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 ChooseMyPlate.gov 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 www.oldways.com:
  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 Oldways.com).

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

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.

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Healthy Mother's Day Breakfast: Berry Pancake Stack

It's traditional to treat Mom to breakfast on Mother's Day. This year if you're in the mood to stay in, how about whipping up a healthy batch of pancakes to serve? I love a good stack of hearty pancakes.

This Berry Pancake Stack is a colorful, simple and delicious breakfast. It's built from homemade Whole Wheat and Walnut Pancakes, blackberries, strawberries and a drizzle of syrup. With all these wholesome ingredients, it's healthy too.* So you and Mom don't have to worry about spending a lot of calories on a Mother's Day meal--a meal that can easily break a day's calorie budget.

Even better, you can prepare leftovers to enjoy more pancakes later! Double or triple the recipe. The pancakes can be refrigerated or frozen for meals during the week or a future weekend. It's such a treat for me, a more-than-full-time working girl, to have some warm pancakes in the middle of the week. And when you have some leftovers, they're just as quick as any other weekday breakfast!

Here's the recipe. Enjoy it this Sunday with mom and all throughout the year. Pancakes are no longer a treat!

Whole Wheat and Walnut Pancakes
Makes 8 pancakes. Serves 4.

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup walnuts, ground in food processor
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, granulated
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1 egg egg, large
  • 1 cup milk, fat free
  • 1 cup mixed berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries or blueberries)
  • 4 tablespoons light syrup (reduced calorie)

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a large a bowl.
  2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients, then pour into large bowl to combine with the flour mixture.
  3. Stir ingredients together, just until moistened. Don't over-mix.
  4. Heat a griddle or electric skillet to 350 degrees (medium heat). You don't need oil. {If you don't have one, heat a skillet over medium heat. Pour a drop of oil (about 1 teaspoon) into the pan and allow to heat. Spread it around by using a paper towel. Using this technique, you can evenly coat the entire pan by using minimal oil.}
  5. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to pour the pancake batter onto the griddle. When the batter begins to bubble, flip pancakes over. Each side will only take about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and hold on a plate covered with a paper towel. Repeat process until batter is gone.
  6. Serve two pancakes topped with 1 cup berries and a drizzle of syrup (1 tablespoon).

Liz's Tip: Double or triple the batch for leftovers! You can refrigerate or freeze the extras for later.

Nutrition Facts (per 2 pancakes with berries and syrup)
Calories 276 | Total Fat 6.4g | 1.4g | Cholesterol 46mg | Sodium 358mg | Carb 47g | Fiber 7g | Sugar 19g | Protein 9g.

Download the recipe here.

*The whole grains and fruit in this recipe contain fiber, which lowers cholesterol, benefits gastrointestinal health, keeps you full longer and helps stabilize blood sugars. Vitamin and antioxidant-rich berries help keep you healthy and fight disease. Walnuts are a source of unsaturated fats (omega-3s) which can help keep cholesterol controlled too. There are many reasons besides taste to enjoy this recipe!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dried Plums: Not Just Your Grandma's Fruit Anymore

It's no mystery why we're not calling them prunes anymore. After all, what's your first impression when you hear the word, "prune?" Not enticing, if you ask me. But how about, "dried plum?" Hmmm. Sounds just like any other dried fruit. So what's the benefit of adding dried plums to your diet too?

Well, a lot in fact.

They're surprisingly tasty and have many unique health benefits. California dried plums contain many compounds and nutrients that work synergistically such as vitamin K, potassium, copper and boron. These nutrients work together to prevent bone mineral loss, which can lead to osteoporosis.

Dr. Arjmandi of Florida State’s Department of Nutrition says, "Dried plums are the most bone-friendly fruit that I have seen in decades. They are nature’s solution to maintaining good bone health. Over my career, I have tested numerous fruits, including figs, dates, strawberries and raisins, and none of them come anywhere close to having the effect on bone density that dried plums have.” Dr. Arjmandi and a group of researchers from The Florida State University and Oklahoma State University tested two groups of postmenopausal women over a 12-month period. The group’s research, “Comparative Effects of Dried Plums and Dried Apple on Bone in Postmenopausal Women” was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Not to mention, dried plums taste great too. Their flavor is sweet and rich accompanied by a velvety smooth texture. Five dried plums have only 100 calories with 3 grams of fiber and 290 milligrams potassium, nearly the same amount contained in a glass of milk (great for maintaining normal blood pressure). Now that's a power-packed and handy snack!

Even better, California Dried Plums has recently teamed up with Olympic swimmer, Natalie Coughlin, to develop some tasty recipes featuring this delightfully unique little fruit. They sent me some perfectly portioned samples to try and to help get the word out. I have to admit, I've been introduced to a great resource! Check out these selected recipes for creative ways to add dried plums to your diet:

Natalie’s Snack Bars

Natalie’s Brownies

Natalie’s Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Chipotle Tomato Sauce and California Dried Plums

Natalie’s Pizzettas with California Dried Plums & Caramelized Onions

Natalie’s Risotto with California Dried Plums and Radicchio

I can't wait to try this one very soon: Plum Filled Oatmeal Bars.

And there's more where that came from! Click here for more recipes using dried plums.

If you haven't given dried plums a thought before, I encourage you to do it! They're a fresh, tasty option with a host of unique benefits.

Visit California Dried Plums for more information.

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the perks of my job is receiving complementary samples of products or compensation for passing along my expert opinion as a Registered Dietitian. Please be assured that my opinion and review is not guaranteed to be positive solely because I have received compensation. I'm here to help you--the consumer--sort through the vast amounts of nutrition information available to find legitimate answers. This is my primary goal in providing product reviews and sponsored contests on my blog.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, GoodFood Blog!

Today, the GoodFood blog celebrates it's second year!

Time sure has gone by quickly. But I guess that's what "they" say happens when you're having fun :) As is the case when you're talking about good food, of course!

I'm pleased to say also that over the past year we have doubled our page views, now just shy (by only 52, darn it!) of 4,000 monthly. So here's a big "thank you" to all my readers.

I've published just over 200 posts, all with one mission: to demonstrate that eating healthy food is delicious too. Good food tastes good. Healthy food and delicious food are synonymous.

I hope the GoodFood blog continues to inspire you over this coming year to explore new, healthy foods in a fresh new way. I hope it helps to establish a trusted perspective on nutrition and health in the midst of the ever-confounding sea of nutrition information.

We're still growing, so expect more--starting with our header's facelift (what do you think?). Watch for more videos, product reviews, hot topics, and of course, healthy recipes too. I also love hearing from you, so please leave your comments, send your feedback, follow me on Pinterest and join me on Facebook and Twitter. What do you want to see?

I'm the RD by your side and your partner in nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. See you again soon and join me in wishing the GoodFood blog a happy second birthday!

Here's to happy, healthy eating!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Meals You Can Pull Together From Food You Already Have

Have you completed weeks 1 and 2 of the Spring Cleaning Challenge? If so, I hope you have a happy, healthy and clean fridge and pantry. And if you really went all out, some organized cabinets too :) If this challenge wasn't the right timing for you, check back on my previous posts and reserve some time in your schedule to get organized. Keeping a well-stocked fridge and pantry is key to making healthy food choices.

And it makes it so much easier to prepare quick, healthy meals when you have the right foods stocked!

That's what this week's post is all about. I hope to give you some inspiration for some super simple, super healthy meals that you can pull together from "staple" items kept in your fridge and pantry (plus some recipes too). "Staples" are items that make your grocery list each week and are always on hand. When you have certain foods in your home, you can whip up a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks even if you don't have a plan.

1. First, get your grocery list together. I like having a standard list that I can use to check off items I need to restock each week. You can use my "Well-Stocked Kitchen" grocery list or an app, like "Grocery Gadget."

2. When possible, at least plan dinners for the week. I recommend writing them on your family's calendar before going to the grocery store. This way, if you need anything that's not typically on your "staple" list, you can be prepared.

3. Then when it's time for meal preparation, keep MyPlate in mind.

Your healthy meal should include a variety of healthy foods from at least a few different food groups:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy
  • Lean meats
  • Healthy fats

Here are some simple ideas for combining food groups to make healthy meals. Watch how using a simple outline can help you create a variety of different meals! Remember, healthy eating doesn't have to be boring!


Cereal + fruit + fat + dairy
Bran flakes + banana + walnuts + milk
Oatmeal + dried cherries + almonds + milk
Grape Nuts + strawberries + pepitas + yogurt
Bread + fruit + fat + dairy
Toast + apple + peanut butter + milk
Bagel + blueberries + almond butter + yogurt
English muffin + grapes + cream cheese + milk
Starch + fruit + protein + veg
Hashbrowns + strawberries + egg and veggie omelet
Grilled cheese sandwich with spinach + blueberries
English muffin + jam + frittata (egg and veggie bake)

**Download the Breakfast of Champions list for 10 healthy breakfasts!**


Starch + protein + fat + veg + fruit
Sandwich with turkey and mayo + sliced peppers + orange
Wrap  with black beans and avocado + sliced cucumbers + grapes
Crackers + tuna with mayo + baby carrots + tomato and basil salad
Quinoa with salmon + salad + oil/vinegar + strawberries
Salad with mandarin oranges, pecans, feta cheese and dressing + crackers


Starch + protein + fat + veg + veg
Cous cous + salmon + green beans sautéed in olive oil + mushrooms (in cous cous)
Pasta + chicken + broccoli topped with olive oil + marinara
Baked potato + steak with margarine/butter + broccoli + carrots
Quinoa + chickpeas with olive oil/lemon dressing + squash/zucchini + tomatoes (mixed together)
Rice + chicken and mixed vegetables stir fried in olive/canola oil

(The only group this meal plan is lacking is dairy, so I would suggest using that group for snacks).

And here are some recipes that would also fit the bill.

Now have some fun making quick and delicious healthy meals! Here's to healthy eating and a happy spring :)