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Nov. 22

Fighting breast cancer one colorful vegetable at a time: a tribute to my grandmother

Below is my blog post “Fighting breast cancer one colorful vegetable at a time: a tribute to my grandmother.”

You  can also read it on Huffington Post HERE.

I first got interested in nutrition many years ago. While hardly as popular a field back then as it is today, my love of nutrition, the field which ultimately became my profession, was due, to a large extent, on my close bond with my beloved grandmother.

Grandma Ceil, as she was known to our family, was a fighter and a powerhouse. She was diagnosed with breast cancer (which no one ever talked about) around 1970, while in her 50s. An avid cook and baker, grandma loved to eat. And her love of food (not always the right ones!) showed on her waistline.

Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, while undergoing treatment, my grandmother became fascinated with nutrition and its relationship to health. So much so that she began practicing and preaching healthy eating to us.

Grandma Ceil lived with cancer for over 20 years and throughout her lifetime with us (she lived a full life till the age of 80), she was vibrant, upbeat, and never missed a family outing. She also made a point at talking to anyone who would listen (that meant me) about the latest nutrition information she had just received from the numerous health organizations she was contacting to find out more about diet and health.

Over the years, my grandmother’s preaching had a profound influence on me. So much so that I’ve spent a good part of my career educating and counseling individuals and families on healthy eating and disease prevention. Below I share some simple guidelines we can follow to help protect us from breast cancer.

First, I must preface by saying that preventing breast cancer, or any other cancer for that matter, is not an exact science. One can follow a super healthy eating and lifestyle program and still get breast cancer. (In fact one out of eight women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. And not all have poor health habits.) We now know, however, that the following lifestyle factors can help prevent breast cancer throughout one’s life—and also improve health outcomes for breast cancer survivors. (There are currently more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the US!) So it’s not too late to start adopting them now.

1. Load up on colorful fruits and vegetables.

Lots of evidence exists that eating colorful vegetables—think red peppers, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens, cauliflower, blueberries, tomatoes—is very helpful in reducing the risk for breast cancer. Colorful vegetables are rich in antioxidants including vitamin C, beta carotene, lycopene, and flavonoids and contain protective properties to fight cancer. These vegetables are also high in fiber and low in calories which can help keep your waistline in check, also important. The different colors often contain different nutrients so it’s best to eat the rainbow, so to speak. And don’t be afraid to vary it up and try a new fruit or veggie. You just may like it.

2. Watch your weight—and your waist.

Maintaining a healthy weight is super important in protecting against breast cancer. Where you keep your excess weight also matters. Excess fat around the mid-line (think apple-shaped) is associated with increased estrogen levels—which could set the stage for breast cells to mutate and ultimately become cancerous. So be sure to keep your weight—and your waist— in check with a healthy diet and exercise program.

3. Adopt the Mediterranean way.

Recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine and The International Journal of Cancer found that adopting a Mediterranean diet—rich in whole grains, olive oil, nuts and legumes, fruits and vegetables—-may prevent breast cancer. It’s no surprise as the Mediterranean diet is a healthy lifestyle diet not only rich in colorful produce and healthy grains but is also low in meat, fried foods, and processed foods. Because managing weight is also an important factor to help fight breast cancer, before pouring the olive oil onto your salad and adding nuts as a snack, be sure to nix the cheese, croutons, butter, and fried foods. And, do watch your olive oil portion as the calories add up quickly (1 tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories).

4. Get moving today.

All types of exercise reduces a woman’s risk for breast cancer so choose one you enjoy and are likely to stick with. Aim for about 30 minutes a day at least four to five days a week. No excuses. Moderately intense activity including brisk walking (not window shopping!) and yoga counts as does more vigorous exercise including running and cycling. What matters most is that you keep moving.

For healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.

5. Don’t over pour…

…I am referring to alcohol, not water. While you may have heard that a glass of wine is protective against heart disease (although I don’t know anyone who got heart disease from a deficiency of alcohol!)) , that same drink (any kind of alcohol) may increase your breast cancer risk. And research shows that moderate drinking —just one drink a day for women—increases the risk.

So if you enjoy a drink, choose it wisely, on occasion, and don’t over pour. And even though wine goblets have increased in size, your drink should still be 5 oz.

6. Cook more.

Research shows that people who cook at home eat healthier and also manage their weight better than those who eat out (or order in) most meals. Home cooked meals are associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat, These are great for fighting breast cancer.

Finally, when going food shopping, try keeping the canned foods (canned soups, canned mushrooms) and foods and drinks which come in plastic containers (water bottles, juice containers) on the shelf. Stanford research confirmed a link between canned food and exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical known as Bisphenol A, or BPA. While it may be difficult to avoid all canned foods and plastic products, try to use as little as possible. And, if you do buy such products, choose brands that are BPA free.

While we can’t change our age, gender, and genetics, it is estimated that healthy lifestyle practices such as I discuss above can help to reduce a woman’s breast cancer risk by about one-third. That would translate to 100,000 US women every year.

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Nov. 20

A city gal’s adventures on a rice farm

As a nutritionist, from time to time, I get invited on press tours for various foods or brands. If the food is healthy, and I recommend it to clients, I try to attend, provided my schedule permits. We learn so many interesting things about the products, while also getting to experience nature and see how they are grown (one of my favorite pastimes as a NYC gal.)

This tour was a Harvest rice tour hosted by Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale California to learn about how rice is grown, harvested, and more. When I mentioned to some of my NYC colleagues that I was going to a rice farm, their response, a rice Farm? Will there be cows?

My answer, yes and no. Yes, a rice farm, and no there will not be cows. Not all farms have cows!!

My experience was terrific. I drove on a rice harvester (a John Deer combine) and spent time with Grant (CEO), Bryce (VP agriculture), and Jessica (VP Human Resources and director of the Nursery) learning about rice and the Lundberg family traditions. We even saw rice cakes being made which was cool. And all of our meals contained Lundberg rice ingredients!

Lundberg Family Farms is a family-owned and operated business committed to producing great tasting rice while also supporting eco-positive farming methods. The company was founded in 1937 when Albert and Frances Lundberg moved to California from Nebraska. In the 1960’s, Albert and Frances’s four sons, decided to sell the rice they were growing directly to the public as it was grown so differently from conventional rice. Now, 80 years later, the third generation Lundberg family members with the help of their children (fourth generation farmers) are carrying the family tradition.  They are all about sustainable agriculture and have a no-waste policy. They don’t even discard the broken rice cakes; they feed them to the animals.

Being very close with my family, I loved seeing the cousins’ work together and care so much about the integrity of their brand.

 

Now, let’s talk rice nutrition (since I am a registered dietitian nutritionist). Here are 6 facts to know.

1.Rice is a member of the grain family. A ½ cup (cooked) serving of rice naturally contains 80-100 calories, mostly in the form of carbohydrates, with a few grams of protein and very little fat (unless added).

2. The healthiest rice to include are whole grain varieties which contain fiber, a carbohydrate that promotes a healthy colon, keeps you regular, and prevents some chronic disease. Choose brown rice instead of white rice.

3. While on the Farm, we learned that Lundberg produces 17 varieties of rice, of varying colors, blends, and grain type (long, short)! You can have more than brown rice to get your fiber fix! Wild rice, black rice, and red rice are also whole grains! My favorite: the wild blend rice—a mixture of brown rice and wild rice.

4. Whole grain rice is also rich in vitamins and minerals including folate, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, and selenium.

5. Rice is gluten free and can be eaten for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

6. Contrary to some opinions (Paleo and keto lovers!) that starch and grains should be omitted on a weight loss diet, whole grain rice along with other whole grains (quinoa, soba noodles, oatmeal, kasha) are not fattening and are a healthy addition to a weight loss program in thoughtful portions.

Have a very rice day!

 

 

 

Disclosure: I was not paid for this post or asked to write it. I was, however, invited on a Harvest Tour along with other media foodies, complements of the Lundberg Family Farms. The opinions are my own.  

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Sep. 26

Enjoy these 5 whole grains for better health

Below is my post for Huffington Post: “Enjoy these 5 whole grains for better health”

You can also read it HERE.

September is back to school time and the start of the fall season. It is also Whole Grains Month and there’s lots of reason to celebrate. Including whole grains in your diet is a great way to boost nutrient intake. Whole grains are packed with vitamins and minerals including folate, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and protective phytonutrients. Research shows that eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers.

Including whole grains in your diet can also help with weight loss despite the Paleo movement and low-carb enthusiasts who shun even the healthiest of grains. Whole grains are actually relatively low in calories (approximately 80-100 calories per ½ cup serving) and are also rich in fiber which helps you feel full (and, therefore, stop eating!)

Despite the health benefits of whole grains, and the recommendations to eat at least half of your grains as whole grains (3 whole grain servings daily for a 2000 calorie diet), most Americans eat fewer than one serving per day. And, instead, we fill up on refined grains (yes, white bread products) which are devoid of fiber and other important nutrients.

Next time you decide which starchy carbohydrate to eat, I suggest you skip the white pasta and white rice and include healthy grains instead: brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, kasha, farro, whole corn, millet, whole wheat pasta, and kamut to name a few. If you happen to be following a gluten-free diet, no problem, as many terrific and versatile grains are now readily available on the market.

These healthy and tasty whole grains are worth placing at the top of your shopping list.

Quinoa

Quinoa, technically a seed and not a grain, is a nutrition treasure and has a protein content that is superior to that of most grains, because it contains all the essential amino acids. It is high in the amino acid lysine, which is important for tissue growth and repair. It is also rich in the minerals iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and copper, and a great choice if you are eating a gluten-free diet. Quinoa is also high in the antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol which are thought to protect against a range of chronic diseases. And it contains 5 grams of fiber per one cup serving. It is also versatile and can be added to salads, veggie burgers and chili. And, it is gluten free.

Buckwheat

Buckwheat brought to America by Russian and Polish immigrants who called it “kasha,” is a good source of the minerals manganese, magnesium, and zinc, as well as flavonoids like quercetin and rutin, which contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A great choice for those following a gluten-free diet, one cup of cooked kasha contains five grams of fiber.

Growing up, my grandmother used to make kasha varnishkes — kasha, bow tie noodles, onions and fat. This version is not gluten free unless you use gluten free noodles. Unless it’s a nostalgic occasion, for a healthier version, I suggest sticking with the kasha and skipping the bow tie noodles.

Whole corn

Fresh corn on the cob. Popcorn. Corn cakes. Polenta. Yes, corn is a whole grain and can be extremely healthy for you when it’s whole. A good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus, whole corn is high in fiber and gluten free. Contrary to popular belief, whole corn is not high in calories; a corn on the cob contains around 100 calories. Yellow corn is also high in antioxidants. One of my summer favorites: fresh corn on the cob from the Farmer’s market.

Oats

Enjoying oatmeal for breakfast is one of the most common ways to eat oats. Not only does it taste delicious, it is also filling, chock full of fiber, and lower in calories and sugar than many breakfast cereals. Oat bran is particularly high in the soluble fiber β-glucan which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, making it a great choice to prevent heart disease. Oats also contains magnesium and potassium, two minerals also good for your heart.

Farro

Farro is an ancient wheat grain that originated in Mesopotamia. Though we refer to farro as if it were one just grain, the term is Italian for “ancient wheat grain” and is often used to describe three different grains: farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer), and farro grande (spelt). Emmer wheat is the kind that is most commonly found in the U.S and Europe and it is sometimes confused with spelt, an entirely different type of grain.

Farro has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture and is a healthy alternative to popular grains, such as rice and quinoa. It is yummy as an ingredient in stews, salads and soups. It is very nutritious, rich in protein and fiber, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Best to choose whole farro as opposed to the pearled variety.

 

Next time you have the urge to include refined white products at your next meal or skip the grain family altogether, think again and include these super foods on your plate. Here’s your permission slip to eat more carbs…the healthy way.

Want recipes, tips, and ideas on how to prepare whole grains? We’ve got you covered.

The Oldways Whole Grain Council (WGC) offers recipes and tip sheets on preparing whole grains.

No time to cook? No problem! My nutrition colleague, Ellie Krieger, award winning author, and producer and host of the cooking series “Ellie’s Real Good Food,” rounds up some new products that make whole grains a cinch to prepare.

Want to wake up with whole grains tomorrow morning? This expert roundup (me included) offers unique and novel ways to incorporate whole grains in to your breakfast routine.

Here’s to a healthy fall.

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Aug. 15

8 portion-control hacks that really work.

Below is my blog post for HufPost “8 portion-control hacks that really work.”

You can also read it here.

photo credit: Oleksandra Naumeko/Bigstock.com

As a nutritionist and portion-size researcher, I’ve helped thousands of clients slim down while eating foods they love with my “Portion Teller”program. My philosophy is simple. All foods are allowed—-some in unlimited amounts (non-starchy vegetables and fruits), some in moderate portions (whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats) and others in small portions (alcohol and sweets). To lose weight, it is necessary to eat fewer calories than you burn.

So where does portion-control fit in?

When you eat less, you take in fewer calories. However, as a portion-size researcher and clinician, the term “portion-control” doesn’t mean eating tiny portions. In fact a dieter’s worst enemy is staring at a half empty plate and being hungry—and hangry!—all the time. The key to successful weight loss is being able to distinguish between which foods you can eat plentifully and which foods you do really need to watch. It also means being able to correctly estimate how much you should be eating (and are actually eating) so that you can stick with a healthy food plan. And certain practices also make it easier to control your portions.

Below are my tips and tricks to helping you manage your portions while shedding a few pounds along the way without feeling in the least bit deprived.

1. Load up on colorful fruits and veggies.

I’ve said this before. No one got fat eating fruits and vegetables. While a banana may have more calories than a cup of cantaloupe, enjoying a banana will not make you fat. Similarly, while a cup of carrots contains more calories than a cup of lettuce, this orange sweet-tasting veggie will not fatten you up. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber and water helping you to feel full while also giving your body vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants good for your health.

Size it up: Fill half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at each meal. Practicing portion control will feel a whole lot simpler.

2. Mix and match.

To practice portion-control effectively, you do not want to feel hungry. To avoid such feelings, I suggest eating foods that contain nutrients that promote feelings of fullness. Protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats do the trick. Therefore at each meal, try “mixing and matching:” eating a combination of foods to keep you satiated. Include protein-rich foods such as fish, chicken, eggs, beans, and grass-fed beef; fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains (brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa); and a sprinkling of healthy fats including olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Size it up: A yummy—and filling—dinner includes grilled salmon, roasted asparagus and cauliflower, and cup of quinoa.

3. Smartsize your dishes (and your spoons!).

Considerable research has shown that the size of our plates, bowls and even utensils (yes, spoons!) can play a major role in the amount of food we eat. The larger the plate the more we serve ourselves and tend to eat.

Eating off of a larger plate can actually be a good strategy for salads and veggies that we want to eat more of. And not all portion-control strategies are about eating less. However, for a pasta meal, I’d certainly suggest downsizing your bowl.

Spoon sizes and drinking glasses make a difference too!

In a study by Cornell researchers, nutrition experts given a larger bowl served themselves 31.0% more without even noticing. And, when given a larger serving spoon, their servings increased by 14.5%. And these are experts! Imagine how food novices would respond.

University of Cambridge researchers reported that people drank more wine when their glass was bigger. A larger wine glass may change our perception of how much wine constitutes a portion, perhaps leading us to drink faster and to order more.

Size it up: Want to enjoy an ice cream treat in the dog days of summer? Use a small bowl and a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon.

4. Make a fist and use your hand as a portion guide.

When you go out to eat, which Americans do quite often these days, you’re not likely to bring along a food scale and measuring cups but you always have your hand.

Since so many of us overdo our starch portion (think rice, pasta, and potato), I advise clients to make a fist and enjoy a healthy 1-cup portion instead of banning starch altogether.

This method is not an exact science (after all, we all have different size hands) but it sure does come in handy.

• a fist = 1 cup of rice, pasta, cereal

• palm of your hand = 3 ounces of poultry or meat

• 2 fingers (a peace sign) = 2 ounce of cheese

• bent thumb joint = 1 tablespoon of oil or peanut butter

Size it up: Want to include an occasional serving of red meat in your diet, without overdoing it? Think a palm’s worth. And, add lots of colorful veggies to round out your plate.

5. Don’t leave home without your checkbook and dental floss.

Visualizing everyday objects can also be a great way to estimate serving sizes. Check out these familiar items to help keep your portions in check. For additional visuals, check out my book The Portion Teller Plan.

• baseball = 1 cup of starch (rice, pasta, potatoes)

• deck of cards = 3-4 ounces of poultry or meat

• checkbook = 4 ounces white fish

• shot glass = 2 tablespoons oil or salad dressing

• package of dental floss = 1 ounce of a treat: a cookie or piece of chocolate

Size it up: No need to ban healthy grains from your dinner plate. Fill half of your plate with your favorite veggies, a quarter of the plate healthy protein (1-2 decks of cards) and the other quarter (think one baseball’s worth!) with healthy grain such as wild rice, whole wheat pasta, or whole sorghum.

6. Indulge, once in a while

As I tell my weight-loss clients, it is OK to include a daily treat to keep you from feeling deprived and to make your eating plan enjoyable. This practice makes it easier to practice portion-control and stick to a healthy food plan for the long term.

Size it up: Enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner or a cookie for dessert. Include a large bowl of mixed berries too!

7. Stock up on baggies and small containers.

comprehensive report from researchers at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU), University of Cambridge confirmed that larger portions and packages contribute to overeating. We tend to eat more when our food packages are bigger! And, we do not even feel more full.

Instead of surrounding ourselves with temptation, I suggest buying single-serving packages or pre-portioning your favorite snacks and putting them into baggies which you can grab when you are hungry.

Size it up: Keep small containers handy too so you can store leftovers in perfect portions.

8. Slow down, you move too fast…

Yes, this brilliant phrase comes from the lyrics of the popular Simon and Garfunkel song, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling’ Groovy). Here’s my food spin on it. When you eat slowly, you tend to be more mindful, and are more in tune with your body’s needs. You also end up eating less! A win-win!

Size it up: Savor your meal, enjoy your dining companion, and breathe in between bites.

I offer more portion hacks here and here.

We’d love to hear about your favorite portion tricks.

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Jul. 4

5 patriotic hacks to try this 4th of July. They are healthy too!

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post,  “5 patriotic hacks to try this 4th of July. They are healthy too!”

You can also read it HERE.

July 4th marks the official start of summer and a time for celebration—with family, friends, and of course, food. It does not, however, have to be a time for weight gain. First off, what you do every day (think portion control, more fruits and veggies, less junk food, exercise) is more important than what you do on just one day of the year (think July 4th, Thanksgiving, Halloween).

With that said, you can enjoy a summer barbecue with loved ones while also enjoying summer favorites, and still come out healthy and, perhaps, even down a pound or two! Let’s face it, it’s hard to have a holiday party without eating, but these simple hacks will help you eat less and stay on track.

Eat off of red plates.

This is the perfect trick to try this holiday. Researchers from the University of Parma, Italy, conducted a study that found that eating off of red plates reduced portion sizes. While the authors conclusion states, “Although the origin of the intriguing effect of the color red on consumption remains unclear, our results may prove useful to future potential explanations,” it can’t hurt to give it a try!

And, while you’re at it, use a patriotic tablecloth as well.

Choose a patriotic—and healthy—breakfast.

In my nutrition counseling practice, I recommend that clients eat a healthy breakfast to prevent hunger later on. If you are not a breakfast eater, no problem; it’s OK to keep it light and to eat something mid-morning instead.

Eating something healthy before heading out to a summer barbecue is one of the best ways to avoid overeating. Not only do I recommend this to my clients, but I practice it religiously.

Here’s a healthy patriotic choice to enjoy this July 4th (and all summer long): a low-fat yogurt topped with blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and red raspberries; include at least one blue and one red fruit. And in celebration of the holiday, top it with a sprinkle or two (1-2 teaspoons) of unsweetened coconut flakes.

Infuse your water to stay hydrated.

While we know we should drink more water to stay hydrated, easier said than done. especially if you are bored with the taste of plain water. Here are some tricks to try this Independence Day. Choose sparkling water or water and add fruit. Think red, white and blue this holiday!

I love adding watermelon cubes into my water or making ice cubes from the juice of watermelon. Another option is to throw in fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, red grapes, red raspberries, strawberries, or cubes of apple and pear (not exactly white, but close enough!).

Enjoy a (small) glass of sangria or red wine.

While it’s OK to enjoy a glass of wine or sangria, drink it out of a small glass. University of Cambridge researchers found that the larger the wine glass, the more people drink. This makes perfect size, as larger plates, bowls, and spoons, also lead to overeating.

To help keep your portion sizes in check, as I suggest in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, eat off of smaller plates, use smaller cutlery, and drink from a smaller glass this 4th of July holiday! Your waist will thank you.

Choose watermelon for dessert.

While your festivities will likely end with some sweet stuff—ice cream and cookies—with a little luck, it may often end with healthy watermelon slices as well. Watermelon is a delicious fruit, which will not only quench your thirst; it will also give you a boost of antioxidants (think lycopene!) And, remember, no one got fat eating watermelon, or any other melon for that matter, so please don’t skip this sweet tasting fruit. If you are not sure your guests will serve watermelon, offer to bring it along.

Here’s to a terrific—and nutritious—summer!

We’d love to hear your healthy summer hacks.
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May. 22

11 tips to make your grocery trip a whole lot healthier

Below is my post for Huffington Post, “11 tips to make your grocery trip a whole lot healthier.”

You can also read it here.

One of the best ways to practice healthy eating is to surround yourself with a variety of nutritious foods. Having spent a good part of my career helping clients get healthier, one of the first things we discuss is food shopping. If you buy healthy foods and ingredients, you will cook with them and eat them. If you bring lots of junk food into the house, guess what? That’s what you’ll eat.

Making smart choices in the grocery store really is the key to good nutrition, at least when eating at home. While some people love grocery shopping (I do and love seeing the new products!), others see it as an onerous chore. Picking up a few simple shopping tips, however, can make your trip to the market much healthier.

1. Shop from a list.

Before heading out to the supermarket, plan ahead, and take stock of what ingredients you need to prepare healthy meals and snacks for the week. You can keep a paper shopping list or keep a running list on your phone so you know you won’t forget it. You can also download your favorite smartphone app.

2. Enlist your family.

To be sure your family will want to eat what you serve, get them involved in the preparation, and ask them if there’s anything special they want around the house; keep it healthy, of course. This will help them feel like they are part of a team.

3. Don’t shop when hungry.

When you shop on an empty stomach, you tend to fill up on impulse purchases which are generally unhealthy. Eat a light meal or snack before heading to the market and you are more likely to skip to junk and shop from your list. This really does make all the difference.

4. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store first.

This is where you are likely to find healthy foods such as produce. Start by filling your cart with colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. This will set you up for healthy shopping habits for the remainder of your trip. Avoid the center aisles where the junk foods lurk; skip that section entirely or save it for last.

5. Choose the rainbow.

The different colors of the rainbow reflect the different vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Red produce, including tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruits, tend to be rich in the antioxidant lycopene while orange produce, including carrots and cantaloupe, tend to be high in the antioxidant beta carotene. Go for color, including white (think cauliflower, onions)

Considering organic produce? Check out the Environmental Working Group for a list of the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15. The dirty dozen, including strawberries, spinach, and apples, are the produce with highest levels of pesticides so you may want to purchase these in organic varieties.

In addition to healthy produce, fill your cart with healthy foods from the various food groups: whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, legumes, nuts, and lean meats, and healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

7. Choose packaged foods with a short ingredient list.

Choose minimally processed foods without lots of added sugar and salt. Choose foods that contain five ingredients or less and skip foods containing artificial ingredients, additives, and ingredients you can hardly pronounce. Frozen fruits and vegetables with nothing added are also great options to add to your shopping cart if you live alone and are worried your produce may go bad.

8. Don’t be fooled.

Read packaged food labels including the product’s ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight so the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. Review the serving size and the calories per serving. And check the sugar and sodium content.

Hopefully by next summer, (if the release new food labels are not delayed), you will be able to clearly see the calories and serving-size information along with a product’s “added sugars” on the package label.

For the time being, check out the sugars section and read the ingredient list for the added sugars (look for terms including sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, corn syrup).

And, as I wrote here, don’t be fooled by certain terms which give off the impression that a food is healthier than it really is: multigrain, fat-free, and gluten-free. Gluten-free cookies are still cookies.

9. Don’t buy in bulk.

Stocking up on paper towels can be a good idea (if you have the storage space) and save you money, but buying food in oversize packages will probably cost you lots of calories. We tend to eat more food from large packages and we usually do not even realize it so I don’t suggest stocking up on jumbo packages of nuts, cereal, chips, and crackers. Try purchasing snack foods in single servings; it will help you eat less. If you must buy in bulk, stock up on small baggies too—and divide and conquer!

10. Try a new food.

Be adventurous; aim to try a new fruit or vegetable each week. There are also so many yummy whole grains besides the usual whole wheat breads and cereals. Try Ezekiel bread, amaranth, spelt, quinoa, and Bulgar. Try soba noodles or chick pea pasta instead of whole wheat pasta for a change. Variety really is the spice of life.

11. Yes, make room for a treat.

I am not a fan of deprivation, so I do think it’s ok to buy and enjoy an occasional treat. If you are buying a treat food for the family, follow the rule of ONE: bring one fun food into the house at a time. Want to splurge on ice cream? Stick to just one flavor. The more flavors you have around the house, the more you will end up eating. Stick to a portion-controlled amount and choose a splurge you love. And, there are certain foods you may not want to even bring into the house if you know you will be tempted to overeat.

Enjoy!

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Apr. 9

Spring clean your diet with these 6 easy tips

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “Spring clean your diet with these 6 easy tips.”

You can also read it HERE.

Spring is in the air. I love to be outdoors and listen to the birds chirping. With springtime comes decluttering; we clear out our winter sweaters and boots in exchange for spring dresses and sandals. With daylight savings time upon us, we can spend more time outdoors, which can boost our moods and also enable us to exercise outdoors while also being one with nature. Spring is also time for renewal and rejuvenation with the smell of flowers in bloom. As the season changes, since I am a nutritionist, I love to focus on helping others take on some new healthy rituals too.

Here are my top tips to help you recharge this spring. I hope you can give them a try, if you are not already practicing them.

1. Cook more.

You gain so many benefits when you cook at home. First off, home cooked meals are healthier and contain fewer calories than those eaten away from home. Research recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that eating out frequently was associated with a lower diet quality and more ‘empty calories’ as compared to cooking at home.

When we cook and measure out ingredients, we tend to become better at estimating portion sizes, which I promise you, will help you slim down. Cooking is also a great way to bond with family and friends. While eating out is lots of fun and very social, (and it’s always great to try new foods!), try to eat at least a few meals at home each week. It will help both you wallet—and you waist. If you don’t know how to cook, take a cooking class or turn on your TV; there are many shows which teach you how to prepare healthy foods.

2. Try a new food.

We often associate a new season with newness-new things (new shoes or clothes (for the current season), new habits, new rituals. How about trying a new food you haven’t yet tried. Give it a go. Whether you decide to make it at home or enjoy it while eating out, go for it. My tip: keep it healthy. Perhaps let’s start with visiting your local farmer’s market and trying a new seasonal fruit or vegetable to add to your diet. There’s got to be a fruit or veggie you haven’t yet tried and may really end up loving!

3. Spring clean your kitchen.

One of the best ways to get your diet in order is to de-clutter your kitchen and keep healthy foods around. Get rid of most of the junk and keep healthy foods at arms reach. As I wrote here, put out a fruit platter, keep the breakfast cereal stashed away in the cabinet, and keep healthy foods in the front of the fridge where you can easily see them. I love keeping assorted berries in a bowl as well as baby carrots and red peppers easily accessible. It is also best to store goodies like cookies in an opaque container so that they are not as tempting.

4. Eat the rainbow.

Besides helping us feel fuller on fewer calories, eating a colorful diet high in fruits and vegetables (both fresh and frozen) can give your diet a boost of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber which cut your risk of chronic disease and help fight aging. Eating the rainbow and choosing a colorful assortment of produce is best, as different health benefits exist from the different color spectrum.

I often counsel families and like to choose a “color of the week” where we incorporate produce of that color into the diet. For example, the color red is the “R” of the rainbow (remember the acronym “ROY G BIV”!). Let’s think of a bunch of healthy red foods and try including them into the diet this week—pink grapefruit, tomatoes, red raspberries, strawberries, and red peppers. Next week, think of the orange color scheme for “O” and all the healthy orange foods—orange, carrots, cantaloupe… It’s a lot of fun and helps to incorporate a lot of colorful produce. And guess what? Even white colored produce have lots of health benefits: think cauliflower and white onions!

5. Get outdoors.

This is a great season to get outside and play. Go for along walk with your dog, go for a run or a bike ride, or enjoy a structured hike. It stays light outside for longer this season so you can take advantage and exercise outdoors after work. Being one with nature is also so good for the soul, helps improve mood, and helps you feel centered.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude leads better sleep, improved mood, better self esteem, better resiliency, and stronger relationships. Research has found that cultivating gratitude leads to better psychological and physical health. One ritual that I practice myself daily (almost!) is to write down 5 things I am grateful for each day. While certain things can certainly often be better, we must remember, that they can also be worse. Try looking at your “cup” as half full instead of as half empty. When we appreciate what we have, we also tend to ultimately get more out of life and relationships.

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Mar. 14

Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to over-eat

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post: “Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to overeat.” 

You can also read it HERE.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever purchased one food item over another because the nutrient claim on the package gave you the impression that it was the healthier choice? You may have been misled.

Many terms on food labels can confuse even the most educated consumers into thinking that a packaged food product is healthy when in fact, it is anything but healthy.

As I previously wrote, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be giving food labels an overhaul after 30 years (with updated serving sizes, disclosure of added sugar, and more), and even changing the definition of some terms manufacturers can use on labels (including “healthy”), it is still easy to be tricked into thinking a packaged food product is healthier than it really is.

Here are several—often misleading—terms that manufacturers often use on packaged food labels along with my tips on how not to be fooled. Such terms are often “health halos,” giving consumers the impression that the product is healthy thereby encouraging you to eat more than they may ordinarily consume.

1. Multigrain

When shopping for healthy grains, including bread, pasta, and crackers, looks—and words—can be deceiving. A loaf of bread, for example can be flavored with molasses or caramel coloring and have that brown “healthy” look but may not be any healthier than refined white bread. The term multigrain, for example, means that the product must contain two or more grains. But those grains may or may not be healthy whole grains.

Whole grains, including whole wheat breads and pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice contain more nutrients and fiber than refined products which have been stripped away of the bran and germ, the grain’s healthy components. The Dietary Guidelines advises that at least half of our grains be whole grains so read labels carefully.

My tip: When reading food labels, if you want to be assured that your product is healthy, look for the words 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat as opposed to multigrain. And be sure to read the ingredient list which tells a lot. According to FDA, “ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight,” meaning that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. The ingredient list tells you like it is.

2. Zero trans fat

Trans fat is just about the most unhealthy fat you can have. It is bad for your heart, is generally found in heavily processed foods, and the ideal amount to have is none at all. However, products are allowed to say that they contain “zero trans fats” if one serving contains less than 0.5 grams. This is deceiving because if you eat multiple servings—which so many of us do—the grams of trans fats add up quite easily.

My tip: Read the ingredient list and if “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” is listed, then the product contains trans fats, and I suggest you keep it on the shelf instead of adding it to your grocery cart.

3. Fatfree

The term fat-free can be notoriously misleading. Many products that bear this label are not as healthy as you might think and just because a label says fat-free, it doesn’t mean that the food product is calorie-free and that you can eat as much as you want. Fat-free products often tend to be loaded with sugar and are not healthy at all, despite what many consumers often think.

I’ve had many clients over the years that think they don’t have to pay attention to their portion size of fat free products. However, many fat-free cookies have just as many calories as their full-fat version. And many fat-free versions taste awful and just leave us wanting more.

My tip: Check the label for calorie content, and compare it to the full-fat version. And watch out for the added sugar.

4. Sugarfree

According to FDA, the nutrient claim sugar-free means that a product contains less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving. These products, however, may still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources. As many consumers often think, the term sugar-free doesn’t mean the product contains fewer calories than the regular version. Oftentimes, it contains more.

Sugar-free products often contain sugar alcohols such as xylitol, maltitol, or sorbitol which do contain calories (although fewer calories than table sugar) and may also cause stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Therefore, it is very important to practice portion control.

My tip: Compare the labels of the regular and sugar-free version and be sure to check the number of calories as well. And do not eat too much of either version. In fact, the sugar-free version will probably give you a stomach ache if you eat too much.

5. Gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye and should not be consumed by people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. These days, gluten-free products are very easy to find with the proliferation of new products regularly hitting store shelves.

Gluten-free products, however, are not necessarily any healthier than those with gluten and can often actually be less healthy and contain more sugar and salt, and less fiber.

While gluten-free products are important for those who cannot digest gluten, there is really no advantage for everyone else to buy them. And they certainly will not help you lose weight, unless of course, they are lower in calories than the regular version which is not necessarily the case.

My tip: Read food labels and compare the calories, fiber, sugar, salt, and ingredient list of the gluten-free and regular varieties. And remember gluten-free cookies are still cookies!

One final thought: Before turning to packaged foods, I’d suggest you aim to eat more whole foods—including fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, fresh seafood, and quinoa or brown rice—without fancy packaging and lots of added ingredients.

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Feb. 5

Eat more of these foods for a healthy heart

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “Eat more of these foods for a healthy heart.” 

You can also read it HERE.

 

Welcome to February, American Heart Month. American Heart Month is a great way to remind Americans to focus on keeping their hearts healthy. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death with more than 17.3 million deaths each year and this number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

As a nutritionist, I’ve seen firsthand how a heart-healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, can make a huge difference in improving one’s health. A heart-healthy diet consists of foods rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins (fish, legumes); and low in added sugar, salt, and saturated fats (margarine, butter, fatty meats).

This February, in honor of American Heart Month, eat your heart out with my top picks below. Your heart will be happy! And keep a focus on including more heart healthy foods all year long—not just for the month of February.

Berries

Berries, including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, are chock full of heart-healthy antioxidants, polyphenols and fiber, which help fight chronic disease including heart disease. They are also a good source of vitamin C which has been linked to a lower risk of stroke. And they taste great too! For an added nutrition boost, add your favorite berries to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, and salads. Your heart—and your waist—will be happy.

Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetable, which include broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are members of the Brassica family and known to be rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which have have antioxidant properties and help fight heart disease.

Broccoli, for example, is chock full of vitamin C, the mineral calcium, fiber, and vitamin A. It is also rich in sulforaphane, a health-promoting compound that can fight disease. Cauliflower may not be green, but it is full of heart-healthy properties; it contains antioxidants, fiber, and allicin, a component found in garlic known to reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Cruciferous vegetables taste great when roasted with a little olive oil and your favorite spices.

Salmon

Salmon and other fatty fish, including arctic char, trout and sardines, contain heart-healthy fats know as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower triglycerides, reduce inflammation, and decrease the risk of plaque in the arteries. Current guidelines suggest eating fish twice a week, and for good reason. Whether eating out or eating in, choose grilled salmon instead of a steak as your protein option.

Beans and legumes

Eating small amounts of beans and legumes is good for your heart. They are high in soluble fiber which helps to lower cholesterol and heart-healthy flavonoids shown to lower your risk for heart attack and strokes. Eating just one serving of beans or legumes per day has been shown to reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol.” Beans and legumes are also high in fiber and are a terrific source of plant protein helping to keep you full—and trim, an added bonus for maintaining heart health. Top your salad with chickpeas, enjoy a lentil or split pea soup, or have a snack of hummus and veggies.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal contains soluble fiber which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. The type of fiber in oatmeal, beta glucans, may be particularly beneficial for heart health and for weight control. Oatmeal also contains the minerals magnesium and potassium also good for the heart. So next time you are looking for a healthy breakfast cereal, choose the oatmeal instead of the cream of wheat. And for an added boost of nutrition, top it with berries and a tablespoon of chia seeds.

Nuts and seeds

I am a huge fan of nuts and seeds and always recommend them to my clients for heart health. Nuts contain protein, the antioxidant vitamin E, and heart-healthy fats. Sprinkle chopped walnuts and flaxseeds into your morning yogurt and enjoy a handful of almonds or an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter for a healthy afternoon snack. One handful of your favorite nuts will satisfy both your hunger—and your heart! One caveat: eat your nuts unsalted of course!

Olive oil

Olive oil, especially extra virgin, contains high levels of “heart healthy” monounsaturated fats and antioxidants to help unclog your arteries. Best to use an olive oil based dressing instead of creamy varieties such as ranch and blue cheese. However, it’s important not to over pour; aim for 1-2 tablespoons, or a shot glass worth.

Red wine

Yes, you can enjoy a glass of red wine with your grilled salmon and vegetable medley. While moderate alcohol is good for the heart and elevates good (HDL) cholesterol, red wine, in particular contains resveratrol, a compound with antioxidant properties, which can help prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases. Practice moderation, of course. Women can enjoy one drink a day while men can enjoy two drinks a day. Enjoy!

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Jan. 16

Try these 10 simple tips for a healthier 2017

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Try these 10 simple tips for a healthier 2017.”

You can also read it here.

Welcome to 2017! The New Year creates an opportunity to start fresh and set simple achievable goals for getting healthier and losing weight.

As a nutritionist and wellness advocate, I have never been a fan of rigid diets or all-or-nothing New Year’s resolutions that you cannot keep. Instead, I advocate making small actionable changes that you can incorporate into your day-to-day life which can be kept throughout the year.

Planning in advance, looking at the positive, making small changes when food shopping, eating out, and eating at home can make a big difference to your overall health and weigh loss efforts.

To make your life healthier, and even help you shed some unwanted pounds, below are 10 practical suggestions to help you improve your diet this year.

1. Mind your bowls.

Food portions are not the only things that have increased over the years — our plate sizes have too. And we eat more if our plates and bowls are bigger. It makes perfect sense. Consider your favorite breakfast cereal. A recommended serving size for a starch serving at breakfast would be around 1 cup. If you pour a 1-cup serving into a big bowl, it won’t look like much and you will most likely feel deprived. Try pouring it into a smaller bowl, perhaps even a bowl from your grandmother’s set, and it will look a lot better, and you may feel more satisfied. Perhaps because for a dieter, nothing is worse than staring at a half empty bowl or plate!

Even if your cereal is a healthy whole grain, if you eat too much, the calories add up quickly. And after experimenting with clients, most of us would easily pour 2-3 cups of cereal into our breakfast bowl, thinking we are eating a healthy cereal.

A client of mine lost 20 pounds, effortlessly, when switching to smaller plates and bowls. If we downsize our plate, we tend to eat less. Give it a try! This study found that halving plate size led to a 30 percent reduction in the amount of food consumed. I offer more portion-control tricks here and here.

2. Swap refined carbs for healthy fats.

Gone are the days where going fat-free is the healthiest option. Nix the big bagels and oversize muffins and enjoy some healthy fats. Enjoy a schmear of avocado on your whole grain toast, spread your favorite nut butter on a rice cake or two, sprinkle olive oil on your salad, and don’t feel guilty! And swapping carbs for healthy fats is also good for your heart.

3. Eat more, weigh less.

Good news if you are a volume lover. As I referred to them in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, volume eaters like a large portion of food. A solution: fill up on fruits and vegetables which tend to be low in calories (while also being super nutritious and chock full of vitamins and minerals.) Good options include berries, melons, citrus fruit, leafy greens and, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. Enjoy a bowl of mixed berries at breakfast with your yogurt or oatmeal. Eat a large colorful salad every day composed of a variety of different vegetables. Just ask for the dressing on the side and hold the croutons. And as I often say, no one got fat eating too many carrots or bananas.

4. Shop from a list, don’t buy in bulk, and eat before heading to the grocery store.

What you bring into your house will ultimately determine what you eat, at least when you are eating home. So here are some shopping tips that can help you shop smart. Do not go food shopping on an empty stomach. Eat a healthy snack before heading out to the store and you will end up choosing healthier foods. I also suggest making a list of the foods you need and stick to the list. Finally, steer clear of jumbo portions; the bigger the package, the more most of us eat, even if we aren’t hungry.

5. Go meatless once in a while.

Incorporating plant based proteins including chickpeas, lentils, black beans, tofu and tempeh into your diet offer up many health benefits, ranging from weight loss to lower cholesterol and improved blood sugar. Beans and legumes are high in fiber and protein as well as vitamins and minerals such as folate, iron, and magnesium. And here’s another reason to swap red meat for legumes. According to a new study, beans and peas make people feel fuller after a meal than meat. Enjoy a split pea soup with a colorful salad or a bean-based veggie burger instead of a hamburger for a healthy meatless lunch. And at your favorite Chinese restaurant, order tofu with veggies and brown rice (with your favorite sauce on the side) instead of spare ribs with fried egg rolls. Your heart and your waist will be happy!

6. Think positive.

Rather than dwelling on the foods you cannot eat, focus on what you can eat. I tell my clients that there is no restaurant or cuisine that is completely off limits. You can always find something healthy on the menu. And you do not have to order off of the “diet” menu. For example, when going to an Italian restaurant, instead of dwelling on the fact that you shouldn’t eat garlic bread and fettuccine Alfredo, focus instead of what you can eat: start with an arugula and endive salad, minestrone soup, or grilled veggies and for a main dish, you can enjoy whole wheat pasta with veggies and fresh tomato sauce or grilled fish with sautéed spinach.

7. Roast your vegetables.

I love roasted veggies and enjoy them quite often. For a change from steamed veggies which are bland and boring for many of us, you can roast whatever veggies you have in your fridge—broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and red pepper and zucchini to name a few. For a healthy—and filling—starch option, you can also roast sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Just go easy on the oil and you won’t have to worry about the calories.

8. Write it down.

There is no better way to get a handle on what and how much you eat than by keeping food records. Don’t worry; you do not have to keep them forever. People who keep food records become more mindful of their mistakes are then able to make corrections. Food records help you see your patterns, both positive and negative ones. For example, are you nibbling mindlessly while watching TV, and how much are you really eating? By identifying your bad habits, you can easily substitute them for healthier ones. Today, more than ever, it is easy to keep food records as there are so many apps on your smartphone which you can use.

9. Want dessert? Serve yourself.

If you are trying to eat healthier, a new study found that serving yourself can help curb unhealthy indulgences. People who choose their own piece of cake and, cut it themselves, eat less of it. And, better yet, they may even end up not eating cake at all.

While serving yourself stops people from eating unhealthy foods, it didn’t stop them from eating healthy food, the study to be published later this year in the Journal of Marketing Research found. So next time you are at a dinner party and your host offers you a fruit salad, go for it, but when it comes to the cake and cookies, serve it yourself.

10. Stress less.

When we feel stressed, many of us turn to food. Comfort food, that is as opposed to healthy salads. While it may be easier said than done, worrying will not make our problems go away. To beat stress and worry, exercise regularly and develop a daily meditation practice. It is also ok to start small. And be sure not to stress about the exercise: choose an activity you love (my favorite is yoga and swimming) and schedule it on your calendar at a time that works for you so you don’t feel rushed. As for meditation, start with 5 minutes before bed and work up to a longer period slowly. For an added boost, exercise and meditation also improves your mood and your health.

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