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?


The Pressure (Cooker) is On!

I was a child in the 50s. Mothers back then frequently cooked with a “scary” piece of equipment called the pressure cooker. I remember being afraid of the loud sounds it made, and always feared that the rattling piece of metal sitting atop the lid would fly off. When my mother gave me her pressure cooker after I myself became a mom, it sat in my cabinet and was never used. It was just way too intimidating to me with three small children to feed. After all, I was also concerned for their “safety”!

Fast forward to being a grandma.  Like many grandmas, I am very busy. But, as a practicing and working dietitian, I am still concerned about getting healthy foods on the table.  Modernized pressure cookers seem to be the perfect solution to preparing healthy food in limited time. They are equipped with a variety of settings, such as browning, sauteing, and warming, along with both low and high pressure settings, making it easy to prepare a complete gourmet meal in no time.  For instance, rather than going through the hassle of soaking lentils overnight, with a pressure cooker you can cook with them immediately.  What’s more, modern pressure cookers have safety features to help prevent kitchen accidents.  There are many other benefits to using a pressure cooker.  Aside from saving time, using a pressure cooker limits nutrient losses. Because all the recipe components are in one pot and the liquid is part of the main dish, all nutrients are retained. Additionally, preparing a meal with a pressure cooker saves money.  Tough and more economical cuts of meat can be used very successfully in the pressure cooker because the high pressure will tenderize the meat. Two of my favorite pressure cooker recipes can be found on this website.

So, if time is tight and healthy eating is a priority, consider lessening your personal pressure by increasing the pressure for cooking. Do you have any favorite foods you enjoy making in your pressure cooker?

Grapes For People, Not Pups!

Mollie, my sweet 10-year old Golden Retriever

Grapes are a healthy, easy snack for adults and a favorite finger food of toddlers. They are a rich source of cancer fighting phytochemicals, such as resveratrol, ellagic acid, and quercetin.  In addition to these anti-oxidents, one-half cup of grapes have about one gram of fiber, and only 60 calories.  As a dietitian, I am eager to recommend such a fruit to my patients.  However, as a dog owner, I wish to share a story and a word of caution about how dangerous this fruit can be for our four-legged dog friends.

Recently, my family gathered together for a Sunday dinner.  My beautiful one-year old granddaughter was “eating” grapes, but really just sucking the juice out of them and throwing the rest to the floor.  Our family dog, Mollie, came over to help “clean up”  the scattered food on the floor.  Unbeknown to all of my loved ones, grapes are poisonous to dogs, and no one moved to stop her from attempting to eat them.  As I saw what was happening, I yelled out a warning that “Dogs can’t eat grapes!”  My family, aghast, but thinking perhaps I was mistaken or over reacting, stopped our dog and then proceeded to verify the dangers of grapes for dogs online. As they do so, I immediately called the animal hospital, and after very little discussion, decided it was best to bring our dog in to induce vomiting and ensure that she was not poisoned.  Ultimately, we found that Mollie hadn’t actually consumed any grapes, but had she, she might have suffered kidney damage or death. The harm from eating grapes to a dog comes within a short time-span, and those grapes can hurt the kidneys in as little as six hours unless the necessary precautions are taken.

I learned a lesson: pay attention to what is on the floor when your pets are with you, especially if there are young children around!  And, be aware that the Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also sounds an alarm for the following foods which are toxic to dogs: raisins, chocolate, avocados, onions, garlic, coffee, tea leaves, Macadamia nuts, raw yeast dough, salt, alcohol, and artificially sweetened foods. Our pets are counting on us to keep them safe, so I hope my sharing this experience will help keep other pets safe as well.

Does anyone else have a story to share about keeping their 4-legged friend safe from poisonous substances?

Fabulous Flaxseed

The health benefits of flaxseed have been known for centuries and the health benefits continue to be recognized today.  Flax seed is a rich plant based source of omega-3 fatty acids, making for a dietary alternative to fish.  Omega-3 fatty acids are protective against heart disease, hypertension, certain cancers, and some autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Flaxseed is a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber aids in reducing blood cholesterol and insoluble fiber prevents constipation. The anti-cancer benefits of flaxseed are due to plant estrogens called lignans.  Flaxseed contains more lignans than any other known plant material.

Americans typically do not eat enough of these healthful essential omega-3 fatty acids. The health benefits of flaxseed makes the effort to incorporate it into the diet worthwhile, and it is easy to do!  Ground or milled flaxseed can be added to the diet in a variety of ways such as:

  • a topping for salad
  • a thickening ingredient for soups
  • a topping for cottage cheese
  • adding to yogurt
  • adding to condiments such as mustard or mayo when making sandwiches
  • using as part of a baked product recipe or pancake mixture*
  • adding to hot and cold cereal

Flaxseed can be purchased as a whole seed, or a milled or ground meal.  Whole flaxseed, such as pictured above, is shelf stable for up to a year, but needs to be ground up to derive the health benefits.  If the product is purchased already ground or milled, once the package is opened it should be kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container for up to 3 months.

One tablespoon of ground flaxseed has about 45 calories, 2 grams of fiber, a little protein, and a large amount of the omega-3 fatty acids you need for the day.  This is definitely food worth chewing on.  Have you tried flaxseed, and how do you add it to your diet?

*Chocolate Zucchini Muffins~ Recipe makes 24 muffins

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup ground or milled flaxseed
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup margarine
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup sugar
2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups finely grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and ground flaxseed in a bowl.   Cream the margarine, oil and sugar in another bowl.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, and applesauce.  Add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients and lightly mix together.  Add the grated zucchini.

Use paper baking cups to line muffin pan or generously oil or use baking spray on muffin pans. Fill tin or paper cups half way.  Bake about 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.  Remove, cool and enjoy.

Nutriton Information per muffin:
Calories-175             Fiber- 1 gram               Potassium-85 mg
Sodium-250 mg        Fat-6 grams                 Carbohydrate-26 grams

Visit: for additional flaxseed facts and recipes!