My Journey to Embracing an Instant Pot

A friend asked me what I thought about my Instant Pot yesterday. The short answer: there’s still time to tell Santa you need one.

What follows is the long answer…with my pros and cons–and of course a few easy, real food recipes for the Instant Pot.

I’m not an early adopter when it comes to newfangled things, or anything really–I have never been a trendsetter. I am much too cautious for that, and in my scientific mind, I don’t need to be a guinea pig! I prefer to wait and see if it works as promised, and then assess if it will add value to my life–which believe it or not, I try to keep simple (just don’t look in my garage)!

And I’m more than okay with the delayed gratification. Come to find out, science (the Stanford marshmallow experiment, for example)  has shown that better things come to those who wait!

So, years after most everyone else, I finally bought my Instant Pot this past July, on Amazon Prime day because it was heavily discounted. I still wasn’t convinced I needed it. I just thought as an RD and a nutrition and food blogger, I should try it out. It is clearly a huge trend, at the very least.

But the biggest reason I waited to get an Instant Pot is because the word “instant” didn’t sit well with  me. Instant oatmeal, instant rice, instant gratification–instant is usually a bad thing, am I right?! Instant foods are convenience foods. And convenience foods are usually more processed. And more processed is usually less beneficial to your health.

Obviously, I knew you could cook easy, real foods in an Instant Pot. But I can’t help but think it’s a bad thing when we (as a culture) expect all things (food or not) to be instantaneous. Not all short cuts are good. There is something beneficial in the “work” we do. But when we bypass the whole process in a blur, many times we miss out on the “journey” (which, as you would expect, is important to “the wandering RD”!)

  • If we simply cram with rote memorization for a test, we don’t remember the material later.
  • And you may know, I feel similarly about meal planning…if you regularly subscribe to meal plans or order meal delivery kits, you don’t learn sustainable meal planning and prep skills, or learn flexible eating habits since you can’t always eat all your meals at home.

So, given my preconceived notions about the Instant Pot, I am surprised that I have come to embrace my Instant Pot wholeheartedly. But like many nutrition trends, the Instant Pot just has a catchy title. It’s not as “instant” as I thought, which is both good and bad. (Good because real-food meal planning in an Instant Pot still takes forethought. Bad because the cooking process takes longer than it seems from the recipe; the times are misleading– it takes a good 20 minutes to reach the pressure level before the timing begins. But it’s passive time I can be doing something else–so not a big deal.)

But the most important thing about the Instant Pot is that it helps me get an easy, real food meal on the table a few times a week, and that’s gotta count for something. Plus it’s just kind of fun experimenting with it! Here are my pros and cons…

Pros of an Instant Pot:

  1. It is great for making easy, real food. There are many recipes out there, but you do have to search a bit to find the ones that include real food and limit processed foods. Each time I am successful, I share my Instant Pot recipes on my recipe page, so please check back often! And scroll down this post for a few links to get you started!
  2. The texture of meat that is pressure cooked is phenomenal.  This is what I love the most about the Instant Pot. You can make real-food recipes many ways, but they have to taste good! I am a very picky about slow cooker recipes; I don’t like how meat especially gets stringy and dried out despite being cooked in liquid for 7 to 8 hours. This does not happen when you cook meat in an Instant Pot. Ribs, chicken, pork tenderloin, beef stew, etc. tastes like it was roasted in an oven or over the grill, but in a fraction of the time.  
  3. It’s really one-pot cooking. I am also picky about slow cooking because I usually like to saute meat and some veggies (like onions) before slow cooking. In the Instant Pot, I love the saute feature. It allows you to saute, and then all the browned bits contribute to the flavor while minimizing dishwashing. Aaaawesome!
  4. I am not a guinea pig, nor am I reinventing the wheel. Someone else has indeed done the work of figuring things out–I am part of the Facebook Group Instant Pot Community and it is nearly 850,000 people strong!!! Searching for recipes has helped me tremendously adapt my own recipes for the Instant Pot. And I know if I were to ask a question, hundreds of people would respond within minutes. It is such a wonderful resource.
  5. I have had only one epic fail–and let’s just say, it was operator error (owning it!) I forgot to add water to my whole chicken and when the beep summoned me, the chicken was still raw. I knew I had to add the water to achieve pressure, but I had simply forgotten that step. Won’t do that again!

Cons of an Instant Pot:

  1. An Instant Pot may not free up your pre-dinner hour(s). Each of my 3 kids comes home at a different time in the afternoon. Then we spend most afternoons doing the “activity carpool shuffle” and usually arrive home in time to eat a fashionably late dinner. A slow cooker allows you to prep your meal in the AM and it is ready at dinner with little to do just before you eat. An Instant Pot, because it takes much less time, may require operation an hour or so before eating.  But with most one-pot recipes, I have learned a “work around” to this is starting my meal in the early afternoon and allowing it to hold on “warm” until we eat it, which has worked thus far with all my attempts. (And allows for an AM run to the grocery store if I don’t know what we’re having that day! Sometimes I wing it…keeping it real!) But anyone who doesn’t work from home would not have this luxury. Of course, in that case you could also meal prep a few meals in one day with the Instant Pot and solve this problem with another “work around.”
  2. It takes up space. As yet another large kitchen appliance to store (it’s an occupational hazard for me), it is taking up space–honestly, in the corner of my kitchen. I haven’t found it a concealed home yet 1) because it’s big and 2) I have a lot of other kitchen equipment and 3) because I use it frequently (but that’s kind of a pro, now, isn’t it?) Notice I didn’t say my kitchen was too small for once…military spouses can relate to that one, but my current rental home actually has adequate storage! I just have too much kitchen stuff, if I’m honest…
  3. They’re pricey. Although there are many sales lately, and they are already making them bigger and better (gotta love America!)

So, that’s my honest opinion, in case you are in the market for an Instant Pot! I am not paid by nor have I received free products from Instant Pot. I am simply a fan!

Here are a few of my easy, real food recipes to get you started!

Instant Pot Beef Stew

Instant Pot Chicken Soup

Instant Pot Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Instant Pot Country-Style Ribs

Instant Pot Pulled Pork Tenderloin

Smoothie Science: Are Smoothies Good For You?

Everyone seems to love a good smoothie these days.

Everyone except me. I know I’m getting old because, more and more, I seem to be an outlier when it comes to popular opinion. Over 40–check. Opinionated–check. Crotchety–wait, no…I hope!

Nevertheless, I sometimes feel like I am the only person on the planet who doesn’t drink smoothies. Not even green ones or those with other real-food ingredients. I am just not a smoothie person. Never have been. Even if you call it a smoothie bowl (which is a smoothie in a bowl with toppings). But even I have to appreciate that clever rebranding!

I know I’m in the minority…a lot of people drinks smoothies, right?  That’s the idea I get from blogs, Pinterest and Instagram anyway, but please leave a comment and correct me if I’m wrong!

The thing I hate most about smoothies is that they often masquerade as health food when they are typically anything but. They are often full of sugar and calories, even if they have some redeeming qualities. And you know my thoughts about sugar; we all eat way too much! I just don’t think you need to eat something healthy–kale, for example–bad enough to load it into a smoothie with more sugar (natural or not) or calories than you should eat in one sitting. I’d rather have you learn to like kale–or frankly give yourself a break–and don’t eat kale, but choose other whole, real foods you do like.

Yes, you heard me! Kale is a nutrient-packed food, but you don’t have to eat kale unless you want to (preferably in a salad, soup or sauteed). That’s good news, isn’t it?

Well, maybe this is bad news, if you like to drink a lot of smoothies.

I know–you’re thinking your smoothies are healthier than most…and yes, there are healthier ways to make smoothies with real food ingredients. But even if you can keep the portion and amount of carbohydrates reasonable, the simple act of blending everything together may offer fewer benefits than the act of eating whole foods intact. Put simply, smoothies may cross the line into the “refined foods” category. Here’s why:

6 Good Reasons Not to Drink Smoothies:

Chewing, secreting saliva and other digestive “juices,” and movement (peristalsis) of the gut have important functions in digestion. I can’t bring myself to drink smoothies in part because pulverizing whole foods bypasses normal digestion processes.

  • First of all, when you drink smoothies, there’s no chewing, which is the first step in stimulating digestion. When you chew, enzymes are secreted in your saliva that begin to break down carbohydrate and fat in your mouth. Chewing also signals to the rest of your gut (and pancreas and brain) that food is on the way.
  • When food reaches your stomach, it causes the stomach to stretch. Liquids do not achieve the adequate stretching of the stomach that solids do. Every step in digestion, including stomach distention, results in a cascade of hormone secretions, some of which we understand well (insulin), some of which we have only begun to understand (ghrelin, leptin and GLP-1), but all of which are vital to optimal digestion and metabolism.
  • When fiber is no longer intact, and many servings of fruits and vegetables are blended into a high-carbohydrate beverage, the carbohydrates are more quickly absorbed and this results in a sharper increase in blood sugar. This affects insulin and hunger levels–and can be especially harmful in the short term (high blood sugar) and long term (obesity) for people with insulin resistance, prediabetes, and/or diabetes.
  • Research supports that when we blend fiber, its effects in the body are changed; how this matters is a little more difficult to determine. It’s difficult to study fibers’ effect on the gut because there are many types of fiber that occur in nature, and the gut is a complex organ. However, it is my belief that mechanically blending fiber probably does not offer the same prebiotic benefits that we are learning are beneficial to our microbiome (the natural bacteria in our gut).

Yes, there are ways some foods should be processed in order for us to eat them, such as cooking meats to avoid bacterial infection–so I’m not totally crazy to think we don’t need to process anything. However, we don’t need to blend foods into smoothies, so I really prefer to eat and chew my foods and let my body do the work of digesting them more slowly and fully.

Smoothies aren’t satiating and may make you eat more later.

  • Research has shown that participants who consume liquid calories (beverages) consume more calories overall than participants who consume solid calories (food).
  • This study showed that eating a piece of whole fruit before a meal makes you feel more satiated than the same fruit in pureed or juice form and eating the whole fruit before the meal makes you eat fewer calories during the meal.
  • Part of the reason some research shows liquids aren’t as satiating may be the speed at which liquid calories are consumed and absorbed. Usually smoothies are downed quickly, sometimes while doing other activities on-the-go, such as driving or working. In addition, liquids result in less stomach distention–the actual stretching of the stomach with food–which is an important cue for the body to detect fullness.
  • But more recently, it has become clear that the GI tract, the largest endocrine organ in the body, plays a very complicated role in the secretion of many hormones to regulate processes such as satiety and food intake. Liquids and solids appear to affect these hormones differently. For example, ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” is produced in the GI tract when the stomach is empty. It stimulates hunger, gastric acid secretion, and gut motility to move food through the GI tract. When food stretches the stomach, ghrelin secretion is stopped. When liquids are consumed, the stomach is not adequately stretched and may contribute to feelings of hunger even with adequate nutrient intake.

Smoothies (and juices) can contain more calories and carbohydrates than could typically be eaten in the same amount of time if eaten in whole food form.

  • In the same amount of time as it takes to slurp a smoothie down, you wouldn’t eat 5+ servings of fruit. A 20-oz. serving of orange juice, as a reference, contains 65 grams of carbohydate–the amount of carbohydrate 4 1/3 oranges. Your stomach would feel too full, due in large part to the fiber, which is an important part of satiety. But a smoothie (or juice) allows you to tolerate that much fruit at once, which jacks up the carbohydrate content significantly.
  • While nutrients are important for health and most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, our bodies can indeed be overwhelmed by too much carbohydrate. 
  • Rather, research shows it is more beneficial when you eat a solid meal with whole foods, because it takes more time to eat and contains fewer calories.

Smoothies often contain protein powders to increase the protein enough to balance out the carbohydrates and fat content.

  • To make smoothies a balanced source of nutrients, protein powders are often used, which are also processed and further increase calories.  It is not difficult to get enough protein in your diet when you eat a variety of whole foods.
  • Chewing whole foods requires more time, which is helpful for proper digestion and satiety–and provides added social benefits. We generally eat smoothies on the go rather than taking the time to sit down and enjoy the food, preferably in the company of other people.

I choose to model eating whole fruits and vegetables to my children.

  • I do not agree with sneaking fruits and vegetables into my children’s diets unbeknownst to them. I want them to learn to like whole fruits and vegetables, not to just get the nutrients from them. I am shaping their mindset and this is one of the greatest gifts that will keep on giving long after they leave “the nest”!
  • So, I repeatedly offer them fruits and vegetables in raw and cooked form and they learn to like them over time, some more than others. That’s normal and to be expected. The important thing is that you don’t give up eating them and continue to offer them to your kids.
  • My kids sometimes have smoothies, but these are considered a treat.

It’s simply a pain to clean the blender.

  • A lot of people eat smoothies daily as a meal replacement because they say they are aiming for simplicy.
  • But frankly, it’s a lot easier to wash a piece of whole fruit and go. Or even slice up some peppers and cucumbers and start chomping while I rinse the knife quickly. Or boil or scramble some eggs and portion them in reheatable containers for the week.
  • Smoothies are really not easier when you have to figure out what to put in them, make them, and then clean the blender–every day.

Bottom Line:

What to do if you like smoothies?  Enjoy a small portion of a homemade smoothie with real-food ingredients infrequently as a healthier treat. Stick with fruits, vegetables, water, and full-fat yogurt or milk, or your unsweetened milk of choice as main ingredients.

As for your non-smoothie days, work on expanding your horizons with whole real foods, such as: 

  • set a goal to eat one fruit and one vegetable serving at each meal (or more if desired), OR
  • add a salad every day to your dinner, OR
  • try preparing a new vegetable (or a familiar vegetable in a new way) each week, OR 
  • join a delivery service or Community Support Agriculture (CSA) program through a local farm to have produce delivered right to your door.

References:

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/199317

World Diabetes Day: Why and How YOU Should Eat More Easy, Real Food

Yes–I’m talking to you. All of you. Whether you have type 2 diabetes or not–on World Diabetes Day–I’m talking to everyone just the same, because I believe you all need to hear this: 70 percent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by the adoption of a healthy lifestyle (according to the International Diabetes Federation).

Many people watch the news or scour social media and are upset by what they see.  It’s part of our high-tech culture to be inundated with polarizing opinions on important topics.  Me? Right or wrong, I tend to avoid daily political news. Frankly, I love our country, but I don’t see how my rants could possibly help.

Instead, I channel my beefs elsewhere; I simply go to the grocery store and find myself fired up by what I see. It’s now part of our culture to be inundated with CONVENIENT JUNK, some of which masquerades as health food. And sorry (not sorry), I have no choice but to rant because I’m hoping it may possibly help you.

God Bless America…we have choices, we have innovation, we have advances in technology, we have more of everything. But it seems like everything that makes America great has made our food culture deplorable.  So, if you feel helpless when it comes to eating better to improve your health, my only goal is to help you figure out what to eat. I hope you choose to keep reading because it is my passion to help you eat easy, real food to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Although type 2 diabetes is affected by your genes, studies have shown its progression can be prevented and managed by healthy lifestyle interventions. But our food culture is not making this easy. Successfully managing, reversing or preventing diabetes requires a complete overhaul of our way of thinking, which means bucking our ubiquitous food culture.

It’s a daunting task, but I strongly believe in owning the responsibility for your own health. We can’t expect the government to tell us how or what to eat, or food companies to change their products for the better. The changes to our food culture have to come from within us–the consumers. And when we simply shift our focus from one processed food to a “healthier” processed food (gluten-free products, for example) or continually seek better “fast-food” options, we are completely off the mark and missing the point.

We have to slow down…and value ourselves, our family and our health enough to want to find the necessary time it takes to prepare and really savor real food in the company of our closest companions–our physical and mental health depends on it. And no governmental policy or commercial product can help us do that. 

But it doesn’t have to be terribly time-consuming or complicated. That’s why I am always talking about EASY, real food. You don’t have to do elaborate meal planning. You don’t have to plan a month of meals in advance. And you don’t have to cook all your meals for the week in one afternoon (unless, of course, you want to). But you do have to find ways to incorporate real food that work for you. I am sharing these suggestions that work for me and I hope they will help simplify the task of eating more easy, real food.

10 Ways To Eat More Easy, Real Food:

  1. You can eat eggs every day. I eat 2 eggs every day for breakfast. It takes less than 5 minutes. Sometimes I scramble several portions for a few days and store them in individual containers to reheat for 20 seconds. Sometimes I add sauteed veggies, or cheese, but most days just salt and pepper. At first, it was monotonous, I can’t lie. But somewhere along the way, it became a healthy habit and now it’s just “what I eat” and I don’t have to think much about it, which works for me and my busy mornings.
  2. Set real-food goals. Try having at least one fruit and vegetable at every meal. I do this for my kids’ packed lunches from home (because I can’t wait for school lunch to get healthier) and after we returned late Sunday from a weekend trip, I skipped the veggie on Monday because I hadn’t gone to the store and I got complaints about it! I love it when healthy habits become ingrained!
  3. Cook more. I usually cook dinner 4 to 5 times per week (often with leftovers). If you don’t cook much at all, start with one meal a week and increase as you can. And try to keep your meal planning (I use a white board) and your meals simple and full of real foods. Visit the recipe index for a sheet-pan meal, or a slow cooker meal, or an Instant Pot meal.
  4. Rebrand “leftovers” as “premade meals” and enjoy the extra free time. I know I talk a lot about leftovers, which don’t sound very appealing to many people. I used to be one of them! But as a busy mom, I now appreciate that they are time-giving, lifesavers! So, I recommend doing whatever you have to do to wrap your brain around using this meal prep strategy to your advantage. For lunch, B and I usually eat leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Or I will make a quick simple salad with cucumber, tomatoes, and tuna or chicken for protein, toasted pecans or walnuts for crunch and flavor (with olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper as dressing). Sometimes I double a meal to have leftovers for dinner the next night if I know it’ll be a busy one.
  5. Snack on some real foods if you want, or don’t snack; the choice is yours. But if you do snack, stick to lower sugar, easy, real food snacksAs a snack, I usually choose some nuts (walnuts and macadamias are my favorite), OR a piece of cheese OR a piece of fruit, such as an apple, pear, or clementine. About once a week I’ll have 4 oz. of my favorite Noosa pumpkin yogurt or even a convenient Kind Bar (Maple Glazed Pecan and Sea Salt or Madagascar Vanilla Almond), because it’s nut based and yummy, if not exactly real food.
  6. Buy fewer processed food products. I find it easier to avoid many products because there are scant good choices: such as cereal, crackers, and easy side-dish mixes. And keep in mind, even if you need to follow a gluten-free diet, gluten-free processed products are not better than their replacements for someone with diabetes. Instead focus on simple ingredients and ask yourself, “does this food come from nature?” For example, meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy, rice, quinoa, etc.  Some minimally processed canned foods I buy include canned tuna or salmon, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste, a variety of beans, pumpkin puree, coconut milk, and broth.
  7. Limit sugar. When you think you’ve decreased sugar in your diet in the obvious places (sugary beverages, limiting sweets, etc.), decrease it some more by reading the ingredient lists on food labels and avoiding products with sugar (and its various names). At first you may miss it, but you’ll likely notice your taste buds adjust and things taste sweeter without the sugar.
  8. Limit refined carbohydrates or preferably all carbohydrates.
    Highly processed carbohydrates such as white flour, corn flour or even gluten-free flours break down quickly into sugar in the bloodstream and research shows these refined carbohydrates are harmful to your health. A recent randomized controlled study conducted in Norway reveals that neither a very high-fat diet nor a very low-fat diet (both of which included “good” low-glycemic index carbohydrates) contribute to abdominal fat or metabolic syndrome—if they are free of refined carbohydrates. This is why for someone with diabetes, or anyone trying to prevent diabetes, it’s most important to limit refined carbohydrates, not saturated fat. Research also shows a lower carbohydrate (not just the refined type) diet is a very effective way to manage blood sugar for people with diabetes or for those wanting to prevent obesity. In particular, a diet low in carbohydrates is beneficial for reducing belly fat, which contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes. One randomized controlled study found that participants following a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet lost more abdominal fat (trunk fat) than participants following a low-fat diet.
  9. Choose fats wisely. I use olive oil and butter mainly, with some coconut oil and sometimes even rendered bacon grease. Although these fats contain some saturated fat, research supports that saturated fat does not appear to be harmful to heart health.  Also, these fats are fairly naturally derived and minimally processed–unlike many vegetable oils such as corn, and soybean oil (which are in almost all processed foods) and even canola oil. I also recommend avoiding all trans fat, which is in margarine and other processed foods.
  10. Choose unsweetened, low-sugar beverages. I start my day with one (or two) unsweetened Italian “long” (diluted) espresso, to which I add a splash of whole milk.  I consider fresh-brewed coffee a real food, which is only minimally processed, when nothing else is added to it. Recent research suggests coffee may be protective against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. In fact, a recent study suggests 3 to 5 cups per day had the most protective effect on risk for heart disease. Another study suggests at least one cup daily is protective against type 2 diabetes. Then I drink seltzer (La Croix grapefruit is my favorite) and water the rest of the day. Sometimes I add a lemon or lime wedge for flavor. And I often have a glass of red wine with dinner.

Bottom Line:

I hope these tips and recipes help you rethink your day-to-day eating to incorporate more easy, real food to prevent or manage diabetes.  By doing so we can harness the power we have to control diabetes better with real food, less processed food and a healthy lifestyle. As a diabetes expert, it is difficult to deliver restrictive advice, but on the bright side, it is the best evidence-based advice to prevent and manage diabetes.  And if it helps to know that I do follow my own advice, then rest assured I know it is difficult–but also possible and satisfying to eat this way longterm. As always, feel free to share your questions or comments! 

 

Are You a Picky Pumpkin Eater?

Dietitians usually talk a lot about picky eaters like it’s a bad thing. Yes, usually we want people to expand their tastes to eat a variety of healthy foods. But picky is always a good thing if you’re picking easy, real foods over processed ones.

I love fall and I especially love pumpkin. Apparently I’m not alone in this–just look around any store. But while shopping at my usual grocery stores in the past two weeks, I realized how insane it has gotten with the variety of processed pumpkin products!  No surprise–as I am a self-proclaimed food snob–I found myself turning my nose up at most of them, even at Trader Joe’s!  So, it got me thinking: I am a picky pumpkin eater! (Say that 10 times fast.)  And I’m giving you permission to be picky about choosing real-food pumpkin products, too.

The food industry has done it again–responded to demand with a ridiculous surplus of unhealthy options. I can’t blame them; many people are eating them. But don’t let the gluttony of fake-flavored pumpkin products ruin fall–or your health! Simply try to pick the pumpkin products that are worth it, and when that fails, I’ll share how to make a few easy pumpkin products of your own!

The Origins of My Pumpkin Hoarding Problem

I don’t even need it to be fall to enjoy pumpkin. I frequently make pumpkin muffins throughout the year. My first fall living in Italy, I was pregnant with my third daughter and felt like making pumpkin ginger muffins. Maybe it was the hormonal cravings that just made me want what I wanted, when I wanted it. Maybe it was the appealing thought of ginger helping with my morning sickness. Maybe it was the nostalgia of the fall season and wanting to feel more at home while adjusting to life in a foreign country. But alas, I would soon learn there was no pumpkin to be had in the commissary in August.

Or September, as luck would have it. So, when October rolled around, I bought not one, not two, but–12 cans–of pumpkin.  In my mind, I needed to be sure it would last throughout the next 12 months.

Facebook actually reminded me of this TODAY! But the funny thing is I’ve been working on this post for several days, so I find it funny I seem to have an internal pumpkin circadian rhythm!  AND I just made apple crisp yesterday! Weird…

Anyway, if I recall, the 12 cans lasted longer than a year. Imagine my delight when I returned to the USA and I could buy canned pumpkin year round at most grocery stores.You would think I wouldn’t still have hoarding tendencies (although, for the record, I only have three cans currently). But alas, when many pumpkin products don’t meet my criteria, I have to resort to making my own and need a supply of pumpkin on hand!

(Note: if any local friends receive a “boo bag” soon that contains a can of pumpkin, check the expiration date…you might need to use it sooner than you’d think.)

How Do I Pick Pumpkin Products?

So, you may be dying to know which products make the cut. Or not, but I’ll tell you anyway. I have some self-imposed rules for trying seasonal pumpkin products. I just realized this season that I had rules, because frankly many products are simply disgusting–and honestly I’m always somewhat surprised and disappointed! The rules help with the disappointment–don’t waste your money if they don’t pass these rules!

So, here are the rules I follow for any pumpkin products I eat and recommend:

  1. They must taste like real pumpkin (kinda subjective, but you know “fake” when you taste it).
  2. They must not be overpowered by sugar or spice (particularly cloves)–it’s really not too nice!
  3. They should contain some real pumpkin and/or real food with some redeeming nutrients, if possible.

Of course, I will probably still try anything with pumpkin once! But to regularly eat and recommend a pumpkin product, I follow these general rules.

The Short List of Pumpkin Products That Pass:

  • I was over the moon when I realized my favorite full-fat Noosa yogurt in pumpkin flavor is available year round (I buy it at Target)! You can buy it as an 8-ounce tub or in smaller 4-ounce 4-packs (my preference). It’s a little high in sugar, but it has real pumpkin and full-fat yogurt with probiotics, calcium and vitamin D, so I love it as a treat. It’s frequently sold out though, so I hope I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot telling you about it…
  • Of course, Target’s Simply Balanced 4-pack of low-fat pumpkin Greek yogurt is a close second favorite. It is low fat (which I don’t think is necessary) and only available seasonally (which is bad), but lower in sugar than Noosa (which is great). Both of these yogurts are delicious treats and have the redeeming quality of containing real foods: pumpkin, protein from milk, and probiotics important for gut health, and I usually add a tablespoon of toasted nuts on top.
  • Once or twice during the season I do enjoy a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with one pump of syrup (usually there are 4). It is definitely not real pumpkin in there, but it tastes good. And everybody else is doing it.

What other store-bought pumpkin products do you think are worth it? Let me know what I’m missing in the comments!

My Favorite Homemade Pumpkin Products

As always, my store-bought list is kind of short, so I usually make a few homemade pumpkin treats to satisfy my nostalgic need for pumpkin in the fall. Here are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats (Gluten Free)

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Pumpkin Spice Pancakes (Gluten Free, No Added Sugar)
Traditional Spiced Pumpkin Bread
Harvest Pumpkin Soup

Please share this post if you know any other pumpkin lovers who would like to try these recipes!

 

 

 

 

Halloween Has Enough Candy–Try These Festive EASY, Real Foods!

We LOVE Halloween in our house. Mostly because my oldest was born the day before Halloween. She’s turning 12 this month, so we have embraced Halloween as a party theme for many years–it never gets old! In fact, it’s now nostalgic tradition. It’s Oct. 1, so I’m sharing this early in case you want time to think about adding to your annual traditions!

Maybe you think it’s weird that an RD loves a candy-themed holiday. Of course, I have always tried to find real-food treats for our Halloween parties. Don’t get me wrong, my kids eat plenty of candy. I don’t restrict them, but try to steer them towards the good stuff (anything chocolate, am I right?) Alas, they gobble up the Nerds and Airheads just the same. Yuck, totally not worth it, IMHO! And although I try to get them to ration out the loot, on Halloween night, all bets are off…oh well! I am modeling imperfection and normalcy. (Most days. Sometimes I open up a can of crazy! Seriously, that’s what I tell my kids…they know when I’m not kidding.)

The past few years, we haven’t had a Halloween-themed birthday party, but we still get together every year on Halloween with neighbor friends for some “pre-game” grub prior to the trick-or-treating festivities. Living on base in Italy was so fun because of the close proximity of friends and small-town feel, but we were delighted to find that our neighbors here in Virginia Beach celebrate with some good, old-fashioned fun, too.

What does your neighborhood do to celebrate Halloween? Do you need something to bring to an annual Halloween potluck? Or will you be the host and start a new tradition this year? Whether you need a simple snack, a dippy appetizer, or a more hearty, protein-rich dish, try some of these easy, real food options. Some are ridiculously easy, which is my specialty, but they guarantee smiles just the same– especially the first option.

“What can I say, except ‘you’re welcome?!'” (Leave a comment if you know which movie that song comes from…I sing it all the time to my kids as a gentle reminder!)

Snacks

Apple, Peanut Butter, Marshmallow “Teeth”

Feel free to substitute other nut butters, or use blanched almond slivers in place of the marshmallows for some spikey “teeth.”

Jack-O-Lantern Clementines

Be sure to have several Sharpies on hand, the wax seems to make them run out quickly. You could also draw on the flat top of orange segment fruit cups.

Cheese “Fingers” (Cucumber “Nails”)

You could use almond slices in place of the cucumbers, if you prefer.

Veggie “Skeleton”

Homemade garlic ranch dressing or tzatziki makes a great dip for these veggies.

 

Deviled Egg Spiders

Classic deviled eggs become a Halloween delicacy! (Learn from my mistake: be sure you have enough olives to have anatomically correct spiders!)

Appetizers or Main Dishes

“Candy Corn” Quesadillas

Fill your quesadilla with chicken and cheese, or just cheese, and then top with mozzarella cheese in the center of the tortilla, and cheddar to form a ring around the mozarella. Cut into triangles.

Oven-Fried Chicken Wings with “Fingers” in the Dip

Carrot “fingers” in the homemade garlic ranch or blue cheese dressing make these gluten free, oven-baked chicken wings festive for Halloween. Or skip the wings and stick the carrots in any dip–I highly recommend B’s homemade guacamole served with some corn chips.

“Mummy” Bagel Pizzas

Bagels, English muffins, or mini naan bread can be used to make these cute but creepy pizzas.

What Do You Do When the Going Gets Rough?

Me? Sometimes I quit. I have many unfinished projects, some nutrition-related, some not. For example, I have at least 20 unfinished blog post drafts. True story. Yes, that’s what NOT to do when the going gets rough.

School has started, so life with my three girls has become more challenging during the past two weeks. I haven’t been blogging much, I haven’t been meal planning much, and I haven’t been doing much to complete my personal projects. Can you relate?

Of course, sometimes life also gives you extra “lemons” during these already challenging times: another flat tire and a dog accident on my Persian rug. Yeah…there’s never a good time for either of those.

I thought it was just me, but failing to finish projects is a common problem.  I know this because there’s a book about it.  Today I just received a pre-ordered copy of the new book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, by Jon Acuff. It sounds so promising! I’m so grateful he finally finished the book. Stay tuned, if I finish it, I’ll let you know if the strategies are indeed life-changing.

I think it’s interesting and important to note, though, that I take commitments very seriously and will go to great lengths to not inconvenience or quit on anyone else. I work in a field that revolves around deadlines. No problem–I’m on time or early! But chaos or not, I often quit on myself. I tell myself it’s prioritizing, that my children are more important, or that anything for myself can wait. But if I’m honest, it’s also because I have a fear of failing, which I’ve learned is quite common among perfectionists.

It’s also common among people with a fixed mindset, according to the fantastic book Mindset, by Carol Dweck. I highly recommend it, for yourself and especially if you have children. (After all, your mindset shapes their mindset.) Most importantly, with a growth mindset you believe you have the power to learn and grow more through challenges and perseverence. And failure is an important part of that growth.  A growth mindset is far more helpful in life than a fixed mindset, which essentially focuses on quitting when the going gets rough, because you just aren’t ____ enough. Fill in the blank, you big loser.

Those who know me might find it hard to believe I’m a perfectionist–my house gets cluttered often, I mess up meals sometimes, and I never remember everything I need to. But often on the inside, and sometimes on the outside, I have been known to verbally beat myself up. And then I must add “sweating the small stuff” to my growing mental list of faults…

Yes, I do realize everyone makes mistakes. And when I make them, I can even verbalize “everyone makes mistakes.” But it takes a conscious effort to believe it to your core when attempting a new challenge and seeing it through to the end.

My point: we are all works-in-progress. We all fail. But when was the last time you tried so hard you fully failed? Chances are, if you’re trying that hard, you won’t fail. But even if you do, there’s growth in that. So, frankly, I’m done holding myself back to prevent failure. Are you with me?

We all know building healthy habits (food-related or otherwise) is not easy. That’s why New Year’s resolutions fail more often than not. But the reality is we can all learn more through challenges and perseverance, and especially through failures. So, we keep trying. But we must seek better strategies to complete our personal goals and find more balance in our lives.

Maybe you are striving to improve your eating habits and want to try a new approach. (You’re in the right place!) Or like me, you could be striving to stop sacrificing yourself too much for your kids so they see you as an accomplished, well-rounded individual. Whatever your personal goals, go big or go home!

So, here’s to challenging ourselves in this new school year (parents and students alike) to finish–or even fully fail–more of our important personal goals we set! I figure it makes sense to start with the book, Finish.

Top 10 Foods I Buy at Trader Joe’s

When I’m not in a hurry, I generally love grocery shopping–exploring the various products, reading the labels, comparing the prices. But alas–I’m usually in a hurry–and oh, how I missed Trader Joe’s for the four years we weren’t near one while in Italy! There’s nothing like being able to run in and out of a favorite store quickly, get the good quality items that you need, and at a good price to make easy, real food.

I know. We were in Italy! Definitely not complaining about that or the various outdoor produce (and shoe!) markets and cool grocery stores. (BTW, one of them, a German grocery chain Lidl, is here in Virginia Beach!) I will always embrace a new food-related adventure, especially while traveling. I find it most fascinating to figure out a new culture via its foods. Restaurants are fun, but grocery stores tell you so much more about a culture. And strangely enough, it even provides a certain comfort while out of my home country to notice that generally the same real-food ingredients I use are used in different ways all around the world! Somehow that makes the world seem smaller and more relatable to me. Everybody eats, as I like to say…

Sometimes I even enjoy the challenge of a store’s layout, looking for needed items while questioning the placement of related products. It’s like a game of mind-reading and I feel so accomplished when I guess correctly! Is almond butter near the jelly, like peanut butter is, or in the “health food” section. (Oh, smart–and note to self for next time–it’s in both places!) I know, maybe it’s strange I play weird games in my head…

But for efficiency and simplicity, I like knowing my way around a store and having the price comparisons all figured out. It’s the worst when you have to start from scratch figuring out where to get all your favorite ingredients, and even some new ones occasionally, and at the best prices. So, in my opinion, you may as well live in a foreign country if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby!

I’m not being paid in any way to say this–I’m simply a passionate foodie who loves a great grocery store! Trader Joe’s stores are strategically located, and I have been fortunate to live near one in MD, MA and now VA. That said, I don’t do all my shopping at Trader Joe’s–not even close. They are famous for their commitment to quality, the avoidance of preservatives, and customer service, but there are plenty of unhealthy options–even organic and gluten-free junk–just like any other store. So, you really have to pay attention to the Nutrition Facts Label, and particularly the ingredient list of each product.

So, what products are a sure bet at Trader Joe’s, you ask? Here are the Top 10 Foods I Buy at Trader Joe’s. They are fantastic quality and the best prices around compared to regular or specialty stores in my area.

  1. Nuts and Seeds–I regularly buy bags of pecans, walnuts and almonds, my favorites. But you can find any and all kinds of nuts at Trader Joe’s. They come raw, toasted, in pieces or whole. I prefer to buy raw pieces; they are cheaper and I toast them myself when I’m ready to use them. I use them in salads mostly, sometimes grain-free granola, and I sometimes eat them by the small handful. For convenience and a portion controlled treat on the go, I also like the individually packaged mixed nuts with dark chocolate pieces (although I wish they were 70% dark). My kids enjoy these, too!
  2. Honey–you can find good quality raw honey at TJ’s. I don’t use honey a lot, but if I do, I want to be sure it’s real honey and not a poor-quality honey diluted with corn syrup.
  3. Real Maple Syrup–We are New Englander’s at heart when it comes maple syrup. My daughter SE was once at a sleepover when she was about 7 years old and we still laugh at how she rudely turned her nose up at the other “syrup” she was offered! She actually lectured the other family that they are made from corn syrup and not “the real stuff.” Whoops, occupational hazard of a foodie RD parent! We promptly discussed when it’s most polite to keep your food opinions to yourself, but it’s still a work in progress…
  4. 100% Italian Organic Olive Oil–We were absolutely spoiled by good quality olive oil in Italy. Did you know most olive oil sold in the US can be a blend of olive oil and other oils like soybean or corn? And the labeling can be tricky. Even when it says Italian it can be a blend of different sources of olive oil. There is a certain amount of trust that you are relying on when buying olive oil, but I feel better when it says the source is 100% Italian organic olive oil. (As an alternative, it’s not certified organic, but my daughter visited the Oropallo olive farm in Italy on a school field trip, so I recently ordered their delicious, good quality olive oil, which you can buy through their FB page, Oropallo EVOO.)
  5. Chipotle Salsa–I prefer to make my own fast fresh salsa, but sometimes there’s just no time for making a condiment when you’re busy making the Mexican-inspired main dish, usually along with B’s homemade guacamole. This Chipotle salsa has a great texture for a jarred salsa, and the chipotle adds another dimension to the flavor.
  6. Organic Eggs–I prefer to get local free-range eggs, but when I run out or need to buy store-bought, I choose Trader Joe’s because they are organic and the price is the cheapest I’ve seen around town.
  7. Red Pepper and Eggplant Sauce–This sauce is from Bulgaria, but it reminds me of one we enjoyed so much at restaurants while on a road trip through Croatia and Slovenia that we sought it out at a grocery in Slovenia. It has a simple ingredient list and I use it as a condiment, along side some grilled chicken thighs topped with homemade seasoning salt for the ultimate lazy, real-food dinner. Sometimes I also use pesto on the side in the same way with the chicken and the two condiments’ flavors work well together.
  8. Canned Tuna and Frozen Wild-Caught Fish--I was hooked on Italian canned tuna packed in olive oil. It was phenomenal and it is the #1 thing I miss from Italy. I know what you’re thinking…how good can it be? Well, let me just say, I eat it, but I’m not a huge fan of American tuna in the can. It can be dry, the color is off-putting and the flavor is not the best. But Rio Mare brand from Italy is the opposite. It’s packed in good olive oil, is an appetizing pink color and the flavor is delicious and slightly salted. TJ’s has an olive oil-packed tuna that is not quite as good, but it’s a close second and a good substitute. In the freezer section, I enjoy the wild-caught salmon, cod or other white fish.  I make it a point to buy wild-caught seafood from the USA, and although it’s not cheap, it’s one of the rare places you can even find frozen fish that is sourced from the USA, not from China. (Military friends, FYI, I buy Emeril Lagasse’s shrimp from the commissary, because it is caught in the USA).
  9. Cheeses–I love cheese and Trader Joe’s has good prices on a variety of specialty cheeses. If I had to be dairy-free, this is what I would miss the most. I use cheese to add flavor and interest to some my meals when they are free of refined carbs and sugar. I regularly buy imported feta from Greece (I’m half Greek, you know) for salads, and I use the small balls of fresh mozzarella in scrambled eggs, salads, or my kids’ lunches. I love the seasonal cranberry-coated goat cheese log in salad during the holidays, although it’s a treat, since it’s pretty sweet! Usually I pick out a different cheese to try every once in a while such as brie, various cheddars, havarti, etc.
  10. Frozen Vegetables–sometimes you just need to use frozen vegetables. They are perfectly healthy, quick, and a good way to round out your real-food meal. I like to buy organic ones when I can, and TJ’s has a pretty good selection at good prices, but I don’t always use organic. Some of my favorites: green beans, broccoli, spinach, riced cauliflower, and sliced bell peppers.

Of course, I buy other things at TJ’s, too, but these are my staples. Hope it helps you with your shopping!

10 Portable, Easy, Real Beach Foods

Nothing says summer like the beach. I’ve only lived close enough to walk to the beach for two years, but the Navy may need to drag me away–kicking and screaming–if and when the time comes.  The beach conjures up fun childhood memories and it continues to be my happy place making new memories with my family. Stress seems to ebb a little more after each breaking wave. Sibling sisters even seem to invoke an unspoken truce. It’s downright magical…once you get there. But that hour-plus of prep to get out the door to the beach with kids is brutal, am I right?

Swimsuits on. Sunscreen applied. Shoes found (and donned). Cooler packed. Towels in hand. Chairs in tow. It can feel like you are hauling half your house with you! (And then there’s the hour of messy, uncontainable, sandy clean up that ensues after you return home…but that’s hours later; let’s not think about that now or we will never again leave the comfort of our A/C.)

If you’re like me, by the time you finally get settled in the sand, someone’s hungry. If I’m honest, it might be a sign we’ve brought too much?! But swimming also seems to make my kids ravenous. So–for the love of the beach and all that is peaceful–you can’t cut back on the food you bring! You must bring enough to stay through a meal (or two) to make all the work worthwhile.

Because we’re lucky enough to hit the beach once a week rather than once a year, my family can’t afford to eat junk each time we go. I’m sure no one needs help choosing the typical, portable, convenient foods (i.e., sandwiches, chips of any kind). We eat those sometimes. But even for an RD, it takes forethought and extra effort to come up with easy, real food options that are wholesome and easily portable. It’s a little more limiting when you try to make them lower carb and/or gluten free, if needed, as well. And then you have to also consider how to avoid a sandy mess in general, and whether you will need plates and utensils (neither is preferable) or any napkins (that may inadvertently blow away…after all, nature’s sink is at your disposal anyway). These are a lot of criteria for a meal!

That’s why I’ve gathered some of my favorite portable, easy, real food recipes to turn your beach (or boating) adventure into a nutritious and delicious meal away from home. I’ve also enlisted the help of some RD bloggers who have shared a few of their best portable foods. Simply click on the photos for the links to the recipes.

As I like to say, the number one way to eat mindfully is to plan ahead what you will eat. The same is true at the beach–a little planning goes a long way and I feel it’s time worth spent. I make double batches of some of my recipes below for a meal or snack at home and bring the leftovers to the beach. Some items, like the chicken or artichoke quiche bites, you can even freeze for another time. I also love getting my kids to help me with the easy food prep, such as cutting up fruits and veggies, which frees up some of my time (to sometimes make my favorite refreshing beach drink, Mojitos My Way, or ginger Kombucha mixed with vodka, seltzer and a lemon wedge. Ahhh.)

We can’t always bring our “A” game to the beach. We are going there to relax, after all. But even if all the food you bring to the beach can’t be homemade real food, try packing just one or two of these real-food options in your cooler next time to step up your beach food game. And then also refer to “Plan B” below for some store-bought real foods to round out your beach meals and snacks.

And no matter what, don’t forget to enjoy the serenity of the sea while it lasts or until you run out of food, whichever comes first!

Your “A” Game: Easy, Real Foods for the Beach

Classic Deviled Eggs Served with Baby Dill Pickles

 

 

 

 

 

Spiced, Roasted Chick Peas: 5 Ways

 

Contributed by Amy Gorin, RD

 

 

 

Roasted Eggplant Hummus Served with Sliced Bell Peppers and Carrots

 

Contributed by Katie Cavuto, RD

 

 



Skewered Caprese Salad
Seven-Layer Dip (Half Recipe) Served with Organic Corn Chips
Oven-Baked Chicken Wings (Gluten Free)
Spicy Meat and Potato Patties Wrapped in Lettuce

 

Contributed by Roxana Begum, PhD, RD

 

 

Artichoke Quiche Bites with Sweet Potato Crust
Sliced Fresh Melon Wrapped with Prosciutto, if desired. (No recipe)
Chewy, No Bake Granola Bars

 

Contributed by Maria Westburg Adams, MS, MPH, RD

Plan B: Easier Store-Bought Real Food for the Beach

Sometimes there’s no time to fix homemade foods before heading to the beach. Or maybe you just need a break from cooking. If time is short, don’t let that stop you from reaching for real foods at the beach. Try these easy store-bought options:

  • Veggie trays
  • Fruit trays
  • Fresh fruit (grapes and cherries require little prep)
  • Hummus and baby carrots
  • Sliced cheese (Cheddar, Brie, etc.) and apple slices (gala don’t brown as quickly)
  • Olives (they come in ready-to-eat pouches or single-serve packages)
  • Nuts
  • Nuts and Dark Chocolate (Trader Joe’s has single packs)

Plan Your Own Meals, Please: Here’s Why and How

I am frequently asked to make meal plans. It seems like a reasonable request. And I really want to help you eat better. But fundamentally, I just can’t bring myself to do them. Here’s why. And read on to find out how I’d rather help you–step by step–learn to eat mindfully.

Here’s Why I Don’t Do Meal Plans:

  1. What I eat may not be what you like to eat. As a result, meal plans are not simply a matter of me writing down for you what I eat; it can be a very overwhelming, time-consuming prospect to build individualized meal plans. There are sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies. There are so many real foods, so many different cuisines and flavors, some of which you may not like. Even if I interview you and figure out what some of your preferences are, I’m sure we will forget to mention some that end up in your meal plan, rendering it ineffective.  Plus you simply may not have the desire, time or inclination to make and eat what I have planned for you on a particular day. Which leads me to the next point…
  2. You won’t follow a meal plan. This is not a judgment; try as you might, you can’t. Meal plans are temporary. So many factors affect your meals, such as your location, mood, the company you’re keeping at meal time, or the time it takes to cook the meals. Inevitably it’s a waste of time to create meal plans. (And did I mention it takes a lot of time?) And when you can’t follow them, it creates shame and blame. You possibly blame me, or even worse, yourself; either way you feel like a failure. Thus, meal plans are definitely not a positive and productive use of your time or mine. So, what is a productive use of our time? Mindful eating…
  3. Meal plans don’t teach you how to eat mindfully for life. The number one way to learn to eat mindfully is to plan what you will eat ahead of time. That’s the goal right? Anyone can help you lose weight. I want to teach you how to change your behaviors and stick with it. If I’ve done the work of planning your meals, there is a point when you will come to the end of the meal plans (or throw them out the window mid-week) and still not know (or care) what and how to eat. If I do it for you, it’s not mindful, it’s meaningless.

So, all this begs the question: how do you make your own meaningful meal plans and learn to eat mindfully? I’ll take you through the steps I take weekly–sometimes begrudgingly, I’ll admit!

Yes, I don’t always want to sit down and do this. And truthfully, sometimes I don’t. But when I don’t, I’m scrambling during the week to provide healthy meals. And let’s face it, when you’re scrambling, you’re lucky if the meals provided are healthy.

So, do yourself and your family a favor, take 20 minutes and crank out these simple steps. It gets easier and quicker the more you build up your collection of real-food recipes. Check out my recipes to get you started. And check back frequently, I add a few new recipes each week! You can also find me on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest where I showcase easy, real food.

Here’s How To Make a Simple Weekly Meal Plan:

  1. Start with planning only dinners. This keeps it simple, especially if you’re just beginning to meal plan. Plus research shows eating together as a family, as many evenings as schedules allow, is beneficial in many ways beyond health.
  2. Plan the easiest meals for the busiest nights of the week. At the beginning of the week, look at your calendar and decide which evenings you need easy, low maintenance dinners. The days you work late, or your kids have evening activities, choose real-food, slow-cooker recipes, plan for leftovers, or buy a rotisserie chicken and just cook simple vegetable side dishes.
  3. Look at recipes or ideas online to gather varying ideas for dinner. I usually try to choose a variety of meat entrees to rotate for the week. Chicken, beef, pork, fish or seafood, vegetarian, for example. Seek out real-food options as much as possible. Once your family accepts a recipe, it’s perfectly okay if you rotate through some of the same recipes every week or two. You don’t have to win any culinary awards for creativity.
  4. Round out the meal with a vegetable or two to prepare alongside the meat. If the main dish involves a marinade or something more time consuming, I usually keep the vegetables simple, such as roasted or grilled vegetables. If the main dish is simple, sometimes I’ll spend more time on the side dish, such as creamed spinach or grilled vegetable caponata. I always try to use what’s in season and vary the color of my veggies, too; it looks pretty and is a simple way to vary the nutrients.
  5. Complete each meal with a simple salad. This “autopilot” side dish comes together in 5 minutes and provides extra texture and nutrients, and fills the plate (and hence your belly) without adding refined carbs and/or excess calories. 
  6. Keep it flexible. I make myself a “flexible” weekly meal plan that includes about 4 to 5 meals for which I’ve purchased the ingredients. Assuming I don’t have evening commitments, I decide each day which meal I want to eat because I am allowing myself to be “in the mood” for what I feel like eating or making–give or take only a few days (to avoid waste).
  7. Have a leftover night. By Thursday or Friday, I’m tired of cooking. Yes, I get tired of cooking, too! So, whatever main dish meats we haven’t eaten as lunches, we pool together for a “leftover night.” Then I sort of “take orders” of what each of my kids wants, like a waitress! (It’s the closest I get to being a short-order cook because I will not prepare separate, typical kid foods.) If there aren’t leftover side dishes, I add an easy vegetable, maybe even frozen green beans or broccoli, and/or a salad. Definitely no culinary awards to be had here, but I feel pretty darn good about not wasting food–and about not having to cook now and then!
  8. Consider making double batches. Even when you don’t need leftovers, you can freeze an entree that will make another night that much easier. Just label it before putting it into the black hole that is your freezer. And you might want to keep a very informal list on your fridge detailing what’s in your freezer, so it’s a quick reference when you’re looking for a quick meal to thaw and serve. Soups work great and most meats can be frozen as well.

Final Thoughts

You may find meal planning services useful in the short term, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you choose healthier meal options. Just don’t let trendy meal planning services make you believe you need fancy, photogenic meal plans to eat easy, real food. Real life with real food is simpler, less expensive, sustainable and worthwhile if you build a healthy meal-planning habit week by week.

 

5 Questions This RD Wants You to Ask About Nutrition News

I think we can all agree, nutrition is the most relevant yet most confusing science. Everybody eats, but in the 19 years I’ve been an RD, I’ve seen complete 180-degree shifts in what we know. And trust me, I’ve been as frustrated as the average person. Even knowing that nutrition is a relatively new science that is constantly evolving, I have wondered what to eat and what to feed my family.

Further complicating matters, nutrition science isn’t just about the foods we eat. It’s about so much more–our genetics, our emotional relationship with food, and our social connections with each other, to name a few. Actually, many of the things that confound our understanding of nutrition are the things that fascinate me the most!

But frankly, nutrition is also about the politics and economics of those invested in it–and it this fact that most makes me critically (sometimes cynically!) question all health-related information I come across.

We can’t change any of these factors, try as we might. But what we can do is approach each piece of nutrition news with a plan to get to the real bottom line–and I do not mean the economic one.

To do this, we should ask ourselves questions that analyze the news and help us make the most sense out of it. It is my goal to do that through my blog posts, but in case you are wondering how I approach nutrition news, here are the very questions I ask myself. I hope you will ask these same questions the next time you hear some nutrition news, whether it’s from government sources, the media, or even your multi-level-marketing friend. And when still in doubt, feel free to contact me at dianenorwood@thewanderingrd.com!

5 Questions This RD Wants You To Ask About Nutrition News:

1. What is the primary source of the information?

Knowing the source is important because you can consider bias when assessing new information and comparing it with other sources of related information.  The information’s source is only one piece of the puzzle to assessing the validity of the information because you cannot eliminate bias, only minimize it.

Is the information coming from a company who stands to benefit financially? Or conversely, is it coming from a researcher at an institution who stands to lose a lot (for example, funding or their job) if the research doesn’t support their life’s work? Is it coming from an organization with a political and economic agenda (for example, the USDA with agricultural ties)?  Is it coming from a blogger who is paid to promote a product?

But even when there is not an obvious economic or political investment, sometimes the source’s preconceived notions are a form of bias. I frequently find that many RDs have a judgmental almost angry tone when presenting information from their “soap box” and this is a bias that I really try to keep in check.

 

2. Is it a quick fix or does it sound too good to be true?

If it sounds easy, look deeper. Particularly in the case of weight loss, I’m sorry to say there is no easy fix. In fact, many proprietary herbal blend supplements can actually be dangerous, especially because many companies don’t list the amounts consumed of each ingredient, but rather lump them all together as a blend.

But even if a product doesn’t contain questionably harmful ingredients, there’s the very real possibility it is a waste of money. One reason is that dietary supplements are not regulated well (thanks to the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act of 1994), so companies don’t always include the ingredients or full amounts that are listed on their labels because no one is checking up on them.

Plus many people experience a “placebo effect” when they begin using dietary products; that is, they unknowingly (or even knowingly) change how they are eating and experience desired results that can’t be attributed solely to the product they are taking. If you’re like me, you may even see this with your own friends; your Facebook feed may be full of  pictures of really healthy meals your friends are eating while they are taking one dietary supplement or another. If you eat real, lower sugar, lower refined-carb food that replaces processed foods, you can lose weight without expensive products.

 

3. Do you need a subscription, membership or salesperson “dealer” as a gateway to the product, information or service?

If and when there is a truly effective weight loss supplement, there will be no more overweight people and no weight-loss industry. Until then, most companies are trying to make money, not trying to help you lose weight safely and permanently.

When multi-level marketing companies use social networks to sell nutrition-related products among friends, I find it particularly scary because you are more likely to try a potentially harmful or wasteful product just because your trusted friend is swearing its safety and efficacy to you. And sometimes you are even made to feel unsupportive if you don’t buy it.

But fundamentally, I’d stand firm if I were you. There is no way to extract all the compounds that work together in real, whole food to make it the most nourishing to our bodies and as a result, there is no proprietary product on the market that will revolutionize your nutrition. And don’t forget to consider what will happen when you stop taking the product. You may be worse off than before you started.

 

4. Is there scientific, peer-reviewed, journal-published data to review?

This is the gold standard of scientific data: scientific articles published in a well-respected journal that is reviewed by experts in the field. In particular, the only way to prove causation is the randomized controlled clinical trial, although it’s difficult to do these studies when it comes to nutrition. You have to force people to eat a certain way and it’s hard to be sure they are doing so unless in a lab, and if they’re in a lab, it’s not “real life.”

So, observational studies are frequently done to look for associations to provide hypotheses to be further tested; however, they only show correlation not causation. Unfortunately, most people forget this, including many study authors. And the media is notorious for publishing stories stating results of observational studies as fact. If it’s an observational study, or a short clinical trial, take the results with a big grain of salt.

In addition, scientific articles are not free of bias. Only certain articles are selected for publication. Even the ones that are published can be poorly designed with confounding factors. Review articles can creatively select certain studies to include and others to leave out, which influences the conclusions.

And if the research available is only done by the company itself and reported on their own website, do they give you access to read beyond the abstract? Frequently scientific language is used to make claims that are not supported by the study’s actual design. Scientific-sounding information may sound convincing, but it’s important to look at the study details to determine the methods used and whether the conclusions are reasonable.

 

5. What Should I Do With This Information?

This is the most important question to ask yourself. When a headline suggests a particular food has health benefit, many Americans tend to run out and add it to their usual diet. But in most cases, you have to analyze your overall diet and see how the food can fit in and make adjustments to the foods you already eat.

For example, olive oil is a very heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. But if you simply start adding it to your diet, without giving up anything else, such as sugar and refined carbs that contribute to obesity and heart disease, you will not see the health benefits and may actually end up worse off. Radical changes to your diet based on one new study are likely to leave you even more frustrated–and potentially unhealthier–than ever.

Final Words

When reading about nutrition news, remember to have respect for your body. It is an incredible, complicated machine that is capable of far more than we may ever know. There is no need to detox or cleanse your body. The best thing you can do for your health is to eat easy, real foods and avoid processed foods as much as possible. Please, consider this if you consider nothing else when you read nutrition news.