Chocolate: The “New” Super Fruit


People are sometimes surprised to hear me say chocolate can be good for you. Never mind the “everything in moderation” phrase, chocolate has actually been studied and proven to have health benefits. Music to my ears!

Being a chocolate lover however, doesn’t mean eating my body weight in M&M’s, or chocolate bars. There’s a specific type of chocolate that does the body good.

Cacoa seeds, or cocoa to be specific.

These seeds come from, you guessed it, a cocoa tree. Their nutrient composition consists of 54% fat, 31% carb, 11% protein, 3% polyphenols, and <1% minerals.

When the seeds have been fermented, roasted, and ground, they become cocoa powder. The same powder you’ve been cooking with and adding to make hot chocolate for many years.


The power is a concentrated source of polyphenols, minerals (iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper), fiber (2g/Tablespoon), and a small amount of protein.

You can learn about the health benefits of cocoa powder HERE.

In a study released earlier this year, scientists found that cocoa powder and dark chocolate had equivalent or significantly greater ORAC (antioxidant capacity), TP (total polyphenol content), and TF (total flavanol content) than other fruit powders or juices tested. (Source)

This means dark chocolate and cocoa powder were the most concentrated source of these nutrients and antioxidants compared the same about of the other powders and juices. Of course, it’s still an “everything in moderation” approach, because chocolate does carry extra sugar and calories than say, blueberries.

However, as long as you’re reaching for at least 70% cocoa in your dark chocolate bar, you’ll be getting maximum health benefits.

How to indulge in chocolate without the guilt:

  • Buy pre-packaged small portions such as squares, or split a bar in four portions and wrap in foil into separate servings
  • Select chocolate with at least 70% Cacao for health benefits.
  • Skip the nougat, caramel and filling.  These fillings just add sugar and fat.
  • Savor the smell, feel and taste of each bite. It’s the quality, not the quantity of the experience.

Holiday Eating

It’s been a while since my last post, but now’s a great time to think nutrition and staying healthy!

Holidays always seem like a tricky time of year. Countless holiday parties, new baking recipes to bake, (taste test!), and serve, errands after work that could last hours, and on top of it all – it’s getting pretty cold outside leaving any free time left with the urge to snuggle up on the couch.

Where does nutrition fit in?


It’s only going to fit in where you make room for it. This applies to every season, 365 days a year.

First, let’s tackle the holidays though. “The holiday’s” is that blissful time of year between Thanksgiving and lasting as long as Valentine’s day. In between that time you have Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Superbowl parties, and Valentine’s day. If you’re not careful that could lead up to some serious poundage!

Here are a few of my favorite tips to help control your holiday eating.

Aim for weight maintenance, not weight loss.

If you’re able to lose weight (healthily) during the holidays, great! But for the majority of people, this is the time of year that may stay with them a little longer than they wanted.

Be sure to think of what you’ve had that day or that week and if having the extra cookie (or 3) is worth it. Every person has their allotted budget of calories they need each day and indulging too much may, “break the bank.” Be mindful of where your calories are coming from and how often they come from those foods. Are they nutritious or just the butter and sugar sorts?

Deprivation Doesn’t Work

Don’t deprive yourself of the goodies that only come but once a year, rather, choose those treats in moderation over foods you can get year-round (chocolate, chips, etc.).


Keep with your usual eating patterns. By eating regular meals throughout the day, you are less likely to overeat at that holiday meal or party.

Start with your normal breakfast, something containing fat, carbs, and protein. A good example is a bowl of hot oatmeal, boiled egg, and fruit. Have some lunch a little later, again incorporating all 3 macro-nutrients (carbs, fat, protein).

This helps you stay satisfied throughout the day and keeps you from over eating at your event because you’re starving.

You are what you eat on.

Using smaller plates for meals (6” in diameter vs. 9” or 11” plates) gives you the illusion that you’re eating more food when your plate is full. When you use a 9 or 11” plate and put the same amount of food from the 6” plate on it, it tends to look a little skimpy and leaves us wanting more. Mind games, people.


Bring your own dish.

If you’re worried there may not be a healthy option at get-togethers, the most practical solution is to bring your own dish. Whether it’s a reduced-fat or reduced-sugar dessert or a new vegetable side dish, you know exactly how it was prepared and that it’s something that won’t tip the scales too far in the opposite direction.

Don’t dominate.

Try using your non-dominate hand to eat with.


At cocktail parties, put your plate or drink in your dominate hand so you’re left eating a little slower than usual with your non-dominant hand.

Squeeze it in!

No matter how busy you are, if fitness is important to you, you will make time for some kind of physical activity. It can be 3, 10 minutes walks per day, or countertop push-ups while you’re waiting for food to cook.


If you’re more of a social-exerciser, try a new class at your gym, encourage co-workers go to on a lunch break walk or run, or look in your community for upcoming races to participate in ranging from 5k’s to marathons. As long as you’re moving, you’re most likely not eating and you’ll reap the positive emotional benefits as well.

Follow the Pack

This is actually a great instance where being follower can do you well! A new study came out that stated those belonging to healthy social networks, whether online or in person, are more successful at staying healthy, losing weight, or being fit, whatever your goal is. If you haven’t started following me on Twitter, now is your chance! @nutrition_to_go or @bethannie09.

Be sure to keep your goals in the forefront of your mind and really decide on what’s more important – spending time with friends and family, or the food accompanying them?

Essential Nutrients: Omega-3’s

Did you know your body doesn’t produce all of the nutrients it needs? That’s right; it’s your responsibility to provide your body with nutrients through the food you eat.

Let’s talk about essential fatty acids.  They are necessary for human health but the body can’t make them – you have to get them through food. Without them, you may experience depression, fatigue, dry/itchy skin, brittle hair/nails, inability to concentrate, and even joint pain1.

One nutrient in particular has gotten attention as being good for heart health, joint health, and brain health: Omega-3’s. But do you know the difference between 3’s and 6’s?

While omega-3’s and 6’s look very similar on paper, their function in the body is totally different.

Omega -3’s have been studied and show they play a role in reducing inflammation within our body. That could be helpful for a plethora of reasons.

  1. Reducing cardiovascular disease – which is one big inflammatory mess.
  2. Preventing your blood from clotting excessively.
  3. Lowering cholesterol and triglycerides from bloodstream
  4. Increasing activity of a chemical called Nitric Oxide located in our endothelial cells to help your arteries relax and dilate.
  5. Reducing joint pain
  6. Decreasing bouts of depression
  7. Helping prevent cancer cell growth1.
  8. AND MORE!

On the other hand, omega-6’s have been shown to actually promote inflammation within the body. American diets tend to be heavy on sources of omega-6’s and are lacking on omega-3’s. In fact, the western diet’s ratio of omega-6’s vs. omega-3’s is 15:12. I’d say that’s a little skewed..

Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6:omega-3 ratio promotes the beginning of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Examples of these include but are not limited to ADHD, Eczema, Bipolar disorder, Diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis. However, increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6:omega-3 ratio) diminish these effects2 therefore leading to a healthier body.

A “healthy diet” is one that contains both omega-3’s and omega-6’s, although many of us don’t have trouble finding omega-6’s in our diet. These are found in foods like refined vegetable oils which are used in foods like cookies, crackers, sweets, and American fast food3. The theme here is processed

But I’m really busy, processed food is easier.   DUH.

Let’s fast forward 10, 20, 30 years later though and see what that’s done to your body. You may be experiencing some of the aforementioned symptoms/conditions I listed above.

The good news: It’s not too late and it’s never too early to start preventing disease and improving your health!

Try to get a more even balance of omega-3’s vs. omega-6’s in your diet. If you’re going to have a lot of processed food in one day, take a chill pill the next day and search for whole foods.

What’s a whole food you ask? Something that you know exactly what the ingredients are in that food. If you can’t read the ingredient list because of all the chemical additives, it’s not a whole food.

Here are some really easy ways to increase the amount of Omega-3’s in your diet:

Salmon The most obvious go-to choice for omega-3’s. This is why you hear dietitian’s say it’s a fatty fish, but it’s a “good fat.” Having just two 4-6oz. servings per week is enough. Pair that with some veggies and you’ve got a plate packed full of nutrition!

Walnuts Another commonly known source. These nuts actually look like a brain and coincidentally (or not?) have many brain health benefits including improvement of cognition and delayed symptoms of depression, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. A handful each day is enough to reap the benefits.

Olive Oil A great way to add omega-3’s to you diet. Replace butter in cooking with olive oils but limit to only 1 tablespoon or less, as it is high in calories. Also, be sure to store your oil away from heat to prevent the breakdown of nutrients. Not sure which oil to choose? Check out this post on choosing olive oils.

Flaxseed These are available as whole seeds or ground. The only way they can be effectively absorbed by our bodies is in the ground form. So, you’ll need a way to ground the whole seed up, or simply buy the flaxseed already ground. When you buy them in the ground form, you should keep them in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity and spoiling. They have a slight nutty taste and are easy to disguise in food, too.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons in your yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, over salads, in baked goods, eggs, or in smoothies.

Flaxseed actually contains the highest amount of omega-3’s you can get in your diet at one time. Coming in at around 75 calories per serving (2 tablespoons) you also get 146% of your daily value1 for omega-3’s. Sprinkle away!

Whether you want to prevent a disease, reverse a disease, or improve your health. Know that each bite you take makes a difference in the way your body is responding inside. Like anything, change takes some time getting used to.  Changing your diet and the way you eat is no different. Start out slow and set attainable goals.

Before making diet modifications, please check with your doctor to see if that change is right for you. Certain drug-nutrient interactions may exist that you are not aware of. 

1. Worlds Healthiest Foods. Omega-3 fatty acids
2. The importance of the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 essential fatty acids.
3. Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6

Can prescription drugs take the place of food?

Abbott cholesterol drug Niaspan losing sales  

This was the headline of an article I read from the Chicago Tribune today. I read on and learned more about the drug, which main purpose is to “raise good-cholesterol (HDL) levels.” The article goes on to say that it’s losing sales because fewer doctors are prescribing it due to a new study released that said the “medicine failed to prevent heart attacks.”

Here are my two-cents on that. Drugs are not going to have the same effect on your body as food. Duh, the drug didn’t prevent heart attacks. (I realize this was just one study, but I’m thinking generally here.) It may raise good cholesterol levels, but high HDL levels are not the only preventative measure for heart attacks. Did that drug have niacin, folate, and fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to improve cardiac health? No. It had synthetic chemicals that mimic niacin’s function to trick the body and guess what – it’s not working.

It’s like my previous post about whole grains, that I mentioned the synergistic effect of food working to improve your body’s health. Drugs don’t do that. Doctors pick one symptom and prescribe a drug for it. High blood pressure? High cholesterol? Depression? You just earned yourself 3 different prescriptions. There are so many potential side effects and warnings that you may experience when taking a drug, too. Does a package of whole grain bread have those same warnings? How about an apple?

If you haven’t already seen the food documentary, Food Matters, I would highly recommend that you do. It goes into great detail about prescription drugs vs. food and using food as a preventative mechanism to never needing the prescription drug.

I’m not saying there’s not a place for medicine. Humans are living longer due to vaccinations and quality of life is greatly improved by taking ibuprofen and other pain relievers every once in a while. I’m talking about the medication that people don’t have to be on. The kind of medication that people can be taken off of if they start exercising, eating healthier, and commit to making a lifestyle change. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes to name a few.

Please remember I am not a doctor. Never stop taking any medication your doctor has prescribed to you before first speaking with them.

Do you fall in the acceptable HDL range between 40ml/dL and 60ml/dL?

  At risk Desirable
Men Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L) 60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above
Women Less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L) 60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above

If you don’t know your HDL level, ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol test.

Here’s how to raise your HDL cholesterol without medication:

  • Eat foods with omega-3’s. Flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and soybeans to name a few.
  • Quit smoking. This can raise your HDL level by 10%.
  • Reduce the amount of trans fat in your diet.
  • Find sources of vitamin D; Salmon, egg yolks, tuna, milk, yogurt (fortified), cheese, or 15-20 minutes/day in the sun during spring and summer months.
  • Exercise

It all comes down to this – Food First and Move More!

Meatless Monday’s

Have you heard of Meatless Monday’s? It’s a non-profit initiative started by The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their goal is to help Americans reduce meat intake by 15% to increase our personal health and health of the planet. Click on the link above to learn more about it and how to get it started in your home. They have lots of great educational, free, downloadable packets for restaurants, school food service, and home-life. 

In case you’ve never considered a vegetarian meal, here are some FAQ’s about incorporating less meat in your diet. If you want more information on vegetarian nutrition, visit the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Group.

Black Bean Burgers
I finally got to try a homemade black bean burger recipe! Here is an incredibly delicious and cheap burger..

First I cut up the veggies then mashed the black beans, added spices, and the egg.

Then I mixed all of that up and it was time to sprinkle in the breadcrumbs.

After all was mixed to the right consistency, I rolled the mixture into 10 black bean balls. Just waiting to be pattied!

Next, I pattied the burgers we would eat and cooked them in a skillet with a bit of olive oil.

TaDa! Ready to eat with organic salad and mushies!
We used wheat bread for the buns, but I ended up just eating the burger plain, it was that good.

My Plate

Hubby’s Plate

Plenty of leftovers!

I put the rest in the refrigerator for grab and go for the rest of the week!

It took me about 45 minutes to prepare and cook this recipe, but I’m a rookie at mashing black beans and our knives need sharpening. So I bet it doesn’t take longer than about 15 minutes to prepare before they are ready to cook.

They have lots of seasoning in them to help with flavor and I found them to be better than the store bought kind. A lot cheaper, too! I made each burger at $0.61 per patty. Who says eating healthy can’t be cheap? Hubby-approved and anyone can afford this.. what’s not to love?!

Black Beans Burgers
1.5-2 cans of black beans (rinsed & drained) *Rinsing is good for reducing the amount of sodium in canned veggies!*
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 green pepper, finely diced
1 egg
3-4 tbsp BBQ sauce
2 tbsp cajun spice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • Mash beans in a bowl, ensuring that you don’t overmash. Pieces of beans are good for consistency
  • Add egg, vegetables and spices and stir with a large spoon or spatula
  • Add bread crumbs 1/4 of a cup at a time. The mixture should be thick enough to form patties.
  • Adjust bread crumbs as required (you may need less to avoid drying out the burgers or more to ensure that the mixture is thick)
  • Form patties using the mixture
  • Cook over medium heat in a frying pan for approximately 5 minutes on each side (patties will crisp and brown)
  • Serve on a bun or in a wrap with your favorite toppings
Makes 10-12 medium sized patties.

Get the Whole Scoop: Whole Grains

It’s a safe bet to say we have all heard whole grains are better for us than “refined” or “enriched” grains. The American public has heard this message for years, and yet the median consumption of whole grains is less than 1 serving/day among adults, adolescents, and children1. As a whole, less than 5% of Americans consume the recommended 3 servings of whole grains per day4. We dietitians have a lot of work to do.

The current recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines is “make half your grains whole,” meaning 3 out of 6 servings of grains per day should be whole grains. That’s 48 grams of whole grains per day. What exactly is a serving? One serving = 1 ounce, or in simpler terms, 1 slice of whole grain bread, ½ cup of cooked pasta, 3 cups of popcorn (hold the extra butter!), or 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal.

Before I go on about how to identify whole grains when shopping for breads and cereals, it wouldn’t hurt to hear more about why whole grains are such a benefit to your diet.

First, a whole grain is composed of 3 main parts.

  1. Bran: The outer, protective layer of the grin which contains iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, fiber, B vitamins, some protein and phytonutrients.
  2. Germ: Smallest portion of the grain and a rich source of unsaturated (healthy) fats, trace
    minerals, B vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
  3. Endosperm: Largest portion of the grain; Contains mostly carbohydrates and protein, with some
    B vitamins2.

When a grain is processed, or milled, the bran and germ are removed, essentially stripping the grain of all its important nutrients. It is then considered a refined grain. A refined grain is the starch-filled endosperm which is added and ground into flour. “Enriched flour” starts with refined flour and manufacturers add or “enrich” nutrients that were lost during processing back into the flour. It doesn’t make much sense to me to take away nutrients (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron) that were naturally found in the grain first, only to add back synthetic nutrients to a refined product. But it’s done for taste and cost effectiveness and let’s be honest – it sells.

However, the general content of a whole grain vs. refined grain is that the whole grain is higher in fat (healthy fats) and protein, lower in carbohydrates, and higher in fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals3. Talk about bang for your buck!

When a grain is refined, there is no ability for the synergistic effect of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to work together and create benefits for our body. This synergistic effect is often referred to when fiber is mentioned with whole grains and this effect cannot be duplicated by taking a supplement. Fiber alone is not the reason whole grains are so good for us. It’s the action of all the nutrients working together, in synergy. This means taking a fiber supplement would not provide the same health benefits as eating whole grains.

Just what are the health benefits whole grains provide? A LOT! Increased consumption of whole grains decreases a person’s risk of chronic diseases and is associated with a lower body weight2. These chronic diseases are diseases like Cardiovascular Disease/Coronary Heart Disease (CVD/CHD), Cancer, and Type 2 Diabetes.

Let’s talk a little more about why these diseases can be prevented by eating whole grains.

Decreasing one’s cholesterol by only 10% can result in a 30% decrease in CHD according to the Center for Disease Control2. Oatmeal has been vigorously studied as a way to reduce cholesterol. In one study, it was shown that by eating oatmeal each day, one’s total cholesterol could be decreased by 16mg/dL and one’s LDL could be decreased by 24mg/dL2. Just how does it do this?

3  Potential Mechanisms:

1)  Cholesterol Levels: Beta-glucan (soluble fiber in oats) is mainly responsible for the decrease in cholesterol. This is because bile acids bind to fiber in the small intestine (bile acids aid in fat absorption and cholesterol levels) and increases fecal bile acid excretion. This results in increased bile acid production by conversion of cholesterol into bile acids which are then removed from the body by binding to the fiber. This decreases liver cholesterol levels, increases the amount of LDL receptors in the blood for LDL be removed, and increases the LDL uptake from the blood. This all results in lower LDL cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream which helps prevent blocked arteries and atherosclerosis which can lead to CVD/CHD2. Basically, the cholesterol binds to the fiber and you poop it out.

2)  Vascular Reactivity: Lignans & Phytoestrogens in whole grains increase vasodilation (ability for blood vessels to dilate) and also slow the atherosclerotic process2.

3)  Homocysteine: High levels have been shown to cause heart disease. Folate and many other nutrients in whole grains decrease this level by clearing it from the blood.

We all know how big of a threat cancer is and you can decrease your risk by increasing your nutrition and activity levels. One study showed that eating whole grains can decrease your risk of colon/rectal cancer risk by 21%, pancreatic cancer risk by 30%, and gastric cancer risk by 43%2. Other Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers include esophageal, stomach, liver, gallbladder, and anal cancer.

Decreasing Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer Risk Potential Mechanisms:

1)  Carbohydrate Fermentation: Short Chain Fatty Acid (SCFA) production increases with whole grains in the diet. SCFA’s decrease colonic pH which also decreases the ability of secondary bile acids to act as carcinogens2. More whole grains = less bile acids in body to possibly cause cancer. (Remember that soluble fiber also removes these bile acids to clear cholesterol!)

2)  Decrease Transit time and Increase Fecal Bulk: Fiber again increases the binding of bile acids (increasing fecal weight) that are thought to promote cell growth which may cause mutations that could lead to cancer. Increased fecal weight may decrease colon cancer risk2.

3)  Antioxidant Activity: Bacteria in the colon produce a significant amount of oxygen radicals (which may lead to cancer due to mutation of cells). Polyphenols found in whole grains may suppress the oxidative reaction2.

4)  Glucose/Insulin Response: Whole grains may lower colon cancer risk by decreasing blood glucose levels, therefore decreasing insulin response2. This would increase insulin’s sensitivity to better “absorb” glucose from the blood and control blood glucose levels. This would also be a benefit to people with Type 2 Diabetes in managing their blood glucose/insulin levels. 

Decreasing Hormone-Dependent Cancer Risk Potential Mechanisms:

1)  Alteration of sex hormone production: Lignans (estrogen-like chemicals that also act as antioxidants) can increase menstrual cycle length, therefore decreasing a woman’s monthly exposure to high levels of estrogen and potentially decrease the risk of hormone-dependent cancers2.  Breast, endometrial (decreased by 30-60%2), colorectal, and ovarian (decreased by 37-40%2) cancers are all considered hormone-dependent cancers that can be decreased by consumption of whole grains4.

Type 2 Diabetes
For diabetics, carbohydrates are the food source that they must watch very closely. Some assurance can be given for consuming whole grains though. Whole grains can increase glycemic response, decrease insulin resistance, and decrease fasting insulin levels2. Diabetics may have insulin resistance which makes it hard for glucose to be cleared from the bloodstream and leads to high blood sugar levels which can be dangerous over a long period of time.

Improvement of Blood Glucose Levels and Insulin Response Potential Mechanisms:

1)  Fermentation of Undigested Carbohydrates: Soluble fiber delays the emptying of food from the stomach to the intestines (gastric emptying) and delays absorption of the food in the intestines. Therefore lowering the amount of glucose in the bloodstream at one time and increasing insulin’s response to clear glucose from the bloodstream2.

2)  Antioxidants (Vitamin E): Enhance insulin’s action to bind to its receptor on cell membranes for increased sensitvity2.

Weight Management
Obesity is still a growing epidemic in this country and is close to, if not, 100% preventable. In a 12 year study, women who consumed more whole grains in their diet consistently weighed less than women who ate less whole grains2.

1.Whole grains tend to make us feel more full and enhance our satiety because of their high
volume, low energy density (low-calorie), and fiber content composition.

2.Whole grains prolong gastric emptying therefore delaying the return of hunger following a

3.They enhance secretion of gut hormones which act as satiety factors.

At least 3 servings of whole grains per day are associated with lower fat stores around our mid-section2!

Practical Application

Now that the science is behind us, how can you ensure that you are getting at least 3 servings of whole grains per day? Look for the Whole Grain Stamps on many food items at grocery stores. This is a reliable way to quickly identify a whole grain product such as breads, cereal, breakfast bars, and pasta. Click here to see what types of products contain the Whole Grain Stamp.

Under the words “Whole Grain” located on the stamp, you can easily see what kind of source that food item is. A Good Source contains 8 grams of whole grains (half a serving). An Excellent Source without the 100% logo is better than a good source and 16 grams (a full serving) of whole grains is in that food item. Lastly, the whole grain stamp with an Excellent Source and the 100% logo is the absolute best option and contains a full serving (16-47 grams) of whole grains with ALL whole grains used. That means you only have to eat 3 servings of the “excellent” source or 6 servings of the “good” source each day to get the recommended serving (48 grams) of whole grains.

If a product doesn’t contain the logo, look at the ingredient list under the nutrition fact label. Just because it doesn’t have the stamp, doesn’t mean it isn’t a whole grain.

The first ingredient should be Whole Grain [name of grain], Whole Wheat, Whole [other grain], etc. These contain all parts of the grain, so you’re getting all the nutrients.

Bottom Line: Strive to get 3 servings (48 grams) of whole grains per day. You don’t have to add 3 more per day, rather, substitute your refined grains with whole grains.

Some tips to achieve this would be to use whole grain bread for toast or sandwiches, use whole grain pancake/waffle mixes, look for whole grain cereals and cereal bars, eat oatmeal, and switch your white pasta for whole grain.

You don’t have to buy all of your whole grains pre-made. If you’re having trouble finding whole grain recipes, here is a link to the Whole Grain Council’s website for a list of websites that have creative and yummy ideas.

Increase your whole grains and increase your health!



1.  Lang R, Jebb SA. Who Consumes Whole Grains, and How Much? Proc Nutr Soc. 2003;62:123-127.

2. Marquart PhD, RD, Leonard, Slavin, PhD, RD, Joanne, and Tucker, PhD, Katherine. Whole Grain and Health: Get the Whole Grain Story. General Mills 2011. Accessed June 21, 2011.

3. Harris, Kristina A., Whole Grain Products: At a Crossroads for Research, Industry, and Public Health. SCAN’s Pulse Newsletter. Summer 2011;30:1-5.

4. Estrogen Dependent Cancers. Cleveland Clinic.  Accessed July 6, 2011.

5.  2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

To Buy or Not to Buy: Organic

First and foremost, I’m not a food snob. Recently after following other nutrition blogs and doing my own research, I have a genuine interest in buying organic. I don’t mean buying organic boxed goods, but the fresh and perishable sort. Buying organic has been debated whether there are more nutrients in organic vs. conventional foods and the fact is – there isn’t much of a difference1. So if I can get all the same nutrients while saving about $0.30/lb., why would I spend the extra money?

My philosophy: It’s not about buying what’s in the organic food but what’s not in it. 

The verdict is still out on a direct link to adverse health effects and pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide use in our food supply. That being said, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states on their website that, “The health effects of pesticides depend on the type of pesticide. Some, such as the organophosphates and carbamates, affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogens. Others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body.2

That’s a big statement from our government. Children and pregnant women especially could benefit from eating organic foods due to the child and fetus’ development. From Bloomberg Businessweek, “Pesticides have been shown to cross the placenta during pregnancy and a recent study by scientists at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York found a link between pesticide use in New York apartments and impaired fetal growth. Another study, from the University of Washington in Seattle, found that preschoolers fed conventional diets had six times the level of certain pesticides in their urine as those who ate organic foods. And a 2003 report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention detected twice the level of some pesticides in the urine of children as in that of adults.3” That’s a lot of chemicals for their developing little bodies!

While certain foods are more “dirty” with pesticides than others, it’s really not necessary to buy all organic food. Most pesticides can be washed off just by rinsing the fruit or vegetable at home before eating them. Not all fruits and veggies are so lucky though.  Here is a list of the most “dirty” and most “clean” fruits and veggies. This should help you decide which foods are worth it to spend the extra dough on.

Produce that is peeled before eating such as bananas, oranges, etc. don’t necessarily need to be organic because you aren’t ingesting the skin of the food where chemicals are sprayed. If you purchase a conventional head of lettuce or onion, be sure to peel away the first layer and discard, as it has probably come in contact with some kind of chemical fertilizer or pesticide.

When looking for and buying organic food, the USDA classifies organics into four buying categories:
1) 100% organic: Must contain 100% organically produced ingredients.
2) Organic: Must contain at least 95% organic ingredients.
3) Made of organic ingredients: Must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
4) Have some organic ingredients: May contain less than 70% organic ingredients4.

Whether you’re buying for your children, your baby bump, or yourself, it’s important to look at the facts available to you and make that personal decision. While it’s great to eat organic, it’s always better to eat any kind of fruit or vegetable than none at all!


  1. Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. July 29, 2009. Accessed on June 16, 2011.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Human Health Issues. Accessed June 16, 2011.
  3. Bloomberg Businessweek. Does it Pay to Buy Organic? Accessed June 16, 2011.
  4. United States Department of Agriculture. Organic Labeling and Marketing Information. Accessed June 16, 2011.

Blogging about Black Beans

What do you think of when you think of beans? High in calories? Extra gas? Most likely you refer to one of the two but what you may not know are all the extra benefits beans have to offer. Let’s start out with what’s inside.

In 1 serving (1 cup) of boiled black beans without salt, you get 227 calories, 1 gram of fat, 41 g of carbohydrates (based on a 1,500-2,00 calorie diet, you need approximately 200-275 grams of carbohydrates per day1), and 15 g of Fiber and Protein. In addition to those nutrients, black beans are a great source of calcium, iron, magnesium, folate, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, several B vitamins, and more2.

Beans are a great substitute for meat because unlike meat, beans have fiber to keep us full for a longer period of time without feeling deprived. In addition to fiber, beans also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that meats do not have. Antioxidants are the scavengers we get through food alone that seek out and “deactivate” free radicals. This works by antioxidants donating an electron to the unstable free radical, therefore stabilizing and deactivating it. Free radicals are produced in our bodies from our environment (smoking cigarettes, pesticides, ozone, UV light, radiation) and from simply living and breathing throughout natural processes everyday (inflammation, reactions involving iron and other metals)3. Free radicals that have not been deactivated have been linked to causing many diseases such as cancer,  Alzheimer’s, heart disease.

When paired with brown or white rice, beans are considered a complete protein. This is because by eating only beans or only rice, we don’t get all of the essential amino acids our bodies need for protein synthesis. Beans and rice don’t necessarily have to be eaten at the same meal, but throughout the same day is recommended. This is especially important for those following a vegetarian/vegan diet.

Did you know that bean eaters also tend to weigh less? Beans are digested slower than meat due to their fiber content so again, this helps with a satisfying feeling and less of an urge to eat. Their low-fat, low-sugar, high fiber combination also helps to lower cholesterol, promote regular digestion, and lower insulin released in the body to stabilize blood sugar levels.  This can be particularly helpful for type-2 diabetics4.

For that second question above, there is a simple way to reduce the amount of gas that beans have a reputation of producing. Presoaking dried beans or rinsing and dumping the liquid found in canned beans reduces raffinose and stachyose, the sugars responsible for causing gas during digestion. Here are Cooking Tips for dried beans.

While I mainly focused on black beans, other beans like pintos, navys, chickpeas, soy beans, etc. are great nutritional choices too. Don’t let beans and their reputation scare you away from enjoying their great health benefits!

Want some tasty recipes for incorporating black beans in your diet?
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Black Bean Chicken Salad
Fiesta Chicken
Quinoa and Black Beans – Vegan
Seasoned Black Beans – Vegan
Black Bean and Corn Salsa – Vegan
Black Bean and Salsa Soup – Vegetarian
Black Bean Quesadilla– Vegetarian


  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed Jan. 31, 2011.
  2. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23 (2010)
  3. K. Bagchi and S. Puri. Free Radicals and Antioxidants in Health and Disease Volume 4, Issue 2, 1998 Page 350-360. Accessed June 10, 2011.
  4. Beans are Best for Diabetes. Accessed June 10, 2011.

Healthy Cookouts


Now that summer has officially kicked off, it’s a safe bet that there will be more cookouts to attend and recipes to be made. The traditional cookout is full of burgers, hot dogs, brats, mayonnaise-based pasta and potato salads, chips, cookies, cakes, and high calorie drinks, but there’s no reason we can’t make cookouts more healthy. Knowing which foods to select and simple substitutions can be made to give our recipes a kick of nutrition! If you’re concerned there will not be anything healthy at a cookout, you can always bring something that is delicious and nutritious yourself! Take a look at my handout below for tips on making cookout food more healthy.

Cooking Out Healthy Handout
I created this handout for my students at Wake Forest University, however, anyone can benefit from these tips!  I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend!



All About Olive Oil

Since May is National Mediterranean Diet Month, I wanted to talk about the different types of olive oils available and which offer the best nutrition. Let me first start by saying that the Mediterranean Diet isn’t the same type of  diet that we westerner’s classify a diet under. It’s a lifestyle lived by eating controlled portions of fruits and vegetables; fish, poultry, and lean red meat; cheese and yogurt; beans, legumes, and nuts; bread, rice, couscous, and other grains, especially whole grains; extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), and a moderate amount of wine. These are the types of foods usually eaten by people living in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Many health benefits have been seen by adapting a Mediterranean diet such as lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer1.

But wait.  “Olive oil is a fat and that can’t be good for me, right?”

Although olive oil is a fat, it is the healthiest of fats you can choose to incorporate in your diet and cooking.  It is packed with antioxidants like vitamins E and C (for healthy skin, nails, hair, and increased immunity) as well as monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), the good fats that help us fight disease.

While olive oil is a good fat, it still comes in at 9 calories per gram like all other fats. Keep in mind that 1 Tablespoon of olive oil has about 120 calories. It’s always a good rule of thumb to use two hands when cooking with oils; one hand to pour the oil and the other to hold a measuring spoon. Pouring freely usually results in too many calories and you may be interfering with weight maintenance.

So where does Olive Oil come from?

It comes exactly where it sounds like it’s from – an olive! Olives are grown on olive trees which are harvested, milled, filtered, and bottled for us to conveniently purchase at grocery stores world-wide.

How do I choose which Olive Oil to use?

  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the highest grade of olive oil followed by Virgin Olive Oil. It holds the largest proportion of MUFAs compared to regular olive oil. It also has more flavor than regular olive oil because it comes only from the olive and has not undergone any treatments using solvents.  More flavor means you can use less of it when cooking which equal fewer calories and all the benefits.
  2.  Refined Olive Oil is a virgin olive oil of poor quality that has been refined by using charcoal and other chemicals and physical filters. It is the very opposite of extra virgin or virgin olive oil (of high quality). It is usually tasteless, odorless, and colorless. Many countries deem it unfit for human consumption due to poor taste, not to safety concerns.
  3.  Olive Oil is what most countries use and is a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. Different blends are made using more or less virgin olive oil to yield different flavors and tastes at different prices.
  4.  Oils referred to as “light” or “extra light” only mean that more or less virgin olive oil is used in the blend. It has nothing to do with fat or calorie content but more with flavor and color. These types of blends are often used with a higher proportion of refined oil2.

When looking for a nutrient-packed olive oil, your best bet is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Using a blend is perfectly fine, especially because  EVOO can be pricey. If you are using a blend, try to find one with the majority of oil coming from Extra Virgin or Virgin olive oil to have the biggest nutrient impact. While there are definitely benefits to using some olive oils over others, you can’t go wrong in choosing any type of olive oil over butter or other solid fats in cooking!



  1. Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet by Kathleen M .Zelman MPH, RD, LD
  2. The Olive Oil Source