Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot Topics-Wake Up!

We know good sleep is linked to good health and we have heard adequate sleep is linked to a healthier body weight.  But a recent study shows women who woke up around the same time each day, within a 60 minute range, had lower body fat (American Journal of Health Promotion). Consistent bed times and especially, consistent wake times, were associated with lower body fat.

The sleep habits of 300 university women were tracked and those with consistent sleep schedules had lower body fat.  Sleep hygiene” is a term comparable to dental hygiene – all the things we do to have good, healthy sleep habits and patterns.  Altered sleep hygiene disrupts physical activity, hormones, food consumption, and thus body fat.

Researchers also found a sweet spot for the ideal amount of sleep for the young adults (ages 17-26) in this study:  Those who slept between 8 and 8.5 hours per night had the lowest body fat. Interestingly, less than 6.5 or more than 8.5 hours of sleep per night was associated with higher body fat.
Personally, when I honor my natural circadian rhythm, which is early to bed and early to rise, even on weekends, I feel better.  Since a consistent wake time was particularly linked to having lower body fat, set that alarm, enjoy the sunrise, and start your day!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? No Worries

If you scroll down to the very bottom of this blog, you will see a widget that shows what's in season in Virginia right now.  The list got dramatically shorter in November.  No worries.  Recent research tells us frozen veggies are just as healthy as fresh. Did you know some veggies are frozen right at the place of harvest?  That's about as close to fresh as you can get.

A new study from the Frozen Food Foundation looked at 8 common fresh and frozen fruits and veggies (blueberries, strawberries, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, green peas and spinach).  Each was analyzed under 3 conditions:  frozen, fresh on the day of purchase, and fresh after 5 days of storage (the typical storage time in the home).  The nutritional value of fresh and frozen was generally equal, with some frozen fruits and veggies having higher Vitamin A, C and folate content than fresh.

If you choose frozen veggies, watch the sauces and extras that sometimes come with them.  They can add a surprising amount of sodium and calories.  Also, watch the price for conveniences like steam bags, zipper closures and the like. 

I have found that you get what you pay for in terms of name brands versus the low end brands.  You get broccoli heads versus stems.  Tender crisp peas versus larger, tougher peas. Early season green beans versus late, large beans and occasional stems.

Keep a stash of frozen veggies, toss them in many of your common favorite dishes and then simply close the bag and keep for later use.  Frozen chopped spinach, green peas, tri-color peppers, and diced tomatoes from my garden are my go-to toss-in frozen veggies.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hot Topics-Research Realities

Wait, what's the latest on fish oil?  Caffeine?  Omega 3's and 6's?  No wonder you can't keep it straight. 

Overstating and overreaching the results of nutrition studies occurs in about 10% of nutrition or obesity papers published in leading specialty, medical, and public health journals.  (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, November 2013)

Overreach was found through reporting relationships as cause and effect when they are simply associative; basing policy recommendations on observations that are associative; and generalizing results to a population not studied.

So you may be left wondering what applies to you.  And when you attempt to bring this information to the grocery store, it gets even more confusing with health claims and different nutrition rating systems on food packaging.

As we get more savvy (or desperate?), we want numbers, data and specific advice.  But much of nutrition education is an art not a science.  There is a solution somewhere in the realm of moderation, common sense, and believe it or not, My Plate.

For most adult Americans without underlying chronic disease, the general advice to increase fruits & veggies & whole grains, to decrease sodium & sugar, and to achieve energy balance by watching portions & being more active still holds true.  Even if you do have health issues, you will come out ahead following that advice consistently.

I think most of us know what our "bad" habits are.  Most of us know what we should eat without worrying about grams, percentages and biochemistry.  Don't change your diet everytime there is a new research headline or a new fad diet.  Most Registered Dietitians preach balance, variety and moderation for a reason.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.

They’re going to get to your kids one way or another.  TV advertising may be decreasing but use of social media is increasing.  When Johnny uses your iPad or mobile phone to play games, he is being exposed to ads.  When John is on Facebook or You Tube, he is bombarded by ads.  When John Sr. surfs the web, ads abound. 

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that over a 3 year span, from 2009 to 2012, there were 10% fewer ads for fast food directed toward young children.  Good news.  But we all know that TV “screen time” has been replaced by other screens, and advertising on them is just as effective.
Social media and mobile app ads may not speak to us like characters and celebrities on TV ads, but they beckon by wiggling, scrolling, and by being presented as games.  Go to many food brand websites and there is a “kid’s corner” where games involving the products are offered.

I’m not anti-fast food.  Food can be fast and healthy, fast and fresh.  But more often than not, we throw caution (and moderation) to the wind while waiting in the drive thru.
By the way, what happens when you order some standard fast food items?  Nutritionists at The Nutrition Education Store created some interesting visuals, giving us their version of a fast food commercial:

·        A large serving of fries fills an entire dinner plate – would you do that at home?

·        A double burger, large fries and sweet tea brings over 1500 calories into your car and would fill 2 dinner plates and 4 glasses at the dinner table – would you do that at home?

I’m also a realist – fast food is here to stay, as is technology and advertising.  Just be mindful about what you order, why you order, and for whom you are ordering.  You can order just the sandwich – you don’t have to order the meal.  You don’t need the value size just because it is cheaper.  And Johnny doesn’t need the dinner plate serving of fries.
Be mindful.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's In My Garden Now? The Final Harvest

It is a bittersweet day for any gardener when they harvest the last of something.  Yesterday was the last of the fall radishes and the peppers - which I barely saved before another cold night.  Here was the harvest:

It is such a pleasure, after a day in my office with no windows, to come home and check the garden and the chicken coop.  Chores, yes, but a joy nonetheless.  And of course, we had just-picked broccoli and a little radish salad for dinner.

For the remainder of winter, we'll get some more broccoli, lettuce mix and Swiss Chard until harder frosts end that supply and then just collards, until I plant sugar snap peas, radishes and lettuce once again in February.  Maybe I'll try something early and new this year.  Any suggestions?

The seed catalogs will start arriving any day to inspire us gardeners through the winter, as we plan, dream and scheme.  Why don't you join me and if you are just starting out as a veggie gardener, plan a pot or small plot?  Simple pleasures will await you at the end of a long day too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hot Topics-Stone Soup

Here's my debut blog The New School Food as a guest blogger for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Food and Nutrition Magazine blog Stone Soup.  Stone Soup is a delightfully varied collection of blogs by guest bloggers, all of whom are Registered Dietitians.  Take a look at the list of Categories.  There are great recipes and great ideas.  Subscribe as a follower!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When High Tech is NOT Good

How can we get kids to eat healthier and be more active?  For healthy eating, we've already talked about family dinners, eating breakfast each day, and healthy meal and snack planning centering on My Plate and seasonal vegetables.  What about activities?  
Kids need low tech activities - playing outside (yes, just good old fashioned PLAY, not organized travel team sports), gardening, walking the dog, raking leaves and washing the car are outdoor examples.  They need low tech indoor activities too.  High tech indoor activities tend to be sedentary - TV, computer games, phone games, videos, iPad games, Internet surfing, texting.  Low tech activities tend to be more active - house work (yes, chores!), putting away groceries, cooking, and cleaning their room.  Think about life "pre-Wii".  Think about life when you or your parents were a kid.
At the same time, they are learning life skills.  The daily business of life can be pretty active (ask any full time mom) and kids can benefit in many ways from helping with those activities.  One of the most important ways may be contributing to the family "business".

Friday, November 8, 2013

School Daze-Chef Partnership 2

Here's an update on our chef initiative, wherein we have a part time consulting chef working with me, the child nutrition services' Registered Dietitian, and our cafeteria managers in staff in two schools (see my previous blog post School Daze-Chef Partnership).  One of the goals of the program is staff training, and yesterday afternoon we held our first Boot Camp.

We have planned a Boot Camp format - intensive, focused, small group, two hour workshops to teach specific skills that we have identified may be lacking.  Yesterday, we started with an Iron Chef type cook-off for a little healthy competition, preparing our Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Following a standardized recipe, it was interesting to see how the three different dishes turned out.  In the process, the chef covered knife skills, work simplification (she is FAST!), garnishing, and recipe modification to lower sodium content.

It was FUN!  Team members commented, after already working a long day, "At first, I didn't want to come, but I had fun!"

We also prepared roasted sweet potatoes, the local farm to school veggie on our menu next week.  Addressing one of the main barriers to farm to school success, prep time, the chef showed that the potatoes do not have to be peeled and that they can be quickly and roughly chopped.  After tossing with oil and a little pre-chopped garlic from a jar and a little diced fresh rosemary from the school garden, they are much healthier than the typical mashed sweet potato, brown sugar and margarine dish.  I personally found the local, freshly harvested potatoes naturally sweeter than what I've purchased in the grocery store.  There were a few "aha" moments when some participants realized just how pleasant and perfect is that natural sweetness. 
One team member even took home the fresh rosemary to try it at home. Success.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hot Topics-Rituals

Kin is in. Family dinners are the right choice for health, grades, socialization, positive behaviors and more.  A new study found that families who often eat dinner at the table had significantly lower body mass indices for both adults and children.  This is as compared to families who ate elsewhere, especially in front of the TV.

Here are the key points of the study reported in the October issue of the journal Obesity:
  • They did it often - dining was an important family ritual.
  • They ate at the table, either in the kitchen or the dining room.
  •  It helped both adults and children have healthier body weights.
Possible Healthy Family Dinner Rituals Which Might Work For You:
  • Always offer at least 2 veggies with dinner (keep a stash of frozen veggies to make this more likely).
  • Serve from a buffet rather than family style so the extra helpings are not sitting right in front of you.
  • Give everyone a glass of water - in addition to their other healthy beverage of choice, such as milk for children - with their meal.
  • Have a "try it" policy with kiddos - at least a taste (or as it was when I was growing up, the number of peas, Lima beans, etc. equal to my age).
  • Have a no vices or devices zone - no Berries, Tweeters, pagers, texters, etc. at the table.  That goes for Viners, Snapchatters and Instagramers too.  No "i" anything.
  • Clear off the dining room table so that family dinners are even a possibility.  If it is where you pay the bills, keep the bill paying items in some kind of tray or file box that is easily moved to the floor.  If it is where the kids do their homework, keep some kind of organizer nearby where they can easily and temporarily move their things off the table for dinner time.
  • Question some inherited family rituals which might not be the healthiest - do you really need a dinner roll with certain entrees?
  • Table vs. TV?  A key point of this study is that families ate at the table, either in the kitchen or the dining room, not in front of the TV.
  • Mark the family calendar - maybe you can designate certain nights and times to be family dinner nights (a family date, of sorts).
If you are already having family dinners, give yourself a pat on the back - good job!  Reap the benefits of this study by simply keeping it at the table and doing it as often as possible.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hot Topics-Big Bird Bananas

The Produce Marketing Association has partnered with Sesame Street to use the very strong Sesame Street brand to market fresh fruit and veggies.  Growers, suppliers and retailers will be able to use Sesame Street characters to deliver healthy eating messages, without paying the hefty licensing fee.

By partnering with THE Street, as far as kids go, bananas and lettuce will have the same street cred as sugary cereal.  This gives healthy fresh produce the ability to compete with Tony, Toucan, and the Krispie brothers (Snap, Crackle and Pop, in case it's been awhile).

Influence is power in the marketplace and Sesame Street has that with young eaters who are developing taste buds, brand preferences, and their own influence with Mom.  Who better to prompt an impulse purchase than Big Bird?

This is a win-win for the Association, Bert & Ernie and the kids.