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Savor the Flavor. Period.

I couldn’t let National Nutrition Month® go by without sharing my thoughts on this year’s theme: “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional organization for dietetic professionals, is the sponsor of this annual event, and it’s no surprise that each year’s theme is often some kind of build off the organization’s catchphrase: Eat Right. (The website URL for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is, in fact, eatright.org).

I love the first part of the tagline: savor the flavor. It jives with my philosophy toward food: that eating is not just about nutrition but that it’s an experience, a source of enjoyment and a sense of culture. I feel strongly that when eating people should take note of all five senses: the sound of the sizzling stovetop, the smell of a dish that evokes a childhood memory, the look of a well-plated meal, the feel and texture of the food on your tongue, and of course, the taste! It’s when we fail to engage all senses that we find ourselves eating mindlessly, which can lead to unhealthy habits.

It’s the second part of the phrase that rubs me the wrong way: eating right. It implies a dichotomy: right vs. wrong. Good vs. bad. Pure vs. poison. No wonder people think of dietitians as the food police. The last thing people want to be told is that they’re eating wrong. Don’t even get me started how finger pointing like that can lead to disordered eating and views toward foods…

If I were in charge, I’d change the Academy URL and all associated phrasing to eating better. There is always room for improvement, no matter how healthful you diet may be already. There are plenty of other choices to make, foods to try, small steps to take. There is no perfect healthy eating plan (because then the food police will knock on your door and tell you to get some variety, for goodness’ sake!)

Think of it this way: when I introduce myself as a dietitian at a dinner event, people tend to get uncomfortable and say things like, “please don’t look at my plate!” I tend to say back to them, “don’t look at mine either!” This is one meal, on one day, and most likely a special occasion. This is not my everyday pattern.

If there is a definition of eating “right,” to me that means making more nutrient-packed choices and staying within your energy (calorie) needs. But it also means enjoying a rich dish or decadent dessert – heck, maybe even daily – so long as it’s portioned right and within a framework of an overall healthy eating pattern and lifestyle.

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Not Your Nana’s Nutritionist

Everybody eats, therefore everybody knows about nutrition. At least that’s what you might think by clicking through various articles and posts about health, food and what you should and shouldn’t eat.

The true nutrition expert is registered dietitian (or registered dietitian nutritionist, abbreviated RD or RDN, respectively). RDs all have a college degree – many have advanced degrees – and completed didactic coursework plus hundreds of hours in internship rotations (unpaid, for the most part!) before sitting for and passing an exam to earn the privilege of putting those precious abbreviations after their names. Not only that, but RDs must complete at least 75 hours of continuing education credit every five years to maintain their credentialing and be allowed to keep those little letters.

What credentialing does a nutritionist need? Nothing, really.

The truth is, while some states have laws on licensure for health professionals, practically anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Only dietitians can administer medical nutrition therapy and have some of their services covered by insurance providers.

Where can you find an RD?

Traditionally, RDs are found in some kind of clinical setting – working in a hospital or outpatient clinic. They may be developing diets for newly diagnosed diabetics or celiac disease patients, or working alongside cardiologists to help at-risk patients adopt heart-healthy diets, to name a couple of roles. You may envision her as the weight loss specialist (NOT “the food police”) suggesting foods you may want to incorporate into your diet and which to save for special occasions. But hospitals and clinics aren’t the only places where RDs can be found. You may see us in:

  • Schools: Have you been to a school cafeteria lately? It may surprise you. Many school foodservice directors at the helm are registered dietitians, and these folks have a tremendous job trying to feed thousands of children daily, in a limited amount of time and on a limited budget. For some students, school lunch may be the most reliable, substantial meal of their day, so the foodservice director needs to make sure the lunch she serves is not only nutritious but also appealing so that it gets eaten and not tossed in the trash.
  • Community Settings: Many RDs heed to a calling to help underserved and underprivileged populations. These are the RDs running programs for WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), SNAP-ed (formerly known as food stamps) and many more, helping individuals spend their food dollars wisely and learn basic cooking skills.
  • Kitchens: RDs are chefs, working at major restaurants, spas, or managing their own chef/culinary business. Many have traditional culinary training in addition to their nutrition degrees, training at the Culinary Institute of America or other fine institutions.
  • Research/Academia: Nutrition research is ongoing, and who better to be designing and conducting studies than the food and nutrition experts? Not only do RDs work in food science, but many have expertise in behavioral nutrition, economics, and other fields.
  • Industry: Call me biased, but RDs working with industry are the unsung heroes. Talk about effecting change – these are the folks with actual seats at the actual table, helping companies reformulate products to make them more healthful and desirable to consumers (it’s not nutrition unless people buy and eat it!). These folks have the ear of senior leadership, telling them what issues they need to address today, given the current policy and labeling landscape. These are RDs taking the research conducted by their their colleagues in academia, and disseminating it to their front-line RD peers working directly with consumers.
  • In the Media: More and more (and rightly so), RDs are being called upon to provide expert insights to educate consumers on a larger platform than simple one-on-one communications. We see RDs as commentators on news programs, writing articles in major newspapers, building up audiences on social media. Heck, even winning reality TV shows!

Today is National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day and a time not only to recognize these allied health professionals, but to also applaud them for the sometimes thankless jobs they are doing. These are people working every day to improve the health and diets of those around us so that we can live longer and better.

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Feature photo and RDN logo were both used with permission by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietietics

For more information, or to locate an RD in your area, visit www.eatright.org.

Health food for flu and cold remedy cures high in antioxidants and vitamin c with tablets, medicinal herbs and spices in heart shaped dishes.

Foods I Heart – For American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on your heart and health. Generally speaking, a heart-healthy diet is one that’s modeled after how the people in the Mediterranean region eat. That means plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, seafood, healthy oils, whole grains and an occasional glass of wine. People in the Mediterranean region also tend to walk more, linger over their meals and have close bonds among family and the community. I simply couldn’t let the month go by without putting together a list of my favorite heart-healthy items – things you can easily find here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Let’s see if you agree:

  • Oatmeal: This fiber-rich breakfast staple is a heart-healthy powerhouse. The beta-glucan in oatmeal acts like a magnet to cholesterol in the bloodstream and flushing it away. Oatmeal is also really inexpensive and versatile. Not only does it make for a hearty breakfast (check out this recipe for my perfect oatmeal), but in my family also use it in place of breadcrumbs for our favorite meatloaf recipe.
  • Beans: I think of beans as nature’s perfect food. It’s a vegetable and a protein, has little fat and calories yet provides numerous vitamins and minerals. The little legume – also called a pulse food – is perfect for pregnant and breastfeeding moms as it provides folic acid, iron and fiber. The United Nations called 2016 The Year Of The Pulses, and my favorite way to get more pulses is by eating black beans with tomatoes and a sprinkling of reduced fat cheese. Yum!
  • Nuts: Yes nuts have fat, but it’s primarily heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts also provide fiber (are you noticing a theme here with this amazing nutrient and heart health?), and protein to keep you satisfied. I eat pretty much all kinds of nuts, but my favorites are lightly-salted almonds and peanuts. I even make my own peanut butter after being inspired by this post from a fellow dietitian blogger. Rarely does a day go by without having a dab of my homemade PB on an apple or a piece of toast.
  • Salmon: I don’t eat salmon very much at home, as certain family members have an aversion to its smell (not an uncommon turnoff, I’ve learned). But this pink fish is my go-to source for another kind of heart-healthy fat: EPA and DHA omega-3s (disclosure: The Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega-3s is a client, but they did not ask me to write this post). These marine-based long-chain omega-3s – not to be confused with plant-based ALA found in certain nuts, seeds and other foods – have been shown to support cardiovascular health, as well as brain health and other possible benefits (more science needs to be done). If you’re a health profession wonk like me and want to learn more about the science behind EPA and DHA for heart health, read this white paper. Or, you can get some basic information at AlwaysOmega3s.com. Salmon is great on the grill (and leaves the smell outside) and is also really convenient – and inexpensive – when you buy it canned or in pouches.
  • Grape Juice: We all know that red wine can be good for the heart, but the same goes for your childhood favorite: 100% grape juice – the naturally sweet purple stuff made with Concord grapes (disclosure: I also work with Welch’s, but again, they did not ask me to write this. I just really like this juice and find the science compelling.) The Concord is a unique grape – it has a thick skin with a fleshy middle that literally pops out of its skin when you squeeze it. It also has crunchy seeds. Both the skin and the seeds are concentrated sources of polyphenols, or plant nutrients associated with health benefits including heart health and healthy circulation. You can’t find fresh Concords very easily outside of the fall season, but drinking 100% grape juice made with Concord grapes is really your best option for reaping the benefits. As you would with nuts – and frankly, all of the items mentioned above – portion size is important. Just ½ cup, or 4 oz., of 100% grape juice is enough to supply one serving of fruit. Remember also that 100% fruit juice (which, by its nature contains no added sugars but only natural fruit sugars) should be a complement to, not a replacement for, whole fruits. That is why…
  • Fruits and Vegetables – all varieties also make my list. I eat vegetables pretty liberally, as they provide tons of vitamins, fiber and nutrients for very few calories. I eat plenty of fresh fruit as well – sprinkled on my oatmeal, mixed in a smoothie or as a snack on its own. Fruits and vegetables should take up roughly half your diet. My favorites change by the season but these days I’m really into jicama, snap peas and clementines.

The best thing about the foods I’ve listed here is that they’re all easily accessible, found in your local grocery store, and are typically inexpensive. Eating a heart-healthy diet need not only be for those who can afford luxuries. Don’t forget to couple all this healthy eating with being active. Walking, playing, dancing – all of that is free!!!

Tell me your favorite ways to be heart healthy by commenting below.

 

Disclosure: I was not asked to write this post by any of my clients or colleagues, nor was I compensated to do so. I only work with companies and organizations that I believe in and that place a high priority on science and research. All opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.

 

 

 

 

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Bring Some Spring to the Table

Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted spring to be just around the corner, but where I live it’s still undoubtedly winter. And while I enjoy the cozy smells and warmth of soups, stews and fresh-made breads that I tend to make more of when the snow falls, there comes a point when you and everyone in your family says: enough is enough! We want something light, healthy and served at room temperature!

It’s about that time that my family and I decided to bring a little spring inside, at least to our dinner table. The other night we made a platter full of Thai spring rolls – light, flavorful rolls made with shrimp, assorted vegetables, rice noodles and rice paper. The dish is not for last-minute scrambling – it takes at least an hour to make from prep to presentation! And all that work is for about 5 minutes’ worth of gobbling before it’s gone. But it is so worth it. (And, if you follow a gluten-free diet, these are GF, too!)

The trick to good spring rolls is all in the preparation. Once the noodles and wrappers have soaked, you have mere moments to assemble before everything turns to mush. Finished rolls also don’t keep particularly well, so try to make only what you’ll eat that day or at most, by the next day.

Here’s what you’ll need for the spring rolls:

  • Shrimp: cooked, peeled and de-veined
  • Carrots: matchstick-style
  • Cucumbers: matchstick-style
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Rice or bean thread noodles
  • Rice paper wrappers
  • Boiling water for soaking the noodles and more hot water for soaking the rice paper wrappers

Note: I’ve also stuffed the rolls with chopped romaine lettuce and other veggies, but I’ve found that the crunch of the matchstick-cut carrots and cucumbers go well with the chewy noodles and wrapper. Play with whatever you have on-hand and what will work for you. Cooked chicken, tofu or avocado strips also work well in place of shrimp.

Here’s the setup, mise en place (meaning everything in its place so you can assemble quickly).

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First step is to lightly soak the rice paper wrapper in hot (not boiling) water. Do not submerge it in the hot water, but rather dip the sides and rotate, leaving the middle section dry (the water will eventually soak into all the dry spaces).

Rice paper

Next, place 3 shrimp in the middle of the wrapper, followed by the carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and noodles. Try not to overdo it on the noodles. The filling should be no more than 50% noodles, 50% everything else.

Wrap it like a burrito, folding over the fillings, then folding in the sides, then rolling it all up into one log. Lightly squeeze it to remove any air bubbles.

Place on a plate or tray, and repeat as needed. The rolls will stick to each other, so try not to stack them too high or close.

Finished spring rolls

Because the rolls themselves are somewhat bland, a good dipping sauce is necessary. We like two types: a spicy sweet and sour, or a peanut sauce. The sweet and sour we use comes from Trader Joe’s, and the peanut sauce I make myself. The recipe was adapted from something I found in an old Cooking Light cookbook (do step 1 of the recipe).

Serve with dipping plates, and enjoy! Now, if only eating these would bring on the warmer temps outside…

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Lying there on the couch for a much-needed rest after making and eating dinner with the family, the realization came to me: it’s time for a change.

Caffeine, I need you out of my life.

I’ve done it once before, when trying a friend’s (and fellow dietitian’s) detox-style eating plan for a few weeks. Letting go of coffee was the easiest part of that plan, after the initial headaches subsided.

It all began innocently enough. Since I was in middle school (don’t judge), I’ve enjoyed my morning mug of coffee. Sometime around my early 30s one cup turned into the occasional two. Then two-a-day became a habit. I’d have a cup of coffee in the morning while my kids ate breakfast and I got their bags ready for school. After dropping them off I’d return home for my own breakfast, which also included a piping hot cup of coffee alongside whatever I decided to eat that morning. I’d bring my meal and coffee up to my office, sift through my inbox and read the morning headlines while cradling my mug, letting the coffee waft and hit my nose. It was a ritual.

Sometimes for lunch, I’d grab a can of Diet Coke since plain water was getting boring and it was too early to switch over to sparkling water (that’s for dinnertime, of course). Suddenly, I realized I was depending on this caffeine trifecta to get me through the day.

Striking out the soda was pretty easy. As for the coffee, I tried to wean myself off the second cup, substituting green tea instead. And that worked…sometimes. But that day of the post-dinner repose I had had two cups of coffee in the morning, followed by a medium-sized fountain soda with my lunch (very uncharacteristic, but I had an errand to run that day, forcing me to grab lunch on the go). After working all day, driving around to pick up the kids, and preparing and eating dinner, I had the overwhelming urge to just lie down. I was crashing. That’s when it hit me: caffeine was a culprit and not a companion.

My plan is to cut down to one caffeinated cup per day. If I feel the urge for another cup, I’ll switch to decaf. It’s more about the flavor or the need for a hot beverage to warm my hands and insides than it is for the caffeine jolt. Eventually, perhaps I will switch to green tea exclusively for my caffeine fix, and then perhaps graduate to herbal tea exclusively for my morning pick-me-up, kicking the caffeine habit for good. Preferably without any headache side-effects.

Were you able to break up with caffeine? Tell me how you did it.

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Oatmeal – My Way

On snowy days like today, I just can’t bring myself to make my usual breakfast smoothie. That’s when cozying up to a piping hot bowl of oatmeal is what I crave.

I know oatmeal is a “stick to your ribs” kind of breakfast, but I tend to think of oatmeal also as cleaning out my blood vessels and digestive tract. That’s because oatmeal is a great source of fiber, which keeps you full and regular, and it also keeps your heart healthy by lowering cholesterol. The type of fiber in oatmeal, beta glucan (or β-glucan), acts like a magnet to attract cholesterol in the blood and flush it out of the body. While I missed National Oatmeal Month in January, the fact that February is Heart Month gives me another reason to talk about this favorite breakfast. Plus, the way I make oatmeal is loaded with heart-healthy goodness.

One thing to know about me: I’m an oatmeal snob. You’ll never find me ordering oatmeal at a restaurant or choosing it in a breakfast buffet. Once I perfected cooking oatmeal at home, I just can’t have it any other way. I’m happy to share my recipe with you:

  • First, start with ½ cup of old fashioned oats. These are whole oats that have been rolled, keeping the fiber more or less intact. Quick-cooking oats have been chopped a bit more, but I like the toothiness of whole oats (plus, you know, the fiber).
Oats
Whole oats are really inexpensive, but to save even more $ you can buy store brand. Same nutrition and flavor.
  • Add 2/3 cup milk (I use fat-free) and 1/3 cup water. This ratio is important! I’ve found too much milk has a less delicious outcome, and too much water makes the oatmeal bland. Besides, I like the protein and nutrients from the milk, which is why it’s a must-have (and a reason why I *don’t* get oatmeal in restaurants. Most cook the oatmeal in water and then serve milk as an add-on, which makes the oatmeal too runny).
Milk and water
Please excuse the mismatched measuring cups, but each are 1/3 cup.
  • Microwave on high for 2 ½ minutes (actual times may vary. You want it hot, but don’t let it explode).
  • Add frozen, unsweetened fruit and coarsely chopped nuts (I like slightly-salty almonds). Frozen fruit is a must, since fresh this time of year is hard to find. It also brings down the temperature of the oatmeal and helps it congeal a bit. In the summertime when fresh berries are abundant I use those (about 1/2 cup) and add them to the very end. Coarsely-chopped nuts (1/2 ounce) lend some heart-healthy fats, which also keeps me satisfied longer. I like having them coarsely chopped to make the oatmeal a bit more chewy.
Fruit and nuts
Trader Joe’s 50% less salt almonds are the best! And I buy frozen unsweetened berries in bulk at Costco.
  • You may also choose to add some sweetness here (I like 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, but regular sugar, maple syrup or honey would also work) and a hefty sprinkle of ground cinnamon.
  • Microwave on high for 2 minutes more. Stir and let sit at least 1 minute before enjoying. The longer it sits the thicker it becomes.
Finished oatmeal
Not the prettiest picture, but it sure was tasty!