Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well

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Salt Substitution Solutions for the Kitchen

One of the best things we can do for heart-healthy living is reduce the amount of sodium we consume. Decreasing dietary sodium intake, in combination with exercise and consuming an abundance of fruits, vegetables, fiber and healthy fats are all the ingredients one needs to start living more heart-healthy. Unfortunately, the majority of one’s sodium intake comes from the intake of processed food items. Just remember that the fresher a product is, the more likely it is to be better for you and your heart. However, we can often take fresh ingredients and make them less healthy if we’re adding too much salt, sugar or butter to the items. Here are some healthier substitutes for increasing flavor in your dishes.

All-Purpose Spice Blend

• 5 teaspoons onion powder

• 2½ teaspoons garlic powder

• 2½ teaspoons paprika

• 2½ teaspoon dry mustard

• 1½ teaspoon crushed thyme leaves

• ½ teaspoon white pepper

• ¼ teaspoon celery seed

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Not Just Another Chicken Recipe

At our house we eat chicken…a lot. One goal that I have for this month is to try a variety of new chicken recipes (so my husband doesn’t get burnt out on having chicken five days a week!). You never have to sacrifice good flavor for eating healthy; however, you do need to step outside your comfort zone and experiment with spices, herbs and other fresh ingredients to create delicious, mouth-watering flavors. This is a perfect dish that incorporates natural ingredients and is solid on flavor. Want more healthy recipes? Follow our Pinterest board!

rosemary herb chicken recipeRosemary Herbed Chicken 

For the Chicken:

  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic (I am very liberal with this – we love garlic!)
  • 1 Tbsp of minced fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

For the Salad:

  • Mixed greens
  • ¼ avocado
  • ¼ cup artichokes (I use frozen artichoke hearts. After heating them up in the microwave, I add flavor by using an Italian seasoning blend on top of the cooked artichokes)
  • 2 Tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

1. Pre-heat oven to 400oF. Meanwhile, brush olive oil evenly over each chicken breast.

2. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread minced garlic cloves over chicken breasts and sprinkle minced rosemary on top of each piece of chicken.

3. Cook for 20-25 minutes.

4. Toss salad ingredients together while chicken is cooking.

5. Once chicken is done, pour balsamic vinegar evenly over each chicken breast. Serve separately or together as an entrée salad.

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Cleaning Up Your Habits

Do your eating habits need a little “spring cleaning?’food_MP900443279

If I could give only one piece of  nutritional advice to everyone, it would be “Eat Clean.”According to Diane Welland, MS, RD, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Clean”, clean eating is described as choosing foods that are natural and wholesome—particularly foods that are free of chemicals, additives and preservatives and refined, processed ingredients. In delivering my own message regarding clean eating, I tell patients to focus on the foods that Mother Nature gives us and consume less of the foods that come from a factory/plant. It’s amazing how different one feels when they cut out processed foods from their diet. The benefits that are associated with eating clean can include increased energy levels, improved sleeping habits, weight loss/weight management, improved nutritional intake and healthier bowel movements.

Eating clean is especially important for individuals desiring to lower their sodium intake. Only 5-10% of our sodium intake actually comes from using the salt shaker. The majority of one’s salt intake comes from the consumption of processed foods with some of the biggest culprits being: yeast breads, chicken nuggets, chicken-mixed dishes, pizza, pasta and pasta dishes, cold cuts, condiments, Mexican mixed dishes, sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs, regular cheese, pastry desserts, soups and beef and beef-mixed dishes. Eating clean helps naturally reduce one’s sodium intake since fruits and vegetables are all very low in sodium or sodium-free food choices.

Here are some tipsfood3_MP900411701 to help make clean eating a part of your lifestyle:

  Stick to the perimeter at the grocery store. This is a message that many are familiar with; however, it is not put into practice as often as it should. You won’t find the most nutritious foods in the grocery store in the canned soup aisle or next to the boxed potatoes. The most nutritious foods are the ones that often do not come in a box or package. Along the perimeter of most grocery stores, you will find the fresh produce, fresh/unseasoned meats, eggs and dairy products. Stock up with all these items first and then use the aisles of the grocery store as needed for items such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Maximize your wholesale shopping trip. It makes me very sad when I see individuals not taking advantage of the wonderfully fresh foods offered at wholesale shopping stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco. This is where I often find the best prices on items like cut broccoli, bananas, spinach, mushrooms, chicken and butternut squash. It’s far too common that you see shopping carts stocked full of frozen pizzas, fruit roll-ups, giant muffins, hot pockets and pop tarts. Sometimes buying produce in bulk can be overwhelming; but if you plan ahead and utilize your produce in multiple ways, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your family can go through it.

Focus on “wet snacks”. This is a recommendation that I give to both children and adults. Think of snacks as a mini-meal that will provide your body with energy and nutrients. “Wet snacks” are foods with a natural moisture content to them such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, cheese sticks and yogurt. Choose “dry snacks” less often since these items typically are refined carbohydrate items like crackers, pretzels, chips and granola bars.

It’s plain and simple—drink water. Make this beverage your first choice and try to get at least six-eight 8-oz glasses per day. While diet soda also contains no calories, it is still composed of unnatural products such as chemicals, coloring and artificial sweeteners.Water_iStock_000021518121Large

Clean eating is a simple lifestyle approach to eating well. It’s a basic method of “choose this more often and consume this less often.” Sometimes, nutrition by the numbers isn’t always the best approach. The moment one has to count calories or carbs, they may feel trapped by the word “diet.” Yes, in order for some people to get on track with healthier eating, a more accountable method such as counting calories is needed. However, it may be better for lifelong success to focus on dietary patterns, whole foods, fresh ingredients, fat quality instead of quantity, cooking food rather than re-heating frozen foods and consuming fewer processed foods.

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Drive-Thru Dinners- What’s the Best Option?

We are Americans. We love baseball, 4th of July, Black Friday deals, reality TV shows and eating out. In fact, we love eating out so much, 48% of the money we spend on food is spent on food consumed away from the home. Family meal times have been transformed from the dining table to inside the minivan.


Eating out every once in a while is perfectly normal. However, when this practice becomes habitual, it can have serious health consequences. In general, meals consumed away from the home are lower in many nutrients including dietary fiber, potassium and calcium to name a few. These valuable nutrients are often replaced by meals loaded with saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. Luckily for us, fast food restaurants are slowly meeting the demands of consumers by increasing the variety of healthier menu options and creating dishes with fresh ingredients. If you are looking for healthier menu items, try following these simple guidelines.

  • Winning the war on saturated fat and sodium. It’s very difficult to find menu items that are both low in saturated fat and sodium, but you can at least find options that are lower in fat content. The easiest way to accomplish this is by not ordering anything fried. Here are some quick, easy swaps to decrease the amount of fat in your next drive-thru purchase:
Healthier Items Less Healthier Items
Grilled Chicken Sandwich Crispy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich
Soft Shell Chicken Tacos (fresca style) Hard Shell Beef Tacos
Roast Beef Sandwich BBQ Rib-eye Sandwich
Eggs/Ham on English Muffin Eggs/Bacon on Biscuit/Croissant
Single Hamburger 6 Piece Chicken Nuggets
Turkey Sub with all the Veggie Fixings Meatball Sub
Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with Crispy Chicken


  • Steer clear from chicken nuggets. For real, turn around and run away as fast as you can. A 6 piece chicken nugget meal contains 281 calories and 18 grams of fat. While 281 calories seems pretty reasonable, it’s the amount of fat that makes this selection a bad choice. After crunching the numbers, we learn that 58% of this 6 piece meal is made from fat. Doesn’t that sound strange to you? After all, chicken is considered one of the leanest and most common sources of protein in our diets. The reason for this disproportion of fat and protein falls back on the way chicken nuggets are made.
  • Try to forgo the cheese. Adding cheese to a sandwich or on a salad increases the amount of saturated fat, sodium and calories in your meal. Just one slice of American cheese adds over 100 calories and almost 9 grams of fat to a sandwich. If you absolutely cannot go without adding cheese, then try to stick to lighter varieties such as natural Swiss or Mozzarella.
  • Go with calorie-free beverages.  Sticking with water or a diet-beverage can help save you hundreds of calories and limit your intake of added sugars. Tea naturally sounds healthier than soda, but unfortunately, sweet tea packs in a whopping amount of its own calories and added sugars. Try to avoid sports drinks too. These extra calories and electrolytes are completely unnecessary outside of a sport or competition.

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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

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Farmer’s Market Week 3

This week at the Illinois Products Farmer’s Market you can meet with our Endocrinology Department’s Registered Dietitian, Melissa S. Schleder, RD, LDN. Melissa will be sharing how to make low sodium seasoning and controlling your sodium intake.

You also can pick up the delicious recipe of the week. This week the recipe is Confetti Wraps. Don’t forget to collect all 22 of the recipe cards and bring them back to the last market day for a chance at the grand prize drawing. Also pick up the recipe card, make the recipe, take a picture, and post it to our facebook page to be eligible for INSTANT market bucks!


We hope to see you there!

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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



Peanut Butter Cups

2 pieces (1 pkg)
1.5 oz


24 grams

Russell Stover
Sugar Free
Peanut Butter Cups

4 pieces
1.3 oz


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.



Label Reading 101

Reading food labels can be very advantageous; you can find information on serving sizes, calories, amount of fat, calcium content and many other nutrients. However, if you’re like most people, reading food labels can become quite overwhelming.  I’ve had a family friend tell me that she doesn’t read food labels because there is too much information on there. I began reading labels when I was in high school. Unfortunately, the only thing I looked at was the amount of fat

The truth about food labels.

The truth about food labels.

and paid no attention to the rest of the information provided. Just like everyone else, I could have used a little help from a Label Reading 101 course.

Label Reading 101

Today’s Lesson:

  • Serving size
  • Calories
  • Fat
  • “Reduced fat” and “fat-free”

Serving Size: The serving size of a product is located at the very top of the nutrition facts label. This is the foundation for all the nutrient information because all the numbers listed below are pertinent to that listed serving size.

I want to make a little side-note; serving size ≠ portion size. Serving size is the amount recommended on the food label; portion size is the amount you actually serve yourself. For example, not many people actually measure their cereal in the morning; rather we pour until we think we’ve got the “right amount” in our bowl. The serving size of most cereals is ¾ cup. As an experiment, pour the amount of cereal you normally have and then measure out your portion to see how closely your estimates are to the recommended serving size.

Calories: Calories is the first bolded item found on the label. The calorie amount shown is based on the listed serving size. Keep in mind some products may contain several servings per container. In this case, you may see two columns of information: one indicating the calories per serving, and one for the entire container. You will often see this format on candy, chip and beverage containers. “Calories from fat” is a little unnecessary. It’s more important (and, to be honest, much easier) to pay attention to total fat and its other components (saturated, trans and unsaturated fats) instead of monitoring “calories from fat.” Below is my explanation of this.

Fat: The total fat value is a sum of all the different types of fat in that product. Nutrients that are indented under a bolded item means that they are components of the total value. Saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat all make up the total fat value. Saturated fats and trans fats are the types of fats to consume less of in the diet. Try to find products with no more than three grams of saturated fat per serving and no amounts of trans fat.

Sometimes, we get turned away from a food item because the fat content is much higher than other products. For example, peanut butter has a fat content of 16 grams per two tbsp serving size and a four ounce serving of salmon has around 12 grams of fat. However, these total fat values are mainly composed of the healthy fats that we strive to get in our diets; mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This is why looking at “calories from fat” can be misleading. The value listed doesn’t indicate if those are calories from good fats or the unhealthy fats. An example of an unhealthy fat is Chili’s nachos on their appetizer menu; just four chips with all the toppings contain almost 30 grams of fat and over half of that is saturated fat (aka the kind of fat that is not kind to our waist lines).

Labels that say “reduced fat” or “fat-free”: Many people purchase these types of items like fat-free salad dressing or reduced-fat peanut butter because the label makes it sound like they are healthier options. Unfortunately, in many cases, they’re not. One solid piece of advice to remember is fat-free does not mean “calorie-free.” Often, the fat-free or reduced-fat options of foods have almost the same amount of calories as the regular version. Sometimes health halos accompany food labels with the words “fat free” on it. This means that people tend to consume larger portions of the food because they believe that it is healthier than the regular version. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience on this one.

Another important piece to remember is that fat flavors our food. When fat is taken out of product, it is often replaced by extra sodium and extra sugars which doesn’t necessarily make a healthier food product. Reduced-fat peanut butter has twice the amount of sodium in it compared to regular peanut butter. Fat is important in our diet; we especially need it to absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) which are often found in our non-starchy vegetables. This is why fat-free salad dressing is not the best choice to make. If you don’t have any fat in the meal, your body will have a hard time absorbing the vitamin K from your spinach or the vitamin A from the raw carrots in your salad. Stick to a vinaigrette; they spread easily and your portion sizes tend to be smaller.

Next week’s lesson:

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

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Keep Calm and Eat Less Salt

When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released, they featured three key messages for consumes to focus on: 1) balancing calories, 2) foods to increase and 3) foods to reduce. Sodium and added sugars are the focus of the third message: foods to reduce.

Eat Less SaltWhen addressing sodium content in the diet, the most common thing I hear is “I don’t salt my foods.” While this is an excellent practice to follow (because a ¼ teaspoon of salt contains about 600 mg of sodium), many people do not realize how much sodium is in the food products they commonly consume. The guidelines recommend we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Intake should be further reduced to 1,500 mg/day if you are age 51 or older, have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease and those at any age who are African-American. What’s alarming is the 1,500 mg recommendation actually applies to about half of the American population (including children and most adults).

Your first course of action should be to start reading food labels. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep sodium content of meals to less than 600 mg. You can find this information on the food label. Pay attention to serving size and the amount of sodium per serving. One reason why sodium is added to foods is to act as a preservative. Canned, frozen and pre-packaged foods are all potential sources of high-sodium products. Another reason sodium is added recipes is to soften products; this is why breads contain higher amounts of sodium. Sodium also occurs in foods naturally.

A 1/4 teaspoon of salt contains 600 mg of sodium.

A 1/4 teaspoon of salt contains 600 mg of sodium.

Here are some common culprits containing high amounts of sodium:

Frozen Meal Entrees: Choosing a single-serving, low-calorie frozen meal may seem like a good idea, but often these meals are loaded with too much sodium. Even the “healthy” frozen meals may contain too much sodium for one sitting. While it’s perfectly fine to have these convenient options once in a while (preferably ones with less 600 mg of sodium), your best bet is to pack your lunch consisting of a lean protein, whole grain and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Soups: All varieties contain sky-high amounts of sodium. One serving (8-oz) of chicken noodle soup contains 850 mg of sodium and we typically eat more than one serving! Adding a half cup of oyster crackers increases the meal sodium content to 1,000 mg! Look for reduced-sodium varieties the next time; most brands are now making these options more available.

Cheese: One 1-oz slice of American cheese has 417 mg. This is one of the reasons why pizzas, cheesy macaroni and sandwiches have such high sodium levels. Your best pick for cheese is real Swiss (50 mg/ slice) or cheddar cheese (150 mg/slice)–not the individually wrapped, extra-processed varieties.

Instant Cooking Foods: Any foods that require you add hot water typically contain high amounts of sodium. This includes ramen noodles (noodle mixes), potatoes, rice (packaged blends), some cereal, puddings, biscuit, cake mixes and more.

Condiments: Soy sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, salad dressings and bouillon cubes may add a lot of flavor to dishes, but with this flavor comes a lot of sodium. Look for salt-free seasonings like garlic powder (not garlic salt!) or any Mrs. Dash seasoning blend.

Choosing fresh, minimally processed foods is your best offense for reducing your sodium intake. The DASH meal plan (which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) focuses on choosing foods with minimal amounts of sodium.


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