We all have nutrition questions. Send yours along to RVNA’s on-staff dietitian, Meg Whitbeck, MS RDN, and she’ll get back to you with answers and advice.
June Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
Real Men Do Eat Quiche (Or Frittatas at Least)
For Men’s Health Month and the official start of summer, our gift to you is an excerpt from RVNA’s upcoming Then & Now Cookbook, which features favorite family recipes “healthified” for maximum appeal. The recipes have been shared by members of five local senior centers: Ridgefield, Danbury, New Fairfield, Weston and Wilton.
Your June treat: Vegetable Quiche Cups — or Vegetable Frittata Cups to be precise, since the little scoundrels have no crust.
Vegetable Quiche Cups to Go
This recipe, courtesy of Evelyn Aman from the Weston CT Senior Center, needed no additional healthification – it was ready to go as is!
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach
¼ cup liquid egg substitute
¾ cup shredded reduced-fat cheese
¼ cup diced green bell peppers
¼ cup diced onions
3 drops hot-pepper sauce (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line a 12-cup muffin pan with foil baking cups. Spray cups with cooking oil.
- Microwave spinach for 2 ½ minutes on high. Drain liquid.
- Combine egg substitute, cheese, peppers, onions and spinach in a bowl. Add drops of hot pepper sauce, if desired.
- Mix well so that ingredients are well distributed.
- Spoon into muffin cups.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
Note: Quiche Cups may be frozen and reheated in the microwave. Any similar combination of vegetables may be used.
— Meg, MS, RDN
May 2017 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
The Question: The Big 6-0. Now what?
I just celebrated my 60th birthday. I feel good and would like to keep it that way. Are there particular nutrients I should focus on or any immediate changes I should make?
Happy Birthday! In answer to your question . . . yes.
Dietary requirements change as your body changes, so now is a great time to take stock of your diet and health. One thing to note is that as we age, our body becomes less efficient at getting all of our nutrients from food, so it’s important to check your levels and supplement your diet with key nutrients as needed.
Here are a few to keep your eye on:
- Vitamin B12: even a mild deficiency can put older adults as risk for dementia. (Found in fish, shellfish, meat, eggs, and dairy products.)
- Omega 3: Studies have linked omega-3 fatty acids to brain benefits ranging from better blood flow and increased growth of brain cells to improved mood and enhanced memory (Found in cold water “oily” fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, as well as flaxseed and walnuts.)
- Vitamin D: enhances the absorption of calcium from food and is also shown to reduce chronic pain, protect against heart disease, even ward off cancer (fish, eggs, fortified milk, cod liver oil).
And while you’re at it, here are some oldies but goodies to never forget:
- Hydrate! Keep the water flowing to prevent and minimize urinary tract infections (UTIs), dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, overheating in the summer.
- Calcium: Helps maintain bone density to help prevent fractures.
- Antioxidants: Vitamins A, C, E, D, K, B-vitamins are all potent antioxidants that help support immunity and cellular function.
- Fiber: keep those bowels moving no matter what your age!
Many happy returns!
— Meg, MS, RDN
April 2017 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
The Question: Meat . . . How Much is Too Much?
So many words . . . flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan . . . but they all seem to lead to the same end. Practically no meat. Sort of depressing. Must we really eliminate meat to be optimally healthy?
For red meat, there are pros and cons. Red meat is an excellent source of protein, iron, B12 and a component called carnitine which aids in fat metabolism and athletic performance. But, with the red meat comes saturated fat and cholesterol which can contribute to cardiovascular illness. Enjoying red meat occasionally (1-2 times per month) is typically fine, but be sure to choose lean cuts like sirloin or tenderloin or 98% lean ground beef to minimize the saturated fat and cholesterol that you are ingesting.
Don’t forget that other meats like chicken, pork, lamb and turkey are also sources of protein, iron, B12, saturated fat and cholesterol. Though just because chicken breast might be ‘leaner’ than lamb, it shouldn’t be eaten every day. As a general rule of thumb, I encourage my clients to get most of their food from plants, with occasional dairy, meat, fish and eggs throughout the week.
As an example, here is my breakdown from a recent week: I had pork one time, lean ground beef in a recipe and a few eggs from my lovely friend who has chickens. I enjoyed cheese and crackers one evening with company. This moderate intake of animal-based food ensures I get more than adequate protein and vitamin B12 in my diet without overdoing it on saturated fat and cholesterol.
Want to learn more? Join us on April 6 for Road Map to a Plant-Based Diet. You might actually enjoy the journey!
— Meg, MS, RDN
March 2017 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
The Question: Brain and Memory Foods?
All this talk of the RVNA Spelling Bee has me thinking about my brain and my memory. I used to be a superb speller — not so sure anymore. Can I eat my way back to brilliance?
Keeping in line with the BEE theme, and the spelling theme, foods that can help boost brain function (and in turn, memory) are B foods.
Foods rich in B vitamins, as well as broccoli, bone broth, beets and blueberries top the list. What do these four B foods offer?
Fat (our brain needs it) and tons of antioxidants. And just think of all the colors represented in these foods: green (broccoli), blue (blueberries) and red, orange and yellow (beets).
Go forth, eat well, and B your brightest.
— Meg, MS, RDN
February 2017 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
The Topic: Heart-Healthy Tips That May Be News to You
In case you haven’t noticed, or reside contentedly under a rock, February is heart month. Not only do we celebrate those we are particularly fond of, we also focus our attention on the body organ that is the heart and how to keep it pumping healthy and strong. Here are five heart-healthy nutrition tips that may be news to you.
Habits: Change bad habits —smoking, alcohol, not exercising, not sleeping — and establish new, healthier habits.
Eat More Plants: A plant-based diet is the best diet for heart health.
Ask for Help: Seek help from a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer to help you reach your nutrition and fitness goals.
Resistance Training: Don’t be afraid to pump iron. More lean muscle leads to a higher metabolic rate and a stronger mind and body.
Think Beyond the Scale: Health is not just about weight, but activity levels, sleep, diet, stress … so don’t just aim to lose weight. Aim to eat brightly-colored foods, sleep more, drink more water, laugh more, move more and stress less.
— Meg, MS, RDN
January 2017 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
Do you have any easy, tasty gluten-free recipes that I might try? I have friends who are gluten-free converts — some by necessity, some by choice — and I am curious about this ‘trend’ and how the recipes will taste and how they will make me feel ?
Thank you for your question!
Let’s start with some basics. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and all their species and hybrids (such as spelt, kamut and triticale). Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting like a glue that holds foods together. Many types of common foods contain gluten, including bread, baked goods, pasta, cereals, sauces, salad dressings, soups, roux, malt, food coloring, beer, and Brewer’s yeast. While oats themselves do not contain gluten, cross-contact may occur when oats are grown side-by-side with wheat, barley or rye, and therefore, only oats labeled gluten-free can safely be considered gluten-free.
Some people must follow a gluten-free diet. For those diagnosed with Celiac Disease, for example, avoiding gluten is essential because when a person with Celiac Disease eats gluten, their body’s immune system attacks the small intestine, preventing proper nutrient absorption. The only treatment for Celiac Disease is a strict, gluten-free diet.
Other people believe that eating a gluten-free diet is healthier for them. People who go on a gluten-free diet without a medical need often do so to lead a healthy lifestyle, but they need to be very careful to not put themselves at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Wheat flour is fortified with B vitamins and iron. Rice flour, often used in gluten-free products, is not. B vitamins help convert food into fuel, repair cells and maintain normal nervous system function. Also, gluten-free diets are not always easy to follow, and the products are typically more expensive than products that contain gluten.
Some people experience symptoms found in Celiac Disease, such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and headaches when they have gluten in their diet, but they do not test positive for Celiac Disease. Gluten-sensitivity is usually the term used to refer to this condition, and removing gluten from the diet resolves these symptoms.
There are a myriad of awesome gluten-free (GF) recipes out there. For breakfast items, try a healthy muffin or oatmeal recipe.
For hot meals, keep things simple! All meat, poultry, fish, beans and tofu is naturally GF. So are all fruits and veggies. Potatoes, sweet potato, rice, quinoa, corn, corn meal (polenta) and squashes are also GF and make wonderful starchy components to many dishes. When preparing a recipe to be GF, just be sure to eliminate wheat, wheat flour, bread crumbs, panko, pasta, rice pilaf (which usually contains orzo pasta in addition to rice) and orzo.
Try grilled marinated chicken with a tossed salad and roasted sweet potato for a simple weeknight dinner. Stir-fry veggies and tofu with garlic, rice vinegar, GF soy sauce and sesame oil for a flavorful one-dish dinner. Throw together your favorite chili recipe in the Crock-Pot, or make a pot of vegetable soup from scratch!
— Meg, MS, RDN
December 2016 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
Can you help my family navigate the holidays without gaining undue weight and without missing out on all the fun?
Of course. There is a lot of wonderful food around this month, and my goal — for you and for me — is to enjoy it without compromising our health. According to studies, the average weight gain per “normal weight adult” is approximately one pound per person over the holidays. What’s a pound, right? Wrong. The problem is this seemingly-innocent pound often doesn’t come off. It just keeps adding up.
Over time, this poses health issues. So our goal is to keep that pound off, but still enjoy the delicacies of the season.
Here are some tips to keep you on track with your diet during the holidays:
- If you are headed out to a party in the evening, eat a light breakfast and lunch so that you can “bank” some calories for later. This isn’t an excuse to overeat at the party, it just helps keep you on track should you want to try more indulgent foods.
- Having said this, try not to arrive at a holiday gathering “starving.” This can often lead to overeating and an upset stomach. Have a small snack so that you have something in your system.
- Don’t be afraid to try a healthier version of a holiday favorite recipe. Like this lighter-apple-crisp or sneaky-mashed-potatoes, you can have recipes that satisfy without sabotaging your waistline.
- If a particular food or food group upsets your stomach, don’t let the holiday situation sway you into eating something you will regret later. It is simply not worth it.
- It is easy to overindulge in alcohol. Try making a “mocktail” in a wine, beer, or cocktail glass. This way you will have something to hold and sip without drinking too much.
November 2016 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
The Thanksgiving season is all about abundance and plenty, but most of the time I just cook for myself. Can you offer tips for doing this healthfully and reasonably?
Yes, I can! I have two categories of tips: shopping tips and cooking tips. We’ll start at the store.
For smaller quantities, it’s best to go to either small specialty shops (bakeries, butcher shops) or head to those departments within the grocery store. Not everybody has growing teenagers at home!
- Bulk grains – Buy only what you need.
- Utilize the seafood, meat and deli counter to purchase the exact quantity you need.
- Utilize frozen vegetables – open and reseal the package with a rubber band or twist-tie.
- Go to the bakery department to purchase the exact number of rolls you want as well as smaller loaves of bread, etc.
- Select loose produce so that you can purchase smaller quantities of the fruits and vegetables.
Meal Preparation Tips
- Use recipes that yield smaller quantities. Here’s one to get you started: lemon-garlic-chicken-with-sweet-potato-and-side-salad.
- Freeze portions/meals from large-yield recipes. Any casserole, lasagna, frittata or quiche can be cooled, portions, frozen and enjoyed later.
October 2016 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
I just learned that I have high cholesterol. I don’t know what to do or where to begin, but I want to lower it. Can you help me get started? Are there any “easy answers” food-wise?
I’m glad you’re writing and that you’re ready to take control of your cholesterol. That’s the best place to start.
First, to help you understand what’s happening in your body:
High levels of cholesterol in the blood can begin to build up along the walls of our blood vessels as plaque, causing the arteries to harden. This condition is called Artherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart attack and stroke. Have you ever heard of someone having bypass surgery or needing a cardiac stent? It is likely due to Artherosclerosis! By reducing the amount of cholesterol in our blood, we allow our body to clean up its blood vessels and prevent the development of Artherosclerosis.
Reducing cholesterol isn’t “easy,” per se, and there are no blanket recommendations for everyone. Each individual requires a unique approach.
The nutritional tips below are generally-accepted nutritional guidelines for reducing cholesterol. As noted above, all individuals are different and require their own plan.
Increase these Foods
- Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods
- Fish and omega-3 fatty acids
- Olive Oil
Limit these Foods
- Saturated Fats — like those in meat, butter, cheese and other full-fat dairy products, and some oils
- Trans Fats — often used in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes
Please contact Meg Whitbeck with individual questions.
We also invite you to join our six-week Interactive Cholesterol Challenge Workshop, meeting on Thursdays between October 27 – December 8, from 11:00am – 12:30pm at RVNA. Learn More.
September 2016 Newsletter: Ask the Dietitian
Help! I need creative lunch ideas for back to school. What do you recommend for a healthy school lunch? It needs to be NUT FREE!
Packing lunch for your child — every single day — can be a challenge. And a chore! You want to provide nutritious food to fuel your child’s brain, but at the same time, you want your child to actually eat what you pack, right?
Here are my tips for healthy school lunches:
- Get your child involved: Make a back-to-school trip to the grocery store to pick out a few healthy school lunch items. Have your child pick one or two items from each section of the grocery store that he or she would enjoy in school lunch. If you leave the store with 2 fruits, 2 veggies, 2 meat/bean foods, 2 dairy foods and 2 grain foods that your child enjoys, that will help to ensure that your child will enjoy what you pack.
- Have fun: Use cookie cutters to cut foods into fun and appealing shapes. Not a creative type? Find fun, reusable lunch containers in bright colors that will make lunch seem more…. ENTERTAINING!
- Go for the nibble tray: Instead of packing a sandwich, pack a nibble tray! Find a reusable container with lots of small compartments, and fill each compartment with something different. Kids love variety! Include cream cheese, hummus, SunButter, bean dip, salsa, guacamole and other fun dips and spreads along with fruits and veggies to dip. Add a baggie of whole wheat crackers or a slice of multigrain bread on the side for some healthy whole grains.
- Try School Lunch: If there is a meal offered in the cafeteria that your child enjoys, let them buy lunch. It teaches your child how to navigate a public food setting, getting them ready for middle school, high school and college. It also gives your child practice communicating needs and preferences. While school lunches historically have had a reputation of being less than perfect, things have changed. Stop by the school cafeteria and check it out for yourself. And hey – it gives you a break from packing! Can’t beat that.
- Great Nut-Free Options: Food allergies and intolerances are an additional consideration to be made for many families packing school snacks and lunches. Depending on the school’s policy, you may or may not be able to include peanuts and tree nuts. Here is a list of nut-free protein-rich foods that can be packed as a part of healthy school lunch.
Hard boiled egg
Hummus and other bean dips
Low Fat Greek Yogurt
Low Sodium Deli Meat and Cheese roll-ups
Sunbutter (sunflower seed) and Wowbutter (soy nut butter)
Cubed grilled chicken
Beans (chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, pink beans, white beans)