by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
March is National Nutrition Month®, which is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. During the month of March, everyone is invited to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits.
This year’s theme is “Personalize Your Plate.” There is not just one way to approach your nutrition and health. All bodies are unique and we all have different tastes and different goals which we are trying to achieve with our health and wellness.
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN) can help you achieve your optimal health and reach your goals. The following are some guidelines to get you started on healthy eating.
Eat a Variety of Foods
Make sure you include foods from all food groups and hydrate yourself healthfully without added sugars. Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts Panel so you can increase your knowledge of what is in the food you are eating.
Avoid distractions while eating so that you can focus on your food and enjoy the company you are with. Choose healthful food that you enjoy.
Plan Your Meals
Healthy eating is much easier when you have a plan in place. Pick one day of the week to do your grocery shopping and shop from a list. Check out menus before you go to restaurants so that you have a chance to make a good decision before you get there and may be tempted by other items.
Enjoy healthy snacks by stocking your refrigerator with lean protein, fruits and vegetables.
Learn Skills to Create Tasty Meals
Start with a simple recipe and build your skills. Watch a cooking show, or take a cooking class if you need help with the basics. Find a friend or relative who is a good cook to help get you started.
Consult a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN)
If you need specific advice and don’t know where to turn, don’t rely on a friend, relative or the internet. Get professional guidance from a nutrition expert so you know the information you are getting is reliable.
Find a RD/RDN who can meet your unique needs.
Try this healthier twist on a Saint Patrick’s Day favorite.
by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
February is National Cancer Prevention Month. Did you know that you can reduce your risk of cancer by following a healthy lifestyle?
Research shows at least 18% of all cancers and about 16% of cancer deaths in the U.S. are related to excess body weight, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition.
The American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention Reducing the Risk of Cancer with Healthy Food Choices and Physical Activity emphasizes healthy diet and exercise.
The four components of cancer prevention, as reported by the American Cancer Society, are:
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life. Keep your weight within the healthy range, and avoid weight gain in adult life.
Be physically active. Adults should get 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these). Getting to or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is ideal. Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.
Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages. Eat foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help you get to and stay at a healthy body weight. Eat a variety of vegetables – dark green, red and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), and others.
Choose fruits, especially whole fruits in a variety of colors. Make your grains whole grains. Limit red meat and processed meats. Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods and refined grain products.
It is best not to drink alcohol. People who do choose to drink alcohol should have no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men.
Source: American Cancer Society
NOTE: Researchers agree that there isn’t one single element in one particular food that can protect you from cancer. Eating a variety of foods is your best defense against disease. For more information on how the above foods may help protect you against cancer, contact a registered dietitian.
Try this quick-cooking Skillet Tilapia with Sautéed Spinach bursting with flavor and healthy goodness, including omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, folic acid, and other healthy vitamins and minerals. Serve with brown rice for a complete meal.
Valentine’s Day usually conjures up images of heart shaped boxes, beautiful cards, roses and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Why not make this Valentine’s Day a healthy one? It is Heart Month after all. So why not plan a Valentine’s Day that makes their hearts happy and keeps them healthy.
For the Kids
Kids love getting Valentines and treats on this special day. Most kids also love fruit. Try these Fresh Fruit Pops and watch their faces light up. They are also fun to make, so let them join in the fun!
Fresh Fruit Pops
Just stick a skewer into a strawberry or a chunk of banana, dip it in your child’s favorite yogurt and then roll the pop in granola. These are super easy and can be kept in the refrigerator or try them frozen for a cool treat.
For a Romantic Date Night
Staying in this Valentine’s Day? Why not create a healthy dinner of salmon, roasted asparagus, wild rice pilaf and a green salad. And for dessert you can’t go wrong with these Greek Yogurt and Strawberry Phyllo Cups.
A meal chock full of heart-healthy foods. Omega-3 fats from the salmon, heart-healthy whole grains and fruits and veggies that are always good for your heart.
The Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl! Although COVID-19 may have put a halt to large parties, you can still have a small family gathering at home and enjoy the festivities. But what if you’ve been trying to eat healthier and you’re afraid the game time snacks may derail your plan?
Especially when the top foods for Super Bowl Sunday are cookies, cheese and crackers, nachos, pizza, chicken wings and chips and dip. Don’t just sit on the sidelines and avoid food altogether—just keep from overdoing it with these simple tips.
Don’t Save Up Space
One of the worst things you can do before a party or any food occasion is to starve yourself during the day so you can binge at the party. A better solution is to have something light and semi-filling before the party so that you are able to make better choices and have better portion control when you’re around all of those tempting foods.
Make Something Healthy
Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring and tasteless. Make something that you truly enjoy that isn’t super high in calories, sugar or fat. And you don’t even have to tell anyone that it’s healthy. You will be surprised to find out that your guests will love the food you make. Need an idea? Try the healthy, yet delicious appetizer in this column.
Don’t Drink Your Calories
Alcohol has calories and at parties we tend to overindulge. Not only do you need to be concerned about the calories in the alcohol itself, but studies have shown that drinking alcohol makes you consume more food.
Try alternating alcohol with water, or some of the new flavored sparkling waters, to decrease your intake and to stay hydrated which will also prevent that awful hangover the next morning.
If you know you may eat more than usual during the evening game, make sure you are a little more active earlier in the day. Take a walk or do a workout burn some extra calories.
by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
January 19 is National Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day. Yes, there really is an official day for it and it is the third Tuesday in January each year.
If you are like most Americans, at one time or another you have tried a diet fad or gimmick that promised quick and easy weight loss only to find that the weight you lost was gained back in less time than it took to take it off. But how can you spot a fad diet?
A red flag should go up if it promises that a large amount of weight can be lost quickly, if fewer than 1,000 calories per day are to be eaten, if special foods need to be purchased, if no risks are provided or if large advance payments or long-term contracts are required.
Although not nearly as enticing as flashy diets or celebrity endorsed supplements, the best way to lose weight and keep it off is a balanced diet and regular exercise. Not only will you lose weight with this approach, you will improve your health as well.
So how do you get started implementing a well-balanced diet and exercise plan without following a pre-made meal plan, supplements or exercise gimmicks? Follow these three steps and you will be on your way.
Step 1: Create a Vision
What would you like your life to look like in 1, 5 or 10 years? This isn’t a number on the scale. This is the big picture of your well-being. Describe your ideal state of physical and emotional health. What does that look and feel like? Create a vision board by using pictures of your vision if it helps.
Step 2: Determine Your Goals
Goals get you to your vision. These can be reevaluated and changed along the way. Long-term goals are goals you want to reach in 6-12 months. Short-term goals are goals you want to reach in 3-6 months. Examples of long-term goals are to complete in a 5K race or to lose 50 pounds or to increase your strength and muscle mass.
Short-term goals may be to run 2 miles or to lose 20 pounds or to bench press 200 pounds. Whatever your goals, make them SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. An example of a SMART goal is: I will run 2 miles per day on 3 days of the week (M.W,F)
Step 3: Write Down Weekly Habits
Habits are what you do daily/weekly that get you to reach your goals. These are the important things that create a lifestyle change if done consistently.
Examples of habits are eating 3 servings of vegetables each day or walking for 30 minutes daily outside.
Small habits help you reach your goals and can add up to BIG changes in your health, fitness, and well-being.
By following these three steps you will be on your way to a healthy new lifestyle.
And remember, consistency, not perfection, is the key to a permanent lifestyle change. Slow and steady always wins the race
Need a healthy dinner idea to meet your vegetable goals? Try this veggie-packed Minestrone on a cold evening:
by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
For many of us, the holidays are as stressful as they are joyful. These weeks are filled with family gatherings, eating temptations and special occasions. Add COVID-19 to the mix and this holiday season’s stress levels may be at an all-time high.
Stress can have serious repercussions on your health. If you are feeling the world on your shoulders, try some of these lifestyle tips to relax and get a good night's rest.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to help alleviate stress after just eight weeks of a regular practice. Meditation has been shown to ultimately reprogram the brain to become more open and less reactive and better able to cope when life’s stressors start accumulating. Not sure where to start.
Try these tips:
Simply sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes, breath naturally and focus your attention on your breath. Try to maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start. Try a YouTube meditation video for at least 15 minutes and try to follow along before you go to bed or first thing when you wake up.
Try an app. There are several apps such as Calm and Headspace that can help you start your meditation practice.
Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth slowly at least 6 times when you start to feel stress.
Exercise is not only good for your waistline and your heart, it is also one of the best ways to alleviate stress. The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly.
Exercise can also improve your sleep and a rested mind is a more peaceful mind. Think you have to go the gym and sweat it out? Not at all. Just go for a walk, dance or ride your bike. Any activity such as walking or jogging that involves repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be very stress relieving.
Eat to Reduce Stress
Foods can help reduce stress in many ways. They can help calm you by releasing serotonin, strengthen your immune system, and fight depression. Some of the best foods to combat stress are whole grains, citrus fruits, salmon or other foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as chia seeds or flaxseeds, nuts, dark leafy greens, avocados and warm beverages such as herbal tea.
A diet full of salt, sugar and refined carbs can make coping with stress even worse.
Whatever you choose to cope with stress this season, just remember that self-care is one of the best gifts you can give to fully enjoy the holiday season.
Try this stress-relieving recipe:
More than likely, you or someone you know has diabetes. Just over 1 in 10 or 34.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and 1 in 3 American adults or 88 million have pre-diabetes.
November is American Diabetes Month and the following are some tips to help those with diabetes or pre-diabetes lower their blood sugar and manage their diabetes better.
Eat a Variety of Food
Often times my clients are very upset and frustrated when they are first diagnosed with diabetes because they are afraid they have to give up all of their favorite foods. But the key to eating healthy for diabetes isn’t about deprivation it is all about balance. All foods can fit into a diet for diabetes.
Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a fourth with lean protein such as lean meat, chicken or turkey without skin, fish, eggs, nuts, beans or tofu. Fill another fourth with a carbohydrate food such as a whole-grain, fruit or a starchy vegetable such as a potato or corn.
Add a serving of dairy if you would like such as milk, yogurt or cheese.
Can you ever have sugar again? Sure! You will just need to learn how to fit in those sugary treats. Speak with a registered dietitian to help you manage carbohydrates and read labels.
Avoid Sweetened Beverages
If you are a regular soda drinker, work on cutting back. Higher sugar foods especially in liquid form can cause your blood sugar to spike. Start with how much you are drinking now and keep reducing until you aren’t drinking any at all.
You can still fit in a sweetened beverage in occasionally, but you just might find that once you get them out of your diet, you don’t miss them at all. Water is always the best for hydration.
Eat at Regular Times
Work on a regular pattern of eating especially if you are taking medications for diabetes or insulin. Talk with your doctor about the best time to take your medications based on your eating pattern.
If you skip a meal your blood sugar may dip down too low and cause symptoms such as dizziness, lack of coordination, confusion, shaking or sweating or loss of consciousness. Blood sugar that goes too low (hypoglycemia) can be life threatening if not treated immediately.
Watch Your Portions
Eating healthy foods is a step in the right direction, but watching your portions is just as important. A serving of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.
One serving of rice or pasta is a half cup or about the size of a tennis ball. A serving of a potato is the size of a computer mouse. Controlling portions is key to managing blood sugar.
Physical activity is an important part of managing blood sugar and staying healthy. Physical activity lowers blood sugar, lowers blood pressure, aids in weight loss and improves mood. Find what you enjoy doing and do more of it. Use a step counter to increase your daily steps.
For more information about diabetes you can visit the websites of The American Diabetes Association (ADA), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP).
Try this healthy recipe for your next taco night!
Whether there will be trick-or-treaters this year or not is unknown, but there is never a shortage of Halloween candy on the grocery store shelves. And, the temptation to pick up a bag or two or three of those chocolatey minis is hard to resist.
Having these treats around the house can wreak havoc on your healthy eating pledge and without a plan in place, one small piece can quickly turn into a trash can of mini wrappers.
But, don’t fret! You can still enjoy your favorite seasonal treats without ruining your progress towards your goals by following a few Dos and Don’ts:
Do: Make a plan that fits
Maybe you have decided to allow yourself three small candies a day or just a treat before dinner. Or, maybe you count several out and place them in a plastic bag and when it runs out, you’re done. Whatever your plan, make sure that it works for you and your lifestyle. Don’t set yourself up for failure, and find what works for you the best.
Don’t: Waste your time trying to pick a “healthy” candy:
Organic? Low-fat? Sugar-free? It’s all candy and whether it has limited sugar or fat, doesn’t mean it’s any healthier. Eating a bunch of candy that you feel is a better choice may not satisfy your craving and you may just ending up eating even more and then giving in to what you really wanted all along. Pick the treat you want and enjoy it!
Do: Store your treats where you can’t see them
Out of sight really does mean out of mind. You’re less likely to grab a piece if it’s not right in front of you. Try storing it in a canister that you can’t see through or in a cabinet you don’t use very often. That way you will be seeking out the candy instead of the candy seeking you out.
Don’t: Eat candy when you are hungry
Treats should be just that—treats. If you are hungry you will overeat your goodies. Plan a healthy snack or dinner and eat your treat as finishing piece. Satisfy your craving not your hunger.
Halloween should be a fun holiday and doesn’t need to wreck your plan. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday without letting it derail your progress. What if you do overindulge? You’re human. It’s ok. Move on and continue with your healthy eating plan the next day. You’ll find your splurge didn’t really change much.
Try this yummy Halloween treat:
by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
Fall brings an abundance of flavorful, seasonal foods that are packed full of nutrition! October makes us think of apples, pumpkins and slow cookers. Now is the time to take advantage of these flavorful fall foods and the nutrition they provide.
More than 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. There is sure to be a variety to please even the pickiest eater! The saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” has scientific merit. One study found eating an apple a day helped reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Regular apple consumption has also been linked to weight loss, improved gut health, cancer prevention and reduced inflammation. There are many ways to add apples to your daily diet. The easiest way is to wash and eat! Or add chopped apples and a dash of cinnamon to oatmeal before cooking it for a flavorful fall treat.
Apples and oatmeal make a great fall combo in bars, cookies and breakfast breads as well. Keep in mind, apples ripen six to 10 times faster at room temperature, so if you want your apples to last longer, store them in the refrigerator.
Pumpkin contains B-complex, vitamins A, vitamin C and vitamin E, carotenoids, folate, manganese, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and other antioxidants. They are specially favored for their rich content of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.
Pumpkin promotes eye health, boost immunity, can help relieve inflammation and more.
Pumpkin may not be the healthiest in muffin form, but you can add pumpkin to soups, stews, hummus and pasta sauce. Try adding pureed pumpkin to smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal for a nutritional boost and added flavor.
There is nothing better than walking in the door to the smell of dinner ready to eat. Slow cookers help with planning which sometimes can be the hardest part of putting a meal together. And slow cookers aren’t just for dinner.
You can cook steel cut oats overnight for a heart-healthy breakfast, or make some homemade applesauce for a delicious and nutritious snack. Whether it is a soup, a stew, a pot roast or pulled pork, nothing says fall quite like a slow cooker.
Try this delicious recipe for Pumpkin Pie Slow Cooker Oatmeal:
Whether your child is going to school in-person or learning from home, this year is nothing but unusual. Keeping your child healthy and happy can make for a successful learning experience no matter what their “classroom” may look like. Here are some health and nutrition tips to start your school year off right.
Break the Fast
Start the day with a healthy breakfast including some protein and carbohydrate such as eggs and whole wheat toast, Greek yogurt, fruit and a whole-grain waffle, just to name a few.
Keep them Hydrated
Dehydration can make your child feel sluggish and tired. Always keep a water bottle near so they can sip throughout the day.
Have a Plan
Kids flourish on routine, so keep a consistent schedule. Bedtime, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks should be close to the same times every day.
Let them Sleep
Limit screen time to at least 30 minutes each night before bedtime. Kids ages 6-12 need nine to twelve hours of sleep while teens need eight to ten hours. Sleepy kids don’t make good learners, so make sleep a priority.
Keep them Active
Due to the unusual circumstances this school year brings, kids may be missing out on recess, physical education and other activities. Make time for some outdoor activity, weather permitting.
Let them Help
Kids are more likely to eat the food they help prepare, so include them in the planning, shopping and preparation of meals. Help them choose a vegetable, starch and protein to make a complete meal.
Create a Healthy Snack Box
Instead of letting kids just grab any snack throughout the day. Stick to consistent snack time and create a box of healthier options in baggies in both the refrigerator and the pantry to choose from.
Some healthy options are cherry tomatoes, carrot and celery sticks, individual hummus packs, whole grain crackers, cheese cubes, cut-up fruit and individual natural peanut butter packs.
Try this slow cooker taco dinner for a quick weeknight dinner.