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This saturated fat debate is now escalating to a point that public health is threatened. While I work with clients to include the foods they love, let’s be clear on the facts: If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, choosing more unsaturated fats than saturated or trans fats is important.

That doesn’t make saturated fat the boogeyman. Notice, I didn’t say choose more sugar or honey or agave over saturated fat. I didn’t say eliminate meat or milk. Fruits matter. Vegetables matter. Food preparation matters. How much and how we eat matters. Physical activity matters. Although these are topics for another day, I want to be clear that I’m not villanizing saturated fat. But it isn’t a hero either!

Are we just looking for justification to eat what we want? Or do we want to know what research has really shown will support health and wellness? Do we want to pretend that scientists are conspiring against our health, and that any evidence that doesn’t support our beliefs is wrong? Or do we want to consciously decide when our food decisions will be based on science and health versus taste and culture and enjoyment? Science does not always have all of the answers. Our understanding expands and deepens over time. But if we take the whole picture over time, and insist on high-quality scientific methods, we see consistency and facts emerge.

Taste and culture and enjoyment are wonderful reasons to eat a food or eat in a particular way over time. Scientific evidence, uncovered through rigorous scientific methods over time, taking into account individual differences in needs and preferences, is the best guide to eating for health.

So eat for your health or eat just for the fun of it. But don’t get duped by the celebrity of the day into thinking that decades of research is wrong, unless they have equally strong scientific research to prove it.

 

This is the biggest pitfall of new year’s resolutions: we stack the deck against ourselves with holiday binging, comforted by the idea that we have a date set for the healthy habits to start.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good about truly enjoying the feast. This is a very special time for a lot of people, myself included. So I believe in embracing all of the goodness of the season, along with good health. How?

Try thinking about feasting in a new way.

We think of eating food when we think of feasting, but there is also celebration in deciding what to eat, how to prepare it, and who you will share it with. The party may include a holiday cocktail, but it is complete when there is good conversation, fun games, maybe a little dancing. What else beyond food will you feast on this week?

Will you feast on building a strong body? Keep exercising, perhaps even try something new. I run, but have had a hard time with consistency with the cold weather. I am walking more throughout the day, and I also made it to the gym to try out pilates again for the first time in many months (wow, what a great feeling to use those forgotten muscles!). When is the last time you went ice skating? Or dancing? Or skiing? 

How about feasting on sleep? Not just because you have a hangover! Everything will be less stressful and more enjoyable if you are well-rested. Period.

As for food, it is an important part of the feast. Enjoy traditional foods without guilt. Sometimes you’ll eat more than a little (don’t we all!), but slow down, savor every bite, and make a mindful decision about how much you’ll eat. Also, find ways to expand the types of foods you eat during this time and tweak recipes so that you can embrace both your favorite foods and yourself. I grew up with sweet potato casserole, made by coating sweet potatoes in brown sugar and butter, then baking marshmallows on top. Yum! But I also enjoy sweet potatoes with red and golden beats, coated with olive oil and spices and roasted to perfection. 

Why would we need to sacrifice ourselves to the idea of holiday indulgence? Why does holiday feasting have to subjugate feeling physically empowered to feeling physically sedated by our food? Food is indeed powerful. In these final days of the year, feast on foods that will empower you, that will allow you to feel healthy, energetic, and grateful for all that you have, and all that is to come.

ericjohnson2 (1)There isn’t a person in modern society that is beyond the risk of cancer. So many factors contribute to its development, including stuff you’re born with and can’t undo. It’s enough to make a person throw their hands up and say… well, this is not the place for what I have said in those moments of feeling powerless. Especially when the risk becomes reality, as it has for people I love.

But stories can transform lives (check out Storlietelling). Inspired by the stories of our family and friends, as well as strangers, who face cancer with amazing courage and strength, let’s not let the risk define our reality.

So this month, I am embracing Breast Cancer Awareness Month, dedicating my blog and Facebook page to the women I love who have fought this disease. Some have won, some have lost, and I will continue to fight with them and for them.

The nutrition and cancer story is complicated, and it boils down to two very important points. First, cancer is not one disease. It’s breast cancer, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, blood cancer, skin cancer, kidney cancer… you get the point. And for every body site at which cancer is initiated, there are varying levels of aggression, different factors that hurt or help, even different causes.

Second,  cancer develops over years and years. There is this nebulous thing called risk– how likely you are to have something bad happen to you. Multiple “events” or “exposures” happen over a lifetime that nudge, or shove, risk in one direction or another. Are genetics stacked against us before we are born? How are we fed and how do we eventually choose to eat? Do we smoke or live in a house where someone does? Do we eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains? Do we live in a polluted area? Do we get enough fiber? Do we chase the golden glow in tanning beds? Do we eat a “Dagwood” style meat and cheese sandwich every day for lunch? Is daily stress taking a toll on our bodies? Are we active throughout the day? Are we going beyond that 1-2 glasses of alcohol a day? I could go on and on… How much of which factors for how long in the right combination push your risk down versus up? Researchers have learned so much, and there is so much still to learn. What appears to be certain is this: Cancer prevention is a lifetime, multi-generational endeavor. 

So what’s a person to do? The next right thing.

  • Don’t smoke. If you do, quit. (As a former smoker, I am not being flippant about that. It is HARD, and it will give you and the people around you more years to enjoy life. There’s just no reason to kid yourself about the harm it does, or that it will somehow be easier to do later.)
  • Don’t drink excessively. I’m being vague here, but anything more than 1-2 drinks at a time is excessive. What a thing to say right before the holidays, I know!
  • Be active. Work out. Sweat. Run. Dance. Swim. Climb. Take activity breaks in your sedentary day. Turn off the TV and hand held devices and go outside more often. Most of us need to move more, although we all need a rest day during the week, too.
  • Most of us (I say this a lot because we are NOT all the same) need do eat more vegetables and whole grains, and eat less meat and added sugar. We need more healthy fats (nuts, fish, olives, oils) and less saturated and trans fat. Lean meats, dairy, and eggs have a place in a healthful diet. Sweets are an enjoyable way to end a meal. It’s about finding the balance of foods and amount of food that’s right for you.

There are no guarantees. Just choices to support research, early detection, and self care. So I’ll be posting more on cancer prevention and nutrition this month. Whether you are low risk, high risk, recently diagnosed, or a survivor, do the next right thing. You are not alone.

Cucumber Mango Salad (cucumber, mango, cumin, black pepper)

Cucumber Mango Salad (cucumber, mango, cumin, black pepper)

Summer is the easiest time of year to get our fruits and veggies. So many choices for fresh, easy snacks, like ripe peaches or red bell peppers. Yet, when we are vacationing or trying to savor a little quiet time at the pool or beach, putting a complete meal together is a challenge. And let’s face it, working parents are trying to juggle the allure of a carefree summer with our kids with the reality that our jobs and businesses are operating as usual! Bottom line: Food can still become a chore, and shortcuts are tempting.

Are you thinking I’m going to tell you to buck up and get into the kitchen? Prioritize your family’s and your health and get cooking?  Well, yes and no. Because your and your family’s health requires not only healthy eating but also quality time to take care of yourself and have fun!

So I have one solution to share with you today: the simplicity of summer salads. The classic “dinner” salad is as far as many people go in the salad genre. But I’m here to tell you that salads are a great way to extend any cooking you do, highlight the freshness of the summer season, and use your food prep time wisely so that you can have a little summer down time, as well.

  • Look for simple recipes that focus on whole foods, herbs, and spices. Fewer ingredients is NOT an indicator of health, but focusing on whole foods can help you to have a better handle on what you are eating. I recently discovered this 4-ingredient cucumber mango salad in the Cooking Healthy Across America cookbook, deliciously spiced with cumin and black pepper (I would never have paired these spices with fruit, so this was a fun discovery!). I added a touch of fresh basil, and it didn’t hurt to have fresh cucumber from my neighbor’s garden!
  • Combine leftovers into a salad. This will be easier if you plan for leftovers. In other words, cook a little more than you need, and refrigerate single ingredients so you can mix and match the next day. You may be able to compose a “new” salad for the next few days with the same ingredients. I threw together a little leftover chicken, quinoa, and corn on the cob (sans cob) with fresh lettuce, cucumber, and tomato… voila! Also, try sprinkling on a new spice blend to shake up the flavors.
Chicken Quinoa Veggie Salad (chicken, quinoa, corn, cucumber, tomato, romaine lettuce)

Chicken Quinoa Veggie Salad (chicken, quinoa, corn, cucumber, tomato, romaine lettuce)

  • If you are feeling more adventurous in the kitchen, my colleague Toby Amidor put together a fun medley of cucumber salads on the Food Network’s Healthy Eats blog.
  • And if you want to combine a family outing with food, check out the National Farmer’s Market Directory to celebrate National Farmer’s Market Week (ending tomorrow!) to gather the ingredients and inspiration for your next creation.

Elevate the salad to the center of the plate this summer to experience old flavors in new ways. If you are pressed for time (if?), look for shorter recipes, and repurpose your leftovers to create simple, original summer favorites each day. Have a yummy weekend!

Dueling nutrition studies– what a new concept! I wish.

Cornell University put out a press release with a shocking headline last Friday: “Skipping breakfast may be healthy way to shed weight.” What? You’ve been eating breakfast because it’s supposed to help you avoid feeling starved before lunch time?

Then yesterday, a study out of Harvard garnered this headline: “Skipping Breakfast Ups Risk of CHD in Middle-Aged Men.” You may be asking yourself, “Do I want to be thin and have heart disease, or fat and heart-healthy?”

Stop the insanity! Don’t get caught up in every headline. As a dietitian, I cannot get caught up in every headline, or in every study that is published. I have to read them within the context of the overall evidence. Why? Because one of the realities of science is that there is no one study that tells us everything, even about a single meal.

  • egg plateMost of the evidence suggests that breakfast eaters weigh less and have better diet quality overall (more nutrients per calorie, greater variety of nutrients and foods, etc). (“Suggests” doesn’t sound convincing? Scientists rarely say anything is certain, partly because we are always learning, and partly because you and I and the average Joe may each be very different in what we need.)
  • Emerging evidence suggests that eating evenly spaced meals and snacks throughout the day helps us to feel extremely hungry (which can lead to overeating) and to actually eat less overall. (“Emerging evidence”… In other words: there is more and more research to support this idea, but we don’t have broad agreement among scientists yet)
  • The Cornell study is interesting, but does not throw out all others. Let’s do more research to figure out why this one study’s results are so different from others.

When worIMG_1570king with clients who want to lose weight, I look at not only how many calories they are eating and drinking all day, but also when and how they eat, what they eat, and how they feel (hunger, energy level, mental clarity, etc) throughout the day. These are dietary or eating patterns– and they matter. I’m also looking at physical activity patterns, and a whole host of health and medical data. Only after I talk with the individual and understand their situation am I able to say, “Yes, you should start eating breakfast,” or “I see you eat breakfast. Let’s talk about the foods you are choosing at that meal.” There are a lot of possibilities. To know what’s best for you, consider consulting with a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) (same qualifications for either RD or RDN).

In general, breakfast is a good idea. An even better idea is to prepare for success (have good food in the house, plan meals and snacks, etc), eat when you are hungry, stop when you are satisfied, and be active.

I became an RD because I believe food is a large piece of the health puzzle and I want to help people put together their unique puzzle. Of course, I also work with clients to understand that food is only one of the pieces, and physical health is but one piece of our overall wellness.

I was so grateful to the Washington Post for the positive press about what an RD is and what sets us apart (June 3, 2013). We are not a homogeneous profession. We sometimes disagree on the science (as critical thinkers will), especially with newly emerging research. But we have a common core training that helps us to evaluate science, individualize treatment (no cookie cutters in my office!), and work WITH our clients to set goals and action plans.
Many RDs are on social media, so you may follow them on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, or Facebook. What you may not see is the one-on-one counseling with individuals facing chemotherapy, with high blood pressure that just won’t come down, trying to lose weight (again), competing in their 1st or 25th triathlon, or trying to un-complicate life with diabetes. These are just a few of the many situations with which an RD will help her clients, often with little recognition.
In fact, many insurance companies still do not cover medical nutrition therapy (MNT), and Medicare covers it only for diabetes and kidney disease. I don’t take insurance for this reason, but many of my colleagues do, and many of us are lobbying to change this reality.
So I want to take a moment to recognize my RD colleagues who put the power of good food to work in their clients’ and patients’ lives. Who patiently guide their clients to that eye-opening moment when they feel both motivated and capable of doing the right things for themselves. Thank you for the inspiration!
* I wrote a similar piece for the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition blog. Follow SCAN at http://scandpg.blogspot.com/.

March is a time for many of us when those New Year’s resolutions have become frustrations. Fortunately, the weather is beginning to warm, and spring fever can do wonders for physical activity efforts. It’s also National Nutrition Month, and the theme this year is: “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.” I love this theme, because I truly believe wellness comes when we tailor food and nutrition to our personal and family needs, and keep food in perspective with with the rest of our lives.

So in the spirit of the season and finding YOUR way to eat right for YOU, here are my tips to help you Spring into Nutrition Action:

  1. Plan your meals, then your grocery list, and stick to it. Even with the best-laid plans, there will be diversions, many for good reasons. So you will need to shift your mindset, make the plan a priority, and allow only the most important diversions. You know what they are.
  2. Eat with your family or friends as often as possible. Eating together helps everyone to eat more slowly and connect more fully with each other.
  3. Engage family and friends in your health goals and take an interest in theirs. A support system increases your likelihood of success.
  4. Focus on the good stuff. Join community supported agriculture (CSA) or visit a farmers market to get out of your food rut and celebrate the tastes of the season. Aim for 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Choose healthy fats from vegetables oils, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Choose whole grains.
  5. Respond to your hunger cues– both when they come and when they go! This means, eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.

Happy National Nutrition Month and Happy Spring Fever!

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