Sodium. Essential for life. But too much is a recipe for a health crisis. Sodium plays a key role in hydration during high-intensity exercise and hot, humid conditions. For the rest of the day when you aren’t working out, and especially if you don’t exercise much, it’s time to dive into a world of flavor beyond salt.

I want to be very clear that the idea that salt or any food or ingredient is the big bad reason our health suffers is flawed. Salt, sugar, fat, carbohydrates, bread, bacon, soda– what is the nutritional villain of the day? Anything in excess is bad for you, and even the most indulgent foods can be enjoyed some of the time. If you eat out a lot or eat a lot of packaged foods, you may be getting to much sodium. If you are frequently refilling your salt shaker at home, you may be eating too much salt.

I recommend ‘strategic salt’ in the diet. Use it in small amounts where it will help you get more good stuff that you need, and use it when your health requires it (see “A note for athletes” below).

It’s time to diversify your palate. I buy small containers of a wide array of herbs and spices so they are fresh when I need them, and I have a LOT of these flavor boosters in my pantry. I’m better at keeping fresh herbs around during the summer, but some can be grown year-round. When cooking:

  • If you are not sure what to add,  smell a few things, close your eyes, and imagine what it might taste like in the dish.
  • Encourage kids to add a new spice or herb to a dish, or use paprika or oregano or thyme to personalize their own plates.
  • Instead of folding cheese into a dish, sprinkle a smaller amount on top for visual appeal and a more subtle cheesy flavor.

What about snack foods? Sometimes we just crave salt, especially if we have not learned to enjoy other flavors yet. So again with the nudging:

  • Mix salted popcorn with unsalted dried fruits or nuts. These additions also add phyto(plant)nutrients, healthy fats, and more fiber, so help you to feel satisfied sooner and boost nutrition. Eventually try unsalted popcorn with fun additions.
  • Take a smaller portion of chips or salty crackers and enjoy with guacamole (try straight smashed avocado with a little lime juice, or maybe add a little diced onion, hot pepper, or tomato).
  • A little salt from hummus is also bringing healthful chickpeas to your diet. This is one example ‘strategic salt’. Then dip fresh veggies in hummus to cut the overall proportion of sodium in your snack.
  • Simply look for lower salt snack foods– pretzels tend to be higher, some crackers are quite low. Still watch your portions, and remember that a simple apple is also delicious!
  • Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, but also high in salt (strategic salt!) and saturated fat, so balance out small portions with pears or berries instead of salty crackers.
  • Mix salsa with nonfat plain yogurt for a creamy dip for veggies.

A note for athletes: If you are a salty sweater or will be exercising in hot, humid conditions, a small salty snack with your water before you work out is a good idea. If you’ll work out for more than an hour, a sports drink will deliver the water, sodium, and carbohydrates you need to stay hydrated.

Whether a student, pro, or recreational athlete, are you struggling to figure out what to eat pre, during, or post exercise? What about on competition days? You know you need to fuel, but you don’t want to get sick when the competition starts. You’ve heard carbs are bad, but what to do instead?

As with your training, nutrition does not start on race day, or when the workout begins. It begins now, wherever you are, and it is continuous. Start with a well-nourished, well-hydrated body. How do you do that?

First, carbohydrate, protein, and fat are ALL essential nutrients for your body. Carbohydrate has gotten a bad rap, but here are the facts. Carbohydrate is the preferred fuel choice for your brain, the only viable fuel source for certain types of exercise (all types of exercise require your body to work in different ways, so this isn’t just endurance versus strength training), and a requirement for efficiency in using other fuel sources.

At this moment, what you should eat depends on 1) when and what you last ate, and 2) when you last exercised, 3) when you will exercise next, and 4) your unique needs.

Your unique needs can’t be adequately addressed in any blog. Remember that any article you read doesn’t know you as an individual. Think of this as a starting point that must be tailored to your fitness and performance condition and goals, your health condition, your lifestyle, and other factors. However, there is one critical truth for athletes that often gets lost:

How you eat all day long, day after day, helps you to build up glycogen in your muscles that your body can use during exercise.

There is no short-term substitute for eating an appropriate balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and staying hydrated over time. So ask yourself- Is my energy swinging high and low throughout the day? Do I bonk during a long, intense training session? Am I able to turn on the heat at critical points in competition– at the end of a match, to climb a hill, to move the ball down the court? Am I training hard but not making progress? We all have genetic limitations and advantages, but nutrition is often the obvious answer to gaining a competitive edge that is hiding right in front of us.



Does your school host a breakfast or lunch to show appreciation for the teachers and other staff? My kids’ school PTA does this once a month, and it is a big hit.


Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal from my oven this morning! Had to sample to make sure it was suitable- oh yeah!

A balance of indulgence and healthfulness is appreciated by these angels in our children’s lives. Fresh fruits and juices and tea packets, egg casseroles full of veggies, whole grain breads and cereals, yogurt, and nuts sprinkled wherever they work… you get the idea!

Here is a season-perfect Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal I whipped up for today’s breakfast for our teachers, packed with whole grains, fiber, healthy fats, protein, beta carotene, vitamin C, and potassium. I cut the brown sugar by one-third and added in walnuts to kick up the omega-3 fats for heart health and brain power!

Thank you teachers, everywhere!


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!


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