Mother’s Day Reflections from a Dietitian Mom and Grandma

Mother Kissing Her Daughter for a Present and Red RoseAs I contemplate the upcoming weekend and Mother’s Day, I realize that I know and respect an awful lot of amazing mothers. These mothers are my clients that I have come to know very well over the years, my friends, my relatives, and finally, my children.  These mothers always put mothering at the top of the priority list even as they pull off multi-faceted roles as wedding planners, secretaries, doctors, teachers, nurses, dentists, lawyers, administrators, and so on.  The similar theme with these strong women who are amazing moms is their tenacity in nurturing and their instincts for being the driving force and support for their children.  It does not matter how old those children are, the “force” is still there. That “force” exhibits itself in various forms for various situations, but it is ever so present.

So to all those amazing mom’s out there, mom’s of little babies and adults already on their own and out of the nest, please take care of yourselves.  Remember YOU are worth your weight (no pun intended) in gold, and you deserve to replenish yourself to continue giving all that you give to others, including your babies of all ages.  Over the decades of counseling clients (as well as being a mother myself), I have realized that we can get “spent” very quickly as we go about our daily tasks of keeping our lives in line with ideals, and juggling all we do in a 24-hour period.  To keep up your pace, remember some guidance of self-care for YOU:

  • Mange your diet as you would manage your business, your children, and careers!  Eating is meant to keep you well, strong, and the best you can be.  It needs to be planned out as the rest of your life is planned.  The outcome of this planning makes the effort worth it!
  • Feed yourself the same quality of diet you want your babies and older children to eat. Kids of all ages have a keen eye on what you are doing, and will learn to imitate your food behaviors and patterns of eating eventually, be it good or bad.
  • Take the time to eat; it is the only fuel and nutrients you will take in.  Just thinking you should eat, or taking supplements, will not give you the energy to carry on, only good quality food will do so.
  • Make sure you take the time to actually enjoy your food.  Sit down at the table and teach your toddler that mom needs to enjoy her meal.
  • When sharing your meals with your children, enjoy the experience.  One day they will cook for you and they will pick up the dishes without being asked, because remember, you are a role model and what goes around comes around!

If you are reading this, you are probably a mother or know a wonderful mother.  I salute you all and wish you a wonderful day and upcoming week.  Happy mother’s day to all those truly remarkable women called “mom”.

Restaurant Dining: A Hit to Your Health and Wallet

Couple DiningMy spouse and I are health conscious because I am a dietitian and not a hypocrite, and his life depends upon it.  We regularly visit an area of southwest Michigan, and recently had breakfast at a local diner with great TripAdvisor reviews.  Unfortunately, we did not agree with the great reviews on TripAdvisor.  The menu was limited, but I will be the first to state that this is not necessarily a bad thing because the focus may end up being on quality, rather than an abundance of mediocre dishes.  The good news here was the staff was more than happy to substitute egg whites for whole eggs, but that is probably where the positive aspects of the meal ended.

Now the bad news:  the nice multi-grain bread was already buttered on the bottom of the toast (so did not realize it until it was eaten), the portions were huge (I know many people want large portions for the money being doled out), and I saw no fruit options on the menu.  Other bad news: the bill was $30.00 for what we could have made at home for probably a dollar at most, and made it a lot healthier in a short amount of time.  This is, in fact, the key issue with dining out on a regular basis.

When my clients dine out on a regular basis, this is what I tell them to expect:

More Fat.  If you make the same food at home, you can control the fat in the dish with very simple recipe tweaking.  Restaurants don’t typically care about the fat content in their meals because fat carries flavor and texture in food and of course, they want you to return for another meal! You can bank on eating more calories than you anticipated due to the higher fat content, and you can also assume that it will be more difficult to meet your weight loss goals.

More Calories.  And, let’s not forget the simple concept that larger portions, when eaten, yield more calories.  Unless you can exercise a lot of self-discipline while dining out, you will most likely eat your whole meal.  If you can consistently ask for healthy substitutions such as fruit for fries, you are on the right track.  Also, you need to get in the habit of bringing at least half of your meal home. And who doesn’t want that yummy appetizer, dessert, or cocktail while dining out?  It is probably safe to say that if you are eating at home vs. dining out, you probably are not having an appetizer, cocktail, and dessert with your main meal!

More Sodium.  If you are fortunate to find a nice restaurant meal low in fat and overall calories, the sodium is probably lurking.  I have yet to see a healthy restaurant meal that is low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium.  If you think the sodium content does not matter because your blood pressure is fine, you need to think again.   High sodium intakes cause other health problems such as bone loss and are correlated with increased cancer risk.  And, if you hop on the scale the next day, you can credit that weight gain of several pounds to fluid retention from all that salt you ate.

More Money.  As my husband made a lower sodium chili on Sunday, he proudly pointed out to me that the entire pot of chili probably cost less than a few dollars.  Had a bowl of chili been purchased at a full service restaurant, it would have been at least $6.00 dollars.  He also used only half a packet of low sodium chili powder and added additional beans, and veggies creating a lower sodium, but healthier higher fiber dish.

So, while eating out is social and recreational for many, having the mentality that it should be a treat for special occasions rather than your regular diet, can keep you healthier, slim you down, and fatten your wallet.  In fact, it is a win-win way to eat.

Checking out online menus and nutrition information is key to healthier dining options.

Do you have any strategies for managing your calories, fat, and sodium while dining out?


Guest Blog: How to Vacation Without Putting on the Pounds

suitcasesVacations are a time to relax and forget about everyday stresses. For those who are working on losing weight and living healthy, vacations are riddled with challenges. Temptations are common on vacations, and sticking to your daily caloric intake can be difficult. However, there are some simple steps vacationers can take to ease these common travel challenges. Here are a few tips:

Avoid Air Travel Temptations.  Before leaving for the airport, many travelers forget to eat.  As a result, travelers often pick up snacks at the airport or eat food on the airplane. By setting aside time to eat a meal before heading to the airport, it is possible to avoid these temptations. In addition, healthy high fiber snacks can often help alleviate hunger on long flights. It should be noted, however, that most airports now have healthy options for travelers. The key issue is to be mindful of those healthier options and then keep your health goals in mind as you select your airport food.

Be Careful in Hotels.  Hotels often make it easy to sabotage your diet. Vacationers are encouraged to avoid minibars at all costs; minibars are filled with unhealthy options, and travelers can avoid both excess calories and expense by avoiding them. One option to consider is planning a trip to a local grocery store to purchase some basic foods to assemble meals.  Simple meals can be assembled in a small crock pot or other appliance. Even a healthy frozen dinner can be zapped in a microwave if available, and this option will be lower in both sodium and calories  than most restaurant foods.  A sandwich made with whole grain bread filled with some lean meat and accompanied by fresh fruit is also a calorie conscious meal option while on vacation.

Prepare for Restaurants. Dining out is an essential and pleasant aspect of vacations, and travelers want to ensure that they take advantage of local cuisine. Before leaving for a restaurant, however, it may be wise to find the menu online and determine what you want to order beforehand. In addition, reading reviews of local restaurants from other travelers in the area can help you to find a healthy restaurant even if you are staying in a geographical area with plenty of buffets.  Being aware of menu “watch” words is also very important.  Avoiding foods labeled as battered, bottomless, or buttered can help your waistline. Fortunately, many restaurants now list how many calories are contained in particular meals, and online information can help as well. Choosing meals with fewer calories does not mean that you are missing out on local flavor, and those who do some research can enjoy dining out without having to worry about eating too many calories.

Vacations are essential for both mental and physical health, but those looking to eat well to stay healthy will need to prepare. Fortunately, vacationers now have a number of tools to help them along the way, and travel does not have to mean that extra weight will follow you home.

How do you eat smart while traveling?

Cole Millen is an avid traveler and self-described “foodie” who never forgets that life’s best memories are made through real life apprehension of legitimate “experiences.”



The Meatless “Revolution”: A Health Savvy Trend

I just heard the term “meatless revolution” coined on an evening news program.  Being a dietitian who is both professionally and personally a big fan of good nutrient dense carbohydrates-white potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, fruits, and vegetables- I am ecstatic to hear this is becoming a mainstream trend.  Apparently, US meat consumption has declined 30%, so my hope is this trend continues as it is good for our health and good for the planet.  Dietitians have been promoting this concept for decades.  The USDA plate reinforces this eating “revolution” as well.  So why should we cut down on meat consumption?  For dietitians, the answers are obvious:  this decreases total fat, saturated fat, and allows for calories to come from other food sources such has complex carbs which provide specific nutrients to the diet that would be lacking in a heavy meat diet.  Eating less meat is also a good way to decrease inflammation and cancer risk in some people.  Eating and growing more plant-based foods also consumes less energy and pollutes the environment less.  For every pound of bread made, one pound of grain is needed.  But for every pound of beef weight, eight pounds of grain are needed.  And, let’s not forget that cows pollute with poop.  It has to go somewhere, and often ends up contaminating our water and soil.

To embrace this so-called meatless revolution, start with:

  • Having a meatless meal a few times per week.  Try a lentil soup with whole grain bread or a vegetable topping pizza every Friday.
  • Making a conscious decision to decrease your animal protein servings to the size of a deck of cards; this is the portion size you should be eating, but many are eating 2-3 times that amount.
  • Substituting plant-based protein for meat options.  Try peanut butter in place of cold cuts on whole wheat bread for a hearty sandwich or lentils and beans in soups and stews to replace some of the meat the recipe calls for.

How do you downsize your meat?


Is Your Dietary Supplement Downright Dangerous? 5 Tips to Protect Yourself!

While many Americans naively pop vitamin and mineral supplements and guzzle various types of protein supplements and powders thinking they are helping with overall health and vitality, the reality is that many of these supplements can be downright dangerous!  In fact, according to last week’s Chicago Tribune headliner, the 28 billion dollar supplement industry has serious and widespread manufacturing flaws that have the potential to harm our health.  From quality control issues to formulary issues, the product you are ingesting may not be what you are thinking it is.  There may be much more or too little of a specific nutrient, or even contamination with lead, arsenic, or rodent feces. 

As a potential consumer, it needs to be understood that the supplement industry is a self-regulating industry.  That means the government does not directly oversee the quality control of a supplement. In fact, quality control issues are largely left to the company producing the supplement.  Under current laws, the FDA does not screen supplements for safety before they hit the consumer market. The FDA only takes action regarding supplements on the market once there is a documented issue with the supplement.  In fact, the FDA is also relying on manufacturers themselves as well as consumers to report those adverse effects.

So, without hiring a lab to test your own supplements, here are some proactive steps to take to protect yourself:

  • Buy name brand supplements.  Well-known brands may have better “in-house” quality control standards because the reputation of the company is at stake.  Steer clear of companies you have not heard of.
  • Look for the USP label.  This label means that the supplement has been at least evaluated for ingredients stated on the label and it will dissolve in your digestive tract rather than passing straight through your body.  The symbol does not guarantee any other health or safety advantages of the supplement.
  • Look at the Nutrition Fact Label on the supplement.  Note the percent daily value of the nutrients.  If you see values of many nutrients far exceeding 100%, don’t be duped into thinking this is a good thing. Consumers need to understand that too much of a nutrient can be very harmful.  We have upper limits of safety for many nutrients and we should avoid exceeding those upper limits of safety.
  • Consider using the Internet to investigate your supplement before taking it.  Consumer Labs is an independent testing lab that evaluates supplemental products and makes the test results available for a small subscription fee.  The analyses and data are extensive and informative.
  •  Consider having a dietitian evaluate your current diet.  A dietitian can evaluate nutrient shortcomings and make appropriate recommendations to meet those dietary deficits with the correct dosages of nutrients.  Or better yet, a dietitian can help you find the foods you like to eat to give you the nutrients you need!  Afterall, mother nature does the best nutrient packaging of all.

 Click video information on this topic!

Do you ever think about safety issues regarding supplement use?

Got Gas? 10 Tips to Fight Flatulence!

We all have gas production which is a normal bodily function.  For some, however, gas production can seem excessive and uncomfortable, not to mention embarrassing. Some people are so bothered by excessive gas that they bring up the topic to their physicians.  While it is very important to rule out diseases, often the gas symptoms result from how and what one eats! In fact, once a gastroenterologist referred a healthy patient to me simply to help the patient minimize gas, or flatulence, with specific eating strategies.  Some helpful strategies to minimize flatulence include:

  • Don’t go long periods without eating.  It is very common to have more gas discomfort if you skip food all day and then gorge on a large meal at the end of the day.
  • Avoid drinking beverages quickly.  Using a straw may lessen the amount of air swallowed.
  • Do not wolf down your meals.  Eating too rapidly will also introduce extra air into your digestive tract.  After all, what goes in must come out!
  • Steer clear of carbonated beverages, particularly without eating.
  • Stop chewing gum as this may also be a source of swallowed air.
  • Try decreasing or eliminating lactose in from your diet.  Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products.  As we age,  we start making less of the enzyme necessary to break down the lactose.  Lactose-free milk is readily available at grocery stores for those who want to continue drinking milk.
  • Certain vegetables are known culprits for causing gas.  Healthy vegetables such as cauliflower, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and cabbage all contain a natural sugar which some people have trouble digesting without an over-the-counter enzyme supplement such as Beano.  Beano provides the necessary amounts of enzymes to break down the natural sugar from these vegetables.  Or, simply consider eating smaller amounts of these foods!
  • Certain fruits such as apples, pears, prunes, and bananas may also be problematic due to the natural sugars fructose and sorbitol. No need to cut these fruits and the vegetables out, just try to pinpoint with food tracking which fruits and vegetables seem to be the gas culprits.
  • Many dietetic goodies also contain a lot of sorbitol which is used as a sweetener. If you consume a lot of dietetic foods, consider decreasing your intake to decrease your sorbitol intake and symptoms.
  • High fiber grains can also be gas culprits due to the soluble fiber.  Fiber is important for over-all health, so if you are having trouble with fiber rich grains, just increase these foods gradually.  Most people adapt to a higher fiber intake within a few weeks.

The best way to determine your dietary gas culprits is to track your food and your symptoms. As everyone is different, some food eliminations work for some and not for others.  Being aware of how you respond to your dietary adjustments is key to less gas discomfort.  If symptoms persist and your physician has ruled out any medical conditions, seeing a dietitian can help you sort through the best eating strategies in order to both minimize gas and keep you healthy!


Got a Beef with Carbs-20 Reasons to Love Your Carbs!

For whatever reason, the topic of carbohydrates fuels a firestorm of controversy.  Look anywhere on the Internet, and you will find a preponderance of carb criticism and vilification.  Indeed, not all carbs are created equally, and the carbs which should be emphasized for health are the complex carbohydrates.  These carbs are high in nutrient density.  Complex carbs include lentils, grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Here are 20 guilt-free reasons to include these nutrient-dense carbohydrates into your diet:

  1. They provide a rich source of B-complex vitamins, many of which are not derived from other food categories.
  2. In the form of fruits and vegetables, they are an excellent source of vitamin C.
  3. They provide significant sources of potassium.
  4. They are naturally low in fat.
  5. They are loaded with anti-oxidants and potentially health protecting      phytonutrients.
  6. Complex carbs are high in fiber to aid digestion and prevent constipation.
  7. Fiber-rich complex carbs aid in blood glucose control.
  8. Complex carbs fill you up and help you stick with a weight loss diet.
  9. Sufficient carbohydrates prevent ketosis.
  10. Adequate carbohydrate intake spares protein, allowing it to be used by the body for healing, repair, and growth in children.
  11. If you are decreasing your calories from carbs, you need to increase your      calories from another nutrient such as animal protein, which in excessive      amounts may weaken bones.
  12. If you are decreasing your calories from carbs, you need to increase your      calories from other nutrients such as fat, which may lead to plaque build up on your arteries.
  13. A low carbohydrate intake might increase cortisol levels, which may increase risk of some cancers.
  14. A low carbohydrate intake might lead to an increased animal protein intake, which can increase painful gout.
  15. You need carbohydrates in your diet to make glycogen-this is your storage fuel for endurance athletic events as well as what your body needs to rely on for fuel in the event you cannot eat for a day!
  16. Dairy products are nutrient dense carbohydrates and are important contributors of nutrients necessary for maintaining both strong bones and normal blood pressure.
  17. Most Americans fall short of magnesium requirements and many good sources of magnesium are complex carbs such as spinach, bran cereal, beans, lentils, and dairy products.
  18. Strong bones need more than just calcium, and many of the nutrients necessary for strong bones-vitamin K, various B vitamins, and magnesium are readily available from complex carbs.
  19. As food, they create less of a carbon footprint than growing animals to eat.
  20. They are satisfying and taste good!

Emphasizing unprocessed nutrient dense carbs such as lentils, beans, fruits, vegetables, fat-free dairy, and whole grain foods is not controversial, it is intelligent eating for the 21st century.



Shrimp From Thailand, Please Consider Not Purchasing!

Not very long ago, I was in a major Chicago suburban grocery store contemplating purchasing some frozen shrimp. With the globalization of our food supply, I am in the habit of checking where a food item originates from in order to be “respectful” to the planet.  I would prefer to avoid purchasing seafood from the other side of the world, and this shopping day I was actually unable to find any frozen shrimp other than shrimp from Thailand.  I put the shrimp back, as I just had an unsettled feeling about making such a purchase.

This week, tuning into the late hour US ABC Nightline news show, there was a story about a beautiful exotic cat from Southeast Asia which is becoming extinct. This wild cat, called the fishing cat, is a native to the wetland areas of Southeast Asia. These same wetland areas of Southeast Asia are also being utilized for the farming of shrimp, and much of that shrimp ends up in the United States.  According to the ABC Nightline story, as the shrimp farmers take over the wetlands and encroach on the native home of the fishing cat, the fishing cat population has declined to the point of near extinction.  As this exotic web-footed cat actually swims in the water for food, this encroachment by shrimp farmers has affected the natural habitat as well as the ability to access fish for food. With diminished capacity to find fish to eat, fishing cats are often forced to hunt for alternative food sources such as farmers’ livestock, which then allows them to meet their death with a shotgun.

Regardless of how you connect to this story, it points out there are multiple good reasons to purchase food locally.  If purchasing shrimp raised closer to home can stop a species from becoming extinct, that means a great deal to me as a human being.  If it means our planet degrades less quickly, it should mean the world to you.

For the complete Nightline footage on this story,

Be a Savvy Supplement Shopper- 5 Tips To Smarter Supplementation!

We are a pill popping society, and we know it.  It is what Americans seem to love to do.  Recently, there has been a lot of press about the fact that perhaps we should not be taking multi-nutrient supplements-and that they may actually be harmful to our health.  I have even had patients come to my office telling me that their physicians have flat-out told them to stop taking supplements altogether.  The wise approach, however, is most likely somewhere between constantly popping supplements and never taking a supplement.  People who would benefit from supplements include those who have validated nutrient deficiencies (blood work can evaluate this), women of childbearing years, habitual dieters, the elderly who are on certain medications or have limited food intake for medical reasons, and those that skip over entire food groups. While it is always best to have your nutritional requirements met through a healthy food selection, appropriate dosages of supplements can “supplement” your diet by filling in the gaps.

The bad news about supplements is that overdoing dosages can be harmful to your health.  Many people have the “if some is good, more is better” mentality.  The truth is that scientists have documented upper limits of safety, and beyond those limits you are putting your health at risk.  Mega doses of supplements are actually categorized as drugs, and excessive amounts of supplements can cause symptoms ranging from nerve damage to liver failure.  Another little known fact is that just because you can purchase a supplement at a store, doesn’t mean it is safe.  Supplements sold in this country have virtually no regulation in terms of safety.  Under current law, the FDA is responsible for taking action on unsafe supplements already on the market, but does not need to screen or pre-approve a supplement before it is gets to the store shelves.  This means you need to be a savvy supplement shopper if you decide to take supplements.

Here are 5 tips to help keep your supplement selection safe:

  1. Look at the Supplement Fact label (example in above photo); choose a multi-nutrient supplement that does not have very high percentages of nutrients (around 100% Daily Value (DV) would be safe, if around 200% or higher, move on to a different supplement).
  2. Look for the USP symbol or text on a label.
    The USP symbol or text means that the supplement will dissolve in your digestive system, and the ingredients are guaranteed.
  3. Supplements with added ingredients such as parsley, alfalfa, and herbs offer no added health benefit to the consumer.  There would be too little added to the supplement-best to just eat the parsley!
  4. Don’t let terms such as “stress relief”, “time release”, or “natural” drive your brand selection-as these terms are only marketing terms!
  5. Because there is no regulation on supplements prior to arriving on the store shelves, consider purchasing supplements that are name brands.  These companies are more likely to have their own internal high quality control standards, as they have a reputation to be protected, which can also ultimately protect the consumer.

If in doubt about whether to supplement or not, a registered/licensed dietitian can assist you!

What are your thoughts about supplement use and safety?



5 Tech Strategies for Successful Weight Loss

Sample view of Nutrihand, my client online food tracker

If you just ate too many jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, and are vowing to get back to a healthy diet this week, consider using some tech tools to help with weight loss.  With some time ahead of us before the next holiday, it’s a great time to start tracking your diet and physical activity.  Tracking your food intake allows you to avoid denial about your energy consumption, and keeps you honest with yourself on a daily basis.  If weight loss is your goal, then the only way you will reach that goal is to somehow take in less energy than your body needs, or use more energy than you consume through food.  To lose one pound of fat per week, you must go into a 3500 calorie deficit per week, doing so either with less food, more exercise, or a combination of less food and more exercise!  While crossing your fingers and “hoping” the weight comes off is a rather common occurrence, being systematic with your focus can mean the difference between hoping and happening.

Here are some of my favorite techie strategies for weight loss:

  1. Use the Internet for Nutrition Information– If you “must” dine out often, you need to be aware of the nutrients and calories you are eating through food consumed away from home.  While a full service restaurant is not required by law to provide the calorie content of its meals, franchises with 20 or more locations are.  This is very helpful to anyone who frequents Panera to P.F. Chang’s.  With some foresight and planning, you can access each restaurant website prior to eating there, and arm yourself with an effective eating strategy.
  2. Online Food DocumentationNutrihand is one of the online food tracking platforms I now offer my clients. Clients log in their food intake and day-to-day, we can both see if goals are met.  Goals may revolve around not only calories, but also other specific nutrients such as carbohydrate, fat, protein, calcium, potassium, sodium, and fiber. There are similar programs on the Internet to serve a similar purpose, and it’s worth your while to experiment with a format that works for you.
  3. Using Smartphones for Food Related Decisions– At this point, there are so many great smartphone apps on the market and more become available daily.  Some can be used to track food on the spot, some to track your physical activity like a pedometer, and some can help us make better nutritional decisions at the grocery store. With the smartphone camera, you can even take photos of foods to share with your favorite dietitian for further discussion.
  4. A Pedometer-While basic pedometers are not exactly high-tech, they can be effective for assessing baseline physical activity.  Some of the slightly more expensive pedometers allow for downloading of collected data (steps, aerobic steps, calories, distance) to your computer through a USB port and cable.  This allows your data to be documented, graphed, and saved on your computer or shared with your dietitian.
  5. BodyMedia Armband– This is the ultimate assessment tool for determining how many calories you require for weight management.  Worn on the left upper arm, it measures your calorie burn in a 24-hour period.  It seems very accurate and after the collected data is downloaded, you are able to look at your energy expenditure in sections of the day.  This allows you to evaluate the activities and movements which are most effective at using energy and therefore facilitating weight loss. Another perk, it assesses your sleep quality which has been noted as being important in the weight loss process.

With the help of these technology driven self-monitoring tools, your behavior and diet will be both consistent and effective enough to help you reach your weight goals efficiently and effortlessly!

Do you have any special weight loss tech tools you would care to share?