Thursday, March 24, 2011

Breakfast Serial: Part 1

What better way to start a series of breakfast posts than with breakfast cereal?

We've all been there - moseying down the cereal aisle at the grocery store, ready to pick up the usual goods. But suddenly you think "hey, that cereal's on sale and my regular isn't ... maybe I should check it out!" So, what do you do? Do you just drop it in the cart and keep walking? Or do you take a look at the Nutrition Facts table on the side panel first? Or, do you take it one step further and compare the new Nutrition Facts table to the one on your ol' faithful cereal?

I'm hoping you do one of the two latter options. And if you do, I hope you look at some of the following:

1) SODIUM - keep the salt low. Definitely shoot for less than 400 mg in a serving (the table will tell you what a "serving" is).

2) FIBRE - aim high! Try for at least 4 g of fibre per serving. Anything less, and you're missing a chance to pack some serious fibre into your day. Remember - adults need 25-38 grams per day, so get some in the A.M.

3) SUGARS - keep 'em low. Find a cereal with 8 g of sugar or less per serving if you can. Keep in mind that if there's any dried fruit (raisins or even shriveled little strawberry chunks) in the cereal, that will bump up the sugar content. If that's the case, you can allow a little more sugar - use your discretion.

4) INGREDIENTS - READ THEM!!! Too often we skip this step, thinking we've done our due diligence by pretending to read the Nutrition Facts table. The ingredients are important though! After all, don't you want to know what it is that you're eating??

Now that you're reading the ingredients, you want the first ingredient to be a whole grain. "Whole wheat" isn't good enough - they don't have to put the entire grain in there to score that title. Whole grain is where it's at (means you're getting the benefit of the germ, endosperm and bran - that's a good thing!).

If you can find something that meets all of these criteria, you've found a keeper. Even better if it packs a bit of protein to help keep you full.

But, to be honest, it can be difficult to meet all these standards, so if you're stuck, pick the ones that are most important to you and go with them. Or, give up altogether (as I have), and try something else for breakfast. I make a mean bowl of pb&j oatmeal in a hurry:

1/3 cup rolled oats (I use large flake rather than quick to get a little more fibre)
2/3 cup water
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp strawberry jam
1/2 cup strawberries
low-fat milk (skim, 1% or 2%) to taste

Dump the oats and water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir frequently until oatmeal thickens to desired consistency.
Remove from heat and stir in pb and jam.
Top with strawberries and milk.
Eat and enjoy!

Did I mention it hits all 4 food groups? Especially if you have a glass of milk on the side. YEAH!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What you see is what you get

When you come to our place, there's a good chance you'll score some yummy food. However, don't expect much in the beverage department. As I mentioned in a previous post, we don't have juice in the house, nor do we stock pop or much of anything else. When you're thirsty at our place, you get tea, water or milk.

And why is that?

It's not because I shun sugar and all things sweet. It's simply because I LOVE to eat. As a result, I like to get the bulk of my calories from food. When I am thirsty, I drink water (or tea if it's chilly and the thought of cold water makes me shiver). When I am hungry, I eat food. I realize milk doesn't fit into this scenario well, but I consider milk a food in liquid form. It's the purest way I can get it, after all. (And the soy milk is simply a milk alternative for the time being.)

Juice, on the other hand, is not in its simplest form. Fruit would be the simplest form, and that's exactly what we eat instead of drinking juice. When we eat the whole fruit, not only do we get the delicious flavour of the fruit, but also the fibre that comes as part of it. As well, the fruit itself comes with very little or no packaging that requires trashing or recycling. So not only is eating the fruit a nutritionally cleaner way of eating, but environmentally, too!

I'm not saying it's bad to drink juice. I just want you to think about why you're drinking it. (And perhaps how much - it's recommended that you only consume 1/2 cup or 125 mL or 4 oz of real fruit juice per day).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Good Friends & Granola

When you move to a new city it can be difficult to make friends (especially lasting ones with common interests). When you're a kid, it's easy to make friends in school, but as you become an adult, it becomes harder to seek out those good pals.

We've discovered that playing sports is our best outlet for finding friends with common interests. In fact, just this morning we had some friends over that we met while playing Ultimate Frisbee during our first summer in the city. Sadly, these guys have since moved away; however, we still enjoy catching up with them every few months. It's fun to learn about what's been going on in one another's lives over the past while and how much has changed!

We usually like to make some yummy food when company comes knocking, and since they were arriving around 10 am, granola seemed to fit the bill. After a great chat with the girls and a long run for the boys we sat down to some delicious homemade granola with fresh fruit and vanilla yogurt. YUM!

The granola recipe is one from Martha Stewart. This morning I didn't have enough dried cherries, so I subbed in dried cranberries. Oh, and I only use about half the brown sugar and instead drop some maple syrup in the mix. Doesn't take long to make, so go ahead and make some for tomorrow morning :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bittersweet Confusion

A couple of weeks ago I asked for people to share their nutrition questions with me and I want to thank those of you who did so. As for the rest of you ... (cue scary music) ... still feel free to ask! :)

The first question I received was a about diet products, specifically diet beverages such as diet colas (eg. Diet Coke). This is a common question and sadly, there is no simple answer at this point. What I can do is give you a brief summary of what we know, and then I can lay out a discussion about these controversial beverages. Be forewarned - I will be discussing aspartame primarily here.


Ok, let's get started:

What We Know (or at least think we know ...):
About weight gain and food addiction:
Large epidemiological studies (ones where they look at trends in a specific group of people without really interfering in their lives) have shown some evidence that people who drink diet drinks tend to gain more weight than those who don't drink them. However, the evidence is rather weak, and researchers aren't so sure that they can blame diet drinks, the sweeteners (eg. aspartame), or something else for the weight gain.

Some studies in rats (because it's easier to force a rat to eat and drink certain things than it is with people) have shown that sweetened beverages (such as diet drinks) increase appetite and food intake. This has caused some researchers to believe that sweet things make you crave more sweet things, which makes for a sort of food or sweets addiction.

About cancer:
I must confess that I didn't spend a lot of time reading up on this aspect of the sweetener debate, but here's what I have: if you consume obscene amounts of artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame), it may cause cancer. Some studies have focused on the liver and liver cancer in mice.

How much is safe?:
Health Canada states (about aspartame) that "there is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of foods containing this sweetener, according to the provisions of the Food and Drug Regulations and as part of a well-balanced diet, would pose a health hazard to consumers."

Health Canada has also given aspartame an ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) of 40 mg per kg body weight per day. That means that a 150-pound person could have approximately 2700 mg of aspartame a day (one can of diet pop has about 200 mg of aspartame). This means that if your only source of aspartame was diet pop, you could have approximately 13 cans of diet pop a day without expecting any problems (related to the aspartame at least!). That's A LOT of diet pop.

As a dietitian, there are some questions that come to mind when I discuss sweeteners with clients.

1. Why diet?
Why are you choosing a diet drink? Is it because you want to lose weight? Because you have diabetes? Because you like the taste?

If you're trying to lose weight, it's true that diet beverages have fewer calories than the regular versions of those drinks, but there are other calorie-free beverages to choose from.

If you have diabetes, it's true that many sweeteners won't cause your blood sugar to go up, but again, there are also other options available to you.

If you choose diet drinks because you like the taste, well, I guess that makes good sense. Where else are you going to find that flavour?

2. What type of diet beverage are choosing?

Are you having Diet Coke (or Diet Pepsi or any other type of diet pop)? Is it calorie-free juice? Or calorie-reduced juice? Is it Crystal Light (or something similar)?

If you're having pop, why? Is it the carbonation you like? Is it the flavour of that type of pop?

If you're having calorie-free juice or Crystal Light, why? Are you just looking for something calorie-free with some flavour?

3. What do you eat when you have diet beverages?

Do you eat with your diet beverage? Or is your diet drink a snack of its own?

If you're eating with your diet drink, what types of food are you eating? I suspect you're not having an apple and almonds with it or a slice of whole-grain toast with natural peanut butter. Am I right? And why is that? (Hint: think about yesterday's post.)

Maybe you're having your diet pop as your drink with a meal. What other good drink options might you be snubbing in favour of the diet pop?

If the diet drink is a snack of its own, we may have a problem. Diet drinks don't offer much in the way of calories, which is why they are popular with those who want a sweet drink with few calories. Therefore, they don't make a good snack. They don't give you any nutrients that your body needs. After all, your stomach tells you its hungry because it wants to feed your body some good old fashioned nutrients, not because it wants a make-work project. Right? Better off to go for some real food.

Take Home Message:
In moderation (like anything else), diet drinks, aspartame (and the like) are probably fine. It's not likely that you'll sprout an extra head or develop cancer solely because you had a Diet Coke once a day. However, it's important to look at why you're turning to diet drinks and to decide if they're your best option. After all, our bodies are more than 50% water, not Diet Coke. Just sayin' ....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Word Associations

Time to play a game.

This is difficult to do on your own, so try reading the blue words out to someone.

Ask them to blurt out the first word that comes to mind when they hear the word you say.

If you're so inclined, send me their responses - I'd love to know what the "survey says!" (Oh, Family Feud!).

In the words of Dr. Seuss, "here's an easy game to play. Here's an easy game to play":
























Kind of fun, eh? Think about the responses though. What do they say about our society?

Again, please post responses to some or all. If you're feeling shy about them, you can email me instead (see top left for my email address).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rain + Jazz

Last Saturday morning, as I was driving to the grocery store I discovered that jazz music makes the perfect soundtrack to a rainy morning drive. Try it - I think you'll enjoy it. 91.1 Jazz FM comes in nicely in our area.

The morning got even better when I was checking out at the grocery store and the cashier recognized me! (No one EVER remembers me!) She asked me where my cute baby girl was (we usually cruise through her checkout rocking the Chariot or the Ergo). :)

Next stop was the library. I never thought I'd find myself waiting out in the rain for the library to open on a Saturday morning, but there I was! (My, how life has changed!) I was also impressed to see that there were TEN of us waiting. A well-accessed library, I'd say!

Friday, March 4, 2011

What do people think about when it comes to nutrition?

An odd question, I know, but I am seriously asking the question.

You see, having completed 6+ years of education related to human nutrition, I no longer think about nutrition the way most people do. I see food, recipes, food advertising, and food news differently now.

Not long ago, if you asked me if having taken nutrition in school had changed the way I eat, I would have said, "No, I've always been a healthful, mindful eater." But is that the truth? Ummmm ... no - certainly not.

I, like, many a kids and teenagers of my generation drank litres and litres of Kool-Aid. I ate microwave popcorn like it was going out of style, and loved to have gigantic ice cream sundaes topped with every sugary substance I could find in the house (skip the corn syrup - not as satisfying as one might think ...). I thought nothing of eating a row of cookies after school or eating half a bag of hickory sticks. Sure, we didn't drink pop, but I ate pizza pockets for dinner at least once a week, and had dinners of egg rolls, chicken balls, and TONS of cherry and plum sauce regularly (that's right - no veg).

These days there is no juice in our house, no microwave popcorn, no sugary goodies for topping ice cream (though I still do buy ice cream in the summer), no store-bought cookies or chips. I don't buy any frozen pre-made foods, and I cringe at the thought of having a meal without vegetables - it just feels wrong to me (no judgment if you can get by without vegetables).

So have my eating habits changed? Honestly? YES. Drastically.

And that's why I'm looking for inspiration. I am trying to develop a list of interesting nutrition-related topics and I need a little help. What interests you about nutrition? What do you want to know more about? What sort of information would draw your attention? I have a list of ideas I've come up with, but I'm looking for input. So please - don't be shy and don't feel silly. List off your nutrition questions and/or interests. I would love to know what "normal" people are interested in knowing more about.