What do you know about your sugar?

I recently attended the American Association of Diabetes Educators conference in Indianapolis. How great and refreshing it was to be with 3,000 other diabetes educators from across the U.S. At this conference, there was a great display from the Abbott Freestyle “Know Your Sugar Tour” bus, which is a cross-country expedition to raise awareness about the ill effects of sugar on the body. This tour, featuring one-of-a-kind sugar sculptures made by world-renowned Irish sculptors Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels, promotes the importance of understanding sugar’s effects on the body.

When there is extra sugar, it can be stored in muscles and liver for later use, but it also can be stored as fat.

We Need Sugar—to an Extent

Our body is fueled by carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that occurs naturally in foods, but can also be added during food processing. Sugar is consumed in many different forms, but our bodies digest almost all of the sugar we eat into glucose. Glucose is the primary sugar our bodies use to create energy.

Our bodies do need a minimum amount of sugar every day to function properly. The reason for this is that glucose is the only source of energy for the brain and red blood cells. The human bloodstream normally contains only about 5 grams of glucose at any one time, which is the equivalent of just one teaspoon of sugar.

But Too Much Sugar Can Risk your Health

Sugar is not the enemy, as it is our fuel source, but too much sugar can be. So when we eat, this is what happens…

When there is extra sugar, it can be stored in muscles and liver for later use, but it also can be stored as fat. Additionally, if there is too much sugar, adverse effects start to occur within our bodies. Too much glucose in the bloodstream is the third highest risk factor for premature death worldwide, preceded only by tobacco use and high blood pressure. Additionally, consistent high blood glucose can lead to serious diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Steps for Managing your Sugar

Now, I’m not trying to alarm you! Insulin resistance, an effect of too much sugar in our bodies commonly known as type 2 diabetes, can be managed with healthy eating, increased physical activity and education and awareness. Complications in diabetes can also be better managed with:
• early diagnosis
• health professional support
• controlling glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
• access to insulin, oral medications and monitoring devices.

You can get started on eating less sugar right away by making the following food choices:
• non-starchy vegetables
• whole-grain foods
• fish 2-3 times a week (fried fish doesn’t count)
• lean cuts of beef and pork
• removing the skin from chicken and turkey
• non-fat or low-fat dairy products
• water, unsweetened tea, coffee and calorie-free ‘diet’ drinks instead of drinks with sugar
• liquid oils for cooking instead of solid fats (limit quantities)

In addition to changing what you eat, you can change how you eat. Consider making the following changes to your eating habits for better health and balance:
• eat a variety of foods
• eat small portions several times a day
• match how much you eat with your activity level
• eat few foods high in calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.

I know this sounds like a lot, so to simplify:

Try to not go more than 3-4 hours without eating, get a portioned amount of carbohydrates and protein together and follow My Plate guidelines with portioning all types of foods. Strive to get some movement in daily. This could be going to a gym, walking, “chair walking,” water therapy, exercise classes—anything you want, really, as long as you’re moving! Don’t hesitate to also set up an appointment with one of the dietitians at Springfield Clinic, too.

Back-to-School Lunches: Tips & Tricks

As a follow-up to my school breakfast post, I want to share my strategies for healthy school lunches. As I said, we are not morning people. There is not much time to get everything ready and everyone out of the house. My philosophy: Prepping and planning are key. If it is not there, we can’t eat it, so make sure it is there. 

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping.

Prepping

My goal is to go to the grocery store every week or even two times a week, but honestly, that is not always possible. To get the most bang out of my time and wallet, I make a list on my phone. If I make the list on a piece of paper, it never fails that that piece of paper is sitting on my counter when it is time to shop. I make my list from staples needed and from my meal planning.

Planning

I strive to plan all three meals each day.  Ugh, you may be saying—yeah, its work, I’m not going to deny that. If I don’t plan, then we don’t eat or we don’t eat well. I also plan for two kid’s breakfast, a child lunch and family dinner. For myself, I make a shake daily for breakfast and leftovers for lunch—so it’s not as horrendous as you may think.

To plan the lunches, first we go through the monthly school menu and pick out what days my son wants to eat school lunch. Yes, I let him eat school lunch—even on hot dog day.  Most days he takes his lunch, I know what healthy foods he is eating at home, so to me it balances out.  I ask him what foods he would like in his lunch; I’ll listen, but typically veto many options. When kids think they have input they are more apt to eat it 🙂

I like to keep the #plategoals ( ½ of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein) in mind when packing lunches. Offer variety and keep portion sizes small. Remember there is no “parent fail” if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner. I try to include at least two colors of plant-based foods at lunch. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun! Examples: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks.

On those rare days when I have an extra minute, I try to label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus”—it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

Packing 

I plan, make my list, grocery shop, have it at home, prep it and send it. What do I send it in? I like containers, like these, that have the three compartments. They make it easy to have multiple items in the lunch box without colliding and smashing.  I am not a fan of the character lunch boxes; nothing against the characters, but they are just not big enough for the containers. We got a lunchbox this year that fits the containers, lays flat, and the handle on top to hold the containers flat.  If the handle is on the side, making the container on its side, it always leaks.

If your child’s school doesn’t have a refrigerator for cold lunches, then you need to make sure there is also room for an ice pack to help keep the lunch cool. If the lunch doesn’t stay cool then bacteria grows and the not so good happens—you get the idea.

Unpacking

When the lunchbox comes home, wipe it down and wash the container to use again.  Those lunchboxes can come home nasty at times and fill with lots of bacteria. Don’t forget about the box and wiping down the ice pack.

Here are some quick, simple healthy foods my kids will eat.

  • Sandwiches with
    • Bread, tortilla, flat bread, English muffin, bagel, day old Jimmy John bread and pita pockets.
    • To help mix it up I try to add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or cookie cutter and sandwich kabobs.
  • Leftovers
  • Entrees
    • Bagels with cream cheese, quesadilla, nachos, ravioli and pasta.
  • Fruit
    • Applesauce, fresh fruit (apple slices, grapes, orange slices, cutie or pear), or canned fruit, canned in light syrup.
  • Vegetables
    • Salad with salad dressing in a small cup to drizzle on, raw veggies with ranch dressing or hummus to dip in, or cold roasted vegetables.
  • Grains
    • Whole-wheat crackers, pretzels, goldfish crackers, or baked chips.
  • Treats
    • One cookie, rice Krispy treat, Oreo, or tootsie roll.

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping. There is no foolproof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!

Help Your Kids Eat Right

August is Kids Eat Right Month—what a great time to help kids learn about nutrition and better food choices! As a dietitian mom, you would think my kids are poster children. They definitely are not, especially my middle child. Goodness, do my children love their sweets, snack foods and treats; it can be a challenge to get them to eat right. I have discovered the best way to get them eating healthy is getting them in the kitchen to help and learn.

Having a 16-month, 3 year old and 6 year old it is limiting on what they can and can’t do in the kitchen. Often times it ends up being a much BIGGER disaster when they help, but it makes for good teaching and fun memories. Our two older children have their own apron with their name on it along with their own cooking utensils that I feel are safe and age appropriate to use. This helps to entice them into the kitchen. I try to get their input on what we should cook/make for the snack or meal we are working on.

To help things go smoother, I try to stock better-for-you choices in my pantry/snack drawer (yes we have a snack drawer), and then the kids have the choice to take it upon themselves to experiment.

That is what cooking – and creating – is all about: the discovery and the delicious result.

CLICK HERE to print off the Kid-Friendly Kitchen Tasks for Every Age PDF!

Here are a few of the things we like to make together in the kitchen.

 

 

 

1. Trail Mix

Whatever we have in the cabinet, pantry and snack drawer (within reason) the kids can grab and mix. Some ingredients they like are pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, cereal, whole-grain goldfish crackers, almonds and mini marshmallows.

2. Smoothie

We start with a base of water and ice, and add from there— fresh or frozen fruit of any kind, Greek yogurt, Sugar Free/Fat Free pudding powder. I also have a shake product we use from a former weight management program I worked with and we like to add that as well.

3. Wraps

We lay out whole wheat tortilla and then the kids use their age appropriate knife to spread peanut butter on the wrap. They sprinkle a few chocolate chips and lay a banana in the center. The kids with assistance from me roll up the tortilla. Either they eat like this or I will cut in to pinwheel size for them to eat.

4. Watermelon and Blueberry Salad

I slice the watermelon into thick slices and the kids use cookie cutters to cut shapes out of the watermelon. We then throw in any berries we have—blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and even grapes.

5. Chocolate Chips Banana Bread

This may not be the healthiest of recipes, but it is a huge hit in our house, and we only make it a few times a year.

What You Need:

  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup low fat sour cream
  • ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
  • 2 medium bananas

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease loaf pan.
  2. Mix together melted butter and sugar, and add in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, then add to butter mixture
  4. Add in sour cream, bananas, and chocolate chips. Spread in loaf pan.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until baked through.
  6. Cool on wire rack in pan, and remove from pan to finish cooling.

Should you be counting your calories?

The other day I was with a patient and she said, “Megan I’m frustrated with you”. That took me aback for a minute; I felt our sessions had been going well and she was working towards her goals. She went on to tell me I had not given her a calorie count to follow.

 

Now, this is not the first time I have heard this. We hear so many times calories in=calories out, so we must count our calories, right? NO! That is not so and I am not a dietitian that recommends calorie counting to my patients and here is why.

Our bodies are very complex. Trying to simplify the way our bodies work by tracking a single a calorie, is not necessarily effective.

Counting calories can leave you feeling hungry, deprived, upset, and eventually, right back to your original weight or higher. Not only can you feel exhausted and empty as you restrict your body of what it needs, but also any weight you do lose ends up coming back anyway once you start “eating” again. It’s a lose-lose situation. Not only do you not achieve the desired result, but you also feel defeated and terrible about yourself!

So what counts?

Eat healthier by cutting back portions and adding in non-starchy vegetables.
Remember your #plategoals— ¼ protein, ¼ carbohydrate and ½ non-starchy vegetables. Try this approach to every meal; it eliminates the need to count calories! The #plategoals method can provide half the calories of a typical meal, with the same volume, if not more— and get this, 1-2 times the nutrients.

 

Eat every few hours.
Snack between meals; be sure to include a protein and a carbohydrate. This frequent eating, not grazing, helps to fuel your body and boost your metabolism.

Here are some great snack ideas:

  • One half banana or one medium apple with 1 Tbsp nut butter
  • ½ c lite peaches and ½ c low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2 Tbsp hummus and ½ c sugar snap peas
  • 5 reduced fat Triscuits® with 1 oz low-fat cheese
  • One half of a whole-wheat pita stuffed with ½ c lite tuna or egg salad
  • One whole multi-grain English muffin topped with tomato sauce and 1 oz low-fat mozzarella cheese, then baked
  • 10 multi-grain Wheat Thins® with 1 oz low-fat string cheese
  • One small baked potato topped with salsa and 1 oz low-fat cheese
  • ½ c fruit blended with 1 c fat-free/low-fat yogurt and 2 Tbsp flaxseed meal
  • ½ c goldfish crackers made with whole grain and a medium apple
  • Whole-wheat tortilla, topped with ½ c apples and low-fat cheddar cheese, and then heated in microwave
  • 9oz angel food cake or reduced fat biscuit with 1 c strawberries
  • One small baked sweet potato, topped with ½ c pineapple tidbits
  • 3 c low-fat popcorn with 2 Tbsp nuts

Start today by simplifying your health and weight goals by no longer counting calories, but making sure your caloric intake is sourced from the right types of food.

Click here to print off Easy “Mix and Match Meals” using the #plategoals method.

 

Roasting Vegetables 101

Oh, the smell of winter is in the air. The colder temperatures, snow, ice, winter coats, skiing, sledding and root vegetables. Can you tell this is an enjoyable time for me?

No, actually it isn’t. I don’t like cold, I don’t like skiing, and I’m not a big fan of snow. Yeah, yeah I know, I live in Illinois, but I’m still not use to it! However, I do love root vegetables because you can roast these vegetables and they are fabulous to eat. They are like a guilty pleasure, almost too good to be good for you! Plus, it is super, super easy to do.

Click here to print off Roasting Vegetables 101

Optional: Stir/turn the vegetables 1 to 2 times during the baking process.

When roasting vegetables, go easy on the oil, which is high in calories and fat. You may also consider substituting oil for balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, tamari, lemon, lime juice, etc.

When done roasting, serve them as a side dish, pile them on a sandwich, inside a panini, or puree them to make soup. Happy Eating!!

A perfectionist’s guide to New Year’s Resolutions

As we start a new year, we think about setting New Year’s Resolutions and so many of these resolutions focus around “perfecting” ourselves.  Well, let me tell you perfection is quite a funny thing because IT DOESN’T EXIST!!! When we try so very hard to reach the unattainable it can wreak havoc on our bodies and cause anxiety, tension, headaches, depression, etc. Thus, causing a destructive relationship around food.

How many times have you tried diet, after diet, after diet? You lose the weight and then gain the weight back, you know the old adage ‘yo-yo dieter’. We try to be perfectionist on the diet, but find we are trying to reach the unattainable and give up after a while because those food rules and deprivation aren’t working. Then the weight comes back on and the anxiety, tension, depression, etc. accelerates because we couldn’t be PERFECT.

So let’s try this year to let go of the perfectionistic thoughts and regain our relationship with food.

  1. Ask yourself why. Why do I want to fill in the blank?
  • What is the underlying perfectionistic tendency with this question? Is the WHY because of a life transition like children, spouse, marriage, divorce, career/career change, medical diagnosis, friendship, etc.? You can’t always have control over life events, so because of this are you trying to take control somewhere else, such as with food.

2. Embrace your diet imperfections.

  • I know this is hard, I struggle with it too, but I’m giving you permission this year to not be perfect. It’s okay to fail and give in from time to time allowing foods you desire to bring enjoyment and pleasure to eating. When you do this, your relationship with yourself and food will be that much more joyful.

3. Focus on mindful eating.

  • By being mindful of your eating, this allows you to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through your food selections. Using your senses can be both satisfying and nourishing. Thus, acknowledging your response to food without judgment and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to help guide your food decisions.