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10 Reasons to Eat Local

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Eating locally.  We hear about it all the time but why is it important?  Eating locally means choosing foods that are raised, crafted or grown nearby.  Where do you find these foods?  At your local farmers market, farm stands, Community Shared Agriculture programs (CSAs) or even in your grocery store.  Some local restaurants even source local ingredients for their dishes.  A hint for finding locally grown foods at your supermarket is to read the sign or label on the food.  Of course, you could also just ask! 

Here are 10 great reasons to eat local

1.  Help your local economy.  It makes sense, right?  Buying from local farmers puts money right in their pocket.  Money in their pocket helps feed other local businesses. 

2.  Fresher produce.  Local produce comes right from the farm to you with very little to no travel time.  Less handling and travel time mean less chance of bruising or acquiring parasites.  There is also less likelihood that the nutrient content has decreased over this time.

3.  Taste.  Local food simply tastes better.  This directly relates to the prior reason - it's fresher.  Have you ever eaten a strawberry or blueberry right off the vine?  Enough said!

4.  Longer time to ripen.  Local farmers can wait longer to pick their produce because it's not going far.  It doesn't have to be rugged enough to endure the handling and travel time and has a longer time to absorb powerful nutrients. 

5.  Less environmental impact.  There's less gas, energy and resources spent in transporting food.

6.  Promotes food safety.  Local food is less likely to become contaminated by food-born pathogens or bacteria due to less time in storage, transport and less overall handling.

7.  Helps enhance mindful eating.  One of the first steps to mindful eating is selecting your food and asking yourself, "where did this come from?".  When you talk to the farmer who grew the food, you not only know the answer to this but have and wonderful story behind it; this can really enhance the overall eating experience.

8.  Helps preserve green space and farmland.  Supporting local, small farmers preserves our natural green space and farmland.  This is great for air and water quality and also makes for a bucolic living area.  Plus, farms offer a great opportunity to teach children about food and where it comes from which increases the likelihood of them eating it!

9.  Promotes variety.  Farmers who run Commmunity Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs), sell at local farmers markets and to local restaurants, have greater demand and this allows them to raise a wider variety of crops and livestock.

10.  Helps create a sense of community.  Knowing where your food comes from connects you to those who grow it.  Instead of having a single, more detached relationship with your grocery store, you have numerous intimate connections with your local farmers, growers and artisans.

Looking for a farmers market?  Check out this site for a list of farmers markets throughout Massachusetts.  Are you a commuter?  If you travel on I-90, make sure to check out the MassDOT farmers markets located at 18 state service plazas. 

Chocolate's Hidden Bounty

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Is chocolate your friend or foe?  People often describe themselves as being “addicted to chocolate”.  Of all foods, chocolate is likely the most commonly craved, particularly for women.  The winter months seem to heighten these cravings.  Many people also express guilt over eating chocolate, assuming it has a negative impact on health. 

You may be surprised to learn, chocolate actually has significant health benefits.  Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, originating from South America.  Mayans historically used it for medicinal purposes.  It’s ironic that something we often assume to be a an indulgence actually has more antioxidant power than most "super fruits" (acai, pomegranate,goji berries, etc).  

Cocoa improves mood.  It’s rich in agents that enhance the production of various feel-good chemicals in the brain, notably serotonin and dopamine. This means that cocoa possesses anti-depressant, mood-elevating properties.  

It also contains theobromine and a small amount of caffeine which have a mild stimulant effect.  The combination of these chemicals provides the perfect neurological cocktail.  It’s no surprise that some people use chocolate to self- medicate.  And...ahem, no surprise that my children's chocolate has quickly disappeared from their Halloween stash (to no fault of their own). It makes sense that cravings seem to increase in the winter months when depressive symptoms are on the rise. 

Cocoa is also great for your heart.  The polyphenols in cocoa are cardio-protective in two ways.  They help to reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or “bad cholesterol”.  Oxidation of LDL is considered a major factor in the promotion of coronary disease, most notably heart attack and stroke.  Additionally, polyphenols inhibit blood platelets from clumping together.


Cocoa is a great source of magnesium and zinc.  Magnesium is an important and often over-looked mineral.  It’s critical for activating muscles and nerves, creating energy in the body, helping with digestion and producing serotonin and other neurotransmitters involved in mood.  Magnesium is also critical for the heart which holds the largest amount of magnesium in the body.  Zinc also plays a role in in neurotransmitter function.  It is also critical for growth and plays a role in immune function, smell and taste perception.  

So, you can feel great about eating chocolate and serving up the hot cocoa to your kiddos this winter, right?  Yes, but.  Cocoa clearly has some impressive health benefits.  Though, as with most things, when processed and mixed with other ingredients, the nutritional value diminishes.  The chocolate in a Milky Way is off-set by its high sugar & fat content and artificial ingredients to give it a longer shelf life.  

Alternately, pure cacao bars and powder have 0g of fat,, 0g of sugar and 2g of fiber per tablespoon along with the previously mentioned nutrients.  It is the best way to fully obtain cocoa’s nutritional bounty.  Consider using it as a base for hot chocolate or mixing it into your favorite recipe.  Chili and mole sauces are great ways to add some cocoa into your food in a flavorful way.  When searching for a chocolate bar, look for one that has no more than 2-3 ingredients, at least 65% cacao and < 5g of sugar. 

Here's a homemade hot cocoa recipe that's kid-approved: 

Homemade Cocoa

For every serving use:
1 cup or mug of milk (1%, almond, soy)
1 to 2 teaspoons of Cacao
2 teaspoons water
2-3 teaspoons of sugar, agave or honey*
Gently heat the water, sugar, cocoa and vanilla over medium heat, stirring until dissolved.  Add milk, lower heat and stir.  Heat until desired temperature is reached.
Your hot cocoa can be spiced up by adding any of the following during the heating phase:
Cinnamon stick, Orange or Lime Zest, Chile Powder, Nutmeg, Vanilla.

*You can start with less and add to taste - this way you can minimize the sugar content, unlike with commercial mixes.

Eat Your Fat Folks!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

For years, health practitioners led by USDA guidelines, have been encouraging people to cut out fat.  The result has been an influx of highly processed, low fat options that are higher in sugar and/or simple carbohydrates.  We've also led on the assumption that a calorie, is a calorie, is a calorie.  Hence, if calories in are less than calories out, weight loss is guaranteed, right?  This mentality has failed many of my clients.   

The reality is we now know that cutting out fat is detrimental to weight management.  Fat is essential for satiety, the feeling of fullness we get after a meal.  It staves off hunger much longer than carbohydrates and even protein.  We are learning more about how genetics and our microbiome (gut environment) impact weight and overall health.  It's not simply about calories or fat OR perhaps even saturated fat.  Research does support opting for cardio-protective, mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil, those found in fatty fish, avocado, etc.  However, it seems villainizing fat has led to increased consumption of simple carbs and sugar which are more likely to lead to weight gain, diabetes and related health conditions.

This is a great clip from a recent Time Magazine piece entitled "Eat Butter".


Move over big agriculture, there's a new (old) farmer in town!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Farming is hot and farmers are cool!  Who would've thought twenty years ago that farming would be fashionable?  When I was in college (yes, I'm dating myself I know) one of my dorm mates was majoring in horticulture and agriculture and it seemed so obscure to me at the time.  It made sense for her having grown up on a farm and as she put it "being a hick" and all but there was no way that farming was going to compete with computer science and at the time, I was completely unaware of how closely it tied to my own discipline.

Nowadays,  with more insight into farming practices and how they impact the food we eat, we're becoming more selective in our food choices.  Specifically, we want to know where and how food is grown and what happens after.  Organic farming in particular has exploded.  On May 15th, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal indicating that "organic farming is not sustainable".  Here's a great response to that article by the Cornucopia Institute.

Many young college grads and professionals are forgoing the rat race in pursuit of a more bucolic, rustic life on the farm.  Don't be fooled though, this lifestyle is anything but "less work".  It is however a different kind of work; a lifestyle that keeps you fit and healthy and connected to the earth.  In recent history, big agriculture took the place of small, family run farms.  However, we seem to be reverting to our original small scale farming efforts in favor of better quality and in hopes to preserve our land for generations to come.  Interested in becoming a farmer?  Check out this great site, sustainable-live-work-play

Getting to Know Your Microbiome

Monday, July 29, 2013

A colleague sent me this great article  from the New York Times about the Human Microbiome Project.  The microbiome are the trillions of bacteria living on our skin and in our gut.  This article is a little lengthy but Michael Pollan gives a fascinating and in-depth look at the importance of these inhabitants to our overall health.  Learn how our microbiome may influence the development of allergies, asthma and other increasingly common health conditions.  Could we be accidentally killing off one of our greatest defenses with the wide use of antibiotics?  What is the long term impact?  Are babies born by c-section at an increased risk for allergies?  If so, is there anything we can do to prevent this?  Pollan discusses all of this in the article.  He also discusses how our microbiome could even be connected to obesity.  I highly recommend taking some time to read it.


Food Variety & Sleep: Is There a Connection?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ashley Bade RD, LDN, CNSD

A new study out of Penn State is the first to reveal an association between variety in the diet and sleep duration. It was found that those on a more varied diet were catching the greater zzz’s while the less-varied diets were counting sheep late into the night.

While we know that a varied diet is essential for optimal health, this study showed a possible new benefit to including a range of healthy foods. Nutrients that were of particular importance were tap water, lycopene (found in red and orange colored fruits and veggies) and total carbohydrates which were lower in the diets of very short sleepers (defined as less than 5 hours per night). Short sleepers (defined as 5-6 hours of sleep per night) had diets that were lower in vitamin C, tap water, selenium (found in nuts, meat & shellfish) and had higher intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin (both found in green leafy vegetables). While the envious long sleepers, defined as catching at least 9 hours of solid sleep per night had diets lower in theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), dodecanoic acid (a saturated fat), choline (from eggs and fatty meats) and total carbohydrates. Perhaps not surprising, this group was found to have a higher intake of alcohol than the other groups. Finally, the standard sleepers (defined as 7-8 hours of shut eye a night) were found to differ in diet overall with no specific nutrients coming to light in this group. However, the normal or standard sleepers were most likely to be in better overall health with lower rates of obesity and chronic disease.

Research has shown us for quite some time that a balanced and varied diet can offer a range of health benefits such as preventing certain cancers and chronic disease; this new study has brought to light the possible connection between specific nutrients in the diet with the sleep cycle. As the study states however, this is the first nationally-representative analysis of sleep duration and diet and the study notes that further studies are needed to assess if these nutrients have actual physiological effects on the sleep regulation.

Working on variety in the diet is important for everyone, no matter what your sleeping habits are. So until research can shed more light on what diet will yield the best slumber, here are a few simple swaps for adding some variety into your day:

1. For breakfast instead of having that healthy bowl of oatmeal plain, add a handful of almonds for some added calcium for bone health and monounsaturated fat for heart health. 

2. Trade romaine lettuce in your lunch salad to spinach. You’ll still get the great vitamins A and C that the romaine lettuce can provide but you’ll also get antioxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin and beta-carotene from spinach which can help with eye sight and prevention of chronic disease.

3. At dinner swap your typical broccoli or green bean side for a serving of kale which research shows contains at least 45 measureable antioxidant flavonoids- packing a big cancer-preventing punch.

4. Also for dinner, swap out your usual chicken for a protein packed serving of salmon to add heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

5. Change up your usual after dinner treat with a piece of dark chocolate to not only satisfy that sweet tooth, but to add flavonols into your diet, a nutrient with antioxidant properties that research has linked to vascular health.

New Years Resolutions, Staying the Course

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The fresh feeling ushered in by the New Year seems like the ideal time to make big changes. New Year resolutions are set and approached with enthusiasm and confidence for success. Yet even with this enthusiasm, 40% of individuals polled by the Marist Poll did not follow through with their New Year goals.  Another study by the University of Scranton showed that 30% give up their resolutions after two weeks.  So, what goes wrong?  Read on to find out how you can improve the likelihood of reaching your goals.

The #1 New Years resolution is – no surprise here, to lose weight.  Getting organized and spending less money follow closely at #2 and #3.  Regardless of the specific goal, resolutions require behavior changes that can be difficult to make “stick”.  Starting out right can help you succeed throughout the year and even longer.  Here are some ways to do it.

Strengthen your self-control.  Start small. Say no to the second cookie after dinner. Start making small changes so that you don’t become overwhelmed by trying to do it all at once.

Set a specific goal with smaller milestones.  You may want to lose 20 pounds, but focusing on such a long-term goal may make you more likely to call it quits. Smaller milestones on the way to your long-term goal are easier to achieve and provide more quickly and frequently achieved gratification.

Develop a plan for achieving your goal.  Include details for managing any setbacks.  It is important to have a plan to follow. It is difficult to, for example, lose weight without knowing what steps to take to improve how and what you eat. Including details for setbacks will help you power through any obstacles without giving up. It will remind you that a small setback is not a failure.

Create a form of accountability.  Trying to lose weight? Keep a food journal to make you think about what you’re eating. Trying to quit smoking? Have a friend check-in to see how you’re doing. Be creative in figuring out what form of accountability works for you.

Reward yourself!  Remember those smaller milestones? These provide a great opportunity to reward yourself. There are many creative incentives to keep yourself going. A great example is to use money you would have otherwise used on take-out or snacks from the vending machine on a manicure.

Stay positive.  It's easy to get lost in the challenges to keeping your resolution. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed with the negative, shift your mindset. Stop thinking about how hard it is not to eat the cheeseburger.  Instead, remind yourself of how much more energetic you feel. Think about how great you’ll feel when you can run and play with your kids or how gratifying it is to follow through on a goal you set for yourself.

See a counselor.  Finding a great counselor, such as a dietician, can help you stay on track. Not only can they help you prepare a detailed plan for success, they are there for you throughout the process. They can serve as encouragement and accountability, helping you stay on track if you hit a setback!

Remain persistent.  There is no one “right” way to approach a resolution. Everyone is different. The first plan you try may not work. But don’t give up! Prepare yourself ahead of time for the possibility of having to rework your plan. Keeping a positive attitude throughout is vital to finding success!

Is your resolution to live and eat more healthfully individually or as a family? Try these tips from our dieticians for easy changes to incorporate into your daily routine!

Gather Around the Table.  Families that share at least 3 meals per week are more likely to have children with healthy eating habits, weights within the normal range and a decreased rate of eating disorders. Aim for at least 3 shared meals per week- this can be a simple breakfast before the school day or a dinner in the dining room, what matters is that the family is together!

Make Half Your Grains Whole.  Whole grains are a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals that refined grains just can’t stand up to. Make a goal of changing at least half of your grains to whole grains. Choose wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, or oatmeal for the majority of your starch choices to reap the benefit of these super foods.  

Think about portions.  When taking foods from a package, take the simple step of checking the serving size on the nutrition facts label. Portion out the serving size as a starting point for you and your loved ones. 

Please Don’t Pass the Salt.  Limiting sodium for you and your family now can greatly help lower the risk of stroke and heart disease later in life. Start by avoiding adding salt while cooking, don’t add it onto foods and choose packaged products with ~300 mg or less of sodium per serving.

Power Off.  Eating in front of TV or computer screens can take our focus off our meal or snack and can easily lead to overeating. A great way to avoid excess calories is to take the pledge to be mindful of your foods.  When you eat sit away from the screen and pay attention to the taste, the smell and your satiety or fullness factor.

 For some help staying the course with your New Years Resolutions, contact our dietitians to set up an appointment today

Low Glycemic Diet Yields a Higher Burn Rate

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Jackie Ballou MS, RD, LDN

"What diet should I choose to lose weight?" is by far the most commonly asked question I receive from clients, friends and family. 

It’s no wonder people are confused about what to eat to manage their weight considering the number of conflicting nutrition messages we are exposed to on a daily basis. 

From gluten-free and grapefruit diets, cookie diets to cleanses, many diets promise results, but what actually works?  And more importantly, which type of diet helps prevent weight regain after loss? 

While weight loss success is individual, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association offers some promising insights into how best to maintain lost weight.

The researchers looked at how three different diets, very low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic index, and low-fat affected participants’ energy expenditure, or total number of calories burned.  The research also evaluated hunger levels after losing 10-15% of their body weight.  The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate containing foods depending how they affect blood sugar after eating.  High glycemic index foods like white bread, sweets and sugary drinks result in a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar, while low glycemic index foods such as most vegetables, fruits and beans more moderately affect blood sugar.

It is thought that one possible mechanism explaining why lost weight is so often regained is due to a resulting decrease in energy expenditure and an increase in feelings of hunger.  These factors combined set the stage for weight regain after loss--you use less calories than before losing weight, plus you feel more hungry.

Twenty-one adults with overweight/obesity participated in the seven month-long study.  Participants underwent energy expenditure testing among other tests at the beginning, during and at completion of the study. 

After following a diet that resulted in a 10-15% weight loss, participants were randomly assigned to the three different diets. In random order, participants followed each of the diets for one month.  During this phase of the study, goal was for participants to maintain their weight, thus each of the three diets contained the same amount of calories. 

Researchers found that although the three diets contained the same amount of calories, participants’ energy expenditure differed, depending on diet.  On average, when participants were on the very low-carbohydrate diet, their energy expenditure was 300 calories higher than when they were on the low-fat diet.  The low-glycemic index diet also resulted in higher energy expenditure than the low-fat diet, although less so than the very low-carbohydrate diet.  Researchers did not find any difference in self-reported hunger levels between the three diets.  Although the very low-carbohydrate diet was advantageous in terms of higher energy expenditure, when participants followed this diet, body levels of markers of inflammation (an indication of stress) were also highest, compared with the other two diets.  Study authors explained some research has demonstrated markers of inflammation may put people at risk for cardiovascular disease.  Another disadvantage to a very low carbohydrate diet not sited in this study is the increased risk of depression and irritability. 

This study demonstrates the low-glycemic index diet may result in increased energy expenditure after weight loss compared to a low-fat diet, without increasing markers of bodily stress as shown with the very low-carbohydrate diet.  While the study points to the low-glycemic index diet as most beneficial for weight maintenance after loss, the evidence will be strengthened with more research in a larger population over a longer duration. 

Bottom line, the study is promising for sustained weight loss with the low-glycemic index diet, but stay tuned for more research.  Nutrition for weight loss, despite all the seemingly conflicting messages, is a young science, but thanks to well-designed research studies like this one, we are coming closer to evidence-based solutions that work.

Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, Feldman HA, et al.  Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight-Loss Maintenance.  Journal of the American Medical Association.  2012; 307(24):  2627-2634.

Good News for Coffee Lovers

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Most Americans can’t imagine facing the day without their morning cup of Joe and new research is showing that coffee may be better for us than we thought.  Coffee is a great pick-me-up to help you power through the day.  There are some other perks too.  For example, the antioxidants found in coffee help lower type 2 diabetes risk, although the direct process is not fully understood. Java can also help lower your risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.  On the flip side, too much caffeine can make you anxious and jittery.  So, if you’re looking for a pick me up with less caffeine and maximum health benefits, try reaching for a cup of green tea.  Many studies have found various health benefits related to the antioxidants found in green tea.  And unfortunately, decaffeinating the tea causes it to lose some of these benefits.

Read more about how coffee is good for you here. 

BPA Alert!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Last week my husband came home exclaiming that we needed to rid the house of all BPA.  Apparently, he had read a study indicating exposure in utero negatively impacts girls' behavior and mood.  Bisphenol A or BPA is an estrogen-mimicking, hormone disruptor.  The study showed that higher BPA urine levels in pregnant women, the more pronounced the effect on behavior in girls.  They linked it to anxiety, depression and hyperactivity.  The study is summarized here in this Huffington Post article  Huffington Post/ BPA and Pregnancy.  

BPA is found in some bottles (including baby bottles) and plastic containers, specifically those labeled with a #7 on the bottom.  This is very commonly seen in colored plastic.  #1, #4 and #5 plastics do not contain BPA.  Other products that contain BPA are canned foods and beverages - the lining used often contains BPA.  It's also found some plastic storage bags and in thermally-printed receipts (although this one seems less concerning unless you decide to ingest your receipts).  Here are some tips to avoiding BPA-containing products

Seeing that we recently found out I'm pregnant with a girl, this was cause for concern.  Mind you, we have already removed all of the plastic culprits from the home.  I was comfortable knowing that we had at least reduced our exposure.  However, one of my staple prego lunches is lentil vegetable soup which is of course in a can... a can lined with BPA-containing material most likely.  Needless to say, I've stopped eating this and was happy to find a suitable alternative in a carton container.  I haven't looked extensively into the materials used in these cartons but for now, they generally seem like a safer alternative.  There are two soup carton brands that I found claiming to use no BPA in their packaging and those are Dr. McDougall's and Pacific Foods.  You can find these at Whole Foods and Wegman's and possibly in the natural food section at other stores.   

Coincidentally, I also received some information in the mail this week from MASSPIRG indicating that there is a bill in the works to ban BPA from products for children under 3.  The bill is called 'An Act to Protect Children from Bisphenol-A' and is sponsored by Sen. Karen Spilka from Framingham.  To find out more about this campaign and what you can do to help MASSPIRG - Issues

Here's some more food for thought on this topic.  I was giving a training to teachers from several local elementary and middle school enrichment programs today and we got talking about this recent study.  One teacher shared that it's almost impossible not to serve items that are pre-packaged (in plastic and cans) due to health department regulations.  These foods are apparently "safer".  They also cheaper so even in a facility that has a fully regulated kitchen, you will likely find shelves lined with canned and plastic-wrapped foods.  We need to think about how to provide healthier alternatives for children in our schools.  At the very least, the research on BPA will likely impact consumer trends and possibly lead companies to finding safer packaging alternatives for food.  In the meantime, try to minimize processed food and check out the materials included in the packaging of foods you commonly eat.

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