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Kosher Food and Wine Experience 2015 with a healthy twist

As I was getting ready to attend the 9th annual Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE 15) held this year at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City, I received an article with the headlines “Cheers! Study says red wine may help burn fat.” This is good news, as I was about to embark on a kosher wine and food fest, one of the largest gatherings offering a sampling of the latest in kosher fare. With 2400 attendees this year, KFWE 2015 has become the destination event for kosher wine and food lovers.

The event is produced by the Royal Wine Corporation the leading producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines and spirits in the world.

Attending KFWE is not a time to be watching calories, or worrying about health. After all, it is just one night.  As a nutritionist, however, I am always paying attention to the latest in healthy food and nutrition trends.

If you were hoping that drinking wine does, indeed, burn fat, there were many varieties of wine to choose from. KFWE 2015 showcased some of the best kosher wines from all over the world, with several labels premiering at the show. Baron Herzog, Bartenura, Weinstock, Joseph Zakon, Jeunesse, Pacifica, Harkham, Rashi, Alfasi, and Ovadia were just some of the selections featured. My favorite: Moscato from Bartenura.

KFWE 2015 also featured a large selection of food from top kosher restaurants, gourmet food companies, and caterers. The selections included traditional Jewish cuisine—including cholent, potato kugel, chopped liver and other choices you would likely see at a Shabbos Kiddush—along with lots of steakhouse fare, French, Mexican, and Asian cuisine.

My favorite healthy selections included a variety of  dishes from Pomegranate: the purple cabbage and apples salad, winter squash quinoa salad, sunrise salad, and honey chamomile roasted root vegetables; and the healthy assortment from Basil including the chilled cantaloupe soup, the arctic char, and the black cod ceviche.

The event also featured a large variety of decadent desserts and specialty coffees. The peanut butter pareve ice cream from Mr. Penguin along with the halvah and assortment of caramelized nuts from The Nuttery were among my favorites.

If you had no room left for dessert, or you happened to be trying to practice portion control, you could fetch a “to go” bag from Shlomy’s Heimeshe bakery and pack up your favorite cookies for another day.

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Benefits of fruits and veggies: Eat MORE

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post on the benefits of fruits and veggies.

Here is the link.

According to new data published by the NPD Group, a market research firm, most American are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables. As reported in USA Today, children and adults eat an average of slightly more than a cup of vegetables a day and a little more than a half a cup of fruit.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that we eat a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. And according to USDA’s dietary guidance system MyPlate, half of our plate should consist of fruits and veggies. For a 2,000-calorie diet, it advised that we eat two cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of veggies each day.

Eating a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables has been linked to improved health, and for good reason. Veggies and fruits (both fresh and frozen) are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, which have been shown to protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. They are also low in calories, making them a great choice for your waistline. Choosing a colorful assortment vegetables is best, as different benefits exist in the different color spectrum. The orange pigment found in carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, for example, contain the antioxidant beta-carotene. The deep red pigment found in tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which is linked with prostate health.

And for some great news, here are two food groups where you can eat a large portion and not have to worry about weight gain. (Just watch your portion of starchy veggies such as corn and potatoes.)

With so much of a focus on eating low-carbohydrate diets, as a practicing nutritionist, I often get asked by my clients, “Will I gain weight if I eat too many fruits such as watermelon?” The answer is NO! In fact, quite the contrary. They are also low in calories, making them a great choice for your waistline. And, they are good for your health.

While all fruits and vegetables are healthy, below are several pointers on some nutrition powerhouses.


Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family, which also includes kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and cauliflower. Members of the Brassica family are rich in phytochemicals, known to have antioxidant properties. Broccoli is a true nutrition powerhouse: It 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 cancer.

Carrots are a good source of fiber, which helps to maintain bowel health, lower blood cholesterol, and aid in weight maintenance. The orange pigment found in carrots are due to the antioxidant beta-carotene, also found in other deep orange foods such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, papaya, and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and helps to maintain healthy eyes, support your immune system, keep your skin healthy, and protect against certain cancers.

Spinach is available year-round in grocery stores around the country, offering a readily-available source of many vitamins and minerals. Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, K, C, and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains phytochemicals that may boost your immune system and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may be preventative against certain cancers.

Sweet Potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene and are also full of fiber, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, and the mineral potassium. They are especially nutritious when eaten with the skin on, and contrary to a popular dieting myth, they are not fattening!

Beets contain healthy doses of iron, the B-vitamin folate, and fiber. Red beets offer betacyanin, a plant pigment which may protect against colon cancer.


Cantaloupe. This member of the melon family is rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, a plant-based vitamin A precursor that helps with eye health, among other conditions. It is also rich in the mineral potassium, which may help lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke. And, it is terrific if you are watching your waist — a one-cup serving contains a mere 50 calories.

Watermelon, which is especially terrific this time of year, offers a juicy, sweet taste and a high water content, while packing in the antioxidants lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and the minerals potassium and magnesium.

Citrus fruits, including oranges and grapefruits, provide a significant source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium, as well as fiber. Pink grapefruits are particularly rich in the antioxidant lycopene. Eating these fruits whole yields more nutrients than drinking the juice.

Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). They are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E.

Grapes. Consuming grapes may reduce the risk of blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and prevent damage to the heart’s blood vessels, aiding in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure. Antioxidants called flavonoids may even increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind). The resveratrol found in the skins of red grapes may interfere with cancer development. Eating the whole fruit instead of consuming the juice contains the added benefit of fiber.

Kiwifruit, with its brilliant green inside, is packed with vitamin C and fiber.

Healthy Tips:

It is best to eat your fruits and vegetables from whole foods. Popping a pill — such as taking a beta-carotene supplement — does not do the trick. Fresh and frozen vegetables offer a combination of many health benefits that you will not find in a pill. So, remember to chew!!

When you can, opt for local produce that’s in season. Chances are, it did not have to travel too far to get to you. Go organic when you can.

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Nutella sued over misleading health claims

Nutella sued over misleading health claims.

Ferrero USA, the manufacturer of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread, is paying $3 million to settle a class action lawsuit as it had been misleading consumers to think that it was “healthy.” No surprise that many clients I have counseled over the years have considered Nutella a healthy spread, both for themselves and their family.

As reported in the Huffington Post, the law suit is being filed by a California mom who realized she was feeding her 4 year old “the next best thing to a candy bar.” She had been lured by some of Nutella’s ads into thinking that it was, indeed, a healthy product.

You too can receive a piece of the action. If you purchased Nutella in recent years, you are eligible for around  $4 per jar.

In addition to being fined, Ferrero must now change the product’s labeling and marketing statements. Nutella’s website no longer makes any health claims. Instead, the company now focuses on the tag line – “Breakfast never tasted this good.”

While you may enjoy the taste, Nutella is hardly health food.

Here is the nutritional breakdown per 2 tablespoon serving (a size of a walnut in a shell—which is quite small!):

190 Calories

11 grams fat

3.5 gram saturated fat

21 grams sugar

Sugar is the first ingredient!  In fact, just one serving of the spread contains the equivalent to 5 teaspoons sugar. The 11 grams of fat contains 99 calories making the product nearly 50% fat. It also contains unhealthy saturated fat. Saturated fat has been shown to raise cholesterol levels and may contribute to heart disease.

So Nutella is hardly “healthy!”

While you may enjoy Nutella, best to use the spread as an occasional treat. Nut butters such as almond butter and peanut butter would be a healthier choice. Instead of the sugar in Nutella, you’ll get some protein.

It is time that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) crack down on food companies who make food and nutrient claims on packages to help them fly off the shelves!

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Want to lose weight? Eat Less.

Two thirds of Americans are overweight and succeeding at weight loss is quite a challenge for many dieters. A new study just published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) reported that eating less, exercising more, and switching to healthier food worked best.

The researchers were from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and looked at data collected as part of the dietary intake survey  National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The authors wrote in the  study published online that “Liquid diets, nonprescription diet pills and popular diets showed no association with successful weight loss.”

The Los Angeles Times summarized what worked and what did not work for the dieters.

Here’s what the dieters tried that worked:

* 65% ate less food

* 44% ate less fat

* 41% switched to foods with fewer calories

* 4% took weight-loss medications that were prescribed by a doctor

* Joining a weight loss program was also helpful perhaps because of “the structure of being in a program.”

Here’s what the dieters tried that didn’t work:

* 41% drank more water

* 14% ate “diet foods or products”

* 10% used nonprescription diet pills, including herbal remedies

* 7% adopted a “liquid-diet formula.”

I was glad to see this study as I’ve been advocating eating less and moving more for years. While this old fashioned advice may not seem as sexy as some fad diets and supplements, it works for the long haul. And, it will save you money—no need to buy unneeded supplements.

Take home messages:

*  Skip the fad diets and practice portion control instead.

* Go out and exercise. Pick something you enjoy and stick to it.

*  Choose healthier and more nutrient dense foods. A good place to start is by eating more fruits and vegetables!

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Eat Out Healthy

Dr. Joanne Lichten, known as Dr Jo, recently released a new book Eat Out Healthy. In this terrific book, Dr. Jo guides the reader through  guilt free dining. She  discusses “meal specifics”–including pizza ,subs, entrees, and ethnic cuisine. She then visits your favorite restaurant (and the list is extensive) and guides you about how you can order without breaking your calorie bank.

Dr Jo has also created a series of Eat  Out Healthy videos.

—Check out Eating Out Healthy at Starbucks:

—And, check out Eating Out Healthy at Outback Steakhouse:

Enjoy and hearty appetite!! Dining out has never been easier, thanks to Dr. Jo.

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NYC’s Portion Campaign Continues

A month ago, the NYC Department of Health launched a new campaign on portion sizes–Cut Your Portions. Cut Your Risk–featuring ads on subways encouraging New Yorkers to trim their portions to reduce their risk of health problems. As I previously wrote , the city’s health department is very proactive in fighting obesity and other public health issues, and this campaign is urging New Yorkers to be more aware of portion sizes when deciding what to eat or drink. The campaign makes perfect sense at a time when food portions have increased and so have rates of obesity.

Not surprisingly, the campaign drew criticism from food industry groups selling the very foods the city’s health department is suggesting we limit. As reported in Crains, the American Beverage Association, called the ads “scare tactics.” They further indicated that they are offering “real solutions” including smaller portioned containers and calorie labels on the front of the package.

While several smaller sized containers have indeed been introduced, soft drinks marketed for individual consumption are still much too big. For example, 7-Eleven’s “Double Gulp” soda is 64-ounces, contains nearly 800 calories and 50 teaspoons of sugar, if you don’t add too much ice. While this soda is marketed for one person, it is really sized to be shared among eight people. Further, while the standard Coca-Cola bottle found in vending machines was once 6.5-ounces, today it is 20-ounces.

The Center for Consumer Freedom also took offense to the campaign. They wrote “By now you’ve probably heard of the latest round of food-fear ads from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. … the City now implies that larger sodas and cheeseburgers are causing amputations, and people to ride obesity scooters.” They further indicate that The ads ignore decades of research into the causes of obesity, choosing instead to confuse correlation with causation. In that spirit, we tried our hand at irrationally demonizing products with the horror of upward-sloping lines.”

As reported in the New York Times, the city’s health department explained its approach with the following statement: “When science tells us that smoking does not cause lung cancer or that obesity is not driving an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes, we will stop depicting those facts in ads. Until then we are going to accurately convey the facts in our advertising — advertising that has helped to successfully reduce smoking in New York City to a historic low of 14 percent, saving thousands of lives.”

Recently, in the Huffington Post, Sandra Mullin and Nandita Murukutla from the World Lung Foundation wrote a compelling article “Hard Hitting Messages That Work: NYC’s Public Health Education Campaign” in response to the recent series of stories in the New York Times questioning the city’s efforts to combat obesity with a series of hard hitting messages. Their conclusion: “New York City’s efforts are grounded in rigorous message testing and a logical premise that years of deceitful marketing cannot be undone with feel-good messaging. To stem obesity and the tobacco epidemic, health departments need to build on what’s worked whether it is palatable or not. Good medicine is often hard to swallow.”

While the ads may make you look twice and it may not be pleasant to view (i.e. an amputee in a wheelchair), they do make one take notice of potential health implications of obesity and overeating.

The NYC health department has unveiled other such public health campaigns , and it appears that they may be working. Smoking has declined in New York City and so have rates of childhood obesity in NYC. I applaud the health department for its efforts in fighting to improve the public health of New Yorkers and hope other health departments around the country follow New York’s lead.

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Bigger coffee cups

How big can a coffee cup get? These days, very big! Reporting in The Journal of Queen’s University, Tim Hortons in Canada recently unveiled a new 710-ml (24 oz) Extra Large coffee cup. It is larger than a Starbucks 20 oz Venti and a McDonald’s Extra Large coffee. (See photo graphic by Justin Chin of The Journal.)

There seems to be a trend toward larger coffee cups. Last year, Starbucks USA increased its iced coffee by introducing a Trenta, 31- oz size. This may have been done to compete with McDonald’s 32-oz sweet drinks. Tim Hortons USA already offers Extra Large sizes for drinks.

So, what are we to make of these jumbo coffee drinks? While it may be cheaper to purchase a larger size, which is why we are so often enticed to buy them, there are many health implications from buying such sizes. First off, it is full of caffeine, with 240 mg. (A standard 8-oz size contains around 100 mg caffeine.) Secondly, while black coffee provides no calories, opt for the French Vanilla Cappuccino and you’ve just guzzled down 600 calories, more than 19 grams of saturated fat, and 74 grams of sugar. And the drink contains virtually very few vitamins and minerals. According to The Journal, that is the equivalent to eating “two tablespoons of bacon grease and 19 sugar cubes.”

“Small” anyone?! Or at Starbucks, that would be the “Tall.”

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Michael Pollan’s Food Rules

As so many of us know, making—and sticking to–New Year’s resolutions rarely works for the long haul. In fact, we often make the same ones over and over, just to start again next year. It is already mid-January and so many of us have probably already nixed those resolutions. Here’s why instead of making resolutions, I recommend small and simple changes that can be implemented one at a time and that are easy to follow.

Here’s where Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual illustrated by Maira Kalman (Penguin, 2011) comes in.  This wonderful book is an updated version of Pollan’s best seller along with some new rules and terrific illustrations. I have recommended it to many clients who are looking to make simple changes in their eating habits and also to the environment in which they live.

The rules are short and to the point and easy to implement. This updated edition offers some of Pollan’s new favorites. They include:

  • Give Some Thought to Where Your Food Comes From
  • “Order the Small.” (One of my favorites—not just because I am quoted).
  • “If You’re Not Hungry Enough to Eat an Apple, Then You’re Probably Not Hungry”
  • “No Labels on the Table”

Here are other favorites:

  • Eat mostly plants.”
  • “Eat slowly.”
  • “Cook.”
  • “Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.”
  • “If you have the space, buy a freezer”
  • “Avoid foods advertised on TV.”
  • “…Eat less”
  • AND OF COURSE, “Have a glass of wine with dinner.

This book is a must read for anyone who eats and drinks 🙂 !!

Kudos to Michael Pollan and  Maira Kalman.

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New portion-size campaign: Cut your portions. Cut your risk.

Today, the NYC Health Department, very proactive in fighting obesity and other public health issues, launches a new ad campaign– Cut Your Portions. Cut Your Risk.–spotlighting the role of increasing portion sizes and it consequences for obesity and other health problems. The campaign is urging New Yorkers to be more aware of portion sizes when deciding what to eat or drink.

To hit home, this campaign will feature New York City subway posters encouraging New Yorkers to cut their portions to reduce their risk of health problems. The posters will be in English and in Spanish. Here is a sample.

This portion-size campaign is dear to my heart as I have researched the trend toward growing portion sizes over the past 50 years. And the campaign is based, in part, on my work on growing portion sizes and it’s contribution to the obesity epidemic. Serving sizes of most foods available for immediate consumption, including French fries, soft drinks, hamburgers, and baked goods have more than doubled in size—and therefore in the amount of calories they contain–in the past few decades. In many cases, a single meal is so big that it can contain many more calories than most of us need for an entire day. One of the problems with big portions is that we eat more when we are served more!

Here are several academic articles, co-authored with my mentor and NYU colleague Dr. Marion Nestle, summarizing my research:

I also write about the trend toward growing portion sizes and offer solutions in my book The Portion Teller Plan.

Hopefully, this new campaign, along with NYC DOH’s ongoing requirement that chain restaurants post calorie counts on menu boards, and some of it’s other terrific ad campaigns, will continue to provide New Yorkers with the information they need to make healthier choices and to eat LESS.

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Health halos

Fitness magazine, where I am an advisory board member, has a terrific article in its October issue entitled “The halo effect” written by my colleague Sally Kuzemchak, RD.

Consumers often eat MORE when a food is labeled low fat, organic, or even gluten free. In many cases, it is great to look for these labels when you are making your food purchases, but beware that you don’t end up eating a bigger portion, which is what happens so often.

Here are a few label traps to look out for:

ORGANIC. It is great to buy organic fruits and vegetables in many cases, especially when buying from “the dirty dozen” which includes fruits such as apples and strawberries. While organic apples are healthy, (and I’m not to worried about you overdosing on apples), it is important to be advised that organic junk food is still junk food! Buying organic cookies, cakes, and crackers should not give you license to overeat. And, I many cases, you will being a paying a premium for such foods.

GLUTEN FREE. Gluten free products are on the rise but not everyone needs to eat gluten free, and gluten free does not mean that a food is healthier. Gluten free diets are important for people with celiac disease or people who cannot tolerate gluten.  Gluten free cookies, however, are still cookies and these foods DO have calories. In fact, many gluten free products often have more calories than their non-gluten free counterparts. As my expert colleague Shelley Case, RD, author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide says “Gluten-free doesn’t automatically equal healthy.”  And, as the journalist Michael Pollan succinctly wrote for a recent New York Times magazine article when asked about gluten free diets: “It’s hard to believe that the number of people suffering from these conditions has grown as fast as this product category. Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment…”

LOW FAT AND FAT FREE. According to research in the Journal of Marketing Research, subjects ate 30% MORE candy that was labeled low fat. This does not surprise me as I have so many clients who have fallen into that same trap. Somehow, when a food is labeled low-fat, we often forget that it still contains calories. Same with the fat-free label. I had a client who would eat an entire jumbo bag of licorice because he was enticed by its fat-free label. As I told Fitness magazine, some fat in the diet is good as it aids in satiety. This often means that you end up eating less overall. So, my motto for cookies and cakes is: often times, you are better off sticking with the real thing, enjoying it, and you end up eating less.

So, next time you grab for those organic or fat-free cookies, be mindful of your portion, and try not to overindulge.

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