Shake Your Booty!

Ok, I think I had some type of writer’s block the past few weeks but I’m coming out of  it!!  There are always so many topics running through my mind that I want to write about.   Honestly, it is often difficult to pick one.  Something I think I need to promote now is EXERCISE.  Especially this time of the year when the weather is starting to get nicer!    Here goes…

Everyone would probably agree the past few weeks in the Philadelphia area the weather has been extraordinary.  It definitely puts me in a good mood.  Spring sports are beginning.  People are outside walking, biking, running, etc.   Although what we put into our bodies has a great effect on our health, keeping active is vitally important.   You’ve all heard it before.  Kids are much less active now than when most of us were growing up.  I don’t want to give the impression I’m old (I’m definitely NOT).  Back in the day, we went outside and  climbed trees, went sledding, ran, played tag, rode bikes, played hopscotch, hit a tennis ball against a wall, and I really did walk to school!!  Last winter I suggested sledding to my daughter and she replied, “I hate walking back up the hill.”  That used to be part of the fun (definitely not something that would deter me from sledding)!!  Now the opportunities for our kids to sit inside and watch TV, play video games, text, email, Skype, Facetime, etc. are overwhelming.  This has become “normal.”  It is a difficult battle to fight but getting our children active in any  way, shape, or form must  become a priority.  

What are some of the benefits of exercise for our children?  The same as for us but even more important because starting when they are young makes it all the more likely they will continue to exercise as adults.  Exercising three to four times a week increases bone strength/density, cardiovascular endurance, speed, flexibility, strong muscles, and better balance.   Studies show that psychologically, children and teens who exercise regularly are in better moods (ok, where are those teens?), have higher self-confidence, and greater academic success. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sixty minutes of physical activity a day for kids.  It does not have to be done all at one time.  Thirty minutes in gym class, twenty minutes doing Dance Revolution and ten minutes walking the dog all count.  The best way to get your child to exercise is to be a good role model and exercise yourself.  The activity should be fun and diverse for your child – something they are looking forward to doing.  Exercising together is a great way to encourage activity.  Variety is also key.  Great cardiovascular activities include walking/jogging, bike riding and jumping rope.  A mini-trampoline is great to jump on when watching TV to get a little extra exercise (in the proper environment, of course).  Intramural sports teams, dance and karate lessons, tennis lessons, and classes at the local YMCA are all great options.  Our local Main Line YMCA has a workout room just for kids.  The exercise equipment is geared toward younger bodies.  They have trainers available to make up a program for your child.  My daughter went for several months last year with two of her girlfriends and loved it.

Now is the time to get out there with your child or teen and get physical!  Remember it must be something your child ENJOYS.  A good way to get your child started is by doing something together.  The other option that works well is have your son or daughter do something with a friend.  Log on to to read more about the benefits of exercise, suggested routines, and lots of other useful health information.   This site is written for kids and teens and has lots of  material regarding nutrition and fitness.  Now that the weather is warmer it is the perfect time to get outdoors and SHAKE YOUR BOOTY!!!! 

Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states.  Carol Welch


Perusing Pasta

Hope my last blog gave a good mini lesson on carbohydrates.  While all that information is helpful to know (I think!), when you go to the supermarket and see all the various choices of products available, it can still be baffling.  Pasta is one of those foods where there has been an onslaught of new products appearing on store shelves.  Which one is best?  That depends on what criteria you are using.  Flavor?  Fiber?  Added nutrients?  Let’s explore this more.

I want my pasta to taste good.  Truly this is where we need to start first when picking out foods.  How often have you purchased something, like maybe a protein bar, thinking you’re going to eat it?  Maybe they are on sale and you buy six.  Great, what a deal!  You try one – yuck, tastes like sawdust.  You finish that one vowing to include the next five in your diet throughout the week (you don’t want to be wasteful).  That was two weeks before Easter.  The day after New Year’s you decide to clean out the pantry.  Way in the back, behind the stale Life cereal are the protein bars.  You have to take a nibble just in case you might like them now but they are always worse because they taste like old sawdust at this point.  No matter how healthy a food  may be, if you don’t like it, you’re not going to eat it!!!   Sorry, I went off on a tangent.  Back to business.

I’ve compared four different popular brands of pasta.  I’m going to discuss their nutritional content but also give my opinion on how they taste.  Amounts are based on 2 ounce/serving of pasta.

Calories           Fat (gm)          Fiber (gm)            Protein (gm)

Barilla Penne Pasta          200                   1                             2                            7

Barilla Plus Pasta              210                    2                            4                           10

Barilla Whole Grain          200                 1.5                          6                             7

Dreamfield Pasta               190                  1.0                         5                             7

Ronzoni Smart Taste       170                     .5                         5                             6

The first pasta listed is  just regular Barilla.  This is my favorite brand of  basic pasta.  The Barilla Plus pasta touts its high protein, omega-3, and high fiber content.   It is made with flaxseed, spelt, oats, barley and legumes.  The main difference is the higher protein content and omega-3’s (provided by the flaxseed).  Barilla Whole Grain pasta is made with 51% whole wheat flour which makes this the highest fiber product.   Dreamfield pasta supposedly has fewer digestible carbohydrates.  This is the advertising angle manufacturers take promoting it is a good pasta for diabetics.  It has a lower glycemic index (13).   This means it is absorbed  into the bloodstream more slowy than regular pasta. However, Barilla Plus also has a low glycemic index (11).  Ronzoni Smart Taste claims to have as much calcium and vitamin D as an 8 ounce glass of milk.  Calories and fat are the lowest.  I guess it’s another way to get more calcium and vitamin D in your diet.  Glycemic index is higher (around 50).

Which is best?  They all provide decent amounts of fiber (except the regular Barilla).  Pasta in general is a low-fat food choice.  They are all similar in protein content.  The last four are all good choices so really it does come down to taste.  So here goes…

  1. Dreamfield Pasta – Taste and texture closest to regular pasta.  My kids like this one.
  2. Barilla Plus – Like the taste although I wouldn’t say it tastes like regular pasta.  Heavier than regular pasta with somewhat of a “fiber” type taste.  Not bad though.
  3. Ronzoni Smart Taste – Doesn’t have that high fiber taste but isn’t quite like regular pasta either (something kind of artificial about it).
  4. Barilla Regular – Great taste and texture, of course but too low in fiber.  Higher glycemic index (43-61)
  5. Barilla Whole Grain – Tastes totally different from regular pasta.  Heavy, grainy flavor.  Just not for me.

When considering what your kids might like, I think Dreamfield pasta is the best choice.  Higher in fiber yet isn’t so obvious in the flavor.  Experiment with different kinds of pastas and see which ones your family likes best.  However, try to get one with a higher fiber content.   Many people like the whole wheat pasta.  If you and your kids like the flavor, go for it.  I just find that younger people generally like the “regular” taste best.

“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”  Voltaire

Carbohydrates 101

Low carb, high carb, good carb, bad carb, no carb?  How much stuff out there do we hear about carbohydrates?  It makes me CRAZY to hear people talk about all their carbohydrate avoiding tactics.  The absolute bottom line to weight loss – take in less calories than your body needs.  It’s simple.  Portion control and exercise.  I’m not necessarily saying it’s simple to do but the concept itself is simple.   So let’s talk carbs.

Carbohydrates are one of  three necessary macronutrients (needed by the body in large amounts)  that provide calories  (the other two are protein and fat).   Carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories per gram while fat provides 9 calories per gram (two times as much!).  Carbohydrates’ main purpose is to fuel the body.  Protein and fat have other primary purposes, but in certain instances can be utilized as energy as well.  Carbohydrates are the best and sometimes only sources of many essential nutrients such as fiber, vitamins A, C and E, the majority of B vitamins, phytochemicals (providing antioxidants and other disease preventing benefits), potassium, and the majority of trace minerals.

There are simple and complex carbs, as determined by their chemical structure.   Most people know complex carbohydrates are the healthiest to consume.  Why?  Let’s talk about what happens when you eat simple carbohydrates.  Simple sugars are digested in the body much more quickly than complex carbs.  A surge of insulin is released rapidly to help remove  sugar from the blood.   When your body senses blood sugar getting low, it causes you to feel hungry, craving more sugar.    Hence, the “sugar craving cycle” occurs.  Most simple sugars are nutrient barren.  Fruit and milk are simple carbs that provide a variety of vitamins and minerals.  The “bad” simple sugars include cakes, cookies, candy, soda, etc.   Now on to complex carbohydrates.  As mentioned above they are loaded with nutrients.  Digestion of complex carbs takes place much more slowly eliminating  radical swings in blood sugar and providing a slow, steady source of energy.  They also cause a greater feeling of satiety, reducing the risk of overeating.   Complex carbohydrates  include nonstarchy vegetables (such as broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach),  beans and legumes, whole grain cereals/breads, potatoes, barley, and whole-wheat pasta.  Carbohydrates should comprise 40% to 60% of your total caloric intake.

Listed below are important points to remember:

  • Carbohydrates provide 4 calories/gram – half as many as fat.
  • They provide many essential nutrients, including fiber.
  • Opt for complex carbs as they are slowly released into the bloodstream, thus allowing you to feel full longer.
  • Avoid simple sugars as these will cause you to feel sluggish and hungry again more quickly.
  • There are so many different types of foods that contain carbohydrates, the possibilities are endless!  Who doesn’t like carbohydrates?
  • When to eat more carbs?  Prior to an athletic event to fuel your body.
  • When to eat less carbs?  Possibly following a period of  poor eating or overindulgence.  Increase protein intake in lieu of carbs.

When reading labels AVOID the following terms/words which basically mean “sugar”:  high fructose corn syrup (actually any type of syrup), sweetener, any words ending in -ose (dextrose, glucose, maltose, etc.), honey, fruit juice concentrate. dextrin, maltodextrin, and molasses.

This was a brief overview of carbs.  In a future blog,  I hope to provide some delicious, complex carb containing  kid friendly recipes.   If your kids want to learn more about carbohydrates and other nutrients, have them go to

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to eat….

“TAP” into the Holidays – Maintain Don’t Gain

My daughter and I were baking cookies the other evening at a friend’s home.  We made those green wreath cookies with cornflakes and green food coloring.  I am generally not a sweet eater – really could take or leave them.  However, that night when I got the cookies home I think I ate five wreath cookies.  Maybe I had more than that.  Honestly, each one tasted better than the last.  Surprisingly enough, I woke up in the middle of the night quite nauseated.  My body was clearly trying to tell me something.  Since I felt like that was out of character for me, I started to think about why I ate them, why they tasted so good, and why I didn’t want to stop.  Stress and sleep deprivation are two keys as to why we overeat.  Since daylight savings time ended, my sleep habits have been atrocious.  I am up at 4 am and exhausted by 4 pm.  This holiday season has been overwhelmingly stressful, although I’m not sure why.  However, I am sure that my eating that night may have been caused by my high anxiety level and lack of sleep.  Point being during the holidays, not only are we faced with parties and special events tempting us with delectable fat-laden dips and buttery christmas cookies,  but many of us during the day are running at full speed with a million things to do, while laying in bed at night wide-eyed thinking about the million things we have to do! 

Children and adolescents may or may not struggle with these issues as well.  If you suspect your child’s stress level is high or they are having difficult sleeping, this issue must be addressed.  However, they absolutely have to deal with the more abundant eating opportunities and temptations surrounding them.  Cookie baking, treats brought into school, gift exchange parties, etc. all present themselves during this time.  Who really wants to be thinking about what they are eating at a secret santa gift exchange?  Unfortunately, this is where the cold hard facts come into play.  You do have to think about what you’re eating.  You can have a bad day or two but when this is not kept in check, the pounds will starts to creep up on you.  You must sit down with your child and discuss how to handle these situations.  TAP – thinking, awareness, and planning. 

For example, your son has been invited to an end-of-season football/holiday party.  Over the past several weeks, he has been working on improving his eating and exercise habits.  He has lost two pounds and you know he feels proud of himself.  You would hate for him to sabotage his past efforts.  Now it’s time to sit down with him (for a quick minute, for his sake).  Praise him for his recent accomplishments and then casually mention the upcoming party.  Remind him while he’s at the party he needs to think and be aware.  Try not to mindlessly grab snacks.  Suggest he thinks about what  looks good and what he would like to try.  Be aware of his feelings of satiety.  Have him ask himself, am I still hungry?  Did that really taste good enough to have another?  Always, make sure your child has a plan.  Does he have a snack before he goes to the party?  Maybe not, because he thinks he’ll eat the goodies anyway.  What will he do if he is repeatedly offered foods?  How does he politely say no?  What if his friends are playing a game of who can drink the most cans of coke?  Sounds crazy, but this has actually happened in my family.  Anyway, his plan will be up to him.  Believe me, I know your child may or may not be receptive to what you suggest and tell them.   Never give up on them and never stop trying. 

Finally, realize your child’s best bet during the holiday season is most likely to maintain and not gain.  It might be unrealistic to continue weight loss during this time.  Compliment your child on their weight maintenance.  It’s a great achievement.  You don’t want to nag them but make sure you are there to support and guide them.  As always, acknowledge everything positive they do.  Have a wonderful,  joyous holiday with the greatest gift of all – your child.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart.  Wishing you happiness.”  Helen Keller

Train Your Brain – Live, Eat, Breathe Good Nutrition

Ok, you decide you want to lose weight.  Usually the first few days are ok.  People will stick to their “plan.”  As time goes on, you slowly but surely start heading back to your old habits.  You know you really want to lose weight so why can’t you be successful?  Losing weight is a full-time endeavor, particularly at the beginning.  You need to think of it as a job.  The first thing you must realize is this has to be a lifetime commitment.   Looking at it any other way will breed failure.  Secondly, it will take work (after all, it’s a job),  discipline and willpower – particularly in the beginning.  As with any new job, the start-up is usually the most difficult.  After you get training and experience, you generally feel more comfortable and confident with what you are doing.  Thirdly, realize you must incorporate three components into your plan – nutrition education, exercise, and behavior modification.  These are the ingredients necessary to promote the best chance of success.  The next strategy which I think is super important is to surround yourself with reminders, pictures, sayings, recipes, magazines, videos, anything which will help implant the idea in your brain this is what you really want.  If you spend most of your time, at least initially,  thinking about losing weight, why it’s important to you, how your going to do it, healthy foods you like – those thoughts will start replacing the ones that sabotage many weight loss efforts.  Below is a list of ideas to help “train your brain” into acting out behaviors that will promote  a healthy lifestyle!

  • Write down a couple of reasons why you want to lose weight.  Be honest and make your words powerful.  Put them next to your bed, as a screen saver on your cell phone, on the bathroom mirror, a sticky note in your car, on your desk at work, in your wallet – any place you will see them as many times a day as possible.  You can also use a picture (be it of yourself of something else that will motivate you) and look at this as well.
  • Subscribe to a magazine (Weight Watchers, Fitness, etc.) – Read them and remind yourself of your goals.
  • Subscribe to nutrition blogs and have them sent to you via e-mail.  There are so many out there.  Find someone you like and keep up with their blogs.
  • Surround yourself with nutritious foods.  Stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy food choices that you like.  If  you really don’t like celery, don’t get it and think you will eat it.  You won’t.  But maybe you like baby carrots and humus.  On the other hand, don’t buy potato chips and think you will only eat a few.  If it’s a food you love, they will just be a constant temptation.  Maybe you will realize air-popped popcorn is just as satisfying.
  • Start a library of recipes that you like that are weight management friendly.  Replace some of the old high fat, high calorie recipes with better ones.  I guarantee they are out there and there are ones you will like just as much.  If there is a recipe you just can’t throw out, save it for special occasions.
  • Write down all the health benefits of working out and how great you feel after doing it.  Be specific.  Read this on those days when your tempted to skip.  I personally have NEVER said to myself after a workout, “I wish I hadn’t done that.”
  • Find a buddy to do this with – someone you can work out with, talk to, and use as support.  This is invaluable in helping you stick to your plan.

You get the idea.  If you start surrounding yourself with things that promote your weight loss or healthier lifestyle goals they start to become YOU.  For example, your old automatic thought or behavior may be every morning before work you stop for a donut and coffee.  You’ve been doing this for years and your brain is kind of “programmed” to have this thought which leads to the behavior.  When you begin teaching your brain new things, eventually your automatic thought will be different and maybe your new behavior will be having a yogurt parfait and coffee in the morning.  You will actually begin to look forward to doing that.

I know I geared this towards adults but these same concepts apply to children and adolescents.  It can be done.  You can change the way you think and behave.  I hope you are up for the “job” and able to fulfill the position description.  It will change your life.

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” 

                                                                                                                                                                                            William James



This is Your Brain on Drugs….This is Your Heart on Saturated Fat

 Our kids get some nutrition education in school.  Things like vitamins, minerals, basic healthy eating are covered.  Then it’s time to talk about drugs, AIDS, cigarette smoking – absolutely important topics to cover with children.  I think we should be putting  good nutrition in that same category.  Why should we eat well and maintain a healthy weight?   Let me ask you another question – why should you not do drugs or not smoke cigarettes?  Schools teach children the health risks of these behaviors but spend too little time on the implications of poor nutrition.   Maybe we should be teaching our children just how dangerous eating poorly can be to our health.  What if we were to show them an obese person huffing and puffing going up stairs, not fitting in a seat on an airplane, giving themselves insulin injections, someone getting the news they need triple bypass surgery,  not getting a call back for a job interview based on their appearance.   Hey, I’m not saying I agree with the fact people are judged on their appearances but, unfortunately, they are. The consequences of being obese are too numerous to mention, both psychological and physical.   I also am not saying we use scare tactics.  I think we need to be honest with ourselves and realize this country has a health crisis with regard to obesity which has infiltrated  down to our  youth.

What can we do?  Listed below are some ideas.

  • First and foremost, as parents/caregivers, we need to model healthy eating behavior.  It cannot work if we tell our children to “do as we say, not as we do.”
  • Pediatricians need to focus on the importance of  healthy BMI’s with their patients.  Urge parents to see other health professionals if needed.
  • Educate.  Make it a priority in schools to get the message out there that having good nutrition and exercise habits is as important as not smoking or not doing drugs. 
  • Not only educate kids during the school day, but provide an afterschool  or evening program for overweight kids teaching weight management techniques and exercise. 
  • Many schools obtain children’s BMI percentiles and send them home to parents.  Then what?  How about providing some resources to get some help?   Providing a list of  local registered dietitians may be helpful.
  • Restaurants need to get on board making menu improvements.  I think a great start would be to cut back on portion sizes. 
  • Kids don’t want to eat something labelled healthy or good for you.  Let’s start making these foods more “normal” and not something health fanatics eat.
  • Encourage exercise –  you don’t have to be “athletic” to move your body.  It is something our bodies need to keep healthy.
  • Let’s stop the supersizing!  What a horrible concept.

The bottom line is we need to show our youth as parents, as a community and as a nation that good health is vital and important to living a productive, enjoyable life (maybe focus on the latter with kids!).  Let’s teach them, as we say as adults, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.  It’s true.


What’s so Exciting About Oatmeal???

Ok, I know I’m probably weird but I LOVE oatmeal.  Not only do I love it, but I have what some might think are unusual ways of eating it.   Before I talk about ways to prepare it, we must get down to business and talk about fiber!  Fiber is oatmeal’s biggest claim to fame.  It is a great way to help keep your cardiovascular system in check.    Not to mention your gastrointestinal system as well!!  Adults need 25-35 grams of fiber per day to meet recommended requirements.  Children need less – 16 grams per day.  Oatmeal is full of fiber, soluble fiber, which helps lower LDL cholesterol (bad kind) by carrying it away from the cells.  One serving of oatmeal provides a whopping 4 grams of fiber to your daily intake.  The fiber in oatmeal also fills you up so you are likely to feel satisfied longer.    When purchasing oatmeal, you’re best nutritional value is in the old-fashioned oats.  You get less sugar and more fiber than you would in the instant oatmeal.  Now let’s get to the fun stuff.

Oatmeal can be prepared in so many different ways if you just let your imagination run wild!!!   How about oatmeal and peanut butter or oatmeal and broccoli?  Are you thinking those combinations sound strange?  Try it you’ll like it!  Listed below are some recipes to try to shake up your morning (and dinner time) routine.

Parmesan Oatmeal with Broccoli

3/4 cup oatmeal

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup cooked broccoli (cut into small pieces after it’s cooked)

1/4  cup fresh shredded parmesan cheese

Prepare oatmeal according to directions on Quaker Oats box.  Mix broccoli in oatmeal.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

Oatmeal and Peanut Butter

3/4 cup oatmeal

1 1/2 cups milk

3 tbsp peanut butter

1 tbsp maple syrup

Prepare oatmeal according to directions on Quaker Oats box.  Mix in peanut butter and syrup.  Add mini chocolate chips if  you want!

Popular oatmeal toppings:  Apples, bananas, brown sugar and cinnamon, walnuts, pecans (or any other nut you like), raisins, chocolate chips

Some not so popular toppings (but you should try ’em):  Diced tomatoes, salsa, cheddar cheese (or any kind of cheese), sautéed mushrooms and onions, black beans

Remember be open-minded!!  Oatmeal’s not just for breakfast anymore!  Try some of the latter toppings for a dinner meal.  After you try some of these oatmeal dishes, you’ll know why that guy on the Quaker Oats box is smiling.  By the way, who is that guy on the Quaker Oats box and what is his connection to oatmeal?

What Do I Do? My Child is Overweight!

You eat healthy and make good food choices.  Your husband is an avid runner.  How can our daughter/son be overweight and have such poor eating habits?  For the first time, the obesity epidemic outweighs malnutrition in this country.  Obesity in children has tripled since the 1970’s.  Your child gets bombarded daily in the media with ads for high fat, high sugar, supersize portion,  nutrition barren foods!!  What can you do about this?   There is an answer – but it’s not always easy! 

Here are some suggestions to help encourage healthy eating habits in your child:

  • Eat together as a family at least twice a week.
  • Have your child help pick out some things when you go to the grocery store – making sure, of course, they are smart choices!  This gives them a feeling of  control over what they eat.
  • Do not let your child get too hungry.  Kids are likely to overeat if they are ravenous.  It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are full!  If you eat too quickly (as you do when you’re very hungry), it can lead to overeating.
  • Leave a bowl of grapes or berries on the kitchen counter so kids can just grab when walking by.  Kids should be getting at least five servings of fruits and veggies a day.
  • Plan meals in advance – the best way to avoid driving into a fast food restaurant is to have your meals planned ahead of time. 
  • Do not keep high fat, high sugar foods in the house.  YOU have control over this!
  • Discuss healthy eating and exercise on a daily basis as a family and with your children.
  • Let them cook with you – teach them about the wonderful ingredients you are using.
  • Lead  by example – if you are taking care of yourself, chances are  your child will, too.
  • If your child loves cheese, experiment with different low fat cheeses.  There are a variety of these and your child will have fun picking their favorite.
  • Never force your child to clean his/her plate!
  • Drink LOTS of water – encourage your child to have a large glass prior to eating.
  • Remember not to be critical and focus on the positive when dealing with your son/daughter with regard to their eating habits.
  • If you feel unsuccessful on your own, see a registered dietitian.  They can be an excellent resource as they are specially trained in food, nutrition and health!

A visit to your pediatrician is a great place to start if you are looking for help.  They can let you know exactly how overweight your child is and what the best course of action may be.  Don’t get discouraged – it may take time for your child to jump on board.  Don’t forget, your example will be the biggest factor as to whether your child will assimilate good nutrition practices into their daily lives.

For more suggestions and ideas on weight management, see