Best (Easy to Read) Nutrition and Wellness Books

Few conversations can bring a bookworm out of his or her shell faster than a request for reading recommendations. Much to my delight, people from all walks of life are now embracing nutrition and wellness with a frenzied, passion-like curiosity. And guess what — they’re looking for something to read! While no one book can bottle up my entire education and experience into a practical, easy-to-read volume, I will happily supply recommendations for those wanting to learn more.

Not to worry — there  are no dense nutrition textbooks or food anthologies on this list. Rather, I’m sharing some of my favorite, easy to read book nutrition related books from the popular press. I also included four of my favorite food systems books, for those that want to dig deeper and approach nutrition on a public health scale.

Best Easy-to-Read Nutrition Books (according to a Dietitian)

Nutrition & Wellness 101: What to Eat and How to Eat It

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who Live the Longest, by Dan Buettner // This book investigates cultures around the world that live the longest, emphasizing the importance of achievable, enjoyable lifestyles and habits, rather than extreme regimens. The diversity of traditions represented demonstrate why small choices (black beans versus bok choy) aren’t as important as overall dietary patterns (eating lots of vegetables).

Disease-Proof, by David Katz // Although not every chapter of this book is devoted specifically to diet and food choices, it is a great handbook for anyone striving to take better care of their body. Dr. Katz not only addresses goals that are relevant to living healthier, but also the skills needed to make these goals a reality. (I blogged a longer review in a previous post.)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan // While not an outright guidebook on what to eat, this is one of the clearest, most beautifully written explanations of the way that our food is grown and processed matters, and why farm fresh food and scratch cooking are wiser alternatives to packaged “health foods” and standard American fare.

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters, by Karen Le Billon // This memoir follows the triumphs (and failures) of a North American family attempting to expand their picky palates and embrace real food (and table manners) throughout their year in France. The lessons can be applied to any life stage, even if you don’t have children. Most importantly, Le Billon reminds us not to lose sight of the big picture. After all, green vegetables cooked in butter are certainly more nutritious than opting for highly processed snack foods with no veggies at all.

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, by Brian Wansink// Dr. Wansink is a firm believer that “it’s easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind.” This book offers plenty of practical tips to make nutritious choices the easy, default choices, applying data from the author’s behavioral research lab. Picking up from Dr. Wansink’s 2006 book, Mindless Eating, this follow up is even more user friendly, complete with illustrated blueprints on how to makeover your food environment to eliminate the triggers that cause mindless eating and overeating.(I blogged a longer review in a previous post.)

Extra Credit: Exploring Our Food System

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss // By now, we know that fast food and highly packaged junk foods (chips, soda, etc) are bad news. But if you wonder why these foods continue to engulf our communities and tickle our senses, Moss’s expose on the food industry is the perfect place to start.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber // Celebrity chef Dan Barber’s tome is a refreshingly solutions-based approach to addressing the plagues of industrial food production. From aquaculture to soil health, Barber gets his hands dirty to find the best ways that chefs, farmers, and consumers can come together and get our food system (and our land) back in shape.

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, by Mark Winne // Drawing from his personal experience in urban food activism, Mark Winne illustrates how truly sustainable food systems should address the needs of all participants, not just the wealthy minority. This book is a humble reminder that reforming our food system is not just a hobby for the well-to-do, but is directly in line with the changes needed to help end hunger and improve nutrition in America.

World Hunger: Ten Myths, by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins // Yes, this is the book that I helped research – an experience that taught me so much about our food economy and food production system. Lappé and Collins go beyond admonishing industrial agricultural monopolies and praising sustainable agriculture – they actually demonstrate that agroecology is in fact better suited to feed a growing population.

– Kelly

Advertisements

How to Choose the Healthiest Peanut Butter

Radishes with Peanut Butter

While calorie counters may gravitate towards reduced fat peanut butters, there is no reason to fear the heart-healthy unsaturated fats in peanuts. Peanuts and peanut butter are associated with weight control and longevity, making this inexpensive plant protein a nutritious pantry staple.

That being said, many “no stir” peanut butters on the market (including reduced fat varieties) are riddled with unnecessary sugars and oils (often rainforest-disrupting palm oil). It is totally natural for the oils in peanut butter to separate, so if you have to stir it, thats a good sign!

My shopping tip is to look for nut butters with only peanuts and salt (if desired) on the ingredients, but that’s it! No sugars, no oils, no problem. They’re simply unnecessary. (This advice applies to other nut butters as well, like almond butter or cashew butter.)

Natural PB, Rice Cake, and Cherries

Often, these nutritious nut butters are labeled as “natural,” but be careful — there aren’t really any standards for natural foods. For example, JIF and Skippy both have “natural” lines of peanut butter, yet all of  those products still contain added sugars and oils. In fact, even Whole Foods Market carries some nut butters with these superfluous additives. It pays to read the ingredient listing!

To save you some time in the nut butter aisle, I’ve compiled a list of several of the most popular varieties of “peanut-only” peanut butter (without the hidden sugars and oils). Look for any of these at your local grocer, and rest assured that you aren’t getting any unnecessary sweeteners or stabilizers. Smooth or chunky, organic or conventional, plain or salted, and even with flaxseed, you’re sure to find a peanut butter that meets your needs!

How to Choose the Healthiest Peanut Butter

– Kelly

 

Weekend Web Roundup

It’s been awhile since my last web roundup, so today I’m sharing a few fun features that recently caught my eye. What sites have you been bookmarking lately?

Mediterranean Diet Manifesto

Mediterranean Diet Manifesto // I love this punchy infographic from registered dietitian Elena Paravantes. For those of you that have trouble picturing what a “real food” or “whole foods” diet looks like, print this graphic out and stick it to the refrigerator or pantry door. A few of my favorite snippets of advice are “Talk During Meals,” “Eat Beans at Least Twice a Week,” and “Eat Fruits and Vegetables that are in Season.”

Obesity & Food Policy Infographic

How Food Policy Can Help Curb Obesity // My concentration in grad school was Food Policy, so I love nerding out over these sorts of public health analyses. This graphic from The Lancet is a great jumping off point to brainstorm solutions for obesity prevention and public health nutrition.

Menu that Encourages Healthy Choices

Restaurant Menu Layout that Encourages Healthy Choices // Speaking of public health… In this article for The Atlantic, Cornell researcher Dr. Brian Wansink shares strategies for restaurants to use that subconsciously encourage diners to choose healthier options, by simply tweaking the menu design. If you enjoy these types of health hacks, you’ll love Wansink’s books, Slim by Design, and Mindless Eating. (I wrote a bit about Slim by Design here.)

Wright Kitchen, by photographer Brittany Wright

Food Gradients // Seattle photographer Brittany Wright became an Instagram sensation after posting captivating pictures of food neatly arranged by color. Her prints are available in limited edition runs on her website, so if you see one you like, snatch it up quickly! For a regular dose of Brittany’s shamelessly OCD food styling, be sure to follow her on Instagram (@wrightkitchen).

50 States of Food from Fooddiggity

Foodnited States of America // Ending on a lighter note, I just had to share this delightful collection of punny food art from the folks at Foodiggity. They creating each of the 50 states as visual food puns, and are posting the project on Instagram (@foodiggity) using the hashtag #foodnitedstates. Follow along with the project on Instagram (they have about 40 states so far), or read more about the project on Foodiggity and Yahoo.

– Kelly

Whole30: A Wholly Misguided Approach to Healthy Eating

Spaghetti Squash with Marinara and Veggies

As enlightened eaters begin to question the healthfulness of highly processed and fast food, many are turning to the Whole30 Diet as a way to cleanse themselves of the junk. Whole30 is being embraced with a frenzy of fad-like enthusiasm (warning bell!), so several close friends have asked for my opinion.

At first glance, this approach seems to be an exciting way to cut the junk and focus on whole foods. After all, the first rule of the Whole30 Diet is the Pollan-esque mantra “Eat real food.” However, if you dig a little deeper into the rules of Whole30, and you’ll find that much of the “real food” as we know it is expressly forbidden on this diet. Don’t believe me? Here is why the Whole30 Diet is a misguided approach to healthy eating.

Whole30 eliminates all grains: Building on the gluten-free fear mongering of other pop-science books (I’m pointing at you, Wheat Belly), Whole30 eliminates all grains, including healthy whole grains, because of their “problematic proteins,” like gluten.Parboiled brown rice for Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms, Zucchini and Spinach

This in itself is a misguided interpretation of science. Indeed, in people with Celiac Disease and some gluten sensitivities, the body perceives gluten as an enemy, and produces an inflammatory immune response. But for the vast majority of the population without gluten disorders, that’s not what happens. In fact, eating whole grains, is associated with decreased inflammation. In a recent clinical trial, researchers found that eating a cup of whole grain barley or brown rice (or a combination of the two) for as little as four weeks can increase the “good” bacteria in your gut that fight inflammation.

A diet without grains but with unlimited red meat is basically just an Atkins diet. There is no reason for this to be disguised as a “whole foods” eating pattern, when entire groups of whole foods are eliminated. Any diet that bans nutritious whole grains like quinoa and millet, but allows you to survive exclusively off of bacon and Larabars, should make you question the legitimacy of its health claims.

Whole30 eliminates all legumes: Another healthy food group, axed from the menu! The creators of Whole30 warn that legumes (like chickpeas, black beans, or lentils) have high levels of phytates, which can block the uptake of certain nutrients by our bodies. While this might sound alarming, what Whole30 enthusiasts fail to understand is that SO many factors affect our uptake of nutrients (how a food is stored, processed, and cooked, what else is eaten with it, etc) and that the reductionist approach of analyzing foods by the milligrams of nutrients that you may or may not be fully absorbing is an entirely fruitless pursuit.

Pike PlaceAdditionally, these “nutrition experts” (those are sarcastic quotes) fail to understand that ALL plant foods contain varying level of phytates, and that many of the foods promoted by Whole30 (such as kale) have even more phytates than legumes. Phytates are also found in pasture raised and wild meat, based on which plants animals ate during their lifetime. And on top of everything, phytates (natural plant defenses) are not necessarily a bad thing! These bioactive compounds act as antioxidants in the body, and have been linked to anticancer activity, as well as cholesterol lowering effects. (This should not be surprising – we all know that beans are healthy.) The only way to avoid all phytates is to eat highly processed and synthetic foods – which basically defeats the entire philosophy of Whole30.

Whole30 eliminates all dairy. Plant-based diets that eliminate animal products, including dairy, can certainly be extremely healthy. Indeed, T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) and the Harvard School of Public Health bring up excellent points that are leading nutrition researchers to revisit the connection between dairy and bone health (it’s not as straightforward as we once thought).

That being said, fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, and some raw milk cheeses, are great ways to stimulate beneficial gut bacteria. Everyday new research is uncovering the importance of the microbiome. Already, we are finding that a wide variety of healthy gut bacteria are thought to be linked with everything from infections, to obesity, to allergies. Additionally, if dairy is banned in addition to grains and legumes, there really isn’t much left to eat! What kind of healthy diet eliminates half of the food pyramid?

Whole30 eliminates “psychologically unhealthy foods”: The creators of Whole30 claim that smoothies, healthy baked goods, and basically any recipe resembling something that you might actually want to eat is “psychologically unhealthy,” because it is too similar to the standard American diet. Because, you know, Americans became obese from drinking too many kale smoothies and making too many loaves of naturally sweetened, whole grain banana bread (ahem, not!).Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Broccoli, Chickpeas, Feta, and Olive Oil

Judging by the no-apologies way that the rules are written up (and by the rules themselves), Whole30 seems to be designed to take the pleasure out of eating. This is a terrible idea. The last thing people need is another fad diet that they stick to for 30 days and then drop. I truly believe that healthy eating is not a punishment – if done right, it can be joyful, delicious, and a lifelong habit. But Whole30 is not healthy eating done right. It is restrictive, antagonistic, and completely misguided.

Additionally, while Whole30 gurus may be opposed to “psychologically unhealthy” foods, they seem to have no problem with physiologically unhealthy foods – in other words, an eating pattern guaranteed to make you feel like crap. While adjusting to a higher fiber diet can take some time (the key to avoid intestinal discomfort is to add fiber slowly over time, and drink LOTS of water!), no “healthy” diet should EVER make you feel “hungover” or like you want to “kill all the things,” which the creators of Whole30 brush off as perfectly normal (it’s not!).

Despite these shortcomings, there are some important lessons to be learned from the program:
At the heart of it, the elimination of highly processed foods is what makes the Whole 30 diet seem so appealing. Americans (and increasingly, folks in other nations as well) are hooked on snack foods—packaged ‘Frankenfoods’ formulated from the same handful of highly processed ingredients. In contrast, healthy diets should be based on a wide variety of minimally processed plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and fish. While Whole30 creators seem to be confused about what a whole foods diet is, their heart seems to be in the right place (maybe).

Nutrient Synergy: Why Whole Foods and Traditional Cuisines MatterThe Whole30 regimen also asks participants to abstain from added sugars for 30 days. While a few teaspoons a day isn’t going to kill you, most people could definitely use a break from this over consumed food. After all, the World Health Organization recommends that adults cut back to only 6 teaspoons a day. Additionally, Whole30 urges participants to abstain from alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption–especially red wine–is shown to have numerous health benefits. But judging from the number of drunken people I’ve seen on the T around Saint Patrick’s Day (or on 6th Street, in college), I’m sure there are plenty of folks that could benefit from a month without alcohol. Bottom Line: If you want to purge your diet of everything remotely impure for 30 days, do just that! But don’t exclude wholesome plant foods, like whole grains or beans.

You wouldn’t get open-heart surgery from an auto mechanic, so why would you follow nutrition advice from someone with zero education or training? While one of the Whole30 cofounders might be a “sports nutritionist,” all that’s required for that designation is to pass one test. No nutrition degree (or even nutrition classes), no supervised practice, and no accredited internship required. The startling nutrition deficiencies in this program are all the more reason to seek nutrition advice from a trained nutrition professional, like a registered dietitian.

– Kelly

The Best TED Talks on Food Systems, Nutrition, and Public Health

Surely a sign of progress, there are now an abundance of TED talks that explore food, nutrition, and public health. Below are my very favorites — a collection of videos that I consider informative, important, and incredibly fascinating! If you have a favorite TED talk that’s not listed here, send me a link in the comments below.

PART I: PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTHY FOOD ENVIRONMENTS

How an Obese Town Lost a Million Pounds (Mick Cornett)

I just got back from OKC this week after visiting a college roommate, so this Midwestern town is fresh on my mind. Regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been to the Sooner state, you’ll definitely be inspired by this talk from current mayor Mick Cornett. Equal parts entertaining and inspiring, this story highlights how city planners and public health professionals can play an important role in fighting the obesity epidemic, and shows how important a walkable environment is in promoting health.

Teach Every Child about Food (Jamie Oliver)

Oliver has gained a well-deserved reputation as a tireless advocate for childhood obesity prevention. In this talk, Oliver explains just how important improving nutrition is to our children, and just how serious of a problem the American food environment has become. Our kids deserve better than this, and Oliver explains why.

How We Can Eat Our Landscapes (Pam Warhurst)

In this delightful and motivational story, Warhurst describes how a grassroots volunteer gardening movement is creating a supportive framework for the local food economy. Her talk celebrates the small actions of the community, and highlights the importance of edible landscapes.

PART II: WHY ORGANICS ARE IMPORTANT

From Fabels to Labels (Urvashi Rangan)

Identifying healthy products at the supermarket can be a challenge, especially when packages tout a variety of health claims and nutrition buzzwords. In this talk, Rangan explains which food claims and labels are more credible than others, and also makes an excellent case for supporting organics.

Why is Organic Food so *#@! Expensive? (Ali Partovi)

If the previous talk didn’t convince you of the importance of organic farming systems, this one surely will. Tech giant Partovi dispels a lot of myths surrounding organic food and industrial agriculture. This talk is a must for anyone that thinks that organic farming is expensive and inefficient, and that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world.

PART III: SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS AND FOOD POLICY

How I Fell in Love with a Fish (Dan Barber)

Sustainable food enthusiasts and seafood lovers alike will enjoy this engaging talk from Chef Dan Barber, which explores the sustainability of farmed fish. If you enjoyed Barber, be sure to check out his other TED talk about ethical foi gras. Or, if you’d like to learn more about sustainable seafood, be sure to check out this TED talk from chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver.

Turning the Farm Bill into a Food Bill (Ken Cook)

A new farm bill has passed since this 2011 talk first aired, but many of the points remain relevant. Cook explains how, despite the growing demand for responsibly produced food, government programs and legislation still favor industrial agriculture and the profits of a few food giants over family farms and public health.

Hungry for more? Check out the line-up from the TedxManhattan conferences (here are 2015 and 2014 to get you started) which are focused on “Changing the Way We Eat,” and are the sources of many of the videos above. The TED website also has a “What’s Wrong with What We Eat?” video playlist, a “Talks for Foodies” video playlist, and a “Plantastic!” video playlist. Additionally, Netflix offers a bundle of food related TED talks, in a collection called “Chew on This.”

– Kelly

Whole Milk vs. Skim Milk

A dear friend and college roommate informed me that her husband recently switched to whole milk because he read that it was healthier. Seeing as this runs contrary to decades of dietary advice, she asked for my opinion on the matter.

Emerging Research on Milk Fat

While saturated fat (the main type of fat in animal foods, including whole milk) is largely considered a dietary villain, emerging research is shedding new light on the dairy debate.

Skim vs Whole Milk

The article in question references a study in which whole milk drinkers were found to weigh less than skim milk drinkers, a surprise, considering a cup of whole milk has nearly double the calories (150 vs 80) of skim milk, due to an additional 8g of total fat (5g saturated fat). However, this is not the first instance of high calorie foods being associated with lower body weights. Nuts and seeds are high in calories, but also high in fiber and heart healthy unsaturated fats, meaning that they fill you up and provide lasting energy. The idea behind both of these paradoxes is that low fat diets are unsatisfying, and often urge us to overcompensate in calories elsewhere. But even though fat is a healthy, essential nutrient, not all fats are created equal.

A recent article from Tricia Ward cites “increasing evidence that dairy fats do not increase [Cardiovascular Disease] risk and may even lead to a better metabolic profile,” due to their unique odd-chain saturated fatty acids. Dairy fats are also shown to be less harmful than margarine, which is a highly processed solid fat made from hydrogenated oils, a manmade process that creates dangerous trans-fats. Additionally, some researchers find that when saturated fats are replaced with refined carbohydrates and added sugars, heart disease risk increases, making saturated fats appear to be a healthy choice.

For these reasons, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the nutrition school at Tufts University, finds it “absurd” that the school lunch program allows sweetened nonfat chocolate milk, but not whole milk. After all, cutting back on dairy fat means increasing other nutrients, which in the case of added sugar, is certainly a step in the wrong direction.

However, what fails to make headlines in the debate about dairy fat is that when saturated fat is replaced with unsaturated fat in the form of olive oil, sunflower oil, nuts, or avocados, heart disease risk actually decreases. So while butter and milkfat may be dubbed the lesser of two evils (when compared to added sugars), the goal of healthful eating should be to find foods that are proven to actually nourish you and prevent disease, rather than picking foods simply because they are “not as bad as” others. (To learn more about the saturated fat debate, see this blog post.)

Current Recommendations

Fat is an essential nutrient, and health experts generally agree that a low fat or no fat diet is not the answer to health. That being said, reputable nutrition organizations, including the Harvard School of Public Health, the American Heart Association, and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee all recommend switching from full fat dairy to reduced fat or nonfat dairy, in order to reduce the intake of saturated fats.

As Walter Willett and Frank Hu (of the Harvard School of Public Health) suggest in a recent Boston Globe article, dietary guidelines are (and always will be) a work in progress, based on a consensus of the latest scientific evidence. The emerging research described above (and in Tricia Ward’s article) offers fascinating new insights on the unique role of whole milk and dairy fat, but there is still not enough evidence (nor is there a scientific consensus) for nutrition experts to recommend making a switch to full fat dairy products.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, which was just released on February 19th, “Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed and may pose a public health concern.” The committee “recommend[s] consumption of low-fat and fat-free foods in the Dairy group to ensure intake of these key nutrients while minimizing intake of saturated fat.”

Similarly, these are the recommendations from the Harvard School of Public Health:

Limit your intake of saturated fats by cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods. Try replacing red meat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish whenever possible, and switching from whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods to lower fat versions, or just eating smaller amounts of full-fat dairy products, such as cheese. Don’t replace red meat with refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, potatoes, and the like).

According to NYU nutrition professor and public health expert Marion Nestle, “It isn’t necessary to get into as yet unanswerable questions of heart disease or cancer to decide what to do about dairy foods. The calories and saturated fat are reason enough to choose lower-fat options.”

If there is a general scientific consensus that animal fats should be minimized, then why might journalists suggest that whole milk and butter can keep us trim and healthy? The Harvard School of Public Health offers this explanation:

Many dairy products are high in saturated fats, and a high saturated fat intake is a risk factor for heart disease. And while it’s true that most dairy products are now available in fat-reduced or nonfat options, the saturated fat that’s removed from dairy products is inevitably consumed by someone, often in the form of premium ice cream, butter, or baked goods. Strangely, it’s often the same people who purchase these higher fat products who also purchase the low-fat dairy products, so it’s not clear that they’re making great strides in cutting back on their saturated fat consumption.

Skim Milk vs Whole MilkThe Organic Factor

Whether or not your milk is organic or from grass fed cows can also have a large impact on the nutrition composition of the milk, especially the makeup of the fats. Research shows that whole organic milk from grass-fed cows is a higher (by 62%) in omega-3 fatty acids than conventional whole milk. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat with several documented health benefits, which means that whole milk from organic, grass-fed dairy products may actually offer some modest health benefits not seen in nonfat dairy. (To learn more about why I choose organic dairy, see this blog post.)

The Bottom Line

The research surrounding odd-chain saturated fatty acids (the special kind found in dairy) is still new, so we don’t yet know just how much it differs from other animal fats with regards to health benefits and risks. However, what we do know is that Americans consume too many calories, and too much saturated fat and added sugars. We also know that replacing animal fat with fats from plant sources (like nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, sunflower oil, flax, etc.) has been shown to offer all of the health benefits of fat, without the health risks still linked to animal fats.

Food choices are, of course, largely personal. And because all foods offer a mix of different fats, saturated fats are impossible to avoid completely. I choose unsweetened, organic nonfat or reduced fat dairy products (except for flavorful, full fat cheese that I use as a garnish on salads and other dishes), and supplement my diet with an ample amount of fatty plant foods in the form of flaxseed, peanut butter, almonds, avocado, and olive oil. Do you eat dairy products? What kind of milk do you buy?

– Kelly

My 4 Favorite Food Documentaries

Over ten years ago, Morgan Spurlock comically captured the dangers of eating too much fast food in his seminal 2004 documentary, Supersize Me. Since then, there has been no shortage of documentaries for those interested in learning more about nutrition and the food system. Overwhelmed by the number of food-centric films on the menu? See below for four of my favorites.

Food Inc. (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why To Pay Attention to Where Our Food Comes From

If you’re wondering why there’s such a fuss about farmers markets and organic, local food, this must-watch 2009 documentary clears things up. While those unfamiliar with the food movement may be ready to dismiss food system issues as frivolous, this film explores how the choices we make at the grocery store can affect not only our own health and well-being, but the well-being of all the people and animals throughout the food chain. (Note: If you enjoyed Food Inc., and would like to learn more about food justice and issues of farm labor inequality, then check out Food Chains, also available on Netflix.)

A Place at the Table (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why Hunger and Obesity are Two Sides of the Same Coin

While Food Inc is probably the most well-known food documentary, A Place at the Table is, in my opinion, the most important. This profound 2013 film explains how hunger and obesity are both symptoms of the same problem: poverty and food insecurity. (If you’d like to learn more about this issue, see the blog post I wrote after I first saw this film.)

Bite Size (available on Vimeo and Amazon Instant Video // $4.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How to Support Kids Struggling with Obesity

Although this new 2015 film doesn’t feature any of the big name narrators or interviews that similar food documentaries include, the message is actually pretty powerful. This documentary follows four obese children, each taking a different approach to get healthy (from team sports, to community groups, to a healthy boarding school). Regardless of the weight loss tactics, what really stood out was how important it is for kids to have someone (be it a parent, coach, or school counselor) advocating for them, and how much this support affects their health and success.

Fed Up (available on Amazon Instant Video // $3.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How the Industrial Food Industry is Contributing to Childhood Obesity

Focusing on added sugars’ contribution to childhood obesity, this 2013 documentary is somewhat of a cross between Food Inc. and Bite Size. The film explores why today’s food environment is often considered ‘obesogenic’ (full of obesity-inducing triggers and cues) and how our unhealthy, corporate-controlled food system negatively affects kids.

While the films listed above are my favorites in the genre, I have seen a number of other food documentaries (including Forks Over Knives, King Corn, The World According to Monsanto, Inside Chipotle, and Food Matters, among others). The next food film that I’m hoping to watch is Cafeteria Man, an inspiring documentary that chronicles a school lunch success story. What are your favorite food documentaries?

– Kelly

Sneak Peek Inside an RD’s Pantry

Sneak Peek into an RD's pantry

There is a lot of mystique surrounding the dietitians pantry. Some assume that it’s only filled with neatly labeled jars of organic quinoa, heirloom beans, and chia seeds. Others suspect more of a Monica’s closet approach, envisioning a secret stash of Oreos and cheese puffs. Well, today I’m putting the questions to rest. Because above is a sneak peek inside my own pantry. (And no, it’s not staged!)

This isn’t where I keep all of my food (the refrigerator, freezer, and spice cabinet are also well stocked), but it should give you an idea of where I stand. Aside from a healthy variety of dried fruit, nuts, beans, and whole grains, one pantry aspect that I’m particularly proud of (and recommend to others) is the lack of processed snack foods. In fact, about the only thing that falls in that category is a box of whole wheat crackers (top right) that I once bought for a dinner party but never ended up opening.

Snack foods tend to disappear quickly because they often trigger mindless eating. In fact, despite the clean nutrition label, I purposely don’t buy KIND bars unless I have a hike, flight, road trip, or ski trip planned. They’re too good not to eat immediately, whether I’m hungry or not. When you keep good food in the house, you tend to eat good food. This means that my go-to dessert ends up being a bowl of oatmeal mixed with bananas and a generous heap of cocoa powder — and that’s only if I’m truly hungry enough to cook it up myself.

While contemplating the components of a healthy pantry (and by extension, a healthy refrigerator), I realized that a major plus for me is that I don’t keep ketchup in the house. Ketchup itself is no dietary villain (Reagan counted it as a vegetable, after all), but hear me out…

Ketchup pretty much only goes with junk food. We can pretend that we exclusively use it on oven-baked sweet potato fries and other lesser evils, but who are we kidding? It’s the frequent fast food take out routine that keeps the ketchup bottles running low. Ketchup is a French fry’s best friend, and it also pairs well with other artery-clogging, obesity-inducing foods, like cheeseburgers and chicken tenders. After all, you certainly would never dunk a salad in it.

When taking inventory of your pantry (or refrigerator), it helps to make note of your food patterns and which foods encourage healthy choices (or unhealthy choices). For me, that means watching out for ketchup, but for you, it might be something different (like barbecue sauce or chocolate syrup)!

Healthy choices often beget healthy choices. Foods like granola are already nutritious (albeit, often high calorie) options, but the pot sweetens when you pair this healthy whole grain snack with its equally healthy companions, Greek yogurt and fresh berries. Sure, granola packs a much bigger calorie punch than ketchup does, but which food do you picture as part of a healthy meal?

Similar comparisons can be made when you think of other high calorie, yet high nutrient foods, like extra virgin olive oil. In fact, I am reminded of a quote by Greek doctor and nutrition scientist Antonia Trichopoulou that my boss once shared with me:

“Olive oil makes the vegetables go down!”

What helps your vegetables go down? Do certain foods encourage you to make healthier choices when you keep them in the house? Share your secrets to a healthy pantry in the comments below.

– Kelly

P.S. For those wondering about my giant glass jar of rolled oats, I still have it! However, I keep it on the kitchen counter, rather than in the pantry.

How to Determine Which Healthy Tools are Worth the Investment

If you want to train for a 5K, there’s an app for that. There’s also an app that shows you how many calories are in your favorite breakfast cereal, and one that can wake you up at the ideal point in your sleep cycle.

From apps, to personal trainers, to activity trackers, to nutrition counselors, there is no shortage of tools to help you live healthier. But among all of these choices, which ones are worth the money? And just as important, how do you determine which one is right for you?

Fitbit Fun

^^Counting steps with my FitBit

EXERCISE:

Follow along with me: On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your exercise regimen.

If you didn’t give yourself a 10 (I sure didn’t!), where do you have room to improve? What is stopping you from rating your exercise regimen as a 9 or 10? Finding where you have room to improve or where you need the most help will help you determine where your investment is best spent. Below are a few common barriers to exercise, as well as some tips and tools to help you overcome these barriers.

1. I don’t have time to exercise.

  • Build more activity into your daily routine. If you can’t bear to wake up any earlier for a pre-work run, or can’t seem to make room for a post-work gym session, then start making tweaks in your daily activities. Walk or bike whenever possible. Take the stairs, instead of the elevator. Make a habit of walking after meals. Also, look for pockets of time during your day to be active. When you step away from the desk for a lunchtime stroll (or even a lunchtime workout), you return with a renewed sense of energy and concentration.
  • Consider an activity tracker. Once you’ve started making small changes, such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or going on a walk around the block during the lunch hour, an activity tracker (such as a FitBit) can help you quantify these changes. Some companies are even seeing the value in these devices. When I worked at Boston College, employees formed walking teams and received Fitbits to compete for a number of prizes. Similarly, at Oscar, a tech-based NY and NJ health insurance company, employees are given a Misfit Flash activity tracker and can earn cash rewards when they meet their own personalized goals within the Oscar app.

2. I can’t motivate myself to exercise.

  • Sign up for a race. Rather than just exercising for the sake of exercising, signing up for a race (such as a 10K, a sprint triathlon, or an open water swim) will give you a specific goal to work towards. There are also apps and meetup groups that can help motivate you along the way.
  • Find a gym buddy. If you have trouble motivating yourself to go for a jog, convincing yourself to hit the gym is also going to be a struggle. But if you find a gym buddy that you can be accountable to, then a gym membership might actually pay off. If any of your friends or coworkers frequent a gym, consider joining them for classes or weight lifting sessions. Another tactic is to schedule regular activity dates with friends (such as yoga class, walking around the city, or going on a scenic jog), instead of (or perhaps in addition to) post work cocktails or weekend brunch. Additionally, some activity trackers (like the Fitbit) have challenges that allow you to compete against your friends to see who took the most steps or was the most active. Nothing like a little friendly competition to light the fire under you!
  • Join a team. Does your office have a basketball league? Do any of your college friends play softball or soccer? Joining a team is a great way to build accountability, since your teammates are counting on you to pull through. Teams also often meet for regular practices and games, meaning that you’ll have a workout automatically built in to your schedule.

3. I want to get more in shape, but I don’t know where to begin.

  • Start a race-training program. Having something specific to train for (such as a 5K) can help focus your efforts and make your desire to get in shape more quantifiable. It will also help get you in the habit of regular physical activity. From in-person meetup groups, to apps and online training regimens, there are a number of “couch to 5k” training programs to choose from.
  • Consider joining a gym with classes. Whether you opt for a yoga studio, a spinning studio, or a large gym with multiple options, classes are a great way to focus your exercise regimen. The instructors will lead you in the workout, which means that the hardest part is just showing up!
  • Enlist the help of a friend. We all have that friend that is incredibly in shape and enjoys touting the benefits of regular exercise. This is the person you need to share your desire to start working out with. They will likely have some great pointers and ideas for you, and may even invite you along to join them for a workout or two!

4. I’m fairly active, but I want to kick it up a notch.

  • Try a new activity. If you’re a regular runner, give swimming a try. If you’re a pro at spin class, mix it up with yoga. Finding a new activity to use different movements and muscle groups is a great way to challenge your body and get out of a workout rut.
  • Consider a personal trainer. If you find yourself going through the same motions at the gym each week, you might consider working with a trainer. A trainer will push you outside of your comfort zone, and challenge you to try new workouts that you might not have tried before.
  • Step it up with a race. Mastered the 5K? Give a 10K a shot. Enjoy running and biking casually? Challenge yourself to a sprint triathlon. Training for a race (especially a distance that is further than your normal route) is a great motivation to kick your training up a notch.

Lunch at Sweetgreen

^^ Quick healthy lunch at Sweetgreen

FOOD:

Follow along with me: On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how you feel about the healthfulness of your diet.

If you didn’t give yourself a 10, where do you have room to improve? What is stopping you from rating your diet as a 9 or 10? Again, finding where you have room to improve will help you determine where your investment is best spent. Below are a few common barriers to healthy eating, as well as some tips and tools to help you overcome these barriers.

1. Making healthy choices is too complicated.

  • Don’t get bogged down in the details. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (like fish and chicken), beans, and healthy fats (like olive oil, avocado, and nuts) are what you should be piling on your plate. Refined sweets (like candies, cupcakes, and ice cream), deep fried foods, soda, red meats, and ultra-processed junk food are what you should be cutting back on. The nutritional difference between kale and broccoli is nothing to lose sleep over. However, the difference between an apple and apple flavored fruit gummies is pretty significant. If you’re looking for guidance, David Katz’s book is a great place to start. Also, the Fooducate app is a wonderful tool to help you compare foods.

2. I don’t enjoy cooking or meal planning. I just want to grab something quick and easy.

  • Look for healthy shortcuts at the grocery store. Canned beans, dried fruit, frozen vegetables, and precut fruits and vegetables are all healthy shortcuts that make cooking (or meal prep) way easier. There are also a number of healthy meal delivery services that can make cooking easier.
  • Consider time saving appliances. Are smoothies your preferred way to get your greens in? Consider a high powered blender, such as a Vitamix (or the more budget-friendly, entry level Nutribullet). Blenders can be a great motivator to help you get more produce into your diet in one easy, drinkable snack. A slow cooker is another great investment if you prefer to spend your time away from the stove. Just fill it with veggies, beans, and spices in the morning, and come home to a healthy, simmering chili. You can find an abundance of slow cooker recipes in cookbooks or on the web (but you might have to comb through to find healthier, veggie-driven recipes).
  • When eating out, choose wisely. If you rely on take out for most of your meals, it helps to have a few go-to healthy menu items in mind–dishes that are loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Use the hot bar at your local Whole Foods to build a healthy meal with fish, veggies, and whole grains. Brave the line at Sweetgreen, (or a similar salad place like Chop’t). Burrito shops nearby (like Chipotle or Boloco)? Go for a whole grain bowl with beans, chicken, and a ton of veggies, but opt for guac instead of cheese and sour cream, and forgo the unnecessary tortilla.

3. I find myself snacking, even when I’m not hungry.

  • Try a diet tracking app. Logging a few meals with MyFitnessPal, Fooducate, or even the FitBit app is a great way to find patterns in your eating habits. Once patterns start to emerge, look for triggers, and ways to redirect those feelings. Do you always plop on the couch with a box of cereal when you get home? Get a glass of water instead, and try sitting somewhere else. These apps can also encourage positive eating habits, because you may be less likely to have that 10PM donut knowing that you have to record it.
  • Talk with a dietitian. A registered dietitian is a trained nutrition professional that will work with you to learn more about the root causes behind your eating choices, and create an individualized eating plan for you.
  • Read up on healthy eating. There are a number of books that offer practical tips for healthy eating. Some of my favorites include Disease Proof, by David Katz, Slim by Design, by Brian Wansink, French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon, and Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Which tools do you use to stay healthy?

-Kelly

Cutting Back on Deep Fried Foods

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Oven roasted brussels sprouts (seasoned here with lemon pepper) are one of my favorite savory snacks when I’m craving something warm and crispy

We all know that deep fried foods are far from health promoting, but just how often is too often to indulge? While a handful of French fries here and there won’t kill you, new research suggests that even once per week is frequent enough to warrant health risks.

In a recent study, researchers followed over 15,000 men for nearly a decade, studying their eating habits and medical conditions. Compared to those that ate fried food less than once per week, eating fried foods just 1-3 times per week increased heart failure risk by 23%. Additionally, those eating fried foods 4-6 times per week had a 26% increased risk for heart failure, and those eating fried foods at least 7 times per week (or at least once daily) had a 100% increased risk (compared to those indulging less than once per week).

I suspect that most folks don’t have a deep fat fryer at home, which means that most of these fried foods are coming from restaurants. A donut here, a side of fries there–it all adds up rather quickly! After reflecting on my food habits over the past two weeks, I was shocked to realize that I, myself had fried foods on more than one occasion!

Last Thursday, I went out for sushi at Fin’s, and one of the rolls I shared was a shrimp tempura roll (tempura = fried). Plus, I even had a few bites of the fried ice cream for dessert. And the Sunday before that, while playing tour guide to my 18 year old brother Jack, we opted for a side of fries with our shared lobster roll at Island Creek Oyster Bar, and each got a fried oyster slider to start. Sushi and upscale seafood restaurants certainly aren’t regular affairs for me, but I was still disappointed to discover that fried foods pop up in my diet more often than I’d care to admit. Many of us consider these types of treats to be “special occasion” foods, without realizing just how many “special occasions” there seem to be!

As I mentioned before, a handful of fries every now and then isn’t anything to get worked up over. But this study serves as a great wake up call that “every now and then” is not the same thing as every week. Additionally, fried foods are a great target for nutrition goals, because there are often so many delicious alternatives.

Over the next few weeks, I’m challenging myself to cut the fried foods out of my diet (dietitians are human, too), and I’d love for you to join me! This really isn’t anything groundbreaking. For every deep fried food, there is virtually always a non-deep fried alternative. But I’d love to hear your comments. Is it harder than you thought? Easier? Any favorite substitutions? Do share!

– Kelly