Photo by Carlos Porto. Published on 13 June 2010
Stock photo - Image ID: 10017690

Eatin’ Like In Sweden

Today the nutrition community is all in a frenzy over the release of the highly anticipated (and overdue) Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. [I like that they tried to hide their tardiness by calling this 8th edition the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.” Maybe they were hoping to buy themselves another year or two?] While the nutrition community and pundits will debate the effectiveness or science base or applicability of the updated Guidelines, I’ve decided for the time being to defect to Sweden – dietarily, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep respect for the Dietary Guidelines process and how it will be applied in nutrition policy. And I will pore over the 2015 revision in due time and make my own conclusions about those. But I can’t help but think that we could do a much better service to health professionals and the general public with simple guidelines. Like this one-minute summary of the Swedish Dietary Guidelines:

SwedishMyPlate
Key messages from the Swedish dietary guidelines

Here’s why I like it:

  • The messages are clear. Have more of this, less of that, and make better choices like these.
  • The messages are positive. There’s no language like “never” or “don’t” as in “don’t eat sweets.” Because let’s face it, we all like to treat ourselves every so often (just not too often).
  • The messages imply that all foods are in relation to one another…and that’s how we eat. We tend to get stuck on the notion of an “ideal” diet. But the fact is, we’re all human and we all have different ways we approach food – and likely different ways we metabolize food. The best approach I think is to consider individual food items in relation to one another.
  • This takes a mindful approach to food, which is key to healthy eating. Making food decisions, a person could take this tool and think to themselves: could I add more broccoli to this meal? Should I have a glass of wine with dinner tonight given I had two glasses last night? That’s being mindful and thoughtful about what you eat when you’re eating. Even the healthiest eater could likely stand to eat more vegetables and less salt. Show me someone – anyone – who is counting up all their sodium values from Nutrition Facts labels to ensure they’re staying within their 2,300 mg daily limit. Right…I thought so.

I applaud the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on its science-based review of the latest evidence and for compiling its tome of a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And I appreciate the time and effort taken by our government officials to take those recommendations into consideration as they set nutrition policy. But next time, can’t we just keep it simple, like the Swedes? Tack.

 

Photo credit, cover photo: by Carlos Porto. Published on 13 June 2010
Stock photo – Image ID: 10017690

2016 road perspective with rising sun

New Year’s Resolutions: a marathon, not a sprint

The New Year has begun! I love this time of year because it’s just brimming with possibilities and hope for the future. And while, sure, there are probably a million-and-one articles and blog posts about how to make (or not make) New Year’s resolutions, I hope this one will resonate with you.

First things first: I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I feel like bettering ourselves should be a year-round effort and not confined to an otherwise dreary time of year (sorry, January-lovers). But, I do believe in setting goals and formulating a plan to meet those goals. With the craziness of the holiday season behind us, the New Year is as good a time as any.

For me, New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) is a lot like training for a marathon. You have a big ultimate goal in mind (to complete that marathon) and you have a training plan in place to get you to that finish line. You can’t just get up tomorrow and run the full 26.2 miles – that is, unless you’ve already got a strong foundation. That training plan is also filled with a lot of interim goals to keep you motivated and inspired. So whether your goal is to lose weight, quit smoking, or – yes – run a marathon, here are my tips to getting you to your goal:

  1. Harness that newbie energy. Starting anything new is fun at first – you might have recently joined a gym, gotten a new gadget, or formulated a plan that’s now ready to be implemented. But more than that, you have the energy and desire to reach that goal. However…
  2. Don’t blow all your energy at once. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. In long-distance running, if you go out too fast at first, you can easily burn up all your energy stores. While it’s possible to recoup some of your losses on the run by taking in drinks or nutrients, or even slowing down to a walk at times, it’s really hard to get back to your original energy levels. Slow and steady, while not flashy and exciting most of the time, really does win the race.
  3. Welcome outside help. We can’t do this all alone. Join a group, have an online community, work with a therapist or coach – whatever it takes. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. In fact, it’s a strength. You know that feeling when you’re in a race and you feel like you can’t go on any further…then you hear the cheering crowd? Those cheers are what carry your feet when your legs seemed to have given up. At the same time…
  4. Know that the strength to succeed exists inside you. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned help can only get you so far. That’s when you’re in the 20th mile, and the cheers are loud but your legs feel like bricks. That’s the time to dig deep, to block out the noise around you, find that strength within yourself, and pull through. That’s true if you’re trying to quit smoking, cut out desserts, whatever it may be.
  5. Celebrate your accomplishments. Not just the big major goal, but all the little ones along the path to success. The first 14-mile training run I did was huge to me because it was the longest distance I had ever done. Or maybe it’s the work happy-hour you happily attended without imbibing because your goal was to cut out alcohol. Each step counts.
  6. The end is just the beginning. After a marathon I feel elated to have finished, but that feeling soon became despair because I don’t know what to do next. I feel the same way after reading an amazing book. Celebrate like crazy when the big goal is met, but also be ready with the next goal in mind. It could be completely different from the first one or somewhat related. Like, if your goal was to quit smoking maybe your next goal will be to put those pink, healthy lungs to use and register for a 5K. For me, after a marathon my husband bought me a FitBit Flex, knowing that the daily goal of hitting at least 10K steps was enough to feed my competitive spirit while giving my body a much-needed rest from running.

Whatever you goals may be in the New Year, please remember these tips and know that you can do it! I’d love to know what you have planned in 2016. Share your New Year’s resolutions in the comments below, and tell me what steps you’re taking to reach them.

 

Pizza 3ways

The One Dish That Brings Everyone Together

It’s the holiday season, and while some debate whether turkey or ham is the ideal dinner, there’s one entree that sticks in my mind this season: pizza.

OK, so pizza is basically a year-round food for us. But come holiday season in particular, pizza has special meaning. It’s a meal I cook with my niece and nephew (and now my own kids) before Thanksgiving takes over the kitchen at my sister’s house, and it’s a dish I make every time my in-laws come at Christmastime.

What I love about pizza is that it’s democratic – everyone has a vote and every vote counts. I’ve been known to make a single pizza with 4 different toppings – one in each quadrant to suit people’s preferences. One child will only eat cheese, whereas another likes pepperoni. I like goat cheese which my husband can’t stand, so he gets regular pizza cheese on his. One pizza, four ways – everyone wins!

I also love pizza because it’s a great way to serve up vegetables. When I was living on my own after college, I ate plenty of fruits but couldn’t think of a tasty, easy and cost-effective way to make sure I ate enough vegetables. So I turned to pizza – I took a dough, added sauce then piled on whatever veggies I felt like, such as bell peppers, mushrooms and broccoli. Add some cheese, cook it up and enjoy. Leftovers were delicious for brown-bag lunches (also economical) or another day’s dinner.

I’ve been making homemade pizza now for (gulp) 20+ years. Here are my tips for perfecting your homemade pizzas:

Invest in a Pizza Stone

While a stone is not required, it’s certainly less expensive than purchasing a pizza oven – and gives you many of the same results. Pizza stones give you a crispy crust without overcooking the cheese and toppings. Keep the stone in the oven as it preheats, at least for 60 minutes before putting your pizza on it. I actually keep my stones (I have two) in my oven all the time. And never wash your pizza stone with soap! Just scrape it with a pan scraper once it’s cooled.

Use Raw Dough

Sure you can make your own, but chances are you can also find balls of raw dough in the deli section of your local grocery store. Trader Joe’s has some good ones (though I must say, the whole wheat dough is too dense for me and my family). Or, if you have a favorite neighborhood pizza place, ask if you can buy a ball of fresh dough directly from them.

Let the Dough Come to Room Temperature First

Cold dough is very elastic and will contract when you try to roll it out, meaning you’ll have to keep fighting the dough to stretch it out.

Use Any Sauce You Want … But Not Too Much

Too much sauce can make the dough soggy and drippy. Leave about a ¾-inch space from the edge to make a pizza parlor-style crust.

Sprinkle Toppings Evenly

And, pay more attention to the edges than the center. As the pizza cooks, the toppings will gravitate toward the center. The center also takes the longest to cook.

Oil the Crust

Lightly brush olive oil on the crust before baking. It gives the crust a really tasty crispness.

 

Here are some of my favorite pizza toppings, using a plain dough and tomato sauce base, and topped with pizza cheese (shredded blend of 4 or 5 cheeses, or just use mozzarella). But feel free to experiment with your own ideas – that’s half the fun!

  • Kale & bacon
  • Clam (canned works great) with red onions and bacon
  • Veggie medley: green peppers, yellow onion, olives and mushrooms
  • Mushroom medley: button, baby bella, shittake, oyster and enoki mushrooms
  • Meatball with green peppers, onions and mushrooms
  • Broccoli, sundried tomatoes and goat cheese (instead of pizza cheese)

 

What are some of your favorites? Please share in the comments!

 

 

 

2015-Churchill-quote

Making, and Keeping, Traditions

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This year I spent it at my sister’s house with her family, my mom, and lots of friends. We ate until we were stuffed, waited a while and ate some more. The next day there were plenty of leftovers for another Thanksgiving meal (“second Thanksgiving” is secretly my favorite dinner). We have our favorite foods and even our not-so-favorite (I’m thinking of you, pecan pie) which we can easily pass up because there’s a lot of other, tastier stuff to go around (ahh…cherry pie!).

What I love about Thanksgiving most of all is the tradition. Yes, traveling can be a hassle, especially with kids and all the gear they require. We eat too much and sleep too little. But it’s all worth it for the memories, the connections and the familiar scents from the kitchen.

But sometimes, “tradition” translates to “responsibility,” or worse, “burden.” I felt a smidgen of this when I was a young professional, living on my own for the first time. My entry-level job barely paid the rent, but the holiday season meant trips back home and presents to buy and extra tipping. For a while my holidays came with a little black cloud (let’s call it “credit card debt”) that I hoped a Christmas bonus that may or may not materialize would go directly to help make that cloud go away.

My holiday burden was nothing compared to a parent with kids depending on them. To this parent, the holidays mean trying to keep tradition alive even when it seems impossible. This is especially true for households already living from paycheck to paycheck, with income levels “too high” to be eligible for assistance. Many times these families were doing OK until circumstances led to a downward spiral, things like a job loss, divorce, injury or serious diagnosis. These families don’t necessarily need ongoing support, but they do need help to get back on their feet at minimum, and most certainly a little extra help around the holidays. And their kids…they need a sense of normalcy.

This year, my family started what I hope will be a new tradition. Through a local program called Our Daily Bread, families in Fairfax County are matched with a sponsor to provide essentials for a holiday dinner. As a dietitian, I can’t imagine not having a delicious meal at Thanksgiving, not to mention the aromas and togetherness and family time it can bring. That’s why we sponsored a family of six and provided them with provisions to cook their own Thanksgiving dinner. It was so easy: I was matched with a family, called the main contact, asked about food allergies and preferences, and arranged a drop-off. I knew I found a great match when I asked the mom if she wanted a pre-made meal, but she said no: she’d like the ingredients so she could make the Thanksgiving meal together with her kids.

Food insecurity isn’t a problem “out there” or in a city far, far away. It’s here. It’s everywhere. It may affect your child’s classmate. Or your favorite store clerk. It may be your coworker, who hides his debt behind a facade. A full 14 percent of households in the U.S. were food insecure last year. That’s 48.1 million people, 15.3 million of which are children.

Finding the courage to ask for help is tremendously hard. Having no one answer that call is heartbreaking. This Giving Tuesday, please find a way to make someone’s holidays a little brighter.

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Vitamin C and mix fruit on white background

‘Sup?? My thoughts on dietary supplements

I was reading an article in my local paper last week about how kids should be eating foods, not pills, to get their vitamins. I don’t disagree with that thinking one bit (I might lose my dietitian’s license if I did!) but I also live in real life and see what my kids eat…and don’t eat. And I’ll tell you what – I give my kids (and myself) multivitamins and supplements every day.

I like to think that as a dietitian and mom with a reasonable ability to get healthy food on the table at most eating occasions, my kids are set up for success. If I do pack a lunch, my child knows it will include a main dish, a fruit, a veggie, a carton of lowfat milk and *maybe* a treat. If she buys school lunch it’s the same option: she must be served a fruit and a veggie, some milk and a main course. The difference is that I see what she eats and what she doesn’t when she brings lunch. I also see firsthand what she eats and doesn’t eat at breakfast and dinner. And let me tell you, it’s not the picture of perfection.

But I don’t push it. Why? Because I believe in the Ellyn Satter approach to feeding children. That is, as parents and children there are divisions of responsibility. I can choose what she eats, but the child will choose whether to eat it. If I push, force, cajole, etc., the result could backfire and instead I could be promoting an unhealthy relationship with food for my child. As much as I’d love my child to eat salmon with brown rice and wilted spinach for dinner (the omega-3s! The fiber! The vitamins!), most likely she’d eat the tomatoes and baby carrots she gets as a salad and maybe one grain of rice just to say she ate it.

Do I depend on supplements to give my child all the nutrients she needs? Not at all. Supplements are meant quite literally to supplement an overall (hopefully still healthy) diet. And yes, I will still serve her the salmon, rice and spinach over and over and over again. And one day she may eat it. Or not. But I know that at least for today, I don’t have to worry about lacking certain nutrients.

Disclosure: As a dietitian who consults with industry, I work with the Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega-3s, but I did not write this post as a result of that relationship nor was I asked to. I wrote this because of what I see in the media and my own take as a dietitian and parent. All views and words, as always, are my very own.

Logo_FNCE15_FINAL

Food Trends from FNCE® 2015

It’s been a week since I came back from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo™ (FNCE®). This year’s event was in Nashville, and it was about four days of nonstop learning, networking, eating (of course) and not enough sleeping. I liken FNCE to a marathon: there is the months-long prep. When you get there you just go, go, go – never giving into exhaustion. When it’s all over, you’re sore and really want a nap. You say, “never again will I put my body through that!” Then before you know it, you’re excitedly planning for the next one!

This year’s FNCE was no exception. It was wonderful to see many dietitian friends, old and new (reportedly there were some 10,000 of us?!?). I spent most of my time in and around the expo hall, which was a treasure trove of food trends. Here’s what stuck most with me:

  • What’s Old Is New: Growing up, grain foods were mainly flour, rice and oats. Now you can find quinoa, freekeh, teff – even sprouted grains.
  • There’s a Yogurt (or two, or three) For You: One day during the expo I realized I probably at the equivalent of three servings of yogurt by mid-afternoon. There were so many yogurt options available, from whole milk to nonfat, Greek-style or Icelandic-style, with or without toppings, even dairy free.
  • Love Those Lentils: Plant-based proteins are all the rage, and right now it is lentils’ day in the sun. Various lentil organizations were exhibiting, but you could also find this pulse as an ingredient in pasta and in snacks.
  • Snacks Reign Supreme – According to data from Mintel, 94 percent of Americans snack at least once each day. The expo floor reflected that with snacks of all kinds, from single-serve chips, dips and bars. My favorites? All KIND bar varieties and this bar from Kashi.
  • What Cereal Decline? While media reports suggest that Americans are eating less and less boxed cereal, there was little hint of its waning popularity when walking the expo floor. Noticeably absent from this year’s event was General Mills, but cereal companies such as Kellogg’s, Kashi, Nature’s Path, Barbara’s Bakery and others were doling out samples.
  • Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables! The latest CDC data show that American adults are awful at reaching their intake goals for fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, there are many options to fill this gap – and fresh may not necessarily be best! Convenience is key, as suggested by the various salad kit vendors. You can also get portion-controlled and portable dried fruit, canned fruits and vegetables, or blend fruits and vegetables into a grab-and-go smoothie. To eat well away from home, a 6-inch sandwich from Subway packs two full servings of vegetables if you choose to “run it through the garden” (that is, choose all the fresh veggies).

With all that sampling, I’m happy to say I’m back on my regular sleeping and eating routine. And now I finally have time to watch the recordings of the education sessions I missed!

Disclosure: I consult with NutriBullet but was not asked to write about them nor include them in this post. I have no other affiliations with any other brands or products mentioned. All viewpoints and words are my own.