We’ve all heard it. “Eat two more bites of peas and then you can have dessert.” “If you finish your book report I’ll take you out for pizza.” “Only kids who stand quietly in line get to eat popcorn.” Or maybe you’ve said, “you kids have been naughty today – no one gets soda. Only water or milk.” It’s easy to say things like this when trying to get kids to behave.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and many other organizations clearly state that parents and caregivers should not use food for reward or punishment. Why? Giving unhealthy food as a reward teaches kids to prefer junk food over healthy foods. It also teaches kids that's it's ok to eat a reward food even if they aren’t hungry. Kids who grow up with these habits can turn into adults who reward themselves with food. Taking away treats as a form of punishment can lead to over-eating food when it is available. If a child is concerned that misbehavior could result in a missed meal, they may start over-eating at other meals out of concern for going hungry. While a food-based reward or punishment might work in the moment, it’s important to think about the future. Think - how do you want your kids to eat 10 or 20 years from now?
As adults, we can fall into the trap of rewarding or punishing ourselves using food too. If we have a good day at work we might say we “deserve” some ice cream. For some people, over-eating at a party might result in punishing oneself by saying ‘no desert for a week.’ A lot of the time, that restriction results in obsessing about or craving the food that was banished. It’s ok to enjoy special foods as part of a celebration – of course you can enjoy cake and ice cream on your birthday! But less healthy foods shouldn’t be used as a reward – they’re something to enjoy occasionally simply because they are delicious – not because we “deserve” them.
Great non-food rewards for kids include a trip to the library or park, a coloring book, pencils, or stickers. Even extra reading time or listening to favorite music work well for some kids. For adults, you might put a few dollars into a vacation fund, buy your favorite magazine, or treat yourself to a long, luxurious bath.
It might be hard, but changing your approach to avoid using food as reward or punishment can help everyone lead healthier lives.
Source: Let’s Go
New kitchen skill: homemade corn tortillas
Tacos are one of my all-time favorite meals. I especially love street-style tacos made with shredded pork and fresh salsa. Unfortunately, many store-bought tortillas are often full of preservatives, some of which I avoid (such as parabens). The more I paid attention to the ingredients in my tortillas, the more I was convinced to try and make my own. Check out this recipe and give it a try! Oh, and I highly recommend you purchase a tortilla press if you're serious about this tortilla making business. It's more work with just a rolling pin. Get started at allrecipes.com!
Have you heard about probiotics? Probiotic foods are made when foods mix with certain bacteria and yeasts that cause fermentation, which is a chemical change in the food. Examples of fermentation are milk turning into yogurt or making sauerkraut from cabbage. In some cases, fermentation makes a food easier to digest – that’s why a lot of people who can’t drink milk can eat yogurt. Also, fermentation can make it easier for the body to absorb the vitamins and minerals in a food. All fermented foods contain probiotics at some point, but if the food is heated or canned after it ferments, then the good bacteria or yeast will not survive. So if you want to eat some probiotics in your food, focus on raw versions of fermented foods.
Are probiotics good for me?
Although most research suggests that probiotic foods are safe and often beneficial, many products have not been tested in the research setting. The collection of microbes in the intestinal tract makes for a diverse ecosystem. There is no evidence to suggest that one probiotic bacteria or yeast is good for everyone. Also, more is not necessarily better. That's why I recommend eating small amounts of probiotic-rich foods daily. Unless you're being treated by a knowledgeable practitioner who uses specific, researched probiotic strains to help treat a medical condition, I encourage you to eat a variety of probiotic foods containing a variety of different bacterial or yeast strains.
Is there anyone who should avoid probiotics?
For people who have bacterial imbalances in their intestines, it's not always a good idea to add extra bacteria or yeasts to the mix. Specifically, people with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) or histamine intolerance might not tolerate certain fermented foods. Those with autoimmune conditions might have trouble, as well. I don't know of solid research that documents this concern, but some pretty smart dietitians in my network have noticed this in their practice. Do the foods listed below make you feel bloated, uncomfortable, or cause other symptoms? You might want to hire a dietitian such as myself to make tailor-made recommendations to help you feel better.
Here are some probiotic-rich fermented foods you can add to your diet.
This fermented cabbage side dish is easy to make. Check out a recipe by clicking here. If you try it yourself, be sure to keep the sauerkraut fully submerged in the salt water during the process - otherwise you'll get mold! The canned stuff on the store shelf has been heated, which sadly kills probiotic bacteria. If you buy it, make sure to get the kind in the refrigerated section such as the one pictured above.
• Other vegetables
Many vegetables (and some fruits!) can be fermented in a similar way to sauerkraut. You might ferment carrots or radishes. Kimchi is a Korean fermented side dish which is traditionally strongly made with Napa cabbage and daikon radishes. Chiles, garlic, ginger, and fermented fish sauce give kimchi its strong flavor. Fermented garlic in raw honey sounds really interesting, and some claim it makes a powerful, cold-fighting tonic. However, please consider this fermentation with caution: raw honey sometimes contains a small amount of botulism. Even though this small amount is usually not enough to cause disease in adults (never give honey to kids < 1 year old), I can't tell you with certainty that it's safe to ferment raw honey with garlic.
Yogurt is, for many people, the most obvious food source of probiotics. I recommend organic plain yogurt made with “live active cultures.” Add your own sweetener such as a drizzle of honey or some fruit. Sweetened yogurt usually comes with too much sugar added.
Have you seen this for sale at your local supermarket and wondered what the heck it is? Kombucha fermented sweet tea. It has a sweet and sour taste and has a little bit of a vinegar flavor. It does contain a very small amount of alcohol - most brands are only 0.5% alcohol unless more is listed on the label. Sometimes you can find it in bottles mixed with fruit juice or other things like chia seeds. If you're feeling ambitious, you can make this yourself, too!
• Acidophilus Milk
Remember this? It's milk that's been inoculated with the Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria. Some people find that this milk is easier to digest than regular cow's milk. Before you switch from cow's milk to soy milk on your cereal, consider trying acidophilus milk first.
This is a drinkable fermented milk that tastes a lot like yogurt. It comes in different flavors.
Not sure how to incorporate fermented foods into your regular meal and snack schedule? Check out some ideas here. Let me know which probiotic-rich foods you enjoy in the comments below!
PS - What about probiotic supplements? Those can be helpful, but like probiotic foods, more is not necessarily better, and some are better researched than others. I am happy to discuss specific probiotic recommendations with my clients. Want to become a client of mine? Click here to schedule an appointment.
Protein is all over the news these days. Cereals like Special K and Cheerios are adding protein powder to their ingredient lists. So what’s the big deal? Read below to get the scoop. Oh, and if you're wondering, "hey, Lindsey, didn't you already blog about protein?" That post (dated 9/4/16) focused on micronutrients and protein. This focuses more on the bigger picture. Let's get to it!
Protein is one of the 3 main compounds (a.k.a. “macronutrients”) in food that supply the body with energy. At least some protein is found in almost every food, but there are a few foods that contain a significant enough amount to call them "high protein foods." These foods include meat (beef, chicken, turkey, pork, etc.), eggs, dairy products such as cheese and milk, beans, nuts, and seeds. Many soy products contain a significant amount of protein as well. While grains such as wheat and quinoa contain some protein, the percent of Calories from protein pales in comparison to animal-based protein-rich foods and some other vegetable-based foods. Ideally, our diets would include plenty of protein from a variety of quality food sources.
Proteins are made out of individual amino acids, which are building blocks used to repair tissues and make new structures like hair, skin, red blood cells, and immune cells. So it's important to eat enough protein to supply your body with these important components. Also, when a meal or snack contains protein, we tend to feel satisfied for longer and not get as hungry later. This is why eating enough protein can help some people lose weight – it helps them not to get as hungry after eating. Protein has a lot of benefits and it is essential to human health. But more is not necessarily better. If you eat more protein than you need, then the body will store the extra energy from the protein as fat.
In general, for a healthy, moderately active adult I recommend around 75-100 grams of protein per day. Very active people or those who have a muscular build may need more. When you subtract the 35-40 grams protein most people get from grains and milk products, that leaves 40-60 grams protein per day from meat or meat alternatives, which is roughly 6-8 ounces. To give you an idea of how much that is in terms of food, 4 ounces of meat (chicken/beef/fish etc.) has about 30 grams protein. Half a cup of black beans has about 7 grams of protein, peanut butter has 7 grams protein per 2 Tablespoons, and two scrambled eggs give you 12 grams. One cup of Honey Nut Cheerios + 1/2 cup milk provides 7 g protein. This information is helpful when deciding whether to shell out extra cash for Cheerios with added protein. One cup Cheerios with protein + 1/2 cup milk has 11 grams protein. You can see how the difference of 4 grams is barely significant now that you understand how much protein people need in a day. In my opinion, the added protein is a marketing gimmick that doesn't deliver enough protein to be worth the extra cost (Walmart lists $3.68 for 18 cups of regular Cheerios, and $3.49 for only 7 cups of the kind with protein). I will admit that when I discovered through my label research that the protein clusters in Cheerios protein contain lentils, I was pretty impressed. I figured it would all be highly processed soy protein made from soybeans that were grown using Roundup. It does contain the soy, but also lentils!
Protein should be one part of a balanced meal plan that also contains healthy fat and fiber-rich carbohydrate. Next time you’re writing a grocery list, I recommend that you avoid those new pricy cereals with added protein and instead spring for some high quality eggs, fiber and protein-rich beans, or free range chicken. Plus you can pick up some inexpensive, protein and omega-3 fatty acid-rich sardines*! If you plan balanced, healthful meals, you and your family will get the protein you need to stay healthy. For best results, spread your protein intake throughout the day - don't get it all in one meal. For more information and to find out how much protein you need, go to choosemyplate.gov/protein-foods.
*That sardines recipe above is from Paula Deen (gasp!) but is a good, simple one. I use tapioca flour and coconut oil in her basic recipe, and I recommend you season the flour/coating with smoked paprika and cumin along with the salt and freshly cracked pepper. I serve over shredded cabbage topped with a garlic-olive oil-parsley-lemon-salt-pepper sauce. Delicious!
**Lentils are nutritious enough to be called superfoods. But for some people with certain digestive issues, they're less than super. If you don't tolerate FODMAPS, have IBS, or generally feel crummy and bloated after eating beans or legumes, then the Huffington Post article is not for you. Want to learn more? Schedule an appointment with me and we can talk all about it.
***No article about protein is complete without a list of recommended egg-based recipes. Try huevos rancheros (has beans too for a bonus!), or any of these 43 egg-based breakfast ideas. My favorite is the breakfast hash with fried eggs, but don't trust my judgement on this one. I don't even eat eggs (sadly) due to an intolerance.
I've been posting on Facebook and Instagram lately about what I've been eating, and people seem to like the inspiration. So here, dear readers, is a blog post dedicated to my latest food inspiration. Let's get to it!
I make burgers all the time for the following reasons:
Keep reading in order to explore some ideas and use this model as a way to whip up quick and healthy meals anytime.
Check out this recipe for lentil-beef burgers, or maybe this one from Splendid Table. Make sure to include the egg - it'll make everything stick together. In case you're wondering, I won't get into the details of exactly what meat to purchase because I covered that in a previous blog post you can see by scrolling below to the post added 9/4/16. How to cook your burgers? If you aren't into grilling (or it's 15 degrees outside) and you need a basic indoor burger recipe, I've got you covered. I recommend this recipe (or this one if you like your burger with bread crumbs and eggs, or this one if you're brave enough to hide some liver in it).
Now let's talk burger patty flavors. If you usually just add salt and pepper to your burgers, consider expanding your repertoire. Sometimes I add a little garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning blend. You could add curry powder and other spices to make curry burgers, and top them with a quick curry aioli sauce. Yum! If you're into turkey burgers, Rachael Ray has a curried version waiting for you to whip up. You could try a Korean BBQ style burger like the one described here. Or an East Asian pork burger like this one.
If you're really hungry after a long day of hiking or skiing, you could put a fried egg on top of your burger patty. Food and wine has a great example here of such a burger that's topped with green chiles. Enjoy this burger with freshly baked sweet potato wedges.
In summary, burgers can be a healthful, make-ahead, and customizable meal you can eat anytime. The opportunities are endless! Start by looking at what you have in your fridge. Chances are you'll be able to use what's there to whip up a quick burger for a weeknight dinner or even for breakfast or lunch.
Burger basics to get you started
Below, I'll highlight some burger combinations to get your creative juices flowing.
What about sides? Instead of French fries, you could slice up some apples or other fruit for a simple option. You could make sweet potato fries. Or you could do what Martha Stewart suggests and try one of these tasty sides.
Leave a comment and let me know about your burger creations. I can't wait to be inspired by you all!
As a society, we are constantly judging, discriminating against, and mistreating people who are overweight or obese. It is generally unacceptable to comment about someone's cancer or atrial fibrillation, to suggest the disease is the result of a person's failings, or to offer unsolicited recommendations for treatment. However, overweight and obesity are somehow immune to these social constructs. A majority of people find it acceptable to comment on a person's weight, even someone they might not know.
Obesity is a complicated disease. If preventing it was a matter of knowledge or willpower or encouragement, a lot fewer than two thirds of Americans would be overweight or obese. It's not as simple as just putting down your fork. The factors that affect a person's weight are complex, and a person's weight does not necessarily indicate whether or not they are "healthy." There are hard-working, kale-eating, spin class loving Americans out there who remain obese despite years of struggle to lose weight. Really - I know them! There are also frozen pizza-loving Americans whose weight classifies them as "normal." There are overweight young people whose poor self care exacerbates their genetic and epigenetic predisposition to weight gain. There are underweight older adults who are so afraid of gaining weight that they fail to eat enough nutrients to fully nourish their bodies. There are also poor Americans who are busy working two jobs to support their families and may suffer from constant pain, anxiety, or depression. Such people with limited resources won't likely prioritize a major diet and lifestyle overhaul over, say, keeping a roof over their family's head. Even for those who do manage such an overhaul - the healthy changes will certainly benefit long-term health, but they don't guarantee long-term weight loss.
Healthy changes will certainly benefit long-term health, but they don't guarantee long-term weight loss.
According to the British Medical Journal, diet and lifestyle changes can lead to moderate weight changes, which can significantly improve a person's health in the short term. However, after initial weight loss, most people regain lost weight. The overall effects of behavior and lifestyle changes on maintenance of weight loss are small and poorly studied. That's right- there is a lack of good evidence that healthy eating and lifestyle changes can help most people maintain an initial weight loss for three or five years or more. Long term weight loss without surgery is possible. If a person drinks a six pack of coke (or Budweiser) daily and cuts down to one per day, they'll likely lose weight and keep it off. However, most dieters don't have anything that obvious to remove from their diets. Recent innovations such as nutritional genomics and advanced food sensitivity testing are helping more people discover some factors contributing to their weight gain and figure out what to do about it. Also important is the medical diagnosis and management of conditions that can affect weight such as thyroid dysfunction and PCOS. But the majority of dieters still find that long term sustained significant weight loss isn't a reality. That's a truth that Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and even a lot of dietitians find hard to admit.
A lot of people judge themselves harshly (like, really harshly!) for not losing the weight they think they should be able to lose and keep off. Given what I said above, that means a lot of people are blaming themselves for a phenomenon that is very common and not actually all that well understood. We need to be nicer to ourselves.
We need to be nicer to ourselves.
So what should you do if you were planning to make changes to your diet, exercise, and lifestyle in order to lose weight?
I encourage you to look at weight loss as a possible symptom of diet and lifestyle changes but not a defined goal. Weight loss has its own benefits, but there is no scientific evidence that a narrow focus on short-term weight loss makes a person healthier or weigh less in the long term. Decide on a few reasonable changes to your diet, exercise, and lifestyle that are in line with your health goals. I believe (and the research suggests) that these types of changes are beneficial to your body in and of themselves, regardless of your size. For example, getting more sleep, safely beginning a strength training program, snacking on vegetables more often, and avoiding food made with artificial trans fats are changes that would benefit your health independent of weight loss they might cause.
You might have a good reason to lose weight, and if so, great! Maybe you are trying to avoid needing a prescription medication. Maybe you want to get pregnant. Maybe you have a foot or hip problem that won't heal in part because of your weight. Even if you have one of these reasons, I ask my clients to do some soul-searching about the motivations behind a weight loss goal. Ask yourself what are your overall health goals and how weight figures into the big picture. Maybe you're a few sizes larger than you were in the past and maybe there are many reasons why that happened. Getting back to the size you were in the past might not be a good goal for you anymore. Maybe you find that a few diet and lifestyle changes can make you feel good and have more energy (plus help with your "good" reasons above) while promoting modest weight loss of 5-10%.
If you just want to lose weight, I'm probably not the right nutrition professional for you. If you are up for doing some soul-searching, making strategic changes, and keeping the big picture (and scientific evidence) in mind, then I just might be your gal. In my private practice, I combine evidence with practical experience and a strong desire to connect with and support my clients in order to make the changes that are right for them. If you think I could help you, schedule an appointment and we'll talk.
Dinner tonight: Slow Cooker White Bean, Sausage & Kale Soup
This is a crock pot soup that'll be a welcome change to your usual soup game. I made this last week with a few tweaks. I added 1/2 cup red wine and 32 oz canned diced tomatoes. You could use any hearty green in place of the kale- I used collards from my garden that I froze last Fall. Don't use spinach - it won't hold up. Make it this weekend and then eat it all week for lunch with some crusty bread. If you don't have a slow cooker, you could simmer this for a few hours on the stovetop (but you'll want to be around for that... don't leave food cooking on the stovetop unattended). You can find the recipe by clicking here. Thanks, thechicsite.com, for the great recipe!
I recently came across a quote that really struck me. I'm reading Tim Ferriss's new book, Tools of Titans. It's a book full of anecdotes, recommendations, and tips from the world's top performers in athletics, business, medicine, and more. While I don't necessarily agree with 100% of the advice offered in the book, there are some interesting pearls that I'm sure I'll be sharing in blog posts to come. The author describes an interview where he was talking with a physician about lab values and recommended ranges when he heard the following.
..It's a snapshot. It's a moment in time, and we're not an object, we're a process. - Justin Mager, MD in Tools of Titans
Labs are useful for many reasons, and it's good to get a snapshot of blood values from time to time. The problem comes when we focus too much on individual numbers and lose track of the trends and the context in which we're viewing them. Many of us have a tendency to label things as "good" or "bad." Someone might say his weight is either where he wants it or is unacceptable. She has a good hair day or a bad one. We're either in shape or out of shape. I've spent a lot of time this year working to improve my health and I'm now more comfortable seeing it as a process. I'll never "fix" everything. But I'm always learning more about myself, how my body responds in certain situations, and how best to support me in living my best life. Instead of looking at us as objects that can be labeled one way or another, I think it's preferable to see ourselves as a process. Thinking this way means I am more likely to celebrate small changes as part of a continuum rather than a drop in the bucket.
When I'm looking at my health and my body as a process, some of the things I might tell myself are as follows. "Wow, that yoga session made me feel really good- I can't wait to go back." "I ate vegetables with breakfast today and feel more satisfied than I usually do - I want to do that again." "Deep breathing this afternoon at work helped me to focus better - I'll set an alarm and try it again in an hour." "I switched to naturally sugar-free beverages and think I'm starting to crave sweets less often." These actions are not flashy, and they don't lend themselves to drastic before and after photos. They also don't package well for sale. Can you imagine a Saturday morning infomercial promoting the process? "For two easy payments of $39.99, we'll send you a product that reminds you of the nuances of wellness and that it is not a destination but rather is a continual process?" People might think they were being punked, or watching a clip from The Onion (a satire-based news site).
At the beginning of this new year, consider resolving to see yourself as a process. Change can be slow, but every step is an opportunity to learn something new or try out a new habit. I encourage you to choose one new action you would like to make a habit, and give it a try. Attempt to see the habit as part of a process toward health rather than something to finish by February and be over with. If you think you could use a guide, talk to me to find out if I can help you optimize your health from a nutrition and wellness perspective. I love being part of the process.
Happy New Year!
Over the last few months, I've discussed several components of a micronutrient-rich diet. I've discussed the importance of fruits and vegetables, pointed out micronutrient-rich sources of protein and carbohydrates, and talked about better sources of fat when looking at food from this perspective. I hope you learned a few things along the way and you made a change or two in your family's weekly menu. In this final post I'll address beverages and supplements and then add a conclusion. I welcome your questions and comments to blog posts!
Micronutrient content is not the whole story here. Read on.
Fruit juices have plenty of micronutrients but they are full of fruit sugar and are concentrated in Calories. They don't fill you up like a whole piece of fruit would, so all that sugar goes in and leaves you still hungry. A smoothie with whole fruit, protein, and some healthy fat would be great, but fruit juice is not a great choice for most people despite its micronutrient value.
Gatorade, Vitamin Water, Sunny D, and energy drinks all contain added micronutrients (vitamins/minerals, other additives) that do have nutritional value, however, they come along with lots of sugar (or artificial sweeteners) and other additives. Don't fall prey to the advertising about the micronutrients they offer. Those of you who have been reading this blog know that you can get those micronutrients somewhere else. So unless you've just completed a workout longer than 60 minutes that involved a lot of sweating, you likely don't need Gatorade as part of your post-workout recovery. Which brings us to our next beverage: milk.
Milk contains calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and other micronutrients (like magnesium) in addition to macronutrients like protein, milk sugars, and milk fat. Milk or chocolate milk can be a great addition to a workout recovery meal or snack. 8 oz of milk counts as one serving of dairy. For those who tolerate it, milk is a nutritious and micronutrient-rich beverage. If you can afford organic milk, don't worry about the fat content you choose. Eat whatever percent fat (2%, whole, etc.) your family enjoys.
This is the ultimate example of a food high in macronutrients (sugar) but nearly completely devoid of micronutrients. There is very little nutritional value to soda pop, and it should be limited to an occasional treat. If you are trying to cut back on your soda pop intake (regular or diet), consider trying one of those unsweetened sparkling waters that are so popular these days such as La Croix.
Hard liquor provides Calories but no significant amount of micronutrients. Beer also provides Calories. Wine, since it's made from grapes, has antioxidants, polyphenols, and other healthful micronutrients, but still should not be consumed in excess. For guidance on safe intake of alcoholic beverages and answers to your alcohol-related questions, link here.
Let's say that you are pretty sure you're not getting enough micronutrients from food. You want to make some changes to your diet but you also want extra insurance to be sure you're adequately nourished. Multivitamin & mineral supplements are a great way to get this extra insurance. However, not all supplements are created equally. Supplements are not well regulated by the government, so it's hard to know if you're getting what you've paid for. I recommend purchasing supplements from brands that healthcare professionals trust. These "professional" brands are often sold in medical offices, where the professionals who sell them know that a substandard product will undermine client trust and results. These companies test their products to be sure customers get what they pay for, and they often use formulations that maximize absorption and effectiveness. If you get your supplements at Costco or another discount retailer, please do some research. Contact the manufacturer and ask how often the product is tested for purity and potency, or read an independent review from a site such as Consumerlab. I'm not able to recommend specific supplements via a blog as everyone has unique needs. For a non-comprehensive list that includes many professional level brands, you can look (but not buy) here. If you want help selecting the appropriate nutritional supplements to meet your needs, consider scheduling an appointment with me. Learn more about working with me by clicking here.
It's been quite a journey looking at various aspects of the micronutrient-rich diet. What do you think about this series? What did you learn? I would love to hear your comments and questions. I'll leave you with a festive and micronutrient-rich recipe.
I mentioned above that fruit juices are not the best way for most people to get their micronutrients. However, smoothies containing fruit, vegetables, fiber, and protein are great options for breakfast on the go or a healthful evening snack. This festive smoothie gets most of its protein from Greek yogurt - skip the protein powder and just add a little more yogurt. Micronutrient-rich ingredients include pumpkin, banana, and flax seeds. Fresh spices would offer an antioxidant bonus! Thanks to the blogger at A Pumpkin and a Princess for coming up with this delicious-sounding treat. The recipe is available here.
In the previous posts in this series, we explored three important components to a micronutrient-rich diet:
1. Pack in the produce,
2. Include protein in every meal, and
3. Choose your carbs carefully.
In order to promote optimal health, we're exploring these groups of foods looking for rich sources of micronutrients. This post discusses fats, and the next (and final) post will address beverages before concluding this series. Alright, here's the skinny on fat.
4. All fats are not created equally.
Refined vegetable oils
According to an article abstract from the European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, the process of refining canola, sunflower, and soybean oil destroys much of the oils' healthful and protective micronutrients. That's 93-98% of polyphenols, 10-36% of tocopherols (vitamin E), and 6-52% of total plant sterols. In addition to not providing the consumer with beneficial micronutrients, this loss means that the oils are more susceptible to oxidation - especially with high-heat cooking - which promotes free radical formation and can increase risk for cardiovascular disease. In Europe, industry has recognized this and appears to be looking for ways to retain the nutritional content of oils during the refining process. Until we achieve that in America, it is best to choose vegetable oils that are minimally processed. Conventionally processed vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil are highly refined and not the best oil choice. I definitely recommend avoiding margarine and vegetable shortening because these most often contain harmful trans fats. Better vegetable oil choices include flaxseed oil (use fresh only - do not heat), avocado oil, and walnut oil. Organic, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed canola oil, peanut oil, or sunflower oils are ok given the alternative processing they receive. Sesame oil is also a great choice for cooking or other uses. Toasted sesame oil is strongly flavored, so use the toasted version sparingly and only in foods appropriate for that strong flavor. Keep these oils in a cool, dark place and avoid those sold in clear glass/plastic bottles as this increases risk of oxidation (aka spoilage).
Olive oil is produced differently than the refined oils discussed above. It's made simply by grinding and squeezing olives, so it retains much more micronutrients than its refined counterparts discussed above. These retained micronutrients (as well as the traditional dark tinted bottle) help to protect against oxidation, which is important for your health. Olive oil's main polyphenol (powerful micronutrient), oleuropein, was found to prevent osteopenia caused by inflammation in rats. Polyphenols from virgin olive oil have been found in human HDL tissue where they continue to act as antioxidants inside the body. Not convinced yet? Another study showed that phenolic acid from olive oil helped improve blood vessel health in people with high blood cholesterol. There has been a lot of talk lately about olive oil fraud - taking cheaper vegetable oils and tinting them green to make them look like olive oil. This fraud has been reported in Europe, and seems to only affect imported oils. You can get around this potential issue by buying olive oil from California or elsewhere in the USA, or purchasing the imported stuff from a retailer you trust. UC Davis published an initial report on this topic - which has of course been contested. The New York Times reported on this as well.
I certainly don't recommend that everyone go out and eat a stick of butter, and I'm still on the fence about putting it in your coffee, but moderate use of butter (a few Tablespoons per day) does have benefits that are worth discussing. Butter does not go through the same refining process as vegetable oils. Butter made from cows's milk has a yellow color that is from a natural form of vitamin A. The color is often more pronounced in the Spring when cows eat more fresh grass instead of the grains they sometimes rely on for food in the winter. Two tablespoons of regular Land-O-Lakes butter contains 34% of a woman's daily requirement for vitamin A (26% of needs for a man). By contrast, most margarine has no vitamin A (some brands add it as an ingredient). Vitamin A plays all sorts of essential roles in the body, and because it is fat-soluble, it is absorbed better from foods like butter which contain fat. According to the Linus Pauling institute at OSU, Vitamin A is "involved in regulating the growth and specialization of virtually all cells in the human body," and it "has important roles in embryonic development, organ formation during fetal development, normal immune functions, and eye development and vision." So pregnant women and those who want normal immune function and vision: feel free to enjoy butter on your toast, fry your eggs in butter oil, and throw out that artificial buttery spread made of refined vegetable oils. Butter also contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids (such as butyric acid), which have immune system strengthening properties. It is one of only a few commonly consumed dietary sources of vitamin K2, which is another important, and often overlooked, nutrient. And it contains vitamin E as well as a trace amount of minerals such as magnesium and iodine. While all brands of real butter are nutritious, the best butter is from 100% grass-fed cows from brands such as Kerrygold.
But what about saturated fat? This is a complicated topic. We're finding more and more these days that the saturated fat story is a complicated one, and many factors come into play when looking at the health effects of a saturated fat-rich diet, including genetics. Saturated is a term that applies to many different fatty acids, some with more benefits than others. I think where we went wrong is we lumped all saturated fat into one category and called it "bad." As saturated fat is technically a macronutrient, we'll have to save this topic for another blog post.
The coconut is an important fruit. It provides food for millions of people and is often called the "tree of life." Coconut plays a role in Ayurvedic medicine and its medicinal use was documented 4,000 years ago. Coconut meat, oil, and water have many applications in health and in food and nutrition. Unfortunately, the beneficial aspects of coconut are sometimes exploited by people who are not likely to understand its traditional uses such as in Ayurvedic medicine. This is how a traditionally useful plant becomes a "superfood" and a "cure-all" on a TV segment. The truth about coconut is that we have more to learn. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but it is specifically rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which have many benefits. MCT is a big topic that deserves its own blog post in the future. [Source for this paragraph can be found here].
While virgin coconut oil does appear to have some antioxidant activity, and there are some trace minerals, there don't seem to be a whole lot of micronutrients in coconut oil. While coconut oil makes for delicious pan-fried fish, is great in baking, and has other health benefits, it is not necessarily a winner in the micronutrient category.
Yes, we know that lard contains saturated fat, which as discussed above is a topic for another day. It's not all saturated though - 50% of the fat in lard is monounsaturated. We know that animals tend to store toxins in fat tissue, so lard from non-organic animals can carry agricultural toxins. But organic lard is actually a great source of vitamin D! If you have a friend or other source that properly renders lard from organic livestock, consider adding it into your cooking oil rotation, especially if your doctor told you that you need more vitamin D.
Oils consumed naturally in foods like nuts, seeds, and avocados
The most micronutrient-rich way to get your fats is to eat them as part of real foods! Enjoy avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, well-raised meat and eggs knowing that the fat helps your body to even better utilize the micronutrients packed into these nutritious foods.
Whew! That was a long post. And it took me all month to write. I hope to make the posts a little lighter and shorter in the future. I'm just so passionate about looking at the diet from a micronutrient-rich viewpoint! I hope you enjoyed this, and learned a thing or two as well. I'll leave you with a recipe.
Recipe: Roasted Salmon and Olive Mustard Butter with Orzo by Epicurious
The inclusion of butter, olives, and salmon means this recipe contains several micronutrient-rich sources of fat. Substituting a whole grain like brown rice or farro for the orzo would make for an even more nourishing meal. Please comment if you try this dish - I'd love to know what you think! The recipe is here. I think the olive-mustard butter would be good on other meats too, such as chicken.
Source for nutrition information: usda nutrient database, available at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov
Additional references: http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/why-butter-is-better/, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/10/14/since-milk-is-white-why-is-butter-yellow/?_r=0, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-K#food-sources
If you came directly to this post, I recommend you go back and read posts one and two on this topic. It really does require an introduction. In the last post, we explored two important components to a micronutrient-rich diet:
1. Pack in the produce, and
2. Include protein in every meal.
This post includes another important component. Here goes.
3. Choose your carbs carefully
Carbs have a mixed reputation, which is confusing for a lot of people. Some diets shun carbs while others make them the foundation of the diet. So what’s a mindful eater to do? I suggest putting the focus on quality. Micronutrient quality, that is. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Carbohydrates, one of the three major macronutrients, are a main source of energy for the body. Some people tolerate more carbs in the diet than others – this depends on many factors such as activity level, medical history, and even genetics (and would be a great topic for another blog post). Carbohydrate-rich foods include grains (like rice, wheat, barley, and oats), fruit, starchy vegetables like squash and potatoes, and sugars such as honey, maple syrup, and granulated sugar. Fiber is a carbohydrate – technically a non-digestible one. There are lots of different types of fiber, which offer a multitude of benefits, but we won’t discuss them here.
A lot of Americans get most of their carbohydrates (and the majority of their Calories) from refined, bleached flour and sugar. Eating like this means missing out on so many micronutrients! While refined flour is enriched to return some of what is lost in the refining process, the micronutrient content just doesn’t come close to what you get from, say, sprouted wheat berries. Whole grains (those that are minimally processed) are a better source of important nutrients such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. I don't mean to say that you have to avoid bread, pasta, and white rice. I enjoy those foods (especially rice) intermittently. But since we're discussing how to up your micronutrient game, it's important to point out that there are some four star carb sources that pack a micronutrient-rich punch and leave the others in the dust. Eating these carb sources more often means more micronutrients for you. Here are some examples.
As you may have noticed from my Facebook posts, I cook these a lot. I bake them in the oven or cook quickly in the microwave (rinse, poke a few holes in the outside, microwave on high 5 minutes, flip, microwave 5 more minutes, allow to cool). Then I keep them in the fridge to use as a side dish, in a salad, or added to a soup. I found a new variety this week at my local farmer’s market – I can’t wait to try them! The classic baked potato is also a good source of micronutrients and deserves a mention. Here is a new version of this classic that takes the micronutrients up to 11.
Certain people, especially those with some digestive issues or SIBO, don’t tolerate beans and legumes well. For the rest of us, they’re a great source of micronutrient-rich carbs (and fiber!). Add some garbanzo beans to a salad, or better yet make these delicious roasted ones. Lentils make for an easy and budget-friendly curry dish such as this one from Epicurious. And for bonus points, here’s a simple recipe good for cold weather days that is packed with all sorts of micronutrient-rich carbs. Serve with a purchased rotisserie chicken to make a great meal.
I’ve made all different kinds of buckwheat pancakes, but these ones from the New York Times look worth trying next. They contain buckwheat flour, whole wheat flour, whole cooked buckwheat, and blueberries. Holy micronutrients! Another great way to enjoy buckwheat is by making a cold salad with cooked whole grain buckwheat noodles. Andrew loves this recipe… sort of. I’m not good at following recipes.
The classic example here is to prepare spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti topped with your favorite meat sauce or pesto and cheese. That would be great! You could also try a simple roasted acorn squash (use real butter instead of the coconut oil) or make up a batch of curried butternut squash soup (recipe by a dietitian, no less!)
Rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, oh my! Potatoes and carrots are great, but to up your micronutrient game you’ll want more variety in your root vegetable playlist. My favorite way to enjoy these is to mash boiled parsnips, rutabagas, and potatoes together and use as a side dish or topping for shepherd’s pie. Alton Brown is one of my food science heroes (yep, I have food science heroes). Consider making his shepherd’s pie and replacing ½ of the potatoes with other root veggies. Mixing in white potatoes helps make for a more familiar flavor and texture. For those wanting extra credit, check this guide to root vegetables by Oh My Veggies and do some experimenting.
I could not cover every micronutrient-rich source of carbohydrates in one blog post. There are too many choices! Hopefully these examples get you thinking about some great ways to add some variety to your carbohydrate choices.
In the next post, we'll talk about micronutrient-rich sources of fat. Yes, fat! Until then, happy eating!
Most of us have heard about the macronutrients - carbohydrates, fat, protein, alcohol - and we might even scrutinize how much of each we eat. But when's the last time you thought, "gee, how's my dietary folate intake these days?" Probably never, because we don't have room in our brains to consider our intake of every micronutrient. That's why it's important to eat an overall nutrient-rich diet with plenty of variety. This series of posts focuses on some key components of a micronutrient-rich diet. We're going with a numbered list here to keep us (me) on track. And because this is such a huge topic, I'm diving it into several posts.
Side note: With exceptions where noted, these recommendations are for adults; kids' requirements may be different depending on age. Also, if you have kidney or liver problems, talk to your doctor or dietitian before making major changes to your micronutrient intake.
OK. That's enough of an introduction. Here we go.
1. Pack in the produce.
Most adults should eat at least 3 cups of veggies and about 2 cups of fruit every day. That's a total of 5 cups fruit and veggies (obviously... I know you can count). I know that you've heard this before, but maybe you didn't really understand why. Produce is packed with micronutrients that are integral to health, some of which you can't get anywhere else. Some of these micronutrients have been isolated and are available in supplement form. But no multivitamin/mineral supplement will be able to replicate the complex web of nutrients that work in concert with one another, some of which we don't even fully understand yet. Make sure to eat a variety of produce and eat a rainbow of colors. It's especially important to eat green vegetables daily. An exception is those who are taking certain blood thinners. If you're on a blood thinner, talk to your doctor before eating more green leafy veggies.
Any discussion of the benefits of produce should also mention fiber - but fiber is technically a macronutrient, so it belongs in another post.
We're currently in harvest season where fresh produce abounds. Eat a salad, roast some fresh veggies, or make some fresh pesto. Add fruit to your pancakes or make a smoothie for dessert. Sub banana slices for jelly on that PB sandwich. Vary the colors in your produce picks to get the greatest benefit. Also, it's best to eat a variety of cooked and raw produce, as there are benefits to enjoying each.
Stuck on how to spice up your veggies? Prepare them simply (such as roasting in the oven with a little salt and pepper), then cover with a standout sauce. A good sauce can revolutionize one's opinion of vegetables. Look forward to more on that topic in a future blog post. To get you started, link here to read Food and Wine's suggestions for sauces that go great with vegetables. This recipe from Food Network got some great reviews, which makes sense because I'm loving anything made with balsamic vinegar and honey these days. Since Fall is fast approaching, consider wilting some kale into your first batch of homemade chicken soup. Your body will thank you.
Warning! If you don't currently each much produce, suddenly increasing your intake may result in gastrointestinal distress. Increase your intake slowly over a few weeks for best results.
2. Include protein in every meal
Ever wonder why some people with early stages of kidney disease have to limit their meat intake? Ok, you probably weren't wondering that. But I'm going to tell you anyway. One reason is that meat is packed with minerals! If your kidneys are ok, then feel free to enjoy healthful meat as a part of your diet. While most sources of protein are rich in nutrients, I'll focus here on a few standouts.
Red meat has lots of phosphorous, potassium, and vitamin B12. It is a rich source of zinc which is actually kind of hard to come by (unless you eat a lot of oysters or liver). It also contains thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6. It's true that many foods are fortified with these nutrients, however, it's important to get these vitamins and minerals directly from food-based sources as well. A discussion of the evidence and debate over the health implications of eating red meat would take several blog posts. For now, I'll say that when we vilified red meat for being high in saturated fat, many of us forgot about how nutritious it is.
What's the best source of red meat? Scientific evidence (linked here) points to grass-fed and grass-finished (called 100% grass-fed) beef as the best choice nutritionally speaking. But the issue of the best source of beef is not black and white, and not everyone likes the taste of 100% grass-fed beef. Even if it is finished on grain, I recommend sourcing red meat from local producers. I prefer to support local farmers that pay attention to the way the animals are treated and processed. Ask a local butcher to make a recommendation, or connect with staff at your local farmers' market and ask where to find well-raised meat. Since the well-raised stuff is more expensive, I usually buy ground beef or cheaper cuts like chuck or flank steak. Epicurious has a flank steak recipe from 1994 that is my go-to (thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law for recommending it).
Any discussion of red meat is amiss without mention of buffalo, but there isn't room here for my treatise on the greatness of buffalo meat. Another time!
Many of you know that I don't eat eggs, but I do recommend them to everyone else! I'm highly sensitive to eggs, sadly, so I'm missing out. Egg yolks are full of micronutrients, including choline, which is especially important for pregnant women and is not found in as substantial amounts in very many other commonly eaten foods. If you have a neighbor with chickens (I'm looking to you, Seattle urban farmers) spending their days eating bugs, dirt, and grass, try and get your hands on some of their eggs. These free range eggs will likely be higher in omega-3 fatty acids than the average cage-produced eggs. The USDA removed the egg restriction from the latest version of their dietary guidelines because the evidence shows that eating cholesterol from nutritious food doesn't necessarily have the negative health consequences that we hypothesized it would. So enjoy an egg or two a few times per week, and don't feel guilty when you eat the yolk. My sister likes to make egg muffin cups ahead of time and then grab one for a quick breakfast. Bon Appetit has some great instructions for making them here.
This one's more well known. Fatty fish like salmon, halibut, fatty tuna, sardines, and anchovies are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and even contain vitamin D. Tuna is higher in mercury than some of the other options, so for kids or women who are pregnant, nursing, or thinking of getting pregnant, I recommend limiting tuna to 1-2 cans/week. Canned salmon is a great lower mercury alternative (mmm... salmon cakes, anyone?). See the very first Black Hills Nutrition blog post for my favorite (if admittedly a little weird) sardine recipe.
You may be asking yourself, "what about chicken? Shellfish? Pork? What about vegetarian protein sources like beans and nuts and cheese?" Those foods are also packed with micronutrients, but I chose to focus this discussion on the foods above. You might also be wondering how much protein to eat. The answer is really "it depends." Every person is unique, but three ounces of meat (or a vegetarian equivalent providing about 20 grams protein) per meal is a good minimum for many people.
There is a lot more to say about building a micronutrient rich diet, but I've written enough for now. Until then, happy cooking!
Lindsey Hays, RDN, LN
Lindsey Hays is licensed as a Nutritionist/Dietitian in the state of South Dakota. While she holds a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN or RD) credential which is nationally recognized by the Commission on Dietitian Registration, she is not licensed to practice as a nutritionist or dietitian in states other than South Dakota. She is a Certified Dietitian in the State of Washington. The information on blackhillsnutrition.com is not intended as medical advice. The content of this site is not intended to provide or replace medical advice, nor should it be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional before changing your diet or medications. For full disclaimer statement click here.