The Red Food Dye Nation

– johanna | May 17th, 2011

Filed under: KITCHEN SCIENCE, NUTRITION, THE BOOKSHELF

Photo by: Hemera / Thinkstock

When our oldest was a toddler we used Burt’s Bees baby toothpaste. It tasted like fruit without the zing of fluoride. A couple of years later Burt’s Bees quit making the baby toothpaste. I made the switch to a kids store brand and was met with constant daily battles to get my son to brush his teeth.

A year ago I was in the toothpaste isle picking up new toothbrushes and a tube of paste for us, mom and dad, when I noticed there was a strawberry flavored toothpaste. I thought, hey why not buy it for the kids. I did not even think about what might be in it. My only concern was stopping the daily “brush your teeth” battle that had been going on the past four and a half years.

That evening I took out the tube then squeezed a dot onto the baby’s toothbrush and was shocked. The stuff was flourescent red. My first thought was “how much sugar did they put in this stuff” and my second thought was “Uh, this stuff is unnaturally red.” Normally I never gave dyes a second thought. Yet, for some reason there was something unnatural about that tube of toothpaste that I just could not let rest.

The question coming up a lot lately is, are food dyes ok? Do they spark behavioral issues in kids and health complaints in adults? Have dyes contributed to the rise of ADD, ADHD, and Autism in the past 40 years as a result of their increased consumption? For years the food administration has given their stamp of approval for the use of petroleum based dyes in food. Dyes that are in everything from cleaners to toothpaste to medicine.

In 2007 a study was forth coming siting the dangers of food dyes. As a result of the study the UK food administration required warning labels on all products containing petroleum dyes. The warning labels advised parents of the risk of hyperactivity due to the dyes. Industry leaders Kraft, Mars, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart skipped the warning labels choosing instead to make products shipped to the UK Sodium Benzoate and petroleum dye free. Yet here in the US these same companies continue to sell products for human consumption that harbor harmful petroleum based dyes and preservatives.

Clipart by: unknown

More recently in April 2011 the FDA held a hearing to once again determine if dyes contribute to hyperactivity. Advocates for the removal of all synthetic dyes from food products and medicines claim that non-food based dyes are unnecessary and cause hyperactivity in children. They gave compelling evidence that linked petroleum based preservatives and dyes to the increased number of children with allergies, ear infections, mood, cancer, ADHD, ADD, Autism, and other related spectrum disorders. The panel, minus one, agreed that dyes most likely cause a threat and yes warning labels should be required.

The battle was far from being won. Rather than give a statement based on their findings, the panel was required to answer a series of questions. Questions devised by crafty lawyers that when answered either way would be interpreted as, “food dyes do not cause hyperactivity or allergies in children.” Therefore, the FDA ruled that there was not enough evidence. Thus, companies were not required to post a warning label on consumable products here in America.

Color is beautiful!

After the April FDA ruling, dye advocates launched a campaign to gain support for the use of chemical dyes. The ads adopted images of gray popsicles calling, “a world without dyes…colorless.” Kantha Shelke, a food chemist and spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists, stated, “Color is such a crucial part of the eating experience that banning dyes would take much of the pleasure out of life.”

Tattfoo Tan believes that Mother Nature has it all taken care of. Tattfoo Tan, is a Malaysian-born artist who resides in Staten Island. He developed The Nature Matching System “as a reminder to consume your [natural] daily recommended doses of color.” Tan wanted to understand the connection between the color of food and its nutritional value. Tan matched 88 natural colors using photographs of the fruits and vegetables found in the Union Square Green Market in New York and Photoshop’s eyedropper tool. Tan agrees “neon orange Cheetos is something spectacular to look at but the nutritional value is zilch.”

So what is the truth?

We know commercial food coloring is derived from coal tar oil, petroleum, and insects because it is cheaper to make; but, it comes with a price. The FDA is confident that all of the toxic proponents in the petroleum is eliminated during processing. They counter the accusations that dyed foods contain toxic chemicals from the petroleum, with: natural foods contain more petroleum from the fertilizer and the means of transporting crops than the amount of trace elements found in the actual dyes and preservatives.

We know that organic natural fruits and vegetables can be used to make an array of colorful dyes. The food industry refutes the idea of using natural dyes. They claim natural food dyes are too unstable, too muted and, uninteresting. They are convinced that no one will want to eat natural dyed foods. They believe that the public prefers the neon orange Cheetos to the pale peach natural Cheetos. The bright red strawberry Jello to a muted brown. Natural food companies such as India TreeSurf Sweets and Yummy Earth are determined to meet the need of color.

Who do we believe?

Voices from Dr. Feingold to Gwyneth Paltrow preach the benefits of a clean whole foods diet void of the unnecessary preservatives, artificial flavors, sweeteners and dyes. The FDA on the other hand in unison with countless doctors, scientists and organizations swear synthetic additives in food are not harmful. I decided to test the theory in my own home on our son who has Aspbegers.

The Test…

For one month we threw out all preservatives, artificial flavors and sweeteners, and dyes. It was very difficult at first because our city does not have a health food store and the kids are creatures of habits. They wanted their favorite foods.

Almost everything had to be made from scratch. Because companies are not required to list the ingredients in the products they use from outside sources I ordered the Feingold grocery list to help navigate the store isles when I needed something convient. Even though the label looks clean that is not always the case.

In one week I noticed a considerable change in my son. He could think more clearly. He was not bouncing off the walls in a rage. He was writing and reading without tantrums. The defiance leant way to a more agreeable attitude. He is happy and still full of life but the regular ticks are minimal.

The real test came on Easter Sunday. The kids ate a handful of jelly beans and for four days they were absolutely out of their minds. The defiance, screaming, and tantrums were back. The other children were moody, defiant and hyper.

I’d say from personal experience the answer for us is clear. Synthetic replacements in the form of preservatives [BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), BHT (Burylated Hydroxytoluene), TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone)], artificial flavors and sweeteners (aspartame and splenda), and dyes are indeed harmful and do cause adverse reactions; especially in individuals with predisposed allergies and learning disorders.

What now?

The next question is, will the FDA ever be responsible and require warning labels on products or warrant the elimination of such harmful chemicals? Nah, probably not. Or at least not in the near future. The pool of individuals sensitive to artificial flavors and colors is too small. If you call every one kid in 28 small. Fortunately there are reputable companies springing up to lead us into a colorful yet nutritious tomorrow.

Links:

–Visit Indie Candy and Natural Candy Store for natural baking supplies including food based dyes.
Eco Kids: for all natural craft supplies such as egg dye and playdough.
–Join the mission for Better School Food.
Spoonfed: Tips to help kids adopt a healthy diet comprised of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
–Natural recipes for dyes: Rhythm of the Home, Natural Cookie Frosting, Natural Colored Rice Balls, Natural Easter Egg Dye, Darling Clementine, Homemade Playdough Dye, Natural Dyed Jello.

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Biscuit 101- The History of…

– johanna | April 26th, 2011

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, KITCHEN SCIENCE, NUTRITION, RECIPES, The Best of DazzleDish

In the South the term “biscuit” often refers to a light, fluffy, flaky, buttery bread usually served with breakfast. In England and other places around the world however, a biscuit is more like a hard scone or “cookie” served with tea or coffee.

The History:
The word “biscuit” derives from the Latin “panis biscoctus,” meaning “bread twice baked.” The history books tell us that the “biscuit” began as a simple paste of flour and water. The paste was baked, removed from the pan; then cooked again in a cooler oven until thoroughly dried out. The result was a hard, portable “cracker” with an extraordinary extended shelf life. “Biscuits” were very popular among the sailors and travelers because they were lite and could last for months.

Meanwhile, the more civilized areas of the world started exploring alternate baked goods. These ancient civilizations experimented with eggs, butter and cream; in addition to, sugar, fruits and honey as well as spices from the Middle East. The first shift from the unyielding biscuits were small cake like confections popular in Persia during the 7th Century AD. During the Medieval Ages the culinary techniques for making sweet and savory cake-like biscuits were introduced to the Europeans during the invasion of Muslims into Spain and the Crusades.

Biscuits World Wide:
Throughout the centuries biscuits have been called many things:
British- Ship’s Biscuit (Hardtack)
French- Gaufrettes wafers,
Jewish- Mandelbrot
South Africa- Rusk
German-Zwieback
Australian / New Zeland- ANZAC (War Biscuits), (Afghan biscuits were derived from the Australian ANZAC)
Dutch- Speculaas (ginger flavored type cookie)
Scotish- Shortbread
Italy- Biscotti
Russain / Ukraine- Tea Cakes
Egypt- millet bread called dhourra cake
Persia- cookies
Middle East- Barazek

In early America the pioneers favored the “soda biscuit” or as the Chuck Wagoners referred to them, “Cowboy biscuits”. Soda biscuits were usually cooked in iron dutch ovens.These were cast-iron pots with lids that could be used over an open fire. The biscuits were were rolled then placed in the pot. After the lid was set in place the cook would layer coals from fire on top of the lid. The heat created a small portable oven.

The “Marlyand”, “Beaten Biscuit” or “Appalachian biscuit” is thought to predate the leavened soda biscuit of the settlers. Before the 1900’s corn bread was a favored commodity in the Appalachian mountains. Corn bread was cheap to make as the corn was grown in abundance locally. The bread did not require a fancy oven or pans as did the “biscuits” eaten by those of society.

At the turn of the century the settlement movement placed women volunteers in low income areas in the South to help alleviate poverty. The Appalachians contaminated corn products or “musty corn” were thought to be the cause of pellagra. “A life-threatening disease similar in effect to leprosy.” Families were faced with a choice to eat the stores of corn and risk death or starve during the winter months. The women hoped to help the Appalachians adopt a healthier diet. They taught them cooking lessons introducing the wheat flour “Beaten Biscuit.” The beaten biscuit was not a realistic choice for the impoverished community. The biscuits required imported wheat flour in addition to a special oven to regulate temperatures; moreover, the biscuits needed to be beaten with a mallet on a marble slab 300-500 times to incorporate air into the dough.

Seeing the need for reform the Appalachains were taught how to make a simpler version called the “Cat Head”. It was basically a Southern buttermilk biscuit the size of a cat’s head. The dough was pinched off, then rolled into a ball, and placed with sides touching into an iron skillet. Today corn bread still remains the chosen bread for many in the Appalachian territory.

Other biscuits from the 1900’s include:
–The “Touch of Grace” or “Angel” biscuit. These are very light and similar to a yeast roll but still considered a biscuit. They were a fool-proof recipe for new brides because the recipe called for two leaveners in case one failed.
–The “Rolled” biscuit- dates back to the late 1800’s. The dough was rolled out then shaped with a cutter.
–The “Drop” biscuit– the dough is the consistency of a batter. The batter is dropped by spoonfuls rather than cut or pinched.
–“Refrigerator” biscuits – arrived in the 1930’s. They are tubes of prepackaged biscuit dough.

Other ways to eat biscuits:
Cream Cheese Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy
Peach Cobbler
Shortcakes
Chicken and Dumplings
Biscuits and Gravy
Scones
Cheddar and Herb

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An Oat by Any Other Name is Still an Oat; Unless it is Instant

– johanna | April 12th, 2011

Filed under: NUTRITION

Oats are a hardy grain able to tolerate poor soil conditions other crops normally could never withstand. It is hard to believe that oats were once thought of as a weed growing rampant among wheat and barley fields. For centuries the wild oat was considered tolerable feed only for livestock; while the wheat berry was an acceptable food staple. The Chinese meanwhile understood its valuable properties cultivating the oat for use in medicine. The oat was not widely consumed as a cereal for still sometime. We read tell of oats eaten in the form of porridge as far back as the 7th century. Oats were most likely introduced into the diet in small villages as a necessity to avoid starvation. The oat porridge was reserved for the lowest of society. Kings and their offspring on the other hand were offered porridge derived of wheaten meal topped with new milk. Despite its humble beginnings oats today contain rich nutrients that substantially lowers cholesterol reducing the risk of heart disease, boosts the immune system, and stabilizes blood sugar levels.

Unlike wheat, oats and barley must be hulled before human consumption. Groats have been heat treated to inactivate enzymes which cause rancidity. It is a good idea to soak grains (1 hour to overnight depending on use) before using them with baked goods or in oatmeal as the moisture ends dormancy. Soaking in essence wakes up the nutrients activating the enzymes to aide in digestion. This versatile grain can be used as groats or its sub varieties, turned into oat milk and milled into oat flour.

Raw hulled oats, that are untreated, may be sprouted for salads. Unprocessed hulled oats turn rancid quickly due to the reaction between the oils and oxygen; therefore, if you plan to sprout oats you will need to purchase hulless raw oats specifically labeled for sprouting. Hulless oats are grown so that the hull falls off during reaping. Thus eliminating the need for heat processing. Sprinkle sprouted oats on vegetables, salads, and sandwiches.

Oats have high amounts of cholesterol lowering soluble fiber, vitamins B, calcium, protein, and are low on the glycemic index. The amount of nutrients lessens with additional heating and processing. From a nutritional standpoint the purest form of nutrients comes from raw sprouted seeds followed by groats and oat bran. There are 6  variations of oats to choose from, excluding oat flour.

Photo: Property of NC Wheat Montana Co-op

Groats:

Once the outer husk, or hull, has been removed from an oat it is called a groat. Oat groats are minimally processed allowing them to retain their rich nutrients. Once processed and if stored properly groats will last at least 36 years. Groats have a nice chewy firm texture and a nutty flavor similar to a wheat berry. Those opposed to the mushy texture of porridge find groats more pleasing. Groats are a hard grain requiring a longer cooking time than rolled oats. It is not necessary to soak overnight however a minimal soaking of an hour or so is beneficial nutritionally. Use oat groats in stuffing, pastas, soups, stews, mixed in an omelet and as oatmeal. Grind groats into flour to thicken soups or replace all-purpose flour in baked goods.

To soak: If you have a crock pot groats may be cooked and soaked in one step (6 1/2 cups water to 1 1/2 cups groats cook on low overnight for 7-9 hours). Otherwise rinse the groats well then place in a bowl with enough water to completely cover plus 1-inch. Stir in a couple tablespoons whey, buttermilk or plain yogurt. (The yogurt works with the enzymes to make the oats easier to digest.) In the morning toss the water and cook according to recipe.

To cook: add fresh water (3 parts water to 1 part groats) to a pot; bring to a boil over medium heat. Add groats (soaked or dry). Turn heat to low and simmer for 15-50 minutes for dry groats and 15-30 for soaked; depending on your tastes.

Scottish Oats

Scottish oats are groats that have been ground into a meal for porridge. When cooled the porridge becomes thick and solid. In Medieval times they would cut the cooled porridge into thick slices then fry them for a hearty lunch.

Oat bran

The oat bran is the outer casing that is removed with the hull from the groats during the milling process. The bran contains the bulk of soluble fiber in the grain. Oat bran is used to make hot bran cereal or as an addition to baked goods such as pancakes and muffins.

Steel Cut Oats

Steel cut oats are groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces.  Individuals who are opposed to the “mushy” texture of rolled oats might find the steel cut oat’s chewy texture appetizing. Replace rolled oats with steel cut oats in most recipes 1:1. Just remember steel-cut oats like groats may require soaking or a longer cooking time. In recipes such as baked oatmeal the oats will require soaking overnight according to the directions under groats. When cooking steel cut oats for oatmeal use 2 parts water to 1 part oats. If you have access to a Vita-Mix or grinder you can use groats and steel cut to make oat flour for baked goods.

Photo by: Kelly Cline | IST

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats are oat groats that are steamed, rolled, and flaked so that they cook quickly.

[To avoid mushy oatmeal never use quick oats. Use 1/2 to 1 cup more oats than called for. Boil the water first before adding the oats. Stir in the oats; turn down the heat to low. Cook 5 minutes longer until tender.]

Rolled oats may be processed into flour, quick oats (process in a food processor until the texture of quick oats) or used whole in many baked goods and smoothies. Sprinkle on top of bread down, stir into cookie dough, mix with hamburger, or make a crust for fish. Toast before adding to muffins to add an enhanced nutty flavor.

Quick Oats

Quick oats are thinner flakes of rolled oats. Quick oats are often used in baked goods for a lighter texture than rolled oats. Substitute quick oats with rolled oats 1:1 in any recipe. Quick oats can also be made into facial masks and scrubs or used to calm inflammation from rashes to insect bites.

Instant Oatmeal

Photo: Property of Food Network

Instant oatmeal are rolled thin but are then cooked and dried. Instant oatmeal comes in single packets and contains additives and sweeteners.

A Couple Important Notes:

Oats contain a natural substance called purines; commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. Purines could pose a health risk in certain individuals. When broken down purines produce a form of uric acid. Excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to a build up of uric acid resulting in a condition known as gout and kidney stones. Individuals with kidney problems or gout should limit their intake of foods that contain purine.

Oats are non-scientifically grouped; meaning they are part of the gluten grains: wheat, oats, barley and rye. For those individuals with wheat allergies, such as Celiac, it is best to be cautious and eliminate the grain from the diet then try to slowly reintroduce it at a later date. Try soaking overnight with plain greek yogurt or whey to help with digestion.

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National Nutrition Month “Eat Right…With Color”

– johanna | March 29th, 2011

Filed under: NUTRITION

The theme this year for National Nutrition month is, “Eat Right…With Color.” The challenge? To swap out calorie dense starches and fats for fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This month we have joined the leagues with the National Dietetic Association; in addition to, the many accompanying voices of dietetics from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans to promote healthy habits. We discussed ways to filter out the high calorie prepackaged foods by reading labels; checking for ingredients that are closest to nature. Sadly too many products on the supermarket and natural food store shelves posing as food are really un-food. Fortunately for us today we do not have to spend the day in the kitchen preparing meals. There are honest companies out there producing products without the harmful additives and preservatives. Be sure to always check the labels. The following week we posted links to help our pickiest eaters over come their food fears. Be Patient and keep offering them the good stuff. One day they will surprise you. We would like to wrap up National Nutrition Month with a guide to seasonal foods.

Eat the Color of the Rainbow“…”Eat Clean”…”Eat Seasonal”…What does this all mean? Food is fuel for our body. Each morsel of food contains within it nutrients and minerals our body needs to boost the immune system, help cells and organs function properly, and support growth and development. Eating a variety of foods (the color of the rainbow) is the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals our bodies need each day.

When fruits and vegetables are at their peak they contain abundant amounts of the vitamins and minerals our body craves. Over time these vitamins and minerals diminish. Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables ensures that we are getting the maximum benefit from our food. Choosing meals and snacks around what is in season keeps costs low. When foods are in season it means they are usually shipped locally. As a result prices are substantially lower and the taste is superb. Use this opportunity to stock up for later months. Find a farmers market or packing plant nearby for fresh produce and keep an eye out for sales on poultry and fish. (**Refer to the chart above for foods listed by season.)

Eating clean is the practice of eating whole, natural foods and avoiding any manmade fats, sugars, dyes and preservatives. Let’s say one sweet potato has the same amount of carbs as a candy bar. Even though the potato is largely a carbohydrate it has less sugar and calories and more soluble fiber than the candy bar. The potato also has zero harmful preservatives (such as BHA, BHT and TBHQ) or food dyes (made from petroleum). The health benefits of a starchy potato far outweigh those of the candy bar. Whole, unprocessed, foods like seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish and fresh lean meats provide the nutrients our bodies need to grow properly.

Salud!

Additional Reading:

Raise Healthy Eaters: Wonderful spot for everything you ever needed to know about feeding children.

The Gracious Pantry: How Tiffany transformed her pantry filled with junk food to one that supports clean eating habits.

Nut Shell Nutrition: “Make a Rainbow on Your plate”, also be sure to peruse the site. Brittany has several informative posts on making health goals that might be of interest.

Dish on Dieting: A witty article describing the use of a GPS to guide us down the road of meal choices.

A Sprinkle of Sage: “What’s Your Nutrition Resolution?” The first of a month long series of tips to reach this month’s goal for optimal health.

Kleiner Nutrition: Great articles to help inspire us to stay on the path to better habits. Be sure to check out the interview with Hope Warshaw.

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Feeding Your Picky Eaters

– johanna | March 22nd, 2011

Filed under: NUTRITION

Over the past few years we have had many requests inquiring how to feed a picky eater. If you have a picky eater then you are familiar with what a daunting task this can be. We want our children to grow up healthy and strong and along the way develop healthy eating habits to ensure their success. When all a little guy wants is cereal or yogurt that goal may sometimes seem unattainable. Fear not. There is hope. The following is my own account of the struggles we are currently facing and how we deal with them. I have included additional links to posts with further suggestions on how to placate a picky eater.

Like many other households opting for a cleaner choice of foods we choose to limit the types of prepackaged foods in the house to wholesome cereals and breads and low fat dairy. By making the majority of our snacks at home at least I can control what goes into them. I feel better knowing our picky guy is eating something better than just empty calories. Secondly, our picky eater has a major sweet tooth. If it is not in the house he nor I will eat it. If we happen to have crackers in the pantry they are put up where the kids cannot get into them. A picky kid with a taste for sugar is not going to want to eat his chicken and broccoli when there is a pantry filled with crackers and granola bars.

Limit the Treat and Packaged Foods:

Treats are reserved for special occasions such as movie night or dessert with Sunday dinner. By making a few alterations a basic sweet such as a muffin can become a filling snack offering the much needed vitamins and minerals a growing body needs. Some of the variations we make include:

— Replacing regular all-purpose flour with whole wheat, oat or coconut flour. I always add a double tablespoon of wheat germ and ground flaxseed.
— Swap out lard and vegetable oils for canola, olive and coconut oil. Butter instead of margarine.
— Replacing part or all of the refined sugar with pureed vegetables or fruits or natural local honey.
— Adding chopped, pureed and shredded vegetables to snacks and meals.

Restrict Snacking Before Dinner and Other Meal Times:

We follow strict snack times to help tie our kids over until dinner is ready. When kids snack right before dinner time they are less likely to try new foods much less eat their dinner. Our rule is they have to take at least one bite. If we are having salad with chicken and green beans they have to take one bite of each item. Our picky eater will often feign that he does not like something to keep up with his picky appearance. We have caught him sneaking additional bites. We do not make a big deal over it because with his temperament the praise would backfire. We just let him explore on his own while continuing to offer him the good stuff. We want to make dinner a positive experience for him.

Exploration:

For a picky eater trying new foods takes time. It requires working with them to help them overcome their fear. When I am cooking I let him help stir or measure. Sometimes I give him his own bowl and let him create his recipe. It allows him to feel in control as he places each item in the bowl and mixes it with his hands.

Our doctor reassured me our son would not starve. Meanwhile continue to offer the good stuff. Most of all make dinner a positive experience for them. Avoid negative comments and of course never try to force feed your child. Be sure to include something they are likely to eat but avoid making two dinners. Give them time and love and eventually they will come around.

For additional reading on how to placate a picky eater visit the following links:

Make and Takes – Helpful Tips to Appease Picky Eaters

Raise Healthy Eaters – How to Tell if Your Picky Eater Needs Help

What’s Cooking With Kids – Tips to Help Kids Accept New Foods

The Motherhood – How to Appease Picky Eaters

Dazzledish- More Peas Please

Food For My Family – Picky Eaters

Keep Kids Healthy – Picky Eaters

Nutrition Fitness Life – Getting Picky Eater to Eat Healthy

PBS.org – Science of Picky Eaters

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March National Nutrition Month

– johanna | March 15th, 2011

Filed under: NUTRITION

Graphic Art by: Kia Robertson

During the month of March the American Dietetic Association focuses their efforts on helping families understand the importance of physical activity and more importantly how to make the right food choices. This March Dazzledish is celebrating National Nutrition Month with a two part health series. This week we will dive into the basic stepping stones to begin a journey to better health. Next week we will look at ways to help our pickiest eaters overcome the challenge of trying new foods.

The first component to a healthy diet is to reduce the amount of refined sugars and enriched carbs by replacing them with fresh fruits, nutrient rich grains and fiber dense vegetables. Easier said than done, right? So where do you start exactly? Start with little baby steps. Begin by reading the labels.

Reading the nutrition labels is crucial when trying to switch to a healthier lifestyle. Food companies are less concerned about your health and more concerned with meeting this quarter’s profits. Prepackaged and fast foods sell because they are convenient and they are made to taste great. Problem is fast foods in addition to prepackaged foods are unnecessarily overloaded with large quantities of sugar, sodium and calories that leave us hungry for more. Moreover, sugar and sodium have been linked to numerous health conditions later in life in addition to the increase of type-2 diabetes in children and teens. Of course these are the foods that are cheap and always available.

I doubt many of our parents actually understood the direct impact theses types of foods would have on our bodies. We were taught to celebrate with mounds of candy and sugary confections. White bread, whole milk and fried foods were the norm. We ate a carb with a side of carb. Ie: Lasagna with garlic bread or a sandwich with chips. Only now are we as a society beginning to realize the harmful effects these habits wreak on our bodies. Today the food companies, to their credit, have tried to heed the demand for healthier products. Introducing the 100-calorie snack packs, fat free and low fat and sugar free products. Unfortunately what they took out they had to replace with something else to make it taste delicious. Fat free foods still contain sugar and sugar free products still contain fats. When eaten in excess these foods can still be stored as fat. The number one misleading product on store shelves is whole wheat bread. Surprisingly, the majority of breads claiming to be %100 whole wheat use enriched wheat flour and contain high fructose corn syrup.

The nutritional label and the ingredients list should be evaluated as a whole. The ingredients are listed in descending order from the most to the least. It should be short, comprehensible and minus all the man-made ingredients. A loaf of bread for example is mostly flour and water. Flour would be listed first because there is more flour in a loaf of bread than any other ingredient. When shopping for bread look for whole grain or whole wheat flour in the number one spot. Enriched flour white or wheat has been refined and processed until it no longer holds any nutritional value. Instead choose breads with whole wheat, corn, potato and/or oat flours.

Sugar is stated as being a culprit of childhood obesity. It is no wonder when it is in just about everything. Take for example a can of soda. There is an average of 39 grams of sugar and over 100 calories in one 12-ounce can of soda. That equals 9 ¾ teaspoons of sugar or 3 1/4 tablespoons.
This much sugar can wreak havoc on our energy levels. A healthier option might be a glass of crystal light or flavored sparkling water (check the label for the type of artificial sweetener). For a nutritious pick me up in the afternoon try a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit. The protein in the nuts helps the body feel full longer without the spike in blood sugar.

Sugars may be listed in the form of: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, honey and artificial sweeteners. Put back anything that contains high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup can only be converted to glucose through the liver. The worse part is the body turns high fructose corn syrup straight into fat. The liver’s function is to filter out toxins. Eating high fructose syrup places unneeded stress on the liver in addition to being highly addictive.

Next, limit products whose fat source comes from saturated fat or trans fat. They have the ability to increase the likelihood of heart disease. On the flipside we do need some fat in our diet. These “good” fats are called monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats derived from plants such as oils, avocados or nuts. Fats are listed in both the ingredients and on the nutritional label. A product may not contain trans fat according to the nutritional label but a hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil listed in the ingredient list means that product contains some trans fats.

Lastly, calories are the amount of energy in a food. A cup of lettuce contains 10 calories while there are 500 in a regular sized vanilla milkshake. If the intake of calories is higher than what the body burns the excess calories are turned to fat. Keep an eye on the amount of calories per serving size in the foods you choose. You will be surprised at how easy it is to accumulate calories. A serving of bread is typically one slice. Depending on the brand that 1 slice can contain 70 to 100 calories. Add another slice, meat and cheese to make a sandwich and you have a complete 350 calorie meal. That is not counting the can of soda and bag of chips that so often accompany a sandwich.

Be careful to watch the amount of calories per serving in addition to the calories from fat percentage. The calories from fat should make up no more than a quarter percent of the total calories. Peanuts are a perfect example of high calories from fat. There are about 170 calories in 1 serving (28 nuts) of peanuts with 130 calories from fat. Nuts are a great source of protein; however, if you are looking to snack Cashews or almonds are a better choice if you are watching your fat intake.

This first phase helps identify the type of food choices we regularly make. The reduction of refined flours and sugars prepare the body and taste buds for the next phase.

Additional Reading:
To the Fullest: Join Beth on her inspiring journey to better health by overcoming food addiction.
Walk About: Find the balance to eating healthy.
Healthy Life Style Balance: Learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Simple Nourished Living: Overcoming constant hunger
Medifast Plan: Understanding fats and carbs
Raise Healthy Eaters: Raising Healthy Eaters recipes and advice

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The School Lunch Dilemma

– johanna | September 16th, 2009

Filed under: NUTRITION, THE DISH ON PARENTING

The first day of school our little guy came home crying because he wanted to eat off a tray like the other kids and because the day was too long. The school schedule I cannot change but I pulled him into a big hug and told him we would look at the school lunch schedule together and he could circle the days he would rather eat a school lunch.

Although school lunches have been revamped providing meals that are lower in fat in addition to offering more fresh fruits and vegetables, I still worry about my little guy. With a plate full of, doctored up, mac and cheese fruits and veggies are an after thought. Each morning of the day he decides to brave the cafeteria we discuss the menu and he makes his choices. We talk about the importance of  eating healthy often at the dinner table but it does not hurt to give him a gentle reminder before he is out the door and out of my watchful eyes.

I prefer that he take his lunch however, coming up with portable yet healthy and tasty lunch ideas week after week is a cumbersome task when you also have to think about safety issues and pleasing the patron not to mention his friends. The following are some tips and ideas we have implemented. By all means if you have anything to add or share leave us a comment.

THE EQUIPMENT:
– A thick insulated lunch box. Insulated lunch bags or boxes are the best choice for keeping lunches cold. If you do use paper lunch bags, double bag to create an additional layer of insulation.
– A metal thermos: for drinking or transporting hot soups or cold fruit.
– A freezer pack.
– A few reusable containers to prevent food from leaking and getting smashed, and will help you avoid using disposable items like plastic bags and foil.

THE FOOD:
– Be sure to include fruits and vegetables, protein and whole grains every day.
– Breads: use whole grain breads, pita, bagels, tortillas, flat bread, rolls and crackers.
– Try sandwich spreads such as tuna fish, egg or chicken salad or cream cheese. Mix in finely chopped carrots, bell peppers or celery.
– Make your own lunchable. Pack string cheese, cheese cubes or prepared cheese spread along with bread sticks or crackers.
– Heat frozen waffles and make a sandwich with them, using peanut butter and jelly. Or cut them into bite-sized pieces or sticks and send syrup or yogurt for dipping.
– Take leftover cooked chicken cut into strips. Pack dipping sauce such as salsa, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard, or marinara sauce.
– To vamp up the traditional peanut butter and jelly replace the bread with a tortilla. Add peanut butter honey or  jam, shredded carrots and apples, or sliced banana and raisins. Roll up tight then slice crosswise into pieces.
– Nachos with containers of ground turkey, guacamole, grated cheese and tortilla chips.
– Pastas such as pasta or couscous salads, macaroni and cheese, tortellini with pesto, spaghetti with marinara sauce
– Soups including Chili with corn chips, chicken noodle and vegetable.
– Always pack fresh cut up vegetables. Include a separate container with low-fat dressing or peanut butter for dipping.
– Pack fresh or canned fruit with peanut butter or a low fat fruit dip such as yogurt with whipped cream or cream cheese mixed with jam.
– Look for fruit snacks and fruit leather with 100% fruit juice. Fruit Roll-ups are really candy masquerading as real fruit. Do not overlook dried fruit and yogurt covered raisins.
– Include fat-free milk. Fill a portable drink bottle half-full with milk; freeze overnight. In the morning top it off with cold milk.
– Look for juice that contains 100% percent fruit juice. Brands like Sunny Delight, Hi-C, Fruitopia and Capri Sun contain only 10% juice.
– Limit sweets and chips to special occasions like Monday to help them look forward to school or Friday as a job well done or birthdays and holidays.
– Replace oily chips with baked chips or crackers, healthy breakfast bars, protein bars or granola bars.

SAFETY AND TIPS:
– Prepackaged lunches and snacks are high in fat, sugar, salt and calories, and are much more expensive. Skip on the bagged stuff and use fruits and vegetables to fill them up.
– Ask for their input before loading their lunch box. Kids can be finicky. Foods they liked today they may not like tomorrow.
– Cut sandwiches into interesting shapes with cookie cutters.
– Recycle yogurt containers and fill with Jell-O or pudding mixture (before it sets), veggies or fruit.
– Add some fun by using colored plastic wraps, holiday zip-lock bags and napkins.
– To prevent soggy sandwiches pack the cheese, lettuce and/or tomato separately.
– Heat food thoroughly before pouring into the container. It is best to use a metal container. Heat the inside of the container with boiling water for 5 minutes then discard before adding hot food.
– Use freezer packs, gel pack or frozen juice or water to keep foods cold.
Pack perishables around the freezer pack.
– Leave the cookies at home. A couple of cookies with milk for an afternoon snack once in a while are treats kids look forward to. Give your kid a bag of carrots and a snack pack of oreos and guess which one he will choose? Stick with fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grain bread or crackers instead of chips and sweets.

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The Importance of Vitamin D

– johanna | August 9th, 2009

Filed under: NUTRITION, THE BOOKSHELF

Centuries of ongoing research dating back to the early 1800’s has made it possible for modern day scientists to unveil the vital role vitamin D plays in maintaining adequate health and preventing disease. Vitamin D remained an unknown character until the 1920’s, when scientist McCollum produced a publication noting the effectiveness of cod liver oil against Rickets. McCollum singled out a new nutrient and following the designation of vitamins in alphabetic order, he defined the essential nutrient “Vitamin D”.

What is Vitamin D:
Technically, vitamin D is not a vitamin, but a hormone that the liver and kidneys use to work in concert with other nutrients and hormones the body needs to function. The vitamin D hormone is the receptor that aids in the absorption of calcium which in turn regulates the mineralization of teeth, bones and gives support to the immune system.

When the body needs calcium, the parathyroid gland sends the parathyroid hormone to the kidneys to trigger production of the vitamin D hormone. The vitamin D hormone, in turn, prompts the intestines to transfer calcium from food to the blood. If calcium is not properly absorbed through the intestine, both the vitamin D hormone and the parathyroid hormone extricate the stored calcium from the bones. Without vitamin D, only about 10-15 percent of dietary calcium and about 60 percent of phosphorus is absorbed by the body.

Recent research has revealed promising discoveries suggesting vitamin D plays a larger role than maintaining the body’s calcium levels. Vitamin D has been linked to increased immune responses against infections both bacterial and viral. The use of increased levels of vitamin D (4000 IU) has proved beneficial in the treatments of tuberculosis, lung infections, periodontal disease, influenza, psoriasis, MS, Autism, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.

Where Does Our Body Get Vitamin D:
Not only is proper absorption of the vitamin essential in childhood, it is just as crucial in adulthood to stave off osteomalacia and osteoporosis in addition to protecting against both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Bones continue to harden until the age of 13 for girls and 17 for boys. After that bones will either maintain or loose their density.

We attain vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, diet and supplements. Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body when exposed to direct sunlight. However, with modern indoor lifestyles in addition to sun safety alerts to cover up and wear sunscreen while outdoors physicians feel we are not getting enough sunlight to produce the amount of vitamin D the body needs. Sensible sun exposure is required to satisfy the body’s vitamin D requirement.

Diet and exercise help contribute to strong bones. As children age, give them a diet laden with fresh fruits and vegetables and fat free dairy products. Vitamin D is also contained in fortified breakfast cereal and orange Juice and can be found in animal proteins such as fish, eggs and milk. Experts agree that children and adults needs 40 minutes of daily exercise to help to build strong bones and prevent problems later.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that all children, newborns to teens, get 400 IU every day. That is the equivalent of drinking four 8-ounce glasses of fortified milk, spending 20 minutes playing in the sun or taking a multi-vitamin. If your Pediatrician suspects a vitamin deficiency it is likely they will have you child tested and start him/her on liquid drops for babies and chewables or capsules for older children.

Bear in mind, moderation is the key. Research has come a long way but there is still so much more to discover. Therefore, be prudent when out in the sun, exercise and eat right.

Sources and Extra Reading:
Science Daily- Not Enough Vitamin D

Medicine Net- Are You Getting Enough

Vitamin Council: John Jacob Cannell MD Biography

Vitamin Council: Vitamin D and Autism

National MS Society: Vitamin D May Lower Risk, Link Between Vitamin D and Susceptibility Gene

ABC News: MS Research Highlights Role of Vitamin D

LA Times: Rickets on the Rise

Unraveling the Enigma of Vitamin D

Oakland Children’s Hospital: Vitamin D and Brain Function

Dr. McCleary: D Brain Boss


California Breast Cancer Research: Vitamin D Receptor Gene and Breast Cancer

Future Research: Optimal Vitamin D Levels

Harvard Cancer Center: Understanding environmental and genetic factors in GI malignancies

Oxford Journals: Is vitamin D indispensable for Ca2+ homeostasis

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Three Steps to Eating Healthy

– johanna | June 14th, 2009

Filed under: NUTRITION

Teaching our children to have healthy nutrition habits starts when they are young. More importantly it begins with us, their parents. We can teach our children to eat correctly by offering them healthy options regardless of our own food preferences.

Joan Lunden and Pediatrician Myron Winick co-authored the book “Growing Up Healthy: A Complete Guide to Childhood Nutrition, Birth Through Adolescence.” They discuss the importance of proper nutrition as early as in the womb. Healthy food choices are crucial during the first years of life as cells form and grow so rapidly. Moreover, Lunden and Winick maintain that an adolescent diet rich in fats and sugars is the pre-cursor to adulthood aliments such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. As parents we are entitled to teach our children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats.

There are three steps to creating healthy meals. Getting some children to eat them can certainly be a challenge however, it is a most viable one.

1. Eat the colors of the rainbow. Fresh raw fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals your body needs to run. When our children fill up on high fat sugary treats and snacks they do not have room for the foods their bodies need to stay fueled and healthy. The body also feels sluggish and bloated. It is recommended that we should eat six servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Sounds like a lot, but when you think about it a serving looks like this:

1/2 cup of fruit
1 medium piece of fruit
1/4 cup of dried fruit
3/4 cup of 100% fruit or vegetable juice
1 cup of leafy vegetables
1/2 cup of cooked or raw vegetables

Substitute an apple for crackers. If they are still hungry at night fulfill their crunch attack by munching on some veggie sticks. It is easier to eat what is available and within reach. So keep the fridge and counter top stocked with fresh fruits and veggies.

2. Make Farmer’s Market meals. Create meals from an array of fresh produce and lean meats or legumes. Consider the paper plate model as a guide. Fold a paper plate in half. The bottom portion is for vegetables. Next divide the top portion of the plate in half. One corner is for protein (3 ounces constitutes a portion of protein) and the other corner is for starches such as rice, pasta, starchy vegetables or bread.

3. Limit baked goods and prepackaged foods. Prepackaged foods and take out are convenient especially after a long day of work and running around. However, for everyday nutrition they lack the required nutrients to stay fit and healthy. The flour and sugars commonly found in restaurant cuisine and boxed snacks is loaded with extra unnecessary calories and fat. When buying bread and crackers choose whole grain over the enriched white flour versions. To make sure you are getting the real deal be sure to read the label. Many whole wheat products claim to be such but a quick glance at the ingredients lists reveals otherwise. Try offering a serving of wholegrain cereal or muffins with a protein such as low-fat cheese or yogurt. The protein helps to fill hungry tummies longer. Avoid eating out of the box. It is to easy to consume 2-3 servings without ever knowing.

It is equally important to stress exercise, portions, eating out of stress, boredom or fatigue and the need to fill up on water before taking seconds. Learning to manage healthy eating habits now will put us and our kids on the right path for a healthy vibrant life.

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More Salad and Peas, Please!

– johanna | February 27th, 2009

Filed under: NUTRITION

Often on game nights we have pizza for dinner. The kids are so excited they forgo the veggies and salad filling up on pizza. Tonight the kids were outside playing and were grimy from the mud as well as exhausted. I packed them all into the bathtub for a quick scrub before dinner. By the time they reached the dinner table they were ravaging wolves. The pizza was not ready. The only thing on the table was a bowl of peas (seasoned with a little butter, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese) and a salad. Maybe that was a good thing.

As I placed the salad and peas on their plates Adelin complained “I do not want that!” and Everett shoved the plate away, as usual. Mason however started to devour his peas and was already on a second helping before everyone had been served. (Shocking…I did not think he liked peas) Adelin, Mason’s shadow, joined in eating all her peas and salad. Animosity towards vegetables soon turned into a contest of who could eat their salad and peas the fastest. Requests for more came as each competitor cleaned their plate. “More peas please.” “More salad please.” By the time the pizza was done their little tummies could only handle one small slice rather than two or three.

Experts agree if getting your kids to eat vegetables is a stress do not give up. There are a few ways combat a veggie-phobia.
–No snacking allowed. If they come to the dinner table hungry enough to eat wood they are more likely to eat better.
–Treats are just that. Save the treats for a special occasion or once a day. Kids are naturally drawn to the sweet taste of sugar. They can learn to enjoy fruits and vegetables as much as a cookie if we teach them how. It may take half their childhood, as I am beginning to think in Everett’s case, but it can be done.
–Let them dip. If it takes frosting, yogurt, cheese, peanut butter, hummus or ranch dressing so be it.
–To Chop or Dice. Try serving vegetables cooked, raw, diced, sliced or in sticks. Sometimes it is the texture or the presentation that has them turning their nose up.
–Use more fruits and vegetables. Add diced, chopped or pureed vegetables to recipes. Vegetables can add wonderful flavor which means less fat, added fiber and more filling.
–Set a good example.
–Start infants on vegetables. Limit the amount of starchy snack foods.
–Offer a variety of fruits and vegetables.
–Jazz it up. Add dried fruit, cheese or nuts to salads.
–Play with your food. Be cute and dress up fruits and vegetables by cutting flowers and making faces.
–Never force the issue. Give them the opportunity and one day they will surprise you.

Photo: Property of MyRecipes

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