How to Eat Healthy When Traveling & On The Go

Maintaining a healthy routine while traveling and on-the-go can be a challenge. This past month I was activated in the Air National Guard to provide assistance in the fight against COVID-19. During this one month period I lived out of a hotel room, which hosted only a mini fridge and microwave. While many of the other military men and women I was working with lived off fast food and donations of chips, pop, and canned tuna, I was fortunate to be able to maintain an eating lifestyle similar to what I live at home. This is how I did it.

Continue reading “How to Eat Healthy When Traveling & On The Go”

Why to Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

It is pretty clear that sugar is not healthy. Many swap sugar with artificial sweeteners but this is not likely the answer either. While I do try to limit my added sugar intake, I avoid artificial sweeteners altogether.

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners, or non-nutritive sweeteners, are synthetic products used to sweeten food in place of sugar or other nutritive sweeteners. They have gained tremendous popularity due to their low- or zero-calorie content.

The FDA has approved 5 artificial sweeteners: acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharine, and Sucralose. They are found in processed and packaged foods, predominantly items advertised as “diet”, “low sugar” or “no added sugar”. This includes foods such as diet pop, desserts, protein powders, and breakfast bars). They are promoted as a safe method to assist with weight loss and control blood sugar levels. However, over the years many studies have demonstrated otherwise.

Continue reading “Why to Avoid Artificial Sweeteners”

5 Shocking Facts About Coffee

For many, coffee is the elixir of life every morning, and rightfully so! It’s caffeine kick makes it a desirable beverage in the American fast-paced lifestyle, and it has been long promoted for its nutritional value (when not doused in sugar). In fact, coffee is actually the highest source of antioxidants in the Standard American Diet.

A Little About Coffee

Coffee beans are the seeds of a fruit called a coffee cherry. The fruit itself is also extremely high in nutritional value, higher than blueberries in fact. With this in mind, food manufacturers have started to find ways to incorporate it into the food system. For those of you that have heard of Bai Antioxidant Beverages, this red pulp is the main ingredient!

However, like any other food, quality and processing methods are a huge determinate of the actual nutritional value. The popularity of coffee has resulted in poor production practices which can compromise health attributes of coffee at nearly every step of the coffee making process.

Continue reading “5 Shocking Facts About Coffee”

Meal Planning 101 for Diabetics

A new diagnosis of diabetes can be scary. Individuals often leave their doctors office knowing little to nothing about the disease, feeling completely overwhelmed, and provided only a few words along the lines of “your blood sugar is abnormally high so now you need to check it on a regular basis”. You may be experiencing crazy symptoms like excessive thirst and hunger, fatigue, frequent urination, and maybe even blurry vision. You might be told you need to improve your diet, exercise, and lose weight, but are not explained even the slightest how.

Who can relate to this? Over the years I have dealt with numerous patients who have stepped into my office knowing nothing about their disease or how to control it. Well today I am going to help solve that issue and discuss diabetes meal prep basics.

“What the heck can I eat?”

Whether you’re a new diabetic or have had diabetes for 30 years, it is important to understand how foods will affect your body and impact your blood sugar. Let me introduce you to the diabetes plate method. This is a way of helping you to control your portions of starchy, carbohydrate containing foods. It also will help you be more mindful of what you are putting on your plate.

Continue reading “Meal Planning 101 for Diabetics”

Top 10 Heart Healthy Foods

Did you know February is Heart Health Month, hosted by the American Heart Association?! Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. It is an “umbrella” term that includes a number of conditions such as coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, heart attack, and heart failure.

Conditions such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol often lead to heart disease so dealing with (or avoiding!) these risk factors early on is crucial. Aside for a few uncontrollable factors such as age, race, and genetics, the majority of causes are modifiable and, as expected, include poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity. Other factors such as stress and smoking may also contribute.

Continue reading “Top 10 Heart Healthy Foods”

Your Quick and Easy Guide to Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral essential for overall body function. It is involved in over 300 chemical reactions including:

  • Supporting healthy bones and teeth
  • Maintaining proper muscle and nerve function
  • Keeping heart rate steady
  • Regulating blood sugar

While 50-60% of it can be found in the bones, the rest is in the tissues, muscles and organs.

Magnesium Deficiency

Despite magnesium being widely distributed in both plant an animal food sources, deficiency is extremely common, affecting about 50% of Americans. Those at risk include people with gastrointestinal diseases (i.e. Crohn’s, celiac disease, IBS) due to malabsorption, alcoholics, athletes, postmenopausal women, those taking medications causing excessive urination, and those consuming a highly processed diet.

Continue reading “Your Quick and Easy Guide to Magnesium”

Got a Sweet Tooth?

If your holiday and end of year celebrations were anything like mine, they were probably overloaded with candies, cakes, your aunt’s delicious cookies, endless vino, and so forth. By the time New Year comes around I am exhausted, bloated, and feeling something like this:

This inspired me to complete 30 days of no sugar, no booze, no excuses. Since I started this past Monday, January 6, I have already lost count of the number of times I have been asked “….why?” Sugar has become so mainstream in our diet it has actually changed, for many, the ability to appreciate unsweetened foods. A perfect example of this is peanut butter. Many brands are loaded with high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, and when individuals try clean, raw peanut butter with no additional ingredients, it tastes off. Sugar lights up the reward centers in our brain, similar as to cocaine for an addict. After going a period of time without it, as the body stars to rebalance, you start to crave them all over again.

Sugar is also a tremendous contributor to blood sugar dysregulation (another cause of sugar cravings). According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2015, an estimated 33.9% of US adults 18 years or older had prediabetes along with 48.3% of adults age 65 or older. An additional 9.4% (30.3 million) of the population has actual diabetes. My family has not been an exception, so preventative measures early on have been a priority of mine!

Chronically elevated blood sugar (BS) levels result in inflammation as high BS is damaging to our nerves and small blood vessels. High intake of refined sugar also results in the formation of AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, which are destructive molecules that trigger inflammation. Inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.

If I have not yet convinced you that sugar is evil, this study demonstrated that ingestion of sugar can alter the function of phagocytes (cells that ingest harmful bacteria, particles and dead cells) for at least 5 hours. In other words, after eating a piece of chocolate cake, your immune system will become suppressed, leaving you more susceptible to catching a cold or flu. Not ideal this time of the year.

There are several steps I took to prepare for this little endeavor:

  1. Recruit a support system. Maintaining any type of lifestyle change is not only easier but can even be fun when you have a team that supports you, or even better, will do it with you! Two of my sisters and my fiancé have agreed to participate. This has been a gamechanger in maintaining my motivation.
  2. Prepare. Don’t start immediately. I took a couple days to get rid of any leftover holiday goodies and meal prep for the week ahead. My sisters also took time to read food labels and clear out any foods that would not be acceptable to avoid temptation. We also discussed healthy, sugar-free alternatives.
  3. Make specific goals. I wrote out a list of guidelines and ingredients that were to be avoided for the next 30 days including: all added sugar, artificial sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, agave nectar, cane juice, caramel, barley malt, and glucose to name a few.
  4. DO NOT say “I will try”. This is one phrase I always make a point to avoid saying, otherwise I might as well not waste my time. It indirectly gives me permission to fail, which I do not want as an option.

What healthy habits have you committed to this year? If you are interested in trying 30 days No Sugar. No Booze. No Excuses. the guidelines are as follows:

30 DAys no sugar. no booze. no excuses. guidelines

  1. No sugar or hidden sources of sugar (refer to chart below)
    • Beware of foods such a bread, peanut butter, ketchup, dried fruit, chips, milk alternatives, and pasta sauce that could unexpectedly have some form of added sugar (TIP: if it has a barcode, check the ingredients)
  2. No honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, maple syrup or any other “healthy” form of sugar
  3. No alcohol (wine, liquor, beer, etc).
  4. Approved:
    • Fruit (beware of sugar added to store-bought smoothies or açaí bowls). Ideally no more that 2-3 servings per day. Berries are best as they are lower in sugar.
    • Stevia or monk fruit (0 calorie natural sweeteners) in small amounts

5 Tips Help Recover from a Gluttonous Thanksgiving

No matter how mindful we intend to be during Thanksgiving festivities, it is a safe bet that most of us will leave the table feeling overfull and defeated. There is no shame in allowing yourself some food freedom once in a while, especially on what may be consider the ultimate cheat day of the year! From my experience, it is not Thanksgiving Day itself that sabotages health goals or weightless efforts; it is the days following filled with endless amounts of leftover pie and stuffing. To avoid being set off track from your long term goals, I put together a list of some of my favorite ways to recover and detox post tryptophan binge (an amino acid found in turkey commonly proclaimed to make people sleepy).

  1. Move. I always tend to feel better after a good sweat. Doing something active that you enjoy is a great way to get back into the swing of things. If you want to get the most bang for you buck, HIIT, or high intensity interval training, will help you burn the most calories in the least amount of time.
  2. Hydrate. Especially if alcohol was involved in the festivities. Hot water with lemon is a wonderful way to help detoxify your liver and boost your metabolism. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in kilograms each day.
    • Example: If you weigh 200 pounds, divide by 2.2 = ~91 kilograms. Therefore, a 200 pound individual should drink approximately 90 ounces (~11 cups) of fluid each day!
  3. Utilize your freezer. Rather than aiming to eat all your leftovers in the few following days, freeze the less healthy options. This will not only make it inconvenient for you to grab as a quick snack, but it will also encouraged you to eat it over a longer period of time and (ideally) in smaller portions.
  4. Fast. Fasting has been associated with a host of benefits including increased metabolism, reduced inflammation and improved blood sugar control. Visit my blog post What is Intermittent Fasting? Key Components for Success for the specifics.
  5. Drink a smoothie. Smoothies are a great way to obtain a ton of nutrients in one meal. Blending the foods can improve digestibility and make them more palatable, particularly for those spinach and kale haters. I love referring to Simple Green Smoothies for inspiration and recipe ideas!

Eating Healthy: Lessons From Serbia

I recently had the opportunity to take an impromptu one week trip to Belgrade, Serbia. Prior to leaving I knew nothing about Serbia aside from it being directly north of Macedonia, the country my maternal grandma was born. As a dietitian and professional food connoisseur, of course I wondered what the food would be like. I was also curious about the chronic health issues typical of the country. Were they experiencing diseases associated with obesity, such as type two diabetes and heart disease, as frequently as the USA? Surely not. 

Turns out I was right. During my stay I was able to pick the brain of several Serbians, specifically doctors! They told me overall their food is processed with very few additives. There are no GMOs (genetically modified organisms); in fact, they are “against” them. The use of herbicides and pesticides is very minimal, and only when absolutely necessary. They are extremely proud of their country and culture, and pride themselves on eating high quality, authentic food (though albeit, a lot of it!), especially meat and cheese. They do have fast food, including multiple McDonald’s within Belgrade, but it is not a regular part of their diet as it is seen as unhealthy and lower quality. These thoughts definitely correlated with my own experience and observations. Although bread and potatoes were often served with the meal, additional simple carbohydrates such as pasta, corn or rice, were uncommon. Beans, mayo-free coleslaw, grilled vegetables and cucumber-tomato salad were common alternatives. 

We quickly learned how uncommon it was to see an overweight Serbian (or one shorter than 5’5” for that matter), and joked that if we did see someone overweight, they were probably American. 

I recently read a statistic stating 117 million Americans (about half of American adults) have one or more preventable chronic disease, and over 71% are overweight or obese. It is evident the disconnect is multifactorial — culture, lack of education or awareness, stress, minimal access to healthy food, or the “well I’ve got to die of something” non-caring mentality, all play a part. 

The United States is starting to suffer the consequences of this impending obesity epidemic through obscene health care debt, decreased quality of life, and a growing population that are non-contributing members of society, despite being of working age.

Nutrition and health can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve heard the following quote many times, and I think it summarizes basic dietary advice well. In the words of journalist Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  

The following are some of my favorite resources and local organizations I personally use that you may find inspiring to help stay motivated at whatever point you may be on your health journey:

  • Cleveland Roots: Offers free gardening and cooking classes.  Also has a community garden and weekly food stand. I’ve been to them — they are excellent!
  • North Union Farmers Market: Farmer’s Markets around the Cleveland Area
  • Joyous Health Blog: For excellent recipes!
  • VA Whole Health Library: Great handouts on a variety of nutrition topics 
  • The MindBody app: View all the different fitness and wellness resources in your area. Also shows when the businesses are having a promotion
  • The Blue Zones: Book on the commonalities of the “Blue Zones” of the world, or areas with the largest number of centenarians

You can also refer to my Resources page for a more comprehensive list.

What wellness resources have you found that have been helpful for you? Share below!

Healthy Office Snacks

As a dietitian working in a hospital setting, I am constantly exposed to treats and sweets. Whether it’s the weekly Tuesday doughnuts brought by volunteers, or the cannolis and cake at a coworker’s baby shower, they are everywhere…just staring at me.

From what I have heard, this is the case for many people in their workplace. Despite not buying junk food or sweets, and eating healthy at home 98% of the time, temptations at the workplace always seem to get in the way. So what can we do about it? Plan ahead!

In an effort to avoid noming on sweets or afternoon trips to the cafeteria when I’m craving a snack or feeling extra hungry, I have started to keep a few simple, strategic items at my desk. Let me share:

  1. Tea bags or instant coffee: Hot tea or coffee is a terrific way to stave off cravings and maintain focus. One brand of instant coffee I particularly like is Four Sigmatic’s mushroom coffee (no, it doesn’t taste like mushrooms) as it has half the amount of caffeine, but it does wonders for focus without the jitters! I like to leave a reusable coffee cup at my desk so I always have one on hand.
  2. Prunes: Yes, I keep prunes at my desk. They are super filling and perfect when you are craving something sweet!
  3. Peanut or almond butter: When I am running late in the morning, I will grab a banana or apple to go. Having some type of nut butter at my desk makes it more convenient, and adding the healthy fats and protein will keep you full much longer than eating the fruit alone.
  4. Skinny Pop popcorn (or similar brand): This popcorn does not contain any artificial ingredients, is non-GMO, and high in fiber.
  5. Trail mix: Most store bough trail mix is high in added sugar, expensive, and may contain undesirable additives. For this reason, I have started to make my own by adding a variety of nuts, gogi berries (or some type of dried fruit containing no added sugar), a sprinkle of cacao powder, and perhaps a drizzle of honey — mix it together and vwa-la! I keep mine in a mason jar at my desk.
  6. 70% or Higher Dark Chocolate: For the days those doughnuts are staring at you.

What healthy snacks do you keep at your desk? Share below!