Thursday, February 27, 2014

Smart Snacking and a Happy, Healthy Heart

You may know that February is American Heart Month. Here’s a lesser-known fact: smart snacking can be healthy for your heart. Smart snack choices between meals help keep your metabolism going and help you eat less at mealtimes, enabling you to more effectively manage your weight. This is important news for Americans since heart disease is our number one killer, and about 70% of of our population is overweight or obese. 

Although Heart Month is drawing to a close, there are some important year-round considerations when it comes to heart-healthy snacking, so learn your A, B, Cs—and Ds and Es, too! Click here for my Smart Snacking blog post on where you'll learn which snacks to choose to keep your heart healthy and your waistline trim. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Score Big with Small Bites for the Big Game!

Sports fans wait all season to enjoy the festivities of the Big Game. Sure, it's really about the football, but you can't deny looking forward to traditional game day eats, can you? Whether you’re heading to the Big Apple or throwing your own bash, you’ll be faced with the annual temptation of snacks and drinks ranging from wings, chips and dips to sweets, beer and more. According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans will consume 30 million pounds of snacks on Super Bowl Sunday. That breaks down to about 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat per person!

Follow my Game Day Host Playbook to help your armchair quarterbacks save hundreds of calories. Stay on trend with tapas-style portions of your favorite snacks and calorie-saving swaps—all without losing that game day spirit! Click here to check out my article on Yahoo! that features ideas for mini versions of your favorites and simple swaps to slash calories.

The big Game Day celebration doesn’t have to cost you your entire calorie bank! Make some smart substitutions and you and your guests won’t feel like they’ve missed a play.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Avocados: 12 Reasons to Love Them

During the holiday season, it sure can be tempting to overindulge in foods that don't give you a lot of bang-for-your-buck when it comes to nutrition. I have a few favorites myself. As long as you don't overdo it, that's part of what makes the holidays special! Just don't forget that holiday events don't last the entirety of November and December. That means there are plenty of other days and meals to think about! In the spirit of sticking with your health goals this season, I thought I'd share some fun info (and recipes) about a very special fruit: the avocado. Doesn't have a holiday ring to you? Well it is green...

The 12 Reasons to Love Avocados All Year Long

1. One-fifth of a medium avocado contains only 50 flavor-packed calories. They're one of my favorite ways to add some pizazz to the season-less sandwich or wrap.

2. Avocados contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (antioxidants) to enhance the nutrient quality of your diet and promote health. Nutrients include folate, potassium, vitamin C and also lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids) which research suggests may help maintain eye health as we age. 

3. Avocados are one of the few fats that contain fiber--a whopping 8% of the Daily Value per 1-ounce serving. That's about 2 grams. A powerful punch!

4. Avocados can be one of baby's first foods. Their smooth, creamy, easily mashable consistency makes them the perfect addition to your toddler's tray table when they're ready for baby food. 

5. Avocados are members of the fats category--and are the "good" ones at that. They are a natural source of unsaturated fats, containing 3 grams monounsaturated fat and 0.5 grams polyunsaturated fat per 1-ounce serving. According to the American Heart Association, monounsaturated fats can help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol in your blood when used as a replacement for saturated fats. 

6. Following a heart healthy diet? Avocados have no cholesterol and only 1 gram saturated fat per 1-ounce serving. 

7. Avocados, as a fat, are a nutrient-booster for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which require fat for absorption. Remember, all fats aren't "bad!"

8. Avocados have no sodium. Use them as part of a well-balanced diet that can help lower blood pressure. 

9. Avocados contain less than 1 gram of sugar per serving. Perfect for just about any meal plan. 

10. If your goal is to lose or maintain your weight, a moderate amount of fat is important to stay satisfied and fueled. It's also important to add the type of fat that does a body good. You might know what I'm getting at avocado! 

11. Swap a 1-ounce portion of avocado (1/5 an avocado or 3 thin slices) for a slice of cheese on your next sandwich and save about 60 calories, 5 grams fat, 5.5 grams saturated fat and 175 mg sodium. What does that mean? The potential of having more success in weight loss and lowering cholesterol.

12. True or false: Storing an avocado after it has been cut will cause it to turn brown. False! You can keep your cut avocado nice and green by following these simple storage tips.

Are you filled up on facts and ready to add avocados to your diet? Reap the benefits and amp up the flavor of your food with these easy avocado recipes: 

Bulgur Salad: My spin on tabbouleh salad with sliced avocado
Fish Tacos with Mango Avocado Salsa: Cool, creamy avocado complements slightly spicy fish perfectly
Avocado Tomatillo Salsa: The perfect green salsa. Try this one for a unique holiday appetizer!

When you know all the benefits and how easy it is to use them, it's easy to love an avocado! You don't have to wait until summer. Start now! Can you make a simple swap?

For more information, tips and recipes, visit the fabulous Love One Today website.

Although I did receive financial compensation for writing this post, all views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely and entirely my own and based on my own unique experiences. For nutrition information on avocados, please be sure to visit the website.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Make Each Day Mediterranean!

When I hear the word "Mediterranean," my mind conjures up visions of a coastal countryside and wonderful Italian and Greek-style food. My mouth almost starts watering just thinking about pasta dishes, breads, vegetables, herbs, olives, oils and nuts. The simplicity of the cooking and wholesome, natural ingredients might be what I like the best. Not only is the Mediterranean way of eating delicious, it's also very healthy and has received a lot of attention over recent years for its benefits to weight management and heart health.

May just happens to be Mediterranean Diet month. Even though we're reaching the end of the month, it's a great time to make some adjustments to your diet for good. Don’t get too concerned about the word “diet” in the title – the Mediterranean Diet is more so a lifestyle change and a shift in the types and amounts of foods typically consumed, as well as other lifestyle modifications. It's a healthy way of eating and a healthy way of life.

Why, you ask?

First, the research. There have been many studies on the Mediterranean Diet. One study of interest, The Seven Countries Study, which was initiated shortly after World War II, examined the idea that Mediterranean-style eating patterns contributed directly to improved health outcomes. This study ran from 1947-1981 (wow!) and examined the health of nearly 13,000  middle-aged men in the United States, Japan, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland and then-Yugoslavia. What they found was that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status; specifically, a reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease (13%).

The benefits of a plant-based diet and unsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, olives, avocados and nuts, are also well documented. Visit the American Heart Association for more information on the connection between dietary fats and cardiovascular health.


Use the Pyramid above to get an overview of the following cornerstones of Mediterranean Diet.
  • Being active and enjoying meals with others is a foundational component of the Mediterranean lifestyle. These lifestyle aspects help keep our bodies and minds active.
  • The largest layer of the pyramid contains fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats and proteins from olive oil (replacing margarine or butter), beans, nuts, legumes and seeds. It emphasizes the use of herbs and spices (not salt) for flavor. These more plant-based recommendations are in keeping with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans too. {Visit for more information.}
  • Fish and seafood compose the next tier. It is recommended that these foods be consumed twice weekly.  Not only are fish and seafood typically lower in saturated fat than meats and poultry, but they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation throughout the body and delay or prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease. Omega-3s can also aid with fetal, infant, and child brain and neurological development. Keep in mind that if you are pregnant or nursing to check the mercury content of seafood prior to consumption.
  • The fourth tier contains poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt, which with moderate portions can be consumed daily to weekly. Although "moderate” consumption of dairy is in strong contrast to the US suggestions of 3 servings of low-fat dairy each day, research shows that the Mediterranean diet pattern, particularly when combined with additional olive oil, can improve bone markers.
  • The top tier of the pyramid contains red meat and sweets, which are recommended to be consumed less than any other foods. Red meats, if not from a very lean cut, contain excess fat and cholesterol. Added sugar gives calories with virtually no nutritional value, which can lead to weight gain if consumed in excess (and they displace other healthy foods!).
  • Beverages are found on the side of the pyramid.  Water is highly emphasized and red wine is suggested in moderation.  *Of course, if you are pregnant, have dependency issues or are taking certain medications, alcohol may not be appropriate to incorporate into your diet. Check with your physician before making changes.

Are you interested in a Mediterranean way of life? Try incorporating some of these tips from
  1. Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced, fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese to stunning salads, garlicky greens, fragrant soups and stews, healthy pizzas or oven-roasted medleys, vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes and delicious flavors of the Med Diet.
  2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, have smaller amounts – small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté, or a dish of pasta with diced prosciutto. Try thinking of meat as a garnish rather than the main part of your meal.
  3. Always eat breakfast. Start your day with fiber-rich foods such as fruit and whole grains to keep you pleasantly full for hours. Layer granola, yogurt, and fruit or mash half an avocado with a fork and spread it on a slice of whole grain toast.
  4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Shellfish including mussels, oysters and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.
  5. Eat a meatless meal once a week (join the Meatless Monday movement). Build meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables instead of meat. Heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices. Down the road, incorporate meatless meals more often to decrease the amount of saturated fats you consume.
  6. Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.
  7. Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt, and try small amounts of a variety of cheeses.
  8. Eat fresh fruit for dessert. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits — from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Instead of daily ice cream or cookies, save sweets for a special treat or celebration.

To determine if a food product meets the Mediterranean Diet criteria, you can look for this symbol on packages. It's called the "Med Mark."

Med_Mark_StampTo use the Med Mark, products must meet these health thresholds per serving:
  1. Artificial trans fats: limit of zero grams (no added trans fats in any amount).
  2. Saturated fat: limit of 8 percent of total calories from saturated fat.
  3. Sodium: limit of 480 milligrams (for individual food) or 600 milligrams of sodium (for meal-type products).
  4. Added sugars: limit of 4 grams (or about 1 teaspoon).

Make each day Mediterranean! Get healthy and in shape by incorporating some of these Med-inspired tips as part of your routine lifestyle.

Download this handy Mediterranean Diet diet guide here (courtesy of

Contributions to this article by: Kelly Houston, St. Louis University Dietetic Intern

Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, et al. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis.
British Medical Journal. 2008;337:a1344-50.
Fernández-Real, J., Bulló, M., Moreno-Navarrete, J., Ricart, W., Ros, E., Estruch, R., & Salas-Salvadó, J. (2012). A mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil is associated with higher serum total osteocalcin levels in elderly men at high cardiovascular risk. Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism97(10), 3792-3798. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-2221

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Am I Not Losing Weight? Top 6 Culprits for Stalled Weight Loss.

Memorial Day--the official start of pool season--is quickly approaching and whether or not I can believe that we're already nearly five months through 2013 (didn't the year just begin?), I'm reminded that it's almost time for summer! I love this time of year. But it also means that, after several months of hibernation, it's time to show some skin. Are you ready for shorts and swimsuits?

If you've been thinking about getting in shape for summer, hopefully you have already gotten a good start. (Remember it's not realistic to think you'll drop 10 pounds in a couple weeks). But after a few weeks or months of watching what you eat and exercising, it is common to find yourself at a weight loss plateau. It can be frustrating. But don't give up! Whether your goal is to lose a few pounds by pool season or you're on track for a long-term weight loss goal, there are six common reasons that people get stalled on their weight loss journey.

1. Underestimating
Most people (sometimes even food experts) underestimate how many calories they consume. Although not purposeful, it's easy to do. There can be several causes for underestimating your calorie intake:
  • Eating more often. Small meals and snacks can really add up throughout the day even if you're not eating very much at a time.
  • Eating larger portion sizes than you think. Did you estimate that you ate a cup of pasta or really measure it? Pay attention to portion sizes and use measuring tools (measuring cups or a scale) to double-check yourself.
  • Not knowing how a food is prepared, like when dining out. Foods eaten outside of the home tend to come in large portion sizes and often contain more fats, sugars and calories than we may be aware of. I can't tell you how many times I've been fooled! You may have to do a little detective work to find the nutrition facts. Look up information by checking an app or the restaurant's website and pick a healthy option before you go.
Recording everything you eat--on paper or in an electronic food journal--can help you be more aware of how much you are actually taking in and it holds you accountable. Every calorie counts! So don't forget about "bites" and "tastes" or "just that one little piece." Read food labels or do some research to find out about portion sizes and nutrition information. Write it all down. If you take in 100-200 extra calories per day, you'll lose weight more slowly than you expect. 

2. Overestimating
It's also easy to overestimate how many calories you burn in exercise. Be realistic. Yes, it may be hard work to jog a mile, but that really only burns 100 calories. Typically a person needs to burn 500 calories daily in order to lose 1 pound per week. This requires a consistent exercise routine along with diet. For weight loss, at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise 5 days per week is recommended. If this is a lofty goal for you, it's okay to start with a smaller and more attainable goal. Start walking a few days per week or buy a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps per day. Just be honest about how many calories you're actually burning and don't allow yourself to eat extra just because you exercised!

3. Poor timing of meals
Food is energy, so that means a person needs to eat consistently throughout the day to maintain energy levels. Start with a balanced breakfast within an hour of waking up, then eat a healthy snack or meal every 3 to 5 hours. It's best to stop eating an hour or two before bed. Just make sure that all meals and snacks fit within your daily calorie goals.

4. Poor food choices
Eating frequently throughout the day can help you stay energized, but only if you're making wise selections. It's not a free pass to stop by the vending machine for a candy bar or chips! Some research indicates that less processed foods can aid in weight loss because the body has to work harder to digest them or all parts of the food (like fiber) are not digested (that keeps us "regular," by the way). So steer clear of "processed," low-fiber and high-sugar snacks, like refined grain products ands sweets--they cause a quick burst of energy that is soon followed by a "crash." Meals and snacks should be a combination of healthy carbs (whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and lean protein or healthy fat. Try an apple with peanut butter, for instance.

5. Misunderstanding of Energy Needs
There is no one-size-fits-all weight loss plan. We are all unique and have unique energy needs. Plus, creating a healthy eating plan that works for life is essential for long-term success. Sure, fad diets will work for a quick weight loss. But it is usually difficult to maintain a plan that is too strict or requires you to cut out certain foods, food groups or your favorites. Start with a realistic plan that you can stick to. You'll be able to enjoy food while losing weight at a healthy rate of 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. See your registered dietitian, who can calculate a plan that's just for you.

6. Inadequate or poor sleep
Studies show that people who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night (or have poor sleep) have lower levels of leptin, the "fullness" hormone, and higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Less sleep also raises the level of cortisol, a stress hormone that can promote weight gain. In addition, recent research also shows that poor sleep is linked to increased insulin resistance--inefficient use of our own natural insulin--which can lead to elevated blood glucose levels in those with diabetes, high triglycerides and weight gain. Bottom line: get a good night's sleep! {Read more about sleep and weight loss here.}

So if you're on the road to weight loss but have found yourself stalled, give yourself a six point check-up! You can easily get out of the rut. If you need more help, it's never a bad idea to check in with your registered dietitian too.