Thursday, December 5, 2013

Food Journaling: Making the Grade

The holidays are hard. The endless pies, cookies and pumpkin bread are enough to make you throw in the towel on a diet and weight you have worked to maintain all year. And everyone knows this. That is why every newspaper, magazine and online article is telling you how you can “keep the pounds off” this holiday season. Rather than tell you what you should and should not eat on the buffet table, I want to share with you an exercise that I personally find to be helpful when faced with tasty temptations.

I keep a food journal year-round, but it is a tool that is especially helpful around the holidays. Keeping a food journal is proven to help people control their weight because it increases your awareness and leads you to make more thoughtful dietary decisions. By writing down what you eat, you decrease mindless eating and raise your consciousness of not only the quantity, but also the quality of your diet.

Many people find it hard to keep a food journal.  Oftentimes people are enthusiastic for a day or two and then forget to fill it out and can’t remember what they had for breakfast at the end of the day. That is understandable. The key to successfully keeping a food journal is to find a way to make it easy to keep. It is recommended and very helpful to record every little detail down to the last bite. But how many people are willing to keep this commitment? I don’t want to be pulling measuring spoons and cups out of my purse to measure how much food I am eating. Not only does that take away from the present moment, it would annoy the people around you (especially your Grandma!) and hold up the buffet line.

Instead, what I do is write down a very generic outline of what I ate for the day and then give myself a grade—A, B, C, D, etc. –based on the overall quantity and quality of the foods I ate. A day in my log might look like this:

B: cereal with banana
S: raisins
L: salad, PB sandwich, yogurt, apple
D: fish tacos, rice, beans, dried mangoes

This would be an ‘A’ day. If I had more than a glass of wine with dinner, that would be an ‘A-.’ If I also had a large dessert that would be a ‘B.’ If I ate until I was stuffed and couldn’t move, that might be a ‘C,’ and so on. This approach not only makes me more conscious of what and how much I am eating, it allows me to look at my diet as a whole and helps me plan a balanced and varied diet on a daily basis. I keep it on my nightstand and reflect upon the day before I go to bed.

If you decide to try food journaling, the key is to be honest with yourself. Sometimes I find that I am more honest the next day because in the moment I am being more generous with myself. “Oh that piece of cake wasn’t that big.” When in the morning I realize how gigantic my slice really was and then I am able to grade more accurately. You can also set realistic goals. If you know you are going to a Christmas party, shoot for a ‘B’ day rather than an ‘A’ day. Eat a balanced hearty breakfast and lunch and enjoy the party. After the holidays you can set a goal to have a straight-A week.

The important thing to remember is that the holidays come once a year. If you fall off the wagon for a day or two –no big deal. Just get back on, be mindful of your actions and, most importantly, enjoy this time with the people you love. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

I am Allergic to Running!

Usually food complements running. This is not the case with food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis (FDEIA). FDEIA is a very rare condition that occurs when food intake, followed by exercise, elicits allergic symptoms from hives to respiratory and gastrointestinal irregularity to anaphylactic shock. Visit this month’s ‘Ask the Dietitian’ at for more information on what you can do if you or a friend suffers from this syndrome.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

So long, Trans Fats

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that food producers will be required to eliminate trans fats from their products within the following 6 months to a year.

As consumers, this is exciting news. Trans fats have been a major dietary concern for decades because research has consistently shown them to increase the risk for heart disease by both raising bad LDL cholesterol  and lowering good HDL cholesterol.

Trans fats are made through hydrogenation, a process that takes hydrogen and adds it to vegetable oil changing the configuration from a liquid to a solid at room temperature. In the 1950s, food manufacturers began adding trans fats to food products in order to increase shelf life, enhance texture and preserve flavor. Trans fat is most commonly found in baked goods, pastries, cake mixes, crackers, cookies, pizza dough, frosting and even microwave popcorn. Most restaurant chains have switched to using trans fat-free oils, but there are still small restaurants who use trans fats in their cooking. 

In 2006, the FDA required food manufacturers to include trans fats on nutritional labels, but these labels can sometimes be misleading. A product can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fats and still be labeled trans fat free. This means that if you have more than one serving of this particular food, you could be consuming multiple grams of trans fat in a supposedly trans fat free product. To really be confident that your snack is void of trans fat, check the ingredients label. Anything called hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated or fully hydrogenated is a source of trans fat.

Until the new ban is called into action, be weary of labels, eat processed and fried foods sparingly, use heart-healthy fats such as mono or polyunsaturated rich oils and when in doubt, ask. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Quicker Picker-Upper

Energy drinks have been sweeping the news world-wide.  From proposing a new tax in France to declarations of dangerous side-effects in Nigeria, the gig is up for manufacturers of drinks that claim to give you increased energy, alertness and output.

What is it about energy drinks that have sent over 20,000 people to the emergency room from 2007 to 2011? Well, there are several reasons.

1. Caffeine. Too much caffeine can cause an increase in blood pressure. When drinking in excess, it can also give you heart burn, ulcers, tremulousness and insomnia. For people who are hypertensive, high levels of caffeine will cause blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise rapidly which can lead to a stoke. Consumption of up to 400 mg a day is considered a safe amount in healthy adults, but children should limit caffeine intake to 100 mg a day and pregnant or nursing women to 300 mg a day.

2. Sugar. A typical energy drink contains around 50-60 grams of sugar. This is about 10-12 teaspoons of sugar. Remember to look at the serving sizes; oftentimes you are drinking more than one serving.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories a day (6 teaspoons) from added sugar for most women and no more than 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) for most men.

3. Alcohol. The risk of mixing alcohol with energy drinks is that you may be unaware of how intoxicated you are and attempt to drive or drink to extreme excess. Alcohol also contributes to dehydration. 

4. Too much, too soon. Understand the strength of these products. When consumed quickly, the caffeine and sugar rush into your blood stream, raise your blood sugar and blood pressure and cause your heart rate to increase. Drinking three energy drinks in an hour is equivalent to 15 cups of coffee.

5. Dehydration. Energy drinks have been known to promote dehydration and, for that reason, should not be used especially while exercising.

6. Unknowns. Stimulants such as ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng enhance the effects of caffeine and there is not sufficient evidence that exists to concur the safety of their intake. Many energy drinks contain a large dose of B vitamins that can lead to brain or nerve damage if taken in excess.

How, then, are we going to get the energy we need to work all day and exercise and spend time with the family?

You can start by getting some good old-fashioned ZZZ’s. Ideally 7-8 hours a night. Eat a well balanced diet that will keep you fueled throughout the day. Not sure how? Ask a registered dietitian. Drink plenty of water all day to keep you hydrated. Get in the habit of carrying a water bottle with you wherever you go.  Limit the amount of caffeine in your diet to less than 400 mg a day to prevent unwanted side-effects that could interfere with your work, peace of mind and health.

If your child has been consuming energy drinks, please talk to them about the potential dangers and encourage them to make better choices that will help them rather than potentially harm them in the long run. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

I could never work in the food industry. Not because of the endless temptations or the starchy uniforms. It is because I could not handle seeing all of the food that is wasted during production, distribution and consumption. I am very easily upset by people who waste food. Like most principles, this oversensitivity probably stems from childhood, growing up in an Italian family where eating every bite was expected - and normal.  Add to that the 3rd grade memory of sitting in the school cafeteria over a tray of hotdogs and not being allowed to play at recess until I cleaned my plate. Regardless of the emotional determinant, concern over food waste is something that provokes my obsessive compulsive disorder.

According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. This adds up to $165 billion in losses going straight to the landfills. Not to mention the disturbing fact that 1 in 6 Americans does not have access to enough food. 

Fortunately, there are things we all can do as consumers to help these staggering statistics.

  • Shop with a purpose. This means plan ahead. By making a list of items you need to make a planned meal, the risk of buying and not using something that you do not have a plan for is greatly reduced.
  • Know when food really goes bad. Many people read an item’s sell-by date as an indicator of when the food will spoil, but that is an inaccurate assumption according to the NRDC. Manufacturers use sell-by dates to help retailers manage their inventory and encourage stores to sell a product within a certain time frame so that the food still has a shelf life once it is purchased. The labels “best before” and “use by” do NOT indicate a deadline after which foods go bad, but how long the food will be at peak quality.
  • Buy produce that is not the most attractive. Go ahead and eat the apple that has the pockmark. That just means it is real.
  • Buy and cook only the amount of food you need unless you have a plan for using the leftovers later. Shopping often helps ensure that you do not over-purchase, especially when it comes to fresh produce. 
  • Eat your leftovers. There is nothing wrong or passé about leftovers. Your food will probably taste better the next day anyways.
  • Be mindful at the buffet. By now I am sure you have a pretty good idea of the capacity of your stomach. I do not understand why the presence of a buffet makes some think that they are capable of eating much more than they are physically capable.  At buffets you can usually make multiple trips. Remember that. Do not load up one enormous plate of food and then realize a third of the way through that you had a big lunch.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Food Frequency and Fasting

Q: What are your thoughts on meal frequency and intermittent fasting?

A: Our bodies like consistency.  Metabolism, immunity, the digestive and excretory systems all work together and are able to do so most efficiently when we are consistent in our daily habits. Ever notice that when you travel things seem to get "off"? That is because our bodies like habitual patterns be it eating, sleeping- there is even a preferred time of day your body likes to workout. There is too much conflicting research to make a blanketed statement that this is how many meals you should be having. That being said, how many meals you eat during the day, whether it is 2, 4 or 6 depend upon each individual and how your body responds the best. Pay attention to your energy levels, satiety, appetite, athletic performances and sleeping patterns. By being mindful of how you feel, you will be able to find the frequency that works best for you.

Intermittent fasting has been around for years and is hyped as a method to lose weight and increase longevity. Most studies conducted on intermittent fasting have been done using animals rather than a human model. There is very limited evidence available to prove that it is a beneficial means for sustainable weight loss. If you think about it, we fast naturally every night when we go to bed, hence the need for break-fast in the morning. Success from this diet plan usually stems from extreme calorie restriction and not the act of fasting. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be making any friends or running very far having not eaten for 8+ waking hours. This pattern of eating can be dangerous and is highly discouraged if you are hypoglycemic or diabetic.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don't Stress over Supplements

Intense training and racing puts a distance runner at greater risk for oxidative stress than a sedentary person. Does this mean that a runner should take antioxidant supplements to fight cellular damage? Find out in the latest installment of 'Ask the Dietitian' at

Friday, September 27, 2013

Eating Against Arthritis

Lately there have been several publications debunking the myth that running causes arthritis. For example, an August Washington Post article discusses a study that found, “runners were approximately half as likely as walkers to develop osteoarthritis or need a hip replacement.”  According to an article in the October issue of TrailRunner Magazine entitled, ‘Bad to the Bones: Is Arthritis from Running a Myth or a Fact of Life,’ “the scientific literature does not support any link between running and an increased risk of osteoarthritis.” The New York Times just published an article this week hypothesizing why runners don’t get knee arthritis. There are some speculations that it is the repetitive motion of running that keeps knee cartilage healthy.

Regardless of the reason, runners everywhere can rejoice. Now when people tell me that my knees are going to crap out by the time I’m 50, I have research as my rebound rather than telling them that when that time rolls around, I will be able to order a new pair.

However, what most people without arthritis don’t realize is that there are over 100 different types of arthritis – not just osteoarthritis, which is what typically comes to mind when we think of arthritis. It is important to understand that arthritis is not just a disease of the elderly, but can affect the young and the old, the athlete or couch potato alike. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 million US adults have some kind of arthritis. That is 1 out of every 5 people!

Though we can't stop aging, accidents or autoimmune diseases, we can slow down the effects of aging and the associated pain and inflammation that accompany arthritis with the food that we eat.
When you are eating for arthritis, you want to focus on foods that reduce inflammation because arthritis literally translates to “inflammation of the joints.”

The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, may reduce degeneration and degradation of cartilage. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis note a decrease in morning stiffness, a decrease in joint tenderness and a decrease need to take NSAIDs to relieve pain when incorporating these healthy fats into their diet. Rather than take an EPA/DHA supplement, I recommend consuming fatty fish like salmon and tuna twice a week because the long-term safety effects on supplemental use has yet to be determined. If fish isn’t your thing, plant based sources include pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans, in their whole form as well as oil. Many foods like eggs and milk are now being fortified with EPA and DHA making it easier than ever to make them part of your diet.

A diet high in antioxidants slows the progression, relieves pain and can help to prevent arthritis. Yet another reason to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Vitamin D-rich foods like seafood, milk and eggs help prevent cartilage breakdown and strengthen bones to help support the joints. Spices like turmeric and ginger have also been shown to decrease inflammation and can be incorporated into a variety of foods.

By eating a healthy diet and staying active you are also better able to maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts more pressure on the joints, and fat is metabolically active which makes it prone to inflammation. Excess fat=more inflammation=higher risk for arthritis.

My advice? Go run.

Monday, September 23, 2013

From a PB&J to a PBR

Learn from the mistakes of some of the nation's elite trail runners in my Trail Runner Magazine column that can now be found on the TR site and in the September print issue of Trail Runner Magazine. Here, they share their quirkiest food experiences and some "Do's and Don'ts" of trail racing nutrition.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cholesterol Rears its Ugly Head

‘Healthy’ HDL cholesterol works to remove excess cholesterol in our body. ‘Lousy’ LDL cholesterol causes atherosclerotic plaque build-up that can lead to potential health crises such as heart attack, stroke and heart disease.

The Cholesterol Triad in Action.

What is this about an ugly cholesterol, too?? Ugly cholesterol, sometimes referred to as remnant cholesterol, is the consequence when there are high levels of triglycerides left circulating through the coronary arteries. Triglycerides are the storage form of fat in your body. So when you eat more than you should or fail to burn excess calories via exercise, the remaining energy is stored in your blood as triglycerides.

Move over, LDL.
We have bigger fish to fry.
A recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that ugly cholesterol triples the risk of developing ischemic heart disease. Ischemic heart disease results when insufficient oxygen reaches the heart because of narrowed, plaque-clogged arteries from unhealthy triglyceride levels. Ischemic heart disease is the most frequent cause of death in most western countries.

If your triglyceride levels are creeping up above 150mg/dl, it’s time to take action. Rather than relying on medication, some things you can work on to decrease your ugly cholersterol are:

1. Achieve a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
2. Decrease refined sugars and added sugars in your diet. 
3. Increase sources of good-for-you mono and polyunsaturated fats and decrease saturated and Trans fats.
4. Eat at least 30 grams of fiber a day.
5. Get regular exercise, preferably at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. 
6. Drink alcohol in moderation.

Cholesterol may not be pretty, but the good news is that it is something that you can help control through a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.

My inspiration for this post came after reading an article from Science Daily.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Nutrition for Nausea

Stomach bugs are gross.
I have been in bed for the past 2.5 days with a stomach bug. I do not know how it happened, where it happened or why it happened. I am hand sanitizer extraordinaire and a sleep stickler. Alas, sometimes even the best health habits and oodles of antioxidants do not keep you immune from a virus.

My biggest ailment is the persistent nausea. As a dietitian and runner who thinks about food 24/7 and has a hearty appetite, this symptom is very strange. The thought of eating makes me cringe and the smell of food cooking forces me to lie down. Though it may be difficult, it is important to maintain proper nutrition during these times to prevent complications such as dehydration.

The fundamentals of what we think of as 'good' nutrition are out the window when it comes to treatment and recovery of a stomach virus with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This is a situation when fiber needs to be avoided and sports drinks are acceptable when lying around.

When the time comes that you feel you can stomach something to eat, choose foods that are easy to chew, swallow and digest. This would include:
Go bland and boring.
  • toast, crackers, pretzels
  • fat-free yogurt
  • sherbet
  • boiled potatoes, rice, noodles
  • baked or broiled chicken 
  • eggs cooked without fat
  • canned peaches, applesauce or other soft, bland fruits
  • clear carbonated beverages, sports drinks, apple/cranberry/grape juice, jello, ice pops, tea, water 
To not exacerbate the illness, avoid foods that are high in fat and fiber, spicy and have a strong odor. I find that I can only tolerate foods that are cold or room temperature rather than hot. Eat small frequent meals instead of shooting for 3 large meals a day. One mistake that I made early on was that I forced myself to eat foods that I normally like to eat. Now I never want wraps with almond butter ever again. And remember to drink, drink, drink!

Flowers from someone you love by your bedside helps too!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I’m a Vegetarian. I Only Eat Chicken.

Have you ever been out to lunch with a friend you thought was a vegetarian and then are confused when he or she orders the chicken Caesar salad? What a hypocrite, you think to yourself as you smugly bite into your mushroom burger.

It used to be that “vegetarian” was an easy-to-understand dietary lifestyle. A vegetarian eats no meat. Simple as that. Today, however, the definition of “vegetarian” has grown to become a looser term that is used to describe multiple styles of eating. 

Pollo-vegetarian: excludes red meat and fish, but includes chicken.

Pesco-vegetarian: excludes meat and poultry, but includes fish.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: excludes meat, fish and poultry, but includes dairy products and eggs.

Lacto-vegetarian: excludes meat, fish, poultry and eggs, but includes dairy products.

Vegan: excludes all animal products and any foods containing by-products of these ingredients.

There is also the growing popularity of the semi-vegetarian, or flexitarian, who consumes meat and poultry on occasion.

The next time somebody describes their eating style as vegetarian and then requests sushi for dinner, instead of questioning their morals, keep an open mind and ask them what type of vegetarian they are. 

Nobody likes an Aunt Voula.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Finding the Best Fuel

What is better for runnersthe Paleo diet or a vegetarian diet? What is better for fueling a long run- fats or carbohydrates? Find out at on the latest 'Ask the Dietitian' column. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fruit makes you Fat? That’s just Bananas!

I love bananas. For me, they are a perfect food. They are versatile, convenient and travel well. They can be eaten before, during or after a run without triggering an upset stomach. Bananas have a range of flavors and textures and colors depending on their ripeness. They partner perfectly with peanut butter, yogurt and oatmeal. Yohan Blake, a Jamaican sprinter and 100-meter world champion, attributes his strength and resilience to eating 16 bananas per day.

The idea of eliminating bananas as a staple in my diet is unfathomable. Yet, many people are on the fence - not just about bananas - but fruit in general. There is a misconception that the sugar in fruit wreaks the same havoc on our bodies as simple sugar and should be avoided. However, study after study show that higher levels of fresh fruit consumption are associated with a lower body weight and a lower risk of obesity-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

Whole fruits contain a plethora of antioxidants and fiber which help to strengthen immunity and promote fullness, respectively. When you eat a piece of fruit, the fiber within the fruit’s cellular frame helps to slow the absorption of fructose, the predominate sugar in fruits. It takes time to break down the fibrous cell walls, and as a result, the sugars enter the bloodstream slowly which gives the liver more time to metabolize them. This steady release minimizes surges in blood sugar and saves the pancreas from working harder than it has to.

It is important to note that the greatest benefit of fiber is received when the fruit is eaten fresh and whole as opposed to juicing or dried. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Running with the Runs

Whatever the cause, be it nerves, strong coffee or the left-over beans you had for lunch, many runners from novice to professionals are sometimes faced with the urge to have to use the bathroom during a run. Running jostles internal organs and increases body temperature which sometimes intensifies the necessity having to empty the bowels.

One of the luxuries of running on trails and back-roads.

Needless to say, this is an unpleasant and uncomfortable inconvenience. However, there are a couple of preparations you can do to help prevent this occurrence:

1. Avoid foods that pass through the system quickly and foods that are high in fiber before a run. This means giving ample time to digest after your morning bowl of shredded wheat or skipping the salad at lunch before your evening run.

2. Drink a cup of tea (or coffee if it's a reasonable time of day) to help stimulate your bowls before a run. The caffeine content can help move things along, especially first thing in the morning. Even drinking water can start the gastrocolic reflex, a function that is triggered when you eat or drink something. The reflex works to make more room in the stomach by increasing movement in the GI tract and causing the urge to defecate after a meal.

"No hablo Ingles?"
3. Sometimes you just have to go- and that's okay! If you think you are not going to make it through a run, carry some tissues or napkins with you just in case. If you are on the roads, convenience stores become that much more convenient. Don’t worry about getting the stink eye from an employee when you skulk in and out without buying something.

Potty problems is just another unique characteristic of running. Though never fun at the time, they sure make for a great survival story later on.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Raw Mushrooms= Cancer?

Head over to Trail Runner Magazine and find out if eating raw mushrooms is harmful to your health in my first 'Ask the Dietitian' column!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

'Ask the Dietitian'!

I am happy to announce that I will be writing a monthly column called 'Ask the Dietitian' for and their weekly enewsletter, Inside Dirt.

If you have a question you would like to see answered in the online 'Ask the Dietitian' column, you can submit your questions any time to 

Keep a look out for my first article about the food do's and don'ts of elite athletes in the their upcoming September 2013 print issue!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Not Enough Mettle to Eat a Nettle

Nettles on my knee.
I was only recently introduced to the surprising sting of the nettle plant on a hike in Larrabee State Park. I was walking along minding my own business when I suddenly felt a sharp nip in my ankle. I stopped and squatted down to tend to the blood that was surely streaming from my injury. But when I looked at the site of the sting, there wasn't a mark to be found. At first I wasn't sure if I was going to express the pain I was feeling from this phantom wound with my hiking partner, but the persistent throbbing forced me to speak up.

“Oh, you just got stung by a nettle,” she said nonchalantly. I was intrigued. We don’t have nettles in West Virginia and so I was completely taken off guard with this predatory plant. The pain from the nettles feels like a combination of a bee sting and electrotherapy. In other words, it’s not pleasant. Each person’s reaction may be different, but for me it starts with an initial sting, then a strange throbbing sensation and concludes with an itchy rash reminiscent of poison ivy that lasts 3-4 days.

Urtica dioica
At closer look, the leaves and stems have many hairs called trichomes, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. Even more shocking, nettles have a long history of being used for food and medicinal purposes despite their hairy weapons.

When cooked, the flavor of nettle is similar to spinach and cucumber and it is rich in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium, making it a highly nutritious plant source. Soaking nettles in water or cooking the nettles will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant. You can use nettles as an alternative to leafy greens in a variety of recipes, such as soups, pasta and pesto. Nettles are also sometimes used to flavor some varieties of cheese and the leaves may be steeped for tea.

Nettle leaf extract has been used to treat arthritis and is an ingredient in shampoo to make hair appear more glossy. It also acts as a diuretic with the intention to prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

I don’t know if the stinging nettle will catch on to become the next kale, but I do know to keep my arms and legs on the trails at all times. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Nutrition for Post-menopausal Women in 140 Characters

I was recently asked to answer a question about nutrition specifically for post-menopausal women as I would in a tweet – that’s in 140 characters or less.  I bumbled around for a bit and decided it would be best to return to this topic after giving it much more thought and consideration. After all, we’re talking about a stage of life that produces dramatic changes in a women’s life and, not to mention, I have yet to experience this phenomenon myself.

A healthy diet can help a woman lessen menopausal symptoms and prevent disease. Also, like every stage of life, the proper diet can improve and maintain energy levels to support weight management. Making sure to include adequate amounts of calcium in your diet to maintain bone strength and integrity becomes very important during menopause, a time when a woman’s estrogen levels begin to decline and the risk of osteoporosis is increased. The recommended dietary allowance for calcium is 1,200 mg per day.  Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products, spinach, almonds, salmon and milk alternatives.
Post-menopausal women also need to balance their calcium intake with an appropriate amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a critical role in moving calcium to your bones.  If you are vitamin D deficient, the calcium you take in will actually move into your arteries, instead of into your bones, which has the potential to lead to a heart attack. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU per day. Foods high in vitamin D include mushrooms, fortified cereals, soy and dairy products, fish and exposure to natural sunlight.

An antioxidant-rich diet based on vegetables, fruits and whole grains is necessary because post menopausal women are at a higher risk of breast cancer. Weight gain also becomes a challenge which can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart related diseases if not controlled. Consuming high fiber foods, eating reasonable portions for meals and snacks and drinking plenty of water can help control extra pounds. Participating in regular physical activity, particularly weight-bearing excerise, is important for maintaining fitness, bone stregth and resilience.

In conclusion to my synopsis, here is my tweet:

Eat calcium, vitamin D, protein-rich foods for bone health. Maintain healthy weight with high fiber, low fat foods. Drink water. Exercise. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Goods on Going Gluten-free

It seems like nowadays everybody and their mother’s brother is on a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein that is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale-a cross between wheat and rye. Individuals diagnosed with celiac disease must follow a gluten-free diet for life because their body elicits an immune reaction to the protein and concomitant inflammation damages the small intestine lining causing malabsorption of some nutrients.

There are also some people who have intolerance to gluten, much like intolerance to the sugar lactose. It is not an autoimmune disease, but the symptoms can be similar to celiac disease such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, unexplained anemia, muscle cramps, leg numbness and bone or joint pain. Unlike celiac disease, there are no specific tests for diagnosing gluten sensitivity. The only way it can be determined is by ruling out celiac disease and wheat allergy and then seeing the response to a gluten-free diet and a gluten challenge. It is not known whether someone with sensitivity to gluten must strictly avoid gluten for life like those with celiac disease.

Gluten-free breads, pastas and baked goods are all becoming widely available in many grocery stores. Though the prevalence of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity cases are on the rise, the main impetus for such products is due to consumer demand. Many people are removing gluten from their diet with the hopes that it will result in weight loss, relief from abdominal discomfort and a less inflammatory diet. While these results are all desirable, a lot of the time this is due to elimination of high fat, highly processed products like cakes, candies and processed meats- all foods that should be eaten sparingly, if at all. If you are truly going gluten-free that doesn’t just mean removing junk food and white pasta from the diet, it also means eliminating some salad dressings, chocolate, coffee, teas and yes, even beer (derived from barley). For somebody with celiac disease, starting a gluten-free diet can be very difficult when you really learn how many foods and products contain the protein gluten.

They're still cocoa pebbles!?
One must also consider the nutritional drawbacks to going sans gluten. Most gluten-free products are made from refined flours and starches that are low in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. However, there are some companies that enrich their products with iron and B vitamins at the same levels as gluten-containing breads, cereals, pastas and flours. There is a bit of a health halo around foods labeled gluten-free. Remember, a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie.

For those of you who are pro-gluten, whole wheat, barley and rye are excellent sources of protein, fiber, B vitamins, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and iron. Their removal is not necessary for a healthy diet.

If you think you are suffering from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it is extremely important that you get tested before starting a gluten-free diet. Celiac’s is a serious condition that can be inaccurately diagnosed if you prematurely eliminate gluten from your diet. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Water, Water Everywhere

Good news- you can stop worrying about drinking 8 glasses of water a day! Despite the age old rule of thumb, there is no scientific evidence that 8 glasses of water daily will promote health and stave off dehydration. Rather, the amount of fluid a person needs a day-like everything else- is different based on each individual.

Some people are at higher risk of dehydration. People who get a lot of exercise, have certain medical conditions, are sick, or are pregnant need to be more aware of the amount of fluids they drink. Older adults are also at higher risk because as you age, your brain may be unable to properly sense dehydration and send the signals for thirst.

A quick test if you are concerned that you may not be drinking enough water is to check your urine. If it is consistently colorless or light yellow, you are most likely staying well hydrated. However, if it is a dark yellow with relatively little volume, then it’s time to drink up. For the average person, drink enough so that you go to the bathroom every two to four hours.

Another bite of food for thought: you don’t need to drink only water to get water. Coffee and tea are sufficient at keeping you hydrated. The diuretic effect of the caffeine is mild compared to the amount of fluid they contain.  Eating watery foods will count, too. Fruits and vegetables have high water content, as does yogurt, soup and Jell-o. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Klick's Presentation Highlights

A big THANK YOU to everyone who came out to hear me speak at Klick's Running & Walking. Here are a few presentation highlights for those of you who were out having fun in the sun:

Knowing what to eat when on the road or overseas is especially important if you are traveling to a race.  

Race after a road/overnight trip:
  • Drink a lot of water. If you are driving, consider stocking a cooler with bottled water or bring a large thermos to keep fully hydrated. Plan on leaving earlier to make time for bathroom stops.
  • Sometimes we are faced with junk food temptations at the bathroom pit stop. Stick to what you are used to. Now is not the time to try something new. 
  • Healthy fast food options:  *See previous blog post
  • Travel-friendly foods: *See previous blog post
  • Plan ahead: If you are eating out the night before a race, decide what restaurant you want to eat at before you get there. Look online at menus and make sure food can be tailored to your needs. 
  • Make reservations just to be safe. You don’t want to be eating dinner at 9pm the night before an 8am start-especially when you are used to eating dinner at 7pm.
  • Avoid foods high in fat and foods high in sodium. Too much salt can cause excess bloating which is not comfortable physically or mentally when prepping for a race.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the waiters to have the chef prepare food the way you want it prepared. Pick a different side, add a side salad. You are paying so make sure you get what you want.
  • No restaurants? Bring a camping stove. Buy fresh veggies from the grocery store and cook in the hotel room.
  • Sleep well: bring your own pillow, sleep mask, earplugs or calming music. Get quality sleep several days leading up to the race rather than counting on the night before to rest up.

Race out of the country
  • Dehydration is often a cause of travel fatigue. Make sure to drink plenty of water before boarding a plane, and do not pass up the opportunity to snag the smaller-sized bottles once on board. Traveling can disrupt normal bowel movement so drinking a lot of water can help keep you regular.
  • Avoid all contact with contaminated water. That includes brushing your teeth and washing your face. Bring a water bottle with a squirt top to make brushing your teeth easier.
  • Language barriers can pose a threat so always err on the side of caution. Ask if you do not know what something is or don’t eat it. 
  • Go plain, boring and simple and indulge after the race. 
  • Stick to your normal prerace meal plan as close as possible. 
  • Pack your bags. Although most countries will not allow you to bring in fresh produce, you can bring in things like granola, packets of peanut butter. 
  • Find a grocery store. If you have a fridge in your hotel room, stock up on perishables you'll need.
  • Eat a bigger breakfast when traveling in case you are uncertain that there will be food available to meet your dietary needs.
  • Eat enough. Sometimes when traveling to foreign countries you can be so concerned with not eating the wrong foods, that you don't eat enough. Arm yourself with bars you can eat and pieces of fruit you can supplement with.
  • Don't let yourself get too hungry. This can impair your judgement and there is a greater possibility of eating something you shouldn't.

You worked so hard to get your mind and body prepared to race, don't flush it down the toilet! 

Smarter Fast Food Options

Healthy Convenience Store Food
  • String cheese
  • Fresh fruit cup
  • Baby carrot single serve bags
  • Trail mix
  • V8 100% vegetable juice
  • Low-fat (Greek) yogurt
  • Energy/granola bars
  • Cereal cups

  • Baked Potato
  • Side Salad
  • Chili

  • Grilled chicken sandwich
  • Grilled chicken snack wrap
  • Fruit & maple oatmeal without added sugar
  • Apple slices
  • Low-fat milk
  • Side salad

  • Protein plate
  • Multi-grain bagel
  • Oatmeal without added sugar
  • Egg white, spinach & feta wrap
  • Reduced-fat turkey bacon with egg whites on an English muffin
  • Chicken and vegetable wrap

Burger King
  • Tendergrill chicken sandwich
  • Chicken, apple & cranberry salad
  • Veggie burger
  • Fruit smoothies

Taco Bell
  • Bypass the regular menu and go for the Fresco Menu, which replaces cheese and/or sauce with salsa made of diced tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. All items on the Fresco Menu have 330 calories or fewer with no more than 8g of fat.
  • Beans & rice

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

No Refrigeration Necessary

During my recent camping trip, I was presented with the challenge of eating nutritionally-balanced meals without having the convenience of refrigeration or even a cooler.

Here is a list of foods organized by food group that require no refrigeration and yet adequately meet nutritional needs. 

  • Fresh fruit- Think easy to wash and keeps at room temperature (Apples, bananas, grapes, tangerines, tomatoes, avocados).
  • Dried fruit- Avoid added sugars and oil by looking at nutrition labels.
  • Applesauce

  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Celery
  • Snap peas
  • Dried vegetables- One-quarter cup of dried veggies is equivalent to one serving of fresh.

  • Bread (whole wheat, pita, multi-grain)
  • Bagels
  • Crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Pre-popped popcorn
  • Crackers
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Cereal cups
  • Energy Bars- Aim for bars with at least 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein and fewer than 170 calories.

  • Nut butters (single squeeze packets like Justin’s or Jif to-go containers)
  • Nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, soy)
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin) - Store them in a small container—like an Altoids tin—when you’re on the go. Besides preventing spilling inside your bag, they provide portion control.
  • Canned tuna or salmon
  • Hummus- individually packaged portions.
  • Cheese- individually packaged portions. Most can be stored outside of the fridge for a limited amount of time.
  • Milk boxes (Horizon Organic)

Meal/Snack Ideas
  • Tomato and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread or bagel
  • Nut butter and banana sandwich on pita bread
  • Pretzels with hummus
  • Canned salmon or tuna on whole wheat crackers
  • Apple or banana with nut butter

Keep this list in mind when planning your camping or road trip this summer so that you can eat well wherever you go.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Surmounting the Cereal Aisle

Eating a balanced breakfast every day is important because it jump starts your metabolism after an overnight fast and helps you maintain high energy levels throughout the day. Cereal has long been the the “go-to” choice and for good reason. It’s quick, requires no kitchen skills and it’s so tasty, too. Navigating the cereal aisle can be as time consuming and head spinning as finding the right greeting card. Here are a few guidelines to help you narrow the choices and pick the healthiest option:

1. Look at the nutrition facts label. Choose a cereal with:
  • At least 4 to 5 g of fiber per serving.
  • Less than 3 g of fat per serving.
  • No more than 5 to 8 g of sugar per serving.
  • No more than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
2. To really have control over how much sugar is in your cereal, choose a sugar-free cereal like Shredded Wheat, Kashi 7 Whole Grain or plain oatmeal and add flavor and sweetness with fresh cut fruit or a milk alternative like almond or soy milk.

3. Try something new like “overnight oats.” This latest oatmeal sensation takes a comforting winter favorite and transforms it into a convenient summertime (or anytime) meal. It requires no cooking, just some planning. Oats soak in a mixture of milk and yogurt overnight in an air-tight container, and by morning the oats are perfectly softened in this creamy concoction. Add in your favorite fresh or dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon, honey or nut butters  Find a basic overnight oats recipe and some creative versions here.

4. When it comes to milk, please refer to a previous post on which milk does a body good.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unessential Essential Oils

Q: Are essential oils an acceptable way to obtain vitamins and minerals?

“Essential" oils are used for various emotional and physical wellness purposes. They are most known for their role in aromatherapy, a popular generator of  relaxation and meditation. Some oils are also applied topically and absorbed by the skin for their restorative and calming properties with massage. I have used peppermint, oregano and some more obscure oils myself for relieving musculoskeletal pain and discomfort. Additionally, there have been a few studies showing a possible anti-microbial effect of certain oils.

I use “essential" in quotes because the name is very misleading. Essential literally means that something is needed or required. This is not the case with oils that are used for aromatherapy, perfumes, soap and food flavorings. There are only two true essential oils, fats rather, that we need in our diet because our bodies lack the enzymes needed to make them. They are linoleic and linolenic acid, an omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid, respectively.  

Using essential oils as a dietary supplement is a less common application where research is lacking and something that should heed caution. Some people look to these oils for their high concentration of antioxidants and because they are a proposed catalyst for weight loss. However, their effectiveness and safety have not been proven by scientific research.

 Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be toxic if not diluted. They can be reactive with some type of medications, cause severe irritation of the mucous membrane of the alimentary canal or provoke an allergic reaction. They may also cause nausea and vomiting. You should refrain from using essential oils during pregnancy because of unknown safety concerns.

Furthermore, essential oils do not supply you with any energy from carbohydrates, protein, essential fat or fiber. Another deterrent is the financial investment. Some of these oils can run you anywhere from $20-50 for a 2 ounce bottle. Wouldn't eat be cheaper and much more satisfying to eat a colorful, hearty salad?

Bottom Line: There is no research to support supplementing your diet or relying on essential oils to fulfill your nutrient needs. If you are serious about improving your health, the quality of your diet or losing weight, essential oils do not change your current nutrition and lifestyle habits and, in the long run, are not a sustainable dietary practice.

If you do decide to take essential oils by mouth, please be sure to first talk to a knowledgeable healthcare provider, follow all label warnings and instructions and consider the amount, frequency and duration of application. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jumping on the Chia Bandwagon

Remember these?

Very few dietary fads peak my interest. I usually sigh and roll my eyes at the latest health breakthrough that Dr. Oz is touting will reverse heart disease and mitigate obesity. However, one nutrition nugget keeps sticking in my head: chia seeds.

Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. Its origin is believed to be in Central America where the seed was a staple in the ancient Aztec diet. Chia seeds have recently gained attention as an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. They are also full of fiber with 10 grams per 2 tablespoons, and they contain protein and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

I started to consider chia seeds because I am really making an effott to limit my fish intake to seafood that I know is sustainabily harvested. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have been the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids in my diet and so I want to make sure that I continue to consume adequate amounts.

So let’s say that I cave. What do I do with them? There are basically three options:

1. You can eat them whole, sprinkled on cereal, yogurt or a salad.
2. You can grind them up into a flour and use it to make cakes and breads.
3. You can soak it in water (1 cup water for 2 Tbsp chia) for 10-30 minutes until it becomes a viscous gel that you can add to liquid foods like smoothies or yogurt.

One tablespoon of dry seeds has about 68 calories and makes 9 Tbsp of chia gel, which can be stored  in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.

Will I join the thousands who already ride the chia seed bandwagon? Maybe. I added them to the bottom of my grocery list so maybe this week I will feel adventurous and jump on board.