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Friday, October 4th, 2013
In a recent “Ask Well” column in The New York Times, Anahad O’Connor was asked, “Is It Safe to Eat Soy?” The article suggests that despite concerns, soy is safe to eat—and may even protect against cancer and heart disease.
Whether you feed your children soy foods, or avoid it out of fear it will cause health problems, I queried three registered dietitians well versed on all things soy to clear up the confusion. Below you’ll find responses to some questions about soy from Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet; Vandana Sheth, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and Reyna Franco, a New York City-based nutrition and exercise consultant.
EZ: With so many parents moving towards plant-based diets for their families, are you concerned about including soy in a child’s diet?
SP: Both the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) conclude that moderate soy consumption (up to two servings per day* of whole soy foods) is safe, even for breast cancer survivors. In fact, research indicates that if girls eat soy early on, it may even protect them against breast cancer. Despite some urban legends and myths surrounding soy, particularly about its phytoestrogens, scientists now know that soy does not increase estrogen levels in humans, nor does it feminize men.
VS: Soy, which can be an excellent source of plant-based protein and other nutrients, has been consumed in Asia for more than 1000 years. Current research suggests that it is safe to consume two to three servings of soy foods every day as part of a balanced and varied diet (with the exception of people who are allergic to soy or who have thyroid or other problems that might be affected by soy intake). Soy foods have even been shown to confer health benefits when introduced to kids. The key is to ensure that a child’s plant-based diet includes a wide variety of foods.
RF: My only concern about including soy in a child’s diet is to make sure he or she gets sufficient calcium. Most kids get much of their calcium from dairy products. So if they cut out cow’s milk and replace it with soy milk, I recommend organic non-GMO** soy milk that is calcium fortified.
EZ: How much is too much when it comes to kids and soy?
SP: Soy experts usually suggest that kids have no more than two servings of whole soy foods per day. The important thing about a plant-based diet is that it should be based on variety. And there are plenty of other protein foods, such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, beans, lentils, peas. Whole grains and vegetables also contain protein, though at slightly lower levels.
VS: While soy foods offer many nutritional and health benefits, overdoing it will potentially lead a child to miss out on other key foods and nutrients. While there’s no specific limit on soy foods for kids, it’s key to ensure that soy foods are one part of the child’s varied diet.
RF: I think it’s very difficult for kids to consume too much soy, and I’m not aware of any specific upper limits. It’s a safe and healthy plant-based protein. The key is to consume a wide variety of plant proteins, including soy, to get a mix of nutrients to help kids grow optimally.
EZ: What are your favorite soy food recommendations?
SP: Personally, I prefer organic and non-GMO** soy foods. But I think parents need to decide for themselves whether supporting this form of agriculture is important to them. Nutritionally, they are pretty much the same. I recommend minimally processed soy foods, such as tofu, soy milk, edamame, soybeans, soy nuts. Prepared soy foods such as meatless chicken nuggets, hot dogs, tofu sausages or veggie burgers) can also offer quick easy solutions that taste good and are kid-friendly. Parents can also make a soy shake with fruit and almond butter, soy yogurt with fruit and granola. They can also cook with tofu—I grate it with mushrooms to make a tofu taco filling, stir it into Chinese stir-fry, and even puree it into a peanut butter pie.
VS: I recommend edamame as an easy, portable snack; soy milk in overnight oats or a smoothie; tofu (extra firm), cubed and sautéed with olive oil, garlic, spices, crumbled into tofu scramble (vegan version of scrambled eggs), or used to make vegan pancake batter.
RF: Kids love to snack on edamame. I also recommend soy nuts. Tempeh and tofu are great for making stir-fries, wraps and salads. Parents can also make soy burgers and tofu steaks.
EZ: Do you have any concerns about processed soy foods?
SP: Although I recommend mostly whole soy foods, processed soy foods can be included in a child’s diet in small amounts. But because many of these foods contain a lot of artificial ingredients and sodium, it’s important for parents to read food labels and look for the “cleanest” ingredients in ingredients lists.
VS: Processed foods are processed foods regardless of whether they contain soy foods.They can be included as part of a healthy diet in moderation. However, it is ideal to enjoy soy foods in their natural state to maximize benefits and minimize ingredients us as additives and sodium.
RF: My concern about soy foods, processed or not, are GMOs**. That is why I recommend organic soy products labeled as Non-GMO. I also suggest limiting processed foods altogether.
*According to the AICR, 1 cup of soy milk, ½ cup cooked soybeans, or 1/3 cup or 1 ounce soy nuts equals 1 serving of soy.
**GE foods is the term preferred by the U.S. FDA.
Image of soy products isolated on white via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
In her New York Times article, “Dietary Report Card Disappoints,” Jane Brody discusses findings by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, that show we are making progress—but have a long way to go—when it comes to eating in America.
In their ‘report card’ on The Changing American Diet, referred to as ‘one you wouldn’t want to post on your fridge,’ CSPI analyzed food consumption data collected between 1970 and 2010. On the plus side, the report found that while intake of total fats and oils continue to climb, we’re successfully reducing intake of artery-clogging trans and saturated fats. We’re drinking less whole milk and eating less beef (although the report suggests we could afford to bump up our intake of nonfat and low-fat milk, white meat, and seafood). Despite the strides we’ve made, the report shows that on average we consume 450 more calories daily than we did in 1970—a trend that’s no doubt linked with the dramatic rise in incidence of both obesity and type 2 diabetes among adults and children alike. We continue to skimp on fruits and vegetables. We overdo grains—especially refined ones (made with white flour)—and under consume whole grains. And we love full-fat cheese and sugary foods like sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages and candy just a little too much, according to the report.
In preparation for the third annual Food Day—a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and grassroots campaign to for better food policies—organizers of the event as well as CSPI created a simple online 14-question quiz. Designed to help Americans move closer towards a more healthful diet that can benefit individuals—and the planet—the quiz grades the health, animal welfare, and environmental impact of your diet based on typical weekly servings of various foods. Those who take the quiz are given a number and letter grade and are encouraged to share their score on Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness about one’s diet and its impact on the environment and to excite others to do the same.
If you and your family take the quiz and realize your diets fall short, you’re not alone. Only a fraction of Americans meet current Dietary Guidelines for Americans daily food group recommendations. The good news is that you and your kids can improve your intake over time and inch closer to meet—and not exceed—daily quotas for key food groups at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time by following these five simple food rules:
1. Have fruits or veggies each time you eat. Including even a few slices of tomato or lettuce on a sandwich, throwing a handful of berries on low fat yogurt, dipping a few slices of sweet peppers into hummus or guacamole, or noshing on a few baby carrots or some cucumber slices before dinner really add up. Take your kids to farmers markets and buy produce in season when possible. If you choose to opt for organic options, you can refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to see which purchases make the most sense for your family.
2. Start with whole grains. Have a simple breakfast that includes 1/2 to 1 cup oatmeal or whole grain ready-to-eat cereal, a toasted slice or two of whole wheat bread or a whole wheat English muffin, or 1-2 whole grain waffles or pancakes (you can make these ahead of time, freeze, and pop in the microwave for a quick and easy breakfast). For a snack, pop some popcorn in a touch of canola oil, top whole grain crackers with one slice of cheese or 1 Tablespoon natural peanut or almond butter, or mix 1-2 tablespoons each whole grain, low sugar cereal, dried fruit, and nuts or seeds for a hearty snack. For dinner, choose small portions of brown or wild rice (both whole grains) over white rice (or combine whole grain and refined grain options if taste is an issue), or have whole wheat pasta. Think of these as accompaniments rather than the focal point of the meal.
3. Do dairy right. Opt for low fat and nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese often (organic if you choose). If your child is used to or prefers the taste of whole or reduced fat milk, combining either with nonfat milk can ease the transition. If you don’t like the taste or texture of low fat or nonfat cheese (I know I don’t), use small amounts of shredded cheddar (a little goes a long way) to add taste and flavor to whole wheat pasta dishes, fajitas or quesadillas (made with whole wheat flour tortillas). Make your own pizza with less shredded mozzarella and more fresh vegetables (lightly sautéed if preferred) and skinless white meat poultry.
4. Go fish. We all skimp on fish, so let’s up our intake by replacing one to two red meat or poultry meals weekly with fish. Find options that are deemed good for you and good for the oceans according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Prepare fish in a way kids will enjoy (how about tacos, fajitas or quesadillas, or a casserole or pasta dish made with tuna or salmon)? You can also use whole grain cereal flakes or even some panko (a refined grain, yes, but you don’t need to use very much) to coat the fish to make delicious baked dishes.
5. Save your sweets. If you really want a sweet treat, make sure to plan for it at the end of a meal or snack. You’ll be less likely to overdo it if you don’t have it in-between meals or when you’re starved. You may even find you have little or no room for it—or may even desire it less—at the end of the meal if you save it for then. You can, of course, choose your usual candy or other treats, or try options made with 100% real ingredients like Unreal Candy.** Be sure to keep portions very small to leave enough room for wholesome, nutrient-packed foods. And whatever you do, don’t forget that fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit is one of the most naturally sweet and satisfying treats, so be sure to have them on hand and grab them first!
*Young or less active kids may require 1.5 to 2 whole grains daily depending on individual food patterns—see Appendix 7 in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
**I received samples of Unreal Candy by the manufacturer.
Image of take the quiz message on keyboard via Shutterstock.
How do you teach your kids to eat better for their health—and that of the planet?
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Friday, September 20th, 2013
If a recent article in the Wall Street Journal—“Does It Count as a Family Dinner If It’s Over in Eight Minutes?”—is any indicator of how time-rushed and overscheduled all of us are, is there any chance we parents can expect to raise kids who learn to, or want to, cook?
Of course key influencers like Michael Pollan and Mollie Katzen help more and more parents and their kids get into the kitchen. Pollan speaks to the importance of cooking in his latest book, Cooked, and Katzen inspires children and parents alike to cook with her many cookbooks, including her latest—The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.
Despite the inspiration, many harried parents may still feel they don’t have the time or skills needed to pass along cooking tips and know-how to their children. The good news is that when you break it down, it doesn’t take much to get kids—especially little ones—interested in cooking.
Below you’ll find six expert tips to help you instill excitement, adventure, and ritual into preparing family meals. Following these tips will help you help your kids develop fine motor and other skills. It will also teach them the value and joy associated with family meals, and give them bonding experiences—and memories—that are sure to last a lifetime.
Start with the basics. Since most young children are new to food preparation, Melissa Herrmann Dierks RDN, LDN, CDE suggests starting with the basics. “My 5-year-old old son and I start every meal by washing our hands and making sure that the food preparation area is clean,” says Dierks.
Be prepared. Culinary nutritionist Jessica Cox, RD, encourages parents to allow kids to help with age-appropriate preparation tasks. “Depending on your child’s age, he or she can help wash fresh produce, cut and chop ingredients, shred and grate, mash, crack and separate eggs, tear lettuce leaves, remove herbs from stems, and snap asparagus,” says Cox.
Master the measure. Besides being good math practice, both Cox and Dierks agree learning to measure different kinds of foods has its perks for kids.”You can use this opportunity to teach older children the difference between dry ingredient and liquid measuring cups and to practice math skills and measurement conversions,” says Cox. Dierks encourages her son to measure and add ingredients, and to count when adding eggs to a recipe, for example. She says, “My son loves to make pudding, which includes measuring, stirring and pouring as well as the food safety tip of not licking the whisk! He also likes to help with chicken recipes that involve coating the chicken and adding toppings or shaking it in a baggie of panko or cornflake crumbs.” She adds, “Spraying the cooking dish with non-stick cooking spray is also a favorite, especially for small children.”
Stay safe. Dierks teaches her son basic food safety including not touching food with hands and keeping foods at the appropriate temperatures. She also teaches him basic kitchen safety such as how to stir a hot food on top of the range without touching the hot pan, and shows him how to do things like take a hot dish out of the oven.
Embrace the chaos…and have fun! Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN, Editor of Smart Eating for Kids, encourages parents to keep cooking with the kids light and fun. She says, “If your kids are on the young-side, don’t expect perfection. And don’t expect things to stay neat and tidy. Embrace the mess and chaos and take solace in knowing that you’re not only bonding with your child, but you’re teaching him or her important skills.” For parents who don’t have the time or energy to involve their children in preparing a real meal, Hoover recommends food-related science experiments or finding other ways to help kids explore food.
How do you encourage your kids to cook or help out when you prepare family meals?
Image of two kids measuring and mixing into large mixing bowl via Shutterstock.
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Sunday, September 8th, 2013
If recent media reports about arsenic in rice have made you question whether or not it’s safe for you and your children to eat rice or rice products, the Food and Drug Administration has some encouraging news for you. After completing tests on more than 1,300 samples of rice and rice products to determine how much total arsenic and inorganic arsenic they contain, the FDA released a new report that concludes arsenic levels are too low to cause immediate or short-term adverse health effects.
The FDA has monitored levels of arsenic in foods since 1991. More than a year ago, they began a project in which they would test more than 1,300 samples. I covered this topic for Parents.com when the FDA released a preliminary report that included findings from the first 200 samples of rice and rice products analyzed. I also mentioned in the post that Consumer Reports urged the FDA to set limits after its own tests revealed sometimes worrisome amounts of arsenic in rice and rice products.
According to the FDA, arsenic naturally occurs in water, air, food, and soil. But it can also come from contamination caused by human activity—burning coal or oil, or using arsenic-containing pesticides. Although it naturally seeps into fruits, vegetables and grains, arsenic seems to contaminate rice more readily than other grains. Studies suggest that chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form) increases the risk of some cancers, heart disease, and cognitive or other developmental disabilities.
Among the rice grain samples tested for inorganic arsenic, the FDA report showed that instant rice was on the low end and brown rice was on the high end. Among rice products—cereals, cakes, beverages, snack bars, and infant and toddler formulas—infant formula was on the low end and rice pasta on the high end.
Although the FDA has been monitoring levels of arsenic in foods since 1991, it seems to be ramping up its efforts to inform and protect consumers. Future plans include assessing the long term health risks associated with consuming rice and the degree to which people are exposed. The FDA also plans to work with other agencies to find ways to reduce exposure to arsenic and minimize its risks to keep the public—including those who eat a lot of rice and pregnant women and children—safe.
For many parents, knowing that there’s a substance of concern—or one that can be harmful—in a frequently consumed food may be enough reason to give that food up altogether. If you feel as though you’re playing it safe by avoiding rice altogether in an effort to avoid potentially unhealthy levels of arsenic in your diet or that of your child, that decision won’t preclude your family from consuming a healthful and balanced diet. But I don’t think you need to give up rice altogether if you choose to include it in your family’s diet. In my opinion, the best way to reduce exposure to potentially harmful ingredients in foods is to follow the advice of the FDA and current dietary guidelines: to eat a well balanced diet. I also believe it’s wise to mix up the foods you eat from each of the food groups. You can vary your choices daily, weekly, or monthly so that over time you get a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy and protein foods. This strategy helps you not only get a mix of nutrients, but it also limits your exposure to any nutrient or other substance that may be harmful. I eat rice—white and brown—and feed it to my children. We don’t have it every day, and we usually stick to half cup and one cup portions.
If you’re a new parent who’s considering first foods for your infant, you can follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and consider a variety of grain cereals—rather than just rice cereal—as a first solid food. And if you want to give your children rice and rice products and, at the same time, reduce their arsenic exposure, you can choose those items that have lower levels of the substance as reported by the FDA.
My guess is that, in time, the FDA will set limits for arsenic in rice and rice products. It proposed limits for apple juice—another favorite among children—this past July. But until we know more, I suggest prudence rather than panic as the best course when it comes eating rice or foods made with it—or really any food.
What’s your opinion?
Image of white, black and brown rice via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
Bored with breakfast? Of course a bowl of whole grain, high fiber, low sugar cereal topped with nonfat milk and some nuts or fresh berries tastes great, packs in key nutrients, and is easy to prepare when you’re tight on time. But sometimes it’s good to think outside the bowl! Here are 20 back-to-school breakfasts suggested by registered dietitians to start both you and your kids off on the right foot as you head out the door each day. Most take no more than a few minutes to prepare, and pack in fiber, protein, and plenty of vitamins and minerals to help kids stay nourished and energized. An added bonus? They’re the perfect excuse for your entire family to sit down and enjoy a morning meal, if even for a few minutes.
1. Sweet Parfait. Layer plain, low fat regular or Greek yogurt, fresh berries in season, and whole grain, low sugar cereal (like Barbara’s Puffins or Cheerios). Top with a drizzle of honey, if desired.
2. Cinna-toast: Top 2 slices whole grain cinnamon-raisin toast 2 tablespoons each low fat vanilla yogurt.
3. Morning Sunshine Crepes. Whisk 1/2 cup each white and whole wheat flour, 2 eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 cup of nonfat milk until the batter is thin. Spray a small 8-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and heat on medium heat. Place approximately 1/2 cup batter in pan, swirling immediately around bottom of pan in a thin layer. Flip with a spatula when lightly browned on bottom. Continue to cook until other side lightly brown. Slide onto a plate and repeat with remaining batter. Fill top 1/3 of a crepe with 2 tablespoons each nonfat yogurt and fresh blueberries and strawberries. Roll into a crepe and dust powdered sugar lightly over top.
4. Nutty Granola Wrap: Fill 1 whole wheat flour tortilla with 1 tablespoon peanut or sun butter, 1/2 sliced banana and a sprinkle of granola and roll into a wrap.
5. Happy Waffles. Spread 1 or 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter and blueberries in the shape of a smiley face on 1 or 2 whole grain waffles. Serve with a glass of nonfat milk.
6. Fruity or Nutty Oatmeal. Top 1 cup plain instant oats made with low-fat milk with a mashed banana, and a dash of cinnamon. Or, top instant oats with 1 to 2 tablespoons slivered almonds or chopped walnuts, 1/4 cup strawberries, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
7. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal. Pour 1 cup steaming hot water over 1/2 cup old fashioned oats in a serving bowl or mug. Add 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter and stir well, allowing it to melt throughout the oatmeal. Top with a dollup of low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt and 1 tablespoon chocolate chips.
8. Breakfast Burrito with Mini Egg Frittatas. Top a whole wheat flour tortilla with an egg frittata (see recipe below) topped with a tablespoon of salsa and sliced avocado and heat for 30 seconds.
Recipe for egg frittata: Over the weekend or in the evening, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix 6 egg whites, 2 whole eggs, ¼ cup skim milk and 1 cup of your favorite veggies. Pour into regular-sized muffin tins and bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. Refrigerate for use during the week. Makes 2 dozen mini frittatas.
9. Bread and Butter. Top 1 or 2 slices Ezekiel raisin bread (available at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Sprouts, or other health food stores) with 2 tablespoons almond butter + 1 cup of fresh seasonal berries.
10. Berry Delicious Nutty Waffles. Top 2 whole wheat waffles with 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup berries, 2 tablespoons walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
11. Chocolate Walnut Pancakes. Stir whole grain pancake batter with 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts and 1 teaspoon of dark chocolate chips. Serve with 1 tablespoon real maple syrup (or 2 tablespoons light syrup) and 1 cup of skim milk.
12. Apple Cinnamon Waffles. Top toasted whole grain waffles with a tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve with 1 cup of skim milk.
13. Cherry Vanilla Freeze: Combine 3/4 cup frozen pitted sweet cherries, 1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt, 2 ice cubes and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract in blender or food processor and blend. Drink immediately. Serve with a slice of whole wheat toast.
14. Fresh Apple Pie Smoothie. In a heavy duty blender (like a Vitamix), place 1 chopped apple (core removed), 1 cup nonfat milk or soy milk, 1/3 cup oats, 2 teaspoons maple sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and about 1 cup of ice. Blend until desired consistency is achieved. Serve in a glass with additional cinnamon sprinkled on top. Makes 2 small servings.
15. English Muffin Pizza. Top a toasted, sliced whole wheat English muffin with 2 tablespoons low sodium tomato sauce and 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese OR 2 tablespoons low sodium salsa and 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Serve with 1/2 cup skim milk or calcium-fortified orange juice.
16. Waffle Sandwich: Top a toasted whole wheat waffle with natural peanut or almond butter and sliced fresh fruit (bananas, strawberries, or apple) and a drizzle of honey and cinnamon. Top with another waffle to make a sandwich and serve with a cup of low-fat milk.
17. Hard-Boiled Egg Sandwich: Add a sliced hard-boiled egg*, low-sodium deli ham, and a slice of low-fat cheese (and Dijon mustard, if desired) to a toasted slice of whole grain bread or a whole wheat English muffin. (*Make a few hard-boiled eggs over the weekend or the night before.)
18. Cheesy Cinnamon Raisin Bagel: Melt a slice of sharp cheddar cheese on half of a whole grain cinnamon-raisin bagel. Top with Granny Smith apple slices.
19. Avocado Burrito: Fill a whole wheat flour tortilla with three egg whites and one yolk and sweet peppers scrambled in 1 teaspoon canola oil, and 1/5 avocado, sliced.
20. Grilled Cheese French Toast: Spray non-stick cooking spray (or pour one teaspoon canola oil) onto a pan and heat. Dip 2 slices whole wheat bread in one egg and add to the pan. Cook the bread until it browns, flip over, add one slice of cheese (Swiss or cheddar) to one of the slice of bread, and top with the other slice of bread. Serve it with fresh strawberries (or other fresh fruit) and 1/2 cup of nonfat milk.
What’s your favorite morning meal?
Thanks to the following registered dietitians who contributed some of their favorite nutritious breakfasts to this list: Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN, Jessica Cox, RD, Melissa Herrmann Dierks RDN, LDN, CDE, Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD, Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, Cynthia Palmerino MS, RD, EA Stewart, MBA, RD, Allison Topilow, MS, RD, CDN, and Lori Zanini, RD, CDE.
Image of delicious fruit, Greek yogurt and granola parfaits on white background via Shutterstock.
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