COVID, Chocolate and Cravings. What’s the Connection?

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

Valentine’s day is fast approaching. A day dedicated to giving gifts, often chocolate or other sweets, to those you love. However, it may also bring up feelings of loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and hurt instead of love and connection. And, maybe you’ve been craving chocolate, carbs, salty or fried foods more than usual during the past year, leaving you feeling guilty and wondering why you just can’t stop? Well, there are several reasons behind why you may be experiencing increased cravings and emotional eating, but first, you need to understand why emotional eating isn’t a bad thing and why you can stop feeling guilty.

Food is Connection.

First of all, understand that you are human and we all experience food cravings along with feelings such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, sadness, and hurt throughout our lives. Food oftentimes can become a source of comfort in the short term when experiencing these different emotions. But, ultimately, food won’t solve or fix the feelings or make them go away. Think about how strongly food connects us to one another and the ways food has comforted or brought you joy in the past. Maybe, it was your mom’s homemade brownies she would make only on your birthday and not only were they delicious, but they also made you feel special. Or, how about someone bringing you homemade chicken noodle soup when you’re sick. It really is chicken noodle soup for the soul!

Secondly, let’s talk about how we as humans have an innate need to connect with others and we need connection as much as physical nourishment (Salzberg, 2017). Connection to ourselves and to others is really a foundation that allows us to be able to enjoy food for pleasure without the guilt. It’s no surprise then, that people may be experiencing increased cravings for comfort and emotional eating during this year of social isolation. Our connections and ways we typically connect with others in the past have been thrown a curveball.  Celebrations that usually center around food have been on hold or held via zoom, such as weddings and funerals. We are missing out on the togetherness of being able to break bread together or have cake. This may be leaving us with a void that we are using food to till those unmet needs of connection and feelings.

Thirdly, there is a physiological reason behind the power of increased cravings, which involves many parts of the brain. Stress itself triggers a specific brain neurotransmitter called CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) in the parts of the brain wired for cravings. Stress increases CRF, which can directly promote cravings itself.  Then, when we do eat, it causes a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is really stimulating. Therefore, it’s easy to understand that with all the added stressors and roller coaster of emotions of the pandemic, people’s stress may be at an all time high and food may be an easy source of comfort during these times.  

So, have your chocolate and eat it too!

How we manage cravings and emotional eating is a common struggle many people have. The first step in understanding cravings and emotional eating is to identify it and bring awareness to it. Knowing what it is you want or are feeling and being able to determine if it is emotional hunger or physical hunger, will help to ensure you are going to be satisfied. Mindless eating will only lead to more consumption of food and less enjoyment and satisfaction.

The concepts of Intuitive and Mindful Eating encourage you to be gentler and more compassionate with yourself without guilt or judgment. To help get started, you can ask yourself these questions to reconnect with yourself and discover what your body needs now in order to cope with your feelings. (Tribole and Resch, 2020):

  1. Am I biologically hungry? If yes, eat! If no, continue with the following questions to find out what you are feeling and really want or need.
  2. What am I feeling? Write it out, call a friend, just sit with your feelings, and experience them if you can. If this is too difficult, you may need to talk to a counselor or therapist.
  3. What do I need? Try to identify what it is you need. Rest? Time for Self-Care?
  4. Do I need to ask for help? If needing time for yourself, you may need to ask for help. Asking your partner to help with the kids so you can do something for yourself or connect with a friend. Whatever it is you identify; you may need help to make it happen.

And, if you still are wanting to eat, then that is completely OK! Just because you are not biologically hungry, does not mean you shouldn’t eat. But, by pausing and identifying what you really need (physically and emotionally) and want, you are now honoring your body and the desire and can enjoy whatever it is mindfully and intuitively.

6 Tips for your Emotional Eating Toolbox

  1. Eat regular meals and snacks. Ensuring your body is getting a balanced mix of nutrients between carbohydrates, protein, and fat throughout the day will help minimize getting over-hungry, which can lead to cravings and overeating. Planning your meals and snacks along with having the foods available can help make it easier for you to get a mix of good nutrients with a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Be sure to include one protein, fat, and carbohydrate every time you eat to help keep you energized.
  2. Drink more water. Sounds too easy and we have heard it forever, but water is the forgotten nutrient, and it is just as important as the other macronutrients. Not being adequately hydrated can leave you thinking you are hungry when you might actually be thirsty instead. How much water? The best indicator of hydration is the color of your urine. If it is a light, pale color like lemonade, you are likely well hydrated.  Get in the habit of filling up a water bottle and refilling as needed throughout the day.
  3. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. Ever notice how you crave more foods when you are overly tired? Lack of sleep can really mess with our hunger hormones and increase cravings. If you are having trouble with falling asleep or staying asleep, this is important to work on and get help if needed! Try working on getting into a consistent bed-time routine that helps wind down your body and your brain.
  4. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat! Food restriction and deprivation naturally leads to a desire to want the food Once you start giving yourself permission to eat without guilt or judgment, food cravings can become less intense since you have normalized the food you are craving. This isn’t always easy and you may want to seek out additional support from a registered dietitian nutritionist.
  5. Get Moving. Our bodies were meant to move (not sit all day) and there are natural benefits of physical activity with the release of endorphins that help us feel good and improve our mood. This doesn’t mean having to work out for 2 hours every day or anything extreme. Exploring and finding ways that feel good to you and you enjoy are key to incorporating regular movement into your day and making it a part of your self- care routine.
  6. Take time for self-care.  If you aren’t getting enough time for pleasure and relaxation, you may end up turning to food to cope. If we don’t take care of ourselves first and our internal needs, we may not have the tools to be able to cope with our feelings without turning to food. Find ways to nurture yourself in ways that help you reconnect with yourself and keep you balanced. Meditating, journaling, reading, deep breathing, and connecting with others are all ways that can help manage stress.

So, caving into your cravings isn’t all bad! Let go of the guilt and enjoy that chocolate or special dessert mindfully! We all have the right to enjoy food and eat for pleasure and your relationship with food will become more positive as you slowly let go of the fear of food as a coping mechanism and truly embrace it.

Curious for more information, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

Resources:

  1. S. Salzberg, (2017). Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. Flatiron Books.
  2. Tribole, E., and E. Resch. (2020). Intuitive Eating. A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. (4th edition). St. Martin’s Publishing.


Looking to lose that Quarantine 15 (or more)?

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

Has the pandemic affected your waistline? Let’s admit it, it hasn’t been easy. Last spring’s stay at home orders and additional shut-downs, combined with more people working from home and kids distance learning have all posed its challenges when it comes to maintaining normal routines with eating and exercise. Not having access to your usual activities (ie – gyms and/or sports activities for kids) and staying home may have resulted in increased TV binge watching, baking goodies and eating more combined with less physical activity could have easily led to a few extra and unwanted pounds.

If so, you are not alone. According to one study by Gelesis, a biotechnology company, it is estimated that 71 million Americans have gained weight during the pandemic and, as a result, 52% say they feel down about the way they look. The study also found that even though people have been motivated to develop healthier habits amidst the pandemic, it also highlighted the fact that many Americans who want to lose weight continue to struggle. And, it’s no surprise that anxiety levels have increased as well. Anxiety, stress and lack of motivation have been common effects of the pandemic for many people. Fifty percent of respondents said they lacked motivation, thirty three percent were more anxious and forty one percent were more stressed, and felt they needed more support to lose weight.

Now that January has come and almost gone, it also happens to be the most popular time for many people to set New Year’s Resolutions. The idea of a “new you” and fresh start has many people hopeful to lose that weight gained and/or if you’re like almost fifty percent of Americans pre-Covid, losing weight and eating healthier are often at the top of the resolutions list. So, if you’re finding yourself wondering which weight loss program to do or join, read on. 

As a nation, we spend nearly 33 billion dollars per year on weight loss products. We are constantly inundated with promises of products and diet plans to lose weight everywhere we look. Social media is full of daily posts about someone who has successfully lost weight on the latest fad-diet and is trying to convince everyone in the world that it’s what you need to do. However, focusing on the goal of losing weight is only looking at the desired outcome and not the habits that help you get there. What if there was a way to do both (eat healthier and lose weight) without dieting, calorie counting and restricting yourself? Sound too good to be true? Well, what if I told you it’s not! The truth is and always will be that diets don’t work! Repeat that if you need to. Diets don’t work! Somehow, as a society, we’ve been brainwashed in the pursuit of some ideal body and weight that we think we should look a certain way or weigh a certain number.  Thus, we are easily lured back to the next diet hoping it will finally work, and often times end up gaining more weight afterwards and feeling even worse about ourselves. Diets look good and appealing on the outside with their promise of a quick fix, but they fail time and time again and offer feelings of failure and feeling miserable on the inside.

So, you might be wondering, what does work then?

Well, let me introduce you to Intuitive and Mindful Eating. Ditching dieting for good is hard if you’ve had a long history and relationship with it. However, you might be pleasantly surprised at how kind and gentle both intuitive eating and mindful eating are compared to your previous dieting relationships. You might also be surprised to see just how bad those diets have been treating you all these years. 

What is Intuitive Eating (IE)? Intuitive Eating is a dynamic mind-body integration of instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It is a personal process of honoring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs (Tribole and Resch, 2017). IE was first introduced by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Since then, it has gained in popularity and has over 125 research studies to support its positive effects on health and well-being. This non-diet approach to health and your body is a way to tune in to your body’s inner cues and break up with the cycle of chronic dieting. It encompasses ten principles that help a person gain body attunement, which is the ability to hear and respond to the physical sensations in your body – such as hunger and fullness cues, while other principles work by removing obstacles to body attunement.

There are ten principles of Intuitive Eating:

  • Ditch the Diet Mentality. While this may seem hard or even scary to do at first, it will literally free your mind and body from the harm diets and our diet obsessed culture have done to you over the years. Just like a new romance, a diet offers the honeymoon phase where it seems so easy to follow and effortless to lose weight. However, with each progressive diet that follows, your body makes it harder and harder to lose weight and easier to gain it back. Hence, you end up feeling like a failure, when actually, the diet failed you. Yet, we often don’t blame the diet, we blame ourselves.  
  • Honor Your Hunger. Allowing yourself to keep your body fed with adequate nutrition in order to avoid getting over-hungry is an important part of IE. If we ignore our internal cues for hunger, it can trigger overeating and even binge eating. This is key in rebuilding and relearning how to trust yourself with food and can be hard if you have tuned this out over the years with dieting and/or just trying not to listen to it. Using a Hunger-Fullness Scale can help. Aiming to eat when you are somewhat hungry, but not too hungry is a good place to be.
  • Make Peace with Food. This means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. Chronic dieters tend to evaluate their success or failure on the current day.  Success is based on how good you’ve followed the rules and plan. Even just thinking that you’ve blown the diet or day can trigger more consumption of food, regardless of hunger of fullness levels. Depriving yourself and telling yourself you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” have something can, and often does, lead to strong feelings that build into uncontrollable cravings and can lead to overeating and binging. Just like how biological hunger can lead to overeating because your body is telling you that you are physically hungry, the psychological effects of deprivation and dieting can also lead to overeating because it fuels your thoughts about food and creates a disconnect from your body. Making peace with food involves exploring the fears that hold you back from giving yourself permission to eat and is a process of placing value on your emotional health.
  • Challenge the Food Police. In order to make peace with food, you need to silence your inner thoughts and voices called the food police. The food police are the negative voices in your head that have developed over the years, perhaps from childhood from dieting and/or rigid food rules. It’s your harsh inner critic that determines if you are “good” or “bad” with regards to your food intake. By bringing awareness to its presence in your mind, you can learn to challenge its power and loosen its hold on you. Intuitive eaters trust their body’s inner signals and trust themselves to make the best decisions for nourishment and challenge any negative thoughts by re-framing them and thus, silencing the food police.
  • Discover the Satisfaction Factor. Satisfaction is the hub of Intuitive Eating. Have you ever felt full without being satisfied with what you ate? So often, eating for pleasure brings about feelings of guilt and shame. Eating when you are moderately hungry rather than ravenous or starving will increase your satisfaction factor (refer back to the hunger-fullness scale). When you eat without a diet mentality you will feel free to discover more satisfaction from your food. Aiming for satisfaction helps you find a way of eating that tastes and feels best for you – this is not a one-cookie-cutter-fits-all process or approach like with diets, it is a journey of self-awareness and discovery.
  • Feel Your Fullness. Do you feel like you always have to be multi-tasking and eating is just another chore or task? Are you working on work or scrolling social media while eating or listening to or watching TV? Along with honoring your hunger, you also need to tune in to your body’s signals fullness. This can be hard for people because having so many distractions in our environment. You can start by creating a calm and pleasant environment for eating. Set your fork down between bites, pause mid-meal and ask yourself: Does this food still taste good? Is it still pleasurable? And, what is my current fullness level? Learning to feel your fullness takes practice, patience, and intention. Always remember, there is no failing or perfect way to eat.
  • Cope with your Emotions with Kindness. All of us emotionally eat at certain times and it’s completely normal. (ie – think about celebrations and holidays). However, it is helpful to understand that food restriction alone (ie – dieting), can trigger a loss of control with eating and can feel like emotional eating, but it is actually your body trying to recover from the restriction. Instead, find kind ways to nurture yourself without using food when you are experiencing feelings such as anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger. Food may provide short term comfort, but it won’t fix the feeling or make it go away and it may make you feel worse in the long run. You may need help finding appropriate coping skills and/or may find working with a therapist helpful.
  • Respect Your Body. Respecting your body means treating it with dignity, kindness and gratitude. Your body is your one home for the rest of your life and deserves to be treated well by taking care of it, listening to it, and giving it what it needs. If you are struggling with this, start with what you are grateful for and try to avoid making comparisons to others. Most importantly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. If you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body size and shape, it will be hard to truly embrace IE.  
  • Movement – Feel the Difference. Having a healthy relationship with movement is something many people who have a history with chronic dieting do not have. Instead of thinking about exercise as something you have to do or “should do” in order to burn a certain number of calories for example, try finding some kind of activity that you actually enjoy doing and makes you feel good. Just like with food and eating, let your body be your guide with mindful movement. Discover and pay attention to how your body feels during and after activity, without counting calories, without judgement, comparison or competition.
  • Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition. Choosing foods that honor your health, taste good, and make you feel good is the cornerstone of eating. There is no perfect way of eating in order to be healthy. One snack, one meal or one day does not ruin your health, rather your pattern of eating over time is what matters most. IE is not about being perfect – another challenge for many to let go of.  It’s more about offering guidelines and an outline for a comfortable relationship with food. This involves learning to trust your inner intuitive wisdom and thinking about progress not perfection when it comes to eating and understanding that no one is perfect. You CAN start making healthy changes today one bite at a time.

Do any of these resonate with you? If you are curious to learn more about how to set non-diet weight loss/goals/resolutions and how to ditch dieting for good by embracing the concepts of Intuitive Eating, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

  1. Tribole, E., and E. Resch, 2017. The Intuitive Eating Workbook. Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food. New Harbinger Publications, Inc: Oakland, CA.
  2. The Intuitive Eating website: http://www.intuitiveeating.org

My May & Mother’s Day Wish for You

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Wishing all the Mom’s out there a Very Happy Mother’s Day and those that aren’t the same as well!

We are all moms in one way or another (ok – sorry to the men out there, this is for the females in your life:), taking care of others is what we do for our friends or family and not just our own children! But, first we must take care of ourselves!

So, No Diet Day has come and gone.  I hear and see so many people who are trying to lose weight and are using products, pills, potions, or diets.  My initial response is “stop!” Why are you doing this to your body?  First of all, please know that diets don’t work and people usually end up gaining more weight in the long run.  So, why are we so drawn to them versus trying to change our lifestyle habits towards those that are healthy and sustainable?  I am still working on those answers and welcome responses!

The truth is that for long term success you need to accept where you are at and commit to small changes, making those a habit. Sometimes, taking our focus of the number on the scale and using our energy in a positive way is all that matters! The weight will come!  Learning to trust your body is a process and it takes time (not the “quick fix” promised by all the popular plans and products out there).

Two “S’s” can also play a major role in weight management.  Stress and sleep!  How are you doing with these? Do you get 7-9 hours of sleep daily? This is another trend I often see.  Lack of sleep and increased stress raise negative hormone (ie – cortisol) levels in the body.  No matter how much exercise and eating right you do, your body is still fighting back!  Finding ways to de-stress is a great place to start for improving your overall health and wellness and achieving your body’s natural, healthy weight as well as ensuring adequate sleep.

Focus first on getting regular sleep, de-stress and do activities you enjoy for physical activity.  Eat regular meals (not skipping) and include a good source of protein, carbohydrate and fat with each meal and snack and you will be on your way to wellness!  And, do consider the No Diet Day a forever commitment!  It is truly one your body will thank you for.  Whether you are a mom or not, your body needs the nutrients to fuel for healthy living.  It’s really quite simple, yet I think we make it more difficult on ourselves.

What steps are you taking to give your body the gift of health?  Remember, if you don’t care of your body, where are you going to live?


Bite Into A Healthy Lifestyle ~ National Nutrition Month 2015

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While most of us are hoping March doesn’t come in like a lion and that it does go out like lamb, despite the weather, it is also National Nutrition Month. I love this year’s theme “Bite into A Healthy Lifestyle,” as it coincides exactly with my taglines and passions of “Making Healthy Choices, One Bite at a Time” and “Eat Well, Live Well!”

When you think about nutrition, what does it mean for you?  Your family? What are your struggles?  It seems in today’s world, sadly, there are just way too many diets, gimmicks, product labeling confusion, and pressure to eat a certain way!  I hope to share tid-bits throughout the month that reinforce the fact that nutrition is all about YOU. Not what everyone else is doing or what the latest fad diet is. It comes down to simple and nutritious eating ~ which also means ~ moderation and that all foods can and do fit into a healthy lifestyle!

Some questions to ask yourself:

Do you have a plan focused on your  long-term health, not just hoping for an overnight quick fix?

Are you eating breakfast every day?  If not, why?

Are you planning your meals ~ lunch and supper? If not, why? And, what could help you do this better?

What are barriers to eating healthy?

Are you incorporating regular, physical activity on a daily basis?  And, this doesn’t mean sweating for an hour at the gym.  Even small (5-10 minute) breaks during your work day or at home throughout the day can and do really help!  Exercise is also free medicine and helps us feel good! Find something you enjoy and reap the benefits!

I look forward to sharing more throughout the month! Let me know what’s on your mind related to nutrition and wellness! And, remember, a registered dietitian nutritionist can develop a personalized nutrition plan that meets your individual needs!


Struggles of a Dietitian Mom

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I have to make a confession: my kids love junk food!  Sometimes, being a dietitian mom is a struggle!  Working with clients and teaching, encouraging, and demonstrating new ways to enjoy food is so rewarding, challenging, and fun!  But, I have to admit, some of my toughest clients are my very own kids! It was so much easier when it was just breastfeeding and baby foods!  Yes, regular pop (which we don’t have at home unless a special occasion), candy (what’s not to love about it), cupcakes, cookies, and sugared cereals are favorites for our kids!  What is not to love about these foods – they taste good!  Thanks to manufacturers who know what our brains and bodies like, they market all kinds of unhealthy foods to us, and especially kids!

For instance, a recent text I got from my oldest son for his grocery list wishes included:  pop tarts, hot dogs, ham, cheese and crackers, pizza, and pizza rolls.  I read it and was thinking “where have I gone wrong?”  And, I’m not so sure it’s an easy answer!  Of course, I know all the healthy foods they should be eating, but I have to admit, my kids are some of my toughest clients!  Being a dietitian mom can be so hard!  Even though they do like fruits and vegetables, they also are in tune with what their friend’s are eating and that impact is so big at their age (the older two are 10 and 8), I am no longer in control of their nutrition.  Yes, I can influence and follow the division of responsibility for parenting (our job is to provide healthy foods, variety, and options), while their job is to choose what (if anything), and how much they will eat. (See Ellyn Satter’s website for more details:  http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/dor/divisionofresponsibilityinfeeding.php).

So, what are we/I to do?  As a parent and dietitian, I hold on to hope that I am instilling healthy habits and interest in healthy foods my kids will eat and that someday they will come to appreciate whole foods and cooking healthy foods as much as I do.  My grocery cart would look a bit different if just shopping for my husband and I.  I’m sorry, but my kids don’t love spinach, and they don’t necessarily love all the dishes I try to create (try is a key word – they don’t always turn out:)!  Anyway, the fact of the matter is, I am no different than anyone else. I am not out to judge or instill my own practices on you or your family, rather here to cheer you on as a fellow mom or anyone who’s trying to make healthy changes for yourself. I’ve been there, I am there, and I know it’s not easy.  It’s a journey, one step, one bite, one meal, one pound at a time.  Let go of the guilt and get back to enjoying food like it’s meant to be.  If your child would rather eat whole wheat muffins than pop tarts – super!  But, if not, you haven’t failed or done anything wrong.  There’s a place for everything and balance and moderation truly are key!  Providing a healthy environment, including children in the process of growing, shopping, preparing, and cooking or baking is key to them learning all about the different ways to enjoy food!

What are your struggles as a mom or otherwise?


Fats ~ Friend or Foe ~ The ABC’s When it comes to Cooking Oils (Part II)

So, one of my goals for this coming year (that I knew I would struggle with) is to keep up with my blog ~ even if only once a month!  I started it last fall, then the holidays hit and I think between Thanksgiving and Christmas it is a blur!  Can anyone else relate?  So, I’ve had this pretty much ready to go for a while but haven’t gotten around to posting it. Hopefully, you may take away a nugget or two on oils.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Avocado Oil:  The fatty acid composition of avocado oil is similar to that of olive oil, and thus is a healthy option, and anti-inflammatory in nature.  It has a higher smoke point than olive oil, good for stir frying and high heat baking, and contains loads of monounsaturated fatty acids.  Cons:  Not as common as other oils, thus it tends to be more expensive.

Butter/lard:  High in saturated and possibly trans fats. For health reasons, decreasing consumption may be beneficial. If you have high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease, you may want to opt for soft tubs of margarine instead of solid bars of butter/lard, however, some argue butter is better because it is all natural!  Another alternative to butter is Ghee:  a type of clarified butter commonly used in India and other parts of South Asia.  It shares a similar fat composition as butter, although derived from milk, it contains very low lactose and is suitable even for people who are lactose intolerant, or highly reactive to corn or soy (things that cows eat).  I have had several LEAP patients find they do well using Ghee instead of butter

*Canola Oil:  Canola oil got its name in 1978 as “CANadian Oil, Low Acid”.  Canola oil is made from crushed seeds of the canola plant and it has less saturated fat than any other oil commonly used in the U.S.   Canola oil can be considered an all-purpose cooking oil. It has a light and mild-taste, and is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, second to olive oil. Use it to sauté vegetables, in baking, and in salad dressings. It also works well in high temperature applications such as stir-frying.

Coconut Oil:  Have you joined the coconut craze (thanks to Dr. Oz and many other sources out there)? What is it about coconut oil that has people pulling it and going nuts?  First, the basics, 92 percent of its fat is saturated. That makes coconut oil far more saturated than most other oils and fats. Olive and soybean oils, for example, are about 15 percent saturated, while beef fat is about 50 percent saturated and butter is 63 percent saturated. (Only palm kernel oil, at 82 percent saturated, rivals coconut oil.)  All those saturated chemical bonds explain why coconut oil is solid at room temperature and doesn’t go rancid quickly. That makes it attractive to many candy makers, who use it in chocolate, yogurt, and other coatings that don’t melt until they hit your mouth. It’s also why some vegans—who eat no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy foods—use it as a butter substitute.

What makes it different?  Coconut oil is also unusual because it contains a high percentage of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs.  Most oils consist entirely of long-chain triglycerides, or LCTs, which are more than 12 carbons long. Soybean oil, for example, is 100 percent LCTs. Medium-chain triglycerides are 6 to 12 carbons long. Coconut oil contains roughly 40 percent LCTs and 60 percent MCTs.  The difference matters because our bodies metabolize MCTs differently than LCTs.  MCTs are transported directly from the intestinal tract to the liver, where they’re likely to be directly burned off as fuel and raise the metabolic rate slightly.  That means less is available to be circulated throughout the body and deposited in fat tissues.

A review of the scientific literature on coconut oil for weight loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease all have need for further research.  Bottom line:  There is no good evidence that coconut oil can help you lose weight or cure Alzheimer’s disease.  MCT oil may lead to modest weight loss when substituted for other oils.  And, there is no good evidence that “virgin” coconut oil does less damage to your heart than conventional coconut oil.  So, for cooking purposes, it does have high smoke point and works for baking, stir-frys or as a dairy free replacement to butter.  Enjoy the flavor in different recipes.  Coconut oil is good for many other purposes including moisturizing skin and hair.

Corn Oil: The polyunsaturated content is 98% omega-6 and only 2% omega 3s, for this reason, I would steer away from this oil in most cases.   It does have a high smoke point and is commonly used for frying.

*Olive Oil:  Olive oil is used in many Mediterranean and Italian dishes because it is one of the tastiest oils.  Olive oil is sold as “virgin” or “extra virgin.”  Extra virgin has less acid and a fruitier flavor and stronger aroma than pure or virgin olive oil.  A little goes a long way:).  Olive oil that is labeled as “light” is often lighter in hue or flavor but not lighter in calories.  Use olive oil in place of saturated fat, such as butter.  Dip bread in it, use it in baking, sauté, even fry vegetables and meat. But beware the smoking point is not very high so frying at high temperatures will cause your food to brown quickly.

Peanut Oil:  Peanut oil can be used for deep-frying, sautéing, or grilling food. The proposed health benefits of peanut oil is mixed among the research. It has a relatively high saturated fat content compared to most other vegetable oils, but it also has a high poly/monounsaturated fat content.  I would probably avoid this oil and stick to one with more definitive research on the health benefits. Plus, many people have allergies to peanuts.

Safflower Oil:  Safflower oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fat.  It is best for medium-heat cooking such as stir-frying or sautéing.

Soybean Oil:  Soybean oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids and for that reason, it is probably not the healthiest choice. It has a very high smoke point and if you are looking to buy soybean oil, avoid the hydrogenated versions.

Sunflower Oil:  Made from sunflower seeds, this oil has a very high smoke point and is commonly used for frying foods.  Even though it has an abundance of polyunsaturated fat and Vitamin E, most of it is unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids and very little healthy omega-3’s.  Therefore, this is not the best nor the worst oil to choose from. If you’re looking for something healthy, try canola or olive oil.

Bottom line is ~ whatever oil and fat you choose, use it in moderation and choose the option that best meets your health needs and taste!

Other Notes:  If you’re concerned about GMO, it’s likely that corn, soy, and canola oils are genetically-modified.  There are non-GMO, organic kinds of these oils available.  So be sure to check the label.

Have fun experimenting with all the different oils and cooking methods!  What’s your favorite?

Simple Homemade Vinegar & Oil Salad Dressing:10881530_736320596436727_7348492703683382337_n

3 Tbsp frozen juice concentrate, thawed or pureed fruit

1 Tbsp Vinegar or lemon/lime juice

3 Tbsp Oil

¼ tsp Salt

Seasonings to taste (pepper, garlic, basil, mustard, onion, leek, sesame see, etc.)  Whisk or shake well to mix.  Cover and refrigerate for up to one week.  Before using, let stand at room temperature about 15 minutes, and then shake well.  For thicker dressings or spreads, add pureed olives, avocado, green or red pepper, fruits, beans, finely chopped nuts or nut butter.  Enjoy!


The Skinny on Fats: Friend or Foe

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Some of the most common questions I get asked about when it comes to healthy eating and shopping as a consumer has to do with fat.  People want to know what the best fats and oils to use are and how to know which to buy in the store.

As a culture, we have become overly “fat- phobic,” a lasting effect thanks to the 80s and 90s low-fat craze and when fat was feared by dieters and many others.  As a result, manufacturers developed brands and products of foods with food additives and ingredients to replace fat, while still trying to maintain flavor.  The truth is, fats are not bad, as long as you get the right kinds and in moderation of course.

I always try to advise people that it’s not so much the amount of fat you eat, but the type of fat that you want to pay attention to.  For example, the omega-3 fats in particular have great health benefits for our bodies and can help lower triglycerides and cholesterol, as well as decrease inflammation, compared to saturated fats that can increase inflammation and contribute to hardening of arteries.

Fat 101:

Fat is fat. Fat contains 9 calories per gram (versus 4 calories per gram compared to carbohydrates or protein).  The type of fat you choose doesn’t change the amount of calories, unless choosing “lite” or “reduced-fat” versions of products.   General recommendations are to include between 25-35% total calories from fat, and also a healthy ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats.

Types of Fats:

Saturated fats – Saturated fats are usually hard at room temperature and come from animal origin.  Saturated fats have been shown to raise cholesterol levels and can contribute to hardening of arteries.  Limit the amounts of whole fat foods you choose (ie – whole milk, cream, butter), and red meat or other animal proteins you eat.  You can do this by cutting back on how often you eat them, how much you eat of them at a meal, or both.

Trans fats – Trans fat acts similar to saturated fats and has been shown to also increase cholesterol levels.  Eliminate trans fats from your diet by staying away from foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. (Read the ingredient list on the food label!) Sources: Baked goods, shortening and stick margarine may contain trans fat, however, many manufacturers are now removing trans fat from products due to the known negative health risks.

Unsaturated fats –Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fats. They are mainly found in fish such as salmon, trout and herring, as well as avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.  Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help improve your blood cholesterol when you use them in place of saturated and trans fats.

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in many vegetable oils, including safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils, as well as in nuts and seeds.

Essential Fatty Acids:

Your body needs two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids:  omega-3s (linolenic) and omega-6s (linoleic) from your diet, because your cells cannot make these fatty acids themselves. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contribute to brain function.   A lot of research shows omega-3s are associated with a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory disease, depression, pregnancy problems, and much more.  You must get essential fats through food.  In general, Americans tend to get enough omega-6 in our diet, so focusing more on omega-3s is beneficial.

Food Sources: Omega-6 mostly comes from plant oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, as well as from nuts and seeds. Omega-3s come primarily from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, as well as from plant sources such as canola, walnuts and flaxseed in lesser amounts.

Four Reasons to Make Friends with Fat:

Fat helps with fullness:  Including a source of healthy fat at every meal can help with satiety, because fat takes longer to digest and stays in the stomach longer.

Fat can help with mood and behavior:  Fats are responsible for the health of every cell in your body and essential fats are precursors to hormones and chemicals in your brain.

Fat helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins: Fat helps to digest fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E and K. Without eating enough fat, your body can be deficient in these nutrients.

Fat can help with inflammation: Fats help to alleviate joint aches and pains and lower inflammation in your body.

So, to easily incorporate more healthy fats into your diet, you can start by adding ground flax into your morning smoothies or oatmeal, topping your sandwich with sliced avocado and keeping nuts in your bag for a healthy omega-3 packed afternoon snack.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on The Skinny on Fats, focusing specifically on all the different types of fats & oils and how they can be used in cooking.


A Little Bit About Me

Hello and Welcome to my blog!

I am a wife (married to my high school sweet heart of 14 years), a M.O.M (aka – maker of meals) to three beautiful boys ages 10, 8, and 4 1/2 , plus a male golden retriever – truly outnumbered in a house of testosterone, a daughter, sister, friend, and registered dietitian nutritionist.

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I chose to pursue a career in nutrition because of the impact I can have to help others learn about healthy eating and truly transform their relationship with food and improve their health.  We all have struggles with something at one time or another and food just happens to be one that many people struggle with more frequently.  My goal is to help motivate and inspire you to make healthy lifestyle changes that will meet your personal nutrition and wellness goals.

Some things about me:

My core values ~ Faith, Family, Friends, Food (of course), Health, and Balance.

Favorite foods:  Portobello mushrooms, salmon, dark chocolate, most any vegetable and I haven’t met a fruit I don’t like except olives!

I enjoy being physically active yet I struggle myself with “fitting it all in!”  I have run one full marathon, one 1/2 marathon, and this fall completed a 26K (16.75 mile) race.  I exercise because it feels good and I know it’s good for my body, as well as connecting with others who motivate and inspire me to keep going!  But, like many, I struggle with finding the time to fit it in with balancing everything on my plate.

The most important job to me right now is as a mom and knowing that what I am doing today is impacting and shaping my children’s lives for a lifetime.  Even though meal planning may seem like a chore, I want to be a positive role model to them (and others).  I  want to create positive memories around food, cooking and eating so that one day, they can look back and remember how “mom used to do it.”   I am fortunate to have been positively influenced by both my parents and, especially my paternal grandmother, Helen.   She was the perfect homemaker to my grandfather who lived with Type 1 diabetes for over 57 years.  She planned every meal out ahead of time and holidays were an extra special treat with every detail down to how the table was set.  I am trying to carry on her traditions and values and pass them along on to others.

We, as moms, have a very powerful role in the lives of our children.  Sadly, I meet and know so many people these days that don’t even know how to cook or where to start.  So, one of my missions is to change that tide and help ensure that future generations are equipped with the knowledge and tools to take on the world in a healthy and nutritious weigh:).

Thank you for reading and I hope to hear from you and what your struggles or successes are with eating, health, and nutrition!

Eat Well & Live Well,

Kelly Jo