From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Archive for the ‘Wellness’ Category

“Eating Well with Scleroderma” Video

In Autoimmune disease, Scleroderma, Wellness on September 6, 2013 at 9:40 AM

Living with an autoimmune chronic disease, such as systemic scleroderma, fibromyalgia, lupus or Crohn’s, undoubtedly tests one’s ability to maintain a happy and productive life. In my opinion, there is no worse feeling than losing control over your own body. The unpredictable nature of autoimmune illness renders you helpless in the face of physical pain, debilitating fatigue, and unceasing emotional turmoil, and has the capacity to steal your quality of life. Systemic scleroderma invaded my body over 11 years ago, and I have struggled to meet every physical and emotional challenge this savage beast has thrown my way. As a practicing dietitian, I have the advantage of knowing how to modify my eating and lifestyle habits to manage the symptoms and resulting stress. I would like to share the filmed presentation I offered at the national Scleroderma Foundation’s annual Patient Education Conference in Atlanta this past summer. Even though the presentation is tailored to the specific needs of patients with scleroderma, the information and suggestions apply to everyone living with autoimmune illness.

The direct link to the presentation will not paste on this page, so I suggest connecting here to and then typing “Linda Kaminski Eating Well with Scleroderma” in the search box at the top on the YouTube home page. It will be the first title listed. Enjoy and I hope my suggestions help you live a longer, healthier life DESPITE scleroderma or any other autoimmune condition. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns:

Live well! Feel well!


The Acne-Diet Connection

In Wellness on April 30, 2013 at 10:05 AM

Got zits?  Whether you had major acne or just an occasional pimple as a teenager, up to 50% of adults have recurring flare-ups.  Ugh!  How does this happen?   Genetic, hormonal and lifestyle factors can make adult skin susceptible to acne breakouts on the face, chest, and/or back.  Of course we could talk about the value of a good cleansing and exfoliation routine, but that is not why you are reading a nutrition blog, is it?   There has been a long-standing debate over whether one’s diet influences the frequency and severity of acne.  Historically, chocolate and dairy products have been blamed most often for causing pimples.  (The “Got Milk?” campaign should have been called “Got Zits?” then, eh??)   But simply avoiding chocolate and/or milk does not seem to be the answer.  In recent years, a growing body of evidence suggests that certain physiologic responses to the food we eat can aggravate skin’s natural oil (sebum) production, leading to clogged pores. I will share the latest dietary wisdom with you here, trying my best not to get too technical.

The latest scientific research suggests that a high level of circulating insulin is a culprit in acne flare-ups.  Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.  Foods with a high glycemic index, such as sugars and refined flours, rapidly raise blood sugar, which in turn, trigger the body to release a higher volume of insulin into the bloodstream.  Excess insulin has been found to prompt the release of a variety of growth factors and other hormones, such as androgens, known to initiate inflammation and oil production in the skin.  (Androgens are male sex hormones that run especially rampant in teenage boys.)

Therefore, the dietary recommendations for controlling acne are based on reducing circulating insulin levels as well as curbing inflammation.  Keep in mind that there is no one dietary “super food” or “cure all” when it comes to completely stopping acne in its tracks.  (If it could only be that easy??)  The goal is to cut down on foods that aggravate and add more of the foods that are helpful to the situation:

1.  Cut down on sugar, period.  This applies to added sugars, like desserts, sweets, soda, and chocolate, as well as beverages containing natural sugar, like fruit juices and milk.  Yes, this is probably one of the main reasons why chocolate and milk have both been accused of causing acne over the years.  However, it is also speculated that the hormones given to cows to increase milk production may also be to blame, so look for milk from cows not treated with hormones.  Along this same vein, it is probably wise to eat meat from animals raised without hormones as well, even if meat does not raise insulin levels as much as sugars do.

2.  Cut down on refined carbs.  White flours and other processed grains, such as white rice and white pasta, are guilty of raising insulin levels too.  When selecting carbohydrate-containing foods, choose 100% whole grains and limit portion size to 1 cup in order to control the body’s insulin response.

3.  Eat more low-carbohydrate foods such as hormone-free lean protein (such as chicken and fish), non-starchy vegetables, and healthy oils, like olive oil and avocado.

4. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish (Alaskan salmon and sardines) and nuts/seeds (walnuts, almonds and flaxseeds especially) and deeply-colored fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, kale, and broccoli.   The vitamin A in orange and green vegetables are wonderful for skin too.

5.  Drink more water, as it is essential for skin metabolism and regeneration.  You don’t have to overdo it, but aim for the “gold standard” of eight, 8 oz. glasses a day– more if you live in a dry climate (hello Arizona and Nevada friends!), during hot weather or if you exercise regularly.

Making the above-mentioned dietary changes will get you well on your way to improving your complexion.  Plus, not only are these diet habits good for your skin, but for your overall health as well.  Of course, cutting down on stress, getting enough sleep, keeping your hands away from your face, and taking a shower after exercise are also helpful behaviors towards keeping unsightly breakouts at bay.

Pimples be gone!   Enjoy your day 😉

Why You Should Drink More Tea

In Fighting Cancer, Wellness on April 11, 2013 at 8:25 AM

There is nothing quite like a comforting, warm beverage on a cool. rainy, spring day to warm you from the inside out.  As I write this, I have a cup of red rooibos tea beside me.  Mmmm… Have you ever tried this antioxidant rich, caffeine-free, African herbal tea?  Yes, I still drink coffee first thing in the morning, but tea carries me throughout the rest of the day without the negative effects of caffeine, such as heart palpitations and sleep disturbances.   I also find red rooibos tea particularly delightful in the evening to help me relax and get ready for a peaceful night’s rest.   We all need a little more of that now, don’t we?   While coffee is consistently America’s favorite hot beverage of choice, there are plenty of reasons why you should add hot tea to your daily routine.  There is much scientific evidence showing a strong association with tea drinking and lower risk of chronic disease as well as combating the negative effects of aging.  Teas contain a plethora of antioxidant compounds such as anthocyanins, flavonoids and phenolic acids, which have been found to help fight inflammation and reduce cell damage.  Since many of us do not eat the recommended nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, drinking tea will help us get the antioxidants we need to stay healthy.

Most non-herbal tea comes from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant:  black tea, green tea, oolong tea, and white tea.  These various types are processed differently, which imparts unique tastes and intensities.  These leaves naturally contain caffeine and must undergo processing to become decaffeinated.  If you prefer naturally caffeine-free herbal teas,  choose formulations containing hibiscus, as this fruit of a flowering plant provides a fruity, tart taste and is rich in antioxidants as well.  (The red rooibos tea I am drinking right now has hibiscus in it too…)

Based on the scientific evidence, here are 10 compelling reasons to drink more tea:

1.  Minimize your risk of heart disease, to include heart attack and stroke

2.  Reduce blood pressure

3.  Improve memory and mental alertness

4.  Reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol

5.  Prevent various forms of cancer, specifically the stomach, esophagus, and colon

6.  Improve digestion  (flavonoids may encourage healthy bacteria)

7.  Prevent osteoporosis  (especially green tea)

8.  Modest weight loss (green tea flavonoids plus caffeine may increase calorie expenditure)

9.  Minimize your risk of type 2 diabetes

10.  Promotes relaxation (herbal and caffeine-free varieties)

To get the most antioxidant punch from tea, steep in hot water rather than brewing cold.  You may then pour the hot tea over ice or chill in the fridge to enjoy iced tea during the upcoming summer months.

Here’s to your health!  Happy Spring 😉

Vegetarian Lifestyles

In Feeding your kids, Trends, Wellness on December 17, 2012 at 1:05 PM

19049967I have recently had a flood of requests to clarify what it takes to create a healthy vegetarian diet.   Not only are more and more adults choosing to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, but teens and pre-teens are adopting the practice in record numbers as well.  For example, a friend of mine’s pre-teen daughter, a life-long “picky eater”, has decided to become vegetarian and limit her food choices to fruit, vegetables, crackers, and pasta.  Yikes!  This is far from the balanced diet required for healthy growth and development, thereby making “vegetarianism” a potentially dangerous practice for an uninformed, growing girl.

The vegetarian diet is a challenging topic to address in a forum such as this since becoming vegetarian can mean different things to different people— some folks are raised vegetarian for religious or cultural reasons, whereas others choose a vegetarian lifestyle during their teen or adult years as a means of weight control, healthier living, in support of animal rights, or for environmental concerns, to name a few.  Today, vegetarianism has taken on many forms and it is essential for an individual wishing to become vegetarian to decide which practice he or she will follow:  vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, pesce vegetarian, or flexitarian.    Say what?  Let me explain:

Traditionally, a “true vegetarian”, or vegan, is someone who does not eat meat (i.e. animal flesh) of any kind nor any foods containing animal products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, or butter. This strict form of vegetarianism is the most challenging and the avoidance of ALL animal foods limits one’s intake of complete proteins, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, putting one at nutritional risk when not implemented properly.  A nutritionally adequate vegan diet should include soy products, such as tofu, edamame, soymilk, and soy yogurt, which contain all essential amino acids to support bodily growth and repair (known as “complete” proteins); vitamin B12 and iron-fortified whole grain products (such as cereal, breads, rice); calcium-rich foods, such as fortified juice and soy milk, as well as almonds, green vegetables, and broccoli; legumes, such as kidney beans and lentils; fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  When you are eating vegan, you need to make sure that most of your choices are natural, nutrient-rich, whole foods, as opposed to vegan “junk foods” containing little or no nutrition whatsoever.  If a number of essential food items listed above are also avoided, vitamin and mineral supplementation is generally required.  If you are considering the vegan lifestyle, it is best to seek personalized advice from a dietitian in order to ensure nutritional adequacy for yourself and your family, rather than simply relying on the advice dispensed in this article.

The most common practice is as a lacto-ovo vegetarian—avoiding all animal flesh (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, fish), but including animal products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt (lacto) and eggs (ovo) in the daily diet.  Provided one is consuming dairy products and eggs on a regular basis, there is little need for concern over adequate protein intake, as animal proteins are “complete”, providing all essential amino acids for proper bodily growth and repair.   This form of vegetarianism is also likely to meet one’s nutritional needs for vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc provided fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy, and legumes are included as well.   To ensure adequate iron intake, incorporate plenty of iron-fortified cereals, breads, and grains, legumes, seeds, green-leafy vegetables, and/or dried fruit.  Including a source of vitamin C with these foods, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, or bell peppers, allows for better iron absorption.  Less common variations on this form of vegetarianism is an ovo-vegetarian who consumes eggs, but no animal flesh or milk products, or a lacto-vegetarian who consumes milk products, but no animal flesh or egg products.

Someone who adopts a lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle while including fish and/or seafood on a regular basis is considered pesce-vegetarian.  And, finally, the ever-expanding group of folks who limit their meat choices to lean chicken, turkey, and fish, while excluding “red meats” (such as beef, pork, and lamb) are considered flexitarians, as they are not truly vegetarian by definition, but are choosing to avoid specific animal meats and/or products.

In summary, if you are an adult looking to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, first give some thought to the type of vegetarianism you desire to practice.  Next, plan to incorporate a wide variety of nutritious foods that fit within your chosen regime on a regular basis.  If you admit to being a “picky eater” or simply do not enjoy a wide variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, then it may be best to sit down with a nutrition professional, such as myself, to develop a personalized meal plan to best meet your needs.

Now, if you are a parent of a child or teen looking to become vegetarian, it is important to discuss his or her reasons for desiring a vegetarian lifestyle and to review the wide variety of vegetarian practices that exist today.  Many teens consider vegetarianism as an opportunity for weight loss or as a “legitimate excuse” for picky or disordered eating practices, without considering the potential nutritional or growth implications.  If you suspect an eating disorder, it is best to consult a nutrition professional to develop a healthy eating plan within the chosen vegetarian regime to nip any unhealthy practices in the bud…  I tend to encourage the lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle for most children and teens, as it is generally the easiest to follow and contains the widest variety of nutrients that growing bodies need.  Again, when dealing with very restricted picky-eaters, it is best to meet with a dietitian to develop a satisfactory eating plan.

If you would like to set up an appointment to develop a healthy vegetarian meal plan for yourself or your child, call me at 248-592-0875 or email at

Live well!  Eat well!


The Realities of Arsenic in Food

In Trends, Wellness on December 11, 2012 at 6:12 PM

By now, most of you have heard the reports (or seen the Dr. Oz show) alarming consumers about high levels of arsenic in apple and grape juice, brown and white rice products (like baby cereal), dairy and meat products, seafood, fruits, and vegetables.  With information like this, what is left to eat?  Many of these foods are supposed to be good for us, right?  Has everyone had it all wrong?  No wonder folks are worried and confused… Unfortunately, many media outlets tend to distort or oversensationalize the facts in order to improve ratings.  I am going to clear up some unfortunate misconceptions right here, right now and show you how to eat such foods in a sensible way.

41807704First of all, arsenic is a trace element that occurs naturally in our environment (as part of the earth’s crust) and is found in food, water, soil, and air.  In other words, we simply CANNOT escape it!   Arsenic is absorbed by all plants through the soil, but tends to be more concentrated in leafy vegetables, rice, apple and grape juice, and seafood.  Does this mean we need to avoid these foods entirely?  Not exactly.  There are things we can do to minimize our exposure which I will share with you now:

Arsenic compounds have historically been used in the production of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides (like on fruit trees),  as well as added to animal feed to prevent disease and stimulate growth.   This is a great reason to buy organically grown fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products as often as possible, which do not use chemicals on plants or animal feed.  Even when you are buying organic produce, make sure to wash them well as you would conventionally-grown options.  Another worthwhile strategy for reducing arsenic exposure is to increase the variety of foods in your daily diet—if you enjoy including white or brown rice with your meals, how about trying jasmine, basmati, black, or red rice grown in different regions around the world?  Or, forego rice altogether and try other grains, such as quinoa, in your recipes.  If you really, really, really want to have white or brown rice over all else, you can cut your exposure to arsenic by rinsing the rice first, cook it in a higher proportion of cooking water, and then drain off excess water after cooking.  As for rice baby cereal, switch to oatmeal just to be safe.  Worried about them apples?  Choose from the many available varieties, such as Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith, rather than eating the same kind day after day.  Now is a great opportunity to expand your culinary and taste horizons!!   As for apple juice, go ahead and avoid it—there is not much nutrition in it anyway.  As of now, no federal limits have been set for arsenic in most foods, but many US farmers are seeking improvements in rice, fruit, and vegetable cultivation in order to lower arsenic levels, but that will take some time before the problem is corrected.

Arsenic occurs naturally in groundwater, and in the US, higher aresenic levels tend to occur in New England, the Upper Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota), as well as the Southwestern states.   Yikes!  Before you make plans to re-locate, rest assured that today’s drinking water treatment processes are very effective at removing the majority of arsenic.  However, this is why seafood can be a problem, as the fish hang out in untreated waters.  Know a recreational fisherman who spends time on a small, inland lake in Michigan?  I sure do!  You certainly don’t want your fish intake to be limited to  such “local catch”.  Like I have suggested previously to minimize mercury exposure, choose a variety of fish species from a variety of different sources in order to minimize your exposure to both mercury and arsenic.

I hope this article has cleared up some concerns for you.  It is important to realize that arsenic is a part of our natural environment and is present in miniscule amounts in our drinking water and many foods and beverages we have safely consumed for years and years.  We are not all going to die of cancer because we eat rice or drink apple juice!  Our limited food exposure does not even begin to compare to the toxic occupational exposure to arsenic by workers involved in wood preservation, glass production, and semiconductor manufacturing–now these folks truly have something to worry about…  When Dr. Oz sounded the alarm, it was as if drinking a glass of apple juice amounted to working in a glass factory for 10 years!   I don’t think so, pal.  But he certainly got you to watch his show and up his ratings, didn’t he?

Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to be careful about what we put in our mouths and do our best to make healthier choices.  However, scare tactics are not going to help and tend to cause undue stress.  No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater—it is still possible to eat well and be healthy in this “arsenic-infested” world 😉

Live well!  Be well!

Ten “Laws” of Healthy Weight Control

In Dining Out, Weight Loss, Wellness on March 21, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Similar to January 1st, the first day of spring extends an invitation for new beginnings and a fresh start.  How have you been doing with your promise to live healthier this year?  Are your health habits making you feel like a beautiful rose blossoming in the sun or more like a shriveled crocus getting its head lopped off by a bunny rabbit?  Do you still desire to shed those unwanted pounds before the boat goes in the water and the lazy days of summer begin?  Whether you want to feel better, lose weight, or prevent gaining a few extra pounds this season, incorporating these ten basic lifestyle “rules” can help you look and feel as bright as a sunny clear blue sky:

1.  Calorie awareness is essential

  • calories in (food) = calories out (activity) = weight maintenance
  • calories in < calories out = weight loss
  • calories in > calories out = weight gain
  • doesn’t matter the source of calories–if you eat too much, you will gain weight
  • overly restricting calories shuts your metabolism down so DO NOT undereat either (see #2)

2.  Do not eat less than 1200 calories per day

  • read labels and examine online resources to increase awareness and count calories if necessary
  • women:  aim for 300-400 calories/meal; 100-150 calories/snack
  • men:  aim for 400-600 calories/meal;100-200 calories/snack

3.  Monitor your current food intake and exercise habits regularly

  • record what you eat, how much you eat, & when you eat to uncover unhealthy habits
  • make comments regarding your eating situations–boredom, stress, watching TV, restaurant choices, etc.
  • select specific habits you are willing to change and make a plan to follow through

4.  Set small, achievable goals based on food diary revelations, such as:

  • increase fruits & vegetables, whole grains, water, exercise, fish, and/or making healthier snack choices
  • decrease sugary beverages, alcohol, fried foods, restaurant meal frequency, “indulgences”, sedentary activity

5.  Plan ahead for small, frequent meals to manage appetite

  • no meal skipping, as this just revs your appetite up for an evening binge
  • eat a healthy meal or snack every 3-4 hours
  • bring healthy choices with you when “out & about”  (pack your lunch!)
  • grocery shop from a list 1-2 x/week, and stick to that list!

6.  Adopt habits you can maintain long-term

  • no extreme dieting—this is only a temporary fix and will set you up for “yo-yo” weight fluctuations
  • no foods are completely off limits unless you choose them to be  (deprivation = binge later)
  • healthy weight loss is 1-2 pounds/week — patience is a virtue!
  • “weight loss plateaus” will happen every 10-20 pounds — you must change up your diet and exercise routine frequently to keep your body from getting complacent
  • if you struggle to develop a plan on your own, hire a nutrition professional (like me!) to assist you

7.  Exercise is essential

  • regular activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate is best
  • building muscle increases metabolism (which increases “calorie burn”)
  • plan exercise time into your schedule
  • choose activities you enjoy
  • the more the better—aim for 60 minutes a day as often as possible (break it into smaller chunks if necessary)

8.  Get adequate sleep

  • 7-8 hours best for most people
  • lack of sleep increases appetite and decreases satiety (feelings of fullness)
  • feeling well-rested keeps you motivated to maintain your healthy habits

9.  Manage stress

  • chronic stress increases cortisol levels leading to increased belly fat
  • feeling anxious & stressed increases the likelihood of emotional overeating
  • exercise is an excellent stress manager

10.  Make smart choices when dining out at least 80% of the time

  • Beware of calories—obtain nutrition info from outlets & online to increase awareness of your choices  (try to stay between 300-600 calories most of time)
  • Breakfast–avoid bagels, muffins, smoothies;  choose egg white wraps, oatmeal, Egg McMuffin at “quick grab” restaurants
  • Lunch–avoid pizza, pasta, high fat meats, large sandwiches; choose salad, soup, and sandwich combinations instead (but avoid creamy dressings and soups)
  • Dinner—choose chicken, turkey, and fish with vegetables/salad;  limit starches & bread; if portions are large, share or take half home for another meal
  • Coffee houses—many specialty drinks are LOADED with calories

I can taste a healthy and happy summer already!  Can you?

Any questions?  Feel free to ask! 

Live well!  Be well!

Coconut Oil: Yay or Nay?

In Trends, Wellness on February 26, 2012 at 2:16 PM

A friend of my mine recently asked my opinion regarding a new research study’s results indicating the usefulness of coconut oil in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  She asked me to watch a very provocative and convincing video (CBN News) that depicted how one man’s Alzheimer’s symptoms dramically improved as a result of including large portions of coconut oil in his diet.  Hmmm…  Well, first off, I can say that one patient’s success does not mean it will work for others.  Secondly, the study design was not the gold-standard “double-blind, placebo controlled” trial with a large enough sample size that is essential to validate a proposed treatment.  However, such positive results are intriguing, and I can completely understand the curiosity.  Is it possible to have such an easy dietary answer for the treatment Alzheimer’s disease?  It would be nice if that were the case.  However, a disease as complicated and unpredictable as Alzheimer’s, much like many forms of cancer and autoimmune illnesses, will unfortunately never have an easy cure.  There are way too many unknowns as to why the disease develops and how it progresses for it to be that simple.  For the purpose of this blog however, my friend wanted to know whether I thought there was any validity to incorporating coconut oil in her diet to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, as she has a strong family history and is concerned about developing it herself someday.  A valid question indeed.

First off, there is a lot of hype surrounding coconut oil right now in the media, as it has been touted as a cure for many ailments and health food store personnel have been pushing it like crazy.  Just stop right there.  No one food is a cure for ANYTHING.  I promise you that.  However, there are many so-called  “miracle elixirs” or “miracle foods” that crafty salespeople are convincing millions of people to buy.   Don’t fall sucker to such scams—they are simply taking your money and getting rich off your ignorance and willingness to believe anything.  Also, let it be known that doctors and dietitians are not your enemies.  Health professionals are not “keeping secrets in order to keep you sick”, like many fanatical websites proclaim.  Your doctor is deliberately keeping you sick to stay in business? Are you kidding me?? 

Outside of the preventable diseases related to us being inactive and overweight,  such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes,  I have no sensible explanation as to why so many other diseases, such as many forms of cancer and Alzheimer’s, are running rampant right now.  Is it our food supply?  Environmental toxins?  The fact that we are simply living longer?  It is hard to make any concrete assumptions right now.  All we can honestly do to stay as healthy as possible is make smarter food choices, get regular exercise, undergo routine preventative testing (mammogram, Pap smear, colonoscopy, prostate and breast exams, etc…), get adequate sleep, reduce stress as much as possible, and laugh more often.  (Laughter has and always will be the best medicine!)  Yes, living a long healthy life does require good genetics as well, but there are many factors under our control that can make our lives better and healthier, regardless of what health challenges happen to come our way.

So, back to the coconut oil question:  should we be including more coconut oil in our diets as a means of preventing Alzheimer’s disease?  Coconut oil is extracted from the white meat of a mature coconut.  This is not to be confused with coconut water, which comes from an immature green coconut and has a completely different nutrient composition.  (I am a big fan of coconut water and you can check the archives for more details regarding this nutritious hydration beverage.)  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has the highest saturated fat content of all the different food oils—saturated fat is known to raise cholesterol levels and health professionals have suggested cutting back on saturated fats in order to prevent heart disease for many, many years.  However, in recent years, the specific fatty acid composition of coconut oil has been studied extensively, and due to the large proportion of lauric acid, is believed to raise the good HDL cholesterol, and not so much the bad LDL cholesterol.  So, this is why the exclusion of coconut oil from a heart healthy-diet is being reconsidered.

I must point out that there are two forms of coconut oil in our food supply: fractionated coconut oil, in which easy to digest medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) have been selectively removed (this includes the heart healthy lauric acid mentioned above); and partially hydrogenated coconut oil (containing artery-clogging trans fats) which is commonly found in processed foods such as non-dairy creamer and microwave or movie theater popcorn.  Should you decide to include coconut oil in your diet by the end of this article, you want it to be the fractionated coconut oil, not the hydrogenated form.

The reason coconut oil is of interest in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research is because of it being a rich source of medium chained triglycerides, or MCT’s.   For many years, diets high in MCT oils (and low in carbohydrates) have proved useful in treating childhood epilepsy (seizures) due to its tendency to induce ketogenesis.  This so-called “ketogenic diet” changes the brain’s energy source from sugar (glucose) to fat (ketones), which decreases frequency of seizures as a result of the altered brain chemistry.  Research has shown that glucose metabolism by the brain is impaired in AD, so would the substitution of ketones also alter the development of plaque and neural tangles characteristic of Alzheimer’s? That is the big question at the moment.  There are a variety of clinical research trials underway seeking to discover how a ketogenic diet can modify the development or progression of a number of neurological diseases, to include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  A powdered form of MCT oil, called caprylidene, was approved as a “medical food” by the FDA in 2009, under the brand name Axona, but it is unclear how effective it really is at preventing or improving AD sympotoms at this point.  AD develops for an unknown and variable amount of time before symptoms become fully apparent, so that makes it challenging to know when treatment should begin with MCT’s.  Again, back to our prevention question….

It is known that cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, are likely to increase the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease–excess amyloid plaque buildup in the brain is analagous to atherogenic plaque buildup in veins and arteries.  Therefore, it makes sense for everyone to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, manage blood sugar, and avoid tobacco in order to decrease risk of heart attack, stroke, AND Alzheimer’s.  So my professional opinion is this:  Go ahead and include some fractionated (or virgin) coconut oil in your diet if you please, but still avoid the hydrogenated form, and keep a watchful eye on your cholesterol to make sure the addition of coconut oil is not raising unhealthy LDL levels.  Coconut oil will not do anything on its own, so be sure to also exercise regularly, engage in challenging mental activities, and follow a heart healthy diet to get maximum benefit.  Refer to my previous blog post for more ideas on adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Any more questions?  Feel free to ask.

Live Well!  Think Well!


Strategies for Preventing Heart Disease

In Managing cholesterol, Wellness on February 15, 2012 at 8:34 PM

February is Heart Awareness Month—a time in which the American Heart Association ramps up it’s awareness campaign in the fight against heart disease.  Did you know your personal lifestyle habits have a great impact on your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke during your lifetime?  It’s true!  In other words, heart disease is PREVENTABLE—through the development of good-for-you lifestyle habits such as a healthy diet, weight control, regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress management, you can significantly reduce your chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke, and more importantly, dying from it.  Did you know more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined?  Most women don’t realize this, but there are statistics to prove it.  Yes, breast cancer screening is important for a woman’s health, but so is the adoption of healthy lifestyle practices that will keep her heart happy as well.

I’ll keep this easy.  A simple list of “do’s & don’ts” is outlined below.  Follow these guidelines and you are on your way to preventing heart disease, regardless of whether you are a man or woman, young or old.  It is never too early to develop heart-healthy habits!

Add more of these: 

Healthy oils: monounsaturated fats from olive, canola, peanut oils; avocado; nuts and seeds; and polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3’s, from fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil

Fruits & vegetables:  choose a variety of deep colors for maximum antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect such as sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, broccoli, tomato products, kiwi, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, apples, and red grapes

Herbs & Spices:  get anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefit from garlic, cinnamon, basil, cumin, paprika, etc.

Low-fat dairy:  choose low-fat or fat free milk and yogurt for extra potassium and calcium to help lower blood pressure

High fiber foods:  all unprocessed whole grains are healthy, but those high in soluble fiber, such as oats and barley, as well as legumes (dried beans) help lower cholesterol 

Heart-healthy beverages:  green tea, coffee, coconut water, red wine

Exercise:  sustained heart-pounding activity for at least 150 minutes per week

Limit or avoid these: 

Sodium:  new guidelines suggest less than 1500 mg per day for all adults;  check labels on processed food items and avoid those with more than 400 mg sodium per serving; choose foods considered low sodium (< 140 mg per serving) or very low sodium ( < 40 mg per serving)

Saturated fat:  cut down on high fat meats, dairy products (cheese, cream, butter) and desserts

Trans fat:  avoid foods made with hydrogenated oils (processed; deep fried; baked goods)

Sugars:  liquid beverages, such as soda, lemonade, and fruit juices raise triglyceride levels; limit sweets overall

Processed foods:  packaged foods are often higher in sodium and made with refined flour

Alcohol:  can help raise healthy HDL cholesterol levels, but must be consumed moderately:  no more than 1 drink per day for women; 2 drinks per day for men (1.5 oz liquor, 12 oz. beer, 5 oz wine)

Extra pounds:  losing 10% of current body weight can lower your risk of heart disease (i.e. 20 # loss for 200 # person)

Cigarettes:  stop smoking…the best decision you can make for your heart

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?  For more ideas on eating healthy and leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, visit or

From my heart to yours 😉   Cheers!

Making Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions

In Weight Loss, Wellness on December 28, 2011 at 6:25 PM

It’s that time of year again!!!  Time to start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions….  It is no surprise to hear that the most popular resolution is to adopt a healthier lifestyle—whether that means quitting smoking, eating better, losing weight, exercising more, finding a less stressful job, or all of the above.   Every January, I receive a higher volume of phone calls and emails from prospective new clients, each requesting my assistance with adopting healthier lifestyle practices. 

I heard on the radio this morning that 85% of Americans fail to maintain their New Year’s resolutions for longer than 2-3 months.  Hmmm…why do you think that is?  In my opinion, I believe many folks set overly ambitious goals for themselves, and expect perfection right from the start.   Maintaining resolutions to live healthier lives may be more attainable by setting a series of small goals over the coarse of the entire year, rather than setting one BIG goal in January.  Want to lose weight in 2012?  Rather than trying to drop 20 pounds as quickly as possible by over-exercising and under-eating in January, February, and March (hello BURNOUT!), make small changes to your eating and exercise habits over the course of the year.   Allowing yourself 12 months to achieve small, sustainable goals will add up to something big come December, without the fatigue and frustration of “too much too soon”.  Not only are you more likely to sustain the effort with each small accomplishment, your new health habits are more likely to stick long-term.  When it comes to sustainable weight control habits, patience is a virtue!  To help you get a jumpstart on this realistic goal-setting endeavor, I will offer some easy, yet effective, common sense advice for losing weight and feeling great the whole year through: 

First and foremost, be realistic about weight loss–

The amount of weight you need to lose to improve your health may be much less than you think.  Whether you want to have more energy, improve your blood sugar or cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, or prevent obesity-related chronic disease, losing just 5-10% of your starting weight can impart substantial health benefits.  That is a mere 10-20 pounds for a 200 pound person!  Seems attainable, doesn’t it?   Setting a modest weight loss goal like this is both realistic and worthwhile.  Once you drop those first 10-20 pounds, you can then decide if you are ready and able to lose more. It is best to start the New Year with a realistic goal you can achieve.  Setting an overly ambitious goal, such as losing 50 pounds right off the bat, increases your chances of abandoning the effort within the first 2-3 months.

Keep a journal to identify unhealthy habits

Achieving long-term weight loss is most easily accomplished by setting a series of small, specific, realistic goals.  Keep a food and exercise journal for one full week to identify areas for change.  Record what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, as well as comments regarding your whereabouts (in car, at restaurant, on the couch, etc..) and feelings or emotions that may be driving your food choices (starving, bored, lonely, sad, stressed out, etc.).   Keep track of calories by measuring portions and reading food labels.  To monitor activity, write down what you did, when, where, and how long you exercised on any given day.  Keeping a diary like this will help you identify areas for improvement as well as provide reinforcement for maintaining healthier habits.  Even if you are not trying to lose weight this year, identifying unhealthy behaviors is the first step towards improving your overall lifestyle.

After that first week, review your journal by asking yourself some questions:  What types of foods am I overeating?  Am I getting enough fruits and vegetables?  How can I improve the timing of my meals?  Am I eating in restaurants or ordering carry-out too often?  Am I consuming too many calories from beverages?  How can I set limits on my favorite foods without feeling deprived?  Do I need to increase my overall activity level?

Set the right “action” goals

Once you have identified areas for change, choose one or two small, specific behavior goals to focus on for the next week, such as:

I will walk five days a week for at least 30 minutes.

I will pack my lunch for work three times a week.

I will eat breakfast every day.

I will avoid white flour products and consume only 100% whole grains.

I will stop drinking beverages containing sugar such as regular soda and juices.

I will stop drinking high-calorie coffee drinks.

I will eat dinner in restaurants only two times per week.

I will not order fried foods in restaurants.                                                                         

I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day.

I will not skip meals.

I will eat every 3-4 hours to control my appetite.

I will limit each between-meal snack to 100-150 calories.

I will eat fish instead of beef two times per week.

I will eat only a half sandwich at my favorite deli.

I will use a pedometer to track the number of steps I take each day.

Effective goals, such as “I will walk five days a week for at least 30 minutes” or “I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day”, have three valuable components: they are specific, attainable, and forgiving.

A specific goal is one you can easily measure:  have you walked at least 30 minutes for five days this week?  Did you eat at least a cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day?  You would be able to measure your success by reviewing your food and exercise diary.  Setting a less specific goal such as “walk more” or “eat more vegetables” makes it difficult to determine if you truly met your goal.

An attainable goal is one that you are likely to reach.  Setting a goal to exercise 90 minutes a day may be too ambitious for someone with a hectic schedule.  Promising to “exercise at least 30 minutes five days a week” allows you to achieve this goal whether you have time for an hour or only 30 minutes of exercise on any given day.  You want to feel gratified and successful meeting your goals rather than discouraged. 

Finally, a forgiving goal is one that allows you to be less than “perfect” and prevents the all-or-nothing mentality.  In other words, setting a lofty goal to exercise every day leads to feelings of failure if you only manage to exercise five times in a given week.  In this case, allow yourself some flexibility by planning to “exercise 5-7 days a week” to eliminate any feelings of guilt on days when you really are too busy or don’t feel well enough to exercise.  Whether you exercise 5, 6, or 7 days a week, you have met your goal.  Feeling successful reinforces new habits.

Create a healthy environment

Learn what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then attempt to change those cues.  For example, if you tend to eat more while watching television, you may try to stop watching as much TV or try not to eat while watching television—make a plan to eat only at the kitchen table, with the TV turned off.  In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating—-do not leave food out on the counter—keep it packed away in the pantry.  Or, better yet, keep your favorite high-calorie foods out of the house altogether–out of sight, out of mind! 

Do not rush meal time.   Did you know it takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your body has been fed?  Eating more slowly will give your body more time to send this signal, so that you end up eating less.  Eating high fiber foods, lean protein, and vegetables can help you feel full longer.  Try serving food on smaller plates so that moderate portions do not seem so skimpy.  Keep serving bowls off the table to discourage second helpings. 

Setting regularly scheduled meal times may also make it easier to eat smaller portions. Delaying or skipping meals ultimately results in overeating from a ravenous appetite.  Aim to eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours to best control your appetite.  Going out to a restaurant?  Eat a small snack before you go, such as fruit, yogurt, or a small handful of nuts, making it easier to resist unhealthy choices and over-sized portions. 

Now it is up to you!  Identifying areas for change and setting small, sensible goals is a straightforward way to start changing unhealthy habits this year.  If you are unable to meet a specific goal after 1-2 weeks, re-write the goal to be more realistic or set a different goal.  Successful, long-term weight management is always best achieved by making permanent lifestyle changes, not by following a prescribed “diet” for a short period of time.  Take small steps that are easy to achieve, and with patience, time, and perseverance, you will be rewarded with a thinner, healthier you!  Whether you want to lose weight, lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, have more energy, or prevent problems in the future, creating healthier lifestyle habits will help you feel better and live a longer, more productive life.

Have a happy and healthy 2012!


Managing the Holiday Madness (Part 2)

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Wellness on November 18, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Hopefully you have already read the previous holiday article entitled “Secrets to a Happy and Healthy Holiday”??  If not, read that one first, and then return here for part two…

Previously, I emphasized the value of taking care of your body’s basic need for rest, activity, and nutritious food, in order to establish life balance, remain emotionally centered, and manage your waistline during this hectic time of year.  Even when you are successful taking care of yourself January through October, the holiday season presents a whole plethora of time, stress, and food challenges that increase the likelihood of personal neglect.  Ignoring your own needs is a surefire way to fuel feelings of anxiety, stress, and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, so it is smart to have some realistic time, stress, and food management strategies “at the ready” for when the going get tough.  I will offer some sensible suggestions to you now:

Holiday challenge #1:  “So much to do…so little time!”  Sound familiar?  With a holiday prep “to do” list a mile long, we are more likely to sleep less, take fewer “time outs”, neglect exercise, skip meals or grab fast food on the run.  One way to shorten your entire “to-do list” is to set priorities in regards to what you want to do vs. what you think you have to do.  (notice how I put “you think” in front of “have to do”, as most people impose such things on themselves).  This will really help put the joy back into the holidays and free up time for what really matters to you—like taking care of yourself…ahem!  Do you really need to devote hours of time and energy baking 10 different varieties of Christmas cookies every year?  How about just making a few favorites and then plan a “cookie swap” party with your neighbors instead?  (of course, if baking is a stress-relieving activity that you want to do, then have at it!!! Just make sure you are not the only one eating all those cookies…)  Another example:  do you really enjoy writing and addressing 100 Christmas cards?  If you do find joy in the task, try breaking the job up into smaller chunks (such as 5-10 cards each day over the course of a couple weeks) to make it less overwhelming.  If you despise the tedious task yet feel obligated to send out some cards every year, how about limiting your list to those folks you do not see on a regular basis, such as out-of-towners?  One more:  do you really need to fill every nook and cranny of your home with decorative holiday clutter?  What goes up, must come down.  Ugh.  Something very few people look forward to… The dreaded post-holiday task of putting all the clutter away will be far less ominous if you focus on special, tasteful wintery decor that can stay up through March if you so desire.  It saves set up AND clean up time.  For example, I like to decorate my home with winter-themed pine, cardinals, and snowmen—such items do not need to be put away come January 6th like the Christmas tree and ornaments do.  In fact, I keep them out until the snow melts…makes my holiday cleanup easier and my “snowbabies” collection keeps a smile on my face throughout the doldrums of winter! The idea is to spend time on tasks you truly enjoy doing and limiting everything else.  More joy means a happier holiday mindset and less stress, and the time saved can now be spent nurturing yourself with more sleep, exercise, and preparing healthy meals.

Holiday challenge #2:  Food is everywhere!  High-calorie holiday novelty items like egg nog, pumpkin pie, fruitcake, peppermint bark, and traditional holiday recipes are at home, the office, and social gatherings.  Parties are planned at restaurants where portions are notoriously ginormous.  Friends and neighbors drop off homemade treats to spread holiday cheer.  Most social opportunties at this time of year revolve around abundant food and drink.  Yikes!  Our waistlines don’t stand a chance… or do they?  Hmmm.  I happen to have a few “food management” tricks up my sleeve to help you enjoy the treats without overdoing it:

1.  Eat healthy foods, such as fruit, lean protein, whole grains and yogurt regularly throughout the day to control your appetite.  If you are not overly hungry (i.e. starving!), it is much easier to resist temptation and limit yourself to smaller portions of your favorite treats.  No need to deprive yourself, but you will want to set limits.

2.  Likewise, NEVER go to a restaurant or party on an empty stomach.  You are guaranteed to head straight for the food table the instant you walk in the door, leading to an all-night feeding frenzy.  If you are not overly hungry, you can focus on socializing first and the food can enter slowly as the evening unfolds.  Grab a small handful of nuts, a Greek yogurt, or a piece of fruit and low-fat cheese an hour before the party to keep your appetite in check.

3.  Balance “bad” choices with “good” choices.  I am not one to favor categorizing foods as good or bad, but in this case, it is smart to balance healthy with unhealthy choices.  If you deprive yourself of your favorite treats, you will likely binge on them later.  So, allow yourself some of the goodies but make sure you are also eating healthy, nutritious foods to balance them out.  For example, if you go out for a big late morning brunch, eat a light dinner.  If you have an evening party planned, eat lighter, lower calorie foods throughout the day leading up to the party—don’t skip meals, just go super healthy (fruits and vegetables will fill you up without a load of calories).  If you “pig out” on Thanksgiving Day, fill the rest of the weekend with exercise and healthier foods.  No harm done.

4.  Ignorance is NOT bliss!  Pay attention to calories and portions, even the holiday favorites.  Peruse websites that contain calorie information for traditional holiday and restaurant fare.  A little awareness goes a long way towards helping you make better choices and eat less.  For example, a 1/8th piece of a 9-inch traditional pumpkin pie has 300 calories while the same size slice of pecan pie has 500.  You save 200 calories by choosing pumpkin over pecan.  Knowing this little tidbit can help guide your choices.  Eat the filling and leave the crust?  You save another 100 calories.  Yay!  More room leftover for other stuff. 

5.  Set limits on junk foods by focusing on special, novelty items only.  For example, the cookie tray your neighbor brought over has frosted sugar cookies, Russian tea cakes, peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies, rum balls, and a couple of unknown varieties.  You’ve had the sugar cookies and peanut butter ones many many times.  Rather than sitting down to try each and every one of them at the same time, choose one or two of your absolute favorites OR try the new and interesting ones.  The familiar sugar and peanut butter cookies will be there tomorrow and the next day and the next day.  Save them to enjoy later.  No need to get them all down at once.  Again, don’t be caught starving when this tray enters your home or you are gonna dive right in without a second thought!!!

6.  Hide tempting foods in fridge, freezer, or pantry or, better yet, share them with others.  Rather than eating the entire tray mentioned in #5, how about bringing them to your next social obligation or serving them at your family dinner?  The more hands dipping into the goodies, the less for your own waist, hips, and thighs.  Believe me, this is a very good thing.  You are sharing—which is very much in spirit of the season AND you still get to enjoy some of it, without adding holiday pounds.  You keep your friends more slender this way as well. A win-win, in my opinion 😉

7.  Pack healthy snacks when you will be away from home for an extended period of time.  This will keep your from coming home ravenous to that aforementioned “cookie tray” or stopping for fast food along the way.

8.  Limit calories from alcohol, egg nog, and other sugary beverages.  You are better off using those calories on solid food, as they will keep your hunger at bay for a longer period of time and are far more satisfying.

Holiday challenge #3:  STRESS!  Having too many items on your “to do” list and not taking care of yourself produces feelings of anxiety and stress.  When you are stressed, sugary and fatty foods are all the more tempting.  So, stress management must become a priority this season if you want to stay healthy and happy.  Here are some helpful stress-busting strategies:

1.  Limit your “to do list” to the top 5 priorities of the day.  A list longer than 5 will make you harried and more likely to cut back on sleep, exercise, and time for relaxation.  You can accomplish this by planning ahead—do not leave holiday preparations to the last minute when at all possible.  Break time-consuming tasks into smaller chunks over the course of days.  (Like the card writing example given above.)

2.  Exercise is the perfect stress-busting activity.  If planning exercise into your day is challenging for you, make one of your daily priority tasks an active one, such as an hour or two of shopping, decorating, or cleaning.

3.  Turn social opportunities into physical leisure activities:  meet a friend for a walk rather than lunch; plan the office holiday party at a bowling alley or ice arena instead of a pizza parlor; meet “the girls” at a dance club (after eating a healthy dinner at home) for a bootie-shaking good time!

4.  Take time out to laugh and have fun!  Surely you have heard  the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine”?  Truly it is!  Laughter lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins (feel good hormones) into your bloodstream.  Aaaaah!  Go out to a funny movie with friends (Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, anyone??) or make a point to hang out with people who crack jokes and make you LOL! (I have the good fortune of being married to a natural comedian…so I am assured healthful laughter on a regular basis!)  If stumbling around on ice skates makes you laugh hysterically at yourself, all the better–you laugh and get exercise at the same time—a super-duper stress-busting activity!!!

5.  If you’re a parent with small children at home, don’t feel guilty about carving out time for yourself.  You will have an easier time caring for everyone else more joyfully if you meet your own needs first.  If you have relatives staying with you, send them out for fun with the kids while you attend an exercise class, get a massage, or simply put your feet up at home for awhile.  Or, take turns with the neighbors watching the kids so you can have some much-needed alone time to spend however you please.  A little creative planning and forethought can go a long way towards meeting your personal needs, regardless of how many children you have!

6.  Eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water on a regular basis to maintain energy and be more productive.  You will be crossing those 5 priority tasks off your list in no time!  Being even slightly dehydrated will make energy levels plummet.  Keep water with you at all times.

7.  Minimize overwhelming obligations.  As mentioned above, many of the things you say you “have to do” are really self-imposed.  You don’t HAVE to meet with every single friend and family member between now and the New Year.  Extend the holiday cheer into January and February to lighten your social calendar and give you something to look forward to in 2012!  Determine which things on your list are really necessary and which things you can modify to make them less stressful.   If having 50 people over every Christmas Eve ruins the holiday for you, it is time to start a new tradition.  Maybe plan to have the immediate family over on Christmas Eve and extend an invitation for a larger family gathering at a neutral location earlier in the month?  Yes, other pampered family members may balk at this, but they are not the ones being overwhelmed and put-upon–and are not exactly offering to help share the load either, are they?  You need to take care of you and put the joy back in your holidays.  Don’t be afraid to speak up for what you need.  Everyone deserves a happy and healthy holiday—including you.

So, there you have it.  Realistic strategies for managing your time, food, and stress this holiday season.  I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and happy and healthy New Year!  Any questions?  Feel free to ask!


%d bloggers like this: