About Amy Kweller MS, RD

As a Registered Dietitian, I have a professional relationship with pears. But as someone who loves great food, I also have a personal relationship with pears! So there is no better way to spend my time than blogging about this lovely fruit. I will blog about pears from farm to table; healthy living, cooking, and recipes; the therapeutic benefits of pears and a wholesome diet; and how pears can fit into your lifestyle. I have a background in clinical and community nutrition, and teaching others how to lead healthy, fulfilling lives is my goal and passion – so send me your questions. My hope is that everyone who visits this site will find something that lingers long after the browser closes, and I expect that will be a deeper love of pears!

Eating Seasonally

Pears with mother and son

You may have heard mention of the importance of eating seasonally, but what does that mean and why does it matter? Eating produce when it is in season is not a new idea, in fact, it was the norm before industrialized agriculture and giant grocery stores. The general idea is that we eat foods when they are naturally harvested, such as berries in the summer and pears starting in the fall. The nutritional benefit is that seasonal fruits and vegetables tend to pack more nutrients and richer flavors than foods that should ripen before being harvested or during shipment. And in this way, seasonal foods tend to be cheaper and less damaging to the environment. An interesting fact about pears is that optimal ripening actually occurs after being harvested and cold storage, and therefore, they are available nearly year-round!

So which fruits and vegetables should I eat now? Interestingly, autumn is the season when the most produce is harvested, including pears, apples, grapes, persimmons, kale, broccoli, squash, and brussels sprouts. Check out SNAP-Ed for a more detailed list to get your mouth watering! Try adding fresh seasonal produce to recipes for added flavor and texture. On a side note, since canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are picked during their peak seasons, these are also excellent choices as additions to your dishes. Look for products without added sauces and fruits packed in juice to limit added sugars. Happy eating!

For more information, visit the American Heart Association.

Beat the Heat!

Creamy pear popsicles with chunks of kiwi and yellow sticks

Summer is my favorite season, because of the social gatherings, barbecues, picnics, and summer treats that satisfy my sweet tooth. I pay attention to my calorie intake carefully – especially during the hot summer when cold, decadent treats are everywhere. So, what is a dietitian to do? Make popsicles, of course! Anything that can be made into juice or a smoothie can also be made into a delicious popsicle that fulfills that sweet craving, cools you off, and packs in nutrients without unnecessary calories.

Making popsicles is very easy, in fact it’s a fun activity for the whole family. And you don’t need any molds or special equipment, paper cups and popsicle sticks will suffice. For this method, place the cups on a tray, fill them ¾ full, cover the cups with saran wrap, and press the sticks through to keep them in place. Once frozen, just peel off the paper cup. No blender? No problem! Slice or dice fruit into small pieces, place in molds or paper cups, and fill cups ¾ full with juice.

So, what makes a delicious popsicle? I skip the added sugar and go straight to the fruit. A basic recipe might be a sliced, cored, ripe pear blended with enough water to make smoothie consistency. I like the sweetness and texture of blended Bartlett or very ripe Anjou pears for my popsicles. Then try simple additions, such as other fruits, 100% fruit juices, coconut water, dairy or alternative milks, and maybe some herbs or favorite extracts. Maybe you’re craving a creamier, more decadent treat? Try blending pears with yogurt, a banana, or an avocado. Popsicles are great for entertaining, too. If you really want to impress your guests, unmold your frozen popsicles, drizzle with chocolate sauce, dust with nuts or sprinkles, and place back in the freezer before serving.

Indulgences don’t have to be elegant, and treats that beat the heat can be just as satisfying! Want more inspiration? Try this recipe for creamy pear popsicles with kiwi and lime.

Vacation, all I ever wanted!

RoadVacation is my favorite word. I love adventure, new places and activities, and enjoying time with friends and family: The problem is keeping your health goals on track while traveling. I will be driving across the country this summer to help a friend move and I find road trips make for the most challenging way to travel healthfully. Gas stations, convenience stores, fast food… How do you make smart choices with limited options?

For starters, plan ahead. Pack healthful snacks, including fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and plenty of water — enough for the number of days you’re travelling. When you do stop for refreshments or fuel, avoid the candy and chip aisle at the gas station; however, if temptation is too strong, perhaps allow yourself one indulgence each day on the road. If you know the cities you’ll pass through, locating restaurants with mixed options ahead of time may allow more flexibility. Then, aim for adding veggies as a side or an appetizer, splitting meals, or having fruit for dessert. Likewise, staying active may help offset some indiscretions. Many hotels offer exercise facilities, or even better, get out on foot and explore new people and places!

Small changes go a long way on the road, but remember that enjoying yourself is number one. Give yourself a break, relax, and have fun!

Stop Shoulding on Yourself!

arefree happy woman lying on green grass meadow on top of mountaShould is a nasty word; it implies you’re doing something wrong. We all think it, we all say it, and we all need to be a little nicer to ourselves. I’m terribly guilty of this. I just finished the first official year of my doctoral program and today I decided to relax, not go to the gym, and enjoy a little downtime. (GASP!) I’m generally a go, go, go person, so I always feel like I should be doing something productive. But why? I liken the word should to the word shame, as in, I’m ashamed that I did or did not do __X__.

I should go to the gym. I should not eat that ice cream. I should start working on the next project.

Eating well, exercising, finishing that task, the list of our shoulds is endless. In one of the women’s groups I work with we talk about self-compassion. We seem to should things that may be meaningful, but… Do they deserve the importance we give them? What I mean is, I can’t count the times I’ve said, “I should order a salad,” when I really want something else. Even now, that statement makes me feel a level of shame and judgment. (I literally just thought to myself, “I should make a salad for dinner.” Sigh.) On the other hand, if I say to myself, “I should make sure I have food and shelter,” or “I should avoid being attacked by a bear,” I don’t feel shame or judgment. (In fact, I’m unconsciously nodding my head. That IS a good idea.) In contrast, making sure I order a salad at lunch isn’t quite as meaningful. So why do we feel so terrible when we aren’t perfect?

I think there is this notion that for some people healthy choices are easier or more natural, whereas the rest of us have this lifelong back-and-forth of temptation and willpower that creates a make-believe standard impossible to meet. As a dietitian, I walk a fine line between hoping people become healthier and hoping they become more accepting. Telling ourselves that we should or shouldn’t be, do, or act a certain way does not change behavior; in fact, I think it may worsen the situation. In the end, I want everyone to have a long, fulfilling life, and constantly shoulding ourselves doesn’t sound fulfilling.

This is the reason I talk about small changes: Walk an extra ten minutes at lunch; add a pear as a snack; take five minutes to breathe and relax. Small changes don’t require shoulds, they’re small dos that up to a lot of small victories.

Beautiful on the Inside

Mother and sun snuggling in the kitchen with an assortment of colorful, fresh pearsThis week a coworker said to me, “My son doesn’t eat fruits and vegetables, but it’s okay. He looks healthy.” Uh oh, this sounds familiar. Rather than what’s on the outside, the question we should ask is, “What does he look like on the inside?” Thinness does not imply healthy, and those who look like they are a healthy or expected weight on the outside may, due to poor diet or lack of exercise, harbor risk factors for chronic diseases on the inside. Medically this is called metabolically obese normal weight and socially called “skinny fat.” Unfortunately, like obesity, this condition is associated with insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood lipids, predisposing individuals to premature diabetes and cardiovascular disease. [1]

National data suggest that metabolically obese normal weight individuals make up more than 20% of the normal weight population, and about half of all American adults have one or more illnesses associated with poor diet. [2,3] And it’s no wonder. Americans tend to eat too much sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish that may protect against chronic illnesses. [4] Additionally, Americans don’t move enough; only 21% of US adults meet the national physical activity recommendation of 150 minutes per week. Weight is only one indicator of health status: The scale does not replace eating well, exercise, and an annual physical exam.

Like I discussed with my coworker (and just about anyone who will listen), small changes to increase fruit and veggie consumption and movement will go a long way – especially in children who are building lifelong habits. As we’ve been told a million times in our lives, it truly is what’s on the inside that matters.

 
1. Suliga E, Koziel D, Gluszek S. Prevalence of metabolic syndrome in normal weight individuals. Ann Agric Environ Med 2016; 23:631-635.
2. Wildman RP, Muntner P, Reynolds K, McGinn AP, Rajpathak S, Wylie-Rosett J, Sowers MR. Clustering and the Normal Weight With Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering Prevalence and Correlates of 2 Phenotypes Among the US Population (NHANES 1999-2004). Arch Intern Med 2008; 168:1617-1624.
3. Ward BW, Schiller JS, Goodman RA. Multiple Chronic Conditions Among US Adults: A 2012 Update. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11.
4. Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program, National Cancer Institute. [Accessed Apr 16, 2017]; Usual Dietary Intakes: Food Intakes, U.S. Population, 2007–2010.

Put Your Best Fork Forward!

Woman with curly blonde hair in an orchard excitedly about to bite a fresh pearHappy National Nutrition Month! Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages getting back to the basics of a healthful diet, and moving toward healthful habits can be as simple as changing the next bite. Lately, I have been hearing of more nutrition and food fads and myths than usual. It seems the internet has made everyone a nutrition expert. (Insert a shrug and a sigh.) My personal pet peeve is the use of the phrases good food and bad food. Unfortunately, nutrition isn’t black and white unless you’re eating a hot fudge sundae. When I was an obese teen, I’d come home after school and cram my mouth full of snack cakes, potato chips, whatever packaged food I could find in our overstuffed pantry. These, of course, were not nutrient-dense choices and I don’t ever recommend eating this way. But can we still splurge on perceived bad foods while maintaining a healthful diet?

Yes. Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as starting with the next forkful. Each bite is important, but never splurging is an impossibility. I eventually overhauled my diet and my palate – but I didn’t start there. I started with one simple change. I added more fresh produce. Notice I didn’t say I cut out the junk, ran five miles a day, and added fresh produce, because I didn’t (at first). I made a conscious decision to add fresh foods to my plate. Sometimes it was as simple as a few carrots in addition to my chips. Sometimes it was a piece of fruit after a meal. Over time, I started to feel a little better and liked how fresh foods tasted – and it wasn’t terribly difficult to maintain one bite at a time. Now, I feel great and I definitely still splurge!

Considering it is National Nutrition Month, let’s focus on a simple change, such as improving the next bite. Do I wish as a teen I had stuffed my face with pears and carrots instead? Of course. But starting with the next bite can turn into a lifelong habit!

Healthy is Strong

Bosc Heart
February is American Heart Month, and taking care of yourself and the ones you love is the perfect way to say I love you this Valentine’s Day. According to the Million Hearts® Healthy is Strong campaign, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. Instead of giving your sweetie chocolates this Valentine’s Day, why not give your heart? For men and women, one small change can add up to one healthy heart!

One simple way to boost heart health is with physical activity. No, you don’t have to run five miles every day, but increasing activity slowly, such as a romantic walk with your sweetie, improves cardiovascular health. As a rule of thumb, aim for 150 minutes of activity each week – and if you #PearUp with a partner, you’re more likely to stick to your plan!

Another quick fix is to add in heart-y foods to your diet, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, no salt added nuts and seeds, fish, and healthy oils, such as olive or canola. To keep it simple, try a piece of fruit for a snack, such as the delicious Anjou, Bosc or Bartlett pear – all American Heart Association Heart-Check certified for health. For a delectable option that still feels sinful, try sliced pears drizzled with dark chocolate. Yum!

So this February when love is in the air, remember that a healthy heart is a strong heart! Visit Healthy is Strong or Go Red for Women for more tips to take charge of your heart health.

#PearUp with a Pal for Lasting Results!

Red Pear SuccessNow that 2017 is fully underway, you may be feeling less motivated to maintain your New Year’s resolution. You’re not alone: By two weeks into January, approximately 1/3 of us have failed to maintain our resolutions. So maybe it’s time to #pearup with a friend or group!

Studies suggest that people who participate alongside a partner or group, whether for weight loss or physical activity, tend to stick with the program longer (1, 2). Weight management programs that incorporate meetings or phone calls tend to have greater success partly due to encouragement and accountability (3). Newer research even suggests that online weight loss communities via various social media platforms are associated with greater weight loss (4, 5). From my personal experience, friends make the journey fun and we feel less alone. Friends and I sometimes get together to prep recipes for the week, incorporating lots of fruit, veggies, and fun into what can be an otherwise dull task!

Likewise, partner or group exercise tends to be more effective than going solo. This is partly due to the Köhler effect, which is when weaker members are motivated to keep up with more capable members of a group (6, 7). Additionally, if the group relies on everybody completing the task at hand, the weakest members tend to step up their performances, such as finishing a group jog (8). This seems to happen because we try to match our partner’s performance (9, 10), and virtual workout partners may have similar effects – noteworthy for those just starting out or who have anxiety around group fitness or gyms (11). Personally, I’m a fan of group exercise because meeting a friend makes me show up, we cheer each other on, and it feels less like work and more like fun. I’ve made some of my closest friends this way!

Whether you’re off and running with your resolution or still trying to get off the couch, think about enlisting a friend. Chances are, your friends need motivation and want to #pearup, too!

  1. Wing RR, Tate DF, Gorin AA, Raynor HA, Fava JL. Self-regulation program for maintenance of weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1563-71.
  2. Dishman RK, Buckworth J. Increasing physical activity: A quantitative synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jun 1996;28:706–19.
  3. Kulik NL, Fisher EB, Ward DS, Ennett ST, Bowling JM, Tate DF. Peer support enhanced social support in adolescent females during weight loss. Am J Health Behav. 2014;38:789-800.
  4. Pappas GL, Cunha TO, Bicalho PV, Ribeiro A, Couto Silva AP, Meira W Jr, Beleigoli AM. Factors associated with weight change in online weight management communities: A case study in the LoseIt Reddit community. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19:e17.
  5. Turner-McGrievy GM, Tate DF. Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: Use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention. Transl Behav Med. 2013;3:287-94.
  6. Kerr NL, Hertel G. The Köhler group motivation gain: How to motivate the “weak links” in a group. Soc Pers Psychol Comp. January 2010;5:43–55.
  7. Weber B, Hertel G. Motivation gains of inferior group members: A meta-analytical review. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007;93:973–93.
  8. Steiner ID. Group process and productivity. New York: Academic Press; 1972.
  9. Stroebe W, Diehl M, Abakoumkin G. Social compensation and the Köhler effect: Toward a theoretical explanation of motivation gains in group productivity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1996. Witte E, Davis J, eds. Understanding group behavior: Consensual action by small groups; No. 2.
  10. Kerr NL, Messé LA, Seok DH, Sambolec EJ, Lount Jr. RB, Park ES. Psychological mechanisms underlying the Köhler motivation gain. Pers Soc Psychol B. 2007;33(6):828–41.
  11. Feltz DL, Forlenz ST, Winn B, Kerr NL. Cyber buddy is better than no buddy: A test of the Köhler motivation effect in exergames. Games Health J. 2014;3:98-105.

Promises, Promises

lonely-seckelEvery year I make a New Year’s resolution… and sometimes stick to it. Over the years, countless clients have told me they resolve to lose weight in the coming year, but most of us fail to reach our resolutions. What’s the problem? Instead of vague promises to lose weight or get healthy, perhaps we should focus on the causes of the issue: Small changes are what really add up. A more realistic goal may be to change a particular behavior that contributes to health. Here are a few ideas.

  • Slow down! When we eat quickly, we tend to eat too many calories before our brains register satisfaction. Take in the environment, enjoy conversation, and savor each bite. If you’re struggling to hit the brakes, make sure you’re spending at least 20 minutes enjoying your meal.
  • Prepare ahead of time. You don’t have to spend Sunday afternoon preparing the week’s meals – I know I don’t have an entire afternoon to spare! Instead, focus on one meal: Prep dinner while making breakfast. To save time, I make larger amounts and spread the meals over the week.
  • Drink up! Drinking more water is so simple, but even dietitians fail at this one. Water is necessary for metabolic processes and may help us feel fuller. I’m not a sipper, so I’ve set my phone to vibrate multiple times each day to remind me to drink a glass of water – and it works!
  • Wear an activity tracker. It’s easy, many are inexpensive, and they sync with your phone so you can track progress. I use mine for biofeedback and if I haven’t reached my steps in the evening I take the dog for a longer walk or get in some steps while brushing my teeth.
  • Reduce screen time. This recommendation isn’t just for kids! If you binge watch your favorite show or eat dinner in front of the TV each night, I’m talking to you. In the time it takes to watch just one episode, you can get in a workout or prepare dinner for the next night – two items on this list!

Small changes really do add up. But if you must focus on the scale, try a more realistic and measurable goal – such as, to lose 10 pounds and keep it off for the entire year. Isn’t that the hard part, anyway? Here’s to a happy and healthy 2017!

Waiting for the Weight?

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_rosipro'>rosipro / 123RF Stock Photo</a>Ah, the holidays. That magical time of year when friends and family come together, airports are overrun, siblings fight, and we all pack on a few pounds that we resolve to lose in January. (Actually, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 suggests we only gain about one pound over the holidays!) My first holiday gathering is this week, and since I have a terrible sweet tooth I’ve already pictured the dessert table. It looks delicious and is full of my favorites, so what do I do? I say it every year – plan, plan, plan! So where to start?

First, never arrive hungry. If I’m hungry when I walk in the door, within minutes I might have a bottle of wine and an entire cake in my hands. That’s not good, so carry filling snacks with you or stop on the way to the party for a filling bite.

Second, eat well throughout the day to avoid peaks and valleys in blood sugar that may cause overindulgence. A good tip I tell my clients is to always eat two macronutrients together, such as a high-fiber carbohydrate with a protein or fat – for example, a fresh, fiber-rich pear with a few cubes of cheese or a smear of nut butter. Fiber, fat, and protein help us stay satisfied in different ways, so we can stay on track when temptation dances in front of us.

Third, step away from the table! We tend to linger in the kitchen or over the treats; this makes sense because we’re social eaters and eating together connects us, especially at the holidays. But if you move the party away a few feet, you’re less likely to mindlessly nibble. Likewise, use a beautiful fruit bowl as your centerpiece – happy and healthy!

Fourth, watch the libations! If your indulgence is more of the liquid kind, try a low-calorie mixer or follow what I call the sandwich method: Have your cocktail, but follow it with a glass of water before the next cocktail. This will help you avoid overindulgence and help you stay hydrated – another cause of overindulgence.

Finally, if you do overindulge, cut yourself some slack, stick to your exercise routine, and get back on track with the next bite . Eating healthfully, enjoying plenty of fruits and veggies, and drinking more water will help you fight the holiday overindulgence and stay on track through the New Year!