“Christmas” and “cookies” are words that should always be together, right? But sometimes with all the cookies we make and receive around the holidays, we want something a little healthier to offset icing and sprinkles! Try out these apple “cookies” for something nutritiously sweet!
During the cold and dreary winter months, food can almost feel a bit lacking as we crave the summer’s bountiful abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. But lucky for all of us, there are plenty of lesser-appreciated foods, such as root vegetables, beans, frozen fruits and vegetables—even the canned variety.
I totally get it, as the temperature outside (and in my office) continues to drop, it’s tempting to curl up with your favorite comfort food. But keeping our bodies well nourished is crucial to not only prevent weight gain but also to keep our immune systems fighting against all those pesky germs.
The key to remember is: “If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.” So you’ve got to make sure these better-for-you foods that I mentioned earlier are readily available, whether that be in the house, at work or—believe it or not—in the car. How do we make this happen? Well, for starters, grocery shopping.
Maybe you’re like me and are not a fan of grocery shopping. In the winter, especially, it can be a dangerous expedition with all those bags and grocery cart! Plus, the coats, coats, coats, coats—(I’ve got 3 kids, so I feel like coats take up the whole grocery cart!)
To try and make this expedition or triathlon as painless and accident free as possible, I strive to plan our meals for the entire week. I include leftovers with this meal planning too. I list all the ingredients needed and see if I have what we need already in the cabinets or fridge. Yes, its tedious and one I do after the kids go to bed, but saves trips to the grocery store. Plus, I try to find recipes with similar ingredients for the week. For example, if you have carrots for soup, think about other ways you can have the carrots, such as roasted for a side, shredded in a salad or cooked in the slow cooker with a roast.
Meal planning is important because it saves you time and money. How many times have you made a trip in the in the snow, only to get home and realize you forgot an ingredient (or more!) meaning you have to either go back to the store, figure out something completely different—or giving up and running through the drive-thru for dinner. Planning ahead will save you the hassle!
Maybe this could be the time to try out the drive up or delivery services offered by many local grocery stores. You could also try some of the meal delivery services, but I encourage to be cautious when selecting one (and this is a whole blog most in itself).
Stock the Pantry
While it may be more expensive in the short-term, the more you have pre-stocked in your pantry/cabinets, the more things you have to get creative with later. I like to have canned beans, different kinds of rice (brown, jasmine, basmati, wild), quinoa, oatmeal and dry roasted/unsalted nuts.
Look at Sale Items
Keep an open mind to clearance grocery items. You may be surprised to find that a random item could spark an idea for a meal or snack. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables can be expensive, so watch for sales, but don’t be afraid to substitute in-season fruits or vegetables in your recipe.
Don’t Forget about Snacks
I encourage you to stock up on snacks and stash them in lots of places, especially in the car. Some examples are: trail mix, protein bars (that have at least 20 grams protein), whole wheat crackers, squeezable unsweet applesauce, unsalted/dry roasted nuts, roasted chickpeas, hardboiled eggs, string cheese, snack size bags of popcorn, hand fruits and vegetables (grapes, apples, blueberries, baby carrots) just to name a few.
So while you curl up next to the fire this winter, be thinking about how you can plan ahead, try something new and have food available—and don’t forget to eat every few hours.
I want you to party in style this holiday season, but we have to remember, not to party party! If we go overboard—and many people feel that the holidays are an excuse to do so—we can easily wreak havoc on our gut, immune system, cognitive function, blood sugars and waistline. So here are a few tips of the trade to hopefully help you make it through without the fuzzy brain feeling this December.
Tip #1 Choose only one of the 3 “C’s”
Cake, carbohydrate or cocktails.
Don’t choose all of them, but one of them. And cocktails don’t just include a mixed drink, but beer and wine as well.
Tip #2 Contribute a dish
Remember, if it’s there, you will eat it—and if it isn’t, you can’t. So bring a dish that you know is better for you to fill your plate with. I highly recommend some kind of non-starchy vegetable. In the winter, we typically prefer our non-starchy vegetables cooked, but they don’t have to be.
Tip #3 Practice mindful eating
Set your intention to feel better when you’re done than you did when you started, then eat with attention to your food and your body.
Think about how you want to enjoy the holiday. Then take yourself mentally through the food event. Imagine yourself enjoying the food and walking away when you are satisfied and not stuffed. It is quite miserable when you are stuffed: You don’t seem to enjoy the company or atmosphere as much. Plus, you typically end up falling asleep and not spending time with loved ones.
Tip #4 Use the Amazing Space Trick
As you fill your plate, maintain a little border of space between each food item, just enough so you can see some plate.
To test this, we made two plates with turkey, dressing, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and green beans. One was portioned how the average person in the United States plates their food, the other, according to the space trick. Guess how many calories were saved with the same types of food, but with space in between each food item: about 700 calories!
Tip #5 Have a response plan
Food is complicated, however the common ingredient in every person’s favorite comfort food is love. It’s the truth. There’s no substitute for thought and love and care. Not even time. So, when you eat a person’s food, they feel loved and so many times this can hinder your health goals.
As they say, “Why don’t you have more,” “There is plenty left” or “One bite isn’t going to hurt you”: Well, one bite or the second helping can. So be prepared with a few responses, such as “This is delicious, but I’m full” or “I’d love to take some leftovers” (they don’t have to know what you will do with the leftovers when you get home) or “No, thank you”—even if you have to repeat it.
Tip #6 Find something besides food to enjoy with family
One thing to remember is that children are no different from adults when it comes to overindulging during the holidays. Unlike adults, most children don’t have the understanding of how choosing a sugar cookie over broccoli can lead to weight gain. So, my personal goal for my family around the holidays is to get us out of the kitchen and enjoy other traditions together besides food.
Some other ideas may be to watch a holiday movie together, play board or card games, sing with a karaoke machine, play on a gaming system, moving around (soccer, a walk through the neighborhood, ice skating or a family tournament of Just Dance) or volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. Activities like this can make more lasting memories than a boat of gravy.
The bottom line is:
If you are practicing the healthful, mindful eating throughout the year and being physically active, then the holidays will simply be a celebration. Once the celebration is over, it’s back to the same routine. Have a safe and healthy holiday season!
November 14th was World Diabetes Day. To acknowledge this, it is important to understand why there is a day dedicated to diabetes awareness. The burden of diabetes has quadrupled over the past decades; the World Health Organization estimates there are 422 million adults who currently have diabetes worldwide. That is 1 in 11 adults. Data from the National Diabetes Statistics Report found that in 2017, there were 30.3 million people who had diabetes, of which 23.1 million people are diagnosed and 7.2 million people remain undiagnosed.
The burden of diabetes is not just in the numbers affected but also in health costs, and, most importantly, quality of life. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputations. WHO projects that diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death in 2030. Currently, it is estimated that 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and another 2.2 million deaths were attributable to high blood glucose in 2015 and 2012, respectively.
The above numbers are why we must focus on awareness, prevention and treatment of diabetes.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Diabetes can be treated. Dietary and lifestyles factors have been proven to make the largest impact on decreasing, preventing and treating the complications from diabetes. As with most progressive illnesses, diabetes onset typically goes unrecognized by the patient for a number of years, with the exception of type 1 diabetes, which is typically a sudden onset of symptoms. So what are the warning signs of high blood sugars and possibly undiagnosed diabetes?
Symptoms of hyperglycemia to look for:
Frequent thirst and hunger, even right after eating
Changes in vision
Sores that won’t heal
Gum disease, gums pulling away from teeth, red, swollen gums or changes in the way your dentures fit
Tingling, pain or numbness in hands or feet
How does a diabetes diagnosis happen?
When should someone consider getting screened for diabetes?
Are overweight (BMI >25)
Are 45 years or older
Have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
Have ever had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
Are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, or Alaska Native (Some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at higher risk.)
What tests will my providers/doctors order, and what will they mean?
less than 5.7%
5.7% to 6.4%
6.5% or higher
Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG)
less than 100 mg/dl
100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl
126 mg/dl or higher
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)
less than 140 mg/dl
140 mg/dl to 199 mg/dl
200 mg/dl or higher
Your doctor will typically use two methods to confirm a diagnosis of prediabetes or diabetes.
What comes after a diabetes diagnosis?
In either case of prediabetes or diabetes, the treatment includes a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco. It is important to incorporate these with any medication regimen your doctor may prescribe. In fact, diet and lifestyle changes have been shown to decrease your hemoglobin A1c by one to two percent!
When you are thinking of beginning a new dietary plan, you must incorporate schedule, food behaviors, and even your favorite foods. For example, if you grew up on meat and potatoes, I would not say you could never eat those foods again. Instead, it is important to discuss healthier cuts of meat or poultry or healthier types, portions and ways to prepare potatoes. Many people think a diet is depriving yourself of food—instead think of adding new foods to portion-controlled foods you enjoy. A good guideline is the USDA’s Plate Method.
Using this method, you can incorporate a controlled amount of carbohydrate sources, while increasing your non-starchy vegetable intake. The most challenging part for most individuals is making half of your plate non-starchy vegetables. It helps to get creative with your vegetables—explore zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash pasta or even eggplant pizzas! Or, try this cauliflower rice recipe:
From vampire bats to Kit Kats®, Halloween is a long-standing tradition celebrated with tricks and treats. In fact, it’s one of my favorite holidays. I have always found humor in dressing up in non-traditional Halloween costumes, even at an early age. Luckily, I have great friends and family that are willing to partake in my couple/group Halloween costume extravaganzas.
There is no “healthy” candy
As a dietitian, the most common question I get this time of year is, “What is the best/healthiest candy to eat”? Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer. But don’t worry! This is not going to be your typical “don’t eat candy” Halloween post. In my eyes, it’s perfectly fine to eat your heart out in candy for a night (or two). Why? Because we are a product of what we routinely do, not what we occasionally do. This applies to all aspects of life, but especially to our health.
Everything in Moderation
What I mean by this concept is that it is perfectly fine to enjoy some less-nutritious foods, such as pizza, donuts and candy, occasionally. The problem is that most people enjoy these foods far too often than what their metabolisms are capable of processing. I am more concerned with the “daily candy” our youth and adults consume. Routine consumption of these foods can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.
Cereals, Pop-Tarts® and pastries are some of the best ways to start off your day…. If you want a sugar and insulin surge. These habits lead to fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin control throughout the day, disrupt concentration and can suck the energy right out of you. Lower sugar options include eggs, lean breakfast meats, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese and small servings of fruit.
Juice, soda, sweet tea and sports drinks are simply sugar in a liquid form. Perceived benefits of caffeine, vitamins and electrolytes are far outweighed by the consequences of the rapid absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Not only does this sugar tidal wave spike insulin levels, it also increases preferences towards high-sugar foods, so the cycle unfortunately continues.
Often, people gravitate towards items that are “sugar-free,” such as diet soda or sugar-free snacks, with the assumption that these products are healthier. I firmly stand my ground that low-calorie, chemical versions of sugar are no healthier for you than real and processed sugars. They may have a reduced nutrient density, but research shows that sugar substitutes greatly damage our gut lining. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, propelling a host of other disease conditions.
Fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks and fruit-fillings are not fruit. They are pastes and mixtures created to taste like fruit. While these foods may appear to be healthier choices than other snack foods, nutritionally, they are no different than Skittles®.
Milk and yogurt contain both natural and added sugars. Calcium intake is important but not at the price of 20 grams of sugar, which is what you may find in a standard serving of yogurt (even Greek) and especially flavored milk varieties. Opt for low-sugar calcium sources such as unsweetened milk substitutes, broccoli, spinach, cheese, cottage cheese or whey/casein-based protein powders.
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.
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.