Monday, April 26, 2010

Greens, By All Means!

So, we know that leafy greens are nutritional superstars, but most people are only familiar with lettuce and spinach. Expand your repertoire and try some powerhouse greens such as kale, collards, or Swiss chard. Kale is one of the milder varieties and contains 1,100% more vit. C than cooked spinach and as much calcium as 3/4 cup milk. And unlike spinach, kale's oxalate content is very low, making the iron and calcium more absorbable in the digestive tract. Kale is also an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps improve bone density by regulating calcitonin - a hormone that locks the calcium into the bone matrix.
The simplest way to cook freshly washed greens is to saute them with some garlic olive oil until soft. Squeese on some lemon juice or add a dash of wine vinegar. For variety, try adding chick peas, diced tomato or red pepper flakes. They also make great additions to your favorite soups; toss them into lentil or bean soups. Simmer them in chicken stock with sausage or smoked turkey. Stir into a pan with sliced shiitake mushroom caps sauteed in sesame seed oil and season with soy sauce, vinegar, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Either way, you've got a delicious new side dish that's cheap, even if you buy them in pre-cut bags.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Vegetarian Diets Can Support Optimal Health For Infants and Children

Vegetarian children are well nourished when parents know what to feed them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths that seem to have taken hold in the public due to a hand-full of tragic cases of child abuse or neglect where the children were fed a very poor diet. The diet was labeled by the media or the criminal defense as "vegan." But, the diets weren't poor because they were vegan; they were poor because they were completely inappropriate. Just as inappropriate as the limited diet of cereal, chicken nuggets, pizza, and macaroni & cheese. Though it is also a very poor diet, it seems to be the standard of many American youths. With today's focus on the impact of obesity, the vegetarian lifestyle is taking on a new meaning as a lifelong approach to better health.
Probably the biggest concern with vegetarianism in early childhood is nutritional adequacy. The American Dietetic Association's position on the subject notes that well planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals of all stages throughout the life cycle. Vegan children can be healthy, grow normally, and be extremely active. It takes time and thought to feed vegetarian and vegan children, but all parents should invest energy in nutrition no matter what diet their children follow. This is a critical period of life when eating habits form and growth rates are high. A child's diet must meet nutritional needs, get the right amount of calories, and support expected growth patterns. A Registered Dietitian is the most qualified professional to help educate and guide people who are interested in following a vegetarian lifestyle. Another excellent source of information is the nonprofit educational organization Vegetarian Resource Group. (
There is no question that a balanced vegetarian diet throughout the life span offers significant health benefits over the standard American diet. However, one does not need to go 100% vegan to reap the benefits. Just by moving more toward a plant-based diet is key. Including multiple daily servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds in age appropriate forms is what protects us from illness and disease.
~D. Aronson, MS, RD

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sea Vegetables

The average omega-3 intake in Japan is better than 7 times the amount of Americans, and it's not entirely from fish consumption. Japanese sea vegetables are a low calorie source of EPA and DHA, most B vitamins, calcium, copper, iodine, magneseium, manganese, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, C, and K. Most varieties also provide compounds found in flax seed that are linked to decreased cancer risk and lower LDL levels. These underwater vegetables contain their own unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower the risk of heart disease and many different cancers. Some varieties are used in Sushi rolls, but most can be used in a variety of other ways. Here are some examples:
Nori is a thin, crunchy variety that be sliced into strips and added to salads or used to wrap vegetables or avocado for a quick snack.
Kombu is a type of seaweed mainly used for stocks to add a fish flavor in vegan items that aim to mimic seafood.
Arame is used in savory dishes such as stews, or steamed and served with rice, chick peas, or stir-fried tofu.
Dulse is available dried and provides a cheesy flavor that can be used as a salad topper or eaten straight from the bag as a snack.
Beware of seaweed salads served in some Japanese restaurants - they have been found to be very high in added fats and sugars.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nutrition During Pregnancy

The nine months of pregnancy represent the most intense period of growth and development humans ever experience. How well these processes go depends on many factors. Of the factors affecting fetal growth and development that are within our control to change, nutritional status stands out. At no other time in life are the benefits of optimal nutritional status more obvious than during pregnancy. Moms-to-be need a variety of foods from all the MyPyramid groups. Safe food practices are important, too, since pregnant women are at higher risk of foodborne illnesses.
Weight gain during pregnancy is an important consideration because newborn weight and health status tend to increase as weight gain increases. Rates of low birth weight babies are higher in women who gained too little weight during pregnancy. Weight gain provides an indicator of dietary adequacy. The average weight gain of 30 lbs. usually predicts the average 8 lb. full term baby. When weight gain was restricted to 15 - 20 lbs. earlier in the last century, it was more a matter of what was socially acceptable than what was healthier. Minus the weight of the baby, the rest of the weight gain includes increased blood volume, fluids, and maternal tissues. It is not uncommon to lose 15 lbs. during the delivery.
The calorie need increases during pregnancy due to the increased work load of the heart and lungs of the mother, the increase in breast tissue, uterine muscles, and the placenta. The baby accounts for about 1/3 of the total calorie needs. The second trimester requires approximately 340 additional calories, and the third about 452 extra calories per day. Protein recommendations are an additional 25 grams per day. The average non-pregnant female in the U.S. should be receiving about 71 grams per day (depending on height, weight and frame). Prenatal vitamins are routinely advised, thought iron is probably the most important of the nutrients, since most women of child-bearing age in the U.S. are iron deficient. An additional 300 mg. of Calcium is recommended. Folate is also extremely important for multiple issues. Both fetal development abnormalities and clinical complications during pregnancy can arise from folate deficiencies. Many cereals are now fortified with folate to reduce these incidences. Most vitamins are supplied by a healthy, balanced diet, and extra supplements are recommended for specific deficiencies. Consult with your health care provider or a Registered Dietitian for a nutrition screening and customized health plan before taking any supplements! Excessive amounts of certain nutrients or herbal remedies can be toxic. Vegan moms need to make sure they are getting enough B-12, D, calcium, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, and riboflavin, as these nutrients are more abundant in animal products. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may not be apparent until after delivery. Due to the presence of mercury and other contaminates found in fish, it is recommended that women who are pregnant or breast feeding to consume no more than 12 oz. of fish per week. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) actually "detox" our bodies of heavy metals found in our environments. Make sure to include them in your diet also.
Exercise for pregnant women is similar to that of other healthy women; moderate exercise for 30 minutes 3 - 5 times per week. Regular moderate exercise can also help reduce the occurrence of gestational diabetes, and help regulate blood sugars of those with gestational diabetes.
As all health care providers will recommend, eliminate alcoholic beverages and all tobacco products.
All healthy women expect that their pregnancies will proceed normally, and the vast majority of them do. Nutritional interventions during pregnancy should be based on scientific evidence that supports their safety and effectiveness. A healthy lifestyle throughout pregnancy will be rewarded with a healthy newborn.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Feminine Art of Breast Feeding

Every mother has the potential to succeed and make breast feeding a wonderful experience. Support from husbands, sisters, mothers, health care providers and employers is critical to the success of the new mom. Once you have started to breastfeed, keep trying! There are many people and organizations who can support you in your effort to give your baby the best start.
The benefits of breast feeding to mothers and infants are well established. Human milk is an elegantly designed natural resource. The composition of the milk is designed not only to nurture, but to protect infants from infectious diseases and certain chronic diseases. It is considered the "most effective preventative means of reducing the death rate of children under five." Breast milk contains more fat and calories than cows milk. This fat provides the essential fatty acid DHA, critical for brain and kidney development. Several reports have linked increases in cognitive development and increased IQ levels to breast milk. Nursing babies experience less GI upsets, asthma and respiratory infections, and food allergies. Breast feeding is also linked to fewer occurrences of SIDS, leukemia, diabetes, and obesity. Moms who breast feed reduce their chances of ovarian and breast cancer, type II diabetes, and postpartum depression.
A breastfeeding woman needs 200 more calories per day than she did during pregnancy, and it is important that the calories come from nutritious foods. Breastfeeding women usually lose 1 to 4 pounds per month without restricting their calorie intake. Avoid strong flavors (onions, garlic) and spicy or "gassy" foods since they have been known to cause episodes of colic in newborns. Some foods such as fresh strawberries can produce mild allergic reactions in newborns. Fluid intake has no bearing on milk production, though fluid demands increase during lactation. Drink fluids to thirst. The amount varies with climate, body size, physical activity, etc.
The suggested daily intake of calcium is 1,300 milligrams per day. Reading nutrition labels can help ensure that you are getting enough calcium. For example, one cup of milk or yogurt contains 300 milligrams of calcium. Iron is also important; about 9-10 mg a day is sufficient, and 120 mg of Vit C a day. Vitamin D is extremely important; 63% of infants born in the U.S. are deficient. 400 IU is recommended, in addition to the 2000 IU recommendation for non-pregnant women. Ask your health care provider to recommend the right supplement for you and your new baby. Discuss all medications with your doctor, as alcohol, drugs, and herbal remedies are passed through breast milk.
As with most things, breastfeeding becomes easier with practice. A lack of confidence cannot undo what nature has equipped humans to do since the dawn of time. Nurture this healthy relationship with your baby and enjoy this wonderful time of life.
~ Nature Reviews Immunology, 2004

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Asparagus; The Quintessential Vegetable of Spring

It won't cure cancer, but it may relieve a hangover. The minerals and amino acids have been shown to help detox the body of alcohol related toxins. It is an unusually nutritious vegetable. One cup of of cooked asparagus provides 2/3 the Daily Value of folate, 114% of the DV for vit. K, 400 mg potassium, vit. C, A, B-complex, several minerals, 4 grams of protein, and 3.6 grams of dietary fiber. Besides the familiar nutrients, asparagus is one of the best food sources of rutin, which strengthen capillary walls. A down-side however, asparagus is also high in purine; a compound that produces uric acid which is related to gout and kidney stones, though a 2004 study found no increased risk of gout associated with moderate intake of purine-rich vegetables.
White asparagus is the green plant grown without sunlight, so it lacks the anti-oxidant chlorophyll, and is also lower in nutrients. Purple asparagus contains 20% more sugars, so it has a sweeter taste. The color also contains the antioxidants of the anthocyanins.
Select asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips. Thick or thin spears is a matter of taste or how you plan to cook them. Trim off woody stems.
Store asparagus in a dark place in the refrigerator, wrapped in a moist paper towel to prevent wilting. Use as soon as possible.
Cook asparagus quickly and just to tender/crisp. Steaming and microwaving are better than boiling, which leaches the nutrients into the water. Try stir-frying, grilling or broiling. Slathering with butter or Hollandaise sauce only adds fat and calories to the otherwise healthy, 3 calorie per spear vegetable.
~ Tufts University, 2010