Category Archives: Nutrition

Nutritional Vigilance Starts With These Simple Nutrition Steps

Eating healthy isn’t rocket science, but it can get you on a life trajectory of feeling and looking better.  There are simple nutrition steps you can follow to get you in orbit.  I often hear my clients say the steps need to be easy because they are either uncomfortable with meal preparation, don’t want to take the time or absolutely hate the concept of cooking.  With these kinds of conversations I emphasize that there are quick and easy meals and routines that can make this process easy.  The key is to keep a few essential ingredients always in stock and to shop with a list which includes these items.

Simple Nutrition Steps

A healthy meal should always combine lean protein, fiber and healthy fat.  With the right amount of each component, this magic combination will keep you feeling fuller longer, prevents your blood glucose from spiraling and keeps your energy levels high until the next meal.  There are simple nutrition steps that start with the shopping list below:

Grocery Shopping List

First, some important facts about food.  Most foods are a combination of the macro-nutrients protein, carbohydrates and fats.  Most are more of one macro-nutrient than the other.  For example salmon is high in heart healthy fats and is also a great source of protein.  Nuts are high in heart healthy fat but are also a good source of protein and fiber.  Cheese is a good source of protein, but it is very high in fat, especially the heart damaging saturated fat, which is why you want to focus on low-fat or moderate portions.  Beans are high in carbohydrates but also very high in fiber and have a reasonable amount of protein.   The fiber and protein prevents a spike in blood glucose unlike the “white” foods like rice, white bread and  boxed potatoes. Additionally, cutting back on foods high in fat, like cheese, oils and nuts, and eating more fiber especially from vegetables, will help you lose weight.

Other ingredients I always keep in stock and have on my shopping list are:

  • 2 quarts organic chicken broth
  • mustard (essentially no calories and a great addition to many recipes)
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • garlic/onion powder

Putting The Puzzle Together In These Simple Nutrition Steps

The meal below is a great example of protein, fiber and healthy fat.  The protein is coming mainly from the sautéed scallops.  Fiber is coming from the half plate of veggies, the brown rice and the sliced peaches for dessert.  The healthy fat is coming from the canola oil the scallops were sautéed in and the olive oil the veggies were tossed in.

healthy plate

Simple and Quick Meals You Can Make From My Shopping List

Using my shopping list, here are some simple meals you can put together.

  1. Chicken Quesadilla                                                                                                                         Saute the chicken in canola oil (can handle a higher heat than olive oil).  Let cool and shred into pieces.  Place in whole grain wrap (like LaTortilla) along with shredded green cabbage, 2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup black beans and pour salsa and wrap up.
  2. Baked Salmon with broccoli and small sweet potato                                                                  Preheat oven to Bake 400.  Cut sweet potato into 3/4 ” pieces and broccoli in small branches.  Place in baking dish and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and small amount of salt and put in oven.  Place salmon (4-5 ounces per person) in greased pan.  Top with mustard, then sprinkle Panco or bread crumbs on top and put next to the veggies.  Bake for 15 minutes until salmon and veggies are done.
  3. Baked Haddock with cheese, spinach and brown rice.                                                                When I make rice, I usually make 3 times the amount and freeze the rest for another time or use it in another meal a couple of days later.  A serving of rice is 3/4 to 1 cup cooked per person.  Brown rice takes about 50 minutes to prepare.  Quinoa is a great alternative and only takes 20 minutes to make and is also higher in fiber and protein than rice.  In a greased square pan place 2 cups fresh pre-washed spinach per person.  Then place 5 oz of Haddock per person on top of the spinach.  Place one slice of light Swiss cheese per person, spread a thin amount of reduced fat mayo and sprinkle with Panco.  Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes.
  4. Chicken/Rice/Veggie Soup                                                                                                                    If you’ve prepared extra chicken and rice from the previous meals you can use them here. If not then put the uncooked chicken breasts and the brown rice in a large pot filled with about 6 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool.  Add 1 bag each of chopped broccoli, spinach and carrots and 1 can kidney beans and simmer for 15 minutes.  Shred the chicken and return to the pot.  Then add 1 can diced tomatoes and 1 quart chicken broth.  Then add a tbsp onion and garlic powder along with 1 tsp of salt and pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes and serve with a slice of whole grain toast.
  5. Frittata                                                                                                                                                      I like to make this dish in a 12″ cast iron skillet.  Preheat oven to 400.  Take one dozen eggs and mix with one cup fat-free Greek yogurt ( to boost the protein) until well-blended.  In skillet saute one large diced onion in 1 tbsp canola oil .   Then add two bags frozen chopped broccoli and saute until broccoli is cooked.   Pour egg mixture in pan and stir in 1 cup grated low-fat cheddar cheese, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes.   Serve with whole grain toast.  I take the leftovers and place in a wrap with fresh spinach, some grated cheese and salsa to have for lunch or dinner for other meals.

Being Nutritionally Vigilant Starts With Planning And An Open Mind

Eating healthy starts with planning and a willingness to do things differently.  These simple nutrition steps of combining protein, fiber and healthy fats along with using my shopping list regularly will simplify your life, make you healthier, have more energy and lose weight.  Your freezer can become your best friend and allow you to eat healthy when you don’t feel like cooking.  Investing in portion sized freezer containers and freezing extra portions will save you from impulse buys on the way home from a long day.  You will find, after a few weeks that keeping these foods in your house will allow you to throw something healthy together in a manner of minutes.  And what’s not to like about a bowl of hot homemade soup and crunchy toast on a cold winter day, right?  That’s the way to launch into a healthy lifestyle!

ten food musts

Ten Must Foods To Stock In Your Kitchen

Being empty nesters, my husband and I “wing-it” more often than not when it comes to mealtime in the summer in Maine.  We tend to eat simpler meals than the rest of the year.  For example, last nights meal consisted of a huge bowl of cut-up tomatoes from our garden combined with some fresh veggies, a scoop of low fat cottage cheese and a piece of whole grain toast.  Nothing fancy, but with freshly picked veggies from our garden, I was totally satisfied.  Making a quick health meal means always keeping key essentials around.  I have ten “must” foods that I always keep stocked in my kitchen so I can put together a quick meal that meets my requirements beyond just being tasty:  they must keep me full and must promote health.

How My List Promotes Fullness And Healthy

The key to fullness lies in getting enough fiber, protein and fat with each meal.  The key to making it healthy is getting both soluble and insoluble fiber, lean protein and heart healthy fat.


Fiber increases biodiversity of microbes that boost our immune system and is linked to reducing the risk of many disease processes including irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and even the intestinal infection, C-difficile.   Fiber keeps us full, lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugars.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that women eat at least 25 gms and men 38 gms daily.  The average American consumes only 15 gms a day.  Foods high in both these kinds of fiber include fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, and a variety of whole grains.


Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.  Our body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbohydrates, so we need to consume it regularly and in the right amount.  The Institute of Medicine recommends .8 gm per kilogram of weight for the average adult.  That means a 200 lb person should consume about 72 gms daily.  Some research indicates eating large amounts at once, does not benefit the body as well as eating smaller amounts throughout the day.  On average, an ounce of meat, poultry or fish will deliver about 6-7 gms of protein.  There is also protein in beans, whole grains, nuts and dairy.  The key is to move away from the artery-clogging saturated fat found in beef and most dairy and move more towards poultry, fish and low-fat dairy.

Healthy Fat

Dietary fat is needed for energy and cell growth.  It also helps the body absorb certain nutrients and produce certain hormones.  Fats have more than twice the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins.  Eaten in small amounts with the focus on heart-healthy types, it can help lower cholesterol, improve cardiovascular healthy and keep you fuller longer.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume less than 10% of our total daily calories from saturated fat and get most of our grams of fat from olive and canola oil, nuts, avocado and seeds.  Here is the good, bad and ugly on fats.

My Ten “Must” Food

My ten “must” foods list does not make a complete meal, but each item is an essential component of my daily diet and meets my criteria for helping with fullness and promoting health.

  1. Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt – It’s high in protein with each 8 oz delivering 23 gms of protein – that’s equivalent to 3 1/2 oz meat, poultry of fish.  Plus it has probiotics that increase the good gut bacteria and are a good source of calcium for bone health.
  2. Low-fat cottage cheese – This is also high in protein with one half cup delivering 14 gms of fiber and is a good source of calcium.
  3. Cabbage – These crunchy leaves are a good source of fiber and sulforaphane, a compound associated with reducing the risk of cancer.  And red cabbage contains anthocyanin, a compound that can kill cancer cells.
  4. Flax seed – This is considered the most powerful plant food on the planet with 3 tbsp delivering 8 gms of fiber, 6 gms of protein, and loads of antioxidant lignans.  It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
  5. Wasa crackers – Two of these whole grain crackers provides only 60 calories, 3 gms of fiber and are very low in sodium.  I use them as a foundation to put cottage cheese, sliced onions and olives on or to sandwich around a scoop of my next essential.
  6. Teddy peanut butter – With ingredients including only roasted peanuts and salt, peanut butter is a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber.  Peanut butter and nuts in general are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and alzheimers.
  7. Skim or 1% milk – This is one of the best sources of calcium while also providing 8 gms of protein.
  8. Barley – This delicious grain is one of the best sources of soluble fiber and a great alternative to rice.  A half cup of cooked barley delivers 8 gms of fiber and 5 gms of protein.  It’s also very high in potassium which lowers blood pressure, and has also been linked to reducing risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Barley provides a high percentage of an individual’s daily requirement of manganese and selenium.
  9. Olive oil – This powerful anti-inflammatory reduces the body’s inflammatory markers and is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well.  Where you buy your extra virgin olive oil does matter – not all olive oil is what it says on the label.  Consider getting yours from California.
  10. Apple Cider Vinegar – When combined with extra virgin olive oil this makes a wonderful low calorie salad dressing, especially if you use a 2:1 ratio, vinegar to oil.  Apple cider vinegar is alkali and is known to reduce blood sugars.   Lowering post-meal blood sugars is very helpful for those with diabetes as well as those with insulin resistance (many people who carry excess weight around their belly have insulin resistance).  It has also been linked to weight loss, possibly by interfering with the breakdown of fats.  Taken with meals, apple cider vinegar interferes with the digestion of starches, allowing more for the good bacteria in our gut to enjoy.  The unfiltered apple cider vinegar is considered to be best.

I certainly don’t eat a perfect diet.  However, I believe the more I consume the foods on my list on a daily basis, the more I reduce my risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  And perhaps these items will make up for my occasional splurge on cookies, chips and cheese.  Life is not about being perfect, it’s about being better.  And these ten must foods might help you have better health too.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Eat Your Cake, But Eat This Too

It’s about damage control.  I like my cake, cookies, chips and chocolate like any other warm-blooded American, but I make sure I take care of my body first.  My kale/berry smoothie for breakfast, tomatoes and cucumbers at lunch, and salad or broccoli for dinner are my health reinforcements to make up for my splurges of tasty, crunchy morsels during the day.  I make sure I fortify my body with enough dietary potassium, a mineral that most Americans under consume.

Dietary Health Concerns

The scientific report from the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee concludes:

“Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber are underconsumed and may pose a public health concern. Iron also is a nutrient of public health concern for adolescent and premenopausal females.”

They further conclude:

“Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed and may pose a public health concern.”

We hear a lot on the importance of Vitamin D, calcium and fiber, but why is dietary potassium so important for health?

Dietary Potassium

According to the National Institute on Health our body needs potassium in order to:

  1. Build proteins
  2. Break down and use carbohydrates
  3. Build muscle
  4. Maintain normal body growth
  5. Improve heart health by lowering blood pressure
  6. Improve acid-base balance in the body, with a move towards a more alkali blood pH.

This fabulous article goes into further detail how an alkaline diet, one high in potassium, (particular fruits and veggies), can improve bone health, cardiovascular health, and prevent muscle wasting as we age.

Getting Enough Dietary Potassium

The FDA recommends that adults get at least 3500 mg of potassium based on a 2000 calorie diet.  And now the new food labels will include potassium.Dietary Potassium on Food label

The bottom of every food label will now list the amount of dietary potassium.  But the best sources of potassium are found in foods with no labels, from mother nature herself – fruits and vegetables.  The FDA recommends that we eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and veggies a day in a variety of colors.

Fortify Your Body

I think life is not about getting things perfect, just better, so I feel better.  When I feel good, I’m happier.  Focusing on fruits and veggies is a simple way for me to think about food.  When I do that right, the rest tends to fall into place.  In the winter and early spring, I keep frozen berries and veggies in the frig to add to smoothies, soups, and even casseroles.  In the summer I add lots of celery, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions to pasta salads or snack on them raw.  I grow a few things in my garden that I feel are the simplest and give me the most bang for my time: tomatoes and lettuce.  Fall is wonderful for winter squashes, root veggies, and apples.

I may not eat a lot of cake but I sure do stroke my sweet tooth by making fruit crisps.  Often, I just use frozen fruit like sliced mango, but apple is my favorite.  A fruit crisp is the perfect solution to getting a serving of fruit and whole grains, while still satisfying that need for a little somein’, somein’!  You can have your sweets, and still take care of your health too!

Bone Up To Avoid Bone Loss

Are your bones rattling for more milk?  If your calcium intake isn’t sufficient, your bones become your body’s backup source of calcium.  Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is needed for nerve conduction, blood vessel contraction and dilation, muscle movement and even cellular communication.  If calcium intake is not sufficient to perform all these activities then the body pulls the calcium from the bones.  Later in life this leads to osteoporosis, a debilitating condition causing vertebrae to crumble, increased likelihood of fractures with falls, and stooped posture.

Bone Formation

Bones are constantly in a state of renewal.  In adolescence, more bone is created than removed, with peak bone mass attained by the early twenties.   Around 30, that ratio reverses to more bone breakdown than creation.  The more bone mass attained in those crucial first two decades, the better the bones can weather the aging process.  Unfortunately,  43% of the US population, even with the use of supplements, fails to get adequate calcium intake – particularly girls ages 4 to 18, and males aged 9-18 and over 51.

Bones Require Adequate Calcium Intake

Getting adequate calcium intake, either through diet or supplements, is essential for bone strength.  And making sure your children and young adults are getting the minimum requirements is really an investment in the future.  The chart below, along with much of the information here is from the NIH, lists recommendations based on age and sex.  Our bodies only absorb about 30% of the total calcium that is consumed.   There are many factors that affect absorption including:

Calcium Recommendations

  1.  The amount consumed at one time.  The more calcium consumed, the less is absorbed.
  2.   Rate of absorption decreases with age, going from 60% as infants to less than 15% in older adulthood.
  3.   Adequate vitamin D intake enhances calcium absorption.  Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight and dietary intake.
  4. Alcohol intake can reduce calcium absorption and also interfere with the production of Vitamin D into its active form.
  5.  Interaction of dietary calcium with other food components, particularly oxalic and phytic acid.  High levels of oxalic acid are found in spinach, collard greens, beans, sweet potatoes and even rhubarb.  High levels of phytic acid are found in whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts and soy isolates.  So consuming milk with any of these foods will decrease the absorption of calcium from the milk.

Factors Affecting Absorbed Calcium

Once calcium is absorbed, there are other factors that can leach calcium out of our bodies through urine, feces and sweat.

  1. High sodium intake increases calcium excretion.
  2. Consuming a diet high in protein and grains increases the production of metabolic acids which then increase calcium excretion.  Eating more fruits and vegetables shifts the body’s acid base balance to a more alkali environment that decreases calcium excretion.

Good Sources of Dietary Calcium

Certain foods are very high in calcium and are easy and affordable to consume.  The chart below lists the best sources of calcium:Foods High In Calcium

Labels do not list the actual amount of calcium in a product, only a percentage based on a 2000 calorie diet.  Making sure people under 30 consume at least 3 servings from the top foods on this list will give huge payback in years to come.  As a child I remember eating sardines crumbled up with saltine crackers.  Sardines are also really high in omega 3’s and an excellent source of protein, I just wish I liked them now.  My primary sources of dietary calcium are yogurt, low-fat milk and occasionally cheese.  I do take a calcium carbonate supplement that provides 333 mg per tablet.

Bone Up On Your Calcium Intake

Pay attention to how much calcium you are consuming.  Getting too much calcium can cause constipation and has also been associated in some studies with prostate cancer and heart disease.  Aim for three servings of the top three listed foods and you know you are getting enough.  Having worked as a nurse in long term care and seeing the frequency of spinal compression fractures and hip fractures, especially in women, motivates me to be mindful of my calcium intake.  Maintain your bone bank by making adequate daily calcium deposits!

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthier lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Fat Calories in common foods

Fat Culprits In Your Diet

Most people know the difference between good fats and bad fats but do they realize making even small changes in the amounts of the usual culprits high in fat calories can help them lose up to a pound a month with no pain?  Everyone thinks that eating a salad for lunch is going to move that scale needle southward.  But when you load that salad with nuts, olives, avocado, cheese and dressing, that healthy salad can deliver as many calories as a Big Mac with fries.

Fat Calories Add Up

Fat calories are twice as potent as calories from carbohydrates and protein.  There are 9 calories in a gram of fat versus only 4 calories in a gram of carbohydrate and protein.  The chart below lists some common foods that people eat regularly that are high in the heart healthy unsaturated fats but calorie dense because they are high in fat. fat calories in good fatsEaten without attention to portion sizes, these foods can pack a lot of calories.  A salad topped with 10 olives, half an avocado, 2 oz of chopped nuts, a few slices of cheese and some dressing can deliver over 1000 calories, or more than the 930 calories in a Big Mac with medium fries.  And you salad eaters are thinking, “that salad didn’t even contain one carbohydrate, so it’s got to help me lose weight, right?”  Nope.  fat calories in salad dressing

Salad dressing is the big calorie kicker depending on the choice.  Two Tbsp of Caesar salad dressing delivers 165 calories, and that’s if you are measuring.  If you are getting your salad from the grocery store and pouring the dressing from those large containers, how do you really know?  I know the prepackaged servings of dressings at the deli near me is a 1/4 cup serving or 4 Tbsp.  That can be at least 290 calories.

What if you are adding extra “healthy ingredients” like artichokes or some of the other vegetable like the ones in the Whole Food’s salad bar that are swimming in oil; that adds additional calories.

Count Your Fat Culprits

The CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program focused on the total grams of fat in the diet with fat gram goals geared around an individual’s weight.  CDC Fat Gram GoalI always thought it was strange that a diabetes program would focus on fat and not carbohydrates, but truthfully it is much simpler to track just fats than total calories.  Furthermore, you get more bang for your effort by reducing total grams of fat since they are high in calories.  With 3600 calories in a pound, cutting out 15 gms of daily fat will mean a one pound weight loss in about 27 days.  That doesn’t seem like much, but that’s 14 pounds in a year and it’s painless with just a little awareness and a few substitutions.  low fat substitutioinsHere’s how you can find cut those fat grams in just your lunch salad.  Reducing the avocado to  one quarter will save 7 gms of fat.  Cutting the portion of nuts in half will save you another 7 gms.  Using fat-free Feta cheese, which is sharp and still has the consistency of cheese, will save you another 10 gms.  Being mindful of salad dressing portion sizes, or better yet making your own by using a 2:1 ratio of vinegar to oil (I like adding lemon juice and herbs to mine) will save you another 7 gms.  With just these suggestions you would save 21 gms of fat, 190 calories and a pound in 19 days.  That doesn’t even include making other small changes like switching to light mayo, or using mustard or hummus in lieu of mayo on sandwiches, or using fat-free Greek yogurt instead of mayo or sour cream in dips.

Your Culprits Are Calorie Dense

Often times I hear people being frustrated that they are not losing weight despite their best intentions of eating a salad every day.  Making these small changes are painless and yield big results.  It doesn’t take a radical diet to lose weight.  It takes knowing what your culprits are, making small changes that don’t lead to feelings of deprivation, and being mindful of portion sizes.  Losing weight gradually is a much healthier and more sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off.  That’s the healthy way to a happy weigh!

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word.


How Could You TJ’s?

Dare I say anything negative about Trader Joe’s (TJ’s)?  I know there are lots of loyal fans, me being one of them, at least for their nuts; nitrate-free, preservative-free bacon; perfectly grown haricot vert and delicious Huntsman cheese.   But can I find the perfect whole grain cracker to go with that cheese at TJ’s?  No way.  There is not one box of Trader Joe crackers that is made from whole grains.  And the worse thing, was all the sneaky ingredients in three of the crackers I examined.  Trader Joe’s crackers are really no better than a Ritz cracker on steroids.  How can Trader Joe’s, known for its consumer trust of selling only quality products not sell even one cracker made from whole grains, without all the processed ingredients?

Trader Joe Crackers Are Not What They Are Cracked Up To Be

Trader Joe's CrackersTrader Joe’s 12 Grain Cracker and Multigrain Cracker are made with enriched flour, not a whole grain flour.  A product that is whole grain will start with the word “whole” or “100% whole” in the list of ingredients, not with “enriched” flour or “unbleached” flour.  Ingredients on a label are also listed in order by percentage of weight.  Those 3 grams of fiber found in each serving are coming more from a fiber enhancer called inulin than the portions of grains, seeds and flax.  Inulin is a naturally occurring dietary fiber, usually extracted from chicory root.  It is known to increase gut bacteria, but is also a FODMAP, a type of carbohydrate rapidly fermented in the colon leading to gas and bloating.  If TJ’s really wanted to provide fiber and boast about 12 grains, then why didn’t they just use the entire grain of each of the 12 grains of flour rather than starting with white flour and embellishing it with parts of 12 other grains along with inulin?  Come on, TJ’s, this is just sneaky marketing for a disappointing product. You can do better than this!

Sugar In Trader Joe’s Crackers

Trader Joe's crackersAll these crackers, including Trader Joe’s Social Snacks, contain not just sugar, but invert sugar as well.  Sugar and invert sugar are listed as the third and fourth ingredient in these Social Snack crackers – adding 2 gms of sugar to every 8 crackers.  And with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommending we limit added sugars to no more than 10% of our total daily calories, that’s about 50 gms for a 2000 calorie diet, these crackers are going to help us reach that.  Why does a cracker need sugar in it anyway?  Isn’t a cracker really just suppose to be about whole grains, oils and a bit of salt?

Here’s A Healthy Cracker!

Triscuit's Thin CrispsOne of my favorite crackers – one that would go great with Huntsman cheese – is Triscuit’s Thin Crisps by Mondelez.  It’s made with just 3 ingredients – whole grain wheat, soybean oil and salt.  The 3 gms of fiber in this serving are just coming from wheat berries, no fiber enhancers.  And there is no sugar of any kind and they are even lower in fat than the first two crackers.  These crackers have a great crunch, go well with humus, and are great just by themselves without a topper.

You Can’t Assume Anything When It Comes To Food Products

There’s so much I like about Trader Joe’s – their small stores with an easy lay-out, the friendly staff, many of their food products and even the bell they chime when a check-out person is available.  But with their mission:  “to give our customers the best food and beverage values that they can find anywhere”, Trader Joe’s has to do better with their crackers.  Costumers want to trust their products but their crackers could be a heck of a lot healthier with a lot less processing.  It goes back to my rule of thumb – find foods with as few ingredients as necessary and if you don’t know what an ingredient is, then assume it’s a cheap substitute for a healthier ingredient.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word.



Moo-ving Away From Milk To Milk Alternatives?

Almond, Soy, Coconut and Skim MilkMilk alternatives are the cow’s moo.  And make that coconut and you’ve got a party in the barn.  I’m sure those teats of theirs get mighty tired from all that yanking.

Go to the dairy aisle at any store and two-thirds of the milk choices are made up of milk alternatives.  Some of them are delicious, but do all these choices do the body good?

Why Drink Milk?

Milk is known best for it’s calcium.  Calcium is not only an essential part of bone maintenance, but it is also essential for energy metabolism, blood pressure control, muscle contraction and hormonal action.  A glass of milk delivers up to 30% of your daily calcium needs.   calcium and vitamin D RDAMilk alternatives do have calcium added, but make sure it’s calcium carbonate since it is the best one absorbed.  And not all milk alternatives deliver as much calcium as milk as you can see in the label below.

Milk is a good source of protein.  Eight ounces of milk delivers more grams of protein than an egg or ounce of meat or fish.  As you can see below, soy milk also delivers almost as much protein, but the protein from milk – whey and casein – is a complete protein, delivering all the essential amino acids the body needs to repair and make new cells.  Soy is a complete protein but there is some evidence that it’s bio-availability is not as good as whey.

Comparison Of Milk To Milk Alternatives

In the label below you can see the almond milk delivers the fewest amount of calories, fat, carbs and protein, but the most calcium, in the form of calcium carbonate, compared to the others.  The coconut milk delivers the most fat, zero protein and only 10% of the RDA of calcium, in the less desired form, calcium phosphate.  The soy milk delivers a similar amount of calories, protein and calcium as cow’s milk, and does have fewer carbs than cow’s milk.  Soy milk has a bit more fat than skim milk, albeit the heart-healthy kind.  This soy milk is sweetened with a bit of cane sugar to make up for lack of sweet-tasting lactose that is naturally found in milk.  If you want a milk alternative, soy milk is probably the best substitute to cow’s milk, but check the label for the amount of added sugar.

nutrients vary in milk alternatives

Make Sure Your Milk Alternative Is Doing Your Body Good

Our body performs its best when it gets all the nutrients it needs.  Much of what goes in our mouth now impacts the quality of life way in the future.  Making sure you are getting enough calcium is probable the most important reason to drink at least two to three servings of milk a day.  There are other good sources of calcium – sardines, salmon and leafy greens, to name a few – but make sure you are getting the recommended amount based on your age.  Getting enough calcium for your bones will help you moo-ving along easily in the future.



Sugar Baby, Let’s Get To 10%

The 2015 dietary guidelines are broad and nonspecific, emphasizing whole grains, eating  a variety of colors of vegetables, lean protein, nuts and oils.   The only specific recommendations are around keeping saturated fats and added sugars each to less than 10% of total daily calories.   For the average American that’s not much direction, but hopefully the next few paragraphs will shed some light.  My last post explained how to get to 10% on saturated fat; today’s post will focus on getting to 10% for those sugar babies.

Added Sugars

hidden added sugars

Added sugars

Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods and beverages through processing or preparing them.  It doesn’t include naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fruit and milk but it does include that syrup I just had with my pancakes this morning, the sugar in my French Vanilla yogurt and the sugar in the coconut cream pie I’m going to make for company this evening.  It also includes the tiny bit of sugar I put in my coffee and tea.

The biggest source of added sugars for Americans is from soda, sports and energy drinks. It’s also found heavily in the specialty coffees from Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts – a Venti Caffe Mocha has 44 gms of added sugar.  Some not-so-obvious added sugars are found in cereal, sauces and soups, and even ketchup.  Keep in mind, this also includes other sweeteners that are popular today like Agave, honey and coconut sugar.  So how do you know what 10% of your total daily calories looks like?

Calculating Your Sugar

Using the Mayo Clinic calorie calculator and estimating calories for a 55 year-old woman who is 5′ 6″, weighs 160 pounds and is somewhat physically active 2-3 times a week, her daily calorie recommendation would be around 1850 calories.  If you were to take 10% of her calories, based on the 2015 dietary guidelines, she should limit her added sugars to about 185 calories a day.  To convert this into usable information you need to understand that there are 4 calories in a gram of sugar.  Dividing 185 by 4, it leaves her with 46 grams of sugar with which to titillate her mouth for the day.

What’s In Your Sugar Bank

It’s all about choosing wisely by knowing where the hidden sugars are, while also learning how to find good substitutes for favorite foods that are high in sugar.  A 20 ounce serving of coke pours 65 grams of sugar down your throat.  Four pieces of that Godiva Milk Chocolate bar yields 21 grams.  My coconut custard pie calls for 1 1/2 cups of sugar.  Divided over 8 pieces that is still 38 grams of sugar.  My favorite yogurt, Cabot’s Low-Fat French Vanilla has 28 grams of added sugar in one cup!  Youser.  That was an eye opener when I first saw that.

I’m always on the search for a low sugar tomato sauce and even at 3 gms of sugar in half a cup, Muir Glen has much less than most with some containing up to 13 grams of sweetener in their sauce.  I know what you’re thinking, I used to think the same way.  You’re saying,  “tomatoes are good for you with all that lycopene, right?”  So next thing you know that pasta is hidden underneath 2 cups of sauce and 52 gms of sugar.  Why not wash it down with some coke and follow that with a nice brownie – the all American favorite.  And I know what tends to happen with that brownie mix.  I’ve thought this same way.  It goes into a 8″ x 8″ pan and cutting it into 9 brownies looks so much better than cutting it into 16.  A 2″ brownie, really?  Is that a dessert or just a nibble?  Now that 18 gms of sugar has turned into 32.  Combine the pasta sauce, the coke and the generous brownie and voila!  You’ve consumed nearly 150 gms of added sugar – more than 3 days worth!

You Can Make This Work Sugar Baby!

Ahhh, I love my sweets too, I understand.  This is how I’ve made it work for me;

  1. Save your desserts for the end of the day and have just one paying attention to portion size and take small bites, savoring each one.  Let it dissolve slowly in your mouth.
  2. Instead of sodas, try seltzer water.  I bought a Soda Stream and I add a natural, calorie free flavoring.  Or as a transition try mixing regular soda with diet soda and limit your soda as much as possible.
  3. Stop the energy and sports drinks.  If you are thirsty, have water.  If you really need a little flavoring then add some fresh lemon or lime to your water or a tablespoon of 100% orange juice.
  4. Eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.  It has far less sugar and delivers more of the heart healthy flavonoids than milk chocolate.  Eat it mindfully, knowing where your other sugars are going to come from in your meal and over the day.
  5. Move away from artificial sweeteners and sugar-free sodas if possible.  They just raise your sweet thermostat in your palate and make you want added sugar in your other foods.
  6. Read food labels, become informed and get smart.  You would be surprised how much sugar is in everything we eat.
  7. Make more of your desserts with fruit.  My Blueberry-Rhubarb crisp is delicious but you can substitute with any fruit.  Even frozen mango makes a delicious crisp!  Fruit crisps have less fat and carbs than a pie and are a delicious way to get some whole grains while controlling the sugar.
  8. Cut sugar in recipes by a third.  You won’t notice it.  I made my last coconut custard pie by reducing it to one cup and added some extra vanilla extract a touch of nutmeg to enhance other flavors.
  9. Stop eating cold cereal for breakfast or have just steel-cut oats with a tsp of honey or sweeten with about 25 raisins (dried fruit is concentrated with sugar since the water is removed).  Whole grain toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, a smoothie or even low-fat cottage cheese with some fruit, is a fabulous breakfast.
  10. Make fresh fruit your dessert.  Some fresh in season cut up fruit tossed with some lemon or lime or some cinnamon does satisfy the sweet craving, delivers crunch as well as a boat load of vitamins and fiber.  We need to look at fruit differently.  It needs to be elevated to dessert status and not just a box to be checked off.

Some might ask what is the big deal about sugar.  The bottom line is that it comes to emotional and physical health.   We know big swings in blood sugar leads to mood swings and impairs sleep.  Eating too much sugar also raises triglycerides, leads to weight gain and puts added stress on the pancreas.  With 29 million people in the United States with diabetes and 8 million of those not even aware they have it, isn’t it worth knowing what’s going in your mouth so you won’t be caught by surprise?  And who knows, you might find that following a few of these suggestions are no big deal.  Now that’s a nice payback!  Please forward this to the people you care about.



Getting To 10%

saturated fat

foods high in saturated fat

Telling the average Joe to limit their saturated fat to 10% of their total calories is like being blindfolded and sent to the grocery store to pick up dinner.  Some of the purchases might actually be worthy of dinner, but those boxes, cans and bottles are all going to feel the same.  Wouldn’t a little more insight be helpful?  How can the average person make any sense of such vague recommendations without having a good grasp of nutrition?

Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines is mandated under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act which states that every 5 years the US Department of Agriculture and the Health and Human Services get together to set nutritional guidelines and recommendations for the general public.  We’ve got to live with this ambiguity for another 5 years so let me make some sense of it.

Saturated Fats

The 2015-2020 guidelines recommend that no more than 10% of those daily calories come from saturated fat.  Keep in mind that almost all foods are a combination of unhealthy saturated fat and the healthier unsaturated fat.  And many foods have the double-whammy transfat that not only clogs arteries, but undermines the heart protective HDL that part of the lipid profile.

The total fat grams on a nutritional label are a compilation of saturated fat, transfat and unsaturated fat.  Some labels might only have saturated fat and transfat (which they are required to put on) listed.  Other labels might have both of those and also have the unsaturated fat broken down into mono- and polyunsaturated fat, which are both the good heart-healthy fats.  We need fat in our diet for many body functions and absorption of some vitamins, but fat comes with a caveat.  Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram – 9 cal- compared to carbohydrates and proteins which both only have 4 calories per gram.  And we want to put the emphasis on the good fat so we don’t clog up our arteries.

Determining Your Saturated Fat Calories

First you need to have an idea how many calories you need to maintain your weight.  There are a lot of factors that determine someone’s caloric needs but the Mayoclinic has a nice and easy calorie calculator that takes activity level into consideration.  A 50 year-old woman 5′ 6″ tal.l weighing 170 pounds and who is inactive needs to 1750 calories to maintain her weight.  If she is getting about 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily that goes up to 2100 calories.  If you take 10% of those calories if she is sedentary, it’s recommended that she consume no more than 175 calories a day of saturated fat.

Making 10% User Friendly

As mentioned earlier there are 9 calories per gram of fat.  If you divide 175 by 9 you get about 20 gm of saturated fat per day.  So what does that look like?  Well, taking a look around my kitchen I found a 4 square Godiva chocolate bar (I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day) with 7 gms of saturated fat.  I found an 85% lean ground beef patty with 7 gms of fat.  A 10 oz ribeye has 28 gms of saturated fat.  whole milk vs 1%A half cup serving of Eddies slow churned ice cream contains 2 gms of saturated fat.  An ounce of Seriously Sharp cheddar cheese has 6 gms in one ounce.  An egg has 2 gms.  A tablespoon of butter has 7 gms, but that same amount of whipped butter has 3.5 gms.  One quarter cup of walnuts has 2 gms.  A slice of cooked bacon has 1.5 gms.  A cup of whole milk has 5 gms, but a cup of 1% milk has 1/5 gm.  So my Sunday breakfast splurge  ( I’m not perfect but I do bank and plan for my splurges) of 2 pieces of whole grain toast with 2 tsp of whipped butter, 3 slices of bacon and 2 eggs had 11 gms of saturated fat.   I’m guessing a steak with baked potato and butter, and a few squares of Godiva chocolate would put that over that 20 gms.

Make Informed Choices

You can either calculate your saturated fats to really know what you are choosing or you can make wiser substitutions.  Shifting away from cheese and towards humus, shifting to low-fat dairy, eating more poultry and fish and less red meat and being mindful of portions of things like chocolate and baked goodies will keep your heart pumping and your arteries unclogged, now that’s a nice payback.


A Sweet Way To Get Off The Sugar Coaster

The Sugar Coaster is the last of the post in the series focusing on the nutritional aspects in the logistics of losing weight.  Next will be the emotional aspects in the logistics of losing weight.

sugar coaster

Sugar Coaster

Do you love your sugar?  Does it perk you up, then send you crashing about an hour later, leaving you wanting more?  Do you get anxious and tremulous if you don’t have it but also shaky and nervous if you eat too many?  You are on the sugar coaster and what a hell-of-a ride you are experiencing.  But are you enjoying it and could you be having a better, more satisfying ride that doesn’t leave you with the highs and lows?

Dietary Guidelines 2015

How does this fit in to the new dietary guidelines that recommend reducing sugar by 10% of total daily calories.  The Dietary Guidelines for 2015 are updated every five years and were changed to reflect the higher incidence of preventable chronic disease and weight gain in the American population.  Nearly half of Americans have one or more chronic diseases like heart disease or type 2 diabetes and two thirds of the population are either overweight or obese.  Their recommendations are clear in their message, but also difficult to implement, unless you’re a nutritional wiz-kid.   So how does a sugar lover who wants to enjoy sweets but doesn’t want to experience the sugar coaster, nor gain weight or develop a chronic disease make this work?

What Is 10%?

Calorie requirements are based on age, sex, size and activity level.  A 50-year-old woman who is sedentary should have somewhere around 1400 calories a day, but if she becomes more active that amount can go up to 2000 calories a day.  A 50-year-old man who is sedentary can have about 2000 calories and if he is very active that can go up to 2800.  So take 10% of any of these scenarios and you get a range of calories from 140 to 280 that each person has to spend on their daily sugar intake and still meet the nutritional needs of the body.  Eating into those other calories your body needs with sweets will only guarantee you will become increasingly tired, your body will stop performing the way you want as it slowly becomes malnourished and you invite heart disease or diabetes into your life.

Enjoy Your Cake Without the Sugar Coaster And Be Healthy

Everybody has their little “somethin’-somethin’ “ they like to have at certain times of the day.  You can still enjoy it but make it work for you.  Look how you might be getting other sugar over the course of your day and either reduce it or find substitutions.  Here’s how to get it to 10%:

  1. Stop drinking sodas, sweetened teas and most juices.  Sodas are sugar, with some providing up to 65 grams of the roller coaster high.  There are 4 calories per gram of sugar, amounting to about 260 calories in that one 20 oz bottle.  Drink flavored seltzer water which has no sugar, nor calories and it still gives you the bubbly.   Lipton’s sweetened tea  contains almost 23 gms of sugar in 8 oz.   That’s not much different from soda.  Switch to unsweetened or if you really miss the sweet taste, add a hint of Stevia.  Tropicana’s 100% orange juice contains 22 grams of sugar.  That’s 88 calories.  Eat an orange instead that has 17 gms of sugar and 4 gms of fiber.  Fiber will slow down that rapid rise in the sugar coaster and give you a longer, smoother ride.
  2. Stop the flavored coffees and decrease the sugar you add to your coffee.  It’s amazing how you can ween yourself off some of the sugar without compromising taste.  I have found that adding cinnamon or nutmeg also seems to make up the difference in the sugar I eliminated.
  3. Stop eating foods that use a lot of artificial sweeteners.  Diet sodas and sugar-free foods will only enhance your desire for sweets and increase your sugar cravings.  It also will raise your “sweet thermometer” making your taste buds expect extra sugar in things like cakes and cookies in order to register it as sweet.  Not satisfying a high sweet thermometer is like taking your roller coaster-loving child to an amusement park and saying “no you can’t go on that today”.  It’s better to just not go there in the first place.
  4. Look at your food labels for unnecessary added sugars.  You will find it added often to prepackaged foods like frozen dinners, tomato sauces, sweet breads and yogurts.  Try making your own tomato sauces where you can control the ingredients.  As a time saver, make a bunch and freeze them into batches.  Buy plain, low-fat or fat-free yogurts and add your own fresh or frozen fruit.  Again, you are banking your sugar grams to save for what you really want.
  5. Make your sweets count!  Now this is the part I love.  Some of you might have seen the almond cake picture I posted on Facebook last week.  It is sinfully delicious and is made with whole grains, almonds and fat-free plain Greek yogurt.  These ingredients boost the protein and fiber and the only sweetness from the entire cake comes from 1 cup of sugar.  The generous portion of almond extract adds to the sweet flavoring without adding actual sugar.  And the fat in this cake is the heart-healthy mono-unsaturated kind found in  the almonds and canola oil.  A one-twelve portion of this cake delivers only 74 calories from sugar and 275 total calories in a serving size.  But it is moist, satisfying, and does not cause that sugar coaster ride.  This kind of strategy is what I apply to all my desserts.  You can check them out on my website.

My philosophy is to enhance the good and dilute the bad.  All my recipes follow that motto.  I find using Greek yogurt, nuts, flax seed and canola oil in my baked good helps me to feel satisfied and grounded.  Besides, I’m not crazy about roller coasters.

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