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Raising girls in a diet-crazed society

Raising girls in a diet-crazed society

Now that my daughters (12 and 14) are old enough to realize that I counsel people about their food choices, I worry at times about what message they’re receiving about their own. What they hear from others is likely not the same as what I teach. Do they think carbs or dairy are “bad”? Are they avoiding potatoes and rice? They are fragile butterflies just emerging from the cocoon into a society that shames them for eating and God forbid, enjoying food. I’m trying to change that message.

In our house, no food is off-limits. While we may have bribed our girls with jelly beans during the potty training years, for the most part, we try not to reward the girls with food OR demonize food. Sure we encourage fruits and vegetables, but we also have our share of foods that other people might see as processed or less than healthy. Let’s face it- ALL food is processed in some way whether it’s milk, fruit or frozen vegetables. Our processed foods include things like boxed cereal, whole wheat crackers and yogurt. It’s not like we’re living on Little Debbie Cakes here, but we may have Oreos on occasion.

My husband recently became a fitness fanatic, but has never stressed that our girls need to work out. Obviously, we love when they participate in team sports, but they get a daily workout when walking the halls at school and to & from their bus stops. They go on walks with me when time allows, but we are not members of a fancy gym. Having rheumatoid arthritis and pre-diabetes, my girls recognize that I need to move to stay healthy. I wan them to see physical activity as a way to be healthy, not necessarily “skinny”.

We try to handle snacks like any other food. Are you hungry? Please eat something! If you’re eating because you’re bored, go find something to do. My girls know that we’re lucky to have a full pantry and options of things to eat at any time. But they recognize that food insecurity and food waste are real. They are developing a healthy respect for food. Take the food that you want to eat, but don’t overload your plate. They know I cringe when they throw away uneaten food!

Finally, we don’t use the D word (diet) or F word (fat) in our house. Being peri-menopausal is no picnic. I feel a little thicker than usual, but they don’t need to hear that. No one wants to hear “I’m on a diet”. I stress how lucky we are to be healthy, how nutritious food helps them grow and be strong But if we bake cookies or bread, we eat it. FOOD IS FOR EATING is often said in our house when someone has eaten the last apple or cup of yogurt or sometimes the cookie.

Bottom line- use neutral language about food. Use kind words about your bodies. Teach your kids that food is for health, but also enjoyment. Little ears are listening.


There’s something about dairy…

There’s something about dairy…

I am a proud dairy consumer and make no apologies for it. While the Whole 30, Paleo and multiple holistic health or other “coaches” may dis dairy, I am not in agreement. Give me yogurt, milk, and cheese please. Consider this- any time you remove an entire food group from your diet, you also take away vital nutrients that quite frankly, multi-vitamins do not replace.

While we can obtain calcium and vitamin D from non-dairy sources, calcium from milk is in much higher quantity than vegetables and can be easily absorbed. A diet high in calcium not only protects your bones and teeth, but may also help lower blood pressure. Research also suggests that low fat and fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, may aid in the prevention of diabetes. And finally, who wants to eat cheese-less pizza?

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Ed-Mar Dairy ( , located in Walton, Ky. The owner, dairy farmer and chief operator is Eddie Gibson, a soft spoken, but solid man. Ed is the 4th generation of farmers to manage the dairy. The farm sits on 130 beautiful acres once owned by Ed’s wife’s grandparents. The 45+ cows that live on the farm are bred (via artificial insemination) to bare a calf about every 18 months and feed on corn and clover grown on the land. They sleep comfortably in cool sand beds and are milked through a robotic milking machine (which saves time and labor cost) when they choose, a few times per day. Ed’s cows produce approximately 550-600 gallons of milk daily.

What you may not know, is that most traditional milk purchased at the store comes from local dairy farmers like Ed. Milk from multiple farms is combined, homogenized and pasteurized then distributed to local grocers. By FDA standards, antibiotics are NOT allowed in milk, so if a cow is ill and given antibiotics, the milk is discarded. In fact, if antibiotics are found in the milk, all of the milk is discarded and the farmer is fined. Don’t believe the myth that non-organic milk contains antibiotics.

In addition, traditional cows may be given rBGH – recombinant bovine growth hormone (a hormone used to stimulate milk production). Despite the rumors of rBGH not being safe for humans, according to the American Cancer Society, “Bovine growth hormone levels are not significantly higher in milk from rBGH-treated cows. On top of this, BGH is not active in humans, so even if it were absorbed from drinking milk, it wouldn’t be expected to cause health effects.”

The American Cancer Society also notes, “Of greater concern is the fact that milk from rBGH-treated cows has higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone that normally helps some types of cells to grow. Several studies have found that IGF-1 levels at the high end of the normal range may influence the development of certain tumors. Some early studies found a relationship between blood levels of IGF-1 and the development of prostatebreastcolorectal, and other cancers, but later studies have failed to confirm these reports or have found weaker relationships. While there may be a link between IGF-1 blood levels and cancer, the exact nature of this link remains unclear.

Some studies have shown that adults who drink milk have about 10% higher levels of IGF-1 in their blood than those who drink little or no milk. But this same finding has also been reported in people who drink soy milk. This suggests that the increase in IGF-1 may not be specific to cow’s milk, and may be caused by protein, minerals, or some other factors in milk unrelated to rBGH. There have been no direct comparisons of IGF-1 levels in people who drink ordinary cow’s milk vs. milk stimulated by rBGH.

At this time, it is not clear that drinking milk, produced with or without rBGH treatment, increases blood IGF-1 levels into a range that might be of concern regarding cancer risk or other health effects.”

If you buy organic milk, it will not contain rBGH, but will contain natural BGH since it comes from a lactating cow. However, it will also not be local milk. Since cows would have to grass feed at least 10 months out of the year, the weather in the mid-west can’t support this. Organic milk has to travel farther (i.e. from Colorado) in order to meet the standards set. Keep in mind, organic milk often costs 3 x as much as traditional.

Finally, the reason organic milk has a longer shelf life is that it undergoes an additional ulta-pasteurization. You can read more about the milk cycle here:

My takeaway here- support your local farmer. If you drink cow’s milk, it’s fine and seemingly safe to drink non-organic milk. Just don’t EVER drink raw milk. More on that here:

Get the “whole” truth

Get the “whole” truth

Though carbohydrates (read starches, grains, breads) have been demonized by the media and diet gurus over the past several years, the truth is- diets containing grains are healthier than those without.  Research shows that whole/unprocessed grains are higher in fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc and anti-oxidants than other plant foods.  Individuals that eat high fiber diets have a 22% lower risk of dying than those that eat lower fiber diets.

And did you know, healthy people that follow a gluten-free diet may RAISE their risk for diabetes? That’s because grains containing gluten are usually higher in fiber (which is protective against diabetes) than those that don’t.

What’s important to good health is balance.  Knowing what counts as a serving can keep your weight and blood sugar in check if you need to limit calories and/or carbohydrates.  Below are some ways to add more whole grains to your diet.

  1. Swap whole oats for instant oatmeal. The type in the tall cylinder is not only cheaper, but lower in sugar and salt than the instant type.


  1. Choose 100% whole wheat bread over “wheat bread”. ALL bread is wheat bread, unless it’s made with potato or other flour.  Look for the words “100% whole” on the label and “whole” in the ingredients. Whole wheat white is legit! Most bread is made using red wheat, but whole wheat white is made with white wheat. This is still a whole grain, but may have a lighter, softer texture.


  1. Choose brown rice over white rice. Individuals that have just 2 servings (about 2/3 cup) of brown rice/week have a 10% lower risk of diabetes than those eating white rice.


  1. Mix it up. Try quinoa, barley, bulgur, spelt, wheat berries and other whole grains.  No one says you have to eat potatoes and rice only!


  1. Eat whole pasta over white pasta. While the carbohydrate and calorie count is identical, the fiber is 3 x higher in whole wheat pasta over white.  Whole grain pasta keeps you feeling fuller longer, which may aid in weight loss.


  1. Choose breakfast cereal with 5 grams of fiber or more per serving. Shredded wheat and bran flakes each offer 5-7 grams in ¾ cup.


  1. Season grains with herbs, spices or various vinegars. This keeps the fat and calories lower while adding a little flare and flavor to your side dishes.


  1. Pay attention to serving sizes. What you get at a restaurant is likely 4 servings!  Go for ½ cup servings of cooked rice or pasta and read labels on cereal boxes for serving size.  They vary based on sugar and calorie content.
Confessions of a ginger junky

Confessions of a ginger junky

Contrary to popular belief, many dietitians (like myself), do not spend their entire lives prepping and planning meals. While we may peruse the grocery store a bit longer than the average bear, we like short cuts just as much as the next shopper. We’re busy wives and moms with work to do, too!

It was probably a few years ago that I discovered the simplest trick to seasoning my food. I am, hands down, a ginger junky. I’d always loved the spicy taste of ginger but found fresh ginger root to be a wee bit too spicy and less than convenient to use to grate and add to food. While buying “jarlic” (minced garlic in a jar), I found ginger paste!

Ginger paste (made by Spice World or Garden Cuisine) is a combination of ginger, fructose, vinegar and salt. It has a few other innocuous preservatives and contains 15 calories per tsp. It’s available in a 10 oz. tube or 4 oz. tube in the refrigerated section of the store, depending on the brand. Ginger paste has the consistency of applesauce and has a fairly long shelf life. I prefer the 10 oz. version because you get much more for your money.

This simple spice trick can be used in oatmeal, marinades, vegetables, fish or sweet potatoes. I’ve added it to leftover quinoa with cinnamon and chopped almonds for breakfast or tossed it in my stir fry. It’s one spice I always have on hand.

Forgotten chicken

Forgotten chicken

If you’re a working parent, you recognize that some weeks, the bottom just falls out. Maybe your kid started a new sport and you’re running him/her to practice right around dinner time. Or you have meetings every other night of the week. This is what happened in our house recently.

I was determined to have dinner ready before I left for a meeting Thursday night. I had rice in the Instant Pot and started a chicken at 4:15 to be cooked by 5:45 when my husband got home from work. I knew a friend was picking me up at 5:30 for a meeting, so I told my 14 year old daughter to “turn off the oven when the timer went off” since I wouldn’t be home.

My husband texted me during my meeting and asked if I was being fed at the meeting or if I’d be eating at home. “Home”, I answered. “Chicken and rice for dinner”.

I got home about 8:15 PM and was famished. He said, “chicken is in the frig, rice is still out”. But when I went to get the baked chicken out, I discovered it wasn’t there. There was some shredded chicken left from 2 days ago. The only reason I baked a whole chicken was that it had been in my frig a few days and needed to be cooked.

I asked, “where’s the chicken I baked”? His answer- “what chicken”? Imagine his surprise when I opened the oven door and there was the dutch oven with dinner I had prepped a few hours before. “UGH”, I exclaimed, clearly exasperated.

Note to self. I need better communication. I should have said, “there is a chicken in the oven that IS FOR DINNER” to my daughter. I should have also told my husband, “I baked a chicken for dinner, it’s in the oven”. Either way, I ate the chicken. It was delicious.

Realistic goal setting

Realistic goal setting

We’re two months into 2018, the time of year when everyone is either into a groove of new habits or have completely given up. If you’re having trouble motivating yourself to reach the goal you set out for yourself (weight loss, more water, fill in the blank…), maybe it’s time to re-evaluate?

It would be awesome if we could just wave a wand, swallow a pill or blink our eyes and pray and our goal would be magically accomplished. But unicorns are not reality and it’s time to dive into the real work.

Changing habits takes TIME. While fad diets like the Whole 30 or Keto plan may give you temporary results, they are not sustainable practices that will yield long term success. Are you always going to be able to read every minute ingredient on a food label when traveling, or is it better to learn what the best choice is for YOU given the current situation and move on? Will you consistently never have white rice again or will you forgive yourself for eating a small portion when you went out for Indian food with your family?

Rather than being militant with your habits, how about a little grace and common sense? Are cake, ice cream, soda and candy bars daily going to lead to poor health? Likely. Will a slice of cake on your birthday ruin your waistline? Probably not.

When changing any habit, try to use the SMART approach. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Be Specific. Weight loss is not a goal- it is an end point that will only happen when baby steps are taken. Walking 3 days/week for 30 minutes is a specific goal.
  2. Make it Measurable. Wear a watch and measure how many minutes you have exercised.
  3. Make it Attainable. Is giving up chocolate for life attainable? Probably not. How about reducing your desserts to 1-2 times/week? That might work.
  4. Keep it Relevant. The change in habit has to matter to you.If you’re trying to prevent diabetes, reducing dessert is relevant goal.
  5. Given it Time. This is the only part of “Whole 30” that I like. It has a specific amount of time allotted to a task. The key is to ask yourself, what happens AFTER the 30 days?

Habits take time to change. Allow some time for you to make sustainable, realistic changes- not over the top, punitive short term fixes. Your body and mind will thank you.

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