May 9, 2013
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April 23, 2013
The "Caveman Diet" is one of the hottest diets being touted by celebrities and average Joes alike. Also called the "Paleolithic Diet" or "Paleo" for short, the idea is that we should be sticking to the eating patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors for optimal health. With a catchy name and a scientific-sounding premise, it has the winning formula for a fad diet.
Most weight loss crazes are ghosts of diets past – that is, they are simply old ideas that have been repackaged and reincarnated for a new generation. Paleo is no exception – it was first described by a gastroenterologist in 1975. Walter Voegtlin's ideas make sense. Human genetics haven't changed significantly for over 10,000 years, so we should follow the diet we evolved to eat. This means that foods that emerged with the development of agriculture such as grains, legumes, and dairy products are out. Refined salt, sugars, and processed oils are also no-nos. The diet focuses on foods that could be hunted or gathered by our ancestors: meat, fish, eggs, nuts, vegetables, and fruits.
A diet with plenty of lean protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals can indeed be healthy. But is Paleo the answer to our obesity epidemic? That may be taking it a bit far. Advocates claim that agriculture is the root of the problem with obesity and related issues like diabetes and heart disease. However, a large body of research supports the health-protective properties of diets that include whole grains and lowfat dairy. Studies show that fiber-rich whole grains can help manage cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Dairy is also important, not just for its bone-building calcium and vitamin D, but also for its potassium, riboflavin, and other essential nutrients. There is the concern, as with all fad diets, that cutting out entire food groups could lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Another problem with eliminating whole food groups is sustainability. Most of us probably grew up on milk, cheese, corn, and wheat. Can you imagine not eating those foods? You might be able to keep it up for a while, but as a permanent change to your lifestyle? I'm not convinced.
Besides, it's just not necessary; the real problem is not specific foods but excess quantities. Regardless of the source, too many calories is what leads to weight gain. In contrast, creating a calorie deficit is what causes weight loss. Cutting out sources of refined sugars, as with Paleo, is a great strategy. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables as prescribed in this diet is another way to fill up and get plenty of nutrition without a lot of calories.
However, Paleo proponents argue that fruits and vegetables should be organically grown, as they would be most similar to what hunter-gatherers might have come across when foraging. In the contemporary interpretation of this eating pattern, meats should also be organic and grass-fed, and fish should be wild-caught. Unfortunately, this brings up another downside to the diet: cost. At this point, organic products are typically more expensive than their conventional counterparts, and studies show that they are not significantly more nutritious.
Interestingly, some argue that eating organic meats is more sustainable, but producing plant-based proteins like beans (which are not allowed on this diet) is less demanding on the environment. The emphasis on meat not only has environmental impact, but our bodies really don't need that much protein. Getting more protein won't automatically increase your muscle mass. Remember, extra calories – including those from protein – are stored as fat.
In sum, there are a few good things about the Paleo way of life. Decreasing processed foods is an excellent idea as these are often high in sugar, salt, fat, and calories. Feel free to "go wild" – in both senses of the word – with lots of fruits and veggies. Choose lean proteins like poultry, fish, and lower-fat meat, but don't forget about legumes, too. Beans are an affordable source of protein and fiber that shouldn't be counted out. Plus, including whole grains and lowfat dairy will provide essential nutrients and prevent the need for supplementation.
Go ahead and eat like a caveman, but with a dose of Midwestern sensibility.
April 9, 2013
Stomach woes were rampant this past winter – were you one of the unlucky ones to experience a 24-hour bug or the stomach "flu?" If so, I'm willing to bet you'd do anything to avoid repeating it. As most of us are aware, frequent handwashing is the single most important thing a person can do to minimize the chances of picking up germs. But besides the (probably inevitable) possibility of getting sick from touching infected surfaces, we are also vulnerable to foodborne illness.
Sadly, the statistics are grim. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 6 Americans will come down with foodborne illness each year. Of course, this is simply an estimate. Many cases go unreported, so the numbers may actually be much higher. Yes, many of us are familiar with the perils of food poisoning. Most foodborne illnesses cause some kind of digestive upset, which is never pleasant. In fact, that stomach "flu" may actually have been caused by something you ate.
With spring just about here, we're not out of the woods. The warmer months provide ideal conditions for illness-causing germs to grow. I don't mean to scare you – the good news is that foodborne illness can be prevented. Of course, it all starts with washing those hands. There are too many issues to address in this space, so I highly encourage you to get online and check out FoodSafety.gov. You can find information on food recalls, proper thawing methods, cooking temperatures, food storage, and more.
Like I said, no one ever wants to get sick. Then again, we don't want to be responsible for making others sick, either. Food-related events are always happening during the spring and summer, and many things can go wrong. Too often bake sales, potlucks, and fundraisers are not organized and things fall by the wayside. Volunteers may not know how to serve food, food might be kept too warm or not warm enough, and other food safety principles may not be followed. If there is an outbreak of food poisoning, the organization could be held liable.
If you are part of an organization that will be putting on any kind of event where food is involved, I invite you to join me as I present "Serve it Safely." In this seminar, you'll learn the food safety principles that are needed to ensure that your event goes smoothly, safely, and successfully. We'll focus on the preparation, storage, and serving of food for public consumption. Of course, anyone interested in learning about food safety is welcome – all information presented is applicable to keeping food safe at home, too. "Serve it Safely" will be presented from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17 at 801 N. Country Fair Drive in Champaign. There is a $5 fee which includes a take-home manual and thermometer. Participation is limited to the first 35 registrants. Register by April 15 at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv or by calling 333-7672. I hope to see you there!
March 26, 2013
Do you dread the arrival of the Easter Bunny with his pastel candies and chocolates? If you are hanging on to your New Year's resolutions to manage your diabetes, eat healthier or lose weight, it can be hard not to feel left out when everyone around you is enjoying sweet treats.
Food and candy can be a fun part of the holiday, but try not to make them the center of attention. Enjoy time with friends and family and make new memories. Have fun and get active by playing a game of football in the beautiful weather. Send the kids on an Easter egg hunt using small prizes and toys instead of candy. You can also fill their baskets with "bunny food" like apples, baby carrots, sunflower seeds, and almonds.
If you just can't give up your favorite chocolate-filled egg or bunny-shaped peanut butter cups, simply have a small portion and make sure to include it in your meal plan. Here are some nutrition stats of common Easter treats. 2 Marshmallow Peeps: 65 calories, 0 g fat, 16.5 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g protein. 7 jelly beans: 75 calories, 0 g fat, 18.5 g carbohydrate, 0 g protein. Reese's milk chocolate peanut butter egg: 90 calories, 5 g fat, 9 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein. Cadbury Crème Egg: 150 calories, 6 g fat, 24 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein. 10 Jordan Almonds: 180 calories, 6 g fat, 30 g carbohydrate, 3 g protein. The calories and sugar easily add up with these sweet treats, so choose wisely.
Another way to enjoy Easter treats is to modify your recipes to make them healthier. Use lower-fat versions of ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, milk, and cream. Use unsweetened applesauce in place of oil or butter – it really works! You can do a complete substitution or just swap out a smaller proportion if you're leery. For those with diabetes, consult your favorite diabetic cookbook or check out online resources like the American Diabetes Association website (www.diabetes.org) or www.dlife.com for delicious low-sugar dessert recipes. Your very own University of Illinois Extension has scores of tasty recipes available online for free. Try our light and tangy Lemon Meringue Pie for a refreshing and healthier way to end your Easter Sunday.
This recipe and others are available online through the University of Illinois Extension's Recipes for Diabetes website. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/diabetesrecipes
1 ready-to-bake 9 inch pie shell that has less than 90 calories per serving
? cup cornstarch
? teaspoon salt
1 cup Splenda®, divided
1½ cups water
4 eggs, separated
½ tablespoon margarine
½ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Note: Pie crusts vary from 80 to 150 calories per serving. Read the label to choose one lower in calories. The above calculations were based on a pie crust with 90 calories per ? of a pie.
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Chill time: 3 hours
March 12, 2013
March is National Nutrition Month, and there's no better time to get the whole family on board for a healthier lifestyle. Prevention is always the best medicine, so helping kids learn to enjoy healthy foods is an important strategy to raise healthy, well-adjusted, productive adults.
Not surprisingly, kids are more likely to eat foods that they've helped prepare. But getting kids involved in meal preparation and having regular family meal times yields more than just the benefit of learning to eat healthier foods. Preparing food together and sitting down to eat at the table can also help promote family unity, improve academic performance, and prevent behavior problems at home and school. All of these factors contribute to well-adjusted kids who are more likely to maintain good physical health later in life.
As a benefit to parents, making a meal can be fast and easy if everyone helps out. Younger children can help set the table or help by mixing and stirring. Older kids can measure ingredients and cut soft foods, while teen can cut up vegetables with sharper knives and use the stove and oven. Apart from building confidence in the kitchen, cooking also presents the opportunity to practice other skills like math and reading. Kids can read recipe instructions aloud step-by-step, or count the number of stirs when mixing.
Of course, it's essential to always supervise kids closely and make a safe workspace. Remove sharp objects from within reach and use sturdy stools if children can keep their balance.
It goes without saying that with busy schedules and unexpected events, you won't be able to prepare dinner every night with the kids. If weeknights are too hectic, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests setting aside time on the weekend for breakfast or lunch. But regardless of whether you make dinner, order in, or pick something up from the store, make an effort to get everyone gathered around the table and enjoy a meal and conversation with the ones you love most.
Double Corn Fiesta Casserole
Recipe courtesy of University of Illinois Extension "Fiesta of Flavors" Website
Total : 45 min
Prep : 25 min
February 26, 2013
Spring is just around the corner, which means it's time to get organized. Clear up the dust bunnies under the couch and the cobwebs in the corner, by all means – but don't forget your refrigerator.
I doubt anyone would say that foodborne illness is welcome in their home, yet 1 in 6 Americans gets sick with food poisoning each year – and we can't just blame the restaurants. Prevent cross-contamination from happening in your fridge by storing raw meats (poultry, beef, seafood, pork, etc.) properly contained and on the bottom shelf. Keep ready-to-eat foods like potato salad, fruits, and vegetables on top shelves. This prevents juices from raw meat from dripping onto foods that won't be cooked before eating.
Next, move perishable items like eggs and milk to the interior of the fridge rather than keeping them in the door. Think about it – how often do you feel hungry and stand in front of the fridge trying to figure out what to eat? Don't feel bad, it happens to the best of us. Repeated temperature fluctuations over time can significantly lower the quality and shelf life of foods that need to be kept cold. Keep raw eggs behind your raw meat on the lowest shelf and dairy on a middle shelf near the back.
Speaking of cold temperatures, don't rely on the refrigerator's coldness settings to ensure that food is kept at a safe temperature. According to the FDA, foods should be refrigerated at or below 40 degrees F. Purchase a fridge thermometer inexpensively at any home improvement store and keep it in the warmest part (usually near the door). Monitor the temperature on a regular basis and make adjustments to your refrigerator so that the temperature is at maximum 40 degrees.
Besides temperature, time is an important variable in terms of food safety. Follow the "First In First Out" rule – use items in order of their expiration dates if marked, and use those apples from last week before going for the ones you just picked up at the store. This will prevent you from having (and possibly consuming) goods that have gone bad. If you're not sure about a questionable item, check out www.homefoodsafety.org to see if it's still safe.
Then, use the "4 Day Throw Away" guideline to manage your leftovers. With a pen, mark the date on a piece of masking tape and place it on your container of leftovers. Use the food or throw it out within 4 days. If you made a dish with previous leftovers, mark the leftovers of the new dish with the date of the oldest ingredient used. For example, you had shredded chicken that you made on Sunday the 1st and then used it in a casserole on Tuesday the 3rd. You still want to mark the casserole leftovers from Tuesday the 3rd with the date of Sunday the 1st, since that's when you originally made the chicken.
Not only will you be preventing foodborne illness by following these rules, but you'll also be preventing food from piling up. Finally, do a weekly or biweekly cleaning to wipe down spills and make sure you've gotten rid of any food that needs to be discarded. Post a schedule so you don't forget and rotate between household members so everyone gets a turn.
This spring, stay up to date managing your food inventory rather than having to toss out the moldy stuff down the road (how long has that been in there, anyway?). It'll keep your fridge happy and healthy, and you as well.
February 14, 2013
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, you might expect me to extol the virtues of red wine and chocolate. And while these can certainly be heart-healthy in moderation, there are other foods that are far more effective at preventing cardiovascular disease. Vegetables – yes, vegetables – aren't exactly easy to get excited about, but get this. Only 23% of adults in Illinois are getting anywhere close to their daily vegetable requirement. Yikes! That means 77% of us have quite a bit of work to do. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, each increment of 3 daily servings of fruits and vegetables can lower your risk of having a stroke by 25%. Clearly, it's worth the while to at least try to get your veggies.
One of the ways I make sure I get my daily dose is to incorporate vegetables into my snacks. If you're on the go, pre-packaged snack containers of crudités like carrots and celery with dip are great. To save money, I make my own by pairing ½ cup or more of veggie sticks with a few tablespoons of dip such as nut butter, hummus, or low-fat dressing. Re-usable plastic containers with dividers are great for this purpose. If you get bored with carrots and celery, try grape tomatoes, broccoli, or bell peppers and different kinds of hummus (I love the spicy and garlicky ones) for new and unexpected flavor combinations.
Now here's my biggest secret to getting enough vegetables – it's called "volumetrics." This term was coined and turned into a book by Barbara Rolls, PhD, a nutrition professor from Penn State. The term describes an eating plan that is full of foods with low energy density but plenty of volume – foods like fruits and vegetables. Eating more of these foods that are packed with water and fiber while being low in calories is a great way to feel satisfied with more food but not more calories. I put this into practice by relying on frozen steamer bags of plain California blend (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) or mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, and corn). Heat up a bag in the microwave and simply mix the veggies into whatever you're eating. This is a great trick for stir-fry, pasta, casseroles, or any mixed dish.
Another thing I like to do is add double the amount of vegetables that's called for in a recipe – or I add them when the recipe doesn't even call for it. For example, I add chopped red and green bell pepper to corn chowder or sautéed mushrooms to my spaghetti marinara. This is especially useful when making a calorie-laden but comforting dish like chicken pot pie. Having more vegetables in there means you'll get fuller faster and not need to eat as much to feel satisfied. Not only that, but stretching your meals like this means you'll have leftovers in the fridge and more money in your pocket.
The way you need water to make instant soup, think of your meals as ready to eat only when you've included vegetables. So if you're looking for easy ways to improve your heart health this month (or any month for that matter) – just add veggies!
January 31, 2013
"Which diets are the best?" If I made a list of the questions I'm most commonly asked by consumers, that one would be at the top. Well, the folks at U.S. News and World Report have recently attempted to answer the age old question (check out http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-overall-diets). To rank popular and less well known diets, the publication enlisted the help of a panel of nationally recognized experts in the fields of diet, nutrition, obesity, psychology, diabetes, and heart disease. To reach their conclusions, diet plans were evaluated in terms of easiness to follow, ability to produce lasting weight loss, nutritional completeness, safety, and ability to help manage chronic diseases.
Two in particular scored highly across the board and most importantly, in the category of Best Diets Overall. And with a drumroll please... the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diets came out on top.
Interestingly enough, both plans are designed to improve cardiovascular health. DASH has been clinically shown to reduce blood pressure, while TLC can help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Both are very heart-healthy diets and are similar in their approach, emphasizing fruits, veggies, and whole grains to boost fiber intake. They also recommend modest amounts of lean protein and low-fat dairy to decrease saturated fat. Of course, salt is also limited.
While both diets are effective for promoting cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of diabetes, and encouraging weight loss, there are some drawbacks. In the dead of winter, quality fresh fruits and vegetables can be a bit expensive. Further, these plans are difficult to follow without an understanding of how to read nutrition labels and a basic knowledge of heart-healthy cooking techniques. Of course, it may be easier to rely on commercial diets and ready-to-eat meals.
But remember, teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime. In the same manner, learning essential skills can help you lead a healthy lifestyle and change for good. If you're looking to improve your heart health for life, University of Illinois Extension (and yours truly) can help.
To celebrate American Heart Month in February, I will be offering a two-part program series called Meals for a Healthy Heart. In each session, participants will be able to watch cooking demonstrations, taste new recipes, and learn strategies to manage blood pressure and cholesterol with simple dietary changes and easy exercises. Everyone will receive a booklet of materials with informational handouts and heart-healthy recipes. The fee is just $10 for both sessions and covers food and supplies. The workshops will be held Wednesday, February 6 and 13 from 2-4 p.m. at the Champaign County Extension Auditorium located at 801 N. Country Fair Drive in Champaign. You can register by calling our office at 217-333-7672 or visiting our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv. Space is limited to 30 participants and registration is due by February 4, so enroll now. I hope to see you there!
January 17, 2013
One of the biggest obstacles to eating healthy – whether you're new to the game or you're a veteran like me – is going out to eat. Enjoying a nice meal used to be one of life's little pleasures, but is now as much a part of our routine as filling up on gas. In moderation, an occasional heavy meal won't make a huge dent in your diet, but multiple restaurant stops throughout the week can wreak havoc on your health.
Most dishes served at restaurants – fast food, café casual, or high-brow – are notoriously high in sodium, fat, and calories – and oftentimes sugar, as well. There's a good reason for this. The combination of sugar, salt, and fat is irresistible to our taste buds and keeps us coming back for more. No wonder it's so hard to prevent the car from steering itself into the drive-thru on the way home from work!
Lack of time and motivation are major barriers to planning ahead and preparing healthy meals at home. In fact, the average American now eats out 5 times per week. Dining out is inevitable, so what to do?
There are plenty of ways to keep the calories from piling on when you're out to eat. First and foremost, forget about the basket of bread, tortilla chips, or breadsticks. Sip on water or diet soda while waiting for your meal. This can help quiet your immediate hunger and help you eat less overall at the meal.
When ordering, choose small or regular-sized meal items. It may seem like a better deal to "super-size it," but while your wallet wins your health may suffer in the long-run. Another way to control portion size is to split an entrée. Share with a friend or take half home. Ask for a to-go box right when you order, and you're less likely to keep eating mindlessly after you're already full.
On that note, slow down and allow yourself time to feel satisfied. It can take up to 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that you've had enough, so sip water between bites. Enjoy the occasion out with loved ones and savor your food over good conversation and laughs.
Choose dishes that emphasize vegetables and include small portions of lean proteins like chicken breast and fish. Look for key terms on the menu like steamed, grilled, poached, baked, and broiled. These are lower-fat cooking methods than sautéing or frying. Other words like creamy, rich, cheesy, crispy, crunchy, and breaded are dead giveaways that the dish will be high in fat and calories.
Salads seem like they would be safe, but beware of deluxe and premium salads that include high-calorie toppings. Add-ons like croutons, bacon, cheese, wontons, nuts, and dried fruit can send the calorie count sky high. One way to cut calories is to order vinaigrette-style dressings instead of creamy dressings like ranch, blue cheese, Thousand Island, or French. But since I love ranch dressing, I often use the "fork dip" method. Dip your fork into the side portion of dressing and then take a bite of salad rather than pouring it all over the lettuce.
Finally, plan, plan, and plan some more. If you know you're going out for dinner, eat lightly throughout the day. Do your research and find out what the restaurant offers beforehand. Many chains and independent restaurants offer nutrition information online or in brochures. You can make your decision when you sit down a whole lot easier by knowing ahead of time which dishes fit into your meal plan.
You might wince at first, but hand in your resignation to the clean plate club and start making informed nutrition decisions – yes, it's on the menu, but is it on your menu? The power to choose is in your hands, so start using it.
January 1, 2013
Have you made your News Year's resolutions yet? I'll be honest, I'm putting myself on the hook to lose the 10 pounds I've accumulated over the past two years (yes, even dietitians gain weight sometimes!). So if you're like me and millions of other Americans, you may be making a resolution to improve your health this year. You might also be wondering how to make it stick, having been down this road once, twice, or countless times before.
Start by taking a good look at your resolution – is it specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (SMART)? Use "W" words to write your goal: who, what, where, when, and why. Will you measure your progress in inches and pounds lost or servings of vegetables eaten? Importantly, is your goal truly attainable? It's easy to get discouraged with big goals that don't have any payoff in the short-term, so it can help to break up a larger goal into smaller ones. Similarly, your goal should be realistic – an objective you're willing and able to work toward. And finally, does your resolution have a time frame? Push yourself forward by setting an end date.
This may seem obvious, but studies confirm that writing down goals help to cement your commitment. Electronically recording your resolution is one way, but I like to write resolutions out by hand. This may be more effective because it takes a little more effort and purpose. Then, you can easily display your resolution rather than having to log on to see it. Since out of sight means out of mind, post sticky notes on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, at your desk, or wherever you like as reminders. Positive reinforcement is most effective for changing behaviors, so don't forget those words of encouragement. There's absolutely nothing wrong with writing a sticky note that says "you're awesome!"
Writing things down really is important – according to the National Weight Control Registry, keeping a daily food and activity log is one of the most effective strategies for losing weight and keeping it off. There are websites, apps, and programs galore these days to keep track of your efforts, but as I said before, good old-fashioned pen and paper work better than fine.
Weight gain doesn't happen overnight, so it's silly to expect it to come off quickly. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that losing 10% of your body weight in 6 months is a reasonable goal for most people. If you weigh 200 pounds, that's just 20 pounds. Aim to lose 0.5 – 1.0 pound per week. Slow and steady wins the race, since you'll be much more likely to keep it off than with crash diets that make you lose 10 pounds in two weeks.
So why not try these strategies and make this year "the year?" Because as the sticky note on my fridge says, "you can do it!"