Lack of sleep can contribute to overeating and weight gain

The Sleep-Weight Connection

This blog was first published on Aspartame.org on November 28, 2016

If you’ve been gaining weight and not getting enough sleep lately, some new research suggests the problems are very likely connected. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who didn’t get enough sleep consumed an extra 385 calories the following day. A 2.5 ounce bag of potato chips or a banana nut muffin can provide that many calories.

That’s enough extra calories to gain one pound every 9 days! While sleep deprivation has its own health consequences, the potential weight gain from consistently not sleeping enough is also a concern.

How Are Food Choices Affected by Lack of Sleep?

In this study, the researchers reviewed 11 other studies made up of 172 participants and compared people who didn’t get enough sleep (3.5 – 5 hours/night) to people who got adequate sleep (7 – 12 hours/night) and what the subjects in each group ate afterwards. What they found was that the sleep deprived people didn’t necessarily eat more, but they did choose foods higher in fat and lower in protein, with about the same amount of carbohydrate. The additional calories in the food choices of the sleep deprived people resulted in weight gain since they weren’t using those calories with increased physical activity.

The studies in this review were not designed to explain why people change their food choices following sleep deprivation, but the answer may lie in the reward center of the brain. The results of another study of sleep deprived adults showed greater activation in areas of the brain associated with reward when subjects were exposed to food. This suggests they would be more motivated to seek food when sleep deprived. Another study found higher levels of a lipid in the bloodstream known as endocannabinoid, a naturally produced compound that binds to the same receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana. Activating this part of the brain has been shown to make eating more pleasurable and result in a greater desire for palatable food.

How is Appetite Affected by Lack of Sleep?

 Another proposed reason for the change in food choices by sleep-deprived people is a disruption in their hormones that control appetite, or the desire to eat. The natural circadian rhythms, or biological clock, of the body regulate our sleep-wake-feeding cycles to 24 hour periods. When those cycles are thrown out of sync by external influences, such as staying awake too long, other biological functions of the body are affected. Studies on sleep deprived people have shown they have reduced levels of leptin, a hormone that produces satiety, and increased levels of ghrelin, the hormone that regulates hunger. The change in these hormones in sleep deprived people supports their reports of having an increased appetite, even though they shouldn’t be hungry.

 How Does Food Affect Sleep?

There’s one more twist to the sleep-weight gain story worth mentioning. When certain foods or beverages are eaten at night, they can interfere with the ability to fall asleep, or stay asleep. That can leave you feeling tired the next day. When you feel tired during your waking hours, you may turn to foods and beverages that will help you stay awake, such as those containing caffeine or high amounts of added sugars. This eating and drinking is not in response to hunger, but a way to temporarily become more alert. It not only introduces unneeded calories, but can create a vicious cycle of being overstimulated during the day, and unable to sleep well at night.

While there are still a number of unanswered questions, the evidence is growing that sleep and weight gain are connected. Fortunately, the solution for many people may be as simple as pulling down the shades, powering off all screens and turning out the light for a good night’s sleep so you can wake up ready to start the day with your appetite under control.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

Food Evolution shows how science can allay fears

A Review of the Documentary “Food Evolution”

Photo Courtesy of Robyn Flipse.  From left to right, Mark Lynas, Alison Van Eenennaam, Emma Naluyima, Scott Hamilton Kennedy, and Neil deGrasse Tyson

This review was first published in Monsanto L.E.A.D News & Notes

Before the start of the world premier screening of the documentary, Food Evolution, director Scott Hamilton Kennedy came on stage and asked the audience three questions:

                                  “How many of you know what a GMO is?”

                                  “How many of you avoid GMOs?”

                                  “How many fear GMOs will harm you?”

By my estimate, at least 25 percent of the approximately 300 people who filled the theater raised their hands and kept them up for all three questions. At the end of the film when the audience was asked again who believes GMOs will harm you, only two hands went up, hesitantly.

What happened in between speaks volumes about the 92 minutes we all spent together in the dark watching the controversy over genetically modified food unfold on the screen while listening to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson narrate the tale.

Food Evolution was presented as part of DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival, which showcased over 250 films in three venues in New York City from November 10 – 17, 2016. The description of the film in the event brochure said, in part, “As society tackles the problem of feeding our expanding population safely and sustainably, a schism has arisen between scientists and consumers, motivated by fear and distrust.” Not exactly a block-buster in the making, but the theater was packed.

The film was funded by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) FutureFood 2050 program. Their vision is, “A world where science and innovation are universally accepted as essential to a safe, nutritious, and sustainable food supply for everyone.” To celebrate the IFT’s 75th anniversary, they wanted to tell the story about how we’re going to feed the 9 billion people expected worldwide by 2050.

The movie opened with footage from several town hall meetings in Hawaii where the issue of growing Rainbow Papaya was being debated. One after another, fearful citizens expressed their concerns about using transgenic seeds to combat the ringspot virus that had decimated the papaya crop on the islands. The responses from elected officials confirmed the fears of the farmers and local population that planting genetically engineered crops would be harmful to their health. It also confirmed how little they knew about the science. We were only five minutes into the film and I couldn’t help but think it was going to be a lop-sided affair. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Appearances by Dennis Gonsalves, Ph.D., the Hawaiian native and plant virologist who developed the Rainbow Papaya and Mark Lynas, the British journalist and environmental activist who went from being an organizer of the anti-GMO movement in Europe to a supporter of the technology provided the calm and rational rebuttals to the confusion fueling the controversy. Their remarks were bolstered by the objective and evidence-based interviews with Dr. Robert Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto and Alison Van Eenennaam, Ph.D., Animal Genomics and Biotechnology Extension Specialist at the University of California, Davis. A hat tip to common sense and levity was offered by the Science Guy, Bill Nye.

Those who oppose genetically modified organisms also had their say, from anti-GMO advocate Jeffrey Smith and anti-GMO attorney Andrew Kimbrell to environmental activist Vandana Shiva and food activist Marion Nestle. The levity on that side of the debate was injected by Food Babe, Vani Hari.

The true strength of Food Evolution was the way it confirmed everyone’s biases. It left no doubt that genetic engineering is hard to explain and we are uncomfortable with what we don’t understand. It aptly demonstrated that there are many types of truth and people rarely change their minds once they believe something. And it allowed science to play a central character in the story whether we liked and accepted it or not. Which begs the question, whose science was it?

Food Evolution tells the story of how we can have a safe and a sustainable food supply by helping us put aside divisive emotional and ideological differences. It shows us a truth we can all share. Having seen other less balanced documentaries on the subject of food production in the U.S., I was pleased to see the fair treatment given to this controversial topic. I encourage anyone working in the food-nutrition-agricultural space to see Food Evolution and recommend it to students, journalists and others who are seeking science-based answers about food.

Changes in the seasons bring more colorful produce to the market

Fall in Love with Fall Fruits and Vegetables

This post originally appeared as a guest blog in Aspartame.org 

Even if the weather doesn’t vary much where you live, you can use the seasonal changes on the calendar to reboot your diet for better health. All it takes is expanding the colors on your plate to feature whatever is being harvested. I mark the arrival of autumn in the produce section of my grocery store by the orange-hued butternut squash, navel oranges and Fuyu persimmons that suddenly appear alongside all those huge bins of pumpkins. It’s a sure sign that summer is over!

According to the American Heart Association, eating a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables is the best way to get all of the essential nutrients you need to lower your risk for preventable diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. To reach the goals outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should consume 1-2 cups of fruits per day and 1-3 cups of vegetables per day, based on your age and energy requirements. Reaching those goals is easier if you remember you can include all forms of fruits and vegetables – fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice.

Thanks to rapid transportation, you can find fresh seasonal produce no matter where you live. In the fall, that includes the parsnips grown in Oregon and the Key limes from Florida. Even the internationally tagged Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts and Asian pears are all grown in the U.S. and are being brought to market now, so be sure to look for them in your store. For complete lists of what’s in season throughout the entire year, check Fruits and Vegetables More Matters What Fruits and Vegetables Are In Season?

Let the Holidays Lead the Way to More Produce in Your Diet

Incorporating more fall produce in your diet is easy if you think about the most popular dishes on your Thanksgiving menu. Do sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, and apple pie come to mind? There’s no reason to reserve them just for special occasions, and no reason to prepare them with all of the added sugars typically called for in indulgent holiday recipes. Many of your family favorites can be made using a low-calorie sweetener, like aspartame, to replace some of the sugar. You can find tried-and-true recipes on the websites for your favorite brand of low-calorie sweetener or experiment on your own.  The results should look and taste the same as the originals but will be lower in added sugars and calories, which is good for the whole family.

How to Make the Tastes of the Season Last

 Of course, pumpkin isn’t just for pie. I like to stock up on canned pumpkin puree this time of year so I can make these moist and delicious Raisin-Pumpkin Muffins in the winter months ahead. When you eat them for breakfast you can feel good about including your first serving of vegetables for the day in your first meal of the day! Other great uses for canned pumpkin are in smoothies, soups and chili. I also load my freezer with bags of fresh cranberries every fall so I can add them to quick breads when they are no longer in season and to this Cranberry Salad. It adds color and crunch to the plate thanks to the celery and walnuts. And if you haven’t tried pomegranate arils, the seed pod inside a whole pomegranate, this is the time to buy them. They also freeze well and can add some sparkle and extra vitamin C to any salad you serve.

When you go apple picking or buy a bushel of apples at a farmer’s market, making a big batch of this Baked Cinnamon Applesauce is a great way to enjoy them well into spring. Just freeze the applesauce in one-quart zip-top freezer bags and then thaw it to serve whenever you want it. Another great way to use up those apples and add more vegetables to your meals (cabbage, carrots and bell peppers) is with this Tangy Apple Slaw. In my house, a grilled cheese sandwich is the preferred side dish to  on a chilly autumn afternoon.

The leaves on the trees aren’t the only thing that change color in the fall. The fruits and vegetables on your plate should be changing color, too. Here’s to another flavorful season!

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

 

Artificial sweeteners are not all the same

What Are Artificial Sweeteners? The Go-To Guide

This post originally appeared as a guest blog in SplendaLiving.com.

Like anyone else, I have favorite foods I can eat over and over again and never grow tired of them. Chunky peanut butter is on top of that list for me. But I also like to try unfamiliar foods and am always ready for the next new eating experience that will awaken my taste buds. Many of those experiences have been the result of seasoning combinations that transformed the taste of a familiar food into something original and unexpected, like the first time I had chicken mole. The sauce is made with chocolate, cinnamon and at least three types of peppers, and after one bite that chicken went from ordinary to extraordinary!

Given the limitless ways herbs and spices can be combined to create flavors, I think it’s fair to say our enjoyment of food is greatly enhanced by them all. I know I would not want to have to limit the number of spices on my shelf to just three or four of my favorites.

The availability of different spices to season our food provides a useful analogy to help answer the question, “What are artificial sweeteners?”, since just as all spices are not the same, all artificial sweeteners are not the same, either. Artificial sweeteners (also known as sugar substitutes, low-calorie sweeteners, or high intensity sweeteners) come from different sources, have different sweetening powers compared to sugar and have different properties depending on what foods or beverages they are added to. Recognizing the different features of these sweeteners makes it much easier to understand what they are and how you can use them, which is also true for peppermint and paprika!

In the Go-To Guide below you will find four artificial sweeteners, which are approved for use in the U.S. and available to consumers. Information is provided on their popular brand names, their sweetness intensity compared to sugar, how each sweetener is made, the types of products they’re most often found in, and some of the most popular foods and beverages in which you can find them. When reading the ingredient list on food labels you may notice that more than one artificial sweetener is used in your favorite no- and low-calorie foods and beverages. That is because just like spices, using them in combination with one another provides some foods with the best taste profile.

Another feature artificial sweeteners share with most spices is that a little bit goes a long way. Due to their intense sweetening power (compared to sugar), the amounts needed to achieve the same sweetness you would get if using sugar is very, very small. And since they have few or no calories and don’t raise blood glucose levels or insulin requirements, they can be a helpful tool for anyone trying to manage their weight or diabetes.

Artificial sweeteners reference chart

Go-To Guide on Artificial Sweeteners

You may also consult the Comparison Chart in one of my earlier blogs for more information about some of these sweeteners.

I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

 References:

U.S. Food and Drug AdministrationAdditional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for use in Food in the United States

 

Calorie Control Council. Sugar Substitutes.

 

Dietary pattersn determine ehalth more than single foods and beverages

Soda Taxes vs Dietary Guidelines: Which Can Best Improve Our Diets?

This post was written as a guest blog for Americans for Food & Beverage Choice. You can read the original post here.

Are you one of the millions of people who eagerly awaited the release of each new Harry Potter book over the past 20 years and snatched up a copy to read as soon as it came out? That sort of describes how registered dietitian nutritionists, like me, feel about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). A new edition is published every five years to provide health professionals and policy makers with the latest nutrition science to guide our eating advice for the nation.

I know that probably doesn’t sound as exciting as a day at Hogwarts Academy, but it supplies me with many of the tricks of the trade I need to do my job!

The most recent edition of the DGA was published this year, so it’s still fresh on my mind. A key message throughout the 200+ page document is the importance of dietary patterns over single foods or nutrients in determining diet quality.  The DGA define dietary patterns as:

“…the quantities, proportions, variety or combinations of different foods and beverages in diets, and the frequency with which they are habitually consumed.”

It goes on to say that a healthy eating pattern should include everything from vegetables and fruits to grains, dairy, protein and even oils. It also says our eating patterns should limit excess saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium.

“As you can see, there’s much more we need to include in our diets than exclude to be healthy.”


This all came to mind as I followed the news of soda taxes being proposed in several cities across the country this year. It made me wonder how taxing sugar-sweetened beverages was going to help Americans achieve the goals outlined in the DGA? Reducing added sugars is important, but it shouldn’t overshadow all of the other ways Americans can improve their diets – or worse yet – lead them to think reducing added sugars is the only thing that matters.  And sadly, there may be some evidence of just that.

Soda consumption in the U.S. has been declining for the past 30 years while obesity and unhealthy diets persist. Maybe it’s time for legislators to propose bills that will help Americans achieve better dietary patterns instead of focusing so much on sugars since the DGA also clearly state, “…the eating pattern may be more predictive of overall health status and disease risk than individual foods or nutrients.”

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

 

Tips for talking to teens about body weight and food choices

Weight Loss Tips for Teens to Lose Weight and Feel Great

This post originally appeared in SplendaLiving.com.

Whenever I see old television clips from American Bandstand, a popular television show in the 1950-80’s that featured teenagers dancing to the latest hit songs, I can’t help but think that all that dancing really helped to keep those kids in shape.

Do you ever wonder what people will think about the youth of today when they look at archived YouTube videos 50 years from now?

Sadly, what they will see is that about one-third of American children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, as reported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The only thing sadder than that statistic is the one that predicts 80% of these teens will become overweight or obese adults. The single most important step we can take to reverse this trend is to prevent excess weight gain right from the start in childhood. And if excess weight gain begins in adolescence, the next step is to stop or slow down the rate of weight gain during the teen years. Tackling that problem is important for health, much more so than body image, and is the focus of this blog.

How to Get the Conversation Started

Research indicates that over-consumption of added sugars, from foods like full-calorie sodas and sweet treats, can increase the risk of becoming overweight in teens. The American Heart Association notes, “Although added sugars most likely can be safely consumed in low amounts as part of a healthy diet, few children achieve such levels, making this an important public health target.” Not having an abundance of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages in the house is the best way to help everyone in the family limit their intake of added sugars. It’s also important to talk to your teen about the need to eat all of the other foods that make up a balanced diet for good health, and to be a good role model for them to follow. The focus of these discussions with your teen should always be on achieving a healthy lifestyle, not a certain body weight.

Here are some straight up sensible weight loss tips to help you and your teen get started.

Tips to Help Your Teen with Sensible Weight Loss

  • Sugar swaps:  Your teen can enjoy the taste of something sweet without unnecessary added calories by swapping out some sugar for a low-calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA®No Calorie Sweetener. Use it in favorite hot and cold drinks, sprinkle some on plain yogurt layered with fruit and a crushed graham cracker for a parfait, or get creative in the kitchen making other lower-calorie dishes. Here are a few fun ones that your teen can prepare and share with the whole family – just remember to observe the yield and serving size for each recipe and make your selections with that in mind: Sweet and Spicy Snack MixBanana Mini-Chip Muffins and Harvest Pumpkin-Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.
  • Revamp snacks:Making sure your teen eats regular meals and snacks during the day can be a helpful way to keep them from getting so hungry they overeat, or eat impulsively. And when you have foods on hand that your teen likes and can assemble quickly – like whole grain cereal and lowfat milk, lowfat cheese and crackers or hummus and carrots – it makes it easier for them to choose healthier snacks.
  • Modify fast food menus:  Have your teen download the menus from some of their favorite fast food restaurant chains and, together, highlight the healthier food choices available so you’ll both know what to order the next time either of you eat there. You can also look at the menus from other restaurants in your area to see if they offer options your teen would like to try the next time you are dining out together.
  • Reduce added sugars and calories in drinks: Most teens have no idea how much sugar and calories they drink in a typical day. Here’s a great printable chartfrom the National Institutes of Health “We Can!” program. You can also encourage your teen to drink water with and between meals.

 Fitness Tips

  • Take a stand:  Being active doesn’t mean that you or your teen has to spend hours in the gym. Even standing instead of just sitting can help burn calories, such as when texting, talking on the phone or face-timing. The goal is to sit less, and then move a little more while standing – maybe rocking in place or pacing the room. Taking a walk together is always a great way to get moving, and if you can convince your teen to leave the phone behind you might have a great conversation along the way!
  • Move Together:  Encourage every member of the family to think of ways you can do things together away from the computers and TV screens to be more active as a family. You can include household chores like raking leaves or biking to the library to return some DVDs. Just be careful you don’t talk about exercise as a punishment. You want your teen to know being active is fun and feels good.
  • Go with the flow:Yoga is still “in” right now, and it’s hard to believe that it has been practiced for over 5000 years. Encourage your teen to try it with you, or download an app that shows some poses to start stretching and breathing for relaxation while improving fitness.

If you’re interested in more healthy lifestyle tips for teens, be sure to check out my other blogs on the topic: Healthy Eating Choices for Children and Teens and Winning Kids Over from Sugary Drinks to Ones with Less Added Sugar or Sugar-Free Drinks.

 I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

 

life is good for pigs born on pork farms

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: A Trip to a Pig Farm

This post is about a sponsored trip paid for the National Pork Board. All opinions expressed are my own and I did not receive any compensation to write or share this blog.

I get to do many challenging, interesting and even fun things in my job as a registered dietitian nutritionist and consultant to the food and beverage industry. But this June I got to do something that so exceeded all my expectations I can’t help but share it. And in in keeping with the writing assignments of my childhood each September, I am titling this one, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

A Day at a Pig Farm

My day on the Brenneman Pork farm in Washington County Iowa began with a shower. Not a shower in the comfort of my hotel room, but in the locker rooms at the farm. Everyone who enters the gestation buildings – whether farm workers, Brenneman family members or visitors like me and the nine other dietitians on this excursion – must shower and wash their hair before they can enter. We were provided toiletry kits with the soaps and shampoos we could use and were asked not to apply anything else to our bodies after drying ourselves with the towels they provided. That’s right, no moisturizer, no makeup, no deodorant. We then put on the undergarments and jumpsuits they issued to us, surgical caps to cover our damp hair and colorful rubber boots perfect for puddles!

Ready top greet the pigs

Ready to greet the pigs – covered from head scarfs to rubber boots!

Now that we were clean enough to meet the birthing sows, we entered a barn housing hundreds of them. The air temperature was maintained at constant 70 degrees to keep it comfortable for mothers and babies alike (but a bit warm for the workers and guests) and the air quality was continuously filtered to remove any foreign particles that might harm the pigs.  We all did our best not to sneeze or cough.

Each sow had her own birthing pen equipped with a food and water supply so she could eat on demand. If she had already started to give birth, low-hanging heat lamps were turned on to both dry the newborns and keep them warm as they adjusted to life outside the womb.

A clipboard at the end of each pen was used to record the time of each birth and other pertinent details about the new arrivals. These sows were capable of delivering 14-20 piglets and every one of them was an important part of the success of the Brenneman farm. After all, they were in the pork business.

Giving New Meaning to “Pulled Pork”

The highlight of my trip came when I got to “assist” in the births of two piglets. It can take the sow up to 20 minutes to complete each delivery, and she must continue to nurse the piglets that have already been born throughout the delivery process, so a little help is welcomed.

The job required slipping a long plastic sleeve with a glove at the end over my entire arm. Then I had to get down on my knees and up close to the back end of my sow. Next, a generous squirt of a lubricant was applied to my covered hand so I could work it up the birth canal in pursuit of the next piglet making its way down.

Delivering pigs takes a long arm

Putting on the arm sleeve and glove needed to assist in delivery of a piglet

I felt strong, muscular contractions up the entire length of my arm as I maneuvered my hand deeper into the sow in search of a tennis ball-sized orb that would be a head. I was stunned by how hot it was in there. I imagined this is what it would feel like if I were plunging my arm into bubbling quicksand.  But when I reached my goal, all my thoughts zeroed in on the carefully explained instructions I had received before beginning this important job.  “Wrap two fingers around the head, toward the neck, so you have a firm grip and gently pull the piglet down towards you.” Slowly my arm exited the sow’s body and when my hand emerged there was a 3-4 pound piglet in it. This is what they call “pulling pork” on a pig farm and the experience was absolutely amazing!

Pulling pork requires a long arm

A sow can use a little help when delivering her piglets

Making Bacon Takes a Village

The care and well-being of the piglets was now the focus of everyone on the farm so these animals could reach their full potential and be ready for market in four to five months. Farm workers monitored what they ate, where they slept, and who they played with, among other things, and were vigilant in their efforts to make sure each pig was free of illness and neglect. The pigs I saw looked, smelled and sounded healthy and happy, and I’m convinced that is reflected in the quality of the pork chops, spare ribs and bacon they produce.  I don’t know what more a pig could want out of life?

healthy, happy pigs

Happy, curious juvenile pigs in their playpen

My biggest take-away from the trip was the first-hand knowledge that raising pigs isn’t an easy job. It takes many dedicated people working many demanding hours to produce the best pork possible. It takes a village. Whether you eat pork or not, it’s nice to know the animals are raised with such care and compassion. I only wish all children received the same.

You can avoid vacation weight gain before your vacation begins

How to Lose Weight after Vacation… and Even Avoid Vacation Weight Gain

This blog was originally published on SplendaLiving.com

One of the best things about going on vacation is the chance to interrupt the monotony of our weekly routines. Whether we use our time off to sleep in and eat a picnic lunch in the park or fly to another time zone where we have breakfast in the middle of the night, the change of scenery and scheduling helps us to recharge our batteries.

Another way we switch over to vacation mode is to adopt the mindset that “anything goes.” I know I have a tendency to stay up later, spend more money and splurge at meals to get the most out of my time off. And there are endless ways to splurge! From big breakfast buffets to lavish lunches and multi-course dinners, the calories do add up. Even when traveling with children and dining in family-friendly restaurants, the large portions and irresistible side-of-fries that seem to come with every meal can dismantle our best intentions.

If you’ve ever experienced vacation weight gain, then you know what I’m talking about. It may only be a few pounds, but if you don’t make a conscious effort to lose them after vacation they can lead to “creeping obesity.”

What is Creeping Obesity?

 Researchers at the University of Georgia who studied vacation weight gain used the term “creeping obesity” to describe what happens when the weight gained while on vacation is not lost from one year to the next, and over time, results in obesity. Gaining just two pounds a year packs on an extra 20 pounds after ten years, and that can be enough to make the difference.

The study involved 122 adults who went on vacations lasting from one to three weeks. Sixty-one percent of the participants gained weight while away, and their average weight gain was .7 pounds. The researchers found that consuming more calories than usual, especially from alcoholic beverages, was a significant factor contributing to the vacation weight gain, and the excess weight was still present six weeks after the subjects returned home.

While I don’t want to put a damper on your vacation fun, I do think it’s important to halt creeping obesity in its tracks so you can go back for more fun year after year and not need a new wardrobe every time. And one of the best ways to do that is to start before you leave home!

Since most of the study subjects gained less than one pound on vacation, why not try losing a pound before you even get the luggage out of the attic for your trip? An easy place to start cutting calories is how you sweeten the hot and cold beverages you drink every day. Instead of adding sugar you can swap it out for a low-calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener. That one change can eliminate 32 calories for every two teaspoons of sugar you replace. And depending on how many sweetened drinks you have each day and how sweet you like them those calories can really add up!. You can also continue this swap during your vacation to cut calories without having to give up sweetness in your favorite beverages.

As I wrote in my blog Controlling Food Portions to Help Curb Holiday Weight Gain, you need a game plan to get what you want out of your vacation (or holiday meals), without gaining weight. You can find some helpful hints in Weight Loss Success: Lessons Learned From Successful Losers and in the checklist below, which I suggest you copy and pack in your carry-on bag, just as a reminder.

 Checklist for Avoiding Vacation Weight Gain

  • Plan a fun new physical activity into each day, such as kayaking, rock climbing or Flamenco lessons.
  • Select fresh seasonal fruit options for dessert.
  • Take walking tours to see the sights and explore old neighborhoods.
  • Order a diet or zero calorie drink instead of tropical fruit drinks.
  • Move to the music whether listening to a full orchestra, mariachi band or street corner musician.
  • Let one meal a day be “special,” but not all three.
  • Wear comfortable shoes so you’re ready for every opportunity to scramble up the stairs, frolic in the park, or track down the best bargains in the marketplace.
  • Enjoy sampling the local fare without overindulging.
  • Save cab fare and use a walking app to get to your next stop.
  • Share small plates to taste the many flavors of the local cuisine.

I hope you return from your vacations well-rested, and at the same weight you were when you left, or a few pounds less if that was part of your vacation plan!

I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well. 
Reference:
Cooper JA, Tokar T. A prospective study on vacation weight gain in adultsPhysiology & Behavior.2016;156:43-47

 

Tips top pack healthy lower sugar lunches for kids

Back to School: Packing a Healthy Lunch

This blog was originally written for CalorieControl.org. You can read that  post here.

If you’ve stepped into an air-conditioned store to get out of the August heat, then you know retailers are all stocked up to help us get our children ready to go back to school. Everything from highlighters to hand sanitizer is on the shelves to satisfy the “must have” list for kids in every grade. I recall one of the biggest back-to-school decisions my sons made each year was finding just the right lunch box they could carry with pride into the cafeteria. Having their favorite superhero on the outside was all that mattered to them!

What goes inside all those carefully selected lunch boxes has taken on greater significance over the last 16 years since September was first declared National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. It was launched to focus attention on the need for kids across the country to lead healthier lives and prevent the early onset of obesity. Providing our children with a balanced and nutritious midday meal is an important way we can do just that.

Feeding Kids Right for Success in School and Life

Children need to be properly nourished to reach both their physical and intellectual potential. Even when they look fit and appear to be thriving, an inadequate diet can set the stage for future health problems. Eating well-planned meals and snacks each day is one of the best ways to ensure that all of the essential nutrients children need for growth and development are being consumed.

The routines of the school day provide an ideal way to help children form good eating habits that can last a lifetime. Starting with breakfast – either at home or in school – kids need to refuel their bodies in the morning after the overnight fast and get key nutrients that will make them ready to learn. A mid-morning snack also may be needed by younger children, or a breakfast split into two parts, to carry them over until their next meal.

When the lunch bell rings at school it’s time for kids of all ages to eat something nourishing, socialize with friends and, hopefully, get some physical activity. Sitting behind a desk all day is not good for children or adults, so taking advantage of this, and every other opportunity to get up and move around is perfect practice for a healthy lifestyle.

By the time the school day ends, most children are hungry and thirsty. That’s a good time to offer them nutrient-rich foods and beverages to replace any they may not have eaten at breakfast or lunch rather than letting them fill up on less nutritious snacks. Some popular options include cut-up vegetables and hummus, whole wheat crackers and cheese or a fruit smoothie made with yogurt. The goal is to reenergize and rehydrate them for their afternoon activities without letting them get too full to eat their dinner.

Making time to eat with your children each evening can provide one of the biggest boosts to their well-being, regardless of what is served. Research reported in the Family Dinner Project indicates children who eat with their family have higher self-confidence, better grades in school and lower rates of obesity among other benefits. Getting them involved in meal planning and preparation adds to their success by teaching them skills they will need the rest of their lives.

What About Weight Gain in Children?

Preventing unwanted weight gain in children requires that they get enough calories to support normal rates of growth and physical activity, but not much more than that. It is a delicate balance that must be adjusted to meet their changing needs, such as when their activity level slows down after their regular sport season ends.

Replacing some of the added sugars in your child’s diet with a low-calorie sweetener, like aspartame, is one way to reduce unneeded calories and make many of the foods and beverages you want them to eat and drink more enjoyable. Lower calorie, reduced fat and/or sugar-free products can also be substituted for their regular counterparts to help create more balanced menus. (See examples in the chart below.)

Making Healthy Meals and Snacks Part of Your Back-to-School Plan

While plenty of attention goes into making sure the first packed lunch of the year a good one, it’s important that every lunch is as good as the first. One way to do that is to create an idea board—like a Pinterest board—to use as a template for packing lunches. Start by drawing a grid similar to the one illustrated, and then let your child list items under each food group heading that he or she likes, will eat in school and can be easily assembled each day. Remind your children they don’t have to limit themselves to “traditional” lunch foods as long as the items belong in the designated group.

You can see sample foods found in each group on ChooseMyPlate.gov along with the recommended daily servings for children of different ages and the suggested portion sizes. Following the My Plate Daily Checklist will allow you to see how many calories your child needs each day and how to be sure they are getting all of the nutrients they need in their meals and snacks, without exceeding their recommended caloric allowance.

Once the chart is completed lunches can be packed using any combination of foods from each list as long as your child will eat them. All you have to do is make sure the items on the chart are on hand at the start of each week!

Sample School Lunch Planning Chart with Lower Sugar Options

low sugar menus

Even the best dietary supplements and vitamin products cannot replace what we get from food

Food As Medicine: Vitamins, Supplements & Other Dietary Products

EVEN THE BEST DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS AND VITAMIN PRODUCTS CANNOT REPLACE WHAT WE GET FROM FOOD

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

Those of us who believe a long life is related to a good diet have something to celebrate this year. In 1912 the term vitamin was first used to describe the compounds in food necessary to prevent nutritional deficiencies.  Now our use of the word vitamin, and the supplements and dietary products they’re found in, is 100 years old!

A Brief History of Food

Before the isolation of the first vitamin and recognition of its importance to health, all people had to worry about when it came to food was getting enough to eat to stay alive. Food choice was based solely on availability. We ate what we could hunt, catch or gather, and when the “local” food supply diminished, we moved on to find food in other places.

Eventually, the ability to grow plants and raise animals made it possible to stay in one place a bit longer, but did not insure there would always be enough food to go around. Unpredictable changes in the weather and other environmental conditions made a feast or famine existence a way of life for most of the world right into the 20th Century.

Advances in agricultural practices in the mid-1900s resulted in bigger crop yields while improvements in storage and distribution allowed more food to reach more people. Finally, there was enough food to allow the nutritional quality to become a point of distinction when making food decisions.

Is the Food Supply Getting Better or Worse?

Many people today think our food is not as good as it used to be. There is no doubt in my mind that what I eat now is quite different from what I ate in my childhood, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the goodness of the food.

An increase in the variety and quantity of food available explains, in part, why what we eat has changed over time. Another reason is the increased information we have about food composition and our nutritional needs. It certainly has become easier to question the quality of our food since we started seeing Nutrition Facts on labels. They weren’t always there.

But I don’t blame the food industry for making food more appealing, convenient, and inexpensive. I also don’t blame them for using all of the technology at their disposal to develop new products and market them so people will want to buy them. That’s their job.

It’s my job to decide what I want to eat. At the end of the day, the quality of my food choices rests entirely with me.

That is why when people ask me what are the best dietary supplements, I always say choose your food wisely. Thirteen unique vitamins have been identified in the last 100 years. The most recent discovery was in 1941 for Folic Acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9. Other possible vitamins to be added to the list are currently under review.

The only way to be sure you are ingesting everything you need for optimal health is to consume a varied diet, because that is where the nutrients are. Vitamins and other dietary products can supplement what you eat, but cannot be relied on to replace food.