Satisfy your sweet tooth while reducing added sugars

No Need to Give Up Sweets, Just Get Them Naturally

Improve the quality of your diet and satisfy your sweet tooth by replacing foods high in added sugars with those that contain naturally occurring sugars

I admit it, I have a sweet tooth. I’ve had it all of my life.  I never thought much about it when I was a child because everyone I knew had one too. Or a full set! My crowd simply liked sweet tasting foods more than salty, savory, sour or bitter ones. It surprised us when someone said they didn’t like sweets. But that didn’t mean we ate cake, cookies and candy all day long. Far from it. It simply meant we enjoyed naturally sweet fruits and vegetables as part of every meal and snack. And I still do today.

Imagine if no one had ever told you that Tootsie Rolls were candy and dates were not. You could easily get them confused. Same for the choice between a Popsicle or some frozen seedless grapes as a treat. And if you’ve ever had sweet potatoes mashed with some orange zest and butter you know they taste like you’re having dessert for dinner.

The point is, our eyes know the difference between a piece of chocolate fudge and a ripe banana, but our bodies cannot tell the difference between the sugars they contain since they are virtually the same. That is where the similarities end. The sugar in the fudge is delivered with saturated fats that can lead to heart disease while the naturally occurring sugars in the banana come packaged with fiber, vitamins and minerals that help prevent heart disease. Eating a banana every day, or any other serving of fruit, in place of something sweet made with added sugars is how I’ve maintained a balanced diet all my life without giving up the sweet taste I love.

So if you’re worried that you or your children eat too many added sugars, consider changing the delivery system to get your sweet fix.  The major sources of added sugars in American diets today are grain-based desserts, dairy desserts and soft drinks. If you’re relying on them to satisfy your sweet tooth you’re being cheated out of the nutrients your body needs in two ways. First, because those sugary foods and drinks supply very few vitamins and minerals along with all the sugar they contain, and second, they displace the foods we could be eating that provide plenty of essential nutrients.

This is where fruits and vegetables come into the picture. Instead of going on some bizarre “sugar detox” diet where you eliminate everything that tastes sweet in an attempt to “control your craving” for sweets, you can just use naturally sweet foods in their place and avoid all the drama. This approach is easier than you think when you realize all forms of fruits and vegetables are an option – frozen, canned, dried and 100% juices – not just the fresh varieties that have reached their peak of sweetness. And no matter what the form, including conventionally grown or organic, they all deliver important nutrients and fiber along with their natural sweetness.

Try some of these ways to satisfy your sweet tooth using fruits and vegetables at your meals and snacks . You may be surprised at how sweet life can be without all the added sugars!

  • Freeze a can of pears in natural juices and then scoop contents into the food processor and whirl for sweet sorbet
  • Mix golden raisins into homemade trail mix instead of candies
  • Add crispy freeze-dried fruits to unsweetened breakfast cereals for their intensely sweet taste
  • Make a tropical pilaf by adding crushed pineapple and toasted coconut to your favorite cooked whole grain
  • Reduce full-strength juices, like grape and apple, to replace sugary meat glazes and sauces
  • Stir chopped apple, vanilla and some apple pie seasoning into hot oatmeal
  • Roast parsnips and carrot strips together until caramelized for some sweet vegetable fries
  • Warm applesauce in the microwave oven before eating to heighten the sweet taste
  • Make watermelon pops with the juice and diced pieces from a cut watermelon
  • Add sliced strawberries to a peanut butter sandwich in place of strawberry jam

BONUS TIP: Keep a container of dried fruit like apricots, figs and prunes in the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. They’re easy to eat, have no peels or pits to remove, they don’t bruise or spoil and are available all year round.

Related blogs:

10 Fun Ways to Eat Enough Fruit This Summer

Cutting Back on Too Much Added Sugar: Your Heart Will Say Thank You!

 

Reducing food waste starts at home

Reducing Food Waste with Common Kitchen Utensils

I grew up with parents and grandparents who lived through The Great Depression, so I learned some valuable lessons about frugality by the way they lived their lives. Lessons like saving for the things you want rather than buying on credit, following a household budget so you can pay your bills on time, and never wasting anything, including the electricity to power a light left on in a room after you’ve left, the cold air in the refrigerator that escapes when the door is left open too long, and the crumbs in the bottom of a box of corn flakes that can be used in the meatloaf. The lessons about not wasting edible, usable food have had the most lasting impression on me.

When I was a college student on a very limited budget, my frugal food skills helped fill many gaps in my diet, like freezing the milk in my fridge in ice cube trays before leaving for extended breaks so I could thaw it and use it in cooking when I returned. Then once I graduated, got a job and had a full pantry and bank account, I still couldn’t bear to toss out a mangled crust of bread. Instead, I’d freeze it with other random pieces to be turned into crumbs the next time I need some. And I can’t stop myself from checking the misshapen fruits and vegetables in the discounted bin at the grocery store. If more of us would buy them it would go a long way to reducing the 36 million tons of edible food that get tossed out every year in the United States.

If it shocks you as much as it does me that so much food in this country is wasted while so many people do not have enough to eat, you do not have to wait for new government regulations to make a difference. There is plenty each of us can do right in our own homes to make sure we always use what we have and only buy what we need to avoid wasting food.  This Infographic from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells the whole story and you can visit eatright.org for more information on healthful eating or to find a registered dietitian nutritionist.

To help get you started, here are my top tips for getting every last bit of goodness out of the food I buy using some common household utensils.

Rubber Spatulas – They come in assorted sizes, shapes and handle lengths to make it easy to scrape the insides of jars, cans, bottles and other food containers. Without one you could be throwing out 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise in every quart jar and a teaspoon of tomato paste in every 6 ounce can.

Ice Cube Trays – This is the perfect way to save and freeze any extra stock, sauce, or gravy you have, or the milk before going on vacation. Just pop the cubes out once frozen and store in a labeled zip-top bag. Trays with lids help prevent spills and the transfer of odors from other foods. Ice cube trays can also be used to freeze fresh herbs that have been cleaned, trimmed and chopped and fruit juices, pulp or puree that can be used in smoothies.

Salad Spinner – You may not have to toss that limp looking lettuce, just give it a rinse in cold water and a spin to bring it back to life.  If it doesn’t revive enough for salad, chop it and add to a soup or smoothie. Spinning washed salad greens, herbs, and berries before storing in the refrigerator also helps to keep them fresh longer by removing excess water.

Sharp Paring Knife – By cutting away the blemished part of many types of produce (potato, bell pepper, carrot, apple, pear, winter squash) you can eat or cook  the remaining portion without risk. Removing all around the moldy edge on a piece of hard cheese or hard salami is also a way to save the rest.

Citrus Zester or Microplane There’s plenty of flavor to be salvaged from those lemon, lime and orange rinds, so be sure to wash and rinse them and collect what you want before cutting the fruit for other uses.  You can put grated zest, strips or strings in a labeled jar or zip-top bag in the freezer to have on hand when a recipe calls for it.

BONUS TIPS:

Add water, vinegar or wine to near-empty mustard and catsup containers, close cap tightly, shake, and then add to soups, sauces, or dressings.

Add milk to near-empty containers of peanut butter, honey, molasses, jam, jelly, preserves, chocolate syrup, pancake syrup, or maple syrup,  close cap tightly, shake and drink or add to a smoothie.

Read more in Reducing Food Waste from Farm to Fork.

A balanced diet is just one part of a balanced lifestyleons

How Healthy Eating Habits, Exercise and Emotional Well-Being Are Connected

This blog was originally published on SplendaLiving.com.

As a registered dietitian I am always talking and writing about food and nutrition. I want to be sure everyone knows that a balanced diet is essential to good health. But your diet is not the only thing that must be balanced. Eating right is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise and emotional well-being are equally important parts of a healthy lifestyle, and they must all be balanced for you to feel your very best.

What Does It Mean to Be Healthy?

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” I think most people would agree they don’t think they’re healthy just because they don’t have malaria or some other illness. We want to feel well physically, mentally and socially, and to achieve that state of health we must recognize the connections between eating, exercise and our emotions.

Healthy eating provides the nutrients we need for a strong immune system that can help to defend us against certain illnesses and lower our risk of developing other diseases. It also provides the fuel we need to be as active as we want to be and enhances our sense of well-being when we have enough to eat and can enjoy food with others. Regular physical activity helps to keep our muscles strong and increases our stamina so we can do the things we want to do. It also helps burn off the calories in the food we eat and it improves circulation so that oxygen and vital nutrients can be delivered to every cell of the body. Good emotional health comes from having supportive relationships with others, a positive outlook on life and a meaningful spiritual connection. If one arm of this triad is weakened, the others will bend, too.

Connecting the Parts of a Healthy Lifestyle

Consider this simple example of the way the parts of a healthy lifestyle are connected. You rush to the gym after work committed to getting 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and 15 minutes of strength conditioning. You feel sluggish after just 15 minutes on the treadmill because you didn’t eat or drink anything for several hours before exercising. You stop exercising and feel bad for not being able to complete your workout. By the time you get home you are so hungry and demotivated that you wolf down an entire bag of potato chips instead of making the dinner you had planned.

Sound familiar? Now consider what the chances are that you’ll get a good night’s sleep and wake up early to get to the gym after a light breakfast? As you can see, the links between eating, exercise and emotions are strong, and if one breaks down your healthy lifestyle can be thrown out of balance.

In that first example, not eating before exercising puts a negative chain reaction in motion. Another trigger might be when you feel very so anxious about something – maybe an incomplete project at work or larger than expected credit card bill – that you skip going to the gym just when you need the stress relief that exercise can provide the most. Research has shown that exercise can increase the chemicals in our brains that contribute to feelings of happiness and improve our focus and memory so we perform better at tasks. Without these benefits of exercise, we are more likely to continue feeling stressed, make poor food choices and have difficulty sleeping, which compound our problems.

Healthy Eating Habits for All the Right Reasons

One thing that does not contribute to a healthy lifestyle is the feeling you must do everything perfectly, especially when it comes to your diet. I can’t think of anything that could be more stressful! The balance we are seeking allows for some ups and downs, so strive to do your best and be forgiving if you can’t always live up to your own expectations for healthy eating habits.

Here are my top three healthy eating tips to add to your healthy lifestyle.

  1. Have a plan. Knowing where, when and what you intend to eat each day leaves less room for error. Be realistic when making your eating plan and be ready to adjust it whenever needed, keeping in mind that every choice you make does count.
  2. Avoid extremes. There’s no reason to eliminate any food from your diet (unless medically required), but it’s also not wise to over-consume any food, either. Moderation is the goal. For example, if you want to reduce the amount of added sugars you consume, consider replacing some of them with a low calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA®No Calorie Sweetener, so you can continue to enjoy sweet tasting foods and drinks, but with fewer calories.
  3. Take your time. You have to eat every day for the rest of your life, so don’t try to make too many changes too quickly. Ease into what fits your current means and routines while leaving the door open to explore other options when time allows. And to get the most of your meals, be mindful of each mouthful.

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.

For more information about adopting healthy eating habits, visit the Healthy Lifestyle section of this blog.
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:

 

No one diet is right for everyone

Can You Count on Popular Diet Programs to Lose Weight?

Originally posted on SplendaLiving.com

I once had a client say to me that she wanted to lose weight, but she just hadn’t found the right diet yet. She went on to explain that she had tried many popular diet programs over the years, but none of them ever worked for her. When I probed further to find out what she did and didn’t like about the diets she tried, I discovered she had successfully adopted several new eating behaviors from each one. What she didn’t realize was that she was customizing her approach to healthier eating habits with each change she made, and creating a plan that would work for her for over the long run.

If you’re hoping to start the New Year off by making a resolution to lose weight, there are many things you can learn from all of the popular diet programs out there. While you may not be able to adhere to all of the recommendations, all of the time, any change you make that improves what and how much you eat – and that you can stick to – is a win for you!

Over the years I have had clients tell me they started to eat breakfast regularly after being on a popular diet, even though they dropped the rest of the plan. Others have said they started using a no-calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA® Brand, instead of sugar as part of a diet program and continued using it long after giving up on the rest of the plan. And then there are those who formed the habit of eating a salad before dinner each night, or bringing a piece of fruit to work to snack on in the afternoon every day, even though they skipped the rest of the “rules”. These are all success stories in my book.

Read on to see how you can take what you need from the most popular weight loss diets while leaving behind what you don’t.

What are the Best Diet Programs or the Best Weight Loss Diet?

Numerous well-controlled studies designed to compare the effectiveness of different weight loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, have found they all result in weight loss if you stick to them. Initial rates of weight loss vary from one plan to another, but over time they even out to about the same number of lost pounds as long as you keep following the rules. Of course, once you stop following the rules, some or all of the weight is regained.

Some of the riskiest diet plans are those that promise quick weight loss. Tempting as they may sound, they do not result in weight loss that lasts. And they often have more extreme food restrictions that can lead to nutritional imbalances. This is not a solution even for the short term.

To avoid diet lapses and weight gain you need to establish some new eating habits that are compatible with your way of life, yet make it possible to maintain a healthier weight. The best way to figure out what approach will work for you is to consult with a registered dietitian/nutritionist or other qualified health professional. If that is not an option, use the steps below to rate the popular weight loss diet plans.

3 Steps to Evaluate if a Popular Weight Loss Diet is Right for You

  1. The first thing you should do to evaluate any weight loss program is check out the food or meal replacement products you’re expected to eat. If you don’t like, can’t easily buy, don’t know how to prepare or can’t afford most of the recommended foods, then don’t even consider starting the diet. If, however, there are foods you have tried and liked but don’t regularly eat, like beans or fish, you may have to up your game to include them more often. If the plan is based on buying special foods or meal replacement products, ask yourself if that’s a sustainable option for you.
  2. The next thing to do once you’re satisfied with the foods you’re allowed or expected to eat is to see if there are any “forbidden” foods. Now ask yourself: could you live without them for the rest of your life? If entire food groups are omitted, such as grains or dairy, it may be best to keep looking for a more balanced plan.
  3. After you find a plan that is a good match for your food preferences, look at the recommended eating schedule to see if it fits in well with your daily routine. There is no point in starting a plan that expects you to eat every two hours or have your main meal at midday or stop eating by 6pm if that’s not possible for you. You will also want to know what other activities you’ll have to fit into your life, like exercising, attending meetings or completing records, and make sure those requirements are realistic for you.

There is no one weight loss diet that is right for everyone, so make it your goal to adopt healthier eating habits that are right for you and can last a lifetime.

 

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:
Sacks FM, Bray GA. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. N Engl J Med 2009; 360:859-873; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0804748

 

 

Tips to prevent holiday weight gain

Sensible Ways to Fight the Holiday Weight Gain Battle

This post originally appeared on SplendaLiving.com.

Avoiding weight gain between November and January is all about changing what you’ve been doing year after year that has contributed to the inevitable extra pounds you see on the scale on New Year’s Day. If you’re ready to do something different, I’ve got some suggestions to help you get started!

Reflect on Past Patterns

When you look back on how you’ve celebrated the year-end holidays in the past, what patterns of behavior do you see? Are you making several late night trips to the mall to do your shopping, spending every weekend decorating the house and socializing more frequently with friends after work? Does that leave you with less time to prepare and eat meals at home, keep up with your regular workouts, and take the dog for a walk?

Here are some ways you can change those patterns:

  • Start your shopping and decorating earlier.
  • Invite friends over for pot luck meals instead of eating out.
  • Plan fun activities you can do with family and friends, like ice skating, walking for a cause, biking through the neighborhood to see the holiday decorations.
  • Give yourself a curfew on week nights so you’re home and in bed on time to get a good night’s sleep.

Consider Your Mindset

What you are thinking as the holidays approach can also influence how you will behave. If you have the attitude “anything goes” because holiday foods are only available once a year, you can end up eating and drinking more than you can possibly enjoy. By changing your mindset to focus on the meaning of all those special foods, you can put the brakes on overeating and savor the memories.

Try these more mindful approaches at your next holiday meal:

  • Ask everyone attending to complete this statement: “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/etc. without ____________ (insert name of food or drink) because ____________.”
  • Get built-in portion control at holiday meals by swapping out your large festive plates and bowls for smaller ones, as covered in this earlier blog.
  • Have everyone around the table share a memory of when they first tasted their favorite dish including how old they were, who prepared it, and where they were.
  • Make a video of a parent or grandparent preparing a special recipe to share with the rest of the family.

Reorder Your Priorities

Ask yourself what really matters the most to you as you anticipate each holiday, and then make sure you manage your time and resources so you can participate in those events instead of spending so much time at unfulfilling obligations carried over from year to year. Sometimes all it takes is letting go of a few items lower down on your “to-do” list so you can add something new on top. And remember that having healthy holidays is one of the best ways to have happy holidays.

Consider these options to help you have the kind of holiday experience you really want:

  • Prepare a lower sugar version of a few favorite holiday recipes by swapping out sugar for SPLENDA® Sweetener Products (as described in this blog) to balance out your menu without giving up the sweetness of the things you love.
  • Make an appointment now to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, visit a house-bound neighbor, pack gifts to send to soldiers overseas, or wrap gifts for needy children.
  • Donate the cookies from your annual cookie swap to a nursing home so you won’t have to give up the fun of baking them, but can avoid the temptation of eating them.
  • Move up your annual New Year’s Resolution to lose weight by one month and make a December 1st No Weight Gain Resolutionso you can ring in the New Year without those extra pounds.

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.

 

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.

 

Dieary patterns are more important to health than fad diets

The Hottest New Diet Isn’t a Diet at All

Meet the dietary pattern, a style of eating with a proven record of success.

This post was originally written as a guest blog for Health.USNews.com

Diets are out; dietary patterns are in – at least, that’s what the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans seems to say.

That’s big news for those of us who like to incorporate the report’s nutrition advice into our personal eating habits when it comes out every five years. This time, the government suggests we abandon diets that glorify or shun single foods and nutrients (think butter, eggs, fat and fiber – past years’ targets) and shift our attention to overall eating patterns, or the sum total of what, how often and how much we eat, as well as what we eat it with.

Why the move away from “good food/bad food” diets? For one, nutrition science is continually evolving and we are learning from our mistakes. Back in the 1980s, for instance, the guidelines told us to cut back on “bad fats” to lower our risk of heart disease – the No. 1 cause of death for Americans. But people who followed that recommendation filled the void on their plates with simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, bagels and fat-free cookies. In time, we learned those foods weren’t any better for our hearts (or waistlines) than the high-fat fare they replaced.

So in 2000, we tried again. The guidelines issued that year redeemed fats – as long as they were “good fats.” This recommendation was based on newer research linking populations that regularly ate olive oil, avocados and almonds with a lower incidence of heart disease. We followed suit, dipping our bread in olive oil, adding sliced avocado to our burgers and making almonds our go-to snack. But so far, the only thing that has improved is sales of those foods. Our single-minded pursuit of the perfect food (or fat) to fight heart disease has kept us from seeing everything else that contributes to its lower rates in people with different dietary patterns.

Now, after spending more than two decades rationing just three eggs into our weekly menus, we’re being told cholesterol isn’t as bad for us as we once thought. Does that mean it’s time to order the broiled lobster tail with drawn butter to celebrate?

Not so fast.

What it means is precisely what the latest Dietary Guidelines concluded: When it comes to diet, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Put another way, when you eat foods together, their health benefits are greater than a single food could produce on its own. For example, eating eggs every day can lower your risk of heart disease if you are also eating plenty of vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, whole grains, fish and olive oil. On the other hand, eating eggs every day along with regular servings of fatty meats, refined grains and excess sodium from highly-processed foods can increase that risk. That’s because the connection to heart disease isn’t just about the eggs – it’s also about everything else we consume with them.

Another advantage of adopting a healthy dietary pattern is that the benefits are cumulative, like compounded interest. So, people who have been eating a Mediterranean-style pattern all their lives, for instance, get an immediate return on investment by meeting their nutritional needs early in life to support optimal growth and development. Later, they receive a long-term dividend by preventing, or greatly reducing, their risk of suffering from the noncommunicable diseases of adulthood, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, macular degeneration and the ubiquitous heart disease. But this payoff requires making consistent contributions to your healthy eating plan, just like building retirement wealth depends on making consistent contributions to your 401K. Both are more effective the sooner you get started.

Choosing a healthy dietary pattern over a diet also leaves more room for the occasional holiday food exemption. (Sorry, but weekends don’t count as “occasional.”) That approach is different from the can-eat-can’t-eat diet style, in which we’re open to every loophole that might give us a free pass. Have you ever rushed off to work without eating breakfast so you feel entitled to partake in the office pastries? How about arriving home from work too tired to chop vegetables, so you eat pizza (without a salad) for dinner? What about the Sunday you finally get the whole family together for brunch and end up eating eggs benedict and a Belgian waffle to celebrate? You get the picture: Food choices can change with the seasons, but a dietary pattern remains the same.

Convinced yet? If so, the highly regarded Mediterranean and DASH  plans are a great place  to start. Those patterns offer the best of what is known about the food-health connection when put together right, so you won’t have to upgrade to something new in another five years. You also won’t have to worry about getting caught up in the next fad diet that promises to solve all your health and weight issues because history has shown us they don’t work in the long term. Think gluten-free, low-glycemic index, high-protein, low-carb, antioxidant-rich, paleo and probiotic diets, to name a few. It’s time to move on something more sustainable.

You can start transitioning to a healthier pattern by following some of these simple tips. The goal is to make the right choice a habit so it becomes your default option.

  • Eat at least one piece of whole fruit daily.
  • Order “whole wheat” as your bread choice for sandwiches, toast and pizza crust.
  • Choose fish over meat or poultry for an entree at least once a week.
  • Drink one full glass of water with each meal.
  • Add a layer of fresh or grilled vegetables to every sandwich.
  • Use nuts or seeds instead of croutons on salad.
  • Make chili with more beans and less (or no) meat.
  • Have brown rice with all Chinese takeout.
  • Include some vegetables whenever you grill.
  • Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in cooking and baking.
  • Make your meat portions no larger than the palm of your hand.
  • Choose vegetables to top pizza, fill an omelet, stuff a potato or stretch a soup.
  • Keep hummus, salsa and sliced vegetables on hand as your go-to snack.
  • Be more inclusive of fruits and vegetables by including fresh, frozen, canned and dried varieties in your repertoire.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and cultural anthropologist who has spent her 30-plus year career counseling, teaching and writing about food, nutrition and health. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food choices possible in their everyday lives. You can read her blog at www.EverydayRD.com and follow her on Twitter at@EverydayRD.

Low calorie sweeteners are an aid to weight loss, not weight gain

What 22,000 Adults Had to Say About Low-Calorie Sweeteners and Weight Loss

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

Research on regular users of low-calorie sweeteners has found they have better diets than nonusers. If that isn’t incentive to use them, I don’t know what is! Of course, adding a low-calorie sweetener to your coffee isn’t all it takes to become healthy and thin, but studies show it can be part of a healthy lifestyle for many people and helps them reach their goals. And that’s exactly what the latest study by researchers Adam Drewnowski and Colin Rehm at the University of Washington found.

Since other research has reported an association between low-calorie sweeteners and obesity by simply looking at who was using them and their weight classification, Drewnowski and Rehm wanted to answer the question, “What came first, the weight gain or the use of low-calorie sweeteners?”

In their study, they went back 10 years to see peoples’ weight histories and their intent, or motivation, to lose weight during that time. What they found is the use of low-calorie sweeteners was common among people who were experiencing weight fluctuations and who were trying to return to a lower weight. In fact, nearly one-third of adults trying to lose or maintain weight used low-calorie sweetened products.

As anyone who has lost weight knows, it is easy to regain. When that starts to happen, there is a tendency to resume the weight loss strategies that helped in the past, like using low-calorie sweeteners. Even people experiencing weight gain for the first time and those with the early warning signs of diabetes may decide to use low-calorie sweeteners as a first step to reduce their caloric intake or added sugars in their diet. In both these examples, the low-calorie sweetener was selected after the problem of weight gain or prediabetes was identified, not the other way around.

Asking the Right Questions

Here’s how the study was done.

Information was collected from more than 22,000 adults about their use of low-calorie sweeteners in the past 24 hours, their intent to lose or maintain weight over the past 12 months and their 10-year weight history. Height and weight records were used to classify the participants as normal weight, overweight or obese during the period under investigation and a questionnaire was completed to determine if they had been diagnosed with diabetes.

Drawing the Right Conclusions

What the researchers found was the use of low-calorie sweeteners was associated with self-reported intention to lose weight during the previous 12 months, indicating it was a strategy being selected to help with weight loss.   They also found those who reported they were trying to lose or maintain weight during the past 12 months were much more likely to use low-calorie sweeteners, and  this was true for participants at any weight, not just those who were overweight or obese. This finding provides the strongest evidence yet that low-calorie sweeteners do not cause weight gain, but are chosen to help prevent it.

They also found those who reported they were trying to lose or maintain weight during the past 12 months were much more likely to use low-calorie sweeteners.

A final conclusion drawn from this research, based on the analysis of the 10-year weight change data, is that obese individuals may have switched to diet beverages made with low-calorie sweeteners after they gained weight.  This supports the possibility that use of low-calorie sweeteners may be a useful “marker” to identify people have experienced weight gain and are trying to reduce it.

What Does This Mean For You?

We now have better evidence than ever that low-calorie sweeteners are deliberately chosen by individuals as a weight management strategy and do not contribute to weight gain. Using low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar is a simple step anyone can take to help reduce their caloric intake as part of a healthy lifestyle.

 

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.

  

Vacation weight gain can lead to creeping obesity

The Spring Break Souvenir Nobody Wants

This post was originally written for TheSkinnyOnLowCal.org.

When college students return to campus after their winter break most of them can’t tell you exactly when they’ll be taking their final exams, but they all know the dates for spring break. Reservations are booked long before anyone cracks open a book at the start of the semester. Escaping to someplace tropical for fun in the sun is standard fare, but for many there is a souvenir that can linger long after the tan marks have faded. It’s called creeping obesity.

Just like holiday weight gain that isn’t lost from one year to the next, weight gained while on vacation can contribute to creeping obesity – or gradual weight gain over time – if those extra pounds aren’t lost when you get home.  A recent study found the average weight gain for vacations of one to three weeks was .7 pounds, with some subjects gaining as much as 7 pounds.

Another finding in that study was that weight was gained despite the slight increase in physical activity reported during vacations. Apparently snorkeling and beach volleyball aren’t enough to offset the increased caloric intake, especially from alcoholic drinks which tended to double while on vacation!

Gaining a small amount of weight may seem like no big deal, but as I said in my book Fighting the Freshman Fifteen, if you don’t deal with the ounces they’ll turn into pounds by the time you graduate.  And since it’s much easier to lose one or two pounds than five or ten, why not make it part of your vacation plans to drop those unwanted pounds as quickly as you gained them?   Here’s how to do it.

Ways to Spring Back From a Spring Break!

  1. Know Your Number– Before you go on vacation use a customized program, like SuperTracker, to determine the number of calories you consume each day to maintain your present weight with your usual amount of physical activity. This is number your baseline calorie allowance.
  2. Step on the Scale– Weigh yourself before you leave for vacation and again on the morning after you return to see if you’ve gained weight and how much you need to lose to get back to your pre-vacation weight. Weigh yourself daily while following the steps below until you reach your goal.
  3. Keep a Record– Start recording everything you eat and drink, and the amounts, so you can tally your daily caloric intake. Keep it 200 calories below your maintenance number, calculated in #1. One way to drop 200 calories a day is to replace sugar-sweetened drinks with diet drinks and to use no- and low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar.
  4. Up Your Activity– Increase your usual time spent in physical activity by at least one hour per week by adding a single 60-minute workout or an additional 15 minutes to four regular workouts.
  5. Monitor Your Maintenance– You can stop the calorie counting and extra hour of exercise once you return to your pre-vacation weight, but continue to weigh yourself weekly. Resume the food records and added exercise time if you see your weight going up before your next vacation.

Robyn Flipse. Fighting the Freshman Fifteen. Three Rivers Press, 2002.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist 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.

 

Ugly fruits and vegetables are still nutritious

Reducing Food Waste from Farm and Fork

This post was written as a guest blog for DiscoverMonsanto.com. You can read the original post here.

The first club I joined as a child was the “Clean Plate Club.” My parents, who had made their “Clean Plate Pledge” after World War II in an effort to conserve food at home to help feed our starving European allies, introduced my sisters and me to the club. As a child, I never understood how the uneaten food on my plate could feed someone in another part of the world, but the message stuck with me. I now know that cleaning my plate was not the answer. Buying crooked carrots was.*

As a registered dietitian nutritionist who has spent my career promoting the importance of fruits and vegetables in a nutritious diet, I was shocked to learn that more than half of all fruits and vegetables grown are never eaten. The perishable nature of fresh produce can explain some of this waste, but the rejection of the “funny-looking” ones has become a major contributor to the problem. As a result, I’ve become committed to educating people about the challenges of food waste and what we can do to find solutions.

Food loss
Food loss is an umbrella term used to describe all of the postharvest food that never gets consumed. Some of this loss is unavoidable due to spoilage or processing losses that occur before the food reaches the marketplace. Food waste is a component of food loss. It represents edible food discarded by growers, retailers and consumers that is avoidable. This includes everything from leaving crops in the field due to their odd appearance to letting carefully selected food rot in our refrigerators after we buy it.

If you shop at a farmer’s market or have your own vegetable garden or fruit tree, you know that all apples are not the same diameter and all zucchini are not the same length. Have you ever wondered why you don’t see that much variety in supermarket produce aisles? It’s a chicken or the egg conundrum.

Food waste
Since the beginning of food commerce, every transaction between a produce vendor and his or her customers has been a closely scrutinized exchange. Shoppers have always felt the need to hold, squeeze and smell the peaches to find the best of the bunch. Sellers have vouched for the sweetness of their fruit by offering a slice to taste and a hint for making the perfect pie. This exchange has allowed buyers to gain trust in their produce vendors (if the results were favorable) and the seller to secure a repeat customer.

I know how valuable this relationship is whenever I buy food in an international market. Shoppers with little knowledge of the best quality standards for selecting fruits and vegetables and no attentive vendor to help them with their selection resort to choosing the best-looking items in the bin. When retailers are left with “unaesthetic” pieces they cannot sell, they stop accepting them in their orders. Farmers left with these “misfits” must find a processor willing to pay enough for them to cover the cost of harvesting and transporting them, or simply plow them under.

The produce industry now uses specifications for many crops based on size, color and weight – not what is edible. These specifications not only appeal to the visual cues consumers are using to make a purchase, they also make it easier to pack melons, peppers or tomatoes into boxes that can be evenly stacked on pallets and loaded onto trains, trucks or planes for transport. And once those boxes are in warehouses, their uniform counts and weights expedite the processing of store orders and the successful execution of this week’s schematic display in the produce aisle

As a result, shoppers have become accustomed to seeing only perfect produce, while perfectly edible, but “disfigured,” fruits and vegetables go to waste. After learning more about the food waste issue, I became committed to finding a solution. It came during a visit to the Monsanto research farm in Woodland, California.

While participating in an in-field breeder chat with cucumber breeder Neschit Shetty, Ph.D., I learned that selective breeding was used to grow cucumbers so they would be just the right size to fit into pickle jars. That was an “ah-ha” moment for me! If plant scientists can do that, I realized they can help farmers grow fruits and vegetables that meet the appearance standards consumers now expect in addition to ensuring they’ll taste great, contribute to a balanced diet and be easy to use in our time-stressed lives. These seed breeders can also breed crops to satisfy the environmental concerns of farmers and logistical requirements of retailers so fewer of them are left in the fields.

For me, that is a win-win solution to one piece of the food waste problem. Another is to use smaller dishes so I can keep my credentials in the Clean Plate Club without eating more than I need!

*The popular baby carrots found on every crudité tray are nothing more than “misshapen” carrots that were cut into bite-sized pieces. This was the brainchild of an innovative carrot farmer who wasn’t able to sell his crooked and oversized carrots so decided to have them cut into a smaller size and shape instead of plowing them under. It turned out to be a very profitable idea since consumers are willing to pay more than double for these whittled carrots than the bigger ones they must cut themselves.