Sunday, December 7, 2014

To Cook or Not To Cook??

I get this question ALL the time: "Do you like to cook?" The short answer: "No." The longer answer: "I like to eat good food therefore I cook." So I guess in a way I do like to cook? I'm still trying to figure it out, so the verdict's still out.   My mom is someone who loves to cook & bake. She rarely uses the same recipe twice. & when I do want her to repeat something that she made (that I liked) she can't find the recipe because she has so many new ones waiting to try out. Yeah, that's not me. The other thing about my mom is she can read a recipe & just know if the recipe sounds good. Again, not me. Cooking is just something that has never come easy for me. I remember when I went away to college & was in my 1st apartment . I had my mom give me a few recipes to get started so I wouldn't be eating ramen noodles every night. Next to each ingredient she would write the brand name of the item. This way when I was shopping at Publix I'd know exactly what to buy. The store is confusing even for me & I'm a dietitian!  That's when I first started cooking & I've been cooking ever since. I think in this last year I've been cooking even more & really trying to make that saying, "let food be your medicine & medicine be your food." Food really can be medicinal if we use it that way (food can also be misused in many ways, but that's a blog for another day). 

But it got me thinking, how many people really truly cook?? When I have patients in my office & I'm counseling them on weight loss that is the #1 thing I tell them - check the frequency of their eating out. If you're eating out you have NO control over how the food is being prepared, not to mention the crazy portion sizes you see that you start believing are real.  Morgan Spurlock got criticized for his movie Supersize Me, but he was simply showing how people eat out three meals a day, easily.  And while this might not be within a month for some people, it might not be too far off from what people may do in a three year period or three months for that matter. The point being we've gotten away from cooking & if your goal is to be healthier or if you're wanting to lose weight, the bottom line is that cooking, at home, has to happen.  Home economics isn't a mandatory class anymore. Kids these days aren't learning how to cook. Granted there are many famous chefs on TV that have helped the movement maybe somewhat.  But the truth is if we all used as much salt (butter, cream, etc.) as they do on TV it'd almost be like we're eating out. Yep, I said it. It's the truth. 

I'm not here to tell you it's going to be easy. In fact I was cooking yesterday & I should've taken a picture to show you what a mess I made. I by no means am glamorous when it comes to the kitchen (note to self: maybe I should document my cooking so people can get a laugh.) I have a small kitchen, I make a LOT of dishes, & I celebrate if I don't cut my finger/grate my finger (yes, that happened last week.) But I keep my focus: I want to eat healthy, good for me food. And that's why I go back week after week.  My goal with each & every dish that I make is to optimize the nutrients. I don't get fixated on each & every vitamin but I do pay attention to the 3 main nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, & fat.  If the meal is balanced I know I'm getting the nourishment that I need. Many people believe that for vegetarians it's hard to get enough protein for the day. That's one of the biggest myths out there. However, I will say this, as I've been perusing many blogs/recipes/websites recently, there are many vegetarians/vegans that are not getting enough protein. So it is a fine line. I'm not asking for you to do something like that, but I do encourage people to look at their meal & make sure they're balancing their plate - half the plate should be vegetables, a quarter of the plate the protein source (a deck of cards for size, roughly), & the remaining quarter of the plate, carbohydrates. On the myplate graphic they show a fruit & milk at the meal - your choice where the carbohydrate is coming from. One could choose only grains to be their carbohydrate at that meal. The key point being that sometimes we go overboard with the carbohydrates. (I could pick on any culture, but I had a Hispanic lady in my office the other day & when I was showing her how her plate stacked up her 1st response was, "bomba!" A bomb it was - rice, beans, yuca, plantains, & a soda!) The key really is balance. I'm not here to make this cooking thing harder. My goal is to get people thinking. Yes, I want you to cook, but I also want you to cook things that are healthy for you as well provide the nourishment you need in the right proportions. Sometimes my patients joke that I just need to go home with them & show them how it's really done. Not a bad idea, but as of now it's hard enough to get insurance to pay for a dietitian visit IN the clinic. 

So I leave you with this: explore on the Internet. Find recipes that sound good to you, plan for the week, & get those little kiddos in the kitchen learning how to cook! Sounds easier said than done I know. It's easy to get in a rut when it comes to food. I always tell people get a rotating menu going & start planning your meals that way - this way you rotate so you're not eating the same thing week after week. We all have our go to recipes. My encouragement, explore a little, try a new recipe, you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. That's what keeps me motivated - finding good recipes to pass on.  These are my go to pages for finding new recipes recently:
Every recipe I've ever tried from Cooking Light has turned out.  I love them even more because they have the nutritional analysis below the recipe for you to be able to know exactly how much and what you're eating.  Their section on quinoa recipes has a few of my go to recipes that I use all the time.
I'm not sure how I came across this website, but I'm glad I did!  While some of her recipes are a little time consuming, some are not. The best part - her food is SO flavorful and delicious.  Some of the flavors that she marries together are ridiculous!  Delish!
I've found many a recipe on this lady's website as well.  Her fruit tartlet was amazing!!  See my picture below - if I can do it, so can you!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014



grate ful
feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful
I haven't had a laptop for the last few months.  My screen cracked and while I've been contemplating buying a new laptop I've also been pondering if I should just get it fixed.  Decisions, decisions.  Without my laptop I haven't been able to write down my thoughts for my blog and there have been minimal blogs for that reason in the last little bit.  Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of topics running through my mind!  Whether part of it has been laziness on my part or part of it has been the inconvenience of not being able to write when I want to, today I had a patient remind me again of why I said I'd write a blog (and she reminded me of my gratitude jar):  to spread the word about what I'm passionate about, nutrition and educating people about nutrition.  At times people have told me that I can be too passionate, but what's wrong with a little passion?!  Food can be medicinal if we use it that way.  I try and teach people how to eat healthy, how to combine foods with the proper nutrients, and the ultimate goal:  balance, variety and moderation.  
We're days away from Thanksgiving and it's always at this time of year that we're reminded of what we're grateful for.  I started a gratitude jar last year and have been adding things throughout the year.  If you haven't ever done one, I highly recommend doing it.  While it's time consuming in the moment, reading all the notes at the end of the year is SO worth it.  Today alone I have a few that I can add and here's why:
My patient thanked me over and over again today.  But what I'm not sure if I communicated well enough to her was this:  I was GRATEFUL to her!!  Grateful for her asking so many questions, grateful for her wanting to soak up all my information, and grateful that she wanted to learn how to be healthy with food.  I'm reminded daily of the fact that I'm doing what I love.  While there are moments of crazy busyness and moments where I don't get a break all day, I know that I'm able to do what I love.  And that's just ONE of the reasons why I'm grateful this year.  Doing what I love and loving what I do, yeah, I'm grateful.  (it may sound cheesy, but when you spend as many hours a day as we do working it better be something that we love). 
Here are a few ideas that I discussed with my patient today that maybe you too can implement in your daily life:
  1. One day a week, go meatless.  I post a picture each Monday on my Instagram and Facebook as a reminder to go Meatless, but also as a way to show you how delish it can be!  And while I know being vegetarian ALL the time isn't for everyone, I do challenge my patients to try going meatless for at least one day a week (the health benefits are hard to deny!)  The key is to balance your carbohydrates with your protein to make sure you're adequately getting the nutrients that you need (and yes, you can get a sufficient amount of protein from plants). 
  2. Get moving!  Yes, I know this one is obvious, but we all need a friendly reminder every now and then.  I watched my mom's dog a while back and believe me, dogs are Nature's perfect personal trainers - loyal, hardworking, energetic, and enthusiastic.  If ever there was a day that I wanted to skip her walk, forget about it.  And while I'm not watching the dog anymore, I have this constant reminder of "get up and get moving".  I too have been trying to add in more movement, whether it's me being more consistent with my yoga practice or if it's that I'm going for a walk after lunch.  The key is that I'm being more consistent with my activity level and we can all benefit from that.  
  3.  The Holidays are here - yep, the holidays.  The time of year when desserts are aplenty and waist lines grow.  I recently had the chance to contribute to a few articles, one in a dietetics' journal and one for our local paper about how to survive the holidays.  The articles were geared towards those with diabetes, but guess what?  We ALL should eat in this manner, not just those with diabetes.  Check out the links if you haven't already for some helpful tips to help survive the holidays:

I also shared with my patient a couple of websites that I've been getting some really good recipes from.  I always tell people that I don't love to cook but I do love to eat good food.  A lot of times we get in a rut and cook the same thing over and over.  My mom on the other hand rarely uses a recipe twice (yeah, I'm grateful for all the yummy food she makes).  These two websites have been my go to places for finding new recipes recently.  I'm grateful for stumbling upon them and grateful for being able to find amazing concoctions of flavors in their recipes:

So while Thursday is Thanksgiving, today I was reminded every day is Thanksgiving.  I have a lot to be grateful for this year.  



Sunday, November 9, 2014

National Diabetes Awareness Month

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month.  25.8 million Americans have diabetes - 8.3% of the U.S. population.  Of these, 7 million do not know they have the disease.  If current trends continue, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 people will have Type 2 diabetes by 2050.  Is there any good news about an epidemic that's out of control?  Many health professionals believe that diabetes is an almost totally avoidable disease (type 2).  It's estimated that 92 percent of the cases could be avoided by diet and lifestyle.  

What's Your Risk?
Many people who have pre-diabetes - and many others who have diabetes - don't even know it.  (I wrote a whole blog about how pre-diabetes doesn't even trigger a fuss at the doctor's office when it should).  The only way to find out is to get your blood sugar tested (at least every three years starting at age 45).  Your risk is higher if you:

  • Are age 45 or older
  • Are overweight
  • Are African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino-American, Pacific Islander, or American Indian.
  • Have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes.
  • Have high blood pressure (above 140 over 90)
  • Have low HDL ("good") cholesterol (less than 40 for men; less than 50 for women)
  • Have high triglycerides (250 or more)
  • Had diabetes when pregnant or gave birth to a large baby (over 9 pounds)
  • Are active fewer than three times a week
Here's a link from the American Diabetes Association to find out your risk:

If you have your blood work and are wondering what your numbers mean, pay attention to the blood glucose level.  Here's what the numbers indicate:

The cutoffs for pre-diabetes and diabetes depend on whether your blood is tested after an eight-hour fast or without fasting.  If your blood glucose if after an eight-hour fast, and your glucose is between 100-125mg/dL that is considered pre-diabetes.  If your blood glucose after the eight-hour fast is 126mg/dL or higher, that is considered diabetes.  

If you do have a family history of diabetes your doctor may also take test your Hemoglobin A1C.  The Hemoglobin A1C is an average over the last three months of what your blood sugar is doing.  If the Hemoglobin A1C is 5.7-6.4% this is considered to be pre-diabetes.  If the Hemoglobin A1C is 6.5% or higher, that is considered diabetes.  

Want to avoid diabetes?  Keep your weight - and especially your waist - under control, and spend more time on your feet than on your seat.  Making a few lifestyle changes can dramatically lower the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

  1. Control Your Weight - The best way to dodge diabetes is to lose weight (or not gain) extra pounds.  Losing 7-10% of your current weight can cut your chances of developing type 2 diabetes in half. Losing any excess weight - and keeping it off - is the best defense against diabetes.
  2. Get Moving - and Turn off the Television -  Inactivity promotes type 2 diabetes. Working your muscles more often and making them work harder improves their ability to use insulin and absorb glucose.  This puts less stress on your insulin-making cells. Do at least 30 minutes of brisk walking or other aerobic exercise every day.  Include strength training two or three times a week as well.  Limit the time you spend sitting at work, at home, or in between.  
  3. Tune Up Your Diet - Dietary changes can have a big impact on the risk of type 2 diabetes:                                                                                                                         Choose whole grains and whole grain products over highly processed carbohydrates.  Whole grains don't have a magical nutrient that fights diabetes and improves health.  It's the entire package - elements intact and working together - that's important.  The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose.  This leads to lower, slower increases in blood sugar and insulin, and a lower glycemic index.  As a result, they stress the body's insulin-making machinery less, and may help prevent type 2 diabetes.  Whole grains are also rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that may help reduce the risk of diabetes.                                            Skip the sugary drinks and choose water.  When it comes to diabetes, sweet beverages seem to be a double-whammy.  Their high-fructose corn syrup and other sugars increase the demand for insulin and have a high glycemic load.  The sugar you sip may add flab more than the sugar you chew.  Liquid calories don't seem to lead to satiety and the reduction in subsequent food intake that you might have with solid calories.  It's east to take in a large amount so easily.  Think your drink.                     Replace saturated fat and trans fat with unsaturated fat - The types of fats in your diet can also affect the development of diabetes.  The unsaturated fats found in liquid vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds can help ward off type 2 diabetes.  Trans fats do just the opposite. Trans fats are found in many margarines, packaged baked good, fried foods in fast-food restaurants, and any product that lists "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on the label.             
  4. If you smoke, Try to quit.  Smokers are roughly 50% more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers, and heavy smokers have an even higher risk.
  5. Alcohol Now and Then May Help - A growing body of evidence links moderate alcohol consumption with reduced risk of heart disease.  The same may be true for type 2 diabetes.  Moderate amounts of alcohol - up to a drink a day for women, up to two drinks a day for men - increases the efficiency of insulin at getting glucose inside cells.  If you already drink alcohol, the key is to keep your consumption in the moderate range, as higher amounts of alcohol could increase diabetes risk.  If you don't drink alcohol, there's no need to start - you can get the same benefits by losing weight, exercising, and changing your eating patterns.
The bottom line and the good news about diabetes:  it's not inevitable.  Keep your weight - and especially your waist - under control, and spend more time on your feet than on your seat!                                                                                

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Meatless Monday

I get this question all the time, “Why did you become a vegetarian?”  The answer is actually pretty simple.  I have never enjoyed the texture of meat (chicken, turkey, tuna, pork, you name it!).  I have a distinct memory as a kid of chewing the meat (so it looked like I was eating it) and then spitting it out in my napkin.  Our dogs weren’t allowed in the house, otherwise I would have been feeding the evidence to the dog!  I always tried and attempted to eat meat, but the moment there was a hint of gristle or the chewing was taking too much effort, I was done.  When I got to college and entered into the field of Nutrition I realized I didn’t have to eat meat to get all the vitamins and minerals that meat provides, I knew I could get them from alternate sources.  And so began my slow transition to becoming a vegetarian.  It took a few years because let’s face it food is a part of social interactions.  Many bbqs took place where I would cave in and just have a hamburger because everyone else was.  Or maybe Chick-fil-A’s chicken nuggets were being served at an event and that was one way I didn’t mind chicken.   But then in 2005 that’s when everything changed.

We had just returned from my brother’s wedding in St. John’s.  My dad hadn’t been feeling well most of the trip so he went in for a check-up.  The next thing I know he’s at the cath lab getting a couple of stents placed.   I was in shock and disbelief!  I knew that we had heart disease in the family, but I also knew that we ate healthy overall.  It was in that moment I made my decision.  I had been contemplating it for a while now, this whole going vegetarian thing.  Now it made all the more sense.  Eliminate the majority of the saturated fat from my diet so that I could avoid any health implications later in life.  Easy.  I had the nutrition background to know what foods to eat and in what portions to get the vitamins/minerals that I’d need.  Let the science experiment begin!

Cooking for myself was easy.  Granted I had to learn how to cook tofu so that it had flavor, but overall preparing my meals had been easy in this whole transitioning over to being a vegetarian.  The hard part?  Eating out or going to functions where meat would be served.  Over the last few years I’d say that restaurants have gotten better in their menu selections, but back in 2005 the variety was quite limited.  Basically you’d get vegetables with a grain and that was it.  Salad was always an option if you were still hungry.  They just weren’t getting it – I needed protein!  I started carrying (and still do) nuts wherever I go.  The dietitian in me needs the balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, otherwise I know I’ll be craving/hungry for food within an hour.  It’s just the way the body processes food.  Call it my security/back-up plan, I know I’ll always have protein with me.

Just in the last couple of years I’ve actually started to include seafood.  So I am now technically called a  pescatarian.  While I don’t include seafood often, this way  I have a back-up plan at places/functions that might serve seafood.  It’s still not my favorite and I’m quite picky when it comes to what I will actually eat.  My mom made a salmon recipe a couple months back that was so good that everyone that thinks they don’t like salmon needs to try this recipe (it was THAT good).  However, I still travel with my handy portion-sized nuts, just in case.  It’s almost been 10 years since I’ve been a vegetarian (pescatarian).  I think that for anyone that cooks it’s important to find new recipes so that you don’t continue to do repeats and end up being bored with food.  It’s the same with being a vegetarian, you have to keep coming up with new and inventive ways to work with beans, tofu, and other plant proteins.  So if you’ve been thinking about having a meatless meal during the week and weren’t sure where to start, I have a few recipes to get you going.  I started out with the chickpea when I was first starting to do more bean recipes.  It’s a mild flavored bean and it pairs well with a lot of other flavors.  (If you’re wondering which bean packs the most nutrition in a ½ cup, just remember in everything, variety is the spice of life.)  Chickpeas are nutrient dense and in only a ½ cup there are 5 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and just 2 grams of fat.  The following are a few recipes that might help you get started.  

Linguine with Zucchini and Chickpeas – I’ve shown this recipe before, but it’s so simple and delish, I have to share it again.  I stumbled across it on Real Simple’s website a few years back.  It’s great for a weeknight when I’m not sure what to eat and there’s an extra zucchini in my fridge.   Simple and nutritious.

“Chickpea” Tuna – I did this recipe with kids once where I made actual tuna and then I made this chickpea version.  The kids surprisingly enough liked the chickpea version.  They made sure to let me know it tasted nothing like tuna, but regardless they liked it.  I used to make tuna this same way, where I’d mix in the craisins along with the celery, so maybe it just reminds me of back in the day when I did eat tuna.  Pair it with a hearty bread and it makes a great sandwich for lunch.

Sweet Potato and ChickPea Cakes – These are hands down delicious.  Maybe it’s the avocado salsa that really makes the flavors pop, but no one would know that there are beans in this recipe.  Don’t be scared to add the jalapeno in either!  

As I said before a lot of people think their meal isn’t complete unless there’s meat on the plate.  I get that.  But what I try and do is teach my patients that in anything it’s about portion control.  If you include meat for your protein source I’m fine with that.  Watch your portion sizes, make sure to include a healthy complex carbohydrate at your meal and of course, don't forget your veggies.  Balance, moderation, and variety are key in any meal planning.