Focus On: Vitamin D

You may know vitamin D, often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” because of its role in helping to maintain strong bones.  But did you know that it plays a role in immunity, brain and fetal development and heart function as well?  Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties, preventing the release of pro-inflammatory mediators by blood cells.  Have you had your vitamin D levels checked in the past year?  If not, I encourage you to do so.

Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin because our bodies can synthesize it through sunlight exposure to our skin.

Vitamin D was discovered in the early 1900s in western Europe, as researchers were trying to find a cure for a condition called rickets, where children’s bones become extremely soft and children are knock-kneed. Luckily, rickets and the adult version, osteomalacia, are uncommon in the US today. The Institute of Medicine, which sets the recommended daily intakes for vitamins and minerals to avoid deficiency disease among the US population, recommends a vitamin D intake of 400IU for infants, 600IU for children and most adults, and 800IU for those over age 71. This level is set to prevent rickets and osteomalacia across the population.  But is this level sufficient to prevent other conditions?

Vitamin D deficiency, as measured by blood levels, has become more common in recent years.  Is it because we wear more sunscreen, our bodies have a reduced ability to create vitamin D through our skin as we age, a population increase in obesity is affecting absorption, that we aren’t eating enough foods with vitamin D, or perhaps another reason?

While not definitive, epidemiological studies have demonstrated a correlation between vitamin D and autoimmune disease, where low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid), Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), to name a few. Given that autoimmune disease is rapidly rising, this is clearly an area for further research.*

What is an appropriate blood level?  Most US labs set the reference range for normal vitamin D blood levels at 30-100 ng/mL, though many experts and research supports levels of 50-80 ng/mL.  Levels over 100 ng/mL can be cause for concern.

So, what should you do?

  • Get your vitamin D levels checked at least once a year!
  • If your levels are below 50 ng/mL, supplement and/or increase your dietary intake of vitamin D-rich foods
  • Spend some time outside every day. It’s not only good for making vitamin D; research shows it improves mood and overall health too!

If you are looking to increase your dietary intake of vitamin D, you’ll want to focus on fish oils, fatty fish, egg yolk, fortified milk and juice and fortified cereals. The best dietary sources are cod liver oil (1 Tablespoon = 1300IU), swordfish (3oz.= 550IU) and sockeye salmon (3 oz = 450 IU).  Note: Milk in the Unites States is fortified with 100IU per cup, but foods made from milk, like yogurt and cheese, are usually not fortified.

In terms of supplements:  For your average adult, taking a supplement of 1000IU in the form of D3 is appropriate, especially during the winter and spring months when our stores may be lower because of decreased sunlight exposure in the fall and winter.  There’s no need to megadose, as this is a fat-soluble vitamin.  Of course, getting your doctor to check your vitamin D levels is always the best strategy because you can then fine-tune your supplement dose.  The current tolerable upper limit intake as established by the Institute of Medicine is 4000IU/day, though some practitioners recommend higher doses to those who are deficient.

Additional Resource:  National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D Fact Sheet

*The National Institutes of Health estimates that 23.5 million Americans currently have an autoimmune disease. To put that in perspective:  cancer affects 9 million and heart disease, 22 million.

The advice provided herein is general advice and does not take into account individual health conditions, medications and other supplements.  If you are pregnant or are a parent to an infant, there are additional considerations not contained in this post. Before starting any supplements, I highly recommend speaking to your doctor, Registered Dietitian or licensed nutritionist.

Holiday Challenge

Did you know that it’s exactly 4 weeks til January 1st?

If that statement put you into a panic, you’re not alone. The January issues of your favorite magazines are starting to arrive in your mailbox.  Their covers highlight articles on New Year’s cleanses, eating clean, detoxes and more.

Well, there’s a lot of living between now 2017. Parties, travel, holiday shopping, lots of cooking…. You get the idea.  It can all feel so overwhelming that we don’t feel like we can spare a minute for ourselves.  We push ourselves to the limit doing things for other people. We skip meals, eat in our cars, and skip exercise that makes us feel better inside and out.  Why can’t we do what the airline safety presentations tell us and put on our own oxygen masks first before tending to others?  We all know that we are better at everything when we give ourselves what we need, but it’s often just so hard to put into practice.

But what if you didn’t use the next few weeks as a time to put your needs second to those of others?  What if you gave ourselves a holiday present of self-care and self-love?

If you typically wake up on January 1st with a long list of resolutions, including foods you won’t ever eat again, then this challenge is for you.

You might be wondering why I’m devoting this post to something that isn’t clearly nutrition-related. But, here’s the thing:  it’s all related. Part of what I work with my Intuitive Eating clients on is what we call self-care. Research shows that if we practice self-care, we tend to be more in touch with what we are eating. And it makes perfect sense:  if we don’t take the time to get in touch with our emotional, social and physical needs, how will we be aware enough to focus on our hunger and satiety cues, and to determine what nourishment our bodies need on any particular day?  When all these factors are taken together, that’s when real, lasting change happens.

Here’s the challenge:  I want you to put yourself first, at least for a portion of every day.  Each day for the next 4 weeks, commit to take at least 15 minutes out of your day to do something just for you. (Bonus points if you keep a record of it.) What that is specifically will vary according to your individual needs and the time you have on any given day, but some examples are:

  • a meditation (I personally love the Calm App);
  • reading a book;
  • going to the movies;
  • excusing yourself from a family gathering to go take a walk in nature;
  • a yoga or exercise class;
  • calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while;
  • taking time to eat lunch mindfully during your work day;
  • working on a hobby;
  • having tea and a snack mid-afternoon.

We all have the best of intentions, but If you are one of those people who tends to put others’ needs in front of your own, this challenge is particularly important for you.  There are going to be so many reasons for this challenge not to happen:  there are large family meals to cook, relatives to visit, presents to buy and wrap, cards to address and mail, children home from school for 2 weeks…. The list of reasons can seem endless.

Research shows that it takes 21 days of a behavior to make it a habit. So, if you start this challenge today, self-care will become a habit by the new year. And you might just find yourself starting 2017 with a sense of accomplishment rather than a sense of regret.

15 Minute Black Bean Soup

It’s finally starting to feel like winter around here and that has me craving a hearty bowl of soup.  I do love to cook, and in a former life I would spend countless hours in the kitchen. Fast forward to my current life:  evenings are often so busy that I have only 20-30 minutes to get dinner on the table.

Super quick black bean soup to the rescue. This recipe only has 5 basic ingredients and you can make it start to finish in 15 minutes.  Best of all, you can keep all the basic ingredients in your pantry, allowing you to whip up this soup without a trip to the grocery store.  You can customize it with an assortment of garnishes. I love mine with a dollop of 2% greek yogurt, chopped avocado, cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Nutritionally, this soup is your friend too. Thanks to the black beans, it’s full of fiber and vegetarian protein. Add a salad and some cornbread or crackers, and you have an inexpensive, quick and healthy dinner.

15 Minute Black Bean Soup

Ingredient notes: I specify lower sodium canned beans and stock in the recipe because regular versions are too salty. It's better to use the lower sodium items and adjust seasoning to your taste near the end of cooking time.

  • Prep Time: 5m
  • Cook Time: 10m
  • Total Time: 15m
  • Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 c chunky jarred salsa (I like Green Mountain Gringo brand)
  • 2 - 14.5 oz cans no salt added black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 32 fl oz chicken or vegetable stock or lower-sodium broth (I like Pacific organic brand)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • optional garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, cubed avocado, greek yogurt, fresh lime juice, shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a 4 quart saucepan until it starts to shimmer.
  2. Add salsa to pan and cook until it bubbles and becomes fragrant, approximately 3 minutes.
  3. Add beans and stock to pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender, puree soup in the saucepan until it is smooth. Some small bits of beans may remain. You can also use a regular blender, but you will need to blend the soup in batches. Hot soup will expand in the blender, so never fill it more than halfway.
  5. Add salt to taste and stir to blend.
  6. Ladle into bowls and top with garnishes, if desired. Enjoy!

 

 

Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats

Have you ever tried overnight oats a/k/a overnight oatmeal?  If not, put this recipe on your to-do list.

 

You can probably tell that I love oats and oatmeal, and I also am always on the hunt for weekday breakfast ideas that don’t require much of me in the morning.  This recipe takes no more than 5 minutes to prepare.  You do need to prep it at least 8 hours before you eat it, however.  I like to throw mine together the night before and then I can go to bed knowing that I have a quick, delicious and healthy breakfast waiting for me in the morning.  You can even double or triple the recipe into individual mason jars.  Then in the morning, grab it out of the refrigerator, give it a quick stir, add some crunchy nuts and enjoy.

 

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Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c old fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 c milk or milk substitute (I use almond milk)
  • 3 tbsp. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 tbsp. pure maple syrup (I prefer amber syrup for a richer flavor)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tbsp. chopped pecans, optional

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients except for pecans into a tall glass, mason jar, or jam jar.
  2. Stir ingredients to mix well.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 3 days.
  4. When ready to eat, remove from refrigerator and add chopped pecans, if desired. Enjoy!

Halloween Survival Guide

This might just be my kids’ favorite day of the year.  Dressing up in costumes, collecting candy, staying up late, checking out all the neighbors’ decorations, did I mention candy?

As parents, we might not love it quite as much.  First, we have to go to the store, or help our little ones find the perfect costume online, in what seems like a multiple hour quest. Then, it’s time to decorate and buy all that candy to give out.  Then, there’s the fact that our kids start to obsess about the candy and how much they can collect, and EAT!!

Here’s my plan to get through Halloween (and the following days) without feeling like all your kids are eating are artificial colors and sugar.

  1. Put it in perspective. You really do a pretty awesome job of offering varied, wholesome foods to your kids on most days, right?  Give yourself a pat on the back for that!
  2. Plan a protein-rich dinner or grab and go snack for pre Trick-or-Treating. Get them nourished with some whole foods so they are not so hungry that they are eating a dinner of candy.  Depending on your child’s age or temperament, a sit-down meal might not be in the cards after school because they are so excited to get their costumes on and get going.  Below are some ideas for mini-meals or actual meals that will help fill them up before you head out for the evening.
  3. The Aftermath: While it’s tempting to put all sorts of rules around your child’s loot, I urge you to avoid making the candy forbidden fruit because that will only increase your child’s obsession with it.  Instead, treat it like any other snack. Check out  Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility for more information.
  • Have set meals and snack times. Candy is fair game then when you see fit.
  • Provide varied meals and be sure to include something you know they like at each meal.
  • No eating between these meals and snack times
  • Let your child self-regulate and learn from their eating experiences without judgment from you. It’s better for them to learn what eating too much chocolate feels like and putting that information in their memory bank, rather than having them push past their limits just to assert their independence with you.
  • No food in their bedrooms, and that includes candy!
  • Meals (including candy) should be eaten while sitting down without distraction. Eating is a sensory experience and paying attention to the experience is critical to learn what your body wants and needs.
  1. If you take a more laid back approach, using these guidelines, you will find that the obsession with candy decreases. If you often have lots of food rules, it will take major effort to bite your tongue and not judge your child’s intake.  But, as our children grown and mature, they need and want to assert their independence. Stifling that developmentally-appropriate growth through micromanaging their intake often backfires.
  2. Remember, that children want to be happy and feel good. If you set the stage (or in this case, table) for them, you are doing your part help them grow and learn what their bodies need.
  3. I highly recommend reading one of Ellyn Satter’s books on childhood feeding or check out her website here: http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org

Super Quick Weekday Breakfasts

Summer is officially over. The kids are back in school, and we are back to the daily grind. The slower pace of summer mornings has been replaced by an early alarm clock and the mad dash out the door.

Where does that leave you with breakfast? If you’re anything like me, you want something quick and easy that still tastes good and has the staying power to keep you energized for the next several hours.

Here are some of my go-to’s that have been kid and parent tested in our house:

img_1428Banana-Nutella Smoothie (serves 1-2 depending on age). This one puts a big smile on my resident chocoholics’ faces!

Note: The key to rich, creamy-tasting smoothies (IMO) is adding a frozen banana. So don’t throw out that over-ripe assortment on your kitchen counter! Throw them right in the freezer to use later. I even leave the skins on. Defrost for 5 minutes on the counter and then use a knife to cut off the skin. Slice into rounds and put in the blender.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup milk (or milk-substitute)
  • one frozen banana, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1.5 Tbsp nutella

Directions: Put all ingredients in blender ‘and blend’ until smooth, ‘approximately 1-2 minutes

 

img_2043Baked Banana Oatmeal Cups. I just found this recipe last week and I think it’s brilliant. I love oatmeal, but

not those instant packets. This recipe gives me the speed of instant with the taste and satisfaction of rich old-fashioned oats. This recipe makes 12 oatmeal cups (baked in muffin tins). Yes, there’s the initial time investment to make the batch, but then you can freeze them and enjoy 12(!!!) breakfasts. Personally, I omit the chocolate chips and use coconut oil to grease my muffin tins. [http://www.organizeyourselfskinny.com/2015/04/07/banana-and-chocolate-chip-baked-oatmeal-cups/]

 

 

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Peanut Butter Balls. These are another little secret in my house. My kids think I’ve lost my mind and am letting them eat raw cookie batter for breakfast. Meanwhile I’m trying to hide the smile that is cropping up on my face, because they’re getting lots of good fats, protein and some chocolate chips to make them feel excited! My kids are like protein powder detectives and they can’t seem to sleuth it out in here. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Balls:

Makes approx. 9 balls

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp. peanut (or other nut) butter
  • 4 Tbsp. honey
  • 5 Tbsps.vanilla protein powder (I use Whole Foods brand vanilla whey protein powder)
  • 2 Tbsp. Ghirardelli mini-chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Mix peanut butter, honey and vanilla protein powder well until mixture is smooth.
  • Mix in mini-chocolate chips until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Roll tablespoons full of dough into balls in your palms.
  • These can be eaten immediately or stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. They also make a great mid-day snack. They will soften and start to lose their shape when taken out of the refrigerator, so likely not the best choice for a lunch box.

Options: The possibilities for customizing these are endless. You can add spices, dried fruits, oatmeal, flax seeds, etc.

The Food Police

They’re everywhere. In the grocery store, peering into your cart. On the covers of magazines and on the radio. We are constantly being judged or reminded about our lack of a ‘perfect’ diet.

The fact is that we as a nation are more obsessed than ever about food. Ironically, rates of obesity are skyrocketing and there is a general anxiety about food.

We need to make a change and stop attaching morality to food. Food isn’t ‘clean’ or ‘dirty.’ It’s just food.

Think about it. The only reason you should have guilt about a food is if you stole it!

Do you know what feeling guilty about your food choices does? It makes you feel ashamed, desperate and out of control. It makes you less likely to pay attention to your body about what it is telling you it needs to feel nourished. Assigning moral value to food and labeling your choices as good and bad starts to permeate your very being and leads to fixation, and can zap the joy out of life. That translates either into severe deprivation, bingeing, or a cycle that includes both.

The better plan is to pay attention to your hunger and satiety cues. Take a moment to reflect and feel what is going on in your body, and if you are in fact hungry, think about what will satisfy you at this very moment.

Then, take a moment to sit down in a distraction-free area, take a deep breath, and enjoy it. If you’ve been on and off diets for longer than you can remember, this will feel like a radical and foreign idea.

Try it. Journal about it. What do you have to lose? Nothing. What do you have to gain? Your health and your sanity.

This I Believe

In honor of one of my favorite NPR segments/podcasts, I thought I’d start my blog with my beliefs as they relate to food and nutrition.

 

Food is Medicine. Nature has provided us with most of what we need to keep our bodies healthy. We are fortunate to have an abundance of foods from which to choose, and we are healthiest when we choose from a wide variety of foods.

There is no nutritional ‘magic bullet.’ If I had a penny for every time someone asked me about the latest superfood…….. The truth is, our knowledge is only at the tip of the iceberg. Scientists are discovering compounds that keep us healthy nearly all the time. The best strategy is to eat what you like, try some new foods, and strive to have your plate look like a rainbow. But, above all, sit down, relax and ENJOY your food!

Diets don’t work. I know. This one hits the hardest. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. However, study after study has demonstrated that the greatest indicator of future weight gain is having previously being on a restrictive diet. Diet companies continue to reap record profits while their success statistics are dismal. They might be the first field to repeatedly convince their consumers that failure is the consumers’ fault and not the diets themselves! Amazing, isn’t it?

Diets cause cravings. In studies dating back to the 1950s on men, restricting food intake causes people to obsess about food and increase the amount of food that they eat!

Listening to your body does work. Yes, I know that sitting down to a meal and paying attention can initially take more time and effort than following a set meal plan, but in the long run, this practice can help your body find it’s natural weight and free yourself from preoccupation with food, without feeling deprived.

Negative self-talk doesn’t translate into positive change. Evidence shows that we don’t make improvements in our health by bashing our bodies or our habits. Quite the opposite happens as we tend to rebel against that inner voice. Think of how you would talk to a beloved child, or to a colleague that you wanted to encourage…..And start to use that same language with yourself!

You can make positive change in your life and your health. Whether you know a little or a lot about nutrition, my goal is to help you work with your personal knowledge and personality strengths to empower you to become your best you.

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