Monday, January 31, 2011

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines

The USDA released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines today.  I know, it is 2011, but at least they got them out by the end of January!  The USDA releases the Dietary Guidelines every 5 years.  They are based on the most current scientific knowledge about diet and disease, and they are also the basis for the familiar food guide pyramid (now known as "MyPyramid").  The guidelines are meant to help the American public improve their diets, and the USDA states that this is particularly important now in this "time of rising concern about the health of the American population".   More Americans are overweight and inactive than ever before and we are seeing increases in diabetes and other diseases as a result of poor diets.  These new guidelines are finally addressing the number one nutrition problem in this country which is obesity. 

Two concepts that are key in the new guidelines are that people need to:
1)  maintain calorie balance to achieve and sustain a healthy weight
 2) focus on nutrient-dense (also known as nutrient-rich) foods and beverages. (does this sound familiar?  Those of you who read this blog often know that I love to highlight nutrient-rich foods! )

What does this mean?  It means that as a country we need to eat less, and eat foods that are better for us.  We also need to limit foods that are nutrient-poor.

The USDA has also given some tips that people can use to apply the Dietary Guidelines advice to their everyday lives:
  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free (skim) or 1% milk.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals-and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
These are not all of the recommendations that are included in the new guidelines, but they are a great place to start!  Other recommendations are the same as they were in the 2005 guidelines: limit saturated and trans fats, reduce added sugars, make half of your grains whole, choose lowfat dairy products, eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. 

The new version of "MyPyramid" or whatever means they choose to help portray this message to the American public should be out in a few months.  Let's hope people are listening!   I will continue to highlight nutrient-rich foods on this blog, as well as giving you advice on limiting those foods that should make up only a small part of your diet and your kid's diets = "bad" fats, sodium, added sugars and refined grains!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Marvelous Mangoes!

My children really like fruit and most of the fruits that we eat they liked the first time they tried them.  (One exception to this is bananas, which my daughter liked as a baby but for whatever reason cannot stand now)!  Mangoes, on the other hand, took my kids awhile to take a shine to.  For my family, they definitely fit into the "offer a new food at least 10 times" before your child will like it category.  But now my kids love them and so I buy them often, usually when they are on sale.

Mangoes have been a good deal the last couple of weeks at my neighborhood King Soopers so I have been buying several a week.  I let them sit out on the kitchen cabinet until they are slightly soft to the touch and then add them to a fruit salad which is quite delicious!  If you don't usually buy mangoes because you don't know how to cut them up, give it a try.   It does take a minute to pit them but certainly takes less time than cutting up a fresh pineapple!  Another of our favorite things to do with mangoes is to make smoothies for an after school snack.

Here is my kids' favorite recipe:
Mango smoothie
3 mangoes, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar (or substitute honey for kids over 1 year of age)
1 tray ice cubes

1.Place the mangoes, lime juice, confectioners' sugar or honey, and ice cubes in a blender. Blend until slushy.

Mangoes are a nutrient-rich food!  One mango has only about 135 calories but supplies 4 grams of fiber and is high in vitamin C (96% of daily needs).  It is also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, potassium and copper.
What do you do with mangoes?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Are You Serving One of This Season's Most Nutritious Vegetables?

My family and I truly love asparagus so I am always happy to see the price of fresh asparagus start dropping this time of year.  I will admit that I have not been adventurous enough to plant it in our garden so I have to buy it at the store.  Asparagus was on sale just last week so I bought some to make one of our favorite recipes, a quick and easy pasta dish.  This recipe originally came from Nick Jr. magazine but I have adapted it to fit my family's tastes. 

What's so great about asparagus?  1 cup of raw asparagus has only 27 calories but is a good source of fiber, vitamins A, C, E, and K, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, copper, iron, and manganese ( I probably could have saved time by listing nutrients it doesn't contain)!  It is another truly nutrient-rich food!

Here is the recipe:

Pasta & Asparagus Primavera
8 ounces whole wheat rotini pasta
1 bunch (1 pound) of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 Tablespoon flour
1/3 cup prepared pesto
1 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts*,  lightly toasted

Cook pasta according to the package directions.  Add the asparagus pieces during the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Drain and set aside.

Return the pot to the stove.  Add the broth and flour and whisk together until well blended.  Cook over medium-high heat until mixture boils and then reduce heat until mixture simmers, stirring constantly.  Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the pesto until smooth.  Add pasta, asparagus, bell pepper, and Parmesan cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with the pine nuts and serve.

*nuts can be a choking hazard for children under the age of 4.

You can easily substitute chopped walnuts or other nuts if you don't have pine nuts. 

Crediting information:   Makes 14 servings.  Each serving is creditable for 1 bread/bread alternate and 1/4 cup of the vegetable requirement at lunch or supper for 3-5 year old children.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Added Sugar May Raise Blood Cholesterol in Teens

We know that our children are eating a lot more "empty" calories than they used to.  I wrote about this in a previous post and discussed the danger it poses because our children are not only taking in too many calories in general, but they are also not getting the vital nutrients that they need.  Now a new study has shown that all of the added sugar in the average teen's diet may also increase their risk of heart disease.

This study, which was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found the same results in teens that they had previously found in adults.  That is, those teens whose diets contained the most added sugar also had the worst cholesterol profiles. The more sugar in the diet, the higher the LDL ("bad" cholesterol") and the lower the HDL ("good" cholesterol) levels were in these teens. The problem is that these poor cholesterol profiles could raise their heart disease risk in the future. 

What can we do?  Again, it comes down to feeding our children and teens more whole, unprocessed foods and limiting foods with added sugars.  Teaching children and teens about the importance of eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods can help them develop good habits for the future.  Encourage the youngsters in your life to replace the sugary sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks with water!  Limiting processed foods with added sugar such as candy, cakes, and sugary cereals is another important step they can take to decrease the sugar in their diets.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Are you sodium savvy?

I recently posted about the importance of limiting sodium in your diet.  So today I though I would post a link to a fun quiz from the University of Nebraska extension office that you can  take to test your sodium knowledge!  At the end of the quiz, there are also some more tips for limiting sodium in your diet.  Some of were tips I already gave you, but there are some additional tips and also some more resources for you!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Produce washes, necessary or not?

I had a provider ask me recently if produce washes (such as Fit fruit and vegetable wash) are really necessary.  The answer is "no" if your goal is remove pesticide residues from your produce.  Studies have shown that plain water is just as effective at removing pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.  The key though is to scrub the produce while holding it under running water to do the most effective job. 

If it is the bacteria on produce you are concerned about, you still don't need to buy a produce wash.  You can make your own vinegar solution which has been shown to be effective in decreasing bacteria levels from the surface of fruits and vegetables.  Experts recommend washing the produce with a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water and then rinsing with plain water.  Using dishwashing soap or other soap to clean your produce is not recommended since it is not meant for human consumption.

One more thing to keep in mind is that even produce that you will be peeling (such as cantaloupe) needs to be washed first because bacteria on the outer rind can get inside on the part you do eat when you are cutting it.  There have been several instances of Salmonella outbreaks involving cantaloupe so I always make sure that I wash cantaloupe and other melons before I slice them. 

Finally, since water (or anything else) cannot get rid of pesticide residue inside the rind or in the flesh of fruits or vegetables I always try to buy organic produce when I will be eating the rind or the entire leaf (such as cucumbers or lettuce).  The Environmental Working Group also has a guide to the "dirty dozen" list of fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides in them.  If you find that buying the organic version for all of your produce is too costly, buying the organic option of just the 12 fruits and vegetables on this list will help you avoid quite a lot of pesticides.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More evidence of possible harm from energy drinks!

You may be familiar with energy drinks such as Red Bull, 5 hour energy, or Monster.  These drinks are often carbonated and contain a mix of sugar, caffeine, added vitamins, and various herbal stimulants (such as ginseng).  These drinks have been targeted at young adults, athletes and anyone who needs a "pick me up".  Unfortunately, there have been some tragic side effects of consuming these drinks such as the incident of Four Loko drinks (which contain alcohol in addition to caffeine) leading to deaths in students consuming them. 

Now there is some emerging evidence that consuming energy drinks before the age of 25 can lead to anxiety, depression and addictive behavior later in life.  According to Dr. Conrad Woolsey, the professor who is researching the drinks, the problem isn't just that the drinks are packed with sugar and caffeine, but that they also contain additives and herbal ingredients that may not be safe.  He believes that these additives are what can overstimulate the production of stress neurotransmitters in young consumers and lead to future problems.

I am sad to say that I see young children and young adults drinking these beverages quite frequently.  I have never thought that this was a good idea due to the unnecessary calories from sugar and the added caffeine found in these drinks.  Now it seems that energy drinks may be detrimental to young bodies for other reasons too.  Just one more reason to steer our children away from this stuff!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Lowering Sodium Intakes

You may have noticed that recipes that I share on this blog, and the most of the recipes that are posted on the Wildwood website call for lower sodium ingredients when possible.  This is because the average American gets too much sodium in their diet.  While sodium does have some important roles in the body such as controlling fluid balance, as well as maintaining blood volume, too much has a negative impact on most people.  It is especially important that we help children limit their sodium intake.  Not only have foods high in sodium been linked with increased intake of sugary drinks, a recent study showed that eating smaller amounts of salt each day as a teenager could reduce high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke in adulthood.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day for most people, while the average person gets more than 5 times this amount!  Interestingly enough, the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker. 

Cooking from "scratch" at home can greatly decrease the amount of sodium in your meals.  If you are not quite a "scratch" cooker, you can still decrease the amount of sodium that you serve by choosing lower sodium varieties of canned or packaged foods.  You will also find that as you decrease the amount of sodium in your food, you will be happy with less.  I follow a fairly low-sodium diet and when I try foods that I used to think were seasoned appropriately, they are too salty to me now. 

Here are some more tips for cutting back on sodium:
  • Buy fresh and frozen vegetables with "no added salt" or added sauce.
  • Buy canned vegetables that are the "no added salt" variety. 
  • Rinsing and draining canned vegetables such as beans can also greatly reduce the sodium level.
  • Canned tomato sauce is usually high in sodium, substitute tomato puree for a lower sodium pick.
  • Use fresh meat, poultry and fish rather than the canned or processed varieties (such as smoked, cured or deli meats)
  • Make homemade soups and broths so you can control the amount of salt that is added.  Or at least look for "low sodium" varieties of packaged broth and soup.  When adding salt to soups or casseroles, add it at the end to prevent adding too much.
  • Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.  Or use half the salt that you usually do and substitute a herb blend (such as Mrs. Dash) for the other half.
  • Cut back on convenience foods such as instant flavored rice and pasta, or instant oatmeal packets. 
  • Always read food labels because some foods can be unexpectedly high in sodium such as breakfast cereals and bread.
  • Packaged bread crumbs can be high in sodium.  Try a lower sodium variety such as matzo meal or panko, or make your own!
  • Limit the amounts of condiments that you use or look for lower sodium varieties (soy sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings).  You can also find recipes on the web in many places to "make your own" condiments such as chili sauce, etc that will have less sodium than the packaged varieties.  I have also had great success in substituting tomato puree for part of the ketchup in some recipes.
Go to the Wildwood website recipe page to find our recipe for a lower sodium version of Spanish rice mix (using bulgur), a recipe for seasoned noodles with less sodium than the packaged kind, and a seasoning mix for tacos that is lower in sodium than the packaged mixes you can buy.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

We had a "stay at home" New Year's Eve this year. My husband, kids and I hung out at home and had a little party.  We played some board games and watched a movie until it was time to watch the ball drop. We have done this since my kids were little and we really enjoy our annual tradition. Sometimes my kids invite friends over, sometimes it is just family. My kids love our annual party because I let them choose some foods that they don't get to eat very often. We had an assortment of dips this year with raw vegetable sticks and chips(!) ~they rarely get to eat chips so this is a real treat for them. I made my homemade onion dip as usual (I prefer to make my own and avoid all of the extra sodium in the onion soup mix variety). We also had guacamole and I tried a new hummus recipe too.  I have several hummus recipes that I love, but I wanted to try this new recipe because it included the addition of healthy walnuts. (Walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, potassium, magnesium and folate).   I am glad to report that the dip was a success, quite tasty!  Here is the recipe:

Zesty Walnut Hummus (from
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1 can (19oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup Italian dressing
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

In a blender or food processor; puree walnuts, chickpeas, salad dressing and cayenne pepper together until smooth.

Crediting information: Makes 19 servings.  Each serving is creditable for 1 meat/meat alternate at snack for 1-5 year old children.  Serve with carrot sticks, celery sticks and/or whole grain crackers for a complete snack.