Sunday, December 17, 2017

How can you avoid holiday weight gain?

Celebrate! Parties, dinners, cookie exchanges, buffets, what a fun time of year.  We all want to indulge and enjoy ourselves over the holidays.  How can you be merry, eat and drink this holiday season and not pack on the pounds?  I told my husband that the CommonHealth offered 10 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.  He responded, “What are they?  Stop eating?”   Well stop eating would work but that is not one of the tips.   Many others, like Brianna Elliott, RD, also offer some tips on avoiding weight gain during the holiday season.  What are some of their tips?   
  1. Hydrate – did you know that if you are thirsty, you are becoming dehydrated?   We are so busy this time of year, with shopping, going to parties, going to chorales, plays, and other holiday events that we may forget to stay hydrated.  The goal of 8 glasses of water a day is still a good one.  Keep some water or hot tea in your car as your running errands.  Stop and buy some water or a cup of hot tea when you are out and about.
Hydrate with water
  1. Be Realistic this time of year – the few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years are not the time to go on a diet.  Your goal may be to stay the same weight or if you do gain a pound or two, then you can focus on losing this weight in January.
  2. Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Drink – so many alcoholic beverages are loaded with calories and these calories can add up.  Enjoy a 12-ounce beer and that is 140 calories.  Enjoy 5-ounces of wine and that is 100 calories.  And if you drink too much you are more likely to eat too much.  Try to limit your alcoholic intake to 1-2 drinks.
  3. Watch the buffet – so easy to fill up your plate and then fill up your stomach as you don’t want to “waste any food”.  Check over the buffet before you fill up your plate.  Load up on salads, fruit, raw vegetables and take smaller portions of the other items.  You don’ t have to forgo any food but you don’t have to overindulge in any one item.
  4. Get the Exercise in Early – Staying active is a recommendation but no one seems to recommend getting the exercise done early.  At a resort recently, my husband and I got up and headed to the fitness center before breakfast.  One morning he swam and I did weights.  The next morning, he rode a stationary bike and I went to the resort’s spinning class.  Just walking back and forth to the fitness center added a lot of steps to our day because the resort was so huge.  We both could then enjoy our dinner out later in the day as we had packed in the exercise.   So even if you are out of town over the holidays, plan some active time in your day.  When traveling, check out the hotel’s fitness center or what a nearby fitness center has to offer.
  1. Don’t Starve Yourself – some people try to “fast” all day and then splurge on a holiday dinner.  But this can lead to overeating the minute you get to the party or event.  Enjoy a healthy snack before you leave home.  Have some fruit and yogurt, whole grain crackers and cheese.  This way you won’t be so ravenous when you get to the party.
  2. It’s OK to “Treat Yourself” to some Holiday Food – you don’t have to put any food “off limits” over the holiday.  How often do you hear, “I ate a cookie and blew my diet?”  Eat the cookie and enjoy every bite.  But it doesn’t mean, eat a dozen cookies at one time.  People who deprive themselves of a treat, often end up overindulging as they have “gone off their diet”.  If there is a super-rich dessert, an item you know is loaded with calories – take some and enjoy it.  But eat a moderate amount.  And you can cut back on some other higher calorie food on the buffet or party table.  
  3.  Don’t forget the protein – so many high calorie appetizers and desserts to choose from.  By including protein with each meal, you will fill fuller for longer.  Protein seems to reduce your hunger, reduce your appetite and stays with you longer than other foods.  Choose the turkey, chicken, fish, shrimp, deviled eggs on the buffet line.  (See recipe for deviled eggs at Country Cook.)
Don't forget the protein
  1.  Choose Desserts Wisely and Savor Them  - who would think that is advice from a registered dietitian, but it is?  How can one enjoy the holidays without enjoying some of the great Christmas cookies or other treats?  My grandmother and aunts made Potica – a delightful mix of bread with a filling of walnuts, honey, butter, cream.  Enjoy the holiday treats you have been looking forward to all year.  But you don’t need to sample every one or overindulge in any one treat.
  2.  Reduce Calories in Recipes – when baking in our house, we try to find ways to cut the calories but not the taste.  My husband makes a great tasting pumpkin pie.  He buys the crust – no calorie reduction there, but then using fat-free Carnation milk and cuts back on some of the sugar.  His pumpkin pie is delicious but some of the calories are reduced.  When he makes fresh cranberry sauce, he cuts back on the sugar the recipe calls for.  It actually tastes better as the tartness of the cranberries comes through. When I make my sweet potato dish, I use half sugar and a little Stevia.  No one notices the difference.  Experiment with some recipes.  Some of “cutting the calories” doesn’t work as we “cut the taste” too much.  So, we try again.  But you might be pleasantly surprised that you can cut back on some of the sugar or fat in a recipe and no one seems to notice. 

Enjoy the holiday food this season and use some of the above tips to “Treat Yourself” but not add on those unwanted pounds.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Good/ Bad Carbohydrates Debate. By: Olivia Lange (guest author)

Introduction:  In the nutrition class I teach, students were asked to respond to and prepare a convincing argument to counter the statement, Carbohydrates are bad for you.  One of those students, Olivia Lange, has been asked to be a guest author on this blog site.  Her paper on Good Carbs-Bad Carbs is below. 
It’s a common misconception among the public that carbohydrates are bad for you, or will make you gain excess weight. According to, the enemy that many people are referring to are the refined and processed carbohydrates, which can also strip away fiber. Fiber is important to digestive health through feeding the bacteria in the gut, as well as helping one feel fuller by slowing down glucose digestion (Mayo Clinic Staff, 1). This is one element that is often paired with heart-healthy whole grains and other good-for-you carbohydrates.
Further expanding on the “bad carbs”, one should avoid or cut back on refined foods like white bread or foods high in added sugar. These foods tend to be low in fiber, which will make someone feel less full, and often these foods are stripped of nutrients (“Carbohydrates and Sugar”, 1). Taking away the whole grain and refining it to a polished grain will strip the nutrients. Foods to avoid eating too much of include cakes, cookies, white bread, or other foods that are highly processed, high fat, and loaded with added sugar. Essentially, the simpler you eat, the healthier the food will be for you.
Carbs should be 50% of our daily intake of calories! Eating healthy will provide essential vitamins and minerals, such as Folate, other B Vitamins, and Vitamin C. Simple carbs like the monosaccharides and disaccharides will provide easy, fast energy.  The simple carbs can be found in healthy foods such as milk providing lactose, or fruits and vegetables providing fructose. However, many people eat excessive table sugar, or sucrose, which will lead to an unhealthy diet. Also, it's important to note that complex carbohydrates from the starches (which have fiber too) will provide longer lasting energy. The complex carbs include most or all of the grain group as well as some vegetables, like potatoes!

Milk provides lactose for energy as well as protein, calcium and vitamin D

Good advice to give to a confused friend asking you about carbs would be to cut down on processed foods with too much fat and added sugar.
Many people are lacking important nutrients in their diets. This is true for many Americans, as so many rely on refined foods. An old-fashioned saying that I've heard in my family is to "stick to the outside aisles in a grocery store" which can make sense, because you will find areas for produce, meats, dairy, and breads/grains. However, this phrase is flawed because in the bakery, there are many processed sweets, cakes, cookies, and white breads! This shows that whole grains can be overlooked, though they are very beneficial to one's health.  Therefore, cutting out bread won't necessarily help one's health, but swapping to a new type of whole grain bread or other whole grain source like adding oatmeal to one’s day certainly can.
Oatmeal for heart health and lasting energy
For a second point to convince a friend to eat good carbs like whole grains, is that a diet high in fiber can help heart conditions in a positive way. Additionally, the other simple carbohydrate "sugars", like lactose or fructose will provide fast and easy energy for the body. The complex carbohydrates, or linked chains of sugars, like starches and fiber found in grains and some vegetables like potatoes will provide the longer-lasting energy. Both types are needed to function properly and maintain healthy energy and blood glucose levels!
Apples provide fructose for quick energy
Overall, keeping it simple by cutting back on refined foods and adding whole grains to your day, can promote a healthy lifestyle, and fitting in plenty of plant foods will help as well!

Works Cited
“Carbohydrates and Sugar.” Edited by Jane M. Benton, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Jan. 2017,
Kotula, Kathryn. “Chapter 4” Lecture. HLT 230 Principles of Nutrition & Human Development. Germanna Community College, Virginia. 13 Sept. 2017.
Magee, Elaine. “Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Why Carbohydrates Matter to You.” WebMD, WebMD,
Mayo Clinic Staff. “How to Add More Fiber to Your Diet.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Sept. 2015,
Whitney, Eleanor Noss, and Sharon Rady Rolfes. “Chapter 4: The Carbohydrates: Sugars, Starches, and Fibers.” Understanding Nutrition, 14th ed., Cengage Learning, 2015.
Image sources:  oats, potatoes, milk, apples

Sunday, December 3, 2017

How healthy is spaghetti sauce?

Enjoy that pasta and cover it with some spaghetti sauce.  How healthy is spaghetti sauce?  Are some brands healthier than others?  What should you look for when buying spaghetti sauce?

Is spaghetti sauce healthy?

Yes.  Spaghetti sauce provides vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.  All good for your health. 
  •  Vitamins:  Spaghetti sauce is full of a number of vitamins like vitamins A, C and K.  A half cup serving of spaghetti sauce supplies about 10 mg of vitamin C.  An important vitamin for collagen formation and our immune system.  A half cup supplies about 1000 IU of vitamin A or about 20% of what you need each day.  Vitamin A helps us see at night and for our skin as it builds the connective tissue under our skin.  I always tell my students to eat carrots for healthier skin but I can add eat some spaghetti with tomato sauce on it for healthier skin.  Vitamin K – lots of it in spaghetti sauce.  A half of cup also supplies about 20% of what you need each day. 
  • Minerals: spaghetti sauce is a great source of potassium and manganese.  Potassium helps lower your blood pressure and potassium and manganese help you build stronger bones and helps avoid muscle cramps.   When my daughter was playing basketball they often had spaghetti as a pre-game meal.  Good choice as it would help prevent muscle cramps during the game.  
  • Antioxidants:  tomato sauce has a number of antioxidants such as lycopene.  Lycopene is unusual in that cooked tomatoes have more lycopene than raw tomatoes.  So, there is more lycopene in spaghetti sauce than in raw tomatoes.  Lycopene helps prevent damage to your cells, reduces one’s risk of macular degeneration, heart disease and cancer.  Along with lycopene, vitamins A and C are also antioxidants further protecting your cells from damage.  
  • Low in Calories:  spaghetti sauce is a low fat, pretty low in calories food with only about 100 calories in a cup.  When choosing a sauce for spaghetti, skip the white sauces which are usually loaded with calories and opt for the tomato-based spaghetti sauce.  
  • Fiber:  who would think that spaghetti sauce has fiber in it?  Use half a cup and you add 3 grams of fiber to your day.  Check the label as the amount of fiber varies by brand.  My daughters never liked spaghetti sauce with “chunks” in it but now that they are grown, that is all we buy.  The “chunks” of tomatoes add some fiber.  Fiber not only helps your digestion, but it slows the absorption of food so helps control how high your blood sugar levels go.  Add some whole grain pasta to your spaghetti noodles and you add even more fiber (and nutrients) to your meal.  
 What should you look for when buying spaghetti sauce?
  • Added sugar – tomatoes have no added sugar, but have fructose in them which provides some natural sugar.  But a number of manufacturers add sugar to spaghetti sauce.  Look at the ingredients to see if sugar, high fructose corn syrup or other forms of sugar have been added.  Kids may prefer spaghetti sauces with some added sugar, but those wanting a healthier spaghetti sauce can easily find brands that have no added sugar in the ingredient list.
  • Sodium – what doesn’t have added salt these days?  If you are watching your sodium, then check out the different brand labels and choose a sauce that is lower in sodium.  For those watching their sodium, Eating well recommends Amy’s Light in Sodium Family Marinara and Victoria Low Sodium Marinara. 
Low in sodium

  •  Oil – check out the oil the manufacturers have used.  Look at the ingredients for heart healthy oil like olive oil or canola oil.

Check out some of these brands:
Barilla: chunky traditional, marinara, meat sauce, mushroom sauce.  These pasta sauces are made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil so are heart healthy.   Lower in sugar and sodium than many other brands.
Made with extra virgin olive oil

For Vegetarians:  Wegman’s Organic Italian Classics – Grandpa’s Sauce Goes Vegetarian made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and no added sugar
Wegman’s Italian Classics:  Good choice as these sauces are made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and no added sugar.  Check out:  Grandpa’s Sauce, Grandma’s Pomodoro Sauce, Organic Roasted Garlic Sauce, Organic Chunky Marinara Sauce -   

This week when grocery shopping, take time to read the label on the spaghetti sauce you are buying.  Read the ingredients and look for sauces made with olive oil, and if your kids will eat it, sauces with no added sugar in the ingredients. 
No added sugar, organic and made with extra virgin olive oil

Sunday, November 26, 2017

How healthy is pasta?

How healthy is the pasta in your spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, rigatoni, and other pasta dishes?  So many people have been avoiding pasta as it is a “carb” and they think carbs are unhealthy.  Americans still enjoy their pasta as we eat about 20 pounds of it a year. 

How healthy is pasta?
Pasta provides a lot of nutrition.  Not just carbs but also protein, about 5-7 grams of protein in a cup of cooked pasta.  The flour used to make pasta is a high protein durum wheat flour which is higher in protein than other types of flour. If you want to add more nutrition to your spaghetti or pasta dish, add some whole wheat pasta.  We usually use about ¾ white pasta and about ¼ whole wheat pasta.  Some people use all whole wheat pasta but it is a taste one needs to get used to.  Most people hardly notice if you add just a little whole wheat pasta. 

Even the white pasta provides some fiber.  And pasta is enriched with some B vitamins and iron. Whole wheat pasta adds even more fiber and some trace minerals to your day. It also promotes fullness because of the additional fiber and thus may reduce hunger. 

Is pasta fattening?
Many people avoid “carbs” as they think “carbs” are fattening.  But pasta is actually a unique type of carb.  The protein and carbs in pasta are linked together in a way that makes the pasta you eat digested more slowly than other refined carbs like white bread.  As a result, pasta keeps you full longer and releases sugar (glucose) into your blood more slowly.  This could actually help with and not promote weight loss.  Cold pasta such as that in some cold pasta salads is called a “resistance starch”, which may actually help with weight loss.  Interestingly, resistant starch may actually increase fat burning and reduce the amount of fat stored in fat cells.  That’s because “resistant starches” resists being digested. 

Some research has shown that eating pasta may actually lower your risk of heart disease.  Probably because pasta is so low in fat.  Pasta may also reduce the risk of diabetes (cook it al dente, see below) and obesity. Probably because pasta releases sugar into your blood more slowly than other refined carbs and it helps you fill full. 

 Is cooking pasta al dente healthier?
Yes.  Al dente means you cook pasta to a slightly firm texture, not mushy.  Al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index which means it raises your blood sugar less.  Overcooking pasta is less healthy as it digested more rapidly and thus raises your blood sugar more.

What about the gluten in pasta?
Why avoid gluten?  Unless you have celiac disease, there is no reason to be avoiding gluten in your diet.   

Next week we’ll explore spaghetti sauces.  So many to choose from.  We’ll explore what to look for in a spaghetti sauce for optimal nutrition but also good taste.

Enjoy some pasta this week.  Cook it al dente and add at least a little whole grain pasta.  Kraft now offers a whole grain rotini and cheese.  Not all whole grain, but 50%.  We’ve tried it and it tastes good. A good and easy way to get some whole grain into your kids and you.