EnlightenU Nutrition Consulting, LLC

Enlightening You about Food and Nutrition

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How to Spot Fake Nutrition News and Find Credible Sources You Can Trust

People love to share nutrition information, and everyone seems to be a nutrition expert these days! Unfortunately, a lot of what we see in the media or hear people talking about is inaccurate and/or misleading. Some of this is relatively harmless. However, for some people, this contributes to confusion and unnecessary anxiety about food choices and sets consumers up to believe that there is a “perfect, correct and right” food, beverage or supplement for them to achieve their nutrition, performance, weight, or health goals.

Misinformation about food and eating often leads to people eliminating perfectly nutritious (and enjoyable) foods from their diet and many of my clients – casual exercisers and elite, competitive athletes, midlife women and those with a history of dieting or disordered eating – are easy prey for marketers who want to sell products or services to enhance sports performance, gain or lose weight, and/or “get healthy” – often with unsubstantiated claims.

Image Source: Shutterstock.com

To help you sort through the chatter and find credible, evidence-based nutrition information, here are 6 tips to help you spot misinformation.

1. Recommendations that promise a quick fix. When a person or product makes claims that sound too good to be true, it probably is. For example, per the following magazine cover suggesting that you can “lose 10 pounds in 7 days” – not only is this unlikely, but one should be concerned if you are losing that amount of weight in just a week (no matter what your starting weight is).

Also, recognize that break-throughs in science do not happen overnight or by just one individual or a single research lab.

2. Learn to distinguish hype from evidence-based science. Does the advertisement or nutrition information include fear-based words or dramatic statements (i.e.  “break-through”, “miracle”, “toxic”, “bad”, “cure-all”) to influence you one way or another about a food or product? Claims about juice cleanses and detox supplements, for example sway consumers into believing that a single nutrient (versus your overall dietary pattern) will cure or solve your health or weight concerns. Abby Langer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, writes quite frequently about fad diets and nutrition trends and provides a great resource to learn more. Check out this ONE on the celery juice diet.

3. Are claims supporting the product based on personal stories rather than on facts? Be critical of anecdotal information from friends, coaches, and celebrities who have no formal training in nutrition. Ask questions about recommendations to understand if the reported benefits are backed by rigorous scientific research. 

4. When a claim is based on research, consider the following questions. Did the headline or article capture the actual results of the study or do we have a case of a journalist who didn’t read past the abstract and/or wrote a sexy headline as “clickbait?” Has the study been replicated with same or similar results among different researchers? How many humans were used in the study (or were animals used)? Is there a direct cause and effect for the population the claim is targeting? For example, a study that demonstrates prunes has a positive effect on bone health in postmenopausal women does not necessarily mean that a 20-year old male or premenopausal female athlete would experience the same benefit. Nothing wrong with eating prunes, but we can’t assume prunes are going to have the same effect with these other populations. And…per this particular study outcome, another important question to ask is whether study results were due to “association” or “causation.” Consider the data supporting the facts that: a) more people eat ice cream in the summer months, and b) more people drown in the summer months. It appears that there is an association between summer, eating ice cream and people drowning, but can we conclude that eating ice cream increases your risk of drowning? Probably not!

Photo credit: phdcomics.com

5. When considering products, such as special foods or supplements, are you aware of the products’ safety, purity or effectiveness? Manufacturers of dietary supplements must list all ingredients on the product label; however, a dietary supplement may contain a banned substance not listed due to poor manufacturing practices or intentional adulteration. Furthermore, some supplement ingredients may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications resulting in adverse effects that can be life threatening. Consumers also need to be cautious of supplements that contain very high amounts of performing-enhancing ingredients, i.e. caffeine, citrulline or beta-alanine, that are not illegal, but in high doses may cause unwanted side effects such as increased blood pressure, jitteriness, or itchy tingling skin (in the case of beta-alanine). Many consumers believe that “even if a supplement or herbal remedy may not help me, it, it at least won’t hurt me.” However some ingredients, including vitamins and minerals, consumed in high doses for a long enough period of time, can be a concern.

Despite the FDA demanding companies stop selling these products…

HCG products remain marketed and sold to consumers!

The best way to protect yourself against questionable health and nutrition products is to be an informed consumer. Third party companies, such as NSF, Informed Choice or Consumer Lab, conduct testing to verify product ingredients. You may also contact the manufacturer directly to ask questions about how it tests for safety or if there are ingredients that aren’t listed on the label.

6. What are the person’s qualifications? Just because someone “went through something” does not make them an expert. Dig a little deeper and ask for credentials. Many states explicitly define that the practice of nutrition and dietetics must be done by a licensed professional. Look for the initials “RDN or LDN” to identify a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. For athletes, look for the initials “CSSD” that designates a Registered Dietitian who has specialized training in sports nutrition. To find a sports dietitian in your area, access “Find a SCAN RD” at http://www.scandpg.org.

In addition, to an individual’s credentials, following are tips to help you navigate information found on various media sources. While the internet can be a minefield for misinformation, it can also be a valuable source of accurate and reliable information. Websites ending in .edu (an educational institution), .gov (government agency), or .org (non-profit) are considered good sources for credible information or to verify nutrition information read elsewhere.  

When reading nutrition material in books, magazines or other publications, look at who wrote the article you are reading. The author should be educated in the field of nutrition/dietetics and preferably hold a degree in nutrition from an accredited university. With any nutrition recommendations, beware of personal bias and when reading an article or blog, look for current and up-to-date citations with research that meets the criteria for point #4.

Be a critical thinker!

Finally, be a critical thinker when it comes to information about nutrition or your health. Frankly, the words “health” and “wellness” have been hijacked by the multi-billion dollar diet industry making it essential for all of us to be smart and responsible consumers. If you find yourself fixated or obsessed with reading articles (or watching health/food documentaries), consider the following:

Why do you think you are so interested in this information – rather than just dismissing the sensationalized content and reading/watching something with entertainment value?

What are you hoping to learn more about or are you feeling anxious about food/weight in general (and may need to address the anxiety and ruminating on these thoughts)?

Do you have difficulty anytime you hear or read nutrition information from a qualified health provider? For example, learning that “all foods fit” or “consuming sugar will not cause cancer or diabetes” but perhaps this challenges or disagrees with something you read or believe that says the contrary – why might this be happening for you? If someone told you that the earth was flat (with all kinds of their own research and reasons for their claims), would you  believe it? Why or why not?

Bottom line is that it may be a good idea to talk this out with a qualified nutrition professional and talk through all of these messages…and ultimately, maybe it would be helpful to avoid “googling” and binge-watching food documentaries and enjoy something more pleasure-oriented. For the health of it!

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Grilled Salmon with Garlic Vermouth Butter Sauce

Grilled Salmon with Garlic Vermouth Butter Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate
  • Rating: ★★★★★
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A delicious butter sauce for grilled salmon that pairs nicely with mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies


  • (4) 6-ounce Salmon filets, skin removed and cut no more than 3/4 of an inch thick
  • 1 cup clarified butter
  • 1 cup margarine
  • 1 TBL garlic salt
  • 1/3 cup dry vermouth
  • 1 TBL Worcester
  • 1 TBL Lawry’s seasoning
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
  • 2 TBL sugar
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 TBL salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice


Combine the melted butter, margarine and all ingredients. Cool, stirring occasionally to combine ingredients. Butter should have a slathering consistency.

Heat barbecue so that the grates are around 650 degrees. Liberally brush one side of salmon and place on grill. Cook for two minutes, basting the top with garlic butter. Turn over and cook an additional 3 minutes or until desired doneness. Baste with more butter and serve immediately. Internal temperature should be a minimum of 145 degrees in the thickest part.


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Spring Cleaning: A Healthy Pantry for Preseason Nutrition

The days are getting longer, the snow is beginning to melt (for you northerners), things are beginning to open up around the country, and a new racing season is “hopefully” about to begin! Spring is a great time to get to work on dusting off those forgotten places in your home – including your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Cleaning out the cupboards and stocking up on wholesome food will go a long way in getting you prepared for summer events – or an upcoming race season.

Editorial credit: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock.com

What’s in your pantry?

Perhaps you’ve perused the internet looking to stock up on the “perfect”, food, supplement, or nutrition product. Although many of these products may have a place in the recreational or competitive athlete’s kitchen, it’s important to remember that “you can’t out-supplement a bad diet” and there isn’t just “one food” or nutrition product that will improve your performance. A winning food plan is based on the fundamentals of eating: 1) meals and snacks evenly spaced throughout the day, and 2) a variety of nutrient dense foods from each food group – that provide adequate carbohydrates, protein, anti-inflammatory foods, and plenty of fluids.

Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the endurance athlete, and they are necessary for performing intense, high quality exercise. Stocking your pantry with wholesome, carbohydrate-containing foods, (such as oatmeal, 100% whole-wheat bread, quinoa, potatoes, beans, brown rice, fruit, vegetables, milk, and yogurt) will provide important fuel for your workouts, along with providing essential vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients vital to your overall health.

Protein is essential to insure muscle growth and repair for faster recovery. Stock your pantry, freezer or refrigerator with a variety of lean protein-containing foods (chicken, fish, pork, turkey, lean beef, beans, legumes eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, nuts, and, tofu). Plan for a serving of protein at each of your meals throughout the day (such as a palm-sized portion of fish, beef or poultry or a two-egg omelet with ¼ cup shredded cheese). Have convenient protein foods on hand so you can include about 20 grams of protein (along with carbohydrate) within 30 to 60 minutes following a workout. Simple snack ideas include Greek yogurt with nuts, granola and berries; peanut butter and banana sandwich; or tuna or chicken salad and whole grain crackers and grapes.

Anti-inflammatory foods to keep on hand include colorful fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, salmon and tuna. These foods and food groups provide the athlete rich sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties making them an indispensable part of the athlete’s diet. Consider stocking up on frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as canned tuna and salmon, for individuals looking for shelf-stable, nutritious and cost-effective solutions.

Fluids or hydration-promoting beverages include water, herbal tea, low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice. Try to limit fluids containing added ingredients, like caffeine, artificial sugars and sugar alcohols, as these may contribute to unwanted GI distress and are not effective forms of fuel or hydration.

Put your pantry into practice

Once you have your pantry well-stocked and your nutrition and hydration plan set, test that plan to make sure it will work for you. Plan to cook and eat more meals at home. Pack your lunch and bring it to work with you. Experiment with home-made nutrition bars or snacks, like “energy balls”. In addition to exploring different foods and fluids with the intent of expanding your food selection, practice the timing of prep work and consumption of meals and snacks before or after activity.

Often overlooked, don’t forget to test out your nutrition and hydration plan in various conditions, such as environment, distance or intensity. Is your tolerance for your favorite foods affected by heat and humidity? Do you need more fluids and electrolytes in these conditions? Or, if training volume or intensity changes, do you need to adjust your carbohydrate intake up or down, or experiment with the amount or type of carbohydrate or sports drink consumed during training. 

To help you know what adjustments you may need to make, consider keeping a food journal to track your workouts and food intake. Make note of how you feel before, during and after your workouts and if there are any habits or foods that are helpful or not so helpful for you to achieve your peak performance.

Finally, when it’s time for that first race of the season, or maybe even your goal race, be confident, keep your pantry organized and well-stocked, and stick to your plan! Just as you have practiced and prepared yourself with the best pace, recovery schedule and proper gear that works for you, the same is true with trusting your nutrition and hydration plan before, during and after the big event.

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Hey Ladies: Protect Your Heart with Heart-Healthy Eating

shutterstock_hearthealthFebruary is American Heart Month! A time for many groups around the country to educate and raise awareness about heart disease. Despite these efforts, many women are unaware that heart disease is not just a “man’s disease” but is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.

In fact, 1 in 4 women in the United States dies of heart disease, while 1 in 30 dies of breast cancer.

Fortunately, heart disease is largely preventable with many things women can do, including physical activity. Even a modest 150 minutes each week of physical activity has been shown to be cardio-protective, which may be encouraging for the active female. However, factors like cholesterol, eating habits, smoking, and aging (menopause) can increase a woman’s risk of strokes, heart attacks and peripheral vascular disease – what together are called cardiovascular disease (CVD).

To reduce your risk of heart disease, The American Heart Association recommends the following:

  • Know your blood pressure.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested for diabetes.
  • Have your cholesterol and triglycerides checked regularly.
  • Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.
  • Make healthy food choices and maintain a healthy weight for your body.

What is a heart healthy diet?

A heart-healthy diet stresses a dietary pattern that consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, rather than the negative consequences of a single food or food group. For many years the emphasis has been on eliminating single nutrients (such as cholesterol, saturated fat, and sugar) that promote the development of atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that is often the underlying cause of heart attacks, strokes and CVD.


Scientists have recognized that this single-nutrient-based strategy is not enough and are now emphasizing a different approach based on whole foods and dietary patterns, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and Mediterranean diet. These dietary patterns take advantage of the beneficial effects of the additive and synergistic nature of nutrients and foods in the body.

What foods are in a heart healthy diet?

  • Fruits and vegetables. Aim for 5 or more servings a day. One serving is equivalent to one cup fresh or raw fruits or vegetables (about the size of your fist), and ½ cup cooked (about ¼ of your plate).
  • Whole grains. Aim for half of your intake to be whole grains, such as whole wheat breads and cereals, oatmeal, corn, brown and wild rice, rye, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa.
  • Low-fat dairy products. These include milk, soy milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir and other milk products.
  • Fish, poultry, beans, soy foods and eggs. Moderate portions (3 to 4 ounces or the size of the palm of your hand) of lean animal protein, seafood and plant-based proteins, such as soy.
  • Nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado. The type of fat you eat is important, including more unsaturated fats, such as those listed here, as well as omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like walnuts, flax seed and salmon.

Are there any foods I should limit?

Despite popular belief driven by our diet-focused culture, calories in food are not equal. There is no doubt that excessive caloric consumption combined with inadequate physical activity is the primary driver of excess weight gain and health problems. However, generalizations that certain nutrients (i.e. saturated fat and carbohydrates) increase one’s risk of CVD have been challenged and disputed in recent scientific literature. For example, consumption of saturated fat from dairy foods is associated with decreased risk of CVD, while the consumption of the same amount of saturated fat from other foods (such as red meat) does not have the same positive result.

As the scientific literature continues to unfold regarding heart-healthy eating, a few general principles about foods to limit or consume mindfully in moderation include the following:

  • Saturated fats found in red meat, processed meats, bacon, fried foods and baked goods.
  • Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil) found in commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods, and fried foods.
  • Sodium, found in salt and added to many baked and convenience foods, can increase blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day and ideally no more than 1,500 mg for those with high blood pressure.
  • Added sugars, such as those found in sodas, cake, candy, etc.
  • Some research shows a link between moderate alcohol intake and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. For women, moderate intake is up to 1 drink per day. For men, it is up to 2 drinks a day. One drink is defined as a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor.


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Easy-Peasy Rhubarb & Strawberry Crunch


A little piece of trivia – rhubarb is actually a vegetable. However, in the kitchen it is usually prepared as a fruit, and because of it’s tart flavor, rhubarb is often cooked with sugar and used in pies or other desserts.

Growing up in the Midwest, rhubarb (being a perennial), seemed to grow everywhere. We’d snap off a piece and enjoy the raw, tart, crisp stalks alone or dipped in a little sugar! Of course, there’s countless versions of recipes for rhubarb crisp, rhubarb and apple crumble, and my mom’s absolutely delicious recipe for rhubarb crunch (pictured below) that we enjoyed during those summer months!

rhubarb crunch

I just love these handwritten recipes – especially the ones from my mom!!

Recently, I was trying to find a “lower sugar” version of a rhubarb recipe, and everything I found just seemed a bit disappointing (in my opinion) – not something I’d feel proud serving for company, which is kind of a litmus test for me.

So I decided to do a little experimenting and came up with the following recipe. Since I typically don’t enjoy food substitutions or versions of dessert recipes that are tweaked to be “healthy” (they leave me a bit dissatisfied which is not the point of dessert), I was pleasantly surprised with how this turned out.

In some recipes, ingredients like sugar (or even salt) actually overpower the flavor of the food it’s added to. In fact, we’ve become a bit “used to” this level of sweetness or seasoning – and have come to expect it. As I’ve said before, we don’t need to “cut sugar out” of the diet, but we do need to recognize when we are missing out on the natural flavor of food because it’s masked or covered up by these highly palatable ingredients.

Therefore, preparing this recipe with less sugar seemingly highlights the deliciousness of the unique, tart flavor of the rhubarb and it doesn’t seem like a compromise on flavor. And…the crunch and light sweetness of the topping was accented with the addition of the walnuts. Absolutely delicious!

So, it passed my litmus test and I would definitely serve this for my guests!

Rhubarb & Strawberry Crunch

  • Servings: 9
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Rhubarb is a nutritious addition to many recipes. Typically baked with a lot of sugar to balance its tartness, this rhubarb recipe has just the right amount of sweetness from the strawberries and honey, so it’s a delicious treat, but not too much so you can still enjoy the tang of the rhubarb!


  • 4 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb**
  • 1-pint strawberries hulled and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup flour (can substitute with whole wheat or almond flour)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
  • ¼ cup butter, softened


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the rhubarb, strawberries and honey. Transfer to a shallow baking dish, i.e. 8 x 8
  3. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Mix in butter with fork until crumbly and spread over top of the fruit.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes, until rhubarb is tender and the topping is toasted.

 Note: if using frozen rhubarb, thaw according to package directions. Consider adding about 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch to the rhubarb, honey and strawberry mixture.

shutterstock_rhubarb and strawberry crisp

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A Nutrition Nerd’s Secret Ingredient for a Great Workout

The Nutrition NerdA personal trainer (and good friend) always used to call me “the nutrition nerd.” He knew I had a passion for physical activity, but food and eating was obviously my hot button. As nutrition enthusiasts and professionals, we can debate all day about “what food or diet is best” for healthy living and healthy aging, but it’s indisputable that physical activity is key for lifelong health and well-being!

Except in the case of excessive, compulsive exercise (or recovery from an illness, injury or eating disorder), I can’t think of a single study, health provider or researcher who has suggested that it’s better to just sit around or that we should avoid physical activity. But, just because we know that to be true, doesn’t necessarily make it easy for most people.

I love to move my body, and have always been quite active. For one, as a child growing up in a small town in Nebraska, that’s just how we got around – walking, jogging or riding our bike. I also enjoyed participating and competing in activities like dance, gymnastics, and cheerleading all the way through college, and continue to be an avid cyclist and fitness advocate  – so it may be surprising to hear that exercise can be a struggle at times – and certainly not something I always look forward to.

Some of you may be able to relate to this scenario. After high school and college, everything seems to change. Busy work schedules, friend and family obligations, lack of access to (or choosing to avoid) fitness facilities, climate and lack of motivation seem to make exercise more of a chore than the fun, energizing activity it used to be (or that we hope it would be).

Fast forward about 30 years and I can certainly share many ideas, strategies, or “ingredients” for overcoming these obstacles and sustaining regular physical activity (none of which have anything to do with a “perfect, correct or right” food or supplement).  A few notable tips include: 1) do activities you enjoy; 2) participate in group fitness, if possible; 3) exercise at a time of day that’s best for you; 4) hire a personal trainer; 5) find a workout buddy; and, 6) mix it up / challenge yourself to try something new.

But, the ONE thing that has remained constant and still to this day motivates me and energizes my workouts more than anything else is MUSIC!

Whether it’s an instructor who creates a heart-pumping workout with a carefully choreographed selection of tunes, or making my own playlist; the rhythm, beat and even lyrics seem to be the “energizer bunny” that kicks everything into high gear.

Music graphic


We all have a unique “taste” for music. Therefore, there’s not a “right” or “perfect” music/genre/song list. Music that energizes one person doesn’t necessarily stir up the same effect for another – that’s okay. Have some fun experimenting with different genres and tunes to figure out what works for you. Streaming music with apps, such as Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, etc. make it convenient to mix it up and listen to your favorite music.

DIY or making your own playlist is a great strategy for personalizing your music selection, especially for those times when motivation is waning. I’ve been making playlists long before iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora (first recording onto tape, then CD to CD, etc). In fact, it’s a bit of a hobby and a fun way to distract when feeling uptight or run down.

For me, the process of creating a playlist and having it to look forward to at my next workout makes all the difference in not only getting to the gym, on the bike, or out for a walk/jog, but makes my workout feel like a “new guest” has shown up at the party and the fun just began!

And…since the secret to long term success with your health goals is about sustaining behavior change (and that includes all types of activity), then doing something you look forward to – because it’s fun and makes you feel great – will certainly be a difference maker.

To give you some ideas, following is my one of my new playlists (always a collection of new and old) – great for cardio! I love to follow-up a playlist like this with a little “Island Music” (a station I found on Pandora) for a fun vibe during a strength workout and stretch. As mentioned before, we all have unique music preferences – especially as it relates to exercise. So, take or leave whatever sounds good to you.

Reggaeton Lento (Remix) by CNCO & Little Mix 

One Kiss by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa 

Spaceship by Comet Blue 

Bring it Back (feat Aleon Craft)  by Shy Carter 

Chained to the Rhythm by Katy Perry

Mr. Put it Down (feat Pitbull) by Ricky Martin A different 

Waiting for Tonight by Jennifer Lopez

Want You Back by 5 Seconds of Summer (explicit warning)

Ed Sheeran Shape of You (Tropical Club Remix) by DJ Nate Ro

Hold on Tight by R3HAB & Conor Maynard

September by Earth, Wind & Fire

Adventure of a Lifetime Workout Mix by Power Music Workout

Came Here for Love (Calvo Remix) by Signala & Ella Eyre

One (feat U2) by Mary J Blige

Do you have a favorite song(s) to workout to – or genre, playlist? Please do share 🙂

So…that’s an idea of what works for me. I’d love to hear your ideas! What helps to motivate you – to not only stay physically active – but look forward to and enjoy moving your body?



Reasons This Dietitian Refuses to Cut Out Sugar

On the heels of the anti-carb movement is the notion that sugar is bad and to feel good, look good, lose weight, and be healthy, you just need to cut out sugar! Advocates of a sugar-free diet proclaim that people need to remove table sugar, sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, condiments, dressing, refined flour, soft drinks, sweets, dairy products, and often fruits such as bananas and apples.

I don’t agree! Here’s some reasons why…

shutterstock_ice cream

#1. I love food. All food.  And…”cutting out” a particular food “for the sake of health” would actually compromise health.

Health is more than just a physical state of being or defined by the mass of your body tissue. For any individual – especially a health provider – who believes otherwise, consider spending some time working with individuals struggling with all types of eating disorders. I have worked with plenty of people who have a healthy weight and BMI, and are far from “healthy” or able to enjoy life.

Mental and psychological well-being matters for overall health too and enjoying a variety of nutritious and enjoyable food supports this important aspect of health.

Yes, it’s true. Food is fuel and what we eat matters! As such, I’m a huge proponent of cooking at home (most of the time), and enjoying a variety of wholesome and nutrient-dense foods.

…But, there’s more to food and eating, such as food memories; heirloom recipes; favorite foods; celebrations; holidays; social events – many of which happen to include sugar. I prefer not to minimize the fact that there’s something special about food and how it brings us together. Whether it’s religious, ethnic, holiday or family traditions, food has a meaningful role.

mom and lauren cooking (2)

Christmas hors d’oeuvres…my mom and daughter (making her famous fried pickles!)

For those who play the “I just enjoy these foods occasionally-card,” but you still believe the forbidden food is “bad”, or that your health will suffer because of eating these foods, that’s just a recipe for shame, guilt, stress, and anxiety. Research, Research, and more research demonstrate that people who worry about food are more likely to get caught in a cycle of restrict, eat, overeat, guilt, repent, and repeat; and, consequently gain more weight in the long run.

Most important is that some of my everyday “favorite foods,” that I’d rather not give up, contain natural or added sugar (yogurt, milk, fruit, bread, crackers), and happen to provide important nutrients (calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, fiber, etc). Consumed in moderation, these foods make it easy to combine nutrition with convenience, affordability – and pleasure.

#2. I love to cook and bake – and sugar happens to be important ingredient for a quality food product.


One of my favorite recipes for Pecan Lassies…clearly it’s been used a bit!

pecan lassies

I learned the hard way when fat was the “evil dietary villain”, that removing fat from cooking (i.e. replacing oil in muffins with applesauce; cream cheese in cheesecake with strained yogurt, or half-and-half with nonfat evaporated skim milk) resulted in poor food quality. At the time,  somehow I “believed” that the food was “good”. But, when I was really honest with myself, the truth was that the food and these cooking methods sucked!

The sugar-free diet explosion and food substitutions are no different. When boredom sets in after removing all the offending foods, efforts to replace sugar in recipes with Stevia or artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols; or, the example of making a pancake with nothing more than an egg, some banana and a little cinnamon is, well, just history repeating itself.

Yes, sugar is valued (or demonized) for it’s sweet taste, but it also performs many other essential functions in cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. In addition to adding flavor, sugar affects the texture of food by creating tenderness and keeping baking goods soft and moist, while adding color and crunch in a recipe.

I’ve worked with folks who’ve tried to bake a so-called “healthy” dessert, i.e. leaving out sugar, and what resulted was a poor quality product that triggered a binge. No, this doesn’t happen to everyone, but the point is that when your experience with a particular food (taste, mouthfeel, aroma) is less than your expectations (or what your brain remembers), there can be an impulsion to keep eating hoping that eating more will provide the satisfaction you desired.

#3. I’ve been doing this “nutrition thing” for more than a couple decades and have helped many people over this time achieve their weight and health goals without needing to follow this particular “rule” and become worried or obsessed about sugar in food. I’m sensitive to the fact that we all have a unique relationship with food, so perhaps “cutting out sugar” seems like the right thing for some folks. It just seems a bit extreme and with a disrespect for the potential long term consequences of restricting or forbidding sugar – or any particular food.

I do not subscribe to the “eat like me, look like me” style of nutrition counseling, so I suppose my habits and relationship with food shouldn’t matter. Perhaps my clients, family, and myself are just “an anomaly.” I’ve actually heard that before. On the other hand, there’s a chance that all these folks, including myself, share many of the the same busy and stressful life and food challenges that everyone else does, and are evidence that it is possible to trust your body, trust your instincts with food, use non-food ways to manage stress and emotions and ultimately find balance with all foods so that you can enjoy pleasurable foods, and still “be healthy.”

#4. It’s called “Balance, Variety and Moderation.”
I know. Not a popular (nor sexy) headline. The idea that the sugar industry is out to kill us (per the reputable Dr. Oz) and headlines claiming that “Sugar is as addictive as cocaine and heroine” gets more views, followers and sells more.

For those readers who believe any of that, you may want to read “No, Sugar isn’t the new heroin” by Traci Mann, researcher from the University of Minnesota.

With respect and without judgement, the truth is that some people struggle with over-consumption – for many different reasons. Some unknowingly, while others recognize an intense and persistent draw to highly palatable foods for reward, comfort, etc. The reality is that some folks really do struggle with over-consuming sugar/food; alcohol (and I’m not referring to those with a known alcohol addiction); they may also overspend; over-commit; over-exercise – hopefully you get the idea.


In the case of over-eating – or when sugar feels like an “addiction,” making healthy and sustainable behavior change is possible. When a particular food (i.e. highly palatable foods such as sugar-laden goodies) take up residency as the go-to for nutrition, then we need to work on changing the “mental channel.”

This may mean “taking a break” from a trigger food or foods to create a safe and healthy eating environment that focuses on nutrient-dense foods. But, this is NOT
…a 10, 20, or 30- day detox.
…the idea that XYZ food (that contains sugar) is fatal and should be forbidden
…believing fear based messages about XYZ food.
…giving into the idea that “you are a flawed person” and someone else can “eat whatever they want.”


#5. Plain and simple, it’s disordered eating to have forbidden foods.
Disordered eating has become normalized in our culture – but that doesn’t make it right or healthy. It is well established that restrictive eating, eliminating foods/food groups, and dieting is an environmental trigger for pathological eating problems and all types of eating disorders.

Not everyone has an eating disorder and eating disorders are a complex mental illness, but restriction and worrying about food is certainly an important risk factor that shouldn’t be disregarded or minimized when making or receiving nutrition recommendations.

The statistics speak for themselves. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and that 20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders. Furthermore, hospitalizations involving eating disorders have increased for all age groups, but hospitalizations for patients aged 45-65 have increased the most, by 88 percent, from 1999 to 2009.

When one considers the common emotional and behavioral symptoms of an eating disorder, it’s worth questioning the “normalization” of dieting or food restricting – “for the sake of health”.

Common Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms of an Eating Disorder:

– In general, behaviors and attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns
– Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
– Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
– Appears uncomfortable eating around others
– Food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group [e.g. condiments], excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch)
– Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
– Any new practices with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
– Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
– Frequent dieting
– Extreme concern with body size and shape
– Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
– Extreme mood swings

Source: National Eating Disorders Association

Finally, an individual’s relationship with food, eating and weight is a very personal and even intimate topic.

Nutrition is a science that interprets the interaction of nutrients in food in relation to growth, development, health and disease in an organism. But, overall health is more than just how nutrients function in our body.

Enjoying a variety of pleasurable foods and understanding how the “joy of eating” feeds our soul and makes life interesting, adventuresome and fun is something I would encourage anyone to not miss out on!

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Let’s Get Real: #NEDAwareness

NEDA awarenessLet’s get real – eating disorders can affect anyone, anywhere. This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and we’re working on changing the conversation around food, body image, and eating disorders! This year’s theme is “Let’s Get Real.” The goal is to promote more conversation about the reality of eating disorders and the impact this illness has on more than 30 million people in the U.S. alone.

As a dietitian who has worked in this field for over a decade, it continues to amaze me that in our “wellness-focused” culture, we remain fixated on certain measures (weight, BMI, clothing size), one’s appearance (“lean”, “fit”, anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, etc.) or whether you eat the “right” foods (as defined by a celebrity, Dr. Oz, or what’s trending on social media) to define health and wellness. Sadly, for many people, what’s going on “under the hood” is far beyond well. What’s even more frightening to me is the number of young people and children that are falling victim to disordered eating and eating disorders. Perhaps growing up in a small town in Nebraska sheltered me a bit, but I don’t recall such a fixation on food, eating and weight as what we are experiencing today.

Take a moment to consider the following facts:

  • At least 30 million individuals of all ages and genders in the United States are diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives
  • The majority of these individuals do not seek treatment because they feel embarrassed, are in denial, do not have the financial means or social support, or simply do not know where to start 
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder
  • Approx. 30% of individuals who engage in binge and purge behaviors also engage in self-harm behaviors such as cutting
  • Approx. every 60 seconds, an individual dies as a direct result of an eating disorder
  • 13% of women over the age of 50 engage in some sort of eating disorder behavior
  • Approx. 10% of female college students suffer from a clinical eating disorder
  • Only one in 10 individuals with an eating disorder will receive treatment
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
  • Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States 
  • Approx. 50% of the risk for binge eating disorder is genetic 

What about women over age 50?  At a time in a woman’s life when we deserve to be happiest and most fulfilled, age doesn’t seem to make us immune to the reality of disordered eating, eating disorders and negative body image.



In a survey of 1,849 women, ages 50 and over, 71% of women responded that they were currently trying to lose weight! More than 3/4 of the women responded that weight or shape plays a “moderate” to “the most important” role in their self-perception (so more important than being a great mom or honest and hard-working woman?) AND more than half (62%) responded that weight or shape negatively affected their lives.


Eating disorders do not discriminate. Men of all ages are also affected!


What Can We Do?shutterstock_180747650

Examine AND CHALLENGE mixed messages about what is “healthy” vs achieving a “certain size or look.” For example, does it really make sense to cut out fruit, legumes, and whole grains (as dictated by some popular diet trends)? You can read my thoughts about some of this “science” and diet trends HERE.

Respect EveryBODY. We all have a unique size and shape that doesn’t fit perfectly in the middle of the “BMI curve”. Yes, it’s important to encourage “health-promoting” behaviors, such as regular activity, eating a balanced diet, good sleep habits, not smoking, etc, but remember – you really can’t tell if someone is healthy by looking at them. Think of it this way. Should every dog strive to look like a poodle? Take a look at this “Poodle Science” video.

Prevent these behaviors or offer support. If you are a Parent, Teacher, Coach, Trainer, Health Provider, Educator, or Friend, get educated about disordered eating and eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association has some fabulous resources and tool kits to help prevent this illness or offer appropriate support.

Seek out appropriate help. If you or someone you know is struggling, work with a licensed professional who specializes in eating disorders. It’s painful to me when I learn about someone who is suffering from any type of eating disorder who is being treated by a health coach, personal trainer or “nutritionist”. Please forgive me for being so blunt – but would you take your child to a health coach or chiropractor if he or she had cancer? Many of these folks do a fabulous job at what they are trained to do. However, it’s unlikely they have been trained to work specifically with a diagnosed, or even un-diagnosed condition of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, AFRID, or orthorexia. In the Atlanta area, providers who specialize in eating disorder treatment is available HERE.

body inspirationImage source: http://www.beautyredefined.net

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3 Steps to Keep you Committed (and successful) with your Health Goals

New Year's ResolutionsResolutions seem synonymous with a new year and a new beginning with your health goals! Setting a resolution stirs up hope that this year really can be different! It feels mentally refreshing after a season of obstacles and disappointments.

But, how do we stay committed to our goals when 80% of new year’s resolutions fail and don’t see the daylight of February? 

A resolution or goal is often what you hope or wish for. A common example: “I’m going to lose 20 pounds by my spring break trip in March.” According to goal-setting criteria, this goal seems to meet the SMART criteria:
S – specific
M – measurable
A – achievable
R – realistic
T – timely
So….we are good to go – right?  

You could define a goal, “I’m going to make a million dollars by the end of 2018” but how will you make this happen, and is it realistic? 

The SMART criteria may be an important place to start and definitely better than “I’m going to lose weight.” However, how are you going to achieve your goal? Is it realistic? When it comes to weight loss, there are many reasons it may not be, including the misunderstood calorie equation that “eat less and exercise more = weight loss.” (This topic coming soon – so stay tuned!)  

So what else do you need to do to stay committed and successful with your resolutions this year? 

After carefully setting your new goal, consider the following 3 steps to help you stay committed and successful.

1. What is motivating you…and what will potentially get in the way of success?
We all want to be healthier, but why? Even the most tenacious individual will cave in to old behaviors or temptations if they’re trying to change for someone else – diet because your friend is; get thinner for a spouse or because society says so; exercise because you’re supposed to.

Question on a forkTo get motivated in a healthy way, it’s helpful to dig in and ask yourself a series of questions to understand what your true hopes, desires and intentions are.  These questions may seem challenging and time consuming at first, but allow yourself some space to reflect or even meditate about your thoughts.

What are your long term goal(s) for your relationship with food, exercise and overall health?

If you have listed more than one goal, pick the one that you would most like to tackle first.

List the three things in your life that are most important to you.


How would making this change improve your ability to nurture these three things?

Take either yesterday or today as an example.  How would your day have gone differently if you would have already made the change that you are currently contemplating?

What are you most afraid of as you embark on this new journey?

What could you do to prevent these fears from becoming a reality?

Which of these changes do you think you will find the easiest to achieve, and which will rank as the hardest?

List five ways that you could keep yourself motivated on especially hard days.

2. Start small. Define 2 to 4 specific behaviors you can change or do to help you achieve your goal. For example, if my well-defined “SMART” goal was to “increase revenue by 30% by the end of 2018”, I would need to change some behaviors or do some specific actions to make this happen. 

There are many ways to get started with your health goals. Making behavior change with food and eating to achieve your goals takes practice, patience…and time. But, as the saying goes, “If you change nothing, nothing will change”, so even the smallest change will move you toward your goal.

Simple examples of where you might start include the following:
• Increase my daily water intake
• Decrease my intake of “energy dense” fluids, i.e. soda, sweetened coffee beverages, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages
• Eat 3 meals daily
• Work with a dietitian to establish a meal plan to eat more balanced meals and snacks
• Reduce in-between meal snacks when I’m not hungry
• Increase awareness of pace when eating and eat more slowly
• Journal food intake and/or food and feelings or food and symptoms, i.e. low energy Etc…

If you tend to skip breakfast, skimp on lunch and overeat the rest of the day, then the behavior of “Eat 3 meals daily” might be most helpful. To follow-through on this specific behavior, a few steps to consider to ensure success include:
1. Review a list of nutrient dense foods and highlight or make a list of enjoyable foods or foods you can tolerate or will eat. (this is something I provide my clients)
2. Make a list of 2 breakfast ideas, 3 lunch ideas and 4 evening meals that you commonly eat or typically enjoy.
3. Use the meal ideas and/or eating plan (provided by a dietitian) to balance out each of these meals, i.e. if Spaghetti and meat balls is a family favorite; add a tossed salad or favorite vegetable and glass of milk or water.
4. Now do some meal planning for the week. Based on your schedule, when will each of these meals fit into your week?
5. After you’ve made a plan, assemble a grocery list by checking to see what you have on hand and what you need to get from the supermarket. Then, go shopping!
6. Work with a dietitian to learn what an appropriate portion or serving of each of these meals would be and begin to notice your hunger and fullness cues at each eating event. 

3. Get support. Who will you call for support when you are having a tough time sticking to your plan? Do you need any resources to make this time easier for you? 

Examples might include: a daily check-in’s and emotional support from provider, motivational book, gym membership or even something like vegetable steamer, electronic health monitor (FitBit, Jawbone, etc.).

Portrait attractive woman at the table arms near chin

Finally, remember you can do this! If 20% of individuals who set goals and resolutions are successful, then you can too. The keys to success depend on your motivation to change; setting realistic and achievable steps/objectives that get you to your goal; and, getting support that makes sense for your lifestyle and goals. 

Whatever your goal or how you decide to begin, there are many resources and tools to support you and keep you on track as you work on your goals. Don’t forget, your dietitian is here to guide you in making decisions about what will work best for you and help you be successful, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

To success and wellness in 2018!
Val Schonberg




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Recipe: Spiced Pumpkin Bread

It’s that time of year for pulling out those beloved family recipes. This is a family favorite, not only because of the seasonal deliciousness of pumpkin and spices, but because it’s quick and easy to prepare! All you need is a bowl, spoon and pans for baking – and having some kids around who can just pour and stir is a bonus. With holiday gatherings approaching, this recipe is a plus as it makes TWO loaves – so you can enjoy one and freeze the other.

Pumpkin bread

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • (1) 16 oz. can pumpkin
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease and flour (2) 5x9x3-inch loaf pans
  3. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and baking powder.
  4. Add pumpkin, oil, eggs and nuts to the dry ingredients and stir until moistened and mixture is smooth.
  5. Pour into prepared pans.
  6. Bake 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes clean.
  7. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Wrap in plastic, then aluminum foil and store in refrigerator or may also be frozen for later use.