What does your garden grow?

I wrote this post on community gardens for Today’s Dietitian’s “RD lounge”. My mom had a tiny garden in our yard when I was a kid and I loved having fresh basil and tomatoes at our fingertips. Sadly, my yard is not conducive to gardening. We have a small, shaded plot of land that the neighborhood deer run through often.

If you’re not traditionally a gardener, this is a great place to meet people, start a plot and learn from other gardeners that know the ropes. Check out https://www.civicgardencenter.org/ in Cincinnati to find a community garden near you!

Get Cooking in Community Gardens

Be good to your gut

Be good to your gut


The bacteria in our guts is responsible for metabolizing nutrients from food, acting as a protective barrier against infections in the intestine, and making fat-soluble vitamin K (which is needed to make proteins that help clot blood). Researchers are just scratching the surface of how the microbiome may impact health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and cancer too.1

Your gut is home to millions of strains of bacteria known collectively as “microbiota” or the “gut microbiome.” And just like snowflakes, everyone’s gut microbiota is uniquely different.

There are several factors that influence your gut microbiota, including age, diet, genes, environment, and medications like antibiotics, which can significantly alter gut bacteria. Of these factors, diet may be the most controllable.

Microbes thrive on various components of food. Some microbes make compounds that seem to keep us healthier, while others produce substances that may worsen our health. For example, a scientific study found a link between pediatric obesity and antibiotic use early in life. Research has shown that in mice, a diet high in fat increases gut permeability and raises gut absorption of endotoxins that foster weight gain, inflammation, obesity, and diabetes. 2

Our gut microbiota is very complex and it’s difficult for scientists to identify which bacteria would be the most beneficial in preventing disease. According to Dr. Hohmann, who works in the infectious diseases division at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, a few dietary tweaks may make a big difference, though gut microbiota change slowly over time and not overnight. She suggests adding the following foods to our eating patterns:

  • Fermented foods that contain natural probiotics, including miso, yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. Sauerkraut and pickles are also fermented, but may need to be limited for people with high blood pressure due to their high sodium content.
  • High-fiber, complex carbohydrates such as beans, lentils, whole grain breads, cereals, and grains such as barley, bran, bulgur, farro, and quinoa. The more variety of plant-based foods, the more diverse our bacteria become. 3

While it may be tempting to take an over-the-counter probiotic and call it a day, scientists suggest that probiotics do not typically change your gut microbiota on a permanent basis. A few strains of probiotics have been found to modify the gut, but once they’re stopped, the gut microbiome may reverse back to its previous state. Probiotics may be useful in treating loose stools related to antibiotic use, but for the most part, the data on their effectiveness is not very convincing. 4

Our best bet for a healthy gut is to eat a high fiber, plant-based diet with fewer servings of high fat animal foods, salt and refined carbohydrates. This will not only improve the insides of our guts, but may also give us a more flattering “gut” on the outside too.


  1. Kei E FujimuraNicole A SlusherMichael D Cabana, and Susan V Lynch, PhD Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.
  2. Cani P. et. al. Diabetes 2008; 57: 147-81.
  3. http://americangut.org/fermentation-and-microbiome-research-ancient-cultural-practices-meet-cutting-edge-genetic-analyses/
  4. Mary Ellen Sanders. How do we know something called “Probiotic” is really a probiotic? A guideline for consumers and health care professionals. Functional Food Reviews 2009: 1; 3-12.


Waist management starts in your brain

Waist management starts in your brain

Could your brain cells be the next weapon to fight the obesity epidemic? Scientists from the UK believe it could happen. With over 30% of the population defined as obese and between 15-20% of children and teens in this category, the discovery is welcome news. Nicholas Dale, a neuroscience professor in Warwick and his team discovered a group of cells called tanycytes that talk to the brain directly and tell it to stop feeling hunger. Tanycytes are glial, non-neuronal cells found in the hypothalamus that may control body weight and energy levels. The cells have been discovered to control satiety, the feeling of fullness, based on certain nutrients in our food.

Scientists already knew that tanycytes could find glucose in cerebrospinal fluid, but new studies find that essential amino acids can trigger these cells to make us feel less hungry. Calcium imaging was used to make cells fluorescent and easier to track in vivo. Several essential and non-essential amino acids were added to the brain cells. Tanycytes reacted to lysine and arginine, two essential amino acids, by sending signals to the hypothalamus which controls appetite. After deleting genes which detect umami (savory) taste in mice, scientists discovered that tanycytes did not respond to the amino acids.

The scientists concluded that amino acids are identified by umami taste receptors, and coordinate the relationship between amino acids and the brain. Umami is responsible for savory taste in humans and most non-aromatic amino acids in rodents. According to professor Dale, “Amino acid levels in blood and brain following a meal are a very important signal that imparts the sensation of feeling full.” 1

Sources of lysine and arginine include meat, poultry, avocados, apricots, almonds, lentils, mackerel and plums. These foods could possibly make us feel fuller sooner. The scientists suggest that dietary interventions could alter hypothalamic brain circuits responsible for appetite. Research shows that tanycytes can make new neurons and can be remodeled by dietary interventions. 2 While more research is needed, it certainly can’t hurt to add lentils to your diet a few times per week, almonds, plums or apricots as snacks and fatty fish like mackerel into your meal plan. Add avocado to salads or sandwiches as well.

1. Greta Lazutkaite, Alice Soldà, Kristina Lossow, Wolfgang Meyerhof, Nicholas Dale. Amino acid sensing in hypothalamic tanycytes via umami taste receptors. Molecular Metabolism. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.molmet.2017.08.015.
2. Timothy Goodman and Mohammad K. Hajihosseini. Hypothalamic tanycytes—masters and servants of metabolic, neuroendocrine, and neurogenic functions. Front Neurosci. 2015; 9: 387.

Health gains with whole grains

Health gains with whole grains

Look at any popular magazine these days and you’ll find at least one diet that bashes grains.  Whether it’s Paleo, the Military diet or the “whole 30”, someone, somewhere is out there trying to get you to eat a bun-less sandwich.  But what they may not realize is that anti-carb diets are a thing of the past.  Grains are back, and for good reason.

You can’t argue with science, especially when done right.  A recent study done at Tufts and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects consuming whole grains over refined grains burned more calories and absorbed less.  In addition, glucose tolerance was improved in whole grain consumers. 1 Other studies have shown lower rates of obesity and cancer in individuals eating a diet containing whole grains. 2

Susan Roberts, a professor of nutrition at Tufts and author of  http://www.instinctdiet.com believes Americans eat too many refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, pastries, and desserts, which contribute to overweight and obesity.   Other scientists agree.  Lauri Wright, an assistant professor in community and family health at the University of South Florida notes that whole grains are higher in antioxidants, which contribute to long term good health.

Rather than comparing weight changes in subjects, the Tufts study evaluated resting metabolic rate and energy (calorie) content in stool at the end of a 6-week study.  Participants were on average, 50+ years of age with a BMI of 25.6, which is slightly above normal, but not overweight.  Participants in both groups consumed about 2550 calories per day, but one group had 830 calories in whole grains while the other had 830 calories coming from refined grains.  The study found that whole grain eaters burned 40 calories more than their refined grain counterparts and lost ~50 calories in stool, resulting in a 92-calorie deficit.  If this deficit is carried over for a year, a 5.5 lb weight loss could be achieved. 1 A previous 2011 Harvard study of over 12,000 subjects in a whole grain study supported these results. 2

Most Americans miss the mark on fiber intake, consuming a mere 15 grams per day.  The subjects in the Tufts study that ate whole grains ate about 39 grams of fiber daily versus 21 grams in the refined carbohydrate group. 1 Researchers believe the feeling of fullness in whole grain consumers affects the brains’ ability to regulate metabolism.  Because your brain does not perceive that you are conserving energy, metabolism is not reduced.  This is good news for carb lovers.

Making the switch to whole grains can be as easy.  Swap brown rice or quinoa for white rice, or whole wheat pasta and bread for white bread or pasta.  Try bran or wheat-based cereals in place of corn or rice.  Whole grains are the new black.


Karl, J Philip, Meydani, Mohsen, Barnett, Junaidah, Vanegas, Sally, Goldin, Barry, Kane, Anne, Rasmussen, Helen, Saltzmn, Edward, Vangay, Pajau, Knights, Dan, Chen, C-Y Oliver, Das, Sai Krupa, Jonnalagadda, Meydani, Simin and Roberts, Susan.  Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial favorably affects energy-balance metrics in healthy men and postmenopausal women.  American J of Clinical Nutrition, February 8, 2017, doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.116.139683

Mozaffarian, D, MD, Dr PH, Hao, Tao MPH, Rimm, Eric B, Willett, Walter MD, Dr PH, Hu, Frank MD, PhD.  Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and long term weight gain in men and women.  N Engl J Med 2011; 364:2392-2404.  June 23, 2011

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