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!

Go green and get your culinary jig on this St. Patrick’s Day

Many Irish staples carry an impressive nutrient profile. You can boost the benefits even further by complementing them with flavorful, nutritious pears. Here are 4 ways to do it:

steel cut oatmeal in a small mason jar1) Irish Oatmeal
Start the day with a festive batch of oatmeal. Prepare this simple recipe for Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats, then speckle with pieces of bright green Anjou pear (in season now!).

pretty diced pear and apple chutney in a jar2) Soda Bread
This quick and easy 5-Ingredient Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread is hearty and satisfying without breaking the calorie bank. Serve with a spread of pear jam or spoonfuls of pear chutney and chunks of sharp cheddar cheese.

Hearty sheppard's pie slice with bosc pears on a white plate with a green napkin3) Potatoes
Spuds get a bad reputation for being unhealthy but are actually filled with important nutrients, including potassium, iron, fiber and B-vitamins. Bake, mash or cut into fries and roast in the oven. Serve with roasted chicken and a side of Cinnamon Pear Sauce. For a one-pot meal, add chopped, firm Bosc pears to your favorite recipe for a tasty spin on a classic Shepard’s Pie.

sliced pears atop red cabbage with green onions in a white bowl4) Cabbage
There’s more to this cruciferous and cancer-fighting veggie than corned beef. Enjoy cabbage year-round in salads and slaws. Stick with the green theme by combining cabbage with kale in a fresh and crunchy Kale Cabbage and Pear Slaw with Citrus Dressing.

February is Heart Health Month

Pears have more fiber than most other fruits. A graphic showing how pears rank higher than bananas and oranges in fiberThere’s good reason as to why we have an entire month dedicated to heart health: heart disease is the number 1 cause of death for men and woman in the United States (National Center for Health Statistics, 2016). According to the CDC, this has been the case for upwards of 80 years now, with current numbers pointing to about 610,000 deaths in the United States every year. Translation: heart disease is to blame for 1 out of every 4 deaths in America! While statistics like this are shocking and scary, there is at least one thing you can start doing today to immediately lower your risk: improve your diet.

The truth is, a healthy heart is directly correlated with a healthy diet. Studies show that fiber is excellent at preventing and reducing elevated cholesterol levels, which is a strong predictor of heart disease (Chai, 2012) (Department of Epidemiology, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, 2008). High levels of cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, which is plaque buildup on the artery walls that can constrict blood flow and lead to heart attacks. Fiber, the zero-calorie indigestible part of carbohydrates, helps lower cholesterol by attaching itself to dietary cholesterol and ushering it out of the body, so it never gets absorbed into the blood (where it would otherwise stick and build up on the artery walls – yikes!).

So, how can you fiber-up your diet? Pears are a delicious place to start! A medium pear puts you 6 grams closer to meeting your daily fiber needs—which for women is 25 grams, men 38. Pears also have Vitamin C, with a medium-sized pear containing approximately 7 mg or 10 percent of the daily value. Because pears don’t need to be refrigerated, they’re also a very portable snack, especially if you work a desk job or are on the go. Pack one with you today to show your heart some pear love.

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!

Staying Fit and Healthy Through the Holidays

peartapemeasureToo many indulgences and fewer workouts can wreak havoc with your energy level and your waistline this time of year. However, there are simple ways to create balance that don’t require sacrificing your favorite goodies, or even stepping into a gym. Check out my realistic three-step strategy for staying fit through the holidays.

Step One: Whip up some healthy holiday dishes
Go ahead and enjoy your very favorite holiday foods prepared traditionally. But commit to lightening up others. For example, replace one pie with baked pears, or a mock pear cobbler. Simply sauté chopped ripe pears over low heat in a little water seasoned with a bit of fresh squeeze lemon juice and fresh grated ginger. Top with a healthy “crumble” made from mixing rolled oats and ground cinnamon into almond butter. Or instead of creamed spinach, serve a fresh spinach salad, dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, topped with sliced pears and chopped walnuts.

Step Two: Move in ways you look forward to
You don’t have to spend hours on the elliptical to burn off holiday calories. In fact, this is a great time of year to be active with family and friends in fun ways that can still keep you fit. Head to an ice skating rink, have a dance off, or organize a group hike, walk, or game.

Step Three: Make room for special indulgences.
Many of my clients find themselves eating things they don’t even really like during the holidays, simply because they’re there. When faced with a treat, take a moment to rate it, using a 5-star scale, 5 being “can’t-live-without” and 0 being “meh, if I pass it up, I won’t feel deprived.” If a food rates a 3 or less, skip it. And if it’s a worthwhile splurge create balance in simple ways. For example, if it’s carb-heavy, like a brownie, opt for a protein topped salad rather than a sandwich or wrap for lunch. This strategy literally allows you to have your cake (or pie) and eat it too!

Four Recipes for Diabetic Eating

Nourishing, naturally sweet and truly delicious, pears are in season which makes it the perfect time of year to celebrate the joy of eating well. National Diabetes Month (November) is coming to a close, but eating diabetes-friendly foods is important year-round and it’s my personal mission to change the conversation around the diabetic diet from one of deprivation to one of gratifying intentions to eat to nourish your body. Whole foods, like pears, are nutrient dense and sustaining which makes them easy to love. I also love the concept of “food gratitude” as it offers you a positive way to celebrate the good-for-you foods on your plate like the many reasons to be grateful for pears. The fiber content of the pear, 6 grams per medium piece of fruit, helps to naturally keep blood sugars in check. Plus, they are a good source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that boosts immune function and rids the body of disease causing free radicals. You can enjoy a pear as a snack or incorporate them into more savory meal preparations.

No matter how you enjoy pears, the right ripeness is most important. Check the neck near the stem with your thumb. If it yields to pressure you’ll know it is ripe. Here are a few of my favorite snack recipes using pears that are perfect for the diabetic and non-diabetic alike.

Pears with Tahini, Chocolate, Honey and Hemp Seeds
Ingredients:
1 medium pear
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon hemp seeds
1 teaspoon dark chocolate shavings

Instructions:
1) Core then slice the pear into 6 equal wedges.
2) Drizzle with tahini and honey.
3) Sprinkle the wedges with the hemp seeds and dark chocolate shavings.

Savory Yogurt Pear Parfait
3/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon orange zest
½ teaspoon honey
½ cup diced pears (tossed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice)
1 tablespoon unsalted chopped hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon Za’atar
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Pinch of sea salt

Instructions:
1. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, honey and orange zest.
2. Top with pears, hazelnuts, za’atar, olive oil and sea salt.
CoolWeatherCobblerCool Weather Cobbler (From my new cookbook, Whole Cooking and Nutrition)
Ingredients:
For the Filling:
6 medium pears or apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries and/or pitted cherries
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
For the Topping:
1 cup almond flour
2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (or gluten free flour)
1/4 cup unsalted, toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw, unsalted sliced almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or canola oil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (preferably grade B)

Instructions:
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2) For the filling, toss together the fruit, arrowroot powder, cinnamon, ginger, and orange zest in a medium bowl. Spread the filling in the bottom of an 8×12-inch baking dish.
3) To make the topping, stir together the almond flour, oats, whole-wheat flour, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cinnamon, and salt in another bowl. Drizzle in the coconut oil, olive oil, and maple syrup and mix until evenly combined.
4) Crumble the topping over the filling and bake for 40 minutes, or until the topping is brown and the fruit is bubbling. Remove cobbler from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Ginger-Cardamom Pear Sauce with Pistachios (From my new cookbook, Whole Cooking and Nutrition)
Serving Size ½ cup
Ingredients:
2 pounds ripe pears
1 cup water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
6 tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios

Instructions:
1) Combine all the ingredients except for the pistachios in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.
2) Cover the pan and bring the mixture to a boil; then reduce the heat to medium – love and simmer for 30 minutes or until the pears are very tender.
3) Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.
4) Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (or desired texture).
5) Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of chopped pistachios.

Ditch the Guilt

52549295 - pensive happy woman remembering looking at side sitting in a bar or home terrace

It’s Sunday morning and you splurged too much on food or drink last night. You’re tired, unmotivated, and guilt creeps in from not making the best choices. Sound familiar? The truth is we all splurge sometimes, myself included, and we need a plan – especially with the holidays approaching – to ditch the guilt and get out of the splurge cycle!

As a dietitian, I feel like I work with guilt almost as much as I work with improving eating habits. Unfortunately, too many of us associate eating habits or what the mirror displays with self-worth and confidence. We are more than what we eat! Here are some steps I review with my clients (and sometimes myself!), give it a try! First, reflect on the occasions when you splurged. Would you take back the entire day or night, the time spent with friends, or the experiences you had? Probably not, so stop obsessing and forgive yourself. Second, stop telling yourself you should eat a certain way and that you’re a failure when you don’t. Instead, focus on eating healthfully and exercising to feel better. Third, start with the next bite. Most people count diet by days, when diet is everything we put in our bodies over time. Weeks are a much better measure of health, so let’s find balance over the next few days. Fourth and finally, increase your fruits and vegetables. Not only do fruits and veggies provide nutrients, fiber, and water, but they are the foundation for leading a healthful life. In the end, it’s never too early or too late to feel better, so start right now!