From 9 Top Nutritionists: Positive Take-Aways From COVID-19

In a very short time period, COVID-19 turned how we live upside down.  We’re suddenly living, eating, and shopping differently than perhaps ever before. Has all this impact been negative?  I spoke with 8 nationally-known registered dietitian-nutritionists to get their take on what they think are the POSITIVES that might come out of the current pandemic, what they’ve learned, and a few noted what they’d like to keep from the whole pandemic experience.

Newfound Respect for Some Pantry Standbys

Amy Myrdal Miller hopes people “appreciate the benefits of canned fruits, vegetables, and beans and frozen fruits and vegetables. For too long people have believed ‘fresh is best.’  This points out the reality that canned and frozen foods offer nutrition benefits and convenience.”  If the increased demand for canned and frozen foods is any indication, this appears to be happening.

Neva Cochran agreed, noting that consumers returned to these foods as well as beans, beef, pasta, and others, “that are often mis-characterized as not being healthy or nutritious.”  Since the onset of the pandemic, she continued, “Concerns about buying organic, meat-free, non-GMO, all-natural, no added hormones, antibiotic-free and gluten-free have taken a back seat when people are concerned that there may not be enough food.”

Gratitude was also expressed.  “I’ve never been more grateful for all these non-perishable options – and the farmers who bring them to my table,” said Nicole Rodriguez.  “Whether it’s a simple box of raisins with my daughter during ‘home school’ snack time, cottage cheese topped with a pre-portioned serving of cling peaches, or frozen berries heated up as a makeshift jam,” she said she has a deeper appreciation for fruits in all forms.  As do I, including fresh fruit!  (See my Cut-To-The-Chase Take-Away below for more!)

Isolation – The Good Part

Photo credit: Andrea Piacuadio, pexels.com

Some found appreciations that had nothing to do with food or nutrition.  Chris Mohr’s normal schedule has him on the road constantly.  Being grounded (literally!) has been an unexpectedly positive experience for him, his wife and their two daughters.  “I love the increased level of connection among us.  We’ve each grown closer because we’re not socializing, traveling for work or anything else.  And I will work really hard to keep that up once we are ‘released’ from our homes”.  Probably something we all might focus on.

Having a less structured schedule during isolation has allowed Karen Ansel some freedom.  She’s found that she can do things “at times of day that mimic my body’s natural energy flow instead of when I’m “supposed” to do them.  I’ve been spending a lot of time spinning my wheels trying to be productive at the wrong times of day.” While she realizes all this may change when isolation is relaxed, “normal” life resumes, she does want to maintain take some of this new-realization.  “I do plan to really try to follow my body’s internal energy cues as much as possible.” 

Teachable Moments

If your kids show an interest in cooking, all the at-home time is great for getting into the kitchen with them to practice.   Toby Amidor, author of numerous cookbooks, has found it’s allowed her to, “Cook with my kids in the kitchen and actually see how my girls can cook without me in the kitchen.”  She sees how much they’ve learned from their mom, adding, “Now we are focused on further developing their cooking skills into more complex dishes they want to learn to cook.”  Sounds like “teacher” and her students have both learned something.

Rosanne Rust loves that people are sharing more time with their families in general, but including in the kitchen. “Teaching the kids how to bake, or working together at home, is a win-win for both the parents and the children. Even if at times it seems stressful.”  Good point.  If you’re new to teaching your kids cooking skills, start with goof-proof, entry-level skills: boiling an egg, baking a potato, steaming a vegetable.  Baby steps here!

As a retail dietitian (as in supermarket), Leah McGrath thinks many have gained a new appreciation for how hard supermarkets and restaurants work to make sure there is food available to us.  “Perhaps we won’t forget to take a moment when we’re shopping for groceries or eating out to remember that with a kind word, a smile or, when appropriate, a generous tip.”  Active on social media (@InglesDietitian), she’s using the #QuarantineKitchen hashtag.  “I think many have surprised themselves with their culinary creativity and ingenious substitutions to make meals for themselves and their families.  Necessity is the mother of invention!”

Beyond teaching cooking skills, food has always been part of family culture, too.  Notably, our isolation has occurred during Easter and Passover periods.  Christine Rosenbloom sees this isolation as, “An opportunity for kids and families to learn to cook and bake.  Teaching kids family heritage through foods and sharing treasured recipes,” is something she recommends during all the enforced down time.

I hear that.  Growing up, we celebrated what we called “regular” Easter (the one recognized nationally) and “Greek” Easter (the Eastern Orthodox one, which usually falls on a different Sunday).  This year, I did my part by making this braided Easter bread, like my Greek grandmother made, pictured here. (I hope she’s lenient – I reduced the amount of anise seeds by half and added some nuts – personal preference!)   

Cut -To-The-Chase Take-Away:

I join my colleagues in valuing all those pantry staples people have forgotten or dismissed.  They are – and always were – safe and nutritious to eat.  BUT…SO IS FRESH PRODUCE! 

Moreover, farmers need your help!  Many are plowing under or discarding perfectly good crops because of lower demand by consumers too afraid to handle and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. 

You CANNOT get COVID-19 from food.  Why?  I explain it to you backed by facts!) in a previous post here.  So, when you do shop, buy fresh, too.  Remember – farmers aren’t “first responders”, they’re CONSTANT responders, through all.

News Flash: Fresh Produce Is Safe To Eat!!!

When I hit the supermarket these days, I’m seeing canned and frozen vegetables and fruits flying off the shelves.  All good, because they’re shelf-stable and many folks are minimizing trips anywhere, including to the supermarket.  Yet the fresh produce section, loaded with colorful, delicious fresh fruits and vegetables, isn’t feeling the love. 

That’s a problem.  There seem to be concerns about buying and eating produce these days, especially if it’s sold in bulk, since other consumers might have handled it.  

Feel Good About Eating Fresh Produce

No reason in the least to avoid eating fresh fruits and vegetables.  Yes, you need to wash it.  You’ve ALWAYS needed to wash it.  You DON’T need to wash it with anything special.  Here are 7 terrific tips, straight from the FDA website, for washing fruits and vegetables so you can eat them with confidence, :

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  • If damage or bruising occurs before eating or handling, cut away the damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  • Rinse produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  • Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
  • Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • Remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

COVID-19 note: Your risk of getting it from food is slim to none.  Check This graphic from the University of Georgia Extension.  I love it because it tells you how you WON’T get COVID-19, and you won’t get it from food. 

Your stomach acid HATES this virus as much as you do.  It’s part of our body’s protective barrier.  Stomach acid has a very low pH (meaning it’s a strong acid) and the virus can’t survive that.  Plus, the virus needs to get to you through your respiratory tract, not your GI tract.  The tips on washing your produce however, still holds.  Consider it part of “best practices” on the home front.

 

Long before COVID-19, I wanted to be prudent and remove whatever dirt and such that might have accumulated on the skin.  In our home, we’re eating lots of root vegetables like carrots, beets, and potatoes, especially now, because that’s what’s left in the farmers’ market, and since these veggies grow in the ground, it makes sense to give them a good scrubbing.  (Note, in the photo below there’s also kohlrabi and celery root on the left and right, respectively — other root veggies definitely worth trying!) I do the same for oranges and apples, too, though.  Food safety is not just a farmer’s responsibility, it’s mine and all of ours as well. 

Biggest Pandemic: 9 Out of 10 STILL Don’t Eat Enough Fruits & Veggies!

The latest from the 2020 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee established that average COMBINED intake of fruits and vegetables is just under 2½ cups a day, and that includes 100% fruit juice.  Specifically, average consumption of fruit is 0.9 cups a day of fruit and 1.4 cups of vegetables.  This accounts for all of it – including your 100% juice and the lettuce on your sandwich.  This is about what it’s been for the past 20 years.  Not much progress.

I’m not going to bother you with the Mt. Everest of research about the bennies of eating 5 cups a day of fruits and vegetables.  Unless you’ve been licving under a rock for the past 50 or so years, you know how beneficial eating fruits and vegetables can be for your health – and your taste buds.   I’m just going to say we can do better.

Cut To The Chase Nutrition take-away: I don’t’ split hairs here.  While 2½ cups of vegetables and 1½ cups of fruit are the recommended minimums, don’t obsess.  If your consumption adds up to at least 4 cups a day, in any combo, and regardless of whether they’re fresh, canned, frozen or dried, take a bow.  Keep the juice to a max of 1 cup though, and the dried fruit to 1/4 cup or so if you’re watching calories. 

Otherwise eat up.   

COVID-19: 5 Steps To Make Some Lemonade Of It ALL!

Amid a pandemic like COVID-19, the hysteria seems to build and change by the hour.  Businesses are shut, so are many workplaces and offices.  Gyms, malls, anything even slightly optional, not happening.  We don’t know when things will return to normal but the world isn’t ending either.  In fact, there are some real positives for our lifestyle and our health that can come from all this disruption.

Positives?  From COVID-19?  Yes.  The disruptions are forced upon us, but everyone’s at the same place.  Let’s work it.  Here’s where I see the lemonade from “sheltering in place”:

Everyone. Slows. Down.

Less pressure to get all the errands done and on time.  Indeed, none of us can “do it all,” because so much of “it” has been cancelled!  There is also no rushed commute, no traffic snarls, no morning scramble to get kids to school, no mad dash after work to meet friends or get home to make dinner, and fewer errands to run.

Avoid Going Nuts & Enjoy The Extra Time 

It’s time to get to things you’ve been putting off – especially the “me” things that help clear our heads and bust our anxiety.  Some options to consider: 

  • Move it!   No marathons, just get out and walk.  It’s still OK, even if you’re under “shelter-in-place” orders.  You’re not under house arrest, so get on your sneakers and walk as briskly as you can, staying at least 6 feet from others.  About 100 steps a minute – done outside or inside – is considered a “brisk” pace and that’ll get you a mile for every 20 minutes of walking.  Or ride a bike, dance to a video, or do online yoga!  Exercise is well-known as a great mood lifter. It clears your head, gives you a mental boost, and makes life more manageable.  Make it part of your “me” time.  About that marathon though, check out this story of a guy in France who ran the distance of a marathon on his 23-foot balcony!
  • Give yourself a 30-minute “organizing” task. The task may take longer, but spend 30 minutes a day doing it.  That might be de-cluttering your home office desk (the bane of my existence), cleaning out a closet, gathering clothes and knick-knacks to donate, or going through the pantry to throw out expired condiments and food.  You can do it at a leisurely pace and end up with so much extra room!
  • Do fun stuff. Got a hobby you never seem to have time to do?  It’s time, and make it a priority.  Aim for an hour a day here, too.  I hope you make it a habit you’ll continue, even after this all passes.
  • Family meals are back!  Make these a priority, too, and make them last at least 30 minutes.  No technology at the table, just re-acquaint with conversation and socializing.  Some of the best memories of my childhood were sitting around the dinner table with parents and grandparents.  We’d talk about everything: the meal, friends, goals, you name it, and everyone was welcome to participate.  To me, it’s what a family meal should be, but make your own family meal style you’ll enjoy.
  • Rediscover the joy of cooking!  It’s WAY more enjoyable when you’re not pressured.  You can finally get to making those recipes you’ve collected but never got around to trying.  No cookbooks? No problem.  There are tons of great sites online.  Try www.beefitswhatsfordinner for starters.  It’s my go-to resource for all things beef, and their recipes are excellent and don’t require a degree from Le Cordon Bleu.    Check out Dr. Keith’s Pot Roast recipe.  I’d never cooked one before and adapted a NY Times recipe.  Turned out to be lean and the best pot roast I’d ever eaten!  The prep doesn’t take very long, you just have to be home for a few hours.  And since you’re home anyway, enjoy the aroma and eat the reward – and it stretches for more than one meal!

Big Apple Diversity: More Here Than Meets The Eye

Four apples that look alike, but they’re four different varieties – and they taste different.

When people say “I don’t really like apples” my reaction is that there are dozens of varieties, how many have they really tried?

The four varieties here – Evercrisp, Koru, Ruby Frost, and Snap Dragon, are all grown in New York State.  Disclosure: These apples were provided by Yes! Apples. They did not ask me to write this and I’m wearing both my food-critic/foodie hat and my nutritionist hat, so here goes.

Since they looked pretty similar, I expected them to taste fairly similar.  Au contraire.  The only commonality: crispness.  Nothing mushy here. 

Overall, these were four outstanding apple varieties, none of which I’d tasted before.  Quick review of each:

Evercrisp: More like “supercrisp”—solid, firm and with an intense, flavor, almost like apple extract had been added to it.  To be fair, the Evercrisp I tasted also had a “sugar core” — that almost clear, icy-looking appearance in the flesh that signifies a concentration of natural sweetness.  Any apple can have this, and I was the lucky taster here.

Koru: I’ve written about this apple before – when I first tasted it at the New York Produce Show.  Sweet, tart but not astringent, and the smaller core gives you a little more edible portion – and less to waste.  All good by me.

Ruby Frost: A good snap when biting into it, this one seemed to have more wine notes to it.  I’m no wine connoisseur, but I’d say it was more Riesling than burgundy, perhaps due to the sweetness.  I see this one as a sophisticated apple, if you can imagine such a thing. 

Snap Dragon:  This one was sweet and tart and almost like it was injected with extra apple flavor.  Take apple juice and heat it like you’re reducing it just a bit to concentrate the flavor.    

For me, the Evercrisp wins by a hair, but I’d eat each one of these again in a heartbeat.  I don’t like all apples.  Give me a Rome apple and it’ll sit there until I die.  They’re just not an eating apple.  Both Red and Golden delicious are OK, but apples that are crisp, tart and sweet win me over.  On the other hand, if I see any of the four varieties noted above in my local market, I’m grabbing them, and don’t get in my way.

An Apple A Day? Make It 2 & Lower Your Cholesterol

Speaking of heartbeats, there’s a new study out on the bennies of eating 2 apples a day.  All subjects were borderline overweight, with BMIs just over 25, and had mildly elevated cholesterol levels.  Two groups, eating either two whole apples a day (about 12 ounces of edible apple, with skin but without the core) or a control group drinking the same number of calories as apple juice, for 8 weeks.  Then there was a 4-week “washout period” and each group traded interventions.  That is, the apple eaters now got the juice and the hjuice drinkers now had the apples.

When the whole apples were eaten, total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” one) declined significantly, not a huge drop, but about 5 percent each.  That’s ain’t shabby, for just eating more fruit. 

It’s not clear if the difference happened because of the apples’ high content of pro-anthocyanidins (antioxidant compounds in the skins of apples) or because the whole apple also has loads of good prebiotic fiber, or some combination of those two factors.  That’s for the scientists to figure out in additional research.  Consumers (and those of us who eat) just need to know that eating apples may help steer your health in a good direction. 

Wearing my registered dietitian-nutritionist hat, I also like that eating apples — or any fruit — more often, is likely to squeeze out some of the less nutritious foods you might otherwise have eaten.  It’s not just about eating a great food, it’s about using it to replace a not-so-great food.

A few caveats here: Most people don’t want to commit to eating two apples a day forever.  I wouldn’t either.  And this study used a single variety of apple, called “Renetta Canada”, like those pictured here, so the proanthocyanidin content could be consistent.  That said, most apples are good sources of these compounds, whether you eat them with the skin (personal favorite) or without. 

Cut-To-The-Chase Take-away

Most people need to eat more fruits and veggies anyway, so just count this latest study as more ammunition in favor of doing so.  Eat whatever fruits you like but eat them DAILY!  And mix it up whenever possible – they all have their diverse benefits – and flavors!

7 Nutrition Myths These Dietitians Are Busting

When people learn I’m a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN), they almost immediately start venting their frustrations about food issues. “Every day it’s another thing you can’t do or eat.  One day a food is good for you, the next day it’s bad for you.”  Since confused consumers make no changes, I always try to bust their myths and misinformation.

While consumers may be confused about food fads, RDNs are not.  They’re fed up with them.  They’re trained to spot hype, fads, and myths around a blind corner and it annoys them to no end. I asked some RDNs who have particularly good communications skills to tell me which popular nutrition fads really grind at them.  Here’s what they said:

Carbo-phobia!

Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN, said straight up, “I wish people would stop thinking carbs are the devil.”  She’s had it with a near universal demonizing of these essential macros. 

Sure, most people eat too much added sugar, but she’s right that all carbs seem to be lumped together, whether it’s whole wheat bread or soda.  “Today it’s keto, yesterday it was Paleo, so many others before,” she said.  “I’m tired of all the iterations of high-protein, restricted carbs.”

Plant “Milk” Deserves No Halo

Nutritionally, plant-based diary alternatives just can’t hold a candle to the nutrition in real milk, according to Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, FADN, professor of nutrition at Boston University and the host of the hit health and wellness podcast, SpotOn! In addition to being a dynamite protein source, “Cow’s milk is chock full of vitamin D, calcium, and potassium, three nutrients that many Americans are falling short of in their diets.”  Dairy alternatives only have these nutrients if they’re added, and they often aren’t.  Unfortunately, says Salge Blake, “plant-based milks may also contain added sugars, adding calories and no additional nutrition to your glass.” 

Salge Blake also sees the affordability of real milk as a win-win.  “When it comes to your wallet, plant-based milks can be at least twice the price of cow’s milk.  For the nutrients and the money per gulp, you can’t beat low fat or skim dairy milk.”  If you’re allergic or vegan, soy is the closest alternative.  Be prepared to pay though.

Stop Kicking The Canned Foods!

Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, spent years working directly with consumers as a retail dietitian in supermarkets, is fed up with canned foods getting dissed when they offer so many advantages:

  • Sustainability: “90% of cans are recycled and they can be recycled indefinitely.” Linings are safe, with 90% containing none of the controversial BPA.
  • Convenience: They have a long shelf life and that helps prevent wasted food and wasted food dollars.
  • Nutrition: “You can cut 40% of the sodium in canned beans and veggies just by rinsing and draining them,” Steinbach says. Since 9 in 10 people don’t eat enough vegetables, “Canned beans and tomatoes count,” towards scoring enough of this critical food group, and are a, “convenient, nutritious way to balance your diet.”

Want her recipe for quick, veggie-loaded, chili using canned ingredients?  “Here’s a favorite simple chili recipe that I made this week”:

  1. Brown 1 pound of lean ground beef;
  2. Drain and add 2 cans of chili-seasoned beans and 2 cans of undrained diced tomatoes.
  3. Season to taste with cumin or chili powder. “Serve with a green salad and whole grain crackers. Enjoy!”

Don’t Panic If It’s Not Organic

That’s advice from Leslie Bonci, MS, RDN Owner of Active Eating Advice, who is fed up with food elitism.  I see her point.  I spent decades working with low-income families who will never be able to afford organic food.  They shouldn’t worry.  They can still put delicious, nutritious food on the table. 

“What do we even mean when we say clean?” Bonci says, because “clean eating” has no definition.  That leaves every definition up to whomever is spewing it and that’s a perfect recipe for consumer confusion, fear, and doubt.  Instead, Bonci favors creating “an enabled table where foods of all price points have a place.”

White Foods Are Bright Foods!

Liz Ward, MS, RDN, Author of Better is the New Perfect is bugged by all the attention given to putting “only the most colorful fruits and vegetables on your plate.”  Forget colors, she says.  “Instead of worrying about what types of produce are “best,” simply include the types you like, no matter how pale,” Ward advises.  Besides, white, brown, and tan produce, such as mushrooms, cauliflower, potatoes, and bananas, are just as worthy as their brighter counterparts,” are loaded with nutrition.

“And while we’re at it, can we stop shaming starchy vegetables, such as corn, potatoes and peas? They are packed with nutrition and starch is a form of energy.”  It’s true, these foods are hugely important to so many food cultures and have sustained people for thousands of years.  Empty calories they most certainly are not. 

One Diet DOESN’T For Everyone?  Seriously?

“The nutrition belief that I hope goes to its final resting place in 2020 is that a single diet plan, or way of eating, is right for everyone,” declares food anthropologist and nutrition communications consultant Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN.  Looking ahead, Flipse feels personalized nutrition, not fad dieting, holds the most promise in the years ahead.  

Leah McGrath, MS, RDN, corporate dietitian for Ingles Supermarkets, couldn’t agree more.  “It seems like every year we have a new ‘hot’ diet,” she says.  “However, just like our fingerprints,  we should want to and  deserve to individualize our eating plans.” 

Flipse continued, “The one thing we’ve learned from the decades of fad diet trends we’ve endured is that none of them have delivered on what they promised because they have all overlooked our metabolic differences.”  They also tend to be extreme, which is probably why people burn out on them. 

Flipse admits that we still lack the scientific tools to allow us to tailor nutrition to each person’s needs.  Unfortunately, when consumer demand gets ahead of the science, charlatans see an opportunity to market all kinds of pseudo-scientific gimmicks.

Plant-Based Doesn’t Mean Plants-ONLY

This one is mine.  I’ve written about it before and everyone in 2019 seemed to be jumping on this bandwagon.  Thing is, there’s no universal definition of “plant-based!” 

What it DOESN’T mean is vegan.  Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t automatically guarantee your diet is balanced or healthful, either.  Living on soda and chips is a fully “plant-based”, vegan diet.  And it ain’t balanced.  A huge salad with 10 different veggies, some nuts, and crumbled feta or parmesan cheese or a couple of ounces of beef or salmon is not vegan – but it IS plant-based.  Flipse put it best, “I tell people if 50% or more of what they eat is plants, then they have a ‘plant-based’ diet.”

Holidays, Eating, & Why Everyone Needs This “Drug”!

NO ONE wants to hear about health stuff this month.  Save that for January!  We want our “once-a-year-foods”, so stay out of the way or we’ll squash you like a grape!  And why not?  Food that’s around once a year should be eaten and enjoyed.  I’ll even join you.

But holidays can be challenging.  There are always more things to do than time in which to do them: buying gifts, heading to social occasions, hosting them, cooking foods you have only once a year (how did I cook that last year?), and on.  All on top of the usual stuff called “life.” 

Your “Dream Drug”

If you could invent a drug for this time of year, you’d probably want it to:

  • Burn excess calories
  • Act like a statin to lower your cholesterol
  • Improve your heart’s health
  • Lower your fasting blood glucose
  • Help you cut stress
  • Give you a “mood lift”
  • Improve your sleep
  • Add some lean muscle
  • Help you think more clearly

If you could patent this drug and market it, you’d be richer than Jeff Bezos, who would be begging you to sell it on Amazon.

This “drug” isn’t in a bottle.  It’s in your shoes: physical activity.  It does ALL the things listed above and you can get all those benefits.

Registered dietitian nutritionist, Leslie Bonci, should know, as the owner/founder of www.activeeatingadvice.com, she says, “Exercise is the gift that gives your body the lift it needs during the holidays.”  This isn’t just an opinion, either.  Read on.

Hot Off the Research Press: Thinking Won’t Help You Exercise, But Exercise Helps You Think

This study, just out, looked at the cognitive outcomes of four older adult groups: those who did moderate physical activity three days a week (walking or biking), ate a DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), those who did both and a control group that received only dietary education.

Best neurocognitive improvement at 1 year?  The group that did BOTH aerobic activity and the DASH eating style.  Second best was the aerobics-only group.  No surprise to Bonci.  “Getting moving helps to circulate blood to the brain,” she says.  

Why I Love This Study

  • The participants were at least 55 years old. If these folks can do it, it can be done by most people. 
  • The activity wasn’t extreme. No marathons, no sweating until exhaustion, just walking or stationary biking for 35 minutes, thrice weekly. Just move, then move on. 
  • DASH eating style? Also easy-peasy: It’s 2½ cups of fruits and veggies and two servings of dairy foods – what we should be doing anyway!   

Starting Moving

Baby steps here.  Registered dietitian Liz Ward’s philosophy says it all. “My mantra is that any movement is better than none to relieve tension and help you sleep better.”  Even her website is called “BetterIsTheNewPerfect

No time to do that walk?  Try doing it for half your lunch hour, so it doesn’t use any valuable “off” time.  FYI: a “brisk walk” is about 100 steps a minute.

This time of year, Ward admits her workouts may be shorter or even less frequent, but she knows the benefits go way beyond calorie-burning.  “I try to exercise as much as my schedule allows because physical activity is a huge stress-buster for me.”

Start “DASH-ing” 

Getting those 2½ cups (total) of fruits and veggies and two servings of dairy is easier than you think.  No specific fruits or vegetables here, and it’s cooked or raw, so choices are up to you.  For dairy, even some cheese is fine (an ounce per serving), but mix it up.  Examples:

  • Dairy: a cup of REAL milk on your cereal
  • Greek yogurt at breakfast, lunch, or for a snack or even dessert (with some of that fruit!).
  • Fill a pint plastic container (the kind that holds the won-ton soup form Chinese take-out) with any combo of fruits and veggies – that’s 4 servings right there – so you’re almost done for the day.

Cut to the Chase Bonus: Start now and you’re (literally) miles ahead of everyone else come New Years! 

15 Tips: Prevent G.E.R.D. From Being “Thanksgiving’s Revenge”

“National G.E.R.D. Awareness Week” is November 18-24 this year — a week BEFORE Thanksgiving, but maybe that’s good.  Being aware of this annoying condition can help you avoid it.

What’s “GERD”? It stands for “gastro-esophageal reflux disease”.  Back in the day, it was commonly known as “heartburn.”   It happens when the acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus and it burns the hell out of it.  Your stomach is well-equipped to handle the stomach acids it produces to aid digestion, but the esophagus is much more sensitive.  When stomach acid gurgles up into the esophagus, it’s painful. 

A big Thanksgiving meal can trigger GERD even if you rarely experience heartburn.  Why?  Your stomach is only so big.  When you eat more than the stomach can handle, the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the esophagus may not close completely (see the graphic).  When stomach acid is released to start digestion in the stomach, some of that acid bubbles up and you feel a burning sensation. 

How to prevent GERD and Enjoy Your Thanksgiving Meal

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) put out this great graphic with 15 tips for avoiding GERD.  I’ll explain each one:

  1. Eat the meal earlier. It gives you more time to digest your food.  Having a big dinner in the the evening is a sure-fire way to get heartburn. 
  2. Serve (and eat) light appetizers. The Thanksgiving meal is an important tradition.  Save valuable tummy space and spend calories on the meal, instead of on typical nibbles.  A couple of bites of something and leave it at that.
  3. Stay active! Keeping moving helps your stomach empty itself a little sooner.  No marathons or vigorous exercise here, but any movement more than sitting down is a good idea.
  4. Don’t smoke. Add “heartburn irritant” to the list of reasons to avoid smoking.  Enough said.
  5. Nix the juice. The acid in fruit juice is much tamer than stomach acid, but can still bother the esophagus. Fruit nectar fares better, but if you must have juice, dilute it at least 1:1 with water.
  6. Limit the drinks. Alcohol is a known trigger for reflux.  It relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach contents to back its way into the esophagus, but it can aggravate tender tissue on the way down, too.  Another trigger drink: regular coffee.  Keep it to decaf.
  7. Season lightly. This is individual, but some known irritants are things like chili peppers, tabasco, and hot sauces like salsa. They may not like you as much as you like them.
  8. Pass on deep-frying your turkey. I’d add, “and anything else.”  Fried foods trigger GERD symptoms in many folks, so be warned.  If you must eat them, think “taste” or a bite instead of a portion.
  9. Use smaller plates. It’s amazing how well this works.  If you’re int the habit of having seconds, try using a salad plate.  Then a second helping doesn’t have to mean overeating.
  10. Trade the soda for water. Bubbly stuff creates gas.  Gas puts upward pressure on that sphincter again and risks blowing acidic stomach contents into the esophagus. 
  11. Watch the desserts. Two reasons: 1) They’re heavy, just at the time your stomach is probably already full.  2) They’re usually really fatty (pie crust especially, but cake as well).  Best bet? Eat the filling in a small portion of pumpkin pie.  Hold the whipped cream and the a-la-mode.
  12. Skip the after-dinner mint. Peppermint oil – the flavoring – isn’t a “spice” but it’s just as irritating to the stomach and the esophagus.  It’s NOT a “digestive”. 
  13. SLOW DOWN! Make that salad plate-sized portion last at least 20 minutes – the amount of time it takes for your brain to register fullness, so don’t get there before the brain does!  Then ask yourself if you even want any more.  And remember, this is a time to get social.  Try and say something to everyone at the table.
  14. Stay awake. And upright.  People can feel comatose after a big meal (another reason to eat less).  Laying down after eating just makes it easier for stomach contents to back its way up into your esophagus and give you GERD symptoms.  Empty stomachs are better sleep companions.
  15. Talk to your doctor. Get relief!  There are medications available if you suffer from GERD symptoms frequently. 

Above all, may you enjoy the day, remember to be thankful.  My very best to you and your family.

No, I Don’t Care If Kids Eat Candy on Halloween

Letting kids loose on Halloween doesn’t have to mean all hell breaks loose afterwards.

Halloween is a once-a-year occasion.  I’m focused on what kids do the other 364 days of the year.  If they’re eating well on those other days, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting them enjoy Halloween!

Every year around this time I get a ton of questions from parents about what to “allow” kids to eat on Halloween, how much candy to let them collect and keep, and what kind of candy is “best” to give out on Halloween.

Sugar Shakedown

No, sugar won’t make them hyperactive.  They might have a burst of energy, but the whole “sugar-gives-them-a-buzz” thing has been completely dismissed.  The rigorous science just doesn’t show anything.  Actually, a high-sugar snack has even been shown to help keep you on-task.  I’m NOT encouraging more sugar.  It’s not angel food, but not devil’s food, and it’s not a new food, either.  Just keep it real.

Your Homework: Laying the Groundwork

Planning ahead is everything here.  Kids (and adults) don’t like sudden, unexpected changes, especially to their eating habits.  Here are a few tips to help things go smoothly on the big day:

  • Be real about how much you buy. You know how many kids typically visit you, so get enough for THEM.  Buy with an eye to having as few leftovers as possible.
  • If you’ve already bought the candy, let the kids know ahead of time about the plan for leftovers: share with neighbors, you’re bringing them into work for co-workers, making up a bag for a child who couldn’t Trick-or-Treat (a nice thing to do for a child who is ill), and so on.
  • Buy only the smallest portions of candy! No full-sized bars, just the little mini things.  That way even with leftover stuff, the treat is reduced to a bite, not a commitment.

Tricks Before Treats

The idea to reinforce to kids is to “take care of business” first, by spending calories on the foods we need.  If there’s anything left, have a treat and enjoy it.  That’s the eating style I want kids to have 364 days a year.

  • Keep only the “top 10%” – their absolute fave candies. The rest gets donated or shared with others.  Quickly – like, get it out of the house the next day. (Note: For me, candy corn got tossed first thing!  Never could stand the stuff, even as a kid!)
  • Make it social! Halloween is also about dressing up, hanging with friends, and walking the neighborhood. This applies to all holidays or occasions.  It helps them see food and eating in perspective.
  • Never make candy a “reward” for good behavior (save that for training the dog), but see it as a teachable moment. Candy is an “extra”, it provides mostly empty “discretionary calories” so treat it that way.  It’s something to have in a small amount AFTER the rest of needs are met.

“What Does the Research Say”?

Yes, someone actually did a study on whether seeing Michelle Obama’s face (versus other political women’s faces) might influence them to choose a box of raisins or a small name-brand candy bar.  Connecticut home.  Three years of Halloween.  Kids were directed randomly to either of two sides of the porch – one with Michelle Obama’s pic, the other side pics of other political women (Hillary, Ann Romney, or no photo) and asked if they wanted a box of raisins or a small candy bar.  Authors described the community as politically liberal.

Result: The kids on the Obama side were 19% more likely to choose the box of raisins than the candy.

Great, but there was no info on whether the kids then ATE the fruit.  After all, no food can be nutritious until you EAT it.  Ironically, the box of raisins is about the same calories as the small candy.

Cut-To-The-Chase-Nutrition Take-Away

Halloween can be a blast.  It should be.  It’s also over in a day so enjoy it fully.  On other days, it’s about getting what you need first: the fruits, veggies, whole grains and dairy foods FIRST.  Be active, FIRST.  Those are the tricks, before the treats.

Depressed? Some Fruits and Veggies Might Help!

When I was a kid, and for basically my entire life, having a (huge) slice of watermelon – or two or three, made me happier than eating cake.  Yeah, watermelon made me happy.  But could eating more fruit – and veggies – make you less depressed?  Some new research says that’s not a far-fetched notion.

This review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated the body of studies that investigated the effects of eating fruits and vegetables on various measures of mental health.   The authors wanted to see if an actual causal relationship existed, so they looked at both experimental studies and observational studies.

This review included studies that reported fruits and vegetables together, as well as those that looked only at intakes of vegetables or fruits.  Being this specific really pared down the pool of eligible studies, but they did find ten that met the criteria, and these included over 33,000 people.

Watermelon may not cure depression, but I am ALWAYS happy when I’m eating it!

The authors concluded that increased fruit and vegetable consumption had a “positive effect on psychological well-being”, with vegetables having somewhat more impact than fruits, in studies that looked at the effects independently.  The effect on mental health however, was less clear. 

Basic Brain Chemistry

There may be some chemical reasons for the improved mental outlook from eating more produce.  Fruits and vegetables are loaded with micronutrients like vitamin C and B-complex vitamins, that influence the formation of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain.

Neurotransmitters are known to influence our mood and impact mental health.  Indeed, many medications that treat depression are focused on modulating neurotransmitters like serotonin, to optimize their impact on mental health, depression, and psychological well-being.

Chicken vs. Egg

My first response was, “did the fruit and vegetable consumption improve their psychological well-being, or was their consumption of fruits and vegetables higher just because they had a better sense of well-being in the first place.  The latter would be called “reverse causality”. 

The amount of fruits and vegetables needed for “meaningful changes” varied among studies, ranging from 3.7 servings to 7-8 servings.  Counting a typical “serving” as about ½ cup, you’re looking at from 2-4 cups per day to have an effect.  This is well within recommended amounts by pretty much all global health authorities.

A simple “modified-Mediterranean diet”
seemed to modify depression as well

While this review didn’t include clinical research, a 2017 clinical study looked directly at the impact of increasing adherence to a “modified-Mediterranean” diet, which emphasizes fruit and vegetable consumption, as adjunctive treatment in persons diagnosed with moderate to severe depression.  Scores on the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) were used as a measure of the severity of depression.  This study checked some important boxes for quality of design:

  • Randomized controlled trial.
  • Parallel groups.
  • Some received regular nutrition counseling on a modified Mediterranean diet, others received social support on the same schedule.

Result: The dietary intervention group had significantly improved scores.  Even better, 32% of the dietary intervention group achieved remission of their depression, vs 8% in the social support group, and these results were statistically significant. 

The dietary group also at significantly more:

  • Fruits
  • Dairy foods
  • Fish
  • Pulses (beans, peas)
  • Nuts

They also ate fewer servings of less nutritious items, like sweets and, empty-calorie foods.

The study lasted only 12 weeks, so further research that addresses longer term results and with larger groups, is certainly warranted.  Still, given a relatively simple intervention that just encourages people to eat a diet that’s balanced and includes what they need anyway, it’s hard to dismiss the value of results. 

Cut-to the-Chase Take-Away

Aa clinician, I care mostly about people eating as many of each as possible and I’m less fussy about fruits vs. veggies.  None of them are nutritious unless you eat them and all of them are good for us.  Eat the ones you like and eat them daily.  You’ll certainly be happier with your choices!

Your Headphones Won’t Mask the “Noise” In New Egg-Heart Disease Study

For years, all you heard about eggs was that they were “linked with” heart disease.  Keep consumption to a few eggs per week and dietary cholesterol to less than 300 mg. per day. Since one egg has about 185 mg of cholesterol, you really had to be careful how you spent those 300 mg. 

Then, research found saturated fat to be riskier for heart disease than dietary cholesterol, but the egg damage was done.  Finally, the 2015 US Dietary Guideline for Americans finally dropped it’s 300 mg/day cholesterol limit.   

Eureka!  Progress!  Eggs Are Back!

Give up omelets? Say it ain’t so!

Just when consumers were getting comfortable having an omelet again, here comes a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that claims an “association” between egg consumption and heart disease.  At first glance, the study seems impressive:

  • They looked at 6 different populations or “cohorts”, covering a 17-year period, on average.
  • They calculated hazard ratios (HR) and absolute risk difference (ARD) for cardiovascular-related deaths and all-cause mortality.
  • They adjusted for “demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral factors.”

Here’s what they concluded

“Among US adults, higher consumption of dietary cholesterol or eggs was significantly associated with higher risk of incident CVD and all-cause mortality in a dose-response manner.”

They say that, for every 300 mg of cholesterol you eat, your chances of dying from heart disease in 17 years (assuming you’re over 50) are increased by about 17% and your chances of dying of anything at all are increased by about 18%.

But the average consumption of both eggs and dietary cholesterol was modest.  Even the cohort with the highest consumption of eggs ate only 0.42 eggs/day – less than 3 eggs per week!  Average dietary cholesterol intake was: 240 mg/day – well under the previously recommended 300 mg/day.

Turns out that, in this study, cholesterol become the issue, not eggs, but even when you just look at cholesterol, it’s important to hear the study’s “noise”.

The “Noise”, a.k.a. Weaknesses & Limitations 

It’s problems, plural, and the authors acknowledged some of them, but still felt entitled to make some strong conclusions (and I feel entitled to strongly disagree with them):

  • “Associations” and “linked-to” don’t CAUSE anything.  Anytime, and I mean ANYTIME you hear about a study that shows a food is “linked to” or “associated with” a disease or condition, it does NOT indicate the food CAUSES that condition, yet journalists often don’t get this concept.  These “Observational” studies are incapable of doing anything more than generating a hypothesis.
  • All the dietary data came from a SINGLE dietary report, and a self-report at that.  That’s like asking thousands of people about their diets on one day, and track how many die in 17 years.  Then draw conclusions about their deaths based on what they ate on that single day.  
  • Different dietary survey methods were used, so there was no uniformity of measurement.  To deal with that, the authors use a lot of statistical methods that “harmonize” the data and supposedly give you a better picture.  All methods still involved self-reports however.
  • Poorly surveying a large number of people doesn’t make data more reliable, no matter how you “harmonize” the data.  In this study, it still means 29,000 people were poorly surveyed.    
  • This study assumes a stable diet and lifestyle for 17 years, and that’s unrealistic.  No matter how many statistical tests you do, or how much “statistical significance” you find, no one – but no one – has that kind of stability for 17 years. 

Who knows what other lifestyle factors that evolved during the 17-years after the original dietary data were taken?  The authors do not, and the study cannot tell anything about what influence such factors might have had.

Yes, they’re STILL incredible…
….even for your heart!

Cut-To-The-Chase-Nutrition Reality Check

The egg has nourished people for thousands of years.  It has the highest quality protein of any food (it’s neck-and-neck with dairy), and critical, hard-to-get nutrients like vitamin D and choline.  Eggs also have the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, known to help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration.  And they’re actually low in saturated fat. 

  • Pair your eggs with other good foods.  Scramble or fry them in olive oil, have them with fresh fruit and whole-grain toast.  It’s breakfast, but also lunch or dinner.
  • Balance it!  Greek yogurt with that fruit will round out the meal, or combine them in a smoothie as a beverage with those eggs.   
  • I keep hard-cooked eggs in my fridge as a high-protein snack.  Spread them with some Dijon mustard or hummus and keep hunger pangs away. 

The Easter bunny can rest easily.