Dietitian News

Feed Your Stomach, Not Your Feelings

Your already busy week just go busier when you found out your boss assigned you to give a company-wide presentation… tomorrow.

The next thing you know, you’ve eaten half a bag of M&Ms.

You have a long drive ahead of you and you’ve already played through all your podcasts and listened to your favorite playlists. A stop at a gas station for some chips and candy will surely make the time go by faster.

Your child just used your favorite lipstick to decorate your freshly painted walls. This day deserves a good helping of that ice cream in the freezer.

We’ve all been there before. Whether we’re stressed, bored, upset or even happy, our emotions can determine our food choices. Often, when these emotions hit, we’re not grabbing for the carrots or apple, either.

Using food as a source of comfort—otherwise known as emotional eating—may seem harmless and, well, comforting. But when food becomes the main strategy for trying to manage our emotions, we’re missing the mark and forming an unhealthy relationship with food while we’re at it.

In fact, the majority of our overeating is actually caused by emotions.

When we emotionally eat, we’re eating for reasons other than physical hunger. It’s important to remember that no matter how hard we try to satisfy our emotional hunger with food, food is only capable of satisfying our physical hunger.

When we try to fix our emotions with food, the food choices are typically poor, the portion size often too large, and—because food can’t get rid of the initial emotion—we’re left with the same emotion on top of a sense of guilt or frustration for eating more than we wanted to in the first place. That’s not a winning combination.

The first step in combating emotional eating is by recognizing it.

Physical hunger will come on gradually, and you can typically postpone eating for a while. On the other hand, emotional hunger comes on suddenly, feels urgent and gives you specific cravings, such as pizza, ice cream or chocolate.

While an apple might not sound appealing when you’re emotionally hungry, an apple or any other food usually can satisfy your physical hunger. So when you’re thinking about eating, ask yourself the simple question, “Am I hungry enough for an apple?”

As you finish eating, you’re more likely to stop eating once you’ve satisfied your physical hunger. Emotional hunger likely would leave you eating more than you normally would, with an uncomfortably full feeling afterwards.

Once you’ve identified the difference between these two types of hunger, it’s easier to find alternative ways to handle the emotion.

Learning to deal with our feelings without food is a new skill that—like anything new—takes time and practice. Start by making a list of alternative things you could do to subdue your emotions when you get a craving for your favorite comfort food.

This might look like taking a walk, calling a friend, doing something productive around the house, such as cleaning or organizing, squeezing a stress ball or taking a few deep breaths at your office desk. Doing something to take your mind off whatever is causing the emotion will help distract you and reduce the food cravings.

In case you get a sudden and strong urge to eat something that can’t be resisted, try to have on hand some healthier, comfort foods. For crunch, this could be nuts or a piece of fruit. For something sweet, try trail mix with dark chocolate chips.

And to avoid mindlessly working your way through an entire bag of potato chips, prepare smaller portions of comfort foods to have at the ready.

Most importantly, as you eat, being mindful of what you’re eating will help you be more aware of why you’re eating in the first place. This will help keep you from overeating and having the post-eating guilt.

Emotions are going to happen, but it’s how we manage them that will help us become more emotionally and physically healthy.

Why you shouldn’t buy into every diet or health claim you hear

We’re well over a month into the New Year, and in the past month, social media, Pinterest, and magazines have bombarded me with salads, diet-friendly this, sugar-free that, and snacks that are low in all the things we’re supposed to eat.

I usually don’t mind this overabundance of healthier options – whether over the top or not – because, hey, sometimes I find some good recipes to try! Plus, I love it when people start to focus on making more nutritious choices.

But this year, I’ve been seeing a little bit too much of diets attached to the recipe name, such as “Cleansing Apple Smoothie” or “Whole30 Vegetarian Power Bowls.”

The recipe that really took me over the top was when I recently saw a description for Coconut Flour Cookies. After the description listed the “scrumptious peanut butter and chocolate nestled into each cookie,” it listed that they were also Paleo, low-carb, gluten-free, and dairy-free. They were described as being “delicious and healthy and come without regrets.”

But they’re still cookies! Does anybody else see the irony in this?

Just because the coconut cookies check the boxes on a large majority of dietary restrictions or diets right now, does not inherently make them healthy. Whether a cookie is advertised as being diet-friendly or not, it’s still a treat that should be enjoyed sparingly.

Recipes and foods can list all kinds of catchy phrases or words to persuade you they’re “healthy,” which somehow makes them better than other foods. Here are some key words to watch out for that are used to grab your attention – but often may not mean much at all in terms of your long-term health. (continue reading…)

When Eating Homemade isn’t Possible

Talk about a gorgeous weekend, right?! I think this past weekend may have made it into the top 5 nicest weekends all summer. Sunny, no humidity, and warm temps made it the perfect weekend to get outside.

We’ve had family visiting/moving into town and a friend in town, so we’ve hit up all the favorite spots like Concerts on the Square, the Memorial Union Terrace for the famous Babcock ice cream, and our annual trip to the American Players Theatre. Between all of that, I managed to soak in even more of the sun with a run around the lake on Saturday morning. You just can’t beat these views!

Sunday was low-key, but I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon stationed out on our porch, searching for cooking classes for our upcoming trip to Italy. I’m pretty much giddy with excitement now just thinking about the one I eventually discovered and booked. Seriously, if only that could be my kitchen and dining room in real life… Our trip is so close I can almost taste the olive oil and wine now! ;)

With all these outdoor activities this past weekend, we’ve been loving our summer picnic meals that we’ve taken along to the events. Our latest CSA box gave us pretty much a whole plant of basil. Which immediately got made into a whole bunch of pesto! It’s come in handy on these picnics—fresh bakery bread topped with pesto, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella has been so, so good. (Think we’re ready for Italy or what?!)

On this blog, I showcase all the tasty meals and food I make at home, including the pesto I just made. Inadvertently, it may portray the false impression that I make everything “from scratch.” With a busy life, I’d love to spend my days in the kitchen making homemade bread and everything in between, but in reality, work and my other hobbies (ahem, running around the lake takes some time… ;)), keep me from doing that. I’m sharing with you today my perspective on how to find a balance in the busy lives we all lead. Enjoy!  (continue reading…)

Redefining Healthy

When I first started my journey to become a registered dietitian, I had no idea I was getting into a field that would change and evolve as much as it does. Sure, my biochemistry and human metabolism notes are probably still relevant, but it seems like every other recommendation and guideline has been turned upside down.

Let’s take, for example, the low-fat craze of the 90’s. Remember those popular 100-calorie packs of refined grains advertising their low-fat contents (and the obvious fact that they only had 100 calories)? It doesn’t take long to start making a list of all the foods that started popping up on the shelves (and possibly in your home) that boasted being “low-fat,” “reduced-fat,” or even “fat-free.” You name it, it was probably out there: Fat-free salad dressings, cheese, frozen yogurt, candy. But does that make these foods “healthy?” According to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) definition of the food claim “healthy,” it does. Or at least did.

Twenty years ago, fat had become a villain and consumers wanted nothing to do with it. While the dietary guidelines emphasized saturated fat as the main culprit, most consumers assumed if one fat was bad, all fats were bad and should be avoided. Therefore, fat was replaced with carbohydrates. Instead of focusing on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (which are all good carb options!), the public deemed refined grains as good replacements, too.

Pretzels were good, but nuts were considered bad. Today this almost sounds absurd, but 20 year ago it was a different story. In order to use the claim “healthy” on the front of a package, the food had to meet the FDA’s criteria of being low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium with at least 10% of the daily value of one or more of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber.

Up until September of last year, that was still the definition of the “healthy” food claim. The foods we now would consider “healthy,” like nuts and avocados, couldn’t be marketed as such due to their high fat content (albeit “healthy” fat). Yet, other foods were still able to use the claim that hardly seemed appropriate with the evolving evidence and new dietary guidelines in place.

With the possible change of the Nutrition Facts Label and a push back from the popular Kind bars who used the phrase “healthy and tasty” for one of their nut-based granola bars, the FDA is now declaring it’s time to redefine what “healthy” means.

Rather than focusing on the amount of fat, a new guidance has been released – until a permanent change in the definition can be made – that focuses on the type of fat in the product. Manufacturers may now use “healthy” on labels if the item meets any of the following criteria in addition to the other criteria for the claim: 1) it is not low in total fat, but has a fat profile made up of mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats or 2) contains at least 10% of the daily value of potassium or vitamin D.

In the meantime, the FDA is asking for public input until April 26th on what “healthy” should mean and how consumers understand the “healthy” food label claim before they make a definite change to the claim. For some, this may mean looking past the nutrients. Perhaps it means looking at what the food doesn’t contain instead, such as artificial ingredients or sugar.

Whatever is decided, it may take years until a new definition of the “healthy” claim is released. In the meantime, it’s important not to judge a food on its label alone. What may be “healthy” for one person, may not be for another person depending on his dietary needs. Rather than focusing on the marketing claims or captions on the front of the package, look at the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts Label to make an informed decision for yourself on whether that item can fit into a balanced, healthy diet that’s right for you and your family.

A Guiltless Holiday: Here is How to Do it

img_2791

For some, the holiday frenzy has already started. For others, it all begins this week. The five-plus weeks of holiday indulgence from holiday parties, family dinners, and the continuous smorgasbord of sweets in the office has officially hit. Stress, social eating, and schedule overload can be the perfect storm for overeating.

Most of us start the season with good intentions, thinking to ourselves that this year will be different. But as we see another plate of those Oreo truffles being passed around, our willpower collapses and the temptation can no longer be resisted. I know, I’ve tried doing that before in the past, too.

The good news is – you don’t have to resist! As a registered dietitian, I give you full permission to have that Oreo truffle, pumpkin pie, or Grandma’s fudge without the guilt or remorse. Finding a balance between restrictions and overeating, such as allowing yourself a treat once in a while, may actually be what you need to keep the weight off this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

(continue reading…)

The Good, Bad & Ugly About GMOs

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a popular topic of debate in the news for several years now, but just this year, it’s seen more attention in the media and has been gaining momentum.

First it started with Vermont, who was the first state to pass a law requiring all products containing GMOs to be labeled, beginning in July of 2016.

But then, just last week, President Obama signed a bill that requires all states to have a label of some kind on foods that have been genetically modified, overturning the Vermont’s law, in a way to prevent each state from have a piece-meal of different labeling laws.

Of course, this was a bill of heated debate. While some argue this unnecessarily creates a fear in the consumer and will increase food costs, others believe consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.

I think it’s safe to say nobody knows the answer. Like anything debatable, there are pros and cons. But it’s also safe to say that it’s a term few actually understand. Consumers have gained a vague fear of GMOs without even knowing why, simply because of what they’ve heard through the media and opinionated sources.

We do have a right to know what’s in our food, but it’s also important to have a good understanding of what that label means in order to form our own opinions.

Genetic modification is a process of taking genes from plants, animals, insects, or bacterium and transferring them into another species for a desired outcome. Rather than breeding plants or animals the traditional way, which took years, the discovery of genetically modifying organisms made it much faster to get the desired result.

GMOs made their first appearance in the mid-1990s as a way to do good – when researchers found a way to genetically modify rice to resist the floods in Eastern India. Rather than losing acres of crops, the modified rice survived the harsh conditions and was able to provide food for millions.

Several more possibilities have been developed since, such as Gold Rice, which produces a precursor to vitamin A to help prevent blindness in developing countries.

Since becoming commercially available in 1996, GMOs have taken over much of our food supply with about 90 percent of the corn and soybeans produced in the U.S. being genetically modified. Over half of the sugar produced in the U.S. is genetically modified and 80 percent of processed foods have ingredients made from GMOs. However, very few of the whole foods we eat are genetically modified.

There are as many studies stating that engineered foods are safe to consume as there are studies that say they’re not.

Most of the GM crops in the United States either have been modified to resist herbicides (meaning farmers can spray fields without killing their crop) or have been modified to resist plant-hungry insects by naturally producing an insecticide.

On the plus side, the resistance to herbicides has helped farmers skip the need for tilling their soil, which prevents erosion and helps maintain the nutrients in the soil. With naturally occurring insecticide, crops have less dependency on the sprayed pesticides, which can be toxic to us.

All good things don’t come without their cons, though. Due to the herbicide-resistant crops, more herbicide is being applied, most of which is glyphosate, the main ingredient found in Roundup. Glyphosate, an antibiotic, can hinder our healthy microbiome in our gut and may be a carcinogen for humans.

On top of that, with 20 years of herbicide use and insect-resistance plants, we’re now dealing with herbicide resistant weeds and insects resistant to the GM crops, meaning stronger herbicides and pesticides are being applied to crops.

The struggle is real, and it lies mostly in the gray area. How can we help the most poverty-stricken people – who most need this technology in order to prevent blindness or to stay in business – while on the other hand, realize that the direct benefit to the consumer isn’t as well defined when most of the crops in the U.S. are genetically modified corn and soybeans.

Genetically modified organisms, while developed over 20 years ago, are still in their infancy in research standards. Long-term studies still need to be conducted and more knowledge needs to be gained. For now, the debate continues…

The New & Improved Nutrition Facts Label

It seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new discovery being made in the field of nutrition, new research being conducted, or a new dietary recommendation out that needs to be followed.

I love that I’m in a field that’s constantly evolving, growing, and changing. But there’s one area that hasn’t changed for over 20 years and has been, not surprisingly, falling behind – the Nutrition Facts Label. Of the many nutrition-related questions I get asked, the Nutrition Facts Label is at the top.

It’s the label that adorns every packaged food item, informing you of everything from the serving size and calories to the percentage of vitamin A found in your bag of potato chips. It can be a confusing label to try to follow with all the numbers and percentages filling up such a small space.

Yet, with all the information you can gather from the label, it still seems to be missing some valuable information.

It’s been a long time coming for the Nutrition Facts label to get a major overhaul. This may be the reason why professionals in the nutrition field gave cheers of delight – myself included – when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in late May that a new look was going to be coming for the label in as little as two years.

Better yet, the changes are ones I completely agree with and believe will help consumers make easier, more nutritious decisions when comparing foods.

So, what changes will be being to see on the label? Here are the major changes and how they’ll affect you and me.

Nutrition Facts label

On the left, is the current Nutrition Facts Label. What the revised label will look like is on the right. Source: http://www.fda.gov

(continue reading…)

How to Find Peace at the Dinner Table

How to Find Peace at the Dinner Table

With crazy schedules, a kid on the verge of a meltdown, and a dog at your feet waiting for any fallen scraps, I know that trying to put a nutritious meal on the table the entire family will eat can be a challenge. Weekly meal time can be anything but enjoyable, especially if your child is “picky” or unwilling to even touch his or her food.

Let me start by first saying, I was hesitant to write about this topic, considering the fact that it can draw out a lot of emotions from parents and, maybe the more obvious reason, I don’t have any kids yet or have first-hand experience with this! But, as a dietitian, and as somebody who has a budding interest in this area of nutrition, I’ve done a lot of reading, research, and talking with others to get me to the point where I know that some families are missing the mark when it comes to meals and feeding their children.

I’ve had moms come to me, completely out of ideas and exhausted, asking for any advice about what to do with their picky eaters. The look of desperation in their eyes followed by their sincere gratitude after they hear some possible solutions made me feel like it was worth sharing a few tips with you as well, with the hopes that it may be something you can use at the dinner table.

(continue reading…)

What I Ate Today

Remember way back last year (2015 seems so long ago now, don’t you think?!) when my husband graciously tracked what he ate for a day and took pictures of everything for my series of “What I Ate Today?” And remember how I said I’d be doing it next? Well, thankfully I never said when I’d be doing it next, because it’s been…awhile. I finally remembered to set my camera out on the kitchen table as a reminder, and committed to track what I ate last Monday. So here’s what my Monday looked like:  (continue reading…)

Roasted Carrot & Celery Root with Thyme

Roasted Carrot and Celery Root with Thyme

If there was an award for the ugliest vegetable, I have a strong suspicion that the celery root would be a likely winner…that is if anybody remembered enough to think of celery root as a vegetable, let alone know what it looks like. I don’t know which is worse, being an unattractive vegetable or being completely forgotten about altogether.

IMG_3123

It almost makes me feel sorry for the vegetable. Celery root is like the vegetable version of the kid who always gets picked last onto teams, gets made fun of by the bullies, frequently drops his books while walking to class or stumbles over his untied shoelace, and is never given an opportunity to really shine. I mean, tell me that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings a tiny bit and make you want to go out and buy a celery root. :)

IMG_3117

The truth is, I hadn’t given celery root the slightest bit of attention until a couple weeks ago when I was giving a grocery store tour. On almost every store tour, I challenge the listeners to branch out from their “safe” produce — you know, the carrots, mixed greens, apples, and bananas — and try a new vegetable or fruit, perhaps a new one once a month. It helps build variety into our diets, adds different colors to our plates, and keeps us from getting stuck in a rut. Plus, it’s fun to explore! What you may have disliked as a kid, you may really enjoy as an adult (Brussel sprouts, I’m looking at you!).

Well, not minutes after I had challenged my group to try new produce, one of the ladies looked up at the wall of fresh vegetables and asked what celery root tasted like and how to eat it. Hmm, good question. I honestly didn’t know much about celery root except that it wasn’t actually the root of the celery we’re familiar with and assumed it could be cooked similar to parsnips or turnips. And I certainly had never eaten it before…or at least was unaware of it if I had.

IMG_3113

I felt like I needed to give this knobby, gangly vegetable a try — if only to do what I preach. And to know how to answer the next time I got that same question. :)

So, the result? After some research, I bring to you Roasted Carrots and Celery Root with Thyme. A perfect introduction to the otherwise unknown vegetable. The verdict? Absolutely delicious and flavorful! Philip was scooping it up off the pan by the spoonful. #winning

IMG_3135

(continue reading…)