler! And so far, he is sailing through the so-called “food neophobic” stage (ages 2-5 typically) with little to no signs of the telltale picky eating that comes along with it. He still won’t eat eggs, but most other foods are fair game to this hearty eater.
  • I’m training for a marathon! This will be my fifth, but the first as a fundraiser. The past few years have brought with them many friends and family members – young, old and in between – being diagnosed with or affected by cancer. Somewhere along the way, I felt myself getting angry. A useless emotion, especially when it comes to cancer – so better to put that energy to good use and raise money so that we can find a cure, right?!? That’s why I’ll be running the Marine Corps Marathon on October 26, 2014 with Team AICR – the American Institute for Cancer Research. Every little bit counts, so please consider supporting me: http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/TR/Marathons/teamraiser?px=8194364&pg=personal&fr_id=1490

As for this blog, you can expect more regular posts (no more 2-year gaps!) and a re-emergence of regular features, such as:

  • Digesting the News: as major nutrition-related issues come up in the news – like the proposed new Nutrition Facts label or changes to Dietary Guidelines for Americans – I will provide an overview and key takeaways that you need to know.
  • Sprinkles of Sage: inspirational quotes or articles to lift you up.
  • Dietitian Dine-Around: a feature in which I’ll profile more healthful options at the more popular restaurants.
  • Spotlight On…: I’ll highlight a favorite food or new product that’s come to my attention (I have to like it to review it!).

But first, I’m gearing up to attend the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Atlanta. Keep your eyes open for a post on fun food finds, trends from the expo hall, and hot topics from the sessions.

In the meantime, if you have issues you want to see discussed in this blog, or have products or restaurants to review, please feel free to comment or email me directly. I’m excited to be back!

Mythbusting: Fresh vs. Frozen

July 23, 2012
frozenmeal

One of the reasons why I started writing this blog is because I wanted a forum to address the abundance of misinformation I see and hear regularly about food and nutrition. Last week I came across such an item in my daily newspaper – not some chump rag but the Washington Post, of all things – that was so misleading I was shocked that Post editors actually printed it. The main point – in fact, the headline – was to convince readers why fresh is better than frozen. However, the points made contained broad generalizations and half-truths, comparing the best of fresh with the worst of frozen.

The fact is, there is a place in a healthy diet for all types of food: fresh, frozen, dried, canned, squeezed, juiced, etc. Since it’s now summertime, with fresh produce in abundance at farmers markets and on sale in grocery store, it’s easy to forget certain benefits of choosing packaged or frozen foods. I regularly dig into my freezer when I make a home cooked meal, no matter the season. But I digress – let’s tackle the issues:

  • I have not come across any scientific basis to support the author’s point about freezing decreasing the nutrient value of a meal, especially since her next few sentences are about vegetables and fruits. The frozen vs. fresh argument here is totally out of place and seriously misleading. Fresh in-season produce that’s picked and harvested at its prime do tend to deliver more nutrients than if the same produce is picked before it is ripe. But fruits and vegetables destined for the freezer case have been picked at their prime then flash-frozen to seal in the nutrients. So you might actually get more nutrients in your frozen blueberries than you would eating the same berries picked in the spring (blueberries hit their peak in July, typically). Just be sure your bag of frozen berries doesn’t have added sugar, or the box of frozen veggies doesn’t have added preservatives or artificial flavors.
  • Related to this point — did you know that canned pumpkin and tomatoes deliver more nutrients than their raw versions? That’s partly because the canning process involves heating the food at high temperatures, which makes nutrients such as lycopene in tomatoes, available to be better absorbed by the body. So chalk one up in favor of processed over fresh.
  • The point about fresh fruits having higher water content and are thus more hydrating is true – but it’s also true that dried fruits deliver more iron…so there’s that. If you’re really worried about hydration, drink an extra glass or two of water.
  • And while I might be inclined to agree that in theory a home-cooked meal is perhaps a better alternative to a frozen TV dinner, I would also agree that homemade spaghetti carbonara is less healthful than a frozen, portion-controlled meal. Though its true many packaged and frozen meals may have ingredient lists as long as the box they come in, there are many nutritious frozen foods and meals with wholesome, recognizable ingredients. Read the label.

The bottom line here, folks: don’t knock it because it’s frozen (or canned, or dried, or – gasp! – processed). Just know what you’re eating, even if it means looking at ingredients on the side of a box, can or carton.

Photo credits: iStockphoto

Dietitian Dine Around: Self-Serve Frozen Yogurt

June 28, 2012
FroYo

It’s blazing hot out there! As an ice cream aficionado myself, one of my favorite ways to cool off is to indulge in a sweet creamy treat. And with National Ice Cream Month just around the corner (July), my latest Dietitian Dine-Around will be on self-serve frozen yogurt bars.

The fro-yo frenzy has only recently made its way to my area, but when I was living in Colorado two years ago these serve-yourself buffets were popping up everywhere. It’s like a candy-coated dream come true: a wall of a dozen or so frozen yogurt flavors, many of which tout “low fat,” “fat free” or “no sugar added” labels on them. Can’t be too bad for you, right? (eh…not so much)

Those fro-yo places are clever. First thing you do when you walk in is choose your bowl. Typically, your choices are: Big, Huge, and Ginormous. Seriously – the last place I went to had a bowl that could be used as a bucket to wash my car. Research by eating behavior expert Brian Wansink of Cornell University (author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think) shows that the size of the plate or bowl we use influences how much we serve ourselves. Typically, the larger the bowl, the more we take (and the more it costs – which means increased revenue for the franchisee. See, clever!)

Sure, you’re free to choose as much or as little frozen yogurt as you want, but with a myriad of delicious-sounding (and healthy-sounding) flavors such as nonfat Cookies N Cream or Greek Yogurt with a Touch of Honey or Soy Bean, it’s really hard to pick just one or two.

Credit: iStockphoto

Moving on to the topping bar – now THAT’s where things can get interesting. You can top your treat with everything from fresh cut-up fruit to Froot Loops; go traditional with Snickers crumbles or nostalgic with Nerds – the possibilities are nearly endless. Since you pay by the ounce, you might think it’s OK to allow yourself to go crazy on the flaked coconut but find yourself rationing yourself to one or two blueberries and other “heavier” toppings.

Now, I love a cool ice cream treat as much as anyone, but here are some tips to keep your waistline, wallet and taste buds in check:

  1. Choose the smallest bowl. Always. Even if you’re sharing. Believe me, it’s big enough.
  2. As with any buffet, check out your options first BEFORE you start piling on your plate (or in this case, bowl). Assess the flavors but also the topping bar. Think about what might go well together, and what would be overkill. A cookies n’ cream frozen yogurt flavor topped with crumbled Oreos sounds like overkill to me.
  3. Pick just one or two flavors of frozen yogurt to use as your base. Again, think complimentary, such as cake batter and strawberry, or peanut butter and chocolate.
  4. Practice restraint at the topping bar. Again, just a handful of toppings should be enough. Remember, soon this will all be a melted, gooey mess. Will you really be able to distinguish the Twix crumbles from the Kit Kat crumbles?

Otherwise, keep cool!

 

Disclaimer: The opinions on this post are my own. I was not compensated for writing this post, nor was I approached in advance by any of the companies or people mentioned within.

TIME for one more opinion?

May 18, 2012
breastfeeding

OK, so I finally read the TIME magazine article that people have been buzzing about lately. I know I’m a little late to the game, but hey – I’m a busy mom of young children! Reading of any kind – even getting caught up in the not-so-critical-but-certainly-buzzworthy news of the day – is a bit of a luxury. I’m a subscriber to TIME (and several other magazines…most of which end up in a “to read” pile until the next time I fly and have to turn off all electronic devices.) But this magazine – with *that cover!* – was moved to the top of the pile once it arrived in my mailbox.

Clearly this was a thinly-veiled but nevertheless clever stunt designed to spur debate, boost magazine sales and increase website traffic. I mean, the timing was just right with the magazine hitting newsstands just before Mother’s Day. Bravo, TIME marketing team.

And I’ll admit, I fell prey to TIME’s social experiment. When I first heard about the cover and saw the provocative cover photo, I was outraged. I mean, who is TIME magazine to suggest whether or not I’m “mom enough”? And that picture? With that mother? And that…that…KID? Yuck!

Then I thought to myself: hypocrite.

Breastfeeding rates among women in the U.S. are climbing but we’re still far lower than other first-world nations. And while we can celebrate the fact that 75% of babies born in the U.S. have been breastfed according to the CDC’s 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card, a scant 35% are breastfeeding exclusively at 3 months (meaning the baby is getting formula or some other kind of nourishment in addition to breast milk), and only 44% are continuing to do any kind of breastfeeding by 6 months.

Why are moms not continuing to breastfeed? It’s a complex issue, but the general consensus is that moms don’t have enough support. Whether it’s a lack of baby-friendly hospitals or baby-friendly workplaces, or a glut of meddlesome relatives or unsupportive partners, or a combination of factors – who knows? All I can tell you is that if your 3 YEAR old is coming at you as his own personal bubbler, you are WAAAAYYY ahead of the game. And I should be applauding that.

You see, the TIME magazine cover gave me a sense of where the breastfeeding bashers are coming from. They want nursing moms not to “flaunt” breastfeeding, to put the boob and baby away and nurse in a dressing room or in a hiding spot away from the general public so they can go on with their normal lives of dressing little kids up as tarts and having young men wear their underwear above their pants. Because seeing a baby pressed up to a breast makes people uncomfortable. Even if we don’t actually “see” it, we KNOW what’s going on under that hooter-hider.

My main beef about the TIME piece is that the article really didn’t address any of this. You flip through the magazine, looking for more info about that sexy young mom with her preschooler appendage, but all you find are smiling pictures of a 72-year-old man. In fact, the article was all about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting and how the whole philosophy is based on single anecdotal observations by Mrs. Sears in her childhood and by some lady who went to Venezuela a lot instead of finishing college. As a dietitian who believes in an evidence-based approach, this is appalling.

A not-so-minor-side-“beef” with this article: in one fleeting bit near the end is a gloss-over on Dr. Sears’ controversial stance on vaccinations. It’s not mentioned directly (in the passage a mother was discussing “whether to vaccinate” her 6-month-old during her child’s routine checkup), but Sears advocates an extended schedule for vaccinating, which has no real scientific basis and could actually introduce more harm than do good. Does he also advocate slowly removing band-aids, bit-by-bit, so as not to stress the child excessively? I wonder.

But I digress. Look, TIME magazine was clearly out to make people think and talk, and talk they did. But will it help boost breastfeeding rates, or will it set us back even further as the stigma of breastfeeding is perpetuated?  We shall see.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

New feature: the Dietitian Dine Around

May 8, 2012

Today I’m launching a weekly blog series: the Dietitian Dine-Around. Each week I will feature a review of a food find at area restaurants and cafes. And although I’m a sucker for locally-owned businesses, for the most part  I’ll be reviewing items found at popular chains, so that non-DC-area-based readers can enjoy the “fruits” of my labor as much as the local folks.

Photo credit: Panera Bread

The first installment of Dietitian Dine-Around features a healthy food find from Panera Bread. This morning I found myself with about 20 minutes to spare while I waited for a local grocery store to open. In the same shopping plaza was a Panera Bread, so I decided to have a quick breakfast and some coffee.

A typical on-the-go healthy and satisfying breakfast for me is a bagel and peanut butter, but I was delighted to see a few egg and cheese sandwich options. I chose the Breakfast Power Sandwich – a complete 340-calorie meal of a grilled egg with cheese and ham sandwiched between a slice of whole grain bread. Eggs in the morning tend to satisfy me longer than most other breakfasts, so I was excited to try this healthy-seeming sandwich.

When my Panera Pager went off, I picked up my sandwich at the counter. I’ll be honest, what was awaiting me was a little disappointing. The sandwich looked bland and lonely on its large, bright yellow plate. The fork and knife provided were unnecessary, as the sandwich itself was just a slice of bread cut in half with the egg/ham/cheese layered between. I’m certainly not complaining about the portion – the sandwich was certainly filling and provided plenty of calories and nutrients – but eating is a multisensory experience, involving not just our taste buds, but also our noses and eyes, even our sense of touch (mouthfeel) and ears. No wonder healthy food sometimes gets labeled as boring…this sandwich certainly looked it.

Undeterred, I found a place to sit and picked up my breakfast, ready for the first bite. As I did, water dripped out and made a small puddle on my plate. How an egg, ham and cheese sandwich could be watery is beyond me, but sure enough I had a soggy sandwich.

Not only was it wet, but the sandwich was really salty. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since both ham and cheese tend to be salty, but this combo seemed especially so. Sure enough when I looked up the nutrition info online when I got home, this 340-calorie meal wasn’t quite the bargain I thought: at 820 mg sodium, I was getting about 1/3 of my daily limit (current guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day for the average healthy adult; that number drops to 1,500 mg for certain populations and those at higher risk for hypertension and heart disease).

Another closer look at the nutrition info found that my little sandwich had 15 grams of fat, 7 of which were saturated fat. Not terrible, but also a little high considering that 40% of the calories in the sandwich came from fat (most nutrition professionals recommend getting no more than 30% of calories from fat).

All told, six hours later I realize I didn’t need my usual mid-morning snack and am now finally ready for lunch. Still, here are some improvements I suggest to Panera:

  • Hold the salt! Not sure why additional salt is needed. Keeping it off will save 40 mg sodium.
  • Use lower-sodium ham and/or cheese.
  • Add some veggies for extra nutrients. The Mediterranean Egg White sandwich has spinach and tomatoes – those would be great additions to this “Power” sandwich as well.

Have you hugged your RD today?

March 14, 2012
logo_RDday2011

Today’s a special day, haven’t you heard? No?

Not only is March 14 “Pi” day (the number pi is approximately 3.14), but this year it is also national Registered Dietitians Day, or RD Day for short.

OK, so maybe we haven’t gotten the attention of Hallmark or Google yet, so there are no greeting cards or fun search-engine graffiti to increase awareness of this notable day, but RDs all across the country are wishing each other a happy RD Day…and I hope others take note of today, too.

The fact is, it’d be hard to find a single person who hasn’t been affected by the work of a registered dietitian. I mean, have you ever…

  • eaten a school lunch? (especially lately? You should see some of the great things schools are doing for lunch and breakfast.) An RD likely prepared that menu, sourced the ingredients and ran nutritional information to ensure the meal met certain criteria for calories and nutrients.
  • read a book, article or brochure on healthy eating? It might’ve been written by an RD, who spent the time reviewing complex research and putting the information in clear language to make it easier for people to understand…and better yet, to follow.
  • bought food from a grocery store? Many supermarkets have RDs on staff to help guide healthy eating programs at the corporate level, and help consumers make smart choices at the store level. And many food manufacturers have RDs doing product research, marketing and communications, among other functions.
  • tried a delicious, healthy dish at a restaurant or from a cookbook? Culinary RDs know all about recipe development using healthful ingredients, and understanding that enjoying food is as much about the experience of eating as it is about the flavor.
  • heard about MyPlate (or its predecessor, the food pyramid)? This icon for healthy eating is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is updated every five years after a thorough evidence-based review of the research by leading food and nutrition researchers, many of whom are registered dietitians.

Yes, we have “diet” in our titles, but dietitians are more than that. Sure, we help people who want to “go on a diet,” but many of us think of “diet” in the more general terms – as an eating plan to help people live healthfully. You may find us in hospitals, clinics, schools or restaurants; online, on TV, in the bookstore, in the paper or in a magazine; working for a company, for a health club, at a university or in the public sector. We’re not the food police, but we do love food. And we’re here to help people live healthier, longer and better.

Ode to Oatmeal

January 27, 2012

Do you have the January blues? You know what I mean – the holidays have come and gone, with the next major holiday not until Memorial Day in May (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who gets Presidents’ Day off); the weather is dreary and cold; your New Year’s resolution of eating healthier is starting to get boring…time for some inspiration and comfort to get you through the winter blues.

One thing January has going for it is that it’s National Oatmeal Month. Now, oatmeal isn’t much to look at – it IS pretty blah on its own – but it’s a nutritional powerhouse that’s just begging to be dressed up with other nutritious ingredients.

Near where I used to live in Colorado, there is an annual Oatmeal Festival. The event kicks off with a 5K race and ends with a health fair, cooking contest and perhaps the world’s largest oatmeal topping bar. At this breakfast you can top your oatmeal with the usual fruit and nuts, but among the offerings as well are M&Ms, peanut butter, gummy bears and jelly beans. Perhaps not the healthiest way to prepare this breakfast dish but, hey – those folks just ran 3 miles! And besides, anything that gets people to try a healthy dish they might not otherwise is considered a win in my book.

 

There are many reasons to love oatmeal:

  • It’s a whole grain – According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010), at least half of the grain products we eat should be whole grains. The reason is that whole grains have more fiber than refined grains since the bran and germ remain intact. Refined grains keep just the starchy part – the endosperm, and the bran layer and germ are removed.
  • It’s a good source of fiber – Nearly all Americans aren’t eating enough fiber every day. For most adults, that’s 25-38 grams daily. One half-cup of oatmeal provides 4 grams of fiber. Add some berries or nuts, and you can easily get one-quarter to one-third of your daily fiber goals just at breakfast!
  • It helps lower cholesterol – the fiber in oatmeal, beta-glucan, is a heart-healthy soluble fiber that essentially attracts cholesterol like a magnet and helps flush it out of the body.
  • It’s inexpensive – One 18-oz. can of Quaker Old-Fashioned oatmeal, which makes 13 half-cup servings, sells for $2.95 at my nearby grocery store. That’s 23 cents per serving! For comparison, an 18-oz. box of Cheerios, which contains 18 servings is $4.85, or 27 cents per serving.  
  • It may be a galactogogue – OK, so I don’t have the science to back this claim up, but there’s an old wives’ tale that eating oatmeal may help increase milk supply for breastfeeding women. For something as healthy as oatmeal, it certainly can’t hurt for a nursing mother to try.

Back in my pre-kids days when I ran marathons, a packet of oatmeal (plus coffee and an orange) was my standardbreakfast before long runs and races. The packets and oatmeal-to-go dishes were perfect for out-of-state races – I’d just heat some water in the hotel room coffeepot, mix and go. That, and when I travel is perhaps the only time I can tolerate the pre-packaged oatmeal. I find it’s a little too sweet for me, and I prefer the texture of old-fashioned oats (instant oats are chopped smaller to make them cook faster).

I guess I can be a little picky about my oatmeal, since I almost never order it at restaurants and would rather make it myself. I like using milk – but not too much or it won’t cook as well. Also nuts – but they must be coarsely chopped as slivered won’t give the same result. And must have berries mixed in – bananas, raisins and other toppings just aren’t as good. I use frozen berries throughout the winter and fresh berries when they’re in season. The result is a filling meal loaded with about one-third of my daily fiber and calcium needs, and is loaded with iron, a mineral that most pregnant women and women of childbearing age need. (Helpful hint: iron is better absorbed when you pair it with vitamin C, which the berries provide!)

Here’s my recipe:

Elana’s Oatmeal – Perfected!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats, dry
  • 2/3 cup milk (fat-free or 1%)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup frozen berries*, unthawed
  • 1/2 ounce almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp Brown Sugar Blend Splenda
  • Ground cinnamon, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Mix the dry oats with the milk and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 2-3 minutes on high in the microwave. Careful that the oatmeal doesn’t bubble over.
  2. Remove the bowl and stir in the frozen berries, almonds, brown sugar and cinnamon. Heat for 1 minute more on high.
  3. Let sit for 1 minute to cool and thicken. Enjoy!

*If you’re using fresh berries, add after the oatmeal is done cooking.

Serves 1

Nutrition per serving: 355 calories, 11g fat, 1g saturated fat, 121g sodium, 51g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 14g protein, 27% daily value for calcium, 16% daily value for iron.

How do you like your oatmeal?

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