Category Archives: health

Tips for a Successful Transition to Healthy Eating

Too often, individuals with good intentions to improve their diet end up abandoning their attempts just a few months into their health makeover.  Various reasons can account for the departure, ranging from time and financial issues to just plain frustration with a process that seems to be taking longer than expected to achieve desired results.  Although obstacles and setbacks cannot be completely eliminated, a little planning prior to beginning your endeavor to live a healthier life can help you progress forward, even during the most challenging times.  Here is what you should consider:

  • Are you ready? Are you willing to put forth the effort that is necessary to improve your health?  If not, what will motivate you?  Do you want to lose weight so that you have more energy to play with your children/grandchildren?  A lifestyle change made with a half-hearted attitude is less likely to succeed than one that is made with a whole-hearted desire to make a change.  Discover what will motivate you and realize that what motivates you may change as time goes on.
  • Is now the right time to make a change?  Will you be leaving for an overseas trip where you will lack control of your dietary intake?  Or, will a family member be undergoing a surgical procedure after which you will need to spend a great amount of your time caring for them?  Making a change amidst “chaos” will prove to be a challenge to maintain.  Consider delaying your efforts until things have calmed down or devise strategies that will help you to adhere to your program during major life events.
  • Set specific short- and long-term attainable goals.  Instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” say “I want to lose 10 pounds by December 1.”
  • Devise and outline a plan to achieve your goals.  Your plan should include clear actions that you will take to make the change (e.g., “I will replace the cream in my morning coffee with skim milk.”).  Your plan should also account for obstacles that will be encountered and contigency plans should be in place.  For instance, on days that you know you will be attending a dinner party, choose to eat a light lunch composed of fruit and low-fat yogurt.
  • Be realistic.  Progress is the goal, not perfection.  Circumstances will (and do) arise that will interfere with your attempts at living a healthier lifestyle.  That’s okay – don’t let it frustrate you.  Take this time to reevaluate your plan and goals and make changes accordingly.
  • Keep it fun and make it enjoyable.  Reward yourself when you achieve your goals (e.g., give yourself 15 extra minutes to read the newspaper before starting on household chores).  Keep it interesting by trying healthy cuisine from another culture or by eating your favorite fruit prepared a different way (e.g., poached and served with a yogurt sauce).
  • Enlist support.  Let friends, family and coworkers know you are making a change for the better and ask them to help or even join you in your efforts.  Sharing success stories or discussing challenges with others can help motivate  you to stay on the right path.

Having the right mindset and being prepared to make a change toward healthier eating will help to make your transition toward better nutrition a success.  Don’t get discouraged by setbacks, rather use them as lessons for a better future.  And remember, it is a process that will contiually evolve overtime.

What has helped you maintain a healthy diet?  Share with us, we want to know!


Filed under behavior change, goal setting, health, healthy eating tips

Nix the Salt Habit!

Do you tend to have a heavy hand with the salt?  If you do, you are not alone.  The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a sodium intake that is no more than 2,300 mg/day for individuals 2 years of age and older – that is about 1 teaspoon of salt per day.  The recommendations for at-risk populations (African-Americans, adults 40 years and older, and hypertensive individuals) is lower, set at no more than 1,500 mg/day.  However, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg/day of sodium.  Why is this so bad?  Sodium stimulates your kidneys to retain water.  This, in turn, increases your blood volume.  An increased blood volume can cause hypertension (high blood pressure).  And, hypertension increases your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. 

Individuals who are at-risk and/or are  “salt sensitive” – that is, more susceptible to the effects of salt on the body – need to take particular care concerning sodium intake; however, all individuals need to lower consumption to reduce health risks.  Last April, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States.  In this publication,  the IOM states that a collaborative effort is needed to reduce the amount of sodium Americans consume.  Part of this strategy entails new government standards for sodium content in foods produced by food manufacturers, restaurants, and foodservice providers.  The ultimate goal is to set a standard sodium level for commercially prepared foods that is considered to be safe.  This reduction is to occur graduallyso as to allow the American palate to adjust accordingly without change being significantly noticed.  Likewise, the IOM is calling upon Americans themselves to make wiser choices about food products and to limit sodium content in home-prepard foods.  Other sectors of society, such as health professionals and public-private corporations are asked to support the implementation of sodium guidelines by food producers as well as to encourage fellow Americans to follow a lower sodium diet.

How can you take action to reduce the sodium in your diet?

  • Gradually lower your intake of sodium to the recommended level.
  • Purchase items labeled as “low salt,” “low sodium,”  “no salt added,” and “sodium free.”
  • Avoid adding salt while cooking foods such as rice, pasta, whole-grain cereals, and vegetables.
  • Add flavor by using salt-free spices and herbs instead of salt.  Good salt-free alternatives include lemon-pepper blends, all-spice, paprika, curry powder, turmeric, dry mustard, caraway seeds, sesame seeds, basil, dill, and garlic.  Using lemon juice and vinegar can also add flavor without the need for salt.
  • Watch out for hidden sources of sodium, such as some over-the-counter and prescription medications, certain natural foods (e.g., olives and seafood), and baking soda and baking powder.

Although it is important to reduce your sodium intake to the recommended safe level, do not eliminate salt completely from your diet.  Sodium is essential for proper muscle function, neurotransmission of impulses and fluid regulation and balance in your body.

How have you reduced the amount of sodium in your diet?  Share with us, we want to know!

Sources for more  information

Institute of Medicine

American Dietetic Association

American Heart Association


Filed under health, healthy eating tips, salt, seasonings, sodium, spices

Simply Sunday – Healthy Cooking

Welcome to Simply Sunday here at the Health and Food Forum’s Blog.  Today’s topic of discussion is healthy cooking.  A quality diet isn’t just characterized by the type of foods that you eat, but how you prepare and cook them.  Using proper tecnniques will lessen the chances of decreasing the vitamin and mineral content of foods and adding unnecessary amounts of fat and sodium to meals.  Here are a few tips to follow when in the kitchen:

  • Do not peel away the edible skin of fruits and vegetables (e.g., apples, peaches, potatoes, etc.,).  Most of the vitamins and minerals are not found in the middle, rather they are present in the skin and just below the skin.  By removing the peel you are stripping away vital nutrients.
  • Steam rather than boil vegetables.  There is very little or no contact with water during the steaming process; therefore, most of the vegetable’s nutrients can be retained.  Because some of the vitamins can be dissolved in water, boiling vegetables can lead to a loss of nutrients.  If you need to boil your produce, save and freeze the cooking water to be used at a later date for soup stock, sauces, etc.,.  This way, you can still obtain the water-soluble nutrients that were dissolved in the water during the boiling process. 
  • Roast vegetables using nonstick cooking spray to enhance flavor while cutting down on fat content.
  • Do not overcook vegetables.  Overcooking destroys vitamins and minerals.
  • Rinse canned fish and meat before consuming to lower sodium and fat content.
  • To lower the fat content of your meal, trim the fat from cuts of poultry and meats before cooking and remove the skin from cooked poultry before eating.
  • Microwave meats and produce.  The fast-cooking process of microwaving decreases the time that the heat-sensitive nutrients of food are exposed to high temperatures.  Also, you do not need to add any fat to your meal to cook it in the microwave.
  • Baste using low-fat or fat-free liquids such as lemon juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, tomato juice, fat-skimmed stock, and wine.
  • When sauteing, use wine, lemon juice, or fat-skimmed stock and/or broth instead of oil or butter to lower fat content.
  • When roasting, grilling, and broiling use a rack so that fat drippings fall away from meat and poultry.

What techniques do you use for healthy cooking?  Share with us, we want to know!



Filed under health, healthy eating tips, healthy food, homemade meals, nutrition

Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Eat What?

Eat What? recommends what to eat from grocery stores and restaurants.

Last month, PICKKA launched a cool new app for the iPhone – Eat What?. This nifty app provides you with a list of recommended products to buy at the grocery store and/or suggestions of menu items from a restaurant based on your dietary objectives (e.g., management of diabetes, prediabetes, weight, cholesterol, and high blood pressure, and/or adhering to healthy eating).  Eat What? is simple to use.

First, select your health objectives.

Second, specify whether you want to search restaurant menu items or products from the grocery store.  Then, type the name of the restaurant, product brand, or food category for which you would like recommendations.

Third, review the list of recommendations.  Nutritional information is provided as well as consumer ratings of taste to help you narrow your choice.

“Eat What?” eliminates the guess work out of deciding what to eat so you can spend more time enjoying your food and less time analyzing it.  For an easy way to stay on track, download the “Eat What?” app for your iPhone.

Don’t have an iPhone?  Try PICKKA’s “Eat This?” app now available for the Android market.  Visit Eat This?” to learn more and to download the app to your Android phone.


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Filed under Eat This?, Eat What?, health, healthy eating tips, healthy food, iPhone apps, nutrition, nutrition labels, PICKKA, restaurant meals

Getting Your Teen to Eat Healthy

Healthy eating during adolescence is necessary to meet the nutritional demands placed on the body by puberty – a time when there is an increased need not just for calories, but for nutrients such as protein, calcium, and iron.  Getting your teen to choose the right types and amounts of food can be a challenge considering that this time of growth is characterized by a greater need and desire to become increasingly independent from parents and a sense of urgency to “fit in with the crowd,” and so, decisions are easily persuaded by their peers.  Further adding to the challenge for parents is that many teens eat more meals away from home (and you) due to sporting and social events prevelant during this stage of development in comparison to younger children.

Fortunately, there are some steps that you as the parent can take to increase the chances that your teen will pass-up the soda pop for water and the fries for fruit.  These include:

  • Provide your teen with peer-accepted literature, such as teen magazines and books, that promote healthy eating and exercise habits.
  • Convenience is important at this age so make healthy snacks and ingredients for “make your own” meals readily accessible for your teen.  For example, have individual servings of homemade vegetable soup in the freezer to be quickly grabbed and cooked in the microwave.
  • Heed your teens suggestions for meals.  Offer healthier versions of the theme if necessary and shop for, prepare, and cook the meal together to make it a family experience.
  • Allow your teen to invite friends over for meals and/or parties in which healthy appetizers, entrees, snacks, etc., are served.  Better yet, have your teen plan the menu with the help of their friends.
  • Talk about health and nutrition from a  positive frame of reference.  Avoid negative comments and address their concerns.
  • Be a role model and follow healthy eating and exercise habits yourself; in other words “practive what you preach.”

With your help, your teen can develop healthy eating skills and practices.  If your child expresses concern about his or her body weight or body image, schedule an appointment for your teen to meet with your family physician.

How do you foster healthy eating habits in your teen?  Share with us, we want to know!

For more information on getting your teen to eat healthy visit MyPyramid or Team Nutrition.



Filed under adolescents, family, health, healthy eating tips

Factoring in Fiber

Whole-grains, dried fruit, and legumes can help you meet your dietary requirements for fiber.

When you think of an enticing meal, what do you imagine?  Flank steak and roasted red skin potatoes?  Or broasted chicken and creamed-corn?  Now envision a meal composed mainly of naturally fiber-rich foods.  Are you picturing a meal that would be considered a temptation to the palate?  My guess for a great number of individuals the answer is no.  For many, the suggestion of increasing daily fiber intake triggers boring thoughts of eating a bowl full of tasteless bran flakes – not a very exciting proposition to some.  Perhaps that, along with the gastrointestinal discomfort that can be associated with consuming too much fiber or increasing its intake too quickly, can explain why many of us consume less than half of the recommended daily amount.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggests that adults ages 50 years and younger consume 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams of fiber per day for men.  Women and men over the age of 50 years should eat 21 and 30 grams of fiber per day, respectively, as a result of eating fewer total calories.  A general goal for adults is to try to consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories ingested daily.

What are the recommendations for fiber intake of children?

  • 1-3 years = 19 grams/day
  • 4-8 years = 25 grams/day
  • 9-13 years = 26 grams/day for females, 31 grams/day for males
  • 14-18 = 26 grams/day for females, 38 grams/day for males
  • According to some sources, a general rule of thumb for calculating your child’s daily fiber intake is to add 5 to his or her age in years.  For example, a 6 year-old would need about 11 grams of fiber per day.

Fiber can be classified as either soluble or insoluble.  Soluble fiber dissolves in water, whereas insoluble fiber does not.  Foods rich in soluble fiber include oat bran, brown rice, barley, and certain fruits (e.g., plums) and vegetables (e.g., broccoli).  Whole- grain cereals and breads, wheat and corn bran, nuts, and seeds are examples of sources rich in insoluble fiber.

Adding fiber-rich foods to your diet offers many health benefits.  These include:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduced risk for heart disease
  • Better blood sugar control in diabetics
  • Improved digestive tract health
  • Decreased risk for certain cancers (e.g., colon)
  • Weight management

How can you tell what is a good source of fiber?  According to the National Fiber Council, foods that offer more than 5 grams of fiber per serving are considered to be high-fiber sources. Those that contribute 2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving are classified as a good source.  Products that claim to have added fiber should provide at least 2.5 grams more  fiber beyond what would be traditionally present in the food.

To make your transition to a high-fiber diet more tolerable, follow these tips:

  • Gradually increase your fiber intake – adding too much too soon can lead to symptoms of bloating, cramping, and flatulence.
  • Increase fluid intake, particularly water, to avoid constipation (fiber absorbs water from your gastrointestinal tract).

A fiber-rich diet does not have to lack flavor.  Some suggestions to boost your family’s fiber intake include:

  • Toast slices of whole-grain bread and top with mashed banana.
  • Turn your cottage cheese into a parfait by alternating layers of it with dried fruit and nuts.
  • Add whole-oats to your favorite baked good recipe.
  • Add a small can of pureed pumpkin or sweet potato to a recipe for homemade mac and cheese.

How do you boost your family’s fiber intake?  Share with us, we want to know!


Instititute of Medicine

National Fiber Council




Filed under children, family, fiber, health, men, women

Spice up your Health

Spices can do more than add a little flavor to your favorite dish, many provide health benefits too!  A pinch here and a dash there of certain spices not only helps you to reduce the salt, sugar, and fat content of your meal, but the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties characteristic of these seasonings can also protect you from developing chronic diseases.  Symptoms, such as nausea and arthritic pain, can be alleviated as well by use of spices.  Here are a few that you will want to keep stocked in your pantry:


  • Reduces blood sugar, triglyceride, LDL-cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels of individuals with known type 2 diabetes and, therefore, may reduce the risk for heart disease in this population.
  • Store cinnamon in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place.
  • Enjoy cinnamon sprinkled on yogurt, smoothies, roasted nuts, squash, sliced apples,whole-grain toast, oatmeal, and hot beverages (e.g., tea).
  • Safety concern:  Contains oxalate which can pose a problem for individuals prone to developing calcium oxalate kidney stones.  Use of cinnamon by these individuals should be discussed with a health care practioner.


  • Protects against certain cancers (e.g., colon cancer) and heart disease due to the presence of curcumin, the yellow pigment of turmeric, which has antioxidant properties.  Curcumin also has anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to be effective in alleviating the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis (e.g., joint swelling and morning stiffness).  Other health benefits asscoiated with turmeric include a reduced risk for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
  • Ground dried  turmeric powder should be stored in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place.  Fresh turmeric should be kept in the refrigerator.
  • Add to grain (e.g., rice) and bean/legume-based dishes and sauces.


  • Alleviates symtpoms of nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness and morning sickness.  It also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties (from the presence of gingerols) which help to provide relief from pain and swelling related to osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Ground dried ginger powder should be stored in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place.  Fresh ginger should be kept in the refrigerator.
  • Ginger can be used to season meats, poultry, and fish and added to stir-frys, grain dishes, and desserts.  Ginger can also be made into a tea.
  • Safety concern:  Ginger contains oxalate which can pose a problem for individuals who are prone to developing calcium oxalate kidney stones.  Use of ginger by these individuals should be discussed with a health care practitioner.

Cayenne (Red) Pepper

  • Contains capsaicin which has been shown to be an effective pain reliever.  Consuming cayenne pepper has also been linked to the protection against heart disease.  It lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduces the formation of blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
  • Store in a sealed container in a dark, cool, and dry place.
  • Add to bean, legume, and pasta dishes.  Sprinkle on salads, roasted nuts, or popcorn.

What is your favorite way to add spices to your meals?  Share with us, we want to know!


Source of Information:

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005, Murray, M.


Filed under Cayenne (Red) Pepper, cinnamon, ginger, health, seasonings, spices, turmeric