Monday, December 31, 2012

New's Year's Resolutions

2013 Winter has definitely set in. All of those food centered holidays are over. The time has come to turn the focus on the possibilities of the coming year. What's your New Year's Resolution?

What exactly is a resolution? A quick google search came up with the definition that many people know: "a firm decision to do or not to do something." Lose weight. Stop smoking. Sound familiar?

I used to make a resolution every year to lose weight. I'd spend days before New Year's indulging in whatever I thought I wouldn't be able to eat when my diet started (you know, the last supper type of thing.) With the 12th gong of the new year, I'd be "on" my diet. Yep, and that usually lasted until I found myself digging chips into the sour cream dip by 12:15 a.m. By all means, I was "OFF."  When I dove into the chips and dip, I failed. Both my diet and my resolution. And, over the years, I tried and failed repeatedly.

A better way to approach resolutions can be found in the 3rd definition of the free online dictionary, "a course of action determined or decided on." It's not the end result, but the action plan that's decided on.

Making a resolution to work on making healthier choices implies a process of action. It can also help skirt the sense of failure when you've slipped into the dip. Perhaps that wasn't the healthiest choice, but you're still in the game.  Focusing on the action creates the mindset that it's a working in progress, without inferring perfection is required to be successful. The process, the action, is what it's all about. Not simply the end result.

To improve your level of wellness, it's necessary to work through the process of making behavior changes in order to successfully change long term habits. It's this  process that provides time to learn, adjust thinking, and create wellness results that really last. There is no magic pill, at any price. Hard work and time are necessary to make real changes. 

This year make your New Year's Resolution a course of action to improve your health. Use this resolve to help guide you on your path toward greater wellness--- a leaner, stronger, happier, and healthier you! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Breakfast Casserole for Anytime

If you're looking for a delicious make-ahead brunch main dish or the perfect morning meal on a slow weekend morning, there's nothing like a good breakfast casserole. Denise asked me to find a good lightened-up recipe for her favorite sausage, egg and cheese breakfast casserole. The one I found for her is hands down better than the more caloric version I've had in the past. I've already made it twice!

This one, like most egg casseroles, requires prep a day ahead of time. It also reheats really well in the microwave, so simply plan to make it on the weekend, cut into individual portions, and refrigerate. Reheat in the microwave for about 2 minutes for a quick, warm, and healthy start to any day!

Sausage and Cheese Breakfast Casserole--Cooking Light

---Yield: 12 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon canola oil
12 ounces turkey breakfast sausage
2 cups 1% low-fat milk
2 cups egg substitute
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
3 large eggs
16 (1-ounce) slices white bread
1 cup (4 ounces) finely shredded reduced-fat extra sharp cheddar cheese

1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. 

Add sausage to pan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring and breaking sausage 
to crumble. Remove from heat; cool.
2. Combine milk and next 6 ingredients (through eggs) in a large bowl, stirring with
 a whisk.
3. Trim crusts from bread. Cut bread into 1-inch cubes. Add bread cubes, sausage, 
and cheddar cheese to milk mixture, stirring to combine. Pour bread mixture into
 a 13 x 9–inch baking or 3-quart casserole dish coated with cooking spray, spreading 
egg mixture evenly in baking dish. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 350°
5. Remove casserole from refrigerator; let stand 30 minutes. Sprinkle casserole
 evenly with paprika. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until set and lightly browned.
 Let stand 10 minutes.

Nutrition data: 245 calories, 9.2 g fat, 18.5 g. protein, 20.4 g. carbohydrate, 0.8 g fiber,                           185 mg calcium, 609 mg sodium

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gifts of Food

Beautiful gifts of plated cookies, candy, or sweet breads, all wrapped up in clear plastic wrap and tied with a bow. Gifts from neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family. The plate enters your home, you unwrap it for a quick taste, and then it begins...

You start with one cookie. Then another and another and another. Or, as Shirley puts it: a sliver leads to a slice, a slice leads to a slab, and a slab leads to a slob. That innocent plate of cookies is the gift that keeps on giving with an inability to control food and weight gain. How should you deal with these gifts of food when you're trying to make healthier choices?

First, quit drooling after the sugary treat. Try to separate the food from the person. It's really not about the gift or the food itself. It's about the giving. A special person presented you a gift; they are showing you that they care about you, that you're special to them, or even that they love you. Take joy from the fact that someone cares enough about you to give you a gift. Bask in that warm feeling; your "warm fuzzy." The cookies, bread, or candy are just an aside.

Once you're properly focused, make a decision. Are you going to try a serving or would you prefer not to? If you decide you'd better not start with that treat, simply focus on the enjoyment you felt being given the gift. If you do want to eat it, make it a special event. Put a small serving on a nice small plate. Pour yourself a cup of low fat milk, ice water with citrus slices, coffee, or tea. Then, sit down and eat mindfully. Use your senses. Eat slowly. Be full-filled by the enjoyment of the entire process of gifting...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gifts for Health

If you're thinking about the perfect gifts for people you really care about, why not try something that really shows you care? A gift encouraging healthy living!

The Mind-full Motivator's Top Pick Gifts: 

  1. Gift certificate for a well deserved massage
  2. Good pedometer (the Ozeri 4X3 is on my wish list!)
  3. Gift certificate for local yoga classes
  4. Tea for You Basket: a variety of teas (including green,) a tea pot or cup, and perhaps a tea infuser or beautiful spoon
  5. Window sill herb garden
  6. Special vinegars
  7. Infused olive oils
  8. Pretty place mats and napkins to encourage mindful eating at home
  9. Pretty smaller plates (9 or 10") plates, bowls and narrow drinking glasses to help with portion control
  10. Steamer basket
  11. Homemade basket of beautiful fresh fruit and small packages of nuts
  12. BPA-free water bottle
  13. Sleep enhancing sound machine
  14. Exercise video
  15. Video games that encourage action: dancing, sports, fitness
  16. Stress reduction book or CD
  17. Gift certificate for the Mind-full Motivator's Coaching!!
What are your great healthy gift ideas for the season?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The GIft of Health

As November closes and the December countdown begins, many of us feel as if life gets more hectic by the moment. "To Do" lists get longer and longer with all the extra things that need to get done like decorating, shopping, baking, writing letters, sending cards, and parties to get ready for. These are on top of everything else we normally have to do like work, taking care of kids, cleaning house, grocery shopping, and doing laundry. The sweet music of the season seems to change into unwanted discord.

The time usually spent taking care of yourself gets pushed way down the priority list, sometimes disappearing entirely. Who really has time to sleep enough, shop for healthy foods, cook meals, and exercise when there's so much to do? It often seems easier to reach for the sugary treats that have invaded our lives or grab fast food to eat in the car as you drive to the next errand. 

This season seems to create what I call the Internal Cycle of Chaos: increased stress, irritability, disrupted sleep, eating unhealthy foods with less control, and avoidance of exercise. As this cycle continues, it really effects your body. In addition to dark circles under the eyes and shorter temper, your immune system is weakened. It's easier to get sick. And, you can become more accident prone. Just ask my mom who's recovering from an elbow replacement after slipping on ice 3 weeks ago. She was wondering how in the world she was going to get everything done that week. That fall really took care of her list. As Simon & Garfunkel sang, "Slow down, you're moving too fast..."

It's time to give yourself the gift of health. Taking care of your health is a priority. If you don't, who will? Even in these hectic, busy days, schedule time to walk, choose healthy foods, eat mindfully, relax, breathe, and sleep. And, do some things that really make you happy, nurture your soul and bring joy into your life. Whether it's spending time with someone you love, listening to music, painting, writing, or volunteering, it's an important part of your health. As you make your list and check it twice, make sure you're number one!

What's on your list for self care this week?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Focus

Thanksgiving is all about turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and pie. Right? Some people think so. This year, in addition to food, I challenge all of us to focus on the "Thanks" part of Thanksgiving. Gratitude. 

Tomorrow and every evening throughout this holiday season, try writing down 5 things that you are thankful for. Perhaps a beautiful, sunny day, your health, a bird you saw at the feeder, a smile, a kind word, or even a day free of pain. It's amazing how the practice of gratitude changes your attitude. And an attitude adjustment is often just what we need to keep our motivation going to keep working toward a healthier you!

Try to focus on mindful eating tomorrow. Slow down. Sit. Breathe. Look. Smell. Taste. Evaluate. Chew. Think about which foods really taste good to you and those that aren't. You deserve to savor every bite and totally enjoy your Thanksgiving meal!

Thanksgiving Foods
Turkey, white meat, 3 oz                       134              3               3 protein

Turkey, dark meat, 3 oz                         168              3               3 protein
Stuffing, 1/2 cup                                    177              3 1/2
Mashed potatoes, 1/2 cup                       120             2
Gravy, 1/4 cup                                         30              1
Butter, 1/2 Tbsp                                       50              1
Roll                                                        120              2 1/2
Cranberry sauce, 1/4 cup                       110              2
Winter squash, 1/2 cup                            40              1                1 vegetable
Sweet potato, baked, 1                          102               2                2 vegetables
Mixed green salad, 1 cup                        10               0                1 vegetable
Green beans, 1/2 cup                              20               0                1 vegetable
Vinaigrette, 2 Tbsp                                  80              2                2 healthy fat
Wine, 4 oz                                               88              2
Pecan Pie, 1/8                                        460              9
Cherry Pie, 1/8                                      304               6 
Apple Pie, 1/8                                        277              6 
Pumpkin Pie, 1/8                                   265               5
Whipped cream, 3 Tbsp                          30               1

Just for You On Thanksgiving!

       Twas The Night of Thanksgiving                            

Twas the night of Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't sleep,
I tried counting backwards, I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned - the dark meat and white,
But I fought off the temptation with all of my might.

I tossed and I turned with sweet anticipation,
As the thought of a snack became infatuation.
So I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door
And gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore.

I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
'Til all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.

I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky
With a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie.
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees...
Happy eating to all! Pass the cranberries, please!

May your stuffing be tasty, may your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes & gravy have nary a lump,
May your yams be delicious, may your pies take the prize, 

May your Thanksgiving dinner stay off of your thighs!          
author unknown

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Eliminating Wheat

A reader asked: "My husband heard someone on TV say they lost weight by cutting wheat out of their diet. Just what I wanted him to hear, I'm still trying to sell him on whole grain pasta! It can't be healthy to cut out wheat (unless you have an allergy) can it?" 

Eliminating wheat is the current rage. Wheat Belly, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, by Dr.William Davis, is a New York Times best seller. People diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergies certainly need to eliminate wheat consumption to maintain their health. Many others are climbing aboard the wheat-free express hoping they'll lose weight, prevent heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, auto-immune diseases, and cataracts. Miraculous cures always sell. Unfortunately, if it seems to good to be true, it usually is.

In Wheat Belly, Davis declares that wheat is the main cause of the U.S.obesity epidemic. This statement, as with most of his suppositions, has no scientific evidence to back it up. In reality, at the start of the 1900's, people consumed far more bread and wheat products than they do today. Americans have actually decreased per capita wheat consumption since 2000, and yet the rise in obesity has not declined. Unquestionably, the obesity problem in our country is influenced by many factors, including higher calorie consumption, more sedentary lifestyles, and an increase in added sugar in both beverages and processed foods. 

What about all the testimonials from people on TV and mentioned by Davis, who have lost weight cutting out wheat? Doesn't that offer evidence that eliminating wheat works for weight loss? No. Anecdotal evidence does not add up to proof. If you ask a group of people to cut out wheat or any major food group for that matter, weight loss invariable follows. Why? Because they simply consume fewer calories...initially. Once other grains or foods are found to fill the spot no longer filled by wheat products, weight loss stops and is most often regained. In a way, the no-wheat diet is just a low-carb diet in disguise. And, it's difficult to adhere to for life-style changes.

Why do some people see health benefits when going wheat free? When weight loss occurs for any reason, blood sugar, triglyceride and blood lipid levels tend to drop, and in turn, reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. No scientific evidence supports the claim that eliminating wheat has any impact on these risk factors.

In fact, many evidence-based scientific studies have shown higher intakes of whole grains (including wheat) are linked to a lower risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, blood sugar control and blood pressure. Studies have recently shown that choosing whole grains can help with loss of weight and body fat, especially when used in place of refined products. A double win.

Grains provide important nutrients, including rich sources of niacin, thiamine, foliate, selenium, and magnesium. Whole grains provide a much needed source of fiber, which aids in elimination, reduces risk of diverticulitis, provides a sense of satiety and helps stabilize blood sugar. Because grains offer such important nutrients, iwheat is removed from your diet, other whole grains should be included. Whether you are a wheat eater or not, try adding a little variety in your life and give oats, barley, brown rice, corn, quinoa, forro, or even kamut a try! 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Buying Healthier Foods

Even when you try to buy and make foods that are healthier, sometimes the changes simply don't make the grade. Here are three of my favorite products and a few ideas for their use:

You and your family loves JIF peanut butter. Every time you've tried to find a healthier version, you're really turned off from all the oil that separates out and rises to the top.Many have sugar and salt added for flavor and hydrogenated oil to prevent oil separation. And that's exactly what we grew up eating, so that's what we like. Even the "Natural" peanut butters can have added palm oil, a highly saturated fat that is solid at room temperature. Yes, it keeps the oil from rising to the top, but it also adds heart unhealthy fat.  Try to find peanut butter with one ingredient: peanuts. Then keep it in the refrigerator upside down. Result: a creamy spread rich in heart healthy fat!

Now what do added to that peanut butter sandwich for a little sweet taste. Jam, jelly, and preserves are both high sugar, which you are try to cut down on. Either use a smaller amount of the jam you love, or try a product like
Simply Fruit, which is just that: fruit. No added sugar. Another option would be to find a jam made with artificial sweeteners. Both of these are great stirred into plain yogurt, providing that fruity taste you love without the added calories from sugar. Better yet, reach for fresh fruit, and slice a banana on the peanut butter sandwich for a PBF or into your yogurt---yum!

If you are a health-conscious Cream of Wheat lover, you are probably sadly aware that your favorite farina is not a whole grain. I found the whole grain variety! Unfortunately, it's not carried in many stores yet. I have written to two area grocery stores requesting that they carry it, so keep your fingers crossed. Always reach find the manager or email the company to ask for those healthier options. The more people who ask, the more likely those stores will carry them. There's always power in numbers.

What some of your favorite healthier foods?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Incredible Whole Grain

When I grew up, our family, like most families then and now, didn't really focus on eating whole grains. My mom did, however, use the old "Basic 4" nutrition guidelines. Our staple grains were wheat, rice, oats and corn, though most of them were refined like white pasta, white rice and white bread. I remember thinking those nice, square slices of Pepperidge Farm white bread made the very best toast when smeared with real butter. Like most kids, we liked to pick out cereals made from processed, refined grains and coated with plenty of sugary stuff like Sugar Smacks and Captain Crunch. 

We did eat an occasional whole grain or two. My parents ate shredded wheat (whole grain) though Kellogg's cornflakes (refined) also showed up in the cereal cupboard. Sometimes oatmeal (whole grain) was made for a cold winter's breakfast, though I preferred that nicely refined texture of cream of wheat. My dad's huge garden supplied plenty of sweet corn (whole grain) in the summer, and what we didn't eat was frozen for use throughout the year. Of course, every supper every Sunday night included popcorn (whole grain!) popped in a stainless pan on the stove in oil, and served in wooden bowls. 

General Mills, 2012
These days, we understand the tremendous importance of consuming whole grains and minimizing refined grains that are so deeply embedded into our processed food supply.

What exactly is a whole grain? 
Consider the single grain. It's made up of 3 parts. The outer protective covering is called the bran. This is where all the fiber and some B vitamins hang out. The smallest part is the germ. It's considered the mother-lode of nutrients, with a rich source of B vitamins, vitamin E, antioxidants, protein, and healthy fat. The largest part of the grain, is the endosperm. This whitish area is made up almost entirely of carbohydrate along with a small amount of protein.

A whole grain contains all 3 parts of the natural grain; the entire nutritional package.

Refining (milling,) is a process which separates the bran and germ from the endosperm. Unfortunately, a large part of it's nutrient level is also removed. To make white flour, wheat endosperm is ground into a powder. Though lower in nutritive value, refined grains are easier to digest, have a longer shelf life, and makes lighter, fluffier baked goods. 

Many people assume that breads and cereals made from enriched flours are just as healthy as whole grains. Not true. Enriching simply means that some of the vitamins and minerals that were originally present in the grain before processing are added back, not all. Fiber and protein are not normally replaced in the enrichment process. 

Why eat whole grains? Diets rich in whole grain have been shown to significantly lower cholesterol, LDL's, triglycerides, and insulin levels. This equates to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes.

Reach for whole grains whenever you have a choice, and minimize your consumption of refined grains. Whole grains = Green Light. Refined Grains = Yellow Light, proceed with caution!

What are some of your favorite whole grains? How do you use them?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hungry as a Bear

As the weather gets colder and fall settles into winter, many people experience an increase in appetite. Once they start eating, they can't seem to stop.  Appetites are out of control. What causes this "hungry as a bear" syndrome?

A days become colder and shorter, nights are longer; you become more exhausted as each holiday passes. Cravings for high-calorie, high carbohydrate foods increase---hot breads, pasta, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy. Studies have shown than the average person tends to eat more during the winter months, and gains at least 1-2 pounds. Those who are already overweight or obese tend to gain much more. 

Some believe this winter appetite and body fat gain is similar to bears preparing to hibernate. Many, many years ago, people did need an extra layer of body fat to survive harsh winters and less available foods. These days, not so much.

Most experts think winter food cravings are more about human physiology. As outside temperatures go down, body temperatures also drop. The internal "self-preservation" mode kicks in, creating cravings for high carbohydrate foods. Body feels cold; brain says carbs. These starches and sugars burn quickly, increase blood sugar, and you feel warmer. Unfortunately, as blood sugar zips up and subsequently crashes, it sets off the urge to reach for more of these carbs again and again...creating a vicious surge/crash/eat cycle. 

Short days and long nights create a lack of light affecting 6% of the population with seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Studies have shown that people with SAD tend to have lower blood levels of serotonin and have higher intakes of foods rich in carbohydrates which increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Self-medicating with carbs.

Nasty weather conditions and less light make exercising outdoors less enticing. Without indoor alternatives, many people are less active in the winter months. Less exercise, lowers the level of endorphins and serotonin in the brain; carb cravings increase. To avoid the move less, eat more, weigh more trap, be sure to decide now what your cold-weather alternative exercises will be.

And all the holidays don't help: Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to Hanukkah: candy, potatoes, bread, pie, cookies, and more candy. These comfort foods and seasonal favorites supply readily available carbs provide a quick fix of serotonin and calories, feeding that ongoing vicious surge/crash/eat carb cycle.

How do you calm the hungry bear? 

  • The biggest key is to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Consume regular small meals and healthy snacks, eating 5 - 6 times each day.
  • Be sure to include lean protein, high fiber, and healthy fat which digest more slowly and provide a more lasting supply of energy. A good snack would be peanut butter on half a whole wheat English muffin or low fat cheese stick and a whole grain cracker. These frequent healthy mini-meals increase the internal furnace, keeping your warmer.
  • Lighten up your favorite high carb comfort foods. Whole grain pasta, lowfat milk and cheese make your mac and cheese healthier. Whip up mashed potatoes with non-fat milk or a little chicken broth without the fat. 
  • Staying warmer actually helps squelch those carb cravings! Wear warm socks and clothing to stay warm when the outdoor temps drop. 
  • Clear the counters and keep high carb snack foods covered and out of sight. 
  • Exercise; stay active.
  • Laugh. Watching a favorite comedy show or reading a funny story zips up serotonin.
  • Pet your dog or cat---it's also been shown to increase serotonin.
  • Give someone special a hug! Hugs are calorie-free and serotonin stimulating.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Practice Before Competition?

One of my sisters gave me a call recently, the day after my niece had a big color guard competition. Evidently, the team was asked to be on site at one in the afternoon, had a 3 hour hard practice, then waited for their performance after 8 in the evening. The end result? Dropped rifles, sabres, flags---poor performance. What went wrong?

There's no doubt that twirling and throwing guns, swords and flags on long poles while dancing is exercise. These teens are athletes. Was it just an off day, or was their performance predictable? 

Practicing the day of any athletic event is highly unusual. When muscles are used repetitively or are heavily challenged for any length of time, they become fatigued. During prolonged strenuous exercise, lactic acid is produced as a by-product of anaerobic metabolism. This acidic environment creates a burning sensation in overworked muscles. Lactic acid actually protects muscle cells from permanent damage, but it also slows the key system needed for continued muscle contraction. That means slower muscle response and decreased performance. 
Rest and recovery are necessary to remove lactic acid. 

Another issue is the microscopic tears that can develop within the muscle fibers when vigorously challenged. Rest is needed for these to recover, heal, and then build strength. This is one reason that a day of rest is recommended between weight lifting or strength training the same muscle groups. Without proper rest, the likelihood of pain and injury increase. 

The other challenge is energy. Glucose, a simple carbohydrate, zips around the bloodstream providing the quickest, most readily available type of energy to cells. Glucose cannot provide sustaining fuel as it diminishes quickly during exercise. Glycogen, a carbohydrate stored in muscle and liver cells, is the next go-to fuel that supplies fairly rapid energy. Once glucose and glycogen are drained, athletic performance decreases. 

To maximize performance, athletes should continually focus on overall good nutrition, hydration, adequate sleep and rest.

Recommendations to prepare for competition:
  • Day before the event: 
    • Rest or minimal exercise
    • Plenty of carbohydrates throughout the day
  • Night before event:
    • Balanced meal to focus on energy reserves for the next day
      • Include lean protein, healthy fat, and high in carbohydrates (avoid any that cause gas) to top off glycogen
    • Plenty of water
    • Good night's sleep
  • Day of event: 
    • Minimal exertion prior to the competition to maximize muscle strength
    • Practice visualization of routine for muscle memory
    • Maximize hydration by doubling water, but don't overdo it and become "sloshy"
    • Fuel your body wiselyWhat you eat and drink the day of competition can really make a difference to performance level!
      • Balanced meal to start the day for lasting energy
      • Consume small meals 2-3 hours before event to normalize blood sugar levels
      • Eat breakfast 2 - 3 hours before
        • Use slow-release carbohydrates 
        • Small amount of protein
        • For example: 
          • oatmeal or wheat flakes, low fat milk, banana and honey
          • low-fat yogurt, toast with jam
          • eat what's worked well for you
  • Post exercise: eat something within 15 minutes to rebuild muscle glycogen most efficiently and speed recovery.
And my niece's color guard team? I hope that next time the last heavy practice is no more than 2 days before competition, light exercise the day before, and a light warm up prior to the event. I'd also love to hear that their team or parents organized a small, healthy, high carb mini-meal 2-3 hours before their scheduled routine, along with plenty of water. Best performance means smart rest, hydration, and proper fuel.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hungry School Kids

On the New York Times front page today: No Appetite for Good-For-You School Lunches. A photo shows a trash can filled with disposable school lunch trays laden with apparently untouched broccoli and fruit. High school teens in Kansas created YouTube video We Are Hungry, that's gone viral. Students are protesting healthier food changes in their school cafeterias across the country. It appears the USDA's new federal school lunch rules don't make the grade with the kids.

In response to the obesity epidemic in U.S. children, the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires public schools to adhere to lunches that provide more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, limit salty and fatty foods, and provide only low or non-fat milk. Each meal must fit within calorie ranges that are deemed appropriate for their age groups.

Sadly, the backlash from the kids was predictable. For too many kids, white breads and fatty, salty processed foods are the norm, while fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods are no where in sight. Why? Perhaps because fresh produce tends to be more expensive than Oreos, parents don't have time or know-how to cook healthier meals, or its just the way they were raised. Too many kids are growing up eating daily meals of Cheetos, nuggets that supposedly contain chicken, and frozen pizza for dinner. That's what they know and like.

Any time you make radical changes in meals, kids of any age are likely to protest. It takes time to adjust. Psychologists tell us to be patient as we watch the veggies trashed each day; kids need to be "exposed" to new foods 10-12 times before they'll even try them. Change is hard.

I applaud these nutritional changes being made at school. I am a tremendous fan of whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean protein and low fat milk. But, I'm concerned with the mandated upper limit of calories in school lunches. While 17% of our nations kids are obese and many more are overweight, others who are not. Granted, it's a small minority, but some kids are actually underweight. My cousin called me at the start of the school year, very upset. While all three of her young kids have been encouraged by their doctor to try eat more to put on weight, her youngest struggles with an illness that diminishes his weight which remains dangerously low. His dietitian wants him to focus on whole milk to supplement calories. Unfortunately, he keeps hearing in the classroom that full fat milk is one of the "bad" foods and it's no longer offered in the cafeteria. Schools and teachers need to take care not to label any food as "bad" when they teach nutrition. Just as different kids learn in different ways and may need different approaches, many individual people have different food needs.That can't be forgotten in our drive to make kids healthier. 

Some healthy weight pre-teen and teens who train for physically demanding sports (swimming, running, etc) may need more energy at lunch. Many will grab snacks after school and before practice. But some kids who qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches may not have the means for additional healthy food brought from home or purchased for an extra cost at school. These kids may need more food offered at lunch.

Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD, a highly respected parent and children feeding and family therapist, developed an approach to feeding children that really helps kids achieve and maintain a healthy weight by allowing them to learn to recognize and respond to their own internal hunger cues. In her book, Your Child's Weight, Helping Without Harming, she explains that, "Parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding. Children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating." Now, consider these new school lunches. School provides the what, when, where, and the how much. An increase of fruits, veggies and whole grains is terrific, but an upper limit of calories may not deliver the results that we want: healthy kids at healthy weights. Reduced portions of main dishes and grains may not offer enough energy to all of these extremely active kids, even if they do eat all their fruits and vegetables and clean their plates. 

Plenty of fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats are the basics for healthy eating at any age. That's where the Healthy-Hungry Free Act is absolutely right. As time goes on, more and more school kids should start accepting the healthier fare. And don't worry about all the food trashed at school, that was going on long before healthy foods were introduced. If kids throw away leftover food after they've eaten as much as their body needs, that's a good thing. Kids should not be forced or coerced to eat any food or demeaned when they ditch it. We'd all be better off learning to listen to our internal hunger cues, mindfully eat when hungry, and then stop when satisfied or full. It's one big key to maintaining a healthy weight at any age.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Healthier Pumpkin Bread

You can tell fall is here. Not only are temperatures dropping and leaves changing to beautiful reds, yellow and golds, but pumpkin and spices are taking over the world of baking and coffee making.  Pumpkin bread is one of my all time favorites; unfortunately, the average recipe is loaded with fat, sugar, and processed white flour. I've tweaked a basic recipe to add some whole grain flour, reduced the oil and sugar, and added some naturally sweet applesauce. Feel free to reduce the sugar a bit more if you'd like to, though keep in mind that the texture and tenderness will be compromised somewhat. Using whole wheat pastry flour gives a nuttier flavor and brings in whole grains without reducing the lightness or tenderness of the loaf. You may use all whole wheat pastry flour or substitute regular whole wheat flour, though this will create a heavier, though still yummy bread.

Healthier Pumpkin Bread
 (Makes 2 loaves or 24 muffins)

       1.  In a large bowl, whisk together until well mixed:
               1 ½ cup sugar (or ¾ cup Splenda & ¾ c sugar)
               1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
               2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
               2 tsp. baking soda
               2 tsp. baking powder
               1 tsp. salt
               2 tsp. cinnamon
               1 tsp. nutmeg
               1/2 tsp. allspice or 1/4 tsp. cloves
 2.  In a separate bowl, blend together:
               1 cup unsweetened applesauce
               1/4 cup canola oil
               4 eggs
               1-15 oz. can pumpkin
3.   Add liquids to dry ingredients, and mix with a whisk until just blended, being careful not to over stir     (it will get tougher the more you mix it.)
4.   Pour into 2 loaf pans (9" X 5"), or 24 muffin tins that have been coated with cooking spray.
5.   Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes for the bread, or 15-20 minutes for the muffins. Test for doneness by inserting a dry spaghetti noodle into the middle of the loaf, making sure it comes out clean.
6.   Let rest five minutes in the pan, then turn out to cool on a rack.

Nutrition data:1 slice (55 g.)= 1/16th of a loaf, 112(94) calories, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 16 (11) g carbohydrate, 195 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein.  2 Units.                                         

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Extreme Couponing

I happened to see my first episode of TLC's Extreme Couponing recently. I was amazed at the amount of money these people actually save on various groceries and paper products. Bills of $300 were zipped down to less that $75. Pretty impressive when you see that many coupons having an impact like that. So impressive that classes on extreme couponing are cropping up all over the place. One of my niece's announced on facebook that she couldn't wait for her first class.

Aside from the obvious cash savings, is couponing really worth the effort? Some of these people on the TV show were clipping and organizing coupons and ads as a full-time job. That's a lot of time with scissors!

I am fine with people buying massive amounts of paper towels, toothpaste, and toilet paper at tremendous savings if they have the storage room. The Extreme Couponing stars I saw had converted bedroom and office space into storage for all their bargains. Not something I'm willing to do, but fine for them.

On the plus side, coupon experts do keep their math skills and brains sharp as they calculate all those savings. It could be that extreme couponing may help diminish risk of dementia, like the brain games Sudoku and crossword puzzles may.  I like the Dad on the show who had his son using math to calculate coupon savings as he learned the family couponing craft. Father son time, and bringing math skills to life. Quality time together.

What I question is what effect buying huge volumes of packaged and processed foods has on health. Carts loaded with Ramen noodles, pancake mix, mac & cheese, cake mixes and frosting, a.k.a.,white flour, sodium and sugar, all to be stored ready for use at home. I noticed that all the coupon experts appeared overweight or obese on the episode I watched. Could there be a correlation?

Ideally, 2/3 of your grocery cart should be filled with fruits and vegetables, not Ramen noodles. I wonder just how much grocery money couponers have left for healthy foods?  Not many coupons are issued for healthier foods like oranges, low fat milk, fish or broccoli.

I think this may boil down to the concept of a bargain. If you have the paper towels you like to use on sale and a coupon that doubles, that's definitely a bargain. But, buying food is different. You need to consider the nutritional bang for the buck: the nutrient density of a food, or how many vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and phytonutrients are in the food per calorie.  Red bell peppers and carrots are loaded with beta-carotene, fiber and other great nutrients with very few calories; they are high in nutrient density. They should be considered a bargain.

On the other hand, consider Ramen noodles, Oreos, or potato chips. All three are loaded with calories and sodium, with almost no redeeming nutrients; they're very low in nutrient density. Even on sale with coupons that double, these should not be viewed a bargain, especially not one to stockpile in your home. If they are purchased in bulk, do people have a tendency to eat more? Does that lead to an increase in weight and weight related health issues? If so, they are anything but a bargain!

The bottom line on couponing is to look deeper that just the price tag on the food and the coupons you have. Be sure to consider how foods you bring into your home have an impact on what you eat, how much you eat, and your overall health and wellness.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Creating Calm

When stress hit, how do you  handle it? If you said, "Go for a run," or "Take a walk," you get extra credit. For many of the people I coach, the answer is, "Eat!"

If you define yourself as a stress eater, you've learned at some point in your life that eating made you feel better. Your mom may have given you a cookie to make a skinned knee feel better, not knowing she was doing anything except helping you at that moment. As time went by, eating cookies became your "go-to" behavior to handle stress, much like popping ibuprofen for a headache. Eating cookies (or your whatever food you may choose) may even work temporarily, by providing a quick feel-better fix. Blood sugar surges, it's pleasurable, and perhaps an escape for the moment. But, these benefits are short term. Some people end up continuing to eat more and more cookies to maintain the pleasant feelings. The problem arises when stress eating starts adding extra body fat.

Simply switching to carrots and celery doesn't usually work well because those foods don't tend to provide the same level of pleasure that the cookies do, nor do they provide as much quick energy. They may even seem like a negative experience, maybe even a punishment to some people when they are trying to make the switch.

What works better? Developing a new behavior that creates a sense of calm. Something quick, easy to do, but something that provides enjoyment. I've been working with a few people on this lately. Ideas that they've come up with include making a cup of really special tea, popping a pod of a favorite flavor of coffee into the Keurig, or a making a cup of light cocoa. You can create an entire calming process in making your beverage: grabbing a favorite cup, enjoying the aroma, and sitting down to savor every sip. A calming process. Finding joy in a cup. Other ideas include practicing a 5 minute deep breathing routine or putting on your headphones to zone out and listen to a favorite song. 

Whatever you decide to use as your "Creating Calm" behavior, it will require lots of practice. First, identify when it is you feel stressed. Then, intentionally choose to use your new calming action. The more you use it, the more natural it will become. Be sure to keep what you need readily available at home and the office: special mug, tea, coffee, cocoa mix,  I-Pod, or ear phones.

Keep practicing your new calm, even if you don't always remember to reach for it right away. Like all good things, it requires focus, practice, and time to develop a new positive behavior. Just rememberL you're worth what it takes to make Creating Calm work for you!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Food Scale Shopping Time

I didn't mean to. I was in a rush. It accidentally fell off the counter and crashed to the floor. My faithful food scale of many years was done for. On the positive side, I knew I would finally have a chance to buy a new one!

After 18 years of learning to maintain my weight loss of over 50 pounds, some would wonder why I would even need a food scale to begin with. Don't I know by this time exactly what to eat and what the correct portion sizes really are? Absolutely. Sure I do. The thing is, sometimes I do need a bit of help with control.  I know that. And I know that portion sizes do tend to inadvertently grow larger over time. And I want to keep this weight off!

My food scales come out most every morning for breakfast. I put a bowl on the scales, push the zero or tare button, and add yogurt until it says 8 ounces. Then I zero it out again and add 1/4 ounce of walnuts. and top it off with 4 oz of fresh fruit and dry oatmeal. Great breakfast with less clean up--I don't get any measuring cups dirty. It's a simple process that has been a way to get my day off to a healthy start for a long time. It's interesting that when I don't have that controlled breakfast, the rest of the day tends to be a bit more hap-hazard, less controlled.

Though I used to use them to measure almost everything I ate, I tend to use them only for breakfast now. And when I need a little reality check! One of my sons (athletic and never had a weight problem) uses his food scales all the time when baking bread or anything else. He's even converted recipes to use grams of flour instead of cups for ease and more exact measurements. Of course, he is a science-guy, a physicist!

I ordered the EatSmart Precision scale from Amazon that is recommended on my Great Stuff list to the right. The big decision was what color to get! The white and chrome version came yesterday---a new toy! It's much smaller, sleeker, and lighter in weight than my old one. Nice.

I used it this morning, and I just love it. One great feature on the EatSmart is that you can place your bowl on it and the front of the scales are still exposed because of it's oval shape, making it much easier to read. And the bigger digital read out doesn't hurt either. (What can I say? Bi-focals have been a part of my life for quite while now!)

If you're ready to upgrade your food scale or have never used one before, take a look at this one. Choose your favorite color, and have some fun getting your portions under control! Sometimes, all it takes is the right new toy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Inflammatory Foods vs My Little Toe

I stubbed my little toe. Hard. Heavy, stationery objects are not meant to be accidently kicked when you are wearing sandals. Not to worry, though. As soon as I noticed the baby toe was pointed west instead of north, I pushed it quickly back into position, with hardly a thought. Clearly, aerobic-cleaning my daughter's new place is not my sport. Today, my toe is swollen, hot and changing from red to purple & black. Not fun.

Swelling of a baby toe or any body part can be a good thing. The inflammation brings healing fluids filled with infection fighters, including white blood cells. As the healing progresses, inflammation goes down. My toe will eventually fit into a shoe and look normal again. It's temporary, or acute inflammation.

The type of inflammation that's making the news lately is chronic, or a type that is inside the body and won't simply reduce or go away over time. Researchers have considered the fact that obesity has reached epidemic levels in the United States and that two-thirds of all Americans are now overweight or obese and the similar rise in type-2 diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Some researchers theorize that obesity causes low grade inflammation that in turn triggers the development of disease, along with other causes such as injury, illness, stress, lack of sleep, trans- and saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates.

Anti-inflammatory medications help reduce swelling caused by both acute and chronic inflammation. The current question is: Can some foods also reduce inflammation? Amazon lists 7 books about Anti-Inflammatory Diets that say they do! The jury's not in yet. So far, the research looks encouraging though much more scientific evidence is needed to prove their usefulness. 

The Anti-Inflammatory Diets seem to mimic the Mediterranean Diet: whole grains, dried beans, peas, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish (salmon, herring, trout, anchovies, sardines,) flaxseed, walnuts, olives, olive oil, nuts, canola oil, soy, tea (green & black), soy, red wine, dark chocolate and many herbs ands spices (cinnamon, garlic, ginger, tumeric, red pepper/cayenne, curry, rosemary, basil, oregano, paprika, and chili peppers.) The anti-inflammatory diets recommend focusing on eating plenty of these foods, but also require minimizing refined carbohydrates, added sugars and processed foods. Great advice here.

Until all the research is in, should we consider following the anti-inflammatory diet suggestions? 
Whether or not science proves a link between eating these foods and lowering chronic inflammation, most of these foods are nutritional powerhouses. Eating nine or more servings of fruits and veggies everyday as some of the plans suggest would supply a wonderful sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. And minimizing refined carbs, sugars, and processed foods should be part of any healthy lifestyle change, including weight loss. 

I try to focus on eating all of these Anti-Infammatory foods, and minimize processed foods. Eating this way didn't prevent the acute inflammation of my toe, nor should it for healing purposes. I guess it's possible the swelling is going down faster than if I was on a Twinkie diet. While I can't guarantee that eating this way will prevent you from ever developing metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, or auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's certainly can't hurt!! 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Ice Cream Diet

While the lighter fare of dinner of grilled chicken, fresh salad and whole grain baguette was great, last night was just one of those nights that called for ice cream. Soft-serve ice cream...

Maybe it's because I was raised by parents who both grew up on farms that had dairy cattle. Or maybe it was my Dad's love of dairy products. He was a professor in dairy nutrition; of course we always had ice cream in the freezer growing up. Then there were all the summer road trips we went on in the non-air conditioned family station wagon.  I remember Mom always announcing it was time for an ice cream stop around 3 each afternoon. She still does that! I remember keeping track of the daily travel expenses when DQ was still Dairy Queen and small cones only cost 10 cents! Whatever the reason, I've always loved ice cream. And over the years, that love connection tended to interfere with my ability to maintain a healthy weight.

As my husband, daughter and I headed back from our local ice cream shop with cones in hand last night, I reminisced about one of the crazy diets I went on in college:

Several of my friends in our dorm house, including me, tried out what sounded like the greatest diet we'd ever heard of: The Ice Cream Diet! You could eat all the ice cream you wanted--any flavor---but you couldn't eat anything else. Once committed, we all headed across the street to Boyd's Dairy and stocked up on our food supply for the week. I think the idea was that you'd get sick of ice cream and quit eating. I don't think we lasted more than a few days on it...Results? Everyone else lost weight on it, except me! To celebrate the end of the diet? An ice cream fight!

What can I say? I had a lot of learning ahead of me...

Moral of the story: Fad diets don't work! Or, if it sounds too good to be true, it is!