PCOS: Conquer Your Symptoms with Nutrition

PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is an endocrine disorder that can inhibit fertility and is linked to increased insulin resistance, risk of diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Though the condition is usually diagnosed by a gynecologist, nutrition is on the forefront for controlling and improving symptoms!

Here are the top 5 ways that a dietitian can help you take control of your PCOS:

1. Learn how to eat a Carbohydrate Consistent diet.

An increased risk of insulin resistance means that your body may not be able to process glucose as effectively as it should, leading to elevated blood sugar levels that wreak havoc over time. Learn how to identify carbohydrates in your food, choose appropriate portions, and spread them evenly throughout the day to minimize risk of blood sugar spikes. Eating similar amounts of complex carbohydrates with each meal will keep your blood sugar steady.

2. Find your healthy body range.

If you are overweight or obese, even small reductions in body weight can help reduce symptoms. A dietitian can help you find a nutrition plan that will keep you satisfied but help you shed extra pounds in a sustainable way. Be sure to incorporate activity into your life, as well; about 30 minutes a day is a realistic goal to make a difference.

3. Consider choosing Low Glycemic Index foods.

The Glycemic Index (GI) of a food helps you determine how much it will spike your blood sugar. Though it’s not a perfect science, there’s research showing that lower-GI foods help improve some PCOS symptoms. The best part of following a low GI diet is that it naturally promotes things like whole grains and complex carbs rather than refined grains or simple sugars, which is definitely a worthwhile diet shift.

4. Conquer your blood lipids.

Women with PCOS are more likely to have elevated levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which are strong predictors of cardiovascular disease later in life. Choose lean proteins, plant based oils, nuts and seeds, and reduced-fat dairy (or small portions of regular dairy) to avoid saturated fats which can exacerbate those blood fats.  Try to limit your intake of fatty processed meats, fried foods, butter, lard, heavy cream, and highly processed foods.

5. Learn if supplements could be right for you.

Certain supplements have been linked to improvement in PCOS symptoms, so your dietitian can help you decide if they are the right path for you. Inositol is perhaps the most popular of these molecules, as its linked to improvements in insulin resistance, blood lipids, and fertility.  Other more common supplements including Vitamin D and fish oil may also help improve insulin and blood lipid imbalances.

 

If you are struggling with your PCOS and are looking for more nutritional guidance, contact The Peoples Plate for in-person or virtual counseling and get a jump start on improving your health!

National Nutrition Month is around the corner!

March is National Nutrition Month®, a decades old campaign championed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help promote the importance of nutrition and healthy choices.

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, my goal is to help you learn how to fuel your body with science-based nutrition recommendations. Whether you have diabetes, kidney disease, GI issues, food allergies, weight to lose, weight to gain, or just a desire to improve your eating habits with a hectic lifestyle, I truly believe that nutrition counseling can make a difference. Even without one-on-one coaching, however, there are tons of tips to help you jump start the National Nutrition Month celebration:

  • Begin your day with a healthy breakfast! That might not mean cooking a from-scratch veggie-filled omelet  — and that’s ok. There are grab-and-go options like pre-made smoothies, whole wheat bread with peanut butter, protein bars in a pinch, instant oatmeal… there are tons of options, including lower-carb ideas.
  • Try to make your meals match MyPlate, the USDA guideline for healthy eating. Make 1/2 your plate non-starchy vegetables and fruits, 1/4 lean protein, and 1/4 healthy starches.
  • Dive into meal prepping by cooking in batches and bringing lunch to work or school if you find the cafeteria or lunch options too tempting.
  • Start focusing on being mindful with your eating choices. Slow yourself down during meals; put the fork down between bites; pause before each food choice to see if you’re truly hungry. These little habits can make a big difference when it comes to combating emotional or impulsive eating.

If you’ve been considering visiting a Dietitian to help conquer your habits or learn more about a therapeutic diet for a specific condition, this is the time to do it! Take advantage of our National Nutrition Month promotion and sign up for your first visit.

Is a High-Fiber Diet the secret to a healthier life?

A new comprehensive study of whole grains and fiber is highlighting their role in preventing chronic disease.   The article published in The Lancet compiled information from over 240 high-quality studies to reveal the big-picture message that high fiber intake can make a massive impact on your long term health:

  • People who consumed the most fiber had 15-30% lower odds of developing Type 2 Diabetes, colorectal cancer, or cardiovascular disease compared to those who ate very little fiber
  • High fiber intake was also tied to lower body weights, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease (as well as components of metabolic syndrome)
  • Consuming 25-29 grams of fiber daily seems to be the target range for protective effects
  • High intake of whole grains had similar findings: the more you eat, the lower your risk of developing these chronic diseases
  • The study did look into high or low glycemic index but little to no relationship between glycemic score and risk reduction

Carbohydrates tend to get such a bad rep when people talk about healthy diets, but it’s what we do to carbohydrates in our our food system that causes an issue: we overprocess everything. With carbohydrates, the food industry strips away a lot of the fiber and nutrients that inherently make carbohydrates nutritious; we strip grains down to make white flour, press the sweet juice out of fruit and discard the rest, and add refined sugars to everything.

This study proves that actively choosing whole grain, high-fiber foods is worth the effort, though!  On a physiological level, this makes sense to me as a nutrition scientist. Complex carbohydrates and fibers in your food serve a lot of purposes that add up to health benefits:

  • Add bulk to your food so you eat large volumes but fewer calories
  • Slow down digestive transit time to keep you full longer
  • Breakdown and get absorbed more slowly, leading to less dramatic blood sugar spikes
  • Bind to cholesterol in your gastrointestinal tract and eliminate it
  • May resist breakdown altogether and wind up feeding the good bacteria in your colon

Here are the swaps you need to know to follow a higher fiber diet:

  1. Eat More Vegetables: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, artichokes, sweet potatoes, collard greens, beets, carrots, zucchini, radishes, squash, tomatoes, parsnips, celery, onions, peppers…
  2. Eat More Whole Fruits: Berries, apples, pears, oranges, plums, dried figs, apricots, peaches, pineapple, kiwi, bananas, avocado (technically a fruit!)
  3. Eat More Legumes and Beans: Green peas, chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, fava beans, soybeans
  4. Eat More Nuts and Seeds: Walnuts, pistachios, almonds, pecans, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
  5. Eat More Whole Grains: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, corn, farro, whole grain cereals, whole grain crackers, whole grain breads, whole grain pastas (note- for any processed whole grain products, look for 100% whole grains at the top of the ingredient list)
  6. Eat Fewer Processed Carbohydrates: Fruit juices, candies, chips, snacks and foods made from refined white flour, sugary drinks

 

Adding fiber to your daily meal plan is a fantastic way to improve not only the overall quality of your diet but also control your blood sugar response to carbohydrates, which is a must-do for anyone with diabetes, insulin resistance, PCOS, or metabolic syndrome.   The USDA recommends that adult women aim for about 25 grams of fiber daily (21 once over age 50) and that men consume 38 grams daily (30 grams over age 50).  If you focus on swapping out refined carbohydrates for the more complex, high-fiber choices listed above, you can hit that target day after day.

Hello, Bergen County!

I’m thrilled to be featured in both (201) Magazine and Bergen Magazine this month, commenting on some amazing savory recipes and local products. I’m a Bergen County native born and raised, and I love serving my home community with my nutrition practice located right in Ramsey, New Jersey (though I counsel all of New Jersey with virtual video sessions).

I love that these are hearty recipes that also feature fruits and vegetables to show clever ways of improving the nutrition of your favorite comfort foods. I also spoke a bit about the health benefits of hummus while discussing the NJ-made White Camel Hummus company, and if you live in NJ or NY and love hummus, I honestly recommend you grab some White Camel Hummus ASAP because it is phenomenal!

 

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201 Magazine Feature 2019

Great Grains: Farro

Farro is one of my *favorite* ancient grains, and it lives up to the hype of Super Food for sure!

One serving is 1/4c dry (about 1/2-2/3 cup cooked) and packs 6 grams of protein plus 5 grams of fiber to keep you satisfied and energized!

Whole grains intake is linked to lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer. The USDA recommends that at least half of your grains be whole grains, so it’s important to incorporate things like farro, quinoa, brown rice, or whole wheat into your day.

If you’re looking for a new whole grain to swap into your diet, try throwing farro into soup, making it into a healthier risotto, adding it to salads, or cooking as a side dish on its own.

Skip the Sip: Why you should keep the fruit but ditch the juice

Juice seems to be everywhere in the American diet, from apple juice at kids’ snack time to orange juice on every breakfast table.  While I love the taste of juice as much as the next guy, when it comes to health, I know that choosing an actual fruit is the way to go. (and yes, this includes 100% fruit juice).

Here’s the deal: nature packages fruit in the perfect way by combining sugar with tons of fiber.  Yes, you’re consuming some simple sugars, but by slowly consuming it along with slow-digesting fibers, you also slow down glucose absorption and minimize blood sugar spikes. When we instead take a fruit, squeeze out the sweet juice, and discard all of that wonderful fiber, we wind up absorbing way more sugar in a fraction of the time.  This leads to blood sugars that climb too quickly and go far above the desired limit. If you have pre-diabetes, diabetes, or insulin resistance, this is exactly the type of sugar overload you want to avoid.

A large orange, for example, has ~15 grams of sugar mixed in with 4.5 grams of fiber, and it will probably take a while to eat. Your standard 12 ounce single-serving bottle of orange juice, on the other hand, has about 35 grams of sugar and no fiber– and most of us could drink that in a few minutes!  Think about what a difference that makes for your blood sugar spikes.

Here are my tips for avoiding the fruit juice sugar spike:

  • If you just can’t kick the craving for juice, try diluting it to cut the sugar. Mix with water for a milder flavor, or try mixing with seltzer for a bubbly alternative.
  • Don’t be fooled by the healthy sound of “100% fruit juice”– although they may be pure natural juice, they are still incredibly high in sugar.
  • There are lower-sugar juice available on the market if you’re comfortable consuming non-nutrative sweeteners (aka artificial sweeteners without calories). Always check the label, though, to see just how much lower the total carbohydrates (which includes sugar) will be.
  • If you’re used to drinking juice with certain meals/snacks, try substituting it with fruit if cutting it out cold turkey sounds too ambitious.  If you like juice with breakfast, swap it for a small fruit cup, add berries to your pancakes or cereal, or slice up an orange for that same OJ flavor. If you usually choose juice for something sweet on the go, try a more portable fruit like grapes, clementines, or apples.
  • Juice can actually be a better alternative than other sweeteners if you’re using it as an ingredient in place of table sugar or corn syrup, as you will still get some vitamins and minerals from juice but not from straight sugar. Try substituting a 100% fruit juice concentrate like apple or grape for granulated sugar in your baked goods, keeping in mind that the sugar content may be similar but the nutritive value is a bit better.  You’ll likely need ~6oz juice for every 1 cup of sugar, and a bit less liquid as even juice concentrate contributes liquid.

Happy New Year: Crafting a Realistic Resolution

“New Year, New You!”
“This year, I’m going to be healthy!”
“My New Year’s diet starts today!”

New Year’s is the perfect time to hit the reset button — a fresh year represents a new start where you can commit to self improvement.  I love the idea of establishing a New Year’s resolution to help kick start your healthy changes, but it’s hard to overlook the tendency of resolutions to fizzle out by the end of February.

To stretch the lifespan of your resolution and create a long-lasting behavior, try making it a very specific goal.   The solution lies in a classic goal-setting acronym S.M.A.R.T. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound.  By tailoring your resolution

  • Specific: Define what actions you need to do to achieve your goal
    • If your overall goal is to be healthier, ask yourself HOW you will do that. Perhaps you want to eat more vegetables, less fast-food, or fewer refined sugars.
  • Measurable: How will you measure your success?
    • Avoid just stating you’ll do something “more” or “less” (work out more, eat more fruit, drink less coffee) and instead add a defined target goal, like eating at least 1 serving of fruit a day or going to the gym 3 times a week.
    • These concrete numbers will help you keep better track of your progress by giving you a reference point.
  • Attainable: Set goals you can realistically achieve
    • This is a huge part of setting successful goals- choose something that is challenging but doable, to make sure you can see it through.
    • If you haven’t touched a vegetable in years, it would be ambitious to say you’ll eat 3 servings of veggies every day. If you try to add one serving per day, though, you may stick with it much longer.
    • Similarly, you’re more likely to stick to “cutting back” than you are to “cutting out” foods or behaviors that aren’t particularly healthful. This will lead to sustainable behavior change so you can turn your resolution into your new norm.
  • Relevant: Is this goal going to help you achieve your big picture goal?
    • Here’s the key question: Will the specific goal you’re setting help you achieve the overall desired outcome?
    • If the answer is yes, then you’ve set a goal that aligns with your overall vision of health (relevant!).
    • If the answer is no, then your focus may have shifted throughout the process, so center your attention back on what it is you really hope to achieve.
  • Time-Bound: Factor in frequency or deadlines for your goals
    • There is no right or wrong timeline for a goal– it is entirely up to your current habits and your desired outcomes.
    • You might resolve to start eating at least one vegetable per day, one vegetable serving per meal, one new vegetable each week… They’re all worthwhile goals with a timing-specific limit (per day, per meal, each week).
    • Defining this aspect of frequency will help you be consistent, keep track of your actions, and know whether or not you’re hitting your target.

If you make your goals S.M.A.R.T, you will be able to gauge your success, stay dedicated, and hopefully see your resolution through for the year to come!

Wishing you a very happy, healthy 2019!

Frozen Foods: Off Limits or Fantastic Time-savers?

When we’re in a pinch for time, frozen foods seem to be the perfect answer: a full meal in a matter of minutes! But what do those time saving meals mean for your health?

I find that the freezer aisle is a very love-it-or-hate it area of the supermarket; either you can’t shake the image of a 1950’s family eating mushy TV dinners straight from the microwave and therefore won’t touch the stuff, or you adore the convenience of a pre-made, high-flavor complete meal that requires no prep (though you’ve probably never checked the label).

I fall somewhere in the middle. The health-food wave is slowly spreading throughout most supermarkets, and the freezer aisle is no exception! The trick to shopping here is to know what you’re looking for and how to compare products.

Here’s my Top 5 Freezer-Friendly Shopping Tips:

  1. Sodium Alert
    Salt has been used as a natural preservative since ancient times, which is why so many frozen (and canned) foods are packed with sodium! The American Heart Association recommends most people consume no more than 2000 mg sodium daily (the same as 1 level teaspoon), while those with a history of heart disease should aim for 1500 mg sodium.  For any large meal like a frozen dinner, choose meals with 600 mg of salt or less. Many popular brands have over 1500 mg in one serving, so definitely start eying the sodium before picking a meal!
  2. Well-Balanced Meals
    As tempting as it may be to purchase just frozen truffle macaroni and cheese, try to choose well balanced meals that have some fresh vegetables and whole grains. Many companies are creating more well-balanced meals using organic produce, ancient grains, and lean protein to help your meal be nutritious as well as delicious.
  3. Look Beyond the Label
    Perhaps more than any other aisle, the freezer is full of items marketed towards dieters. Just take a look at how many have words like ‘lean,’ ‘light,’ and ‘healthy’ in the brand name! While those foods very well might be great choices, a title alone doesn’t guarantee that. Always look at the nutrition facts before trusting the marketing, examining the calorie content (I’ve seen meals range from 200 to over 800 calories in a serving), saturated fat content (the goal is as low as possible here), and sodium amount to make sure your meal is actually a healthy choice.
  4. Bulk Up With Veggies
    Some meals look delicious on the cover but are far too small when you actually pop them out of the box (if you ever see a meal for under 300 calories, that’s a red flag that the portion will be petite). Instead of doubling up, bulk up your meal with frozen fresh vegetables! Frozen produce is often flash frozen right after harvest so the nutrients are preserved, and any vegetable on its own (without any sauce or butter added) is still very low calorie, high in fiber, low in sodium, and high in nutrients. You can add a lot of bulk to tiny but delicious meals this way.
  5. Be Adventurous!
    Take advantage of the wild array of recipes available at your fingertips! Food companies have recognized that consumers like to try foreign cuisines and complex meals that we wouldn’t cook for ourselves, so take a walk on the wild side and try some new flavors. I’ve seen Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican dishes as well as meals featuring ancient grains, unique herbs and seasonings like lemongrass, and flavorful curries.

 

Next time you think about ordering take out or driving through the fast food window, consider the freezer aisle for some potentially healthier alternatives. Do you have any brands or lines that are your go-to or that you’re looking forward to trying? Comment below!

 

Bonus: for some insight into frozen breakfasts, take a look at my Low-carb Breakfast post featuring a breakdown of some popular items!