September 2014

Guide to the Brown Bag Lunch

Sack lunchFeeding your children right might seem to be one of life’s greatest challenges, but it’s a lot easier than you think. Since many hot lunches served at schools are more salt, fat, sugar, and calories than nutrients, returning to the brown bag is a good idea. Besides, eating nutritiously doesn’t take any more time and it is easy to fix yummy brown bag lunches that even the fussiest child will like. Here are a few simple guidelines:

First, do not resort to the quick fixes, such as  Lunchables, fruit leather, GoGurt, etc.  For example, a Chicken Dunks Lunchable has more than 8 teaspoons of sugar, half your child’s daily limit for fat, and no fiber, while the Ham & Cheddar Cracker Stackers or the Nachos Cheese Dip & Salsa have a full day’s limit for fat and sodium and as almost the same amount of refined sugar. Yoplait’s GoGurt has more than 2 teaspoons of sugar and Ritz Cracker Sandwiches are almost half fat calories and 400 milligrams of sodium.  Instead, consider a few of these options:

1. The Brown Bag always should include the 4 food groups: 1) A whole grain, 2) at least one colorful fruit or vegetable, 3)  a low-fat milk product or calcium-rich alternative, and 4) a protein-rich item.

2. Include only 100% fruit juices, preferably OJ. “Fruit Drink” or “Fruit Punch” or “Made with fruit juice” are all signs that the beverage is primarily sugar. Even juices made from apple or pear juice are more sugar than fruit. Better yet, slip a clamshell of berries into a lunch, which will give your child a hefty dose of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.

3. Use low-sugar ways to sweeten desserts. For example, lightly sprinkle apple slices with cinnamon sugar for a sweet taste. Or, choose a healthy substitute for cookies, such as a Kind bar.

4. Pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods. For example, a study from Baylor University found that kids ate more vegetables if they were dunked in peanut butter. Add green peas to Chicken Noodle soup or dip pineapple chunks  in strawberry yogurt.

5. Sneak healthy foods into the lunch. Include a low-fat muffin packed with fruit instead of a cupcake.

6. Yogurt: Skip the fruit, flavored, or designer yogurts. Buy nonfat or low-fat plain and sweeten it yourself with some fresh fruit and jam.

7. Buy a roasted chicken and use the meat for sandwiches throughout the week, which is far better than the nitrite-laden luncheon meats on the market.

8. Leftovers from dinner.  Plan to make extra servings of healthy dinners to pack for lunches the next day. When you are making a salad for dinner, chop up extra veggies to put in the lunch the next day, like cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, jicama, and tomatoes.

9. Short on time? Freeze your sandwiches. This works with turkey and cheese or peanut butter sandwiches. You can’t freeze lettuce or tomato, so bring these on the side. Keep the sandwiches in a sealable plastic bag. They will be thawed by lunch.
Photo credit:

Just Do This:

Here is a Week’s Worth of Nutritious Brown Bag Lunches:
1. Peanut butter candy sandwiches” (mix equal parts wheat germ and peanut butter sweetened with honey and spread over whole wheat bread) The nutrients most likely to be low in a child’s diet are iron, calcium, and zinc. 1/4 cup of wheat germ supplies 25% of iron needs and 50% of zinc needs of a first or second grader. Add a carton of low-fat milk and a piece of fruit.

2. Pasta Lover’s Lunch Salad. Pack a cold pasta salad and a plastic fork. Make the salad with lean meat or low-fat cheese (so it has some protein), lots of vegetables to boost fiber and nutrition, and whole wheat or whole-grain pasta. Toss everything together with a light bottled vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil or canola oil. Add a carton of orange juice, a tub of yogurt, and a healthy energy bar for dessert.

3. Whole wheat pita bread filled with turkey, chicken breast, black beans, grated vegetables, and brown rice. Serve with a carton of yogurt and a clamshell of berries.

4. Burrito or Quesadilla: Roll up whole wheat tortillas filled with a thin layer of fat-free cream cheese and chicken or fish (like smoked salmon) or filled with rice, beans and cheese. Serve with a carton of chocolate milk, watermelon chunks, and a whole wheat fig bar.

5. Make a yogurt parfait with plain yogurt and cut up fresh fruit. Sprinkle with raisins, granola, or trail mix as a topping. Pack in an insulated thermos. Serve with graham crackers and peanut butter, a bottle of orange juice, and an oatmeal cookie.

Hot Off the Diet Press 

1. Avocado Up:
Add an avocado to a salad and your body will thank you many times over. In two studies, researchers at Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, Germany studied the effects of adding avocado to the meals of 12 healthy men and women to see how it affected carotenoid absorption, in particular, beta carotene and alpha carotene. One meal was served with avocado and a second meal without avocado. Blood samples were taken over 12 hours to assess the level of carotenoids. In the first study, which used tomato sauce as a source of carotenoids, avocado inclusion in the meal more than doubled beta carotene absorption and more than quadrupled the conversion of beta carotene to the active form of vitamin A. In the second study, which used raw carrots as a source of carotenoids, avocado increased beta carotene absorption 6.6-fold, quadrupled alpha carotene absorption, and increased the conversion of beta carotene to the active vitamin A 12.6-fold.
Kopec R, Cooperstone J, Schweiggert R, et al: Avocado consumption enhances human postprandial provitamin A absorption and conversion from a novel high-beta-carotene tomato sauce and from carrots. Journal of Nutrition 2014;144:1158-1166.

2. The Sexy Diet: Semen quality depends on a man’s diet, state researchers at Harvard School of Public Health. Food intake questionnaires were gathered on 155 men and compared to semen samples during an 18-month period. Results showed that men who consumed processed meats, such as hot dogs, ham, salami, and luncheon meats, had significantly lower sperm quality. In contrast, men who consumed fatty seafood, such as salmon, showed significantly higher sperm counts and quality, and counts increased as seafood intake increased. The researchers conclude that, “Consuming fish may have a positive impact on sperm counts and morphology, particularly when consumed instead of processed red meats.”
Afeiche M, Gaskins A, Williams P, et al: Processed meat intake is unfavorably and fish intake favorably associated with semen quality indicators among men attending a fertility clinic. Journal of Nutrition 2014;144:1091-1098.

3. The Eyes Have It for Alzheimer’s: The same foods that help protect your eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration also could protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study from the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland and the University of Cambridge, U.K. The researchers compared macular pigment and cognitive function in a group of 36 patients with moderate Alzheimer’s and in 33 healthy controls. Blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids typically found in dark green leafy vegetables) also were compared to macular degeneration status. Results showed that the Alzheimer’s group had significantly lower levels of macular pigment and blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin compared to controls. The researchers state that studies now should investigate the impact of macular carotenoid supplementation with respect to macular pigment, visual function, and cognitive function.
Nolan J, Loskutova E, Howard A, et al: Macular pigment, visual function, and macular disease among subjects with Alzheimers’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2014;July 2nd.
Photo credit:

Food & Mood Tip

Diets Don’t Work
Our nation’s obsession with dieting aggravates out-of-control appetites. The more we jump on the fad-diet bandwagon, the more we eat and the fatter we get. Six out of every ten people are now battling weight problems, and the numbers rise every year.

Why? Besides the obvious effect fad diets have on your appetite-control chemistry. Humans do not take well to deprivation. Tell yourself you will eat only three times a day and you’re hungry all day long. Make a vow to avoid chips and it’s the one food you want. Label grains as “bad”  and you can’t keep your hands off them.

Quick-weight-loss dieting also numbs the hunger response. People who have a long history of dieting lose the ability to recognize when they’re hungry or full, so mistake any uncomfortable feeling, from boredom to anxiety, as a signal to eat.

Erratic eating habits also cripple our best efforts to choose nutritious foods. Eat when you are comfortably hungry and you eat sensibly; wait until you are ravenous and you eat too much of the wrong stuff.  Many people skip meals thinking it’s an easy way to cut calories. But the plan backfires and inevitably increases cravings for all the wrong foods, lowers resistance to snacking later in the day, and can increase the likelihood of overeating. Don’t despair. There are easy solutions for managing your weight and taming an out-of-control appetite. Here are two:

Eat mindfully. Pay attention to and enjoy every mouthful. Stop half way through a meal, sit back, and listen to your body. If you still feel physically hungry, then have a  few more bites and listen again. Stop when you are comfortably full.

Watch portions. We’ve become accustomed to gigantic servings. A recommended serving of grain is a 1-ounce bagel or 1 /2 cup of pasta, not the typical 5-ounce bagel served in most delis or the platter of pasta at restaurants. A serving of meat or fish is 3 ounces, not a 16-ounce steak that drapes over the plate.

Mood-Boosting Recipe of the month

Crusty Cranberry Salmon (from The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)

1 1/2 pounds salmon or steelhead fillet
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup dried cranberries or cherries, diced
1/3 cup green onions, diced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon lemon peel, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
1) Place salmon on foil-lined cookies sheet and sprinkle with lemon juice.
2) Dice dried fruit in food processor. Remove and dice green onions in food processor. In medium bowl, combine breadcrumbs, diced dried fruit, diced green onions, mayonnaise, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt, and lemon peel. Blend with fork until mixture is wet and can be pressed together in clumps.
3) Place dried fruit mixture on top of salmon and press together, covering entire top of fish. Bake until fish is flaky, but not dry, approximately 20 minutes (time will vary depending on thickness of fish). Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional Analysis per serving: 406 Calories; 41 percent fat (18.5 grams); 4.5 grams saturated fat; 37 percent protein; 22 percent carbohydrate; 1.6 grams fiber.

Answers toDo you know?from last issue: 

1. You don’t need supplements if you eat a balanced diet.
In theory this is correct. In reality, 99 out of 100 Americans don’t meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet. Every national nutrition survey dating back to the 1960’s repeatedly and consistently finds that our diets are low in everything from vitamin A to zinc. In addition, it is impossible to get optimal amounts of some nutrients, such as vitamin D, from diet alone. So, take a moderate-dose, broad-range multivitamin and mineral to fill in the gaps on the days you don’t eat absolutely perfectly.

2. Brown sugar, agave, and honey are healthier alternatives to table sugar.
False. The only way these sugars would be healthier is if they enticed you to use less. The minuscule amounts of nutrients in these sugars don’t make even a slight dent in your nutritional needs. Agave is up to 88% fructose, a sugar now suspected to contribute to diabetes and weight gain. Don’t be fooled by “organic cane syrup” either. Sugar is sugar, we are eating far too much of it, and it either crowds out real nutritious foods or is added to them, increasing the risk for obesity.

 Do You Know?

1. A raw foods diet provides essential enzymes that help with digestion.

2. Weight problems happen when some people eat foods, like dairy or wheat, that they cannot digest.

Check next week for the answers….

Label Lingo

The Trans Fat Scam
The label reads loud and clear – 0g Trans Fat! Trans fats are bad, so it is easy to automatically think any product with this claim is healthier than its competitors. But, beware. The bold print and exclamation points could be a distraction from the fact that the product is loaded with junk, from saturated fat and sugar, to sodium and additives. The FDA warns that a serving of any food that contains more than 4 grams of saturated fat is too high in that artery-clogging goo. Products like Edys Dibs Bite Sized Frozen Snacks brag on the front label that they contain 0g Trans Fat,  but flip the package over and read the nutritionals. Oops, you’ll find there is 16 grams of saturated fat, 4-times the upper limit.  You’ve heard me say this before: Never, and I mean never, believe anything on the front of a package. Always check the nutritional information and the ingredient list before putting any processed food into your grocery cart!

Food Finds/Food Fails:

Food Finds:

Lean Cuisine Honestly Good: Lean Cuisine Lemongrass Salmon1. Lean Cuisine’s Honestly Good frozen entrees are worth a try. Each meal contains either chicken breast, fish fillet, or beef strips over brown rice or whole-grain pasta, along with vegetables. They are low in saturated fat and calories (about 300 to 400), high in protein to keep you satiated and preserve muscle while you lose weight, and high in fiber (up to 7 grams), which comes from the grains and vegetables, not some processed maltodextrin or inulin. They taste great despite being moderate in salt, since they are flavored instead with garlic, orange peel, ginger, lemon grass, sun-dried tomatoes, and other tasty ingredients.

2. Quaker Simple Harvest Instant Multigrain Hot Cereal makes it impossible to use the excuse you don’t have time for breakfast. It takes 90 seconds, at most, to prepare this tasty cereal, which is made with whole grains like oats, wheat, barley, and rye. It has no more than 160 calories and about 4 grams of fiber, but little or no bad fat and very little sodium. Choose from Vanilla, Almond and Honey, or Maple Brown Sugar with Pecans for only 2 teaspoons of sugar, which is less than many cold cereals. Cook it in nonfat or low-fat milk to add some protein and toss a handful of berries on top and you have the perfect quick-fix breakfast.

Food Fails:
1. Peanut Butter & Co.’s Dark Chocolate Dreams
turns a perfectly healthy food (that would be peanut butter) into a gooey dessert and gives it a “health halo” by saying it has dark chocolate, which has gotten a lot of press of late for being rich in antioxidants. Don’t be fooled. There isn’t enough 100% cocoa powder in the recommended serving of 2 tablespoons, but there is 13 grams of fat (almost 70% of the total calories) and about 2 teaspoons of sugar. That means that 5 of the 6 teaspoons in that serving come from either far or sugar. The palm fruit oil doesn’t help, since it adds saturated fat and contributes to the deforestation that is ruining habitat for a variety of endangered species.

2. According to the label, International Delight Gourmet Coffee Creamer has “The taste of melted ice cream (from Cold Stone Creamer) in your coffee.” The label also adds that you should “Pour it on, buckle up and blast off to the sweet ‘n creamy stratosphere.” Sign me up! Right? I would expect from that promise that a slurp of this creamer would be identical to a mouthful of ice cream. Not! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that real ice cream must contain at least 10% milk fat. All this creamer has is water, sugar, and palm oil (see above for it’s effects on the environment and endangered species!).

The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks  if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.

1 whole wheat frozen waffle, toasted and topped with 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream and 1/2 cup raspberries
1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
Green tea

Mid-Morning Snack:
1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt mixed with 1 tablespoon almonds and 1 tablespoon dried cranberries
1 banana

1 whole wheat pocket bread, torn into segments and dunked in 1/3 cup garlic hummus (pre-mixed is found in refrigerator section of most grocery stores)
10 baby carrots
1 medium peach or nectarine
Sparkling water with a twist of lime

1 serving Crusty Cranberry Salmon
1 cup cooked instant brown rice
1 cup fresh broccoli, steamed
1 medium tomato, sliced and topped with 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil leaves and 1 teaspoon crumbled low-fat feta cheese

Evening Snack:
2 whole-wheat apricot (or fig) bars
1 cup nonfat milk, warmed and topped with nutmeg

Nutritional Information: 1,602 Calories; 22% Calories from fat (40 grams); 245 grams Carbohydrate; 71 grams Protein; 1,221 mg. Sodium; 36 grams Fiber; 1,084 mg. Calcium

What is Elizabeth up to?

August 18th, AMNorthWest, KATU in Portland, OR – Take the Nutrition Test

August 21st, AMNorthWest, KATU in Portland, OR – Dole Peel the Love

September 8th, she will speak on Food, Mood, Mind & Memory at the Massachusetts Mental Health Department

September 23rd, Satellite Media Tour for TV stations around the country. Topic: How Diet Can Protect Your Eyes from Vision Loss

September 24th, Speaking on Diet and Eye Health at Editor’s Event in New York City

September 25th, Meeting with selected magazine editors to discuss diet and health