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.

For the Love of Chocolate

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

What’s the most important “heartfelt” holiday celebrated in February? You get points for knowing Valentine’s Day is on the 14th, but did you also know February is American Heart Month? The goal throughout the month is to raise heart disease awareness, the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Then on the first Friday in February we celebrate National Wear Red Day where we not only get to make a fashion statement, but we can use it to remind women they may be at risk of heart disease and not know it.

I hope you agree February is the perfect time to show our love for the ones we love by helping them take steps to keep their hearts healthy!

Now for a harder question: How can we celebrate Valentine’s Day right smack dab in the middle of heart health awareness month and still be kind to our hearts? One simple answer is to have sweet celebrations, with less added sugars. Both the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend cutting back on added sugars, and using SPLENDA® Sweetener Products is an easy way to do just that!

Recipes for Desserts and Drinks with Less Added Sugar

To help you get started I’ve collected some of my favorite chocolate dessert and drink recipes from the SPLENDA® collection – all with less added sugars. As you will see, using SPLENDA® Sweetener Products in place of full sugar isn’t the only way these recipes are made more heart healthy. They also use vegetable oils or soft spreads instead of butter and fat-free milk instead of whole to reduce the saturated fat content. By making those substitutions and using SPLENDA® Sweeteners instead of full sugar, the caloric content of the recipes is also lowered to help with weight management. And another way you can cut the calories of any dessert is to simply cut the serving size in half!

If you have questions about the health benefits of chocolate, please read my earlier blog about the Health Benefits of Chocolate.

Chocolaty and Sweet Recipes with Less Added Sugar


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups rolled oats

6 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons trans-free margarine, softened

1/2 cup SPLENDA® Sugar Blend

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Combine flour, oats, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In bowl of electric mixer, beat margarine and SPLENDA® Sugar Blend on medium speed 1 to 2 minutes, or until light and aerated. Beat in eggs for 1 minute, or until light. Beat in extracts. Stir in dry ingredients.
  4. Drop teaspoons full of dough onto lightly greased baking sheets and flatten each with the back of a fork dipped in water.
  5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in preheated oven, or just until puffed and no longer shiny on top. Cool on sheets 5 minutes. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

Nutrition Info


1 cup slivered almonds

1 1/4 cups SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg white, lightly beaten


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with vegetable cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Bake almonds in a shallow pan for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring once, or until lightly toasted. Set aside.
  3. Beat SPLENDA®Granulated Sweetener, 3 eggs, and milk at medium speed of an electric mixer for 3 minutes or until mixture is smooth and pale yellow in color. Beat in extract.
  4. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; add to SPLENDA®Granulated Sweetener mixture and beat on low speed until a stiff dough forms. Stir in almonds. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 4 or 5 times. Divide dough in half; shape each portion into an 8-inch log. Place logs on prepared cookie sheet and flatten to 3/4-inch thickness; brush with beaten egg white.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown; reduce oven temperature to 325° F. Remove from baking sheet to a wire rack; cool 10 minutes. Cut each log diagonally into 1/2-inch thick slices with a serrated knife, using a gentle sawing motion. Place slices on cookie sheets. Bake 10 minutes; turn cookies over, and bake 10 additional minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Nutrition Info


1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup SPLENDA® Sugar Blend

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels


  1. Preheat oven to 300° F.
  2. Bake walnuts in a shallow pan, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until toasted. Set aside.
  3. Beat egg whites and vanilla at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy.
  4. Add SPLENDA®Sugar Blend, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form; stir in walnuts and chocolate morsels.
  5. Spoon rounded teaspoons of mixture onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes in preheated oven. Drop oven temperature to 200° F. Bake for one hour and 45 minutes. Cool slightly on cookie sheet. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin.

Nutrition Info


1/4 cup water

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

5 1/2 cups skim milk

2 cinnamon sticks

1/8 teaspoon salt


  1. Whisk water, cocoa powder and SPLENDA®Granulated Sweetener in a saucepan. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook until mixture thickens and resembles a syrup.
  2. Mix in remaining ingredients and heat. Do not boil. Serve hot.

Nutrition Info

Of course, eating a heart-healthy diet is important all year long if you want to reduce your risk for heart disease. Using a sugar substitute like one of the SPLENDA® Sweetener Products in place of full sugar can help you with the goals of reducing your added sugar and calorie intake and with achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
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.


Celebrate Men’s Health with a these tips for a healthy prostate

What Every Man Wants: A Healthy Prostate

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.


Knowing how to maintain a healthy prostate is as important for women as it is for the men they love.  Men with an enlarged prostate gland take longer to urinate, so when out together, women have to wait twice as long at public restrooms. Once to get into the Women’s Room and again waiting for her man to come out of the Men’s Room.

 Focusing on the Prostate for Men’s Health Month

Enlarged prostate is medically known as Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). Growth of the prostate gland is accelerated in men during adolescence and again around age 50. As the prostate gets larger it compresses the uretha (tube that carries urine from the bladder). As a result, the stream of urine gets slower and slower, and the waiting begins.

The good news is, BPH is not a sign of prostate cancer and does not increase a man’s chances of developing it. The test used to detect prostate cancer is the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level. While an enlarged prostate can raise the PSA a few points, that reading is not the best, or sole, indicator of prostate cancer. Other tests musts be done to confirm a diagnosis.

Diet for a Healthy Prostate

If you are following a diet to reduce your risk for heart disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S. for men and women alike, you are helping to lower the risk of BPH, too. Ads promising quick results to shrink the prostate are preying on the “impatience” of those dealing with the problem. Don’t be fooled. There are no foods or herbs that can instantly make trips to the urinal shorter.

What to Do:

Maintain a healthy body weight. A large waist measurement, or “beer belly,” is associated with higher risk of BPH.

Get regular physical activity. Even if weight is normal, exercise improves the circulation and muscle mass, both important in keeping the prostate healthy.

Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Vitamin C from vegetable sources, such as bell pepper, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, has been found to be especially beneficial.

Reduce fat intake. Choose lower fat milk and dairy products, light spreads, and lean cuts of meat and poultry for a lower fat diet.

Limit alcoholic beverages to 2 drinks a day. Studies have shown moderate drinking may inhibit risks of BPH while excess is questionable.

What to Doubt:

Saw Palmetto may or may not help due to variation in ingredients, purity and dosages. If you decide to take it be sure to tell your physician since it can affect other medications.

Zinc supplements or eating more foods high in zinc, like oysters and pumpkin seeds have not been proven effective.

Lycopene supplements or extra servings of foods high in lycopene, such as tomatoes and watermelon cannot shrink an enlarged prostate.

Vitamin D supplements unless being taken to meet daily requirements for general good health.

Beta-sitosterol supplements did not shrink the prostate or increase urinary flow in 4 studies of its effectiveness

The role of diet in reducing the risk of enlarged prostate is just one more piece of evidence that the diet that good for the heart is good for the whole body.

Heart Healthy Foods You May Have Missed

Some Heart Healthy Foods You May Have Missed


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.

When looking for foods that can improve your heart health, many of the ones most often recommended are either expensive, not easy to find, or are foods you don’t like. That doesn’t mean you have no chance of lowering your risk factors for heart disease through diet. The same attributes in those commonly named “heart-healthy” foods are found in many other more palatable options.


Sardines – Salmon gets all the attention when it comes to fatty fish, but sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA you can get, and at a much lower price all year round. The oils in fatty fish help lower triglycerides in the blood and reduce blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms. A 3-ounce serving eaten twice a week is all you need.


Black beans – Oatmeal is recognized as being good for your heart, but dry beans, like black beans, have the same benefits and are far more versatile in the diet. Beans are a good source of soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and keeps it from being absorbed. They are also rich in phytonutrients, like flavonoids, that can inhibit the clumping of platelets in the blood. Eating ½ cup a day can make a difference.


Raisins –Like blueberries, raisins are rich in antioxidants that help reduce cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and markers for inflammation. Unlike blueberries, raisins are convenient to have on hand no matter what the season. Enjoy ¼ cup as a fruit serving daily.


Popcorn – Whole grains don’t just in the form of breads and cereals. Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of polyphenols, a naturally occurring antioxidant, that improves heart health. It’s very budget friendly and a satisfying snack as long as it’s prepared without excess salt and oil.


Milk– Most often associated with calcium, milk is also high in potassium which is maintain the fluid balance in the body and help the kidneys eliminate excess sodium. With as much potassium as a medium banana, every 8 ounce glass of fat free milk you drink is a great way to keep your heart strong.


Plant Stanols and Sterols – These compounds are found in very small amounts in fruits, vegetables, and grains. They help block the absorption of cholesterol, but there is not enough of them in foods to get the 2 grams a day needed for cholesterol-lowering benefits. Daily use of foods fortified with stanols and sterols, such as Minute Maid Heart Wise Orange juice and Benecol spread, is an valuable way to supplement a heart-healthy diet.

Preventing heart disease tastes great!

Every Day Heart Health in February and Beyond

This is a sponsored post developed for The Coca-Cola Company, but all content is my own.

It’s February again, and that means it’s American Heart Month. With all of the health information out there, it can be hard to figure out how to work heart healthy choices into your daily routine. By keeping a few simple tips in mind for foods, beverages and overall health, you can make small changes this month that will benefit your heart all year round.

A balanced healthy eating plan that is low in saturated fat and sodium and full of fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, fish, high-fiber whole grain breads and cereals will help improve heart health. Select from this wide variety of meal options and make heart-healthy choices all day long.

Heart-Healthy Ways to Start Your Day

Simple swaps like full fat dairy for lower fat milk, yogurt and cheese will help start your day on a heart-healthy note. A few more examples to kick your day off right include:

  • Smoothie made with frozen fruit, fat-free milk and flax seed or wheat germ.
  • Ready-to-eat high-fiber whole grain cereal or cooked oats prepared with fat-free milk, raisins or other dried fruit.
  • Parfait layered with cut-up fruit, low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese and low-fat crunchy granola.
  • Corn meal pancakes or whole grain waffles topped with fruit and a dollop of fat-free ricotta cheese.
  • Whole wheat wrap spread with natural peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese with sliced pears or chopped peaches.
  • Corn tortilla filled with black beans, salsa and shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese.

Lunch Time Meal Solutions

Base your mid-day meal with vegetables, then add low-fat dairy and whole grains for a balanced plate.

  • Roasted vegetable salad with turkey, fresh spinach and light vinaigrette, plus a whole wheat roll with mashed avocado.
  • Easy vegetable soup made with low-sodium tomato juice, frozen mixed vegetables and canned beans, plus whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheese and spicy mustard.
  • Lean beef slider with caramelized onion on potato roll, plus Napa cabbage slaw tossed in reduced-fat mayonnaise and a baked apple topped with low-fat Greek yogurt and toasted walnuts.

Eating Right into the Night

Choose lean proteins like chicken, fish and certain cuts of beef and flavor them with fresh or dried herbs and spices for a satisfying meal lower in fat and sodium, and healthier for your heart.

  • Stir-fried sirloin steak strips and portabella mushrooms over quick-cooking brown rice, plus garlicky green beans and cucumber salad with dill for sides.
  • Black bean veggie burger on multigrain bread with sliced red onion, plus roasted half acorn squash filled with chopped apple, honey and cinnamon and broccoli and bulghur pilaf sides.
  • Sautéed shrimp and cherry tomatoes over orzo with crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese and grilled zucchini basted in olive oil, plus kiwi and strawberry slices over arugula with balsamic vinaigrette.

Sensible Snacks for Any Time of Day

Reducing calories and smart snacking can go hand in hand, just watch your portion sizes.

  • Air-popped popcorn, roasted and seasoned chickpeas, melon cubes, unsalted nuts, citrus sections, dried dates or figs, steamed edamame, bowl of berries, banana chunks dipped in light yogurt, nut butter on whole grain crackers or frozen seedless grapes.
  • Select portion-controlled versions of your favorites, like Coca-Cola mini cans, packs of almonds or pre-portioned desserts for a meal that won’t break the calorie bank, helping you manage your weight for better heart health.

Know Your Numbers

Maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce the risk for heart disease, and this requires knowing how many calories you eat each day. But aside from weight and calories, it’s important to know all the factors that contribute to heart health. Be sure to talk to your doctor about lipid levels (cholesterol and triglyceride), blood pressure, fasting glucose (blood sugar), Body Mass Index and weight circumference numbers, and discuss any changes to your routine that can improve your heart health this February and beyond.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist with a focus on the societal forces continually shaping eating behavior and food trends. Her 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, authoring two popular diet books (The Wedding Dress Diet and Fighting the Freshman Fifteen) and numerous articles on diet and health and her high-traffic blog, TheEverydayRD. Today she is multimedia spokesperson and consultant to global food and beverage companies, including The Coca-Cola Company.

Compounds in raw cocoa can be good for the ehart

Does Chocolate Deliver Health Benefits?

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

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, 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.

Have you ever stopped to think about why the iconic heart we see everywhere for Valentine’s Day is the symbol of love? I did, and after a little research I learned that in ancient times people believed the heart was the center of all human emotions because it was in the center of the chest. That isn’t a very scientific explanation, but I can’t argue with it since we still don’t have a better answer.

Then I started to wonder how chocolate become part of the “love story.” If you love chocolate, you’ll be happy to learn there is a scientific connection!

The Benefits of What’s in Chocolate

First, a brief anatomy lesson. The heart is a pump that pushes blood through a network of more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels made up of arteries, veins and capillaries. Together the heart and blood vessels are referred to as the cardiovascular system and its job is to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to every cell in the body.

As we age our blood vessels become less flexible, making it harder for them to expand and contract with changes in blood flow. This can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

Flavanols are naturally occurring compounds found in many plants, including the cocoa beans used to make chocolate. Research has shown that when we eat certain types and amounts of these “cocoa flavanols” they can have effects on blood vessels that may help keep them more elastic and therefore make the cardiovascular system work better.

Is Eating Chocolate Good for the Heart?

Just like any other food, all chocolate is not created equal. Differences in the seeds that are planted to grow a cocoa tree, to differences in the way the cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted, liquefied and combined with other ingredients to make the chocolate we know and love can affect the flavanol content of the finished products. And contrary to popular notions, the darkness of the chocolate, or percent cocoa, is not an indication of flavanol content.

At present there is evidence that cocoa flavanols can be good for our hearts. Studies have shown these flavanols can reduce the clumping of platelets that create plaque in the arteries, and may help protect against higher blood pressure and reduce levels of harmful oxidized LDL-cholesterol in the blood. And further research indicates that what’s good for our hearts is good for our brains!

The only problem is that the science is still evolving on how much cocoa flavanol we need to eat to be sure of benefits, and products made with cocoa don’t always have a meaningful amount of flavanols.

Delightful Chocolate Recipes from SPLENDA® Brand

We can still enjoy the undeniably delicious taste of chocolate just for the pleasure it brings us while following the Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations of the American Heart Association to help keep our cardiovascular systems strong. And when we prepare chocolate treats using a no-calorie sugar substitute, like SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, we can enjoy that chocolaty-sweet taste with fewer calories and carbohydrates from added sugar.

My all-time favorite chocolate recipe is this Chocolate Pudding Cake because it combines the comfort of a mug of rich hot chocolate with the decadent satisfaction of a warm chocolate cake. You might also want to try these Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes. They’re made with ½ cup cocoa powder and are so moist and flavorful that the Rich Chocolate Frosting is optional.

For those who like their chocolate creamy and smooth, this Chocolate Pudding with Strawberries is the way to go. It’s made with skim milk and fat free whipped topping to help with reducing the calorie and fat content. And if you prefer a little crunch with your chocolate, you can whip up a batch of these Chocolate-Almond Biscotti. They’re perfect with a cup of flavored coffee at just 60 calories each.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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.

For more information, visit:

  • Food Timeline: Valentine’s Day Candies.
  • Bultrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, Warnaakula S., Wood A., Di Angelantonio E., Franco OH. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ.2011;343:d4488
  • Corti R., Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Luscher T. Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine: Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health. Circ. 2009;119:1433-1441
  • Brickman AM, Khan UA, Provenzano FA, Yeung LK, Suzuki W, Schroeter H, Wall M, Sloan RP, Small SA. Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Neuro. November 2, 2014; 17:1798–1803 doi:10.1038/nn.3850
  • American Heart Association. The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.
New research provides further evidence why we should prevent zinc deficiency as we age

Today’s Nutrition News: Preventing Zinc Deficiency

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.


You don’t hear much about zinc deficiency in nutrition circles. My chief recollection of it from

undergraduate school was that it was responsible for the a loss of taste as we aged. Fearing that possibility, I’ve always paid attention to the zinc content of foods. (Baked beans, dark meat chicken, cashews, chick peas and Swiss cheese are my favorites)

Now a new study helps to explain why we develop zinc deficiency as we age. This research may lead to a better understanding of how we can continue enjoy the taste of our food as we grow older and benefit from the many other important functions zinc performs in the body.

Reasons for Zinc Deficiency

The research was done by scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. They found signs of zinc deficiency in older rats that had adequate zinc in their diets. The cause was malfunctioning zinc transporters. In a convoluted process, the mechanisms used to transport zinc were disrupted by changes in DNA, and the DNA was damaged by the lack of zinc.

In humans as well as rats, zinc is needed to repair the damage to DNA that goes on in the body throughout life. This study and others suggest our ability to keep up with these repairs becomes less efficient over time while the need gets greater.

One of the most serious effects of low zinc levels is an enhanced inflammatory response. Excessive inflammation is directly linked to many life-threatening diseases, including cancer and heart disease. When the rats in this study were given 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, biomarkers for inflammation retuned to the levels of younger animals.

Given the aging of the population and rising rates of degenerative diseases, the role of zinc in controlling inflammation may be its most important contribution to a healthy retirement.

Key Facts About Zinc in the Diet

Zinc is involved in the activity of over 100 enzymes and needed for proper immune function, DNA and protein synthesis, wound healing and cell division.

The combination of low dietary intake of zinc and poor absorption can lead to a deficiency. Government food intake surveys found the diets of 35%-45% of people over age 60 did not meet average zinc requirements. When zinc sources from both diet and supplements were measured, 20%-25% still had inadequate intakes.

Current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for zinc for people over age 19 are 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women. Due to lowered rates of absorption in older adults, many nutrition scientists believe the RDA for people over 50 should be increased.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include frequent infections, hair loss, poor appetite, loss of sense of taste and smell, poor wound healing, and mental lethargy. Many of these symptoms are also associated with other health problems so a thorough medical exam is needed to make a diagnosis.

People with higher risk for zinc deficiency are those with digestive diseases, malabsorption syndrome, chronic liver or renal disease, sickle cell disease, alcoholics, and vegetarians.

There are no medical tests to adequately measure zinc status. A dietary assessment is the best tool along with a review of medical history and medication use.

Zinc toxicity can occur from overuse of dietary supplements and over-the-counter cold remedies. Signs include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Tolerable Upper Intake for men and women over age 19 is 40 mg/day.

Fish oil supplements provide needed omega 3 fatty acids not found in most diets

Why You Shouldn’t Stop Taking Fish Oil Supplements


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

If this week’s headlines have you thinking you can stop taking your fish oil supplements, keep reading. The headlines and news coverage of the study they were based on do not tell the whole story. But as I’ve said before, it is never a good idea to make a dietary change based on a single news report unless it’s for a food recall, and here’s why.

The research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated whether people taking fish oil capsules had less risk of heart disease and death than those who did not. While the headlines said they did not, several factors limited the findings. The biggest one being that the subjects were not a healthy population, but people who had already suffered heart attacks and strokes. Since most people with a history of cardiovascular disease are taking multiple medications, it simply may not have been possible to tell what impact their fish oil supplements were having on lowering their risk factors.

Key Take-Away: This study provides no indication of how fish oil supplements benefit healthy people, but plenty of others do.

Why Take Fish Oil Capsules?

Fish oil capsules are a source of essential omega 3 fatty acids. An essential nutrient is required by the body, but cannot be manufactured by the body. That means we must get it from food or supplements.

What Types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids Do We Need?

There is not just one omega 3 fatty acid. The name omega 3 simply indicates that there is a double bond (between two carbon atoms) in a specific location on the fatty acid. For dietary purposes, we are most concerned with the types of omega 3s found in fatty fish, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the type found in plants called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

What Role Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Play in the Body?

Omega 3 fatty acids play a role in several metabolic processes, including reducing inflammation, lowering high triglyceride (blood fat) levels, reducing the pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis, improving cognitive function with aging, aiding the treatment of depression, and enhanced brain development in infants. Research also shows omega 3 may reduce the risk of plaque build up in the arteries, inflammatory bowel disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, bone loss, and psychiatric disorders.

How Much Omega 3 Do We Need?

The Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Science establishes the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for essential nutrients for both the U.S. and Canada. The DRI are intended to satisfy the nutrient needs of most healthy people in each age group. The Acceptable Intake (AI) of omega 3 fatty acids for males and females aged 40-50 years is 1.6grams/day and 1.1 grams/day respectively.

How Much Omega 3 Do We Consume?

Eating 8 ounces a week of a variety of seafood supplies about 1.7 grams of EPA and DHA, which is enough to meet the DRI for adult men and women noted above. But the mean intake of all types of fish eaten by Americans is 3.5 ounces per week, less than half the amount needed to meet the Acceptable Intake. Plant sources of omega 3, such as seed oils, walnuts, and soybeans, supply 1.3-2.0 grams a day of ALA, but less than 5 percent of it is converted to DHA and EPA.

Do We Need Fish Oil Supplements?

All dietary supplements are meant to help fill in the gaps created when we don’t eat all the foods we need in the amounts we need to meet our nutritional needs every day. Fish oil supplement are an excellent way to get essential omega 3 fatty acids if you are not eating 8 ounce/week of seafood, such as salmon, sardines and tuna.

Are you eating all the fish you need each week to get your omega 3s?

Smiling older woman hugging her black dog

Pets and Health: Benefits of Pet Ownership

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.


If you’ve tried meditation but had trouble getting into the zone, I feel your distraction. I can’t sit still, block all my random thoughts and focus on my breathing either. But put a purring cat in my lap while I stroke its fur and I’m in nirvana.

This is all the evidence I need that there is a connection between pets and health.

Don’t like cats? Allergic to fur? Sit in front of a fish tank and see if you don’t get mesmerized.

People and Pets, The Perfect Partnership

Human beings have cohabitated with animals for over 12,000 years. Our earliest motivation for domesticating wolves was to make them part of our hunting parties to help track other animals, but they ended up doing much more for us. Ancestors of today’s dogs were soon valued as a source of warmth, companionship and protection.

Pet ownership has been big business ever since.

Now the American Heart Association says pets, especially dogs, may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

The Scientific Statement published in the journal Circulation made it very clear that buying or adopting a dog would not undo the damage caused by smoking, eating poorly and not exercising. It might even add to your stress if you can’t take care of the animal properly. But if you make needed lifestyle changes to lower your risk for heart disease and have a pet, you could benefit more than someone who lives without fur balls under the bed.

A majority of Americans have apparently figured that out on their own. Even though pets require a lot of time, money and effort, they are found in 62% of U.S. households according to the 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey. Dogs are in more households than cats, but cats outnumber dogs since people tend to have more than one.

Pet and Owner, Healthy Together

While the research reported by the American Heart Association looked primarily at decreased risk for heart disease, there are other benefits of pet ownership. Here’s my informal list that is not necessarily supported by scientific studies, but has the endorsement of pets and owners alike.

Structure Your Day – If you are responsible for feeding a pet, providing water and cleaning up after it, you tend to get up on schedule, get home from work on time and go to bed at the same time each day.

Stay Physically Active – Even if you don’t have to walk a dog, you may have to scoop the poop from the yard, birdcage, or hamster habitat; vacuum fur, sweep kitty litter, and pick up toys from all corners of the house.

Source of Companionship – No matter the species, your pet is someone to “talk” to so you never feel alone.

Offer Emotional Support – Being needed by our pets increases our sense of self-worth and their loyalty improves our self-esteem.

Increase Socialization – People who don’t talk to strangers do talk to a stranger’s pet, whether in the veterinarian’s waiting room, pet supply store or walking through the park with a ferret on your shoulder.

Enhance Therapy – Dogs not only serve as eyes for the blind, they assist those with Alzheimer’s and autism and can be trained to detect a drop in blood sugar, some types of cancer and oncoming seizures.

Provide a Play Mate – If you’ve ever purchased a toy for a pet, you know it takes two to have fun! Teasing a cat with a feather on a string, tossing a Frisbee to the dog or trying to get the bird to ring bells in a certain order is entertainment for both of you.

Campaign raises heart disease awareness in woman using red dress symbol and helps them prevent heart disease by learning heart facts

Red Dress Symbol Helps Prevent Heart Disease in Women

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can view it here.


As we all know by now, Michelle Obama wore a red dress to the inaugural ball. When she made her appearance it answered the biggest question since the election, “Who designed her gown?” I’m sure no one was thinking about her choice as a symbol for heart disease awareness in women.

But if seeing that Jason Wu gown was a reminder to women to learn our risk factors to prevent heart disease, it may have saved many lives. One woman out of every four in the United States will die from heart disease this year. Knowing the heart facts represented by that red dress is important for us all, but even more so for African American women whose rates of heart disease are twice those of white women.

What Is Heart Disease?

Any disease affecting the heart or the blood vessels that supply blood, oxygen and nutrients to it is a form of heart disease. It includes hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke (loss of blood to the brain), dysrhythmias (abnormalities in heart rhythm), cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), congestive heart failure (inability to pump sufficient blood), inflammatory heart disease (inflammation of the heart muscle) and rheumatic heart disease (infection in the heart).

These are not just diseases that happen to men or old people.

Heart disease occurs in women at the same rate as men, and at any age, but women are much less likely to pay attention to the early warning signs. That’s a problem because there is no cure for it. No pills, no procedures, no surgery can make heart disease go away. Once you have it you’ll always have it. Early intervention is the only way to minimize the damage and extend the quality of one’s life.

So what are we waiting for ladies?

What Can We Do To Prevent Heart Disease?

The risks for heart disease fall into two simple categories: Risks you can’t change and those you can. Age and family history fall into the first category. Smoking, being inactive or overweight are in the second.

I love this handy wallet card that lists the questions you should ask your doctor to find out your personal risk of heart disease. It provides a place to record the all-important “numbers” that help determine your risk, explains what the goals are for improving those numbers, and suggests things you can do to lower them. One recommendation is to adopt a heart-healthy diet, which is good for the entire family.

Are you ready to get started? With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, there will be plenty of red dresses to remind you. Once you know how to prevent heart disease, be sure to share the red dress story to raise heart disease awareness in your daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts, mothers, and other women in your life so they can lower their risk, too.