Too Much Information…

Sometimes I find there are just too many choices of EVERYTHING.  Food, clothes, tv channels, paint colors, pots and pans, carpets, cleaning products, and experts in EVERY subject!  I don’t know about you but I find this frustrating and overwhelming.  Don’t you ever just want three choices and you can pick one and be done?   Of course, food and nutrition is no exception from all of this madness.   It is abundant, contradictory, inaccurate, and sometimes can be misleading.  What is the best way to navigate through all of this information?  Listed below are some suggestions.  Also, be sure to share these with your tween or teen as they are particularly vulnerable to misinformation, misleading ad claims, and unhealthy weight loss gimmicks.

Pick your favorites (be it a person, magazine, website, blog).  Limit to no more than three to follow on a regular basis.  If you need information on a particular subject that your “favorites” aren’t covering, then research beyond your usual scope to get your answer.  Trust me this works.  At first you will feel like you might be missing something but you’re really not.  Daily MAJOR newsworthy stories  will be covered by a variety of venues such as tv, newspaper, radio, blogs, etc.  If you follow a couple of websites or blogs, you’ll figure out which ones you find the most pertinent to your life.

When reading or hearing information, don’t just assume it is true or accurate.  If it is a scientific study, what were the parameters they used to conduct the study?  Is Maxwell House funding a study touting coffee as reducing the risk of heart disease?  How many subjects were used in the study?  If it is subjective information or opinion, just use common sense.  Also, make sure you check out the credentials of people writing articles and blogs or proclaiming they are experts on a certain topic.   Recently I found out that Dr. Oz’s (yes, the Dr. Oz who now is everywhere doing everything) daughter, Daphne, is the nutrition and health expert on the show, “The Chew.”  Her credentials?  She is a 2008 graduate of Princeton with a BA in Near Eastern Studies.  Hmmm….she’s probably pretty knowledgable in the field of nutrition.  A blog I just read stated that Daphne Oz must be an expert by heredity.  I had to laugh when the blogger said by that logic if your parents were astronauts, you could be captain of a space shuttle (maybe with an accounting degree).   Again, just because someone can pass themselves off as an expert, doesn’t really mean they are an expert.  Valid credentials are at least a good starting point to have in order to call yourself an “expert.”

Be cautious when selecting nutrition products, especially ones that promise life changing results.  If a product claims things such as “immediate results,”  “five pound weight loss in five days,” or “cures all your ailments (most recently one that comes to mind is coconut water), be skeptical as to whether or not it will work.  Not that some of these products aren’t good or beneficial (and often expensive), but just as there is no magical method to lose weight, there is also no ONE magical food or beverage that is going to make you super healthy (or skinny)!

Some of these false advertising claims are extreme but some are much more subtle and harder to decipher.  If someone we trust seems to be promoting a product, things can really get complicated.  Jillian Michaels is a good example of this.  Many people gained respect for her as a trainer on “The Biggest Loser.”  Now this is the same person putting her face on a box  that says “America’s Toughest Trainer Makes Losing Weight Simple.”  Really???   Is losing weight EVER simple???  She has the magic pill!!  There is no way I will support her or her products.  There are thousands of Jillian Michaels out there not willing to endorse a  product making false claims.  Be careful of “big, well-known names” that start endorsing various products.  Red flag.  Some may be perfectly effective, reputable products but proceed with caution.
Lastly, limit the amount of time you find yourself sitting at your computer surfing the web.  I find myself doing this more than I would like to admit.  Sometimes I waste hours and by the time I’m done I can’t remember one thing I’ve seen or have read.  This is my own personal goal to limit the amount of time I do this.  TOO MUCH INFORMATION AND I AM OVERLOADED!!!!
Many of us know all of this.  Let this serve as a reminder.  All too often, a friend will ask me about a specific product or weight loss method.  We can all be vulnerable when we learn of something that seems like it could really address a particular concern or problem.  Always remember, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is!
“Information overload is a symptom of our desire to not focus on what’s important.  It IS a choice.”  Brian Solis

Teaching Kids How to Make the Right Choices

What do you think about when you look at this picture?    I often keep a bowl of candy on the coffee table in my family room.  This may surprise you that a dietitian would do this.  This candy bowl (I usually put M&Ms in it) can last for weeks, slowly but surely dwindling down.  Sometimes it gets depleted in a single day.  Those are usually the days my kids have friends over.  You would think these kids had never had candy in their lives and may  never be able to get it again.  Is it possible that being too restrictive with what we allow our kids to eat can backfire?  Of course, we have to guide our children and help them make good nutritional choices.  However, we must  be aware that being overly controlling or too restrictive may increase the chance that our kids will go nuts when they are in the presence of the food they are not allowed to have.  We need to teach our kids to have their own internal barometer.  Eventually our goal for them is to make decisions because they think it is a good decision for them – not to please their parents, conform to their friends ideas, or do what they think most people would do.

My mantra is everything in moderation.  An ice cream cake on a birthday is ok – it doesn’t have to be a tofu carrot cake.  Candy on Halloween?  It’s Halloween – what kid gets excited when they get an apple in their bag?  There is always talk about having mini-bran muffins, low-fat cheese sticks (you get the idea) at a school holiday party.  Really?   That sounds fun.  Heaven forbid the kids get a sugar rush!  Clearly, this is not desirable but there are worse things in life.  On the other hand, if these are the foods you and your children honestly prefer, go for it.   I think we all strive for that goal but for many it’s just not realistic.  When we make goals that are not realistic, we often fail.  I think the majority of people like to have an occasional indulgence – especially kids.

 We are human beings.  We desire and crave things that give us pleasure in life.  Decadent,  fat and calorie laden foods are one of those pleasures.  Remembering everything in moderation….there is a big difference between eating an occasional piece of cake and gorging daily on half a cake.  It is healthy to be trim.  It is life-threatening to be too thin with an eating disorder.  Having a nightly glass of wine or a beer is ok.  The extreme of that is alcoholism, which can lead to its own set of tragic outcomes.  Can we somehow teach our kids to eat a wide variety of food in portion appropriate amounts to promote lifelong good health?  To ensure good health are they never allowed to eat Oreos?  I’m not saying it’s easy to achieve the right balance.  I’m not saying I have all the answers.  I am saying an occasional “bad” food is not so bad.  Just like an occasional glass of wine is ok.  I am also saying we want our kids to make the same choices when we’re not watching them as they would if we were with them.  Realistic goal?  I’m not sure…

Modeling our own eating behavior, discussing food and nutrition with our kids (not talking at them), making sure you incorporate foods they enjoy into every day, and including them in making food decisions are some ways we can lead them down the path to opting for good choices .    But remember be cautious about being too restrictive or controlling with their eating habits.  This could just backfire when you’re not looking.

Eventually the child above is going to pick the apple over the lollipop because that is what they want – not you.   You don’t want them picking the apple in front of you but the lollipop when you’re not around.

“We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching.”  Roy L. Smith

Guest Blog – Nutrition and Cancer

I was asked to share a blog written by Jillian McKee (jilliansmckee@gmail.com) regarding nutrition and its importance before, during and after cancer treatment.  Her website is http:/www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/jillian/bio.htm

Nutrition Should Be a Focus Before And After Cancer Treatments

Cancer treatments can be very harsh to the body. The second and third treatment is not going to be any easier on the body than the first one. This is usually the case with oral drugs, chemotherapy and all of the other treatments that are out there. The side effects can be severe. One of the best ways to prevent the severity is through practicing good nutrition.

Penn Medicine has released a list of cancer guidelines that state the importance of exercise during and after cancer treatments. The reason is to help with the rehabilitation and preventing other problems.

The same is true of nutrition. Focusing on good nutrition before and after cancer treatments will ensure the body stays strong, recovers quickly and doesn’t endure any other problems. Cancer is hard enough on the body. Getting diabetes, heart disease or anything else in addition can only weaken the body further.

Various types of cancer will result in different treatments and different side effects. Mesothelioma treatment side effects can cause problems with digestion, dehydration and much more. With the right changes to your diet, you can help to compensate for these. This will provide you with a better quality of life when you don’t have to deal with so many of the side effects.

The severity of the side effects is often proportionate with your body weight as well as the strength of your body. Your body weight can be managed through proper nutrition. Similarly your body will go stronger when you’re eating the right balance of foods.

You have heard the same things before. You must control your calorie intake. Talk to your doctor to find out how many calories you should be consuming each day. From there, take the time to work with a nutritionist to see what kinds of foods are best for you.

Leafy greens have a number of benefits. They act as antioxidants and they will aid in digestion. Since one of the side effects of many cancer treatments is indigestion and constipation, eating lettuce, cabbage and other vegetables can help you get through these side effects with ease.

Other foods that you should focus on include a lot of garlic and herbs. These contain a lot of vitamins and minerals that you won’t find in processed foods. Many of these have been proven to help with cancer and the side effects that it causes on the body.

Do your research. The type of cancer that you have been diagnosed with may affect some of your body’s normal functions. If you eat different foods than you have been eating, it may help you to counteract some of the problems that you would otherwise face.

Nutrition has always been an important thing to work on throughout your life. As you prepare for cancer treatments, you want to focus on getting more nutrients into your body than ever before. Talk with your doctor, stock up on fresh ingredients and get ready to eat healthier so that you feel healthier.

Are “Bubba” Burgers Better Named “Blubber” Burgers???

Do you ever find it difficult to make a meal your entire family will eat?  I say I won’t do it – make something different for everyone but I do.  Recently, I realized how bad it really was when someone once asked me what I was making for dinner that evening.  I told him my husband and son were having salmon, my other son was having filet mignon, and my daughter was having spaghetti.   The person howled with laughter as he exclaimed he wished he lived at my house.  This is an issue I’m going to deal with as matter of a principle.  After all, I’m not a short order cook and I am certainly not preparing all this food with a smile on my face.

In the meantime, I had been very excited about a classic food I found that everyone seemed to like – Bubba burgers.  I had always been skeptical about any frozen, premade burgers.  These truly were delicious.   As life would have it, when we discover something that seems too good to be true, unfortunately that’s often the case.  We had been eating these convenient, delectable burgers for  over a year when I decided to read the nutrition label.   Honestly, I felt like a child who just learned there is no Santa Claus.   Believe me, my motto is everything in moderation.  HOWEVER, there are certain foods in which their nutritional value just crosses the line for me.  Bubba’s now were one of them.  When a food crosses the line, there is something on that label that is soooo outrageously unhealthy, I just won’t eat it.  Recently I was at the supermarket and tossed a Marie Callendar’s Chocolate Satin Pie in the cart.   Just before the checkout person scanned the pie, I looked at the nutrition label – 410 calories (not SO bad for dessert), 29 grams of fat (45% of the daily value – I’m starting to feel uneasy), 14 grams of saturated fat (70% of the daily value – penalty, red flag, nada, no way).   I could literally visualize the fat clogging the arteries of my family – certain to be followed with TE Patch Breaking News, “Mainline Family Perishes of Massive Heart Attack.”

The debate I’m having within myself is do I continue to buy Bubba’s for my family.  My middle son, who shall remain nameless,  proclaims these are the only burgers he will eat.  He is by far my most fussy eater.  Hasn’t had fruit since he was one and consumed a baby food jar of mashed bananas.  True story.  Anyway,  as good as Bubba’s are there are other burgers which are tasty and not quite so damaging nutritionally.  Admittedly, a burger isn’t winning any heart healthy food awards.  However, eating a different burger can be one of those small changes that makes a difference in your overall diet and, more specifically, your heart health.

Ok, now the “meat” of this blog (lol).  I am going to compare some different burgers and you and your family can make the decision for yourselves.  Now remember DV (daily value) is based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your specific calorie needs.  This certainly gets the point across.  Also, remember the recommended fat consumption per serving of food is 5 grams of fat, 3 grams saturated.

Bubba’s (5 oz.):  430 calories (320 fat cals, 76% of total calories come from fat) –  35 g fat (54% DV), 15 g saturated fat (75% DV)

Ground Chuck (6 oz. 80/20):  418 calories (244 fat calories, 58% of total calories come from fat) – 28 g fat, 10 g saturated fat

Ground Beef (6 oz. 90/10):  346 calories (164 fat calories, 47% of total calories come from fat) – 18 g fat, 8 g saturated fat

Jennie-O Lean Turkey Burger (5 oz.):  160 calories (40 fat calories, 25% of total calories come from fat) – 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat

Boca Classic All-American Meatless Burger (2.5 oz):  90 cals (20 fat cals, 22% of total cals from fat) – 2 g fat (3% DV),  2 g saturated fat (2% DV)

Take note of the gradual differences from the granddaddy of fat and calories (the “Bubba”)  down to the meatless burger.  Just remember you have many different options to make a great burger.  As I always say, it doesn’t matter how healthy it is if you don’t like the taste.  Chances are you can always find a healthier option that can also be a great tasting option.  Next battle is tackling which are the most nutritious, tastiest toppings…

Instead of my usual quote, I will leave you with an interesting fact.  Did you know that a typical hamburger in 1957 weighed one ounce and contained 210 calories?  Today that same burger would weigh six ounces and pack a whopping 618 calories.

I just want to thank everyone for reading my blogs!   Please let me know if you have a topic you would like me to cover or a question or comment on a specific blog.  Your input would be greatly appreciated.  As Julia Child says, Bon Appetit!

Label Reading for Kids

One of the best things we can do for our kids is to provide them with knowledge to help them make good choices.  We do this with many aspects of their life.  We educate them so they can make smart decisions when they are with their friends, doing school work, perhaps with a job if they have one.  Providing them with the information and resources needed to make good nutritional choices is also important.  We can tell them what we think they should and shouldn’t be eating, how much, how often.  Kids often respond better if they feel they have more control.  If they know how many calories or how much fat or sodium they should be consuming in a day, they can utilize this knowledge to help them make better choices.  For many adults, label reading is confusing but this skill is one way to obtain the facts needed to help make educated food selections.  Hopefully, this blog will help to clarify some things.

The first thing on a food label kids should be wary of is serving size.  Often they are not thinking in these terms when pouring a bowl of cereal and milk.  For instance, if they are having a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (serving size 3/4 cup) with 1/2 cup of skim milk they may look at the label thinking they are consuming 150 calories.  However, they could easily be doubling that serving size of cereal (220 calories) and maybe using either using more milk or whole milk.   Their 150 calorie bowl of cereal could easily end up being 350 calories or more.  That may be absolutely fine but the important thing is they are not mislead.  You can even take out some measuring cups and help them learn what different portion sizes look like.  Soon they will be able to eyeball it.  Also, sometimes so-called “individual” packages of things often mislead us into thinking there is only one serving inside.  Double check labels to make sure it is a single serving especially with potato chips, ranch or other individually packaged dips, cookies, popcorn, and many other snack foods.

Next on the labels are the total calories.  This tells you how much “energy” you will get from one serving of food.  Remind your young one to watch foods high in calories as energy that doesn’t get used will get stored as fat.

Calories from fat tell you how many calories come from fat in a particular food.    As a general guideline, try to select foods with 5 grams or less per serving.  Also, avoid foods that contain trans fat (raises LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowers HDL (good) cholesterol) and foods that are high in saturated fat.   Total daily saturated fat intake, on average for a child, should be about 20 grams.  Overall fat intake should not exceed 30% of total caloric intake per day.

Cholesterol should not exceed 300 mg a day for adults.   If your child has risk factors for a tendency to have elevated cholesterol, it would be wise to try to limit total intake to 200 mg/day.   Cholesterol is only found in foods that come from animals so pay special attention to meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Dietary fiber is an important part of all of our diets.  It has been shown to significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.  It helps in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol.  Increased intake of soluble fiber improves insulin sensitivity not only in diabetics but also non-diabetics.  Clearly you can tell I am a fiber fan!  Getting our kids to incorporate foods that contain fiber in their diets and retain this as a lifelong habit can help maintain good overall health.  That being said they should consume 10-20 grams of fiber per day (or 5 grams plus your child’s age).  Fiber is found in many foods that come from plants.  Of course, awesome sources are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Sodium is another nutrient that we sometimes don’t get concerned about until adulthood.   Although there is no set recommendation for kids, adults should be consuming no more than 2,400 mg/sodium per day.   Those with heart, kidney, and other diseases should consume much less.  For reference, one teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg/sodium.  Teach your child to take note of how much sodium is in foods.  Check out the sodium in processed or convenience foods with your son or daughter – this  may really surprise them.  Also, be aware that restaurant foods tend to really overdo the sodium.

Sugar!!  How much is too much?   There has been a lot of talk regarding sugar lately.  The American Heart Association recommends children consume no more than 12 gms/day (3 teaspoons).  Realistic?  I think not.  I have seen suggested limits of 40 gms per day.  I think the key here is to check the label and BE AWARE!  For example, one half cup serving of Edy’s Cookies and Cream ice cream has 15 gms of sugar.  This already exceeds the AHA’s recommendation for the day!!!  There will be more to come on this topic…

FYI, the percent daily value on a label gives the percentage of certain nutrients that a person will eat in one serving based on a 2,000 calorie diet.   Based on this amount, 600 calories should be coming from fat.  When reading your label, if food contains 110 fat calories, you would have 490 left for the day.  Remember your child’s caloric needs may be higher or lower than 2000 per day, so just use this as a general guideline.

Finally,  when checking the ingredient list, remember items are listed in greatest quantities first.  Watch out for words such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, and dextrose especially when listed as one of the first few ingredients.  Also, try to avoid foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, lard,  and coconut and/or palm oils.

My basic philosophy is everything in moderation.  However, learning to read food labels provides us with information to make choices.  The earlier our kids learn this, the more likely it is to become a lifelong practice.   Remember…

“Knowledge is power.”  – Sir Francis Bacon

Praise for Popcorn

As I was shopping this past Christmas for some last-minute gifts, a popcorn popper caught my eye.  It was a West Bend Stir Crazy popper (the kind where you put a little oil in the bottom).  I ended up getting two – one for my daughter and one for my mother-in-law as gifts.  Now I had either made microwave popcorn or used a saucepan on the stove in the past.  I am telling  you, this popper changed our lives.  Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic, but it certainly changed the way we make popcorn!   Now we rarely make microwave popcorn.  We are able to try a variety of toppings on our popcorn while making an effort to try healthier ones.  Also, the kernels pop light, fluffy, and delicious!  I’m not necessarily pushing this particular popcorn popper, but I now think everyone should have a popcorn popper in their kitchen.  Popcorn can be an easy, inexpensive, low-calorie snack option providing a good deal of fiber.  Of course, we all know if toppings are not kept in check, it can be a nutritional nightmare.  I am going to compare some different types of popcorn, provide a tasty recipe, and encourage popcorn to be a snack staple in your home.  What kid doesn’t love popcorn?

I’ll start with my favorite (all are based on 2 cup servings):

Oil Popped White Popcorn:  110 calories, 56 fat calories, 49%  of total calories from fat

Air Popped Popcorn:  62 calories, 6 fat calories, 10% of total calories from fat

Pop-Secret Homestyle:  60 calories, 40 fat calories, 60% of total calories from fat, 4.5 gm trans fat, 380 mg sodium 

Trader Joe’s Organic Popcorn w/Olive Oil:  130 calories, 50 fat calories,  39%  of total calories from fat, 170 mg sodium, 3 gm fiber

Popcorn, Indiana Touch of Sea Salt Popcorn:  86 calories, 32 fat calories, 38% of total calories from fat (made with canola oil), 120 mg sodium, 2 gm fiber

Now clearly, nutrition wise the first place winner would be the air popped popcorn.  In my house, that has not been the favorite as it my family think it lacks flavor.  Remember my motto:  It doesn’t matter how healthy something is, if you don’t like it you’re not going to eat it.  If you and your family enjoy the air popped, that is hands down the healthiest choice.  Now I know looking at some of the others, the fat content seems relatively high.  First of all, the Pop-Secret is loaded with trans fat.  Whenever you see trans fat on a label, you should opt for another choice.  Trans fat is considered a very detrimental saturated fat and not only raises LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) it lowers HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).  So you are left with the oil popped popcorn and the two bagged brands..  First of all, depending on how much oil you put in your popper that percentage can go up or down.  Generally, 1 tbsp vegetable oil to 1/3 cup of popcorn is the ratio.  This makes 2 quarts of popcorn.  Positives are you can consume a larger amount of popcorn (than say potato chips, Herr’s Ripple Chips – 150 calories for 13 potato chips, 90 fat calories,  60% total calories from fat, 370 mg sodium).  If you use canola or vegetable oil, that is considered a heart healthy fat.  You are consuming a few grams of fiber in each serving.  The toppings for popcorn are limitless!  You may also want to try Kernel Season’s Popcorn Seasoning as a topping.   Some flavors include BBQ, sour cream and onion, chocolate marshmallow, kettle corn, and parmesan and garlic.  You can also add your own garlic or onion powder, paprika, and experiment with dried herbs.  Listed below is a recipe I obtained from www.bellybytes.com

Big League Snack Attack Recipes

1/3 cup butter

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp garlic salt

1/4 tsp onion salt

6 cups unsalted popped popcorn

1 cup thin pretzel sticks

1/2 cup roasted peanut

Toss together popcorn, pretzel sticks and peanuts in a large bowl.  Melt the butter and stir in the seasonings.  Drizzle butter/seasoning mixture over popcorn mixture, stirring to coat well.  Spread the mixture in a large, shallow pan and put it in a preheated 250 degree oven to bake for 45 minutes.  Stir with a wooden spoon every ten minutes while baking.

Yields 8 cups

Nutrition Information (Per cup)

136.4 calories, 9.4 gm fat, 1.6 gm fiber, 273 mg sodium

Remember popcorn can be an easy, nutritious snack but varies so much by what you put on it.  When conscientious about toppings, popcorn far exceeds many of its snack competitors in the nutrition arena.  As I always say, experiment!  Ask your child what toppings or recipes they would like to try using popcorn!  There are tons of popcorn recipes on the internet.  Search away!

“The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.”  W. C. Fields

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 www.kidshealth.org 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

March is National Nutrition Month!

I bet that title really caught your attention – or not.  However, it is National Nutrition Month and this is where I am going to get on my soapbox.  This country has a huge health crisis with regards to obesity.  We have been getting fatter and fatter.  Just look around you.  Out at restaurants, at the movies, at work, at school, everywhere you look there are individuals who are not just overweight but obese.  Unfortunately, this has trickled down to our youth.  Obesity is certainly a cosmetic issue but the health consequences (physical and mental) of obesity are exorbitant.  Diabetes, body image struggles, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, asthma, sleep apnea and many more.  Obesity can be correlated with all of these conditions.   Did you know that 30% of adults in the U.S. are obese (that’s 60 million people)?  The number of overweight children in this country has tripled since 1980.  The number one risk factor for Type II diabetes is obesity.  In the past, this disease was prevalent in older, overweight individuals.  The number of children now showing insulin resistance is at an all time high! 

I know we can’t all be “thin” and we don’t need to be.  We can strive to do better.  Unfortunately, the climate we are surrounded by daily does little to help us with this.   Everywhere you turn, what do you see?  I’ll tell you what I see.  advertisements for ooey gooey macaroni and cheese, supersized meals from fast food restaurants, huge pretzels at Wegman’s (I love Wegman’s, by the way), a restaurant entrée that could feed a family of four, and I could go on and on.  What else do I see?  Skinny women (truly anorexic looking) on TV, in magazines, in movies.  However, I do not see these women in my neighborhood.  That’s not true – I must admit living on the Main Line, I do see many  thin, attractive women.   In the majority of the country, this is not what you see.  How challenging it must be for our children, particularly young females, who must deal with these mixed messages every day.  Stuff your face with high calorie, high fat foods and look like the foursome from Pretty Little Liars.  Really??  We need to achieve some sort of balance here with regard to food, nutrition and a healthy body.

Cardiovascular health – extremely important as this in the number one cause of death for men and women in this country.    One in three deaths is attributed to cardiovascular disease, be it heart attack or stroke.  This is personal to me as I lost my father when I was twelve years old to a heart attack.   I know in his case this could have been prevented with the appropriate medical care.  Things were a bit different back then.  We know so much more now.  The one thing I can tell you is he was trim and active.  However, he had a STRONG family history of heart disease.  I suspect he didn’t pay much attention to what he was eating – this was back in the ’70s.  This disease can be prevented or at least can be slowed down in its progression.   As we know with cancer, you have to catch it in its early stages.  Same with heart disease.  If you have a family history of heart disease, with no other risk factors you should absolutely see a cardiologist for a workup no later than 45 years of age.  I  think everyone should see a cardiologist for a workup at age 50.  This is my personal recommendation.  What you don’t know, can hurt you.  Diet has a huge impact on our heart health.  A diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and fish will absolutely affect your cholesterol values for the better.  I know we hear it over and over again but it is so true.

Ok, I’ve gone on and on so what is the point?  Good nutrition is so vitally important to our overall health.  I guess I am urging people to take this month to assess their overall health and that of their family members.  If you have any health issues you need to attend to, please schedule an appointment with your doctor.  If you have any unusual symptoms, don’t put it off, see your doctor!  If you are feeling great but are 40 years old, start with a baseline physical with complete blood work.  Know your cholesterol numbers – overall cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides.  Know your blood pressure.  Follow it if your physician tells you it’s a little high.  Be proactive.  If you are not already physically active, start exercising!  It’s never too late to start.  No excuses!  Think about your eating habits.  Is there any small change you can make that might improve your diet?  I bet there is.  Model these good eating behaviors in front of your children.  Encourage your children to eat well and love themselves.  Let them know images we see in the media are often not realistic.  Strive to be healthy – eating well and exercising are the best things you can do to take care of the body you have been given.  Use the motto for National Nutrition Month, Get Your Plate in Shape, to make some positive changes this spring.  Please check out Get_Your_Plate_in_Shape for some general tips on eating better.  You can also go to www.eatright.org and click on the tab at the top “Public” and get more information.   I leave you with a quote that may sound a little extreme but take it for what it’s worth…

“When it comes to eating right and exercising, there is no “I’ll start tomorrow.”  Tomorrow is the disease.”  Terri Guillemets

Why Am I So Hungry???

It is a gloomy Friday morning in February.  It’s raining, about 43 degrees and it’s so gray outside it’s hard to tell it’s daytime.  Sitting at my computer trying to get some work done,  I am eating Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies and a diet Snapple.  I am hungry.   Over the past several weeks, I have been hungry.  Hungrier than normal.  What makes us feel like this sometimes?   There are certainly some things that stimulate our appetite including time of day, sight and smell of food, alcohol (yes, this increases our appetites), temperature and a diet of refined carbohydrates.   Sometimes there are things going on in our lives that really play havoc with our “hunger hormones.”  These include stress, lack of sleep, and colder temperatures.  All three of those things are affecting me right now.  I am in the process of doing a bathroom remodel in my home which is quite stressful.  I have also found myself waking up in the wee hours of the morning second guessing a decision or two.  This has been going on for about a month now.  I am definitely feeling it is harder to control my food intake.

Sometimes I have a patient seemingly eager to lose weight.  Unfortunately, their weight seems to be climbing instead of maintaining or losing.  Talking to Mom or Dad I often find out that their son/daughter has been very stressed about their workload at school or perhaps some other challenging situation.    This makes it very difficult to make a change in eating habits as increased stress triggers a myriad of physiological reactions in the body leading to an increase in ghrelin, a hormone that causes an increase in appetite.  It is a very real, physical feeling that is causing the desire to overeat.  Not that it is impossible to control intake during times of chronic stress, but it becomes much more difficult.  Check out www.hungerhormones.com to read more about this process.

Next, sleep deprivation is a huge factor in helping to regulate hunger.  When our bodies do not get enough sleep, there is a decrease in the hormone, leptin, which helps suppress our appetite.   This can also produce an increase in ghrelin, the appetite stimulating hormone I mentioned above.  You are starting out at a disadvantage in trying to lose weight if you are not getting enough sleep.

Thirdly,  in the winter when our body temperature is cooler, it can trigger an increase in our desire to eat.   Due to the lack of daylight, some of us feel a little “blue”  at this time of year and often this causes our serotonin levels to take a dip.  This leads to a feeling of hunger.  Also, our body temperatures take a dive due to colder temps.  Eating increases our metabolism and helps keep us warm.  It makes sense that our bodies would want to try to warm themselves by eating.  Kind of  like putting wood on a fire.

What can we do or help our children do when we are dealing with these things that can truly make a difficult task even harder?   The first thing is to give yourself or your child a break.  It is difficult in the best of circumstances to try to lose weight.  Also, if  you are having a craving, it is a good idea to try to satisfy it.  If you don’t, eventually you will.   In all likelihood, the longer you wait the uglier the gratification process may be.   For example, if you are craving chocolate, satisfy yourself with a handful of dark chocolate covered raisins, five Hershey Kisses, or whatever your chocolate of choice is.  If you try to deny yourself, eventually you WILL give in and potentially end up eating an entire bag of Hershey Kisses.  Trust me – this is what will happen.  Some other suggestions:

  • If you are hungry, eat.  No matter what time of day, where you are or what you are doing.  Depriving yourself, more times than not, leads to trouble.
  • Keep things on hand to satisfy you when times get tough.  If you are looking for a salty carb, keep a healthier choice in your pantry, like Trader Joe’s Olive Oil Popcorn.  HOWEVER, if it is potato chips you really want, go out and get them (small bag).  Still not a good idea to keep these things around all the time!
  • You should make a list of healthier snacks to indulge on.  Keep this on hand.  It may sound silly but when you are feeling a bit out of control it helps to have a list of more reasonable options.
  • As I have mentioned in previous blogs, planning is key.  Plan for these situations.  What am I going to do when I am feeling extra hungry or having a particular craving?
  • Snack more on high protein, high fiber snacks to keep you from feeling hungry or getting to the point of starvation.  Frequent small meals throughout the day regularly can help ward off cravings or excessive feelings of hunger.

I hope this helps.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes we have physiology working against us when trying to lose weight.  Those times in our life when we are under a great deal of stress are probably not the best times to lose weight.  Weight maintenance would be a much more achievable goal.  When things get under control, try again.  Be aware of what’s going on in your life.  Ask yourself if this is a good time to set weight loss goals.  If things seem unmanageable for an extended period of time, you can always make an appointment to see a registered dietitian!  And let’s not forget…

“One should eat to live,  not live to eat.”  Cicero

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