Guest Blogger : Belly Fat and Your Risk of Chronic Disease

Watch Your WaistDo you have more than an inch to pinch? When you look down, have the tips of your toes disappeared? If so, you might want to measure your belly fat, which can increase your risk for chronic disease.

According to an article by Mayo Clinic staff; it is common for “belly fat,” also known as visceral fat, to appear after menopause due to low levels of estrogen. It is estrogen that influences where we store fat in our body. So let’s measure our risk! Determine your waist circumference by locating the top of your hip bones. Use a measuring tape from this point to pull snug, but not so much to compress your skin. Run the tape around your middle; take your final measurement when you exhale.

Now that we’ve measured our “belly fat,” let’s discuss why it may not “just be a cosmetic concern.” You should know that “belly fat” can increase inflammation and produce hormones that raise blood pressure, negatively change the balance of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol and promote insulin resistance, a risk factor for developing diabetes.

As a registered dietitian, I encourage people to improve their health through good nutrition and physical activity. Shed those extra pounds to avoid complications associated with “belly fat” and the “bad stuff” it creates. Eat foods that help you feel full, such as whole grains and high fiber foods like peas, dried beans and lentils. To expand your antioxidant arsenal without adding extra calories from fat, enjoy fruit and non-starchy vegetables. Great choices are berries, cherries, apples, carrots, tomatoes and dark green, leafy vegetables!

We all need to consider the effect chronic disease has on our body, but people with a genetic risk for diabetes also need to worry about the damage high blood sugars can cause to the eyes, kidneys and feet. A decrease in “belly fat” may help to reduce these effects.Woman on Exercise Machine

Other concerns for those with diabetes
In addition to a healthy diet, be as physically active as possible. In general most of us should be at least moderately active. Moderate activity is defined as being physically active at least 150 minutes per week. This level of activity could be met by walking 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

Talk to your physician about the importance of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D is associated with a 30% to 50% increased risk for breast cancer. Remember, some of our best defense can be found in “super foods” such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cranberries and green tea. You could also add ground flaxseed to your cereal or have a moderate amount (1-2 servings a day) of soy or tofu. Did you know certain brands of mushrooms are a great source for vitamin D?

Please know, current literature is still mixed about the impact of plant estrogens in people with hormonally sensitive cancer of the breast, ovaries or prostate. Speak with your physician about this topic and practice caution with the use of phytoestrogen supplements, soy powders and capsules, as they could be linked to recurrence of cancer. As with all medical nutrition recommendations, individualization is essential. Speak with a registered dietitian today if you have more questions about healthy eating for disease prevention.

Schleder, Missy RD

Melissa S. Schleder
Registered Dietitian, Springfield Clinic Endocrinology
Resources: ; ;; ;

Cholesterol Month – Part 3

heartexerciseThe final two factors of cholesterol: physical activity and weight.

Physical Activity

  • Daily physical activity helps reduce the risk of heart disease and can also help with weight management. It can help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and additionally boost your good cholesterol levels (HDL). Exercise helps speed up the rate that LDL molecules are sent back to the liver to be turned into bile salts or excreted. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, if not all days. Additional physical activity may be needed for weight loss/weight management. Any exercise is better than no exercise; however, research indicates that exercise performed at higher intensities may be more effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels and additionally raising the good HDL levels.
  • Find an activity that you love, or even several activities so you can vary up your routine. A combination of strength-training and cardio exercises has shown to be very beneficial for reducing risk factors for heart disease (weight loss, lowering blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels).
  • Exercise alone cannot guarantee one will not have high cholesterol. Diet and genetics also play very strong roles in determining one’s cholesterol levels. However, additional benefits observed from being physically active include bone strength, mood improvement, stress management and can decrease the risk of diabetes, cancer and stroke.  heartplate


  • Being overweight/obese is an additional risk factor for heart disease. Weight gain also tends to increase cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help decrease LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels and help increase HDL levels.
  • Losing just 5-10% of body weight can show improvements in cholesterol levels. Consuming 500 less calories every day can help you lose 1 pound per week. You can even combine this with exercise by consuming 250 less calories every day additionally to burning 250 calories from exercise. Easy ways to cut down on calories include:
    • Eliminating soda, sweet tea, juice or other sugary-sweetened beverages.
    • Using one slice of bread instead of two.
    • Limiting cheese consumption.
    • Avoid snacking while at the computer/watching TV.
    • Swap your potato chips or pretzels for carrots, bell pepper slices and celery sticks.
    • Choosing a side salad instead of a side of pasta or potatoes.

Sometimes, diet and lifestyle are not enough to lower your cholesterol levels to a safe range. Your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication. Always take these medications as prescribed. Additionally, consult with appleheartfruityour physician if you are considering taking an herbal supplement to decrease your cholesterol levels. In many cases, the safety of these supplements has not been proven since their dosage amounts are unregulated.

Click here to see parts 1 & 2 of this blog series.

Apples to Apples

Apples are one of the most iconic fruits of the fall season. Fall marks back to school themed apple decor and the fun tradition of bobbing for apples. Apples serve as a symbol for healthy eating. Many families use apples in theirapples everyday diet from a snack to an apple pie.  In fact, most are familiar with the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. But is there any truth behind this old proverb? This happens to be one saying worth repeating.

  • Apples under the microscope:
    • Quercetin, a flavonoid found in apples has been studied for its possible protective benefits against prostate cancer.
    • Researchers at Cornell University showed that nutrients found in the skin of apples inhibited the reproduction of colon cancer cells by 43%.
    • The National Cancer Institute released a statement saying that the flavonoids, like the ones found in apples, may reduce the risk of lung cancer by as much as 50%.
    • Other studies have shown that apples can also help reduce the risk of asthma and possibly type 2 diabetes.
    • Apples contain pectin, which is a valuable source of soluble fiber (1.0 gram per medium-sized apple). Soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol levels and possibly help control blood sugars. The average apple contains 3-5 grams of total fiber, which can help support digestive health.
  • Choosing your perfect apple:
    • Apples come in many varieties. They can be sweet, tart, crisp, soft, red, yellow, green; the combinations are endless! I personally love a sweet, crisp apple so I tend to stick with Gala, Fuji or the Honeycrisp varieties. Picking the perfect apple can depend on your usage of the apple. Different varieties are recommended if you’re simply snacking or using apples for cooking/baking purposes. Below is a list of apples, their profiles and recommended uses. appleVarietiesChart

    Eating an apple a day can definitely be part of a healthy diet. The phytochemicals and antioxidants found in apples help our bodies defend itself from oxidative stress. However, processed apple products, such as juice, typically do not retain these nutritious properties. When choosing an applesauce, opt for the no-sugar added variety. You can naturally sweeten it with cinnamon, if needed. For a balanced snack, combine an apple with 1-2 Tbsp of peanut butter or a low-fat cheese stick. Apple chunks can be added to salads, cereal and make creative slaws and salsas! Apples are so versatile; everyone can enjoy the fruit of the season!



Building Better Salads- Part 2

Salad Dressings.

Salad Dressing IllustrationIs it just me or does everyone have at least 6 almost-empty bottles of salad dressing in their fridge? I’m sure this is a trait I picked up from my mother and it drives my husband insane. If you’re like most people, a salad just isn’t complete until it has the perfect dressing to tie all those nutritious ingredients together. While there appears to be hundreds of varieties of dressings available at the grocery store, choosing the right salad dressing not only creates the perfect salad ,but it can be beneficial to your health. Too often, our healthy salad creations are sabotaged by choosing the wrong salad dressing. Here are a few simple tips to help guide your next salad shopping adventure.

Don’t always go with the fat-free variety. There are several reasons why fat-free salad dressings are not the best selection. First of all, they don’t taste good…at all. I know this because during my early college years, I had convinced myself everything I ate had to be fat-free. Fat, along with sugar and sodium help flavor the foods found on the shelves at the grocery store. If you remove one of those elements, you’re going to have to add more of the other two in order to make up for lost flavor. We also need a healthy source of fat in order to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are found in the colorful vegetables that make up our salads.

Do monitor portion sizes. A serving of salad dressing is 2 Tbsp which is about the size of a golf ball. If you don’t’ trust yourself in only pouring 2 Tbsp on your salad, serve your salad dressing on the side and dip the tip of your fork into the dressing before each bite. This is a great technique to help control your portion size of salad dressing and it can also help slow down your speed of eating.

Don’t dress your salad too early. You only need to make this mistake once before learning this lesson. It was one of the first holidays I was spending with my boyfriend/now husband’s family. I decided to prepare a delicious spinach salad with a homemade salad dressing for everyone. Unfortunately, I put the salad dressing on the salad an hour before it was served and left everyone with a soggy, sad representation of my culinary skills.

Do try to choose a vinaigrette dressing more often.

  • Vinaigrettes spread easier than other dressings. This can help you keep your portion size of salad dressing under control.
  • The consumption of vinegar before a meal may have beneficial effects on postprandial blood sugar spikes which can be beneficial for individuals with diabetes.
  • Try making your own vinaigrettes at home by using heart-healthy olive oil as your base. A simple balsamic vinaigrette only needs:
    • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
    • 2 tsp dark brown sugar (optional)
    • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
    • ½ tsp salt
    • ½ tsp ground pepper
    • ¾ cup olive oil
  • Do be adventurous. I was always scared of choosing vinaigrette in the past simply because of the word “vinegar”. By trying new foods, I have discovered that some of my favorite dressings are different blends of vinaigrette’s like citrus-lime or roasted red pepper. salad-dressing-aisle

It’s Fair Time!

SONY DSCThe FAIR—quite possibly the quintessential summertime event. It’s a place where first dates occur, magical memories are created and you can find clowns, magicians, rides, music and…every deep-fried and sugar-coated food imaginable! My fair food diet vice came in three short words. Tom. Thumb. Donuts. To be perfectly honest, I have probably consumed thousands of calories over the years from these sugary-sweetened mini treats. Fair food is notorious for being laden with fat, sugar and calories and we can’t seem to get enough of it! There’s just something exciting about eating food on a stick, deep fried in fat or doused in powdered sugar. Having the occasional indulgence is perfectly normal; however, eating fair food every day of the week might leave you with a few surprises when you step on the scale Monday morning.

Every year, there is a new and improved fried concoction that hits the fair grounds. First there was the fried Twinkie and then came the fried Oreo and fried Klondike bar. While curiosity may lead you to these fried wonders, remember that other popular fair foods are also fried such as the jumbo corndog, fries, elephant ears and funnel cakes. Fried foods are very high in saturated and trans fats.

The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day and no more than 2 grams of trans fat per day. Following a heart healthy diet is important for everyone, but these guidelines should be strictly applied by persons with heart disease and diabetes. Saturated and trans fats are the types of fats we strive to limit in our diets because they have been found to raise triglyceride and bad cholesterol levels.

Did you know a jumbo corndog and 2 fried Oreos contain a whopping 26 grams of saturated fat and 5 grams of trans fat.  That’s more than two days of fat consumption in one snack!

If you’re trying to be somewhat diet-conscience with your fair food choices, there are healthier options available. Grilled meats will contain less trans fat than fried ones. You can almost always find a pork chop sandwich vendor and my personal favorite is the BBQ stand for a pulled pork, chicken or turkey. You can even sneak in a serving of vegetables by adding lettuce, tomato and onion to your sandwich.  Vegetable kabobs or fire-roasted corn on the cob also make healthier choices. Fairs can be an excellent opportunity to walk around and get extra physical activity.

Am I telling you to never eat fair food again? No; that would be completely unrealistic and darn right hypocritical of me. Fairs only come around once a year and the occasional indulgence is perfectly fine. What I do want to highlight is the fact that we sometimes lose touch with what moderation actually means. For many people, healthy eating behaviors are thrown out the window come 5:00 on Friday and don’t get picked back up until Monday morning. If your weekends are already filled with high-fat, high-calorie foods from appetizers, pizza, horseshoes, burgers and fries, then it may be a good idea to lean towards the lighter options served out at the fair. For people who generally eat healthy (lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, portion control of carbohydrates) all summer long, having a corndog and lemon shake-up won’t kill the diet.



When In Rome: The Mediterranean Diet

While skipping off to the coasts of Greece and Italy may seem like a fantastic idea, a less expensive option may be to bring the Mediterranean style of eating into your home. Research consistently shows that following the Mediterranean diet can help reduce one’s risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and possibly degenerative cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s pyramid

Principles of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, chicken and eggs, beans and nuts, olive oil and small amounts of dairy.
  • Regular daily physical activity.
  • Family meal times.
  • Focus on plant foods and minimal consumption of red meat and processed foods and beverages.
  • Increased use of herbs and spices, not condiments to flavor foods.
  • Diet low in saturated fat with olive oil as the main fat source.

Foods to include on your next grocery list:


  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Red/green peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Mustard/collard greens
  • Squash
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Sweet potatoes


  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pomegranate
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi


  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Tuna
  • Tilapia
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt


  • Chickpeas
  • Hummus
  • White, Black, Pinto Beans
  • Lentils


  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Ground Flaxseed
  • Pine Nuts


  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur
  • Barley
  • Wild/Jasmine/Brown Rice
  • Couscous
  • Whole Wheat Pasta

Healthy Oils/Fats

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados


  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Coriander
  • Cumin

While this is not an all-inclusive lists of foods found in the Mediterranean diet, it can be a great place to start.

What are the pros for following the Mediterranean diet?

  • Increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy fats containing omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce LDL (the bad) cholesterol levels, help prevent degenerative eye disorders and possibly reduce inflammation.
  • Increased fruit and vegetable consumption. Most people miss the mark for consuming 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Incorporating Mediterranean recipes into your meals can help you easily reach that goal.
  • Limited red meat consumption and dairy consumption. Red meat and high-fat dairy products are some of the highest sources of saturated fats. Diets high in saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Family meal times. Research shows that families who eat together consume more fiber, calcium, iron and Vitamins B6, B12, C and E and consume less sodium and added sugars. Children and adolescents who share family meal times are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier eating patterns.

The potential cons?

  • Meal planning. Most recipes require fresh ingredients that take to time to be chopped, cooked and prepared. However, planning ahead can help you utilize preparation and cooking time more efficiently.
  • Cost. Some items such as salmon, seafood and nuts can be more costly compared to other proteins.
  • Kid-friendliness. Consuming more natural flavors may take time to adjust to for young kids. Keep in mind that many children with unhealthy BMIs often consume too many processed food items and sugary-sweetened beverages.

Whether you take the Mediterranean diet on full-storm or simply incorporate a few Mediterranean-style meals into your week, consuming minimally processed foods is a great habit for a healthy lifestyle.