Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Eating Organic: Mixed Reviews

Earlier this week, I was at the supermarket picking out some fruit when a young woman walked up next to me, sighing, frazzled, with two little boys running around at her side. We exchanged a laugh  and started talking. Once she found out that I was a nutritionist, she immediately said "You must eat super-healthy. I should probably get the organic stuff for my kids, huh?" I told her what I tell everyone who asks if I'm strict with my food choices. The honest answer: Not really. I practice what I preach, but I'm not perfect, nor do I expect that anyone else is! All I can do is help guide people to make the best choices in order to meet their goals. And to answer her question about buying organic food for her kids, I playfully responded back with this--"Who told you that?" :-P

Keep reading...


There is some confusion surrounding organic eating. A lot of clients/friends/family will use phrases  like “healthier” “better” “more nutrients” to describe organic food. But are organic foods really all of these things?

What Does Organic Mean?

100% organic plants are produced without conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.

100% organic meat, eggs, and dairy come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

How Do I Know that it is Organic?

-Symbol: Look for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic seal on labels. This symbol signifies that the product contains at least 95% organic ingredients.

-Produce number: The stickers on non-organic produce contain 4 digits, but stickers on organic produce contain 5 digits; easy enough!

The “Dirty Dozen

Pesticides in small amounts will not hurt us; so don't fret about that apple you had with lunch. However, large amounts of pesticides, growth hormones, and chemical fertilizers get into our foods (especially the skins of fruits/vegetables) and into our bodies and have the potential to reach toxic levels and/or disrupt our bodies' normal metabolic processes.

The “Dirty Dozen” refers to the twelve "dirtiest" fruits and vegetables in terms of synthetic inputs (pesticides, especially). These are the twelve that I always buy organic.

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Bell Peppers
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Cherries

As for everything else, the thicker the skin, the less contaminated the fruit/vegetable is inside. For example, no need to buy organic bananas or avocados; the pesticides won't get through!

The “Not so Nice”

Organic produce is almost always more expensive than the non-organic equivalent; counterintuitive, huh?

The Unclear

Most studies suggest that there is virtually NO difference in the nutritional content of organic foods versus the non-organic equivalent. The same goes for taste.


So, there you have it. Happy Spring! Yummy, fresh, in-season produce is on its way; you decide whether or not organic is right for you!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Back in Business!

I can't believe it's been three months since I've posted! I wish I could say that I'm returning from a 3-month trip around the world (on my bucket-list :-P), but I'm actually just returning from some happy but very BUSY months filled with change and adjustment.

The biggest adjustment has been starting my career as a dietitian! In late November, I accepted a position as a clinical dietitian in Tewksbury, MA. So far, it's been a fast-paced, exciting learning experience. My patient population includes those with Huntington's Disease, those with  psych. disorders and substance abuse problems, and rehabilitation patients with an extensive assortment of medical histories. I'm never bored!

But now that the whirlwind pace of life has calmed down a bit (a tiny, tiny bit), I'm thrilled that I can get back to writing, away from the clinical/hospital-like way of thinking, and share my passion again.

March is National Nutrition Month, so needless to say I'll be posting a bunch of stuff for everyone during that time.  In the meantime though, I have a couple of ideas brewing. Stay tuned for something surrounding the topic of organic vs. nonorganic this week since it's a common trend/concern among consumers right now.  But if anyone has other topics in mind, let me know! I can always use new ideas.

Ah, glad to be back : )


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Heart-Happy Eats

As promised, as a follow-up to the heart-healthy column, I want to give you some low-sodium (but really, really yummy) recipes to enjoy! With all the spices and flavor, you won't even be able to tell that they are low in salt.

The first dish, Salmon with Cilantro Pesto, is a protein powerhouse loaded with good-for-you omega-3s. I also want to include a vegetarian option, so second we have a Sweet and Nutty Stir-Fry, a sweet and spicy dish with healthy veggies. A great take-out alternative!



Cilantro Pesto
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt-free garlic-herb seasoning blend
4 salmon fillets (about 4 ounces each), rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Cooking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or lightly spray with cooking spray.
2. In a food processor or blender, process the pesto ingredients for 15 to 20 seconds, or until slightly chunky.
3. Place the fillets about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Spread the pesto evenly over the top of the fillets. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup almonds.
4. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): Calories: 205, Total Fat: 9.5g, Saturated Fat: 1.5g, Sodium: 125mg, Carbohydrates: 2g, Protein: 28g

As the photo displays, you probably want to add a low-sodium carbohydrate to the course, such as baked potatoes or wild rice. Add vegetables as well, such as unsalted broccoli, carrots, or green beans.





4 ounces dried multigrain vermicelli or spaghetti, broken in half
2 teaspoons curry powder


2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce (lowest sodium available)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange zest


1 teaspoon canola or corn oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
2 cups bite-size broccoli florets (about 5 ounces)
1 cup thinly sliced (not shredded) red cabbage
1 cup matchstick-size carrot pieces
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, dry-roasted

Cooking Instructions:

1. Prepare the pasta using the package directions, omitting the salt and oil and adding the curry powder. Drain well in a colander.
2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the sauce ingredients except the orange zest, stirring until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the orange zest. Set aside.
3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat, swirling to coat the bottom. Cook the onion for 1 minute. 4. Stir in the broccoli, cabbage, and carrots. Cook for 4 minutes, or until just tender-crisp, stirring frequently.
5. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter. Top with the broccoli mixture. Pour the sauce over all. Sprinkle with the peanuts.

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories: 305, Total Fat: 11.5g, Saturated Fat: 1.5g, Sodium: 260mg, Carbohydrates: 44g, Protein: 12g


Both recipes I found courtesy of the American Heart Association's Nutition Center:



Monday, November 7, 2011

A Dash About D.A.S.H.: The Diet and Blood Pressure

Recently, I've been taking topic suggestions from friends. Your suggestions are always welcome, so keep 'em coming!

.:Someone suggested that I write about the D.A.S.H. (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet because he is concerned about high blood pressure. Now, I'm not a fan of the word "diet" or promoting fad diets...ever. But this isn't a fad diet! It's a sustainable eating plan for lifelong healthy habits. And it's been shown to work very well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure (that is, one higher than 120/80 mm Hg), so I know this post will be helpful for many!

Good news, folks--hyertension can be treated. Unfortunately, the majority of our foodsource nowadays is highly processed, often with salt/sodium (same thing), which extends food shelflife, adds stability to food, and of course enhances flavor. But it also causes fluid retention in our blood vessels, which can shoot up our blood pressure.

There are other factors in addition to sodium that affect blood pressure as well, such as hormones and kidney function, just to name a couple. Take note: sodium affects us all differently depending on our dietary habits, age, sex, genetics, and more. This is why a young, healthy individual can have high blood pressure while someone else that is older with a high-salt diet can be just fine. Lots of variables are involved.

But the principles of the D.A.S.H. Diet, if followed with committment, can really help lower one's blood pressure and integrate a variety of healthy foods into the routine.

Here are the 3 basic principles:

1. EAT MORE OF THESE: Whole fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, lean meats like fish and skinless poultry, fat-free or low-fat milk/dairy, and whole-grains. Whole-grains include whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, and popcorn (low-sodium and without added salt, of course!).

2. EAT FEWER OF THESE: Foods with saturated fat and foods with added sugars; these foods are not only highly caloric and unhealthy, but they often come along with sodium, which is why they should be limited. Saturated fat is found in foods like butter, cheese, whole milk, cream, ground beef, deli ham, bacon, and the skins of meats.

3. LIMIT SODIUM to 2,300 mg per day. I will admit, this can be quite a challenge in today's world. The average diet is up around 3,500 mg or much more. Everything from our bread (the bread in my pantry has 180 mg per slice!) to our milk (the milk in my fridge has 125 mg per glass!) and other seemingly healthy foods have sodium in it. Read your labels carefully. Keep a written record of the sodium you consume every day for a week or so. If it's much higher than 2,300 mg per day (which it likely is) or you already know you have high blood pressure, start making small, managable alterations to your daily routine.

For example, substitute canned soup for homemade soup, bring fruit to work for a snack instead of chips, or ditch the high-sodium deli meat for a low-sodium turkey and hummus sandwhich : )

Want more detailed info. on the D.A.S.H. diet and heart-healthy tips? The American Heart Association has a FULL D.A.S.H. EATING PLAN. Here it is:

**STAY TUNED! In honor of this great topic, I'm going to search for some LOW-SODIUM but delicious recipes and post them later this week.** Happy heart health!


Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Nightmare" Before Christmas: The Season of Temptation Begins!

Okay, so the title is a bit misleading. Halloween isn't a nightmare. In fact, most would agree that it's downright awesome by giving us a reason to buy candy and to dress up like a complete fool (or ghoul). But I know what you're thinking based on the title: "Great, another column about what I SHOULDN'T eat during Halloween, ugh..."

Wrong! Halloween is meant to be enjoyed, including the creative costumes, scary movies (am I the only one who still likes a good "can't-sleep-for-a-week-I'm-so-terrified" one?) AND the tasty treats.

I'm just thinking that Halloween is essentially the beginning of a 6-month stretch of food- and drink-centered holidays and celebrations. Let's see...Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah, New Year's, Valentine's Day, St. Patty's Day, Easter...

Holidays are a lot of things--a lot of fun, sometimes a lot of stress, a lot of family/friends/love, and a lot of food and alcohol. But rightfully so! They are part of culture, tradition, and pleasure. But let's be honest, the holidays are also the time when the most people complain about packing on pounds and struggling with temptation. Does a New Year's resolution with the words "gym" or "eat better" in it sound familiar? It's okay, we've ALL been there.

So to address a common concern, here are a few simple pointers for healthy self-control that also allow room for plenty of enjoyment during the start of the busy holiday season.

*1* Cook and Bake Homemade. You never really know what you're getting when you buy those pre-made pies, cakes, and casseroles at the grocery store. Can you make an equally as fattening/sugary/salty dish at home? Of course! But the difference is that you have the opportunity to be in control in the kitchen! You have the power to make smart recipe substitutions (less sugar, less butter, whole wheat flour, etc.) and your food will hopefully have far fewer preservatives.  Not to mention, your family recipe is probably the best this side of the Mississippi anyway, right? ; )

*2* Set Standards for Yourself. Only you are in control of your health. This includes what you eat and how much you eat. Should you enjoy the food of the seasons? Absolutely! But how much you want to indulge is up to you, and setting "mini rules" for yourself at each holiday is a positive step.

Here are some examples: (a) Give yourself permission to savor one piece of pie at the party. Or two pieces of leftover halloween candy per day.  And then stop. This allows you to get a taste of something yummy, a "treat" if you will, without going overboard. (b) Share your food. Split a dessert with someone else at a gathering. (c) If there's something else you want to try, but you're at your limit, pack it up and bring it home for a later time.

*3* Don't Forget About Movement.  Sometimes it's hard to get outside and active in the cold weather. But physical activity is a must all year 'round. If you want to join a gym or have joined a gym, good for you! Keep up a routine and vary your workouts so that you don't get bored. If you're having trouble mixing it up, reach out to a trainer. They're there to help! But the gym isn't for everyone. Take a brisk walk, ski, skate, or take a dance class. Salsa lessons, anyone?

*4* Listen to your Body. It has a lot to say. It's constantly sending out signals of hunger, fullness, and contentment.  The problem is that a lot of times we aren't in tune with our body's signals, especially when so many other triggers like tempting aromas, stress, or a social atmosphere override them.

This is a tough one, especially at Thanksgiving. The term "food coma" usually comes to mind. But think about coma.  It's humorous, but does it sound like something remotely healthy or respectful to do to our bodies? To eat so much that we feel completely stuffed and uncomfortable?

The trick is to eat until you're feeling almost satisfied, stop, and wait about 10 minutes. Are you still hungry? Really take the time to notice, because our brains take 10-20 minutes to fully recognize messages coming from the "STOP" hormones released in our digestive system. Therefore, if we're shoveling in food without notice, there's usually an extra 10-20 minutes of eating (and calories!) that puts us over the edge so that we feel overly full later on.

Hope you enjoyed the tips! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!  

How do you feel about food during the holidays? Leave comments/questions here or on my facebook page.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Burgers...Lentil Burgers!

As a huge animal lover, I get weekly updates from the Humane Society of the United States. They send out "Meatless Monday" recipes, and this week they sent an easy-to-make lentil burger recipe (a nice alternative to the sometimes greasy beef burger). It's super heart-healthy and quite honestly delicious, so I want to share it. Thanks Humane Society! : )

Some of you might be wondering "what the heck is a lentil?" Lentils are part of the legume family, which also includes foods such as peas and beans. They come in the shape of a small lens and in colors ranging from red to green to black. Lentils are very popular in main courses in India and other South and West Asian countries and are also commonly used in soups all over the world. They are high in fiber (great for the heart and digestive system) and are also a good source of protein which is why they make a healthy replacement for meat. Not to mention they contain important vitamins and minerals for our blood such as folate and iron.

Never tried a vegetarian burger? Move out of your comfort zone! ; ) It tastes good, and you're investing in your health at the same time. Is there a more important investment out there?



2 tablespoons flax meal
6 tablespoons water
1 cup cooked lentils
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper


1. Combine the flax meal and water in a small saucepan and boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the lentils, beans, bread crumbs, onions, oil, spices, salt, and pepper. Add the binder and mix well. Divide into 6 parts and shape into patties.
3. Fry in a lightly oiled pan on medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, flipping carefully once. Serve with your usual burger accompaniments!

Nutrition Facts (per burger, without bun): Calories 120, Fat 9g, Carbohydrate 29g, Fiber 6g, Protein 9g

Enjoy!!! If you want to get a weekly "Meatless Monday" recipe sent to your e-mail, sign up here:


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Lowdown on D

Update: the reults of the last poll concluded that APPLES are indeed everyone's favorite fall fruit to bake with--pumpkin coming in as a close runner-up. No surprise there! A new poll is up for you all to take : )


Changing topics, has anyone ever had routine bloodwork done and gotten their vitamin D levels checked? My guess is that most of you will say "no" or "not recently." With most of my readers living in the northeast, I think it's appropriate to talk about the "sunshine vitamin" for a moment.

Vitamin D has been on my mind lately because the winter months aren't too far around the corner, and with that, we get SHAFTED on sunlight! And when sunlight is taken away from us, the precious vitamin D that we get from natural sunlight also goes into deep, sleepy hibernation.

Yes, our bodies create vitamin D from being in the sun--I'm sure most of you have heard this before. UVB (Not the UVA that's in sunlight and most tanning beds) rays hit the skin, and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is synthesized. This is the absolute BEST way to get vitamin D when you have opportunities during the summer (**Skin safety tip: expose your skin without sunscreen for 5 or 10 minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and then apply sunscreen as you normally do. This is usually enough time to get your daily dose of D). But did you know that between the months of about November and April, we can't create vitamin D from sunlight?! The angle of the sun's rays make it so that we can't get what we need.  We store up some vitamin D from the summer months and use it as needed, but by mid-winter, most of us in the northern United States are low or deficient in this VERY important nutrient.

Why do we need it?

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption. This is often times why the calcium supplements you find at the drug store also have vitamin D in the same pill. If our vitamin D levels are low, we don't absorb calcium as well. This is why D is ESPECIALLY important for women, growing children, and the elderly, as these populations lose bone faster than adult men and are much more susceptible to fractures.

But vitamin D isn't just important for bone health as we previously thought. It may play an important role in heart, brain, immune, oral, skin, and kidney health. So much exciting research is starting to emerge. I did my senior research literature review on the effects of Vitamin D and calcium together on blood pressure, and while many study results showed that together they may aid in lowering blood pressure under hypertensive conditions, some results were inconclusive, leaving more research to be conducted. We'll see!

Besides sunlight, how else can we get it?

I would suggest getting your vitamin D levels checked sometime this fall or early winter. I was very low two years ago, but my doctor didn't say a word about it (some of yours will do the same). I went out and purchased a Calcium/Vitamin D supplement and have been pretty good about taking it, although sometimes I forget. I'll check my levels again soon along with you--hopefully they're up after the summer!

If you find out that you're low or deficient, you should take steps to correct your levels before summer comes around again. Between the months of November and April, eating vitamin D-rich or fortified foods and taking supplements are about the only options.

Our vitamin D needs vary by age, gender, weight, and so forth, but recent guidelines suggest that kids and adults should get at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day (about 800 IU for the 70+ crowd). You can get this in pill or liquid drop/gel form (look for vitamin D3/cholecalciferol on the label) or from FOOD. Here are some food sources:

Table: Selected Food Sources of Vitamin D [1]
FoodIUs per serving*Percent DV**
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces447112
Mackerel, cooked, 3 ounces38897
Tuna fish, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces15439
Orange juice fortified with vitamin D, 1 cup (check product labels, as amount of added vitamin D varies)13734
Milk, nonfat, reduced fat, and whole, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup115–12429–31
Yogurt, fortified with 20% of the DV for vitamin D, 6 ounces (more heavily fortified yogurts provide more of the DV)8822
Margarine, fortified, 1 tablespoon6015
Liver, beef, cooked, 3.5 ounces4912
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines4612
Egg, 1 large (vitamin D is found in yolk)4110
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin D, 0.75–1 cup (more heavily fortified cereals might provide more of the DV)4010
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce62

* IUs = International Units.
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2010. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23.

For more information on vitamin D, visit this great site: