Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Dinner’s Ready

Dinner time is often the one chance for everyone to sit down together, share a meal and discuss life’s events that day. However, in today’s busy world, this Norman Rockwell scene often is replaced with everyone jammed into the car and going through a drive-thru window. Did you know that families who sit together at home for three or more meals per week are more likely to consume:Norman-Rockwell-Freedom-from-Want-1943

  • More fruits and vegetables
  • Less fried food and soda
  • Less saturated fat and trans fat
  • More fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins B6, B12, C and E

When you think about these facts, it makes perfect sense that a home-cooked meal is going to be more nutritious than one purchased from the fast-food, drive-thru window. Most fast-food purchases include fried foods (chicken nuggets or chicken tenders, fries, fish fillets, onion rings) and a sugary-sweetened beverage, resulting in meals that are loaded with saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. When meals are prepared at home, they are more likely to include a fruit and/or vegetable, a lean protein that has been grilled or baked, a whole grain product and either water or low-fat milk to drink.

Two nutrients that most American kids do not consume enough of are dietary fiber and potassium. Additionally, we are not getting enough plant-based foods. Eating more plant-based foods can help easily increase both dietary fiber and potassium intake. Foods that are excellent sources of potassium include: acorn and butternut squash, avocados, baked beans, bananas, broccoli, cantaloupe, mushrooms, nectarines, kiwi, spinach, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, oranges, tomatoes. Dietary fiber can be found in whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta, nuts and seeds, beans (all varieties), berries, apples, pears, oranges, oats and peas to name a few. Adding these foods to familiar recipes or serving them by themselves is a wonderful way of improving nutritional intake at the dinner table.

Eating together as a family not only sounds like a great idea, research is showing that there are both social and health benefits that can be experienced by all family members.1 Additionally, children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times per week are2:

  • More likely to be in a normal weight range
  • Have healthier eating patterns

Additional benefits of family meal times include:

  • Better academic performance
  • Better connectedness and communication at home
  • Better language and communication skills
  • Opportunities to model healthy eating habits
  • More family time

As our families grow and take on more extracurricular activities, it can be more difficult to have everyone sit down at the same time for dinner. Making time in everyone’s schedules for a family meal has benefits that go beyond nutritional health. In a report published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2011, they found that teens who consumed dinners with their families 5-7 times per week compared to those who sat down with the family less than 3 times per week were3:

  • 4x less likely to use tobacco
  • 2x less likely to use alcohol
  • 2.5x less likely to use marijuana

To limit distractions, make mealtimes a no-phone zone and turn off the television. Remember to make family meal time fun! Discussing bad grades or negative events should not occur at the dinner table. Positive family talks can be stemmed from questions like:

  • What was the best thing that happened today?
  • What was the funniest thing you saw or heard today?
  • Did you learn anything new today?
  • If you could eat the same vegetable every single day, what would it be?
  • What has been your favorite memory so far this year?

1.Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Children and Adolescents. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240.

2.Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Relate to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. May 2011.

3.The Importance of Family Dinners VII. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. September 2011.


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Grilling, Baking, Marinating — OH MY! Part 1

pork chop peachesWhile I just earned 50 brownie points from my sister for making a Wizard of Oz reference, for many people, food preparation, especially grilling, can be as scary as flying monkeys.(That’s another 50 points!)

Grilling is most commonly associated with the meats: chicken, burgers, steak and hotdogs. But did you know, this cooking method is also a wonderful opportunity to prepare fruit and vegetable sides too! And, summer is one of the most bountiful seasons for produce, making it easy to purchase fresh, colorful additions to your meals.

For vegetables, all you need is three simple ingredients: olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Zucchini, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus make excellent choices for first-time vegetable grillers. Simply brush a little olive oil on the vegetables, add your seasonings and in less than 10 minutes, your vegetables should be done! Adding fruits and vegetables to your grill plate has benefits of color, nutrients (vitamins, minerals and fiber) and they help make up a well-balanced meal.

Too often, I see grilled items being served with potato salad, beans and mac n cheese. While potatoes are a vegetable and beans are a good source of fiber, all three of these items are starches. A well-balanced meal should only contain no more than one starch item and most of the time, that role is filled by the bun (preferably whole wheat) used for meat.

When you grill fruit, you often intensify its flavor. Peaches, pineapple slices and apples are some of my favorite fruits to throw on the grill. They make fantastic additions to meals or add a new twist to healthy desserts. Season apple slices with cinnamon and nutmeg, grill and serve with 1 ½ cup scoop of frozen Greek yogurt for an instant hit with the family. Kabobs can be created using fruits or vegetables. Try marinating vegetable kabobs in Italian dressing or drizzle a little bit of chocolate sauce over cooked fruit kabobs.

Serving food on a stick is another secret weapon for getting kids of all ages to eat their fruits and vegetables.

This Lemon-Mint Pork Chop and Grilled Peach recipe is an Olympic Gold Medalist at our household.

  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1 small red onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 peaches, halved, pitted and cut into 1 inch wedges

1. Combine all ingredients except for peaches in a large Ziploc bag. Shake ingredients and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or overnight, preferred).

2. Grill pork chops on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, turning only once.

3. Place onions and peaches on grill and cook for 4 minutes, turning frequently until crisp and tender.

4. Divide among 4 plates and serve with a couple leaves of mint and parsley for garnish.

 


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Label Reading 101, Part 2

Label Reading 101, our first lesson on label reading educated us on how to understand the serving size, calories and amount of fat values that are listed on the nutrition facts label. We know to be aware of individually packaged food items like chips because they often come with this hidden message: “You got served…twice!” It’s also important to look at the bigger picture, such as amount of added sugars or sodium, when selecting an item with reduced-fat or fat-free labeling.

Today, we’ll tackle some of the other important nutrient information that is posted on the label:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • “Sugar-free”

Carbohydrates. Total carbohydrates is a very important value to monitor, especially if you are a diabetic and need to watch your carb intake. Remember, the gram amount listed is per the indicated serving size of the product. I know what you’re thinking—isn’t sugar more important to observe? When it comes to carb-counting, it is more important to look at the total carbohydrates number. Fiber and sugars are indented underneath this value because they are components of the sum of total carbohydrates in the food item. The other missing components are starch and sugar alcohols, which are not required to be listed. It is a good idea to compare the sugar content when looking at two like items. One cup of Cheerios contains just one gram of sugar, while one cup of Frosted Flakes packs in almost 15 grams of sugar. Clearly, the Cheerios would be the better choice in this scenario.

Fiber. Did you know that the average American needs at least 25 grams of fiber per day? Fiber is a wonderful nutrient that can help control appetite, improve feelings of fullness, help reduce cholesterol levels, promote a healthy colonic environment and possibly help improve blood sugar control. It can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and nuts/seeds. Choosing healthy foods includes incorporating foods that are high in fiber. When looking at the label, try to choose foods with at least three to four grams of fiber per serving. Make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of water if consuming foods that are very high in fiber such as beans, legumes or fiber-fortified cereal products, such as Fiber One or Fiber Plus.

Sodium. When you think of someone who needs to watch their sodium intake, we typically think of Uncle John, who had a heart attack last year, or your neighbor, Jess, who has had two kidney stones. In reality, everyone should be monitoring sodium intake. A good rule of thumb is to limit meals to no more than 600 mg of sodium. Keeping up with these recommendations becomes very difficult when consuming a lot of processed food items. Choosing fruits, vegetables and fresh lean proteins are easy ways of consuming foods with lower sodium contents. Using fresh spices and herbs is another way to add flavor and zip to our meals without adding to our sodium intake. Check out this article on finding the herb/spice that’s right for you.

Calcium. Individual calcium needs range from 1000 mg to as much as 1500 mg per day. A common question is, “how much calcium am I consuming if it’s listed as a percentage on the food label?” Here is a little secret: add a ’0′ to the percent value listed for calcium and that is how many milligrams the item contains. For example, one eight ounce serving of almond milk reads it has 45% of calcium; this means it contains 450 mg per eight ounce serving. Keep in mind that calcium is the only nutrient this trick applies to. When monitoring calcium intake, remember that your body only absorbs about 500 mg in one sitting. This is especially important for individuals who are taking calcium supplements and monitoring calcium intake.

“Sugar-free.” Become more aware of sugar-free products as this “health halo” tricks a lot of us. Many studies have found that when people perceive an item to be healthier, such as foods with low-fat or sugar-free on the label, we tend to consume larger portions of them. Using Calorie King, I compared Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with Russell Stover Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cups.

Serving Size

Calories

Carbohydrates

Reese’s
Peanut Butter Cups

2 pieces (1 pkg)
1.5 oz

210

24 grams

Russell Stover
Sugar Free
Peanut Butter Cups

4 pieces
1.3 oz

180

17 grams

One important message to take away from this is that sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate-free or calorie-free. If you are someone who is monitoring your carbohydrate intake, it’s important to always check the labels, whether an item is sugar-free or not.

Reading food labels is very important for monitoring your nutritional intake. Some of the best foods for us don’t even have a label: fruits, vegetables or fresh proteins. Try to do most of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store and limit purchases from the center aisles for improved nutrient quality of food choices.

food-vs-product


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National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month, an educational campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each year, a theme is chosen to help promote good eating habits and increased physical activity patterns. This year’s theme is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day” and puts an emphasis on an individualized approach to dietary habits. We know that dietary habits are influenced by food preferences, cultural practices, environment, lifestyle and health concerns. Choosing the foods that best fit your individualized needs is this year’s focus.

In 2010, the USDA changed their nutrition education graphic from the MyPyramid to the new, colorful MyPlate. The MyPlate emphasizes filling ½ your plate with non-starchy vegetables and fruit, ¼ with lean proteins and ¼ with grains/starch with a dairy/calcium source on the side. This method focuses on increasing nutrient intake through better portion control of our different food groups.

Vegetables: Spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini and the list goes on and on! There are many ways to enjoy vegetables. You can serve them raw in a salad, roasted in the oven or grilled. Remember, the flavors and texture of vegetables change depending on the way you prepare and season them.

Asparagus is a great vegetable to add to your plate.

Asparagus is a great vegetable to add to your plate.

Fruits: Apple slices, oranges, berries, melons and avocados are wonderful additions to any meal. You can add fruit to salads, or grill them for a fun, fruit kabob.

Proteins: There are many ways to add protein to your plates. Traditionally, we think of chicken, turkey, fish, pork and lean beef, but beans, nuts, seeds and tofu are great ways to add protein for meatless meals.

Grains/Starch: Aim for whole grains to fill ¼ of your plate such as: quinoa, barley, brown or wild rice, whole wheat pasta or whole grain bread. Remember, sweet potatoes, corn and peas are categorized as a starch when using the plate method.

This individualized approach to healthy living also applies to physical activity. Personally, the thought of getting on the elliptical or running on the treadmill makes me cringe, and I wouldn’t last a day on “The Biggest Loser” because I hate when people scream at me to workout harder. But, that’s okay! I have found that I love getting cardio by dancing in hip hop and Zumba® classes, and I also thoroughly enjoy strength training. The key to engaging in regular physical activity is to find the workouts that you enjoy doing!

Format: Choosing a mode of exercise that you love will help you stay motivated and stick to your goals. If you like working out in groups, look into group fitness classes (I know a pretty fantastic instructor too :)). If you love high intensity workouts and feeling like a beast, CrossFit may be the answer for you. Swimming, water aerobics or Aqua Zumba® can be less stressful on joints for individuals with joint pain or other health concerns.

Music: Another motivator that drives our workouts is music. One of the most intimate things that you can have at the tips of your eardrums is your own personalized, sweat-provoking playlist. Whether it’s cheesy ’80s (my personal favorite), classic rock or today’s pop-country hits, choose the songs that will get your heart-pumping and body moving!

A fun way to enjoy fruit.

A fun way to enjoy fruit.

Time: One barrier of physical activity for me is always finding the time to do it. Through many trial and error experiments, I have found that going to the gym directly after work is the best time for me. For others, working out before work or during their lunch break fits best in their schedule.

“Eat Right. Your Way, Every Day”

We all have our own unique needs specific to our gender, body types, age and physical activity level. Choosing the foods that supply your body with the nutrients right for you and engaging in physical activities that you enjoy are the two components to leading healthier lifestyles.

 

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