Sunday, October 19, 2014

Healthy Halloween Eating (Pumpkin-Pecan Oatmeal with Pears)

Emotional eating connected to a season or a holiday can become particularly demonic at this time of year. For individuals struggling with long-term issues with weight, Halloween and the following food-filled holiday season may lead to frightening consequences in physical and psychological health. I wrote the following article for individuals who opted for bariatric surgery, often after decades of struggling with morbid obesity. However, the suggestions offered are relevant to anyone interested in improving eating habits during this season of endless apple pies a la mode, pumpkin mocha lattes, and walnut banana breads ("Yes, I'll take another slice home, thank you so much!"). 

Bariatric surgery provides us with a life-altering tool toward health and wellness if we commit to it, but we also must find adequate coping strategies to manage the emotional and psychological challenges that emerge post-surgery. Now as the autumn season reaches its glorious heights of color, scents, and tasty offerings, a wide range of memories may begin to stir, many of which are bittersweet. For example, many of us may hold memories from Halloweens past as some of the most prominent of our childhoods. For those of us that struggled with weight, and often teasing, isolation, or bullying about size, we found a temporary escape in our trick or treating costumes, becoming someone else for that special night. The autumn season still conjures potent imagery and feelings for many of us now as adults. Symbolically, holidays like Halloween and food-centric Thanksgiving may come to represent “my old life.” Post-surgery, patients may feel a sense of deprivation, loss, and resentment over the ability to enjoy certain fall foods. After a while, protein supplements and other types of “replacement foods” may seem like poor substitutes for the seasonal dishes others are enjoying. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The authentic foods and flavors of autumn can work in the post-op diet, with some effort and planning. This whole-grain-based breakfast recipe for Pumpkin-Pecan Oatmeal with Pears is an example. 

Pumpkin-Pecan Oatmeal with Pears
1 cup non-fat milk
½ cup non-fat powdered milk
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup quick cooking oats (uncooked)
½ cup canned pumpkin puree
2 cups canned pears in juice (diced)
2 tablespoons sugar substitute (Splenda)
8 ounces light vanilla yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans

Combine skim milk and powdered milk, sugar substitute, and pumpkin spices in a saucepan on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes and bring to the boiling point, stirring occasionally. Add oatmeal and heat for about 30 seconds. Add pumpkin pulp, pecans, vanilla yogurt, and pears and mix. Continue to heat about another minute, until oatmeal is heated through.  (This recipe serves 4 and provides 11g protein per serving.)  

Breakfast post-surgery presents the dual challenges of maintaining adequate protein intake and fending off boredom in food choices. Think of Halloween and dress everyday breakfast ideas up in some new creative outfits.  Transform your basic egg dishes into Cajun deviled eggs, sweet potato or kale and tomato frittatas, or give tofu a try in a veggie scramble. Swirl some canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice into your Greek yogurt or cottage cheese for a seasonal treat.  Also, consider “non-breakfast” foods for breakfast, especially high-protein whole grains like quinoa and amaranth, fish dishes (consider heart-healthy smoked salmon), and roasted chickpeas.

Remember: Navigating holiday eating is about making choices, not deprivation. If you love Halloween and the autumn season, there is no need to give up one of your favorite times of year due to the “candy dilemma.” If you had bariatric surgery, why risk dumping syndrome or overindulging by having Halloween candy around in the first place? Instead of tempting yourself with bowls of candy, give out small toys to your trick or treaters. You made the decision to have bariatric surgery to improve your health and quality of life. Embrace new coping strategies and make better lifestyle choices to enjoy a fuller, healthier life post-bariatric surgery. 
The Precious Little Pumpkin (M. Blacke)

Recipe Source:

Friday, May 30, 2014

Slave to the Rind: The War with Watermelon

When one has tasted watermelon he knows what the angels eat.”
Mark Twain

As a Registered Dietitian (RD), I discuss food preferences with individuals regularly. Food favorites and aversions can be extremely personal to people, as they are rooted in childhood memories, family tradition, and cultural heritage. These exchanges ideally should be handled delicately and with finesse. And during these exchanges, we may unexpectedly uncover our own long-dormant biases. 

Yesterday, I discovered one of mine. 

I now publicly admit to loathing one of the healthiest foods on the planet: watermelon.  There is no choking incident, childhood seed-spitting torture, or other random trauma with this nutrient-packed fruit in my past, but I have avoided it for decades nonetheless. I will not eat it in its natural state, or in the form of candy, margaritas, juice, gum, or a carved out punchbowl. With all due respect to Mr. Twain’s quote above, I simply do not get it.

When counseling a client recently, this watermelon disdain apparently showed on my face. I blamed it on a fictional toothache, but mentally noted my bias. So, in order to get a grip on this problem of mine, I decided to investigate the benefits of watermelon in terms of dietary intake. 
One cup of watermelon provides less than 50 calories and no fat, so clearly we have a weight loss winner with this fruit. Watermelon consists of over 90% water, is low in cholesterol and sodium, and is a good source of vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as lycopene. Vitamin A boosts immunity and maximizes eye health. Vitamin B6 assists with immunity, nerve functioning, and red blood cell formation. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that assists the body in tissue growth and maintenance. The watermelon’s red flesh indicates the presence of lycopene, which may lower the risk of heart disease, macular degeneration, and several types of cancer.
There are hundreds of watermelon cultivars, which vary in taste, texture, and color. Not surprisingly, there are recipes for watermelon salads, smoothies, juices, cocktails, sorbets, soups, and salsas, and it can certainly be eaten on its own, or even grilled as “watermelon steak,” though I don’t know from personal experience. 
Watermelon is classified as both a fruit and a vegetable. The watermelon is cousin to the pumpkin, squash, and cucumber. (By the way, I adore those three foods to an embarrassing degree.) This relation is evident in elaborate displays of watermelon carving, but even here I admit to preferring the knife artistry involving pumpkins and autumnal gourds over these summer favorites.
Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):
1)    Watermelon has minimal calories, no fat, no cholesterol, and low sodium. With its high water content, it provides hydration along with a stomach-filling effect to promote weight loss. Watermelon is therefore a high-volume food (filling with few calories) and a dieter’s friend.
2)    As with other foods of the same family, watermelon may provoke symptoms of oral allergy syndrome, which is connected to ragweed pollen and can potentially lead to anaphylaxis if left untreated. Contact a healthcare professional if you detect similar symptoms after ingesting watermelon, or other associated foods, such as honeydew or cucumber.
3)    A watermelon’s bitter rind is often tossed away quickly. As one summer option, consider using a pickled watermelon rind (from an organic melon) to serve with grilled hamburgers. Watermelon seeds are also edible, but one cup contains 602 calories, most of which come from fat! (Unlike the flesh of the watermelon, its seeds are not weight loss-friendly.)
4)    Food Safety first! Despite the presence of the outer rind, as with all fruits and vegetables, wash your watermelon in clean, running water before consumption. Also, be sure your knives, cutting surfaces, and most importantly, your hands, are clean before you dig in! 

While I am happy to recommend watermelons professionally as I have above, I am still personally biased. For those of you who enjoy them, please have my portion, and feel free to learn more about watermelons here

To read the full article on my watermelon war in OKRA Magazine, click here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lick the Salt Habit

March is National Nutrition Month, so the timing of the WCCC Weight Loss Challenge could not be better. One of the recurring points I have made to the contestants of this Challenge is that excessive salt (sodium chloride) in the diet can negatively impact your health and weight.
Too much sodium is linked to increased risk for hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease. In addition, excessive salt intake can lead to puffiness, bloating, and weight gain. Previous recommended daily allowances of sodium have recently been lowered to 1,500 mg (less than one teaspoon!) per day for children and adults.