Easy Granola

A year and a half ago, I visited my in-laws. My mother-in-law was on a very strict low carb diet at the time. The day before I arrived, however, she had a bit of a fall out with her diet. Now, while most of us would go for cake and cookies and ice cream, she made granola. I gave her props for at least caving for something whole grain and mostly good for you.

That story is to try and give you some indication of how good this granola is. Good enough to blow a diet for, rather than all the normal sugary stuff. And it really is pretty good for you. Granola only gets a bad rap because we tend to eat A LOT at one time, which can add up in the calorie department. But a little as a snack or on some yogurt is perfect. Enjoy some today on this beautiful first day of fall!

Easy Granola (Makes about 8 cups)

Easy Granola

5 cups oats (quick or old-fashioned are fine)
1 cup non fat powdered milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup shredded coconut (optional)
½ cup canola oil
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup dried fruit (or more if you like)

1. Preheat oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone liner, or spray with cooking spray.

2. Mix all the ingredients together with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon. Spread in an even layer on baking sheet.

3. Bake for about 30 minutes (keep an eye on it so it doesn’t start to burn). Remove from oven and let it cool for 30 minutes. Break into chunks as desired. Store in an airtight container.

Nutritional information (about per ¼ cup):

Calories: 171
Protein: 3 g
Fat: 8 g
Saturated Fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: less than 1 mg
Carbohydrates: 24 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 94 mg

Recipe notes: I never have coconut, so I leave that out. You could sub coconut oil in for flavor, but realize that it will change the fat ratios. I like walnuts and craisins. You could use whatever dried fruit and nut combo you like. Or you could use some premixed trail mix if you have that around.

Source: my sister-in-law

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Sugar coated research

Image from shutterstock

Image from shutterstock

A friend recently sent me this article from the NY Times: “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat“. The article details how researchers recently found documents showing that (more than 50 years ago) sugar industry executives paid and provided articles to scientists. The scientists were “encouraged” to write review articles highlighting fat as the main culprit in heart disease and downplay the role of sugar. Many believe this is why for decades fat was the focus of so much media attention, and that only now is sugar getting it’s day in the lime light as a bad guy in heart disease.

I highly encourage you to read the article and form your opinions, as always. Here are my thoughts.

1) I think the scientists industry leaders acted unethically IF things played out exactly as this article details. Scientists are allowed to receive funding from industry groups. However, this funding needs to be disclosed. Also, scientists have a duty in their research to present the whole picture, especially in a review article. Now, this happened before today’s current ethics rules were in place. But I don’t know that that entirely excuses the behavior. Again, I say IF this article is not skewing what really happened to make a better story.

2) While the review article in question likely did influence scientific and public opinion, researchers were already focusing on fat as a culprit in heart disease. If we could go back in time and take away the review article, fat still may have emerged as the prominent bad guy in nutrition world.

3) While the behavior was unethical, the American public is still somewhat to blame. We are the ones who turned to refined sugars and highly processed carbs. We could have turned to protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, etc. We as a people are looking for an easy solution. Fat is bad? Ok. I’ll just avoid that. There is not ONE bad nutrient. Good nutrition is a balance. We always seem to forget that, then blame science for telling us the wrong thing.

4) This highlights the importance of not only looking at the funding behind research but thinking about how we fund research. Scientists take money from private industries because research takes money and that is a good source of it. If we as a people want good, unbiased research, we need to help come up with the money to fund it. End of story.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article, sugar vs fat, and research funding. Please leave thoughts in the comments. And I’m always happy to respond to your questions or articles you send me! Just email me at: kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Caprese Pasta

I’m back! Sorry for the two month hiatus. Between computer troubles and life being life, I haven’t been on here in awhile. I’ve got a bunch of great recipes and ideas I’m excited to share with you. And please be patient if things are different. Some recipes may not have nutrition information, since they aren’t exact formulations.

Today, I’m sharing an incredibly easy and delicious pasta dish that is great as a side or vegetarian main. It tastes like the end of summer, which is perfect. I created it when I looked at my garden and saw a bunch of tomatoes and basil that needed using. Whether you have your own produce or are getting it from the store, this is completely seasonal and delicious. Enjoy!

Caprese Pasta (Serves 6 as a side, 3 as a main)

Caprese Pasta<

1 cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup honey
1 pound whole wheat pasta
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
2-4 tablespoons pesto (recipe here or from a jar is fine)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil

1. In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and honey to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, until reduced to ⅓ cup. Set aside to cool.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions, leaving out oil or salt. Drain.

3. Into hot pasta, toss mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto, and fresh basil.

4. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of the balsamic sauce over the top. Toss to coat. Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to eat.

Recipe Notes: Sorry for no nutrition information today. The balsamic sauce and pesto are kind of oddball ingredients that will vary based on cooking time of the vinegar, how much you use, what kind of pesto you make/buy. I highly recommend fresh mozzarella for this. If you have to use the regular kind, I’d still cube it up, but very small, so you have more of a chance of it melting.

Source: Balsamic reduction from allrecipes.com; rest is original recipe

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Obesity, empathy, and body image thoughts

Occasionally, in all the media clutter we see and hear each day, a clear, concise message appears to you. That happened to me today. I listened to the most recent post on This American Life entitled “Tell Me I’m Fat”. It was riveting, thought provoking, and entertaining. Everything a great podcast episode should be. You should really listen to it here.

Also today, an article popped up on my Facebook feed about how dietitians need to have empathy and how that can be better “taught” in dietetics training programs. I totally agree with this being a problem. While I had very good education and training as a dietitian, the most “empathy” that ever came into my lessons was teaching you how to keep a straight face while taking down a diet history. As in, when a client/patient tells you that he/she ate an entire cake or 14 tortillas in a day, you smile and say, “ok”. That was a good skill, believe you me. And I’m not criticizing my professors because empathy isn’t something you can really “teach”. It has to be developed with time and experience.

Together, those have prompted me to write a few very open, honest thoughts here.

1) I have never in my life been obese. I have never had to struggle with so many of the daily trials that face obese people. The stories in the podcast highlight many of these: finding clothes, being comfortable eating out, criticism from complete strangers, worrying about breaking a chair, etc. So I can try to be empathetic and imagine how that feels, but I haven’t had that experience.

2) However, I have struggled with my weight. Multiple times in my rather short adult life, so I do have some measure of empathy about weight and body image and those struggles.

When I graduated from college, I didn’t like how I felt or looked or what the scale said. I spent an entire summer exercising and trying to cut back on junk food. The result was maybe 5 pounds of weight loss, which was incredibly disheartening. Luckily for me, I then started grad school. The stress and busy schedule helped me almost unconsciously shed the last 10 pounds I needed/wanted. And then cancer and endocrine instability helped me drop 10 more. I was back to what I weighed in middle school. I’ll admit, I liked how looked and wanted to keep it that way, even if was a bit on the light side of healthy.

Then school ended. Life changed. Thankfully, for a couple years, I was able to mostly maintain my weight.

Then babies happened. My first pregnancy, I gained a bit too much weight, but it seemed to just melt off after I had my baby. One month post-partum, thanks to breastfeeding and some postpartum depression inhibiting my eating, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling really good. Fast forward about 4 months, and things weren’t so easy. But with some frequent exercise, I was able to stay in a good place for me.

Fast forward now to pregnancy number two. I gained more weight. I couldn’t stop gaining weight. When I would see how much the scale went up at a doctor’s visit, I’d feel sad and go home and eat a cookie. Smart, right? I was only about 5 pounds over the maximum recommended weight gain, but I had started pregnancy about 5 pounds up from my usual desired weight, too. This time, the weight did not melt off after I had the baby. 6 weeks out, my 2 year old was pointing to my tummy and asking about baby sister. My baby is almost 11 months old now, and I’m still not where I’d like to be.

Recently, I’ve challenged myself to nine weeks of exercise and limiting treats to try and feel better about myself for a family cruise. So far, I’ve kept to my plan (gloriously pictured below). But I’ll admit, I don’t think I’ve lost a single pound. And I still crave chocolate EVERY SINGLE DAY.

My current exercise and diet challenge

That is more about my life and weight history than maybe you wanted to know. But I hope it shows that I can have some empathy about weight, diet, eating struggles, etc.

3) While I understand it is a very complicated, multi-faceted issue, I am a big proponent (on face value) of the movement of accepting one’s weight, even if you are fat (as discussed in the podcast). I have posted multiple times on this site about research showing that healthy choices at any weight are beneficial, how the number on a scale is just a number, and so much more. AND IT IS STILL TRUE! Might you be better off if you hadn’t gained 30 (or 50 or 100) extra pounds in the first place? Yes. But can you go back and change that? No. What you can change is the future – not gaining more weight, maybe losing some weight, maybe just making healthier lifestyle choices.

In my own life, I have COMPLETELY found this to be true. When I was down to my middle school weight, I didn’t always feel great. Now that I’m up 15 pounds, but exercising six days a week and controlling my eating more, I do feel better. I stared down a plate of brownies all afternoon/evening one day last week and didn’t eat a single one. The mental boost it gave me to feel like I was in control of myself was immensely more beneficial than any endorphin rush from some sugar and chocolate.

No one sets out to become overweight or obese. I don’t think anyone would intentionally choose that life path for themselves, fully knowing the pain, discrimination, health issues and other struggles associated with it. But they can choose to change their future course. And we can choose to not contribute to the discrimination and to help people make better choices in their future.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the podcast, obesity, obesity discrimination, and empathy in the comments!

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Nutrition Label Changes

Remember how over 2 years ago I told you how you could tell the FDA what you thought about changes to the food label? Well, I hope you did. If you did, maybe your voice counted.

Recently, the FDA announced what changes they will be making to the nutrition facts labels on your foods. The new labels will have to be in place by July 2018, which is quite awhile. But it is great to see some changes. Here’s the label:

New Nutrition Labels

What’s New (my highlights):

-Updates to the serving size. Not only is the font bigger, but the amounts should be changing. No longer will there be serving sizes on a cookie that are ¼ of a cookie. Serving sizes and nutrition facts must reflect amounts people actually eat. Hooray!

-Other items bolded or in larger font for ease of finding key information, like calories.

-Added sugars will now be on the label. I am very excited about this. Now you can know how much sugar is being added to foods that naturally have sugar in them, such as yogurt and fruit products.

-Vitamin D and Potassium will now be on the label rather than vitamin A and C. I am also a big fan of this change. Vitamin D and potassium are key nutrients for heart health, and those with kidney disease need to be acutely aware of their potassium intake. This will help.

This is a great change for food labeling. Hopefully, it helps us make better choices in the grocery stores. For more details on all the changes, visit fda.gov. Let me know your thoughts on the changes in the comments!

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Calorie Counts on Menu Boards

Most of us know it is difficult to watch your calorie intakes when you eat out. What seems healthy can often blow your calorie budget: salads that are 1000 calories or more, a chicken sandwich has the highest calorie count of any sandwich on the McDonald’s menu, etc.

In an effort to make health-conscious eating out more feasible, regulations have been in the works for years now to require restaurants with more than 20 locations to label their menus with calorie information. Seems great, right?

That took a slight setback recently. Recently, a bill was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives delaying the deadline for restaurants to have this information until May 2017. Bad news, right?

I actually have mixed feelings on this. Having spoken with some players involved in getting this information ready, it is more complicated than you might think. Easy examples are frozen yogurt shops or pizza places. Toppings will change the info for each pizza. That is a lot of information to try and fit onto menu boards.

I recently saw this solution at Chipotle:

Chipotle menu board

I’ll be honest. While I’m generally a fan of the menu labeling, this solution seems fairly unhelpful. A 500 calorie range with no specifics on what makes you at the bottom or top of that range is basically useless.

All in all, I think this is an important reminder that all regulations require a lot of nuance and to not be overly critical of either side. Each side has valid points.

What do you think of this regulation and it’s postponement? Let me know in the comments section!

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Grilling Nutrition

It’s beginning to feel like summer at my house.  Summer means outdoors, both for eating and cooking.  Up until recently, we had a small little camping grill we used.  It worked well, although did have severe capacity limitations.  My husband recently purchased a Traeger pellet grill to upgrade our outdoor cooking, and boy is it an upgrade.  It can smoke, grill, bake, and the list seems to go on.  We are loving it.

image

However, the risk of cancer from eating “grilled” meats has been in the news in recent years. I wondered if the same risks were true for smoked meats, as well as if it depended on the heat source of your grill (charcoal vs. gas vs. wood). So I did some research for all of us.

The carcinogenic compounds formed when grilling meats are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs are formed when you cook meat at very high temperatures, like you can get on a gas or charcoal grill or even a very hot grill pan or broiler. PAHs are formed in the flames that flare up when fat from you meat drips into your flame and then chars the food. Some studies suggest PAHs are also formed when you smoke meats.

I couldn’t find any definitive evidence that any particular heat source causes more or less of these substances to be formed. I think it would come down to temperature and control of the flame. I do know that in our Traeger, there is a drip pan that prevents fat from getting to the flame and stops flare ups. It also cannot go above a temperature of about 500. That would make me guess that a grill like that MIGHT form less PAHs and HCAs, but I can’t be sure. And food can still become “charred” on the grill, just like in your oven when things burn. (As is seen in my kebabs below, recipe to follow next week).

Grilled Kebabs

After all my research, I actually came to the same conclusions I had before. Grilling or smoking is a great way to cook meat without adding fat while still retaining/adding flavor. However, you want to prevent lots of “char” or burn marks on your meat. And, as always, eat these foods in moderation, like everything else.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the risk of cancer from eating grilled or smoked meats in the comments. Happy summer!

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