Sunday, December 28, 2014

What are Nutrient Dense Foods?

Everyone says to “eat healthy” but many people aren’t quite sure what this means.  To some it means Pop Tarts and Sunny D as these foods are “fortified” with vitamins.  But they are not really healthy foods as they are full of sugar, white flour and few nutrients.  Eating healthy means including nutrient dense foods in your daily diet.  Not exclusively, as we all like our treats.   But our meals and many of our snacks should be focused on nutrient dense foods.   The January 2015 edition of Environmental Health had an excellent article, Make your Diet More Nutrient-Dense.  The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics refers to these foods as nutrient-rich foods.
What are nutrient-rich or nutrient-dense foods?  These foods contain the most nutrients per calorie.  Usually they are the least processed foods and foods not diluted with a lot of added sugar or added fat.
What foods are considered nutrient-rich?
  • Whole grains - are rich in nutrients as the many vitamins and minerals haven’t been removed in processing.  Choose whole grain breads, cereals, crackers.
  • Fruits and Vegetables – fresh is best.  Vary the colors and look for dark greens like spinach, dark orange like carrots, red like red bell peppers.  Not only are vegetables and fruits full of vitamins and minerals they also are important sources of antioxidants which are so important to good health.  Some people avoid potatoes but you shouldn’t.  Avoid the tons of sour cream which is all fat, but don’t avoid the potato.     Sweet potatoes are especially nutritious and loaded with carotene (vitamin A).
  • Dairy – very nutrient dense, especially if you choose the low fat versions.  Low fat or skim milk, low fat yogurt, 2% cheeses.  Yogurt is full of probiotics, or healthy bacteria that have been found to have many health benefits.
  • Lean Meats, poultry, fish – many people think chicken is healthy but then eat fried chicken or give their kids chicken nuggets.  Fried foods are not healthy foods.  Lean chicken such as baked chicken is healthy, baked fish, not fried fish, is healthy.
  • Eggs – the American Heart Association has changed their recommendations on eggs.  They now say a healthy adult can enjoy an egg a day.
  • Nuts – a real super food as nuts are full of nutrients and heart healthy fat.  But a handful a day as they do have a lot of calories.     
Some substitutes suggested by Environmental Nutrition:  
      1.        Real Peanut Butter vs Low-fat Peanut butter – Less sugar and more heart healthy, monounsaturated fat. 
      2.       Nuts  vs potato chips – unless you are choose Sun Chips, choose a handful of nuts for vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein  
      3.       Whole grain crackers vs low-fat cookies     
      4.       Olive oil vinaigrette vs fat-free salad dressing – you need some fat to absorb the fat soluble vitamins in the salad and to absorb the antioxidants.  Olive oil is a heart healthy choice. 

Sources:   Choosing a Nutrient-Rich Diet, Make Your Diet More Nutrient-DenseEnvironmental Nutrition, Jan. 2015  Image source:  Nutrient Dense Foods

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Avoiding the Holiday Pounds

  MSN had a great article on How to Stay Slim During the Holidays.  Then I read a great suggestion about High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT.    
     1.  Break up Your Exercise – yes, you are supposed to exercise an hour a day but it doesn’t have to be an hour all at once.   It can be 10 minutes here, fifteen minutes there.  Park your car far from the front door, go up and down the stairs a few extra times.  Go for a 15 minute walk if you don’t have time for a longer walk.   
     2.  Exercise with a friend – more fun to go for a walk or to the gym with a friend.      
        3.   HIIT – Geralyn Coopersmith, global director of performance and fitness training at NIKE, Inc.  recommends HIIT. (  She notes that this type of training burns more calories and more fat.  A study of women working out 3 times a week, 20 minutes at a time using HIIT, burned more calories and more fat than women who worked out twice as long but at a slow and steady pace.  Her HIIT for a stationary bicycle is:
              • 5 minute warm up
              • One minute sprint
              • Two minute recovery
              • One minute sprint
              • Two minute recovery
              • One minute sprint
              • Two minute recovery
              • One minute sprint
              • Recovery
                I tried the HIIT workout on a stationary bike and it was great.  Definitely felt the calories burn off during the sprints.     
    4.  Dance to some holiday music – dancing is great exercise and can burn off some calories.    
  5.   Stay hydrated – if you are thirsty you are becoming dehydrated.  
     6.  Focus on veggies/fruit – at a party, load up on the celery, lettuce, cucumbers and for fruit the grapes, melons.  A Los Angeles nutritionist, Jackie Keller, tells celebrities to pile their ‘plate high with asparagus and green beans a few days before a “be-seen “event.  They’re high in filling fiber but less likely to expand your stomach”.   
     7.   Treat yourself - it is the holidays and it is OK to enjoy the food and fun.  At a resort this week, the first dinner out, I ordered whatever I wanted.  Yes, the meal was high in calories, but oh so good.  The next night I had a lighter meal, good but not quite so calorie laden. 
Sources:   How to Stay Slim During the Holidays. ,   “Get Intense”,  Dec. 2014,,  Image Source: HIIT

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How to Handle Holiday Eating

Who doesn’t love the holidays with freshly baked cookies, eggnog, boxes of chocolates given as gifts and food buffets galore?  So how does one eat their way through the holidays without gaining 10 pounds?  The Washington Post provided some helpful guidelines in their 5 ways to fight the winter holiday bulge 
      1.   Holiday Party - beverages  - Stay hydrated 

  •  Eat something before you go – don’t get to the party starving as you will then overeat.  Try some salad and some protein so you won’t be over hungry at the start of the party.   
  •  If cocktails, other alcoholic drinks are offered, have a drink or two.  But alcohol can affect your judgment and then affect how much you eat.  Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D. suggests alternating alcoholic drinks with regular beverages such as sparkling water.  Having ice water is another way to stay hydrated at a party.  
       2.   Buffets
  • Go over the lineup of food and decide what you really want to eat.  Treating yourself occasionally is fine so if it is a food you really want, take some.  (Not seconds, thirds and fourths, but some).
  •  Eat slowly, enjoy conversation with those around you.  Pay attention to what you are eating and how much.  By eating slowly your body has a better chance to let you know when you are full.
  • Don't Finish everything on your plate – maybe what you mother recommended was to eat everything on your plate, but not a recommendation you have to follow as an adult.  Eat what you want and it is OK to leave some food on your plate.
  •  Rather than count calories – count food groups – take some protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables to balance out the higher calorie options like fried foods.   
  3.   Family Guests/Visits
  • Don’t feel pressured into eating what your parents, hosts offer.  Scritchfield recommends, “Thank you.  It looks food, but I am not really hungry.  Maybe later?”
  • Offer to bring a food item you know you can eat and enjoy.
  • Or offer to help out in the kitchen and create a fruit salad, vegetable salad or other food item you can eat.  
 4.   Gaining weight – so despite your best efforts you put on a pound or two over the holidays.  Don’t dismay, just take some steps to lose that pound or two early in the year. 
  •  Say no to the latest crazy diet phase.   Cut out foods high in fat and those with added sugar would go a long ways to cutting back on calories.
  •  Add in some exercise – a walk after dinner, an exercise class once a week at the gym or maybe even your place of work. 
  5.  Move more – the holidays are a great time to sit and visit with family and friends.  But remember to keep moving – walking, going to the gym, parking far from the entrance door, taking the stairs. 
  •  Find ways to keep moving through the holiday rush of parties and visiting
  • Strength training – often overlooked as many people just focus on aerobics.   But strength training builds muscle and tones you.  And muscle burns more calories than fat so strength training can increase the number of calories you burn every day. 
Enjoy the holiday parties and food.  Use these tips to keep  from gaining during the holiday season. 

Sources:  5 ways to fight the winter holiday bulge,  Image Source:  Holiday buffet

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Nutrition in the News

Some nutrition articles this week were interesting.  Peeling that apple, then maybe you are losing some nutritional benefits.  Is there a mineral that helps prevent cancer? 
Many people don’t like the peel of apples and thus cut it off or buy apple slices in a bag with no peel.  Eating fruit is a healthy habit.   The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   reports, “Statistics from a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey show nearly 40% of Americans eat fruit less than one time a day”.   The good news is, over 60% of us are eating fruit one or more times a day.  So eating apples is good, eating apples that are not peeled is even better.
  • Double the fiber – leaving the peel on doubles the amount of fiber you get from eating the apple
  • Potassium – the peel adds 25% more potassium
  • Vitamin A – apples are not a great source of vitamin A, but leaving on the peel adds 40% more vitamin A 
                Compounds such as polyphenols and ursolic acid are in apples.  Doesn’t sound appetizing but one dietitian notes, “Animal studies have shown that ursolic acid may have an effect on burning more calories, weight loss and improved glucose control”  (Washington Post)
Cooking tip – I make a batch of brown rice which takes about 45 minutes to cook.  About halfway through I add some slices of cooking apples, with the peel on.  It adds great flavor to the rice and is so easy to make.  Many people who won’t eat the apple peel will eat it when cooked.
Are there foods to promote weight loss?
WebMD has an interesting slide show, Weight Loss Slideshow:  Bad Foods That Are Good for Weight Loss.  What are some of their recommended “bad” foods?
  • Eggs – many people avoid eggs because of the cholesterol.  But even the American Heart Association has lightened up on eggs.  One egg a day is fine for most of us.  Eggs are loaded with nutrition and are the “gold standard” for protein.  Eating eggs at breakfast can add protein to your breakfast and make you fell fuller longer. I always like to say, “Protein has staying power”.
  • Steak – yes, Web MD includes steak.  Lean cuts of steak, that is such as tenderloin or sirloin.  But not a 16 ounce steak.  A serving of steak would be the size of the palm of your hand.Pork – the other white meat as the pork industry likes to say.  Pork tenderloin is leaner than days gone by, by as much as 31%.  White pork can add protein to your diet and not a lot of fat.
  • Pasta – pasta is low in fat and many avoid because of “carbs”.  Try whole grain pasta which adds many nutrients to your diet.  Or, if you haven’t developed the taste for whole grain pasta, try 25% whole grain and 75% regular pasta.  Work up to at least 50-50.  As I noted in an earlier post, eating whole grains helps reduce belly fat.
  • Nuts – a handful of nuts a day is such a healthy habit.  One of Dr. Oz’s recommendations.  WebMD likes nuts because of their protein, fiber, and many nutrients.  A great snack.  At a party over the holidays, by-pass some of the junk and have a handful of nuts.  Many people avoid nuts thinking they are fattening but WebMD noted, “In one study people who ate a handful of nuts a day were slimmer and even lived longer.”

Sunday, November 30, 2014

New Calorie Rules for Restaurants

The Food and Drug Administration announced new calories rules for restaurants.  This is part of the Affordable Care Act.  So what will be changing?   
       1.        Chain restaurants (those with 20 or more locations), pizza parlors, movie theaters will be required to post calories on their menus.  
       2.       Beverages on Menus – calorie content of beverages, including alcohol will be posted but not for mixed drinks at a bar.  
       3.       Grocery stores – buying a sandwich or a salad for yourself, then the calories will be noted.    Buying a rotisserie chicken or other item designed to a number of people and the calories need not be noted.  
       4.       Convenience stores like 7-Eleven will need to post calories counts on prepared food meant to be eaten by one person.  
       5.       What type of foods will be labeled?

         a.       Meals from sit-down restaurants.
         b.      Food purchased at drive-through windows
         c.       Take-out food, like pizza
         d.      Foods, such as made-to-order sandwiches at a grocery store or delicatessen
         e.      Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
         f.        Muffins at a bakery or coffee shop   
         g.  Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or even an amusement park 
         h.      A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice cream store

FDA says this is important as Americans now consume about one third of their calories away from home.  But not everyone is happy about the new law.  Grocery stores are not pleased as they were not supposed to be included in the rule but FDA disagreed. 

So when can you expect to see these calorie counts at restaurants?  Not any time soon as FDA wants to give the industry time to adopt this new rule.  So restaurants have a year to comply.  But a number of restaurants already list calorie counts for their menus including Panera Bread and McDonald’s.  Many more offer this information online.  
 Sources: FDA to Require Calorie Count,  Overview of FDA Labeling Requirements, image source: 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coffee for good health?

So much good information is coming out about coffee that some health professionals are wondering if they should recommend coffee for good health.  So what are some of these great health benefits and how much do you need to drink to get these benefits? 
Health Benefits of Coffee  

  •  Reduced risk of many diseases including cardiovascular (heart) disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes – all these benefits for just drinking coffee.
  • Reduced risk of skin cancer- about 3 cups of coffee a day reduced risk of skin cancer
  • Reduced risk of depression, at least in women – 2-3 cups a day, helped lift one’s mood according to a Harvard University Research study

Why is drinking coffee healthy?
  •  Phytochemicals – coffee contains more of the phenolic phytochemical than tea or red wine, other phytochemicals in coffee are flavanols
  • Antioxidants – these prevent damage to the cells in your body.  Coffee provides these beneficial antioxidants.
  • Minerals – one doesn’t think coffee has nutritional value but it provides both magnesium and chromium.  These minerals are important in controlling blood sugar levels.   
Drinking coffee with lots of cream, whipped cream, caramel, chocolate, other sweeteners can add calories and added fat in your diet.  

Enjoy Some Coffee: So if you like your coffee, enjoy it and know that there are some health benefits to drinking coffee.  Don’t like coffee, then enjoy some green tea which also has health benefits. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How can you get your kids to eat more fruit and veggies?

In the health class I teach, it is a challenge to get parents to serve fruit and veggies to kids.  Then when they do, they say the kids won’t eat the fruits and veggies.  Some of my students work in day care centers and the center tries to serve healthy fresh fruit and vegetables only to have the kids turn up their noses.  So how can parents, day care centers and others who work with kids, get the kids to eat more fruits and veggies?  For good health kids should eat a minimum of 5 A DAY – five fruits and veggies a day.  Many eat none.  So here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control:

10 Ways to Help Kids Eat More Fruits and Veggies

1.    Keep a bowl of fresh fruits on the counter.  Keep cut up fruits and veggies in the fridge in small bags to easy snacks.                                                                              
2.    Serve 2 fruits and veggies at every meal
a.       Breakfast  - one fruit is fine but lunch and dinner need 2.  MyPlate shows half the plate is fruits/veggies. 
b.      Sneak veggies into foods – add grated or cut up veggies into spaghetti sauce, meat loaf, other entrees, side dishes and soups.  Top off cereal with fruits or add frozen fruits to smoothies.
3.  Set a good example.
a.       Snack on fruit and veggies when at restaurants – order the salad, the apple slices, and sides of veggies.
4.  Pack the refrigerator, freezer and cupboard with pre-cut, frozen and canned vegetables so that it is easier for you to prepare meals and snacks that include vegetables.
5.   Challenge family members to reach their daily fruit and vegetable goal.
a.       Reward the winner with a prize of his or her choice.
b.      Start with 5 A DAY then try for more than 5 servings of fruit/veggies a day.
  6.  Ask that fruits and vegetable be offered at school functions, sport games, after school programs, and in vending machines.  
7.    Let children choose which fruits and vegetables to serve and how to incorporate them into their favorite meals. 
       8.  Make fruits and vegetables fun.  Try dressing up sandwiches with faces and smiles made from fruits and veggies.   
       9.  Keep trying.  For some foods, it may take multiple times before a child acquires a taste for it.
10.  Encourage friends or relatives to offer vegetables and fruits to your children.

And one last tip – French Fries don’t count.  They are so high in fat, CDC even doesn’t count them as a veggie.  Potatoes yes, French Fries no.
If you want to view some kids’ excuses for why they won’t eat something, see this clip a relative shared with me:  Picky Eating Habits

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Grains – Are you eating whole grains?

It is amazing how many people have no idea what a whole grain is and what foods are whole grain and which are just refined grains.  To have a healthy diet, one needs whole grains in their diet, yet so many people have no idea what that means.  I was presenting at a high school class while the students ate their lunches.  All the students said they ate whole grains.  When I asked them what on their lunch tray was whole grain they pointed to the white roll, the breading on their fried chicken, the mashed potatoes.  Of course, none of these foods are whole grain.  Fortunately, I was there to help them learn what whole grains were.   I’ve asked many adults what whole grain bread is and they respond, if the bread is dark in color, any brown at all, it is whole grain.  Not true.
What is whole grain?  To be whole grain, the food needs to contain 100% of all parts of the grain seed including the bran, endosperm and germ.  When food manufacturers refine grains, they remove the bran and germ and most of the nutrients and nutritional benefits of the grain.  The Whole Grains Council lists whole grains as:
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat – Try buckwheat pancakes
  • Corn – whole cornmeal and Popcorn
  • Millet
  • Oats – oatmeal is a super healthy cereal
  • Quinoa
  • Rice – brown rice and colored rice – going out to Chipotle?  Choose the brown rice.
  • Rye – very hard to find whole grain rye bread, most is refined
  • Wheat – only if whole wheat.  Many breads are called “Wheat Bread” but this isn’t whole grain bread, just wheat flour dyed brown.   Need to look for 100% Whole Wheat Bread.
  • Wild Rice 
         Many people avoid starches and grains.  And we should avoid or cut back on eating white bread, foods made with white flour.  But whole grains should be added to our diets as whole grains have so many health benefits.  The Whole Grain Council notes:   
  1.   Whole grains reduce our risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and even obesity. 
  2. Whole grains have phytochemicals and antioxidants that are removed when they make white flour.  These phytochemicals and antioxidants are super healthy.  
  3. Eating at least 3 servings of of whole grains a day, reduces: 
    • heart disease risk by 25-36%
    • Stroke  by 37%
    • Type II diabetes by 21-37%
    • Digestive cancers by 21-43%    
Find ways to add whole grains to your day.  I often have low fat microwave popcorn. (Not theatre popcorn which is super high in fat and salt.)  Buy bread, bagels, English Muffins labeled 100% Whole Wheat and not Wheat Bread.  Try Triscuits, Wheat Thins as snack crackers.  We like buckwheat pancakes, a little dry but tasty.  Cook up some quinoa as a side dish for dinner. 
For more information on whole grains go to the Whole Grains Council at  An interesting website that talks about the health benefits of whole grains is:

Sources:  Whole Grains Council and Nutrients in Refined vs Whole Grains,  Image Source:Whole Grain Council