EnlightenU Nutrition Consulting, LLC

Enlightening You about Food and Nutrition

Leave a comment

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

1 Comment

The Science of Nutrition

Nutrition ScienceMany of my clients ask a variety of questions about nutrition hoping to find out what is the “right” thing to eat.  Bombarded by so much conflicting information from various sources, it seems increasingly confusing for people to figure out what or whom to believe about nutrition.  So, how do you know what the “truth” is about the latest trends with gluten, sugar, carbs, dairy, fat, supplements, etc.?

Something I learned early on in my nutrition studies was that nutrition is a science.  You may be thinking, “duh, I knew that!”  But, what’s important here is accepting what that really means.  Science is a body of knowledge based on systematic study that is continually evolving.  Believing that science is “the truth” can be misleading because the progress of science is marked by the development of a continuously changing picture of reality.  Many folks struggle with that concept because it demands that you are able to adjust constantly to integrate new information.

A great example of this fact was when I learned that the structure of ribosomal subunits of tRNA (important in protein synthesis) changed from  the 1988 biochemistry textbook I first learned this information to  when I was learning about this again in 2005 – and my old textbook was out dated!  Who would ever think scientists didn’t have this completely figured out?  That was crazy to me – something that I took for granted for “truth” actually was still unfolding –and probably still is.

I see this happen over and over again in the field of nutrition.  For example, once we thought that people who wanted to avoid heart disease should reduce their saturated fat intake and increase their polyunsaturated fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol levels.  Many dietary guidelines and sound nutrition advice was based on this “fact”. Then, it was to decrease total fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol (finding polyunsaturated fats were not “good” for you); and, then again today we have new information challenging what we believe about the relationship between fat and heart disease. These treasured “facts” about fat continue to change – and I see many people feeling uncomfortable and even resent trying to figure out what is “right”?

I have always loved learning about science, and especially nutrition.  It is what I love about my job as a dietitian which continues to be about helping individuals navigate this evolving science of nutrition information.   My training and experience has taught me that remaining open-minded toward other points of view is critical when discerning the recommendations scientists make about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat.  In fact, I’ve discovered that it is quite common for scientists to have different ideas of reality even when interpreting the same findings.

So, how do you decide what recommendations are appropriate for you?  That depends on you – your needs and your history with food, weight, and activity.  Being curious and open about new ideas is always important, while remaining cautious when someone declares “absolutes” regarding science may also be helpful.  Remember, YOU know yourself better than any scientist or proclaimed nutrition “expert” and finding someone who can help you explore what is ideal for YOU will likely be your best formula for success.

Leave a comment

Dietitian at the Fair #MNFairFood

MN fair food ed and val

So, I happen be a dietitian who loves food and I love Minnesota State Fair FOOD! Yup, I really do! In fact, my hubby and I love it so much, we are aiming to go all 12 days this year!

I know, to some this may seem unusual. But, I truly have come to look forward to exploring many aspects of “The Great Minnesota Get Together” – but especially have fun discovering the best new foods while savoring some of the old favorites.

Remember “It’s an event, not a lifestyle!”

The truth is that since my hubby happens to be very involved in an aspect of the fair, we have the opportunity to spend the majority of days and/or evenings at the largest state fair in the country with a record attendance of over 1.8 million in just 12 days last year! We enjoy concerts, visit the animals, check out new exhibits, hang out at the pubs, and savor some of the craziest concoctions of food you can find on the planet.

So, here’s the reason for my upcoming blog series. 

A few years ago, after “investing” in one of the featured new foods, we were hugely disappointed. It was expensive, looked nothing like the picture, and tasted horrible. On the flip side, I also discovered a flavorful and delicious food (while actually a healthy option as well) that was my daughter’s favorite. That’s when I decided the fair should hire me to help promote food in a different light. I know, it does sound a little crazy now. But, they denied my suggestion for some consulting assuming my nutrition “credentials” meant I would be providing something similar to a “weight watchers guidebook” which is not what they want. Clearly, I didn’t explain my objective very well because with a background working in eating disorders, that would be very unlikely to come from me.

Since then, every year I have more and more people asking me “What have you tried at the fair?” “What do you recommend?” “What’s a good deal?” “What’s something that’s not on a stick?” “Is there anything even somewhat healthy to eat at the fair?” or my favorite, “What’s better, a pronto pup or corn dog, and what’s the difference anyway?” Since most folks are likely to visit the fair only one or two times (or not going at all because it seems there’s only fried food on a stick), some direction with navigating 42 new foods; and, over 500 foods at 300 stands might be helpful! Right??

So, coming up this month on August 27 is day one! Myself, aMN fair food girlslong with a group of friends – many of whom are also dietitians (prerequisite: need to love food and aren’t afraid to eat) will be traveling around the fair aiming to test out as many of the new foods as we can. Then, I will joyfully pass along our thoughts and recommendations to any of my followers. Days 2 through 12 will continue with updates including answers to all those questions on fair-goers minds.

I would love to hear your comments about your experience at the MN State Fair (or your favorite fair). What would you like to ask a dietitian about fair food and eating? Now’s your chance!!

Cheers! ~ Val

MN fair food corn

Leave a comment

Do Fear-Based Nutrition Messages Really Work?

shutterstock_wellness illnessAn old Chinese proverb suggests “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. The meaning behind this proverb is that in bad times or hopelessness, it’s better to do something – no matter how small – than to curse your plight or misery. Lately, I’m wondering if we need to do both.

I don’t know about you, but although fear-based messages about food and nutrition in media and advertising may be “something” aimed at improving health and wellness, they drive me nuts because of the negative effect these messages have on a significant number of people.

Consider the following statements I’ve read recently: “cow’s milk is toxic”; “sugar and carbohydrate-based foods are the underlying cause of all disease”; “GMO’s cause cancer”; “animal products cause heart disease and death.” Really? We know that for sure?  Of course each of these proclamations is from “an expert” that has something to sell – a book, a diet program, supplements, a blog, endorsements, an industry. So perhaps I feel the need to “curse the darkness.”

Recently, I listened to a highly credentialed food and nutrition expert discuss an important topic related to food, mood and the brain. Initially, I was captivated by the research and science related to what we are learning in the field of neuroscience.

And then it started…the preaching or “nutrition evangelism” (as I like to call it). That idea that it is her “duty” to question and convince everyone – at parties, in the grocery store, wherever – that what they are eating is making them sick; will cause a horrible disease; and will likely result in a pain-filled and shortened life. This is where the “expert” lost me.

Look, I get it. We live in a sedentary and toxic food environment with a lot of choices that aren’t so helpful for achieving optimal wellness – and other choices that are.  And, the reality is that many individuals are truly struggling to navigate this “toxic” environment. But, for the “experts” out there – describe a time you sat with an individual, or group of people, struggling with binge eating, disordered eating, or just their relationship with food, eating and weight?  Have you heard about the pain and trauma people experience when you follow through on your “duty” to proclaim what they have in their grocery cart is “bad”; “will make them fat” and “cause horrible disease?”

Or, how about the latest viral video (interestingly sponsored by Chipotle) that so dramatically describes how horrible the food industry is? So, it’s okay to eat the Chipotle burrito that has the nutritional equivalent of more than 2 meals because their food is from some non-GMO, organic farm? Sadly, this was distributed through a news feed to folks who already struggle with disordered eating.

The reality is that this dramatic, fear-based strategy doesn’t work, as evidenced by most victims of this experience reporting more anxiety and stress; increased cycles of restricting and overeating; more shame, guilt and clinical depression. The truth is that some people may benefit from lowering their carbohydrate intake, replacing cow’s milk, or more carefully considering their selection of foods. It’s likely we all need to move more and “eat more real food.” But, a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer and catastrophizing the situation doesn’t help anyone and likely causes more damage.

Instead, consider asking yourself the following questions when reviewing health and nutrition information for “something” that may help YOU feel more hopeful with your health goals:

What are they trying to sell me?

Does it sound too good to be true?

Is the message informative or make me feel worried, bad, guilty?

Is the information based on un-biased scientific research?

There are a LOT of different opinions about what is “healthy” and “what is not.” What I’ve heard from my clients is that people need more positive messages based on credible evidence about food and nutrition and how to make realistic lifestyle change, i.e. when choosing fast food, consider wholesome food choices such as a burrito bowl, with tortillas on the side, and make your own reasonable-sized burrito (with leftovers to spare). Only then will people be able to experience the freedom to choose what will work for them; rather than coerced or “bullied” into something that benefits the seller – not optimal wellness.


Cycling Nutrition: Fueling a Long Ride

Cycling nutritionI love cycling! My happy place is getting out for a long ride on a nice summer day. But without proper fueling, even my recreational joyride can come to a screeching halt real fast!  Whether you are competing in an endurance race or heading out for an all day ride, proper nutrition and hydration can make the difference between fully enjoying or barely enduring a day of riding. Just as you wouldn’t take off on a road trip without enough fuel in your car, the same is true for your body’s fuel tank when you embark on a long ride. Eating the right foods before, during and after your ride will help provide for an enjoyable ride and optimal performance.

Carbohydrates: The Fuel of Choice

The body’s fuel of choice for an endurance sport like cycling is carbohydrate. Carbohydrate-containing foods, such as fruit, potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, milk, yogurt, honey, etc. are broken down in the body to glucose and stored as glycogen in the muscle. Therefore, for the recreational or competitive cyclist, eating enough carbohydrates at each meal and snack (not just the night before) is essential to ensure your “gas tank” (glycogen) is ready to go. The well-fueled cyclist should have enough energy stored as glycogen in muscles to support 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.

Fueling Before You Ride

The ideal time for a carbohydrate-rich, pre-exercise meal is three to four hours prior to your ride. The amount of carbohydrate depends on a number of factors, such as body weight. For a 150-lb cyclist, aim for 80 to 100 grams of carbohydrate (i.e. 1 cup oatmeal, 6 oz Greek yogurt, 1 cup berries and a slice of whole wheat toast). In addition, consuming 100 to 300 calories of a low-fat, carbohydrate-rich snack (fruit and crackers) an hour before your ride will also provide muscles additional glucose to be used for energy, while sparing glycogen and delaying fatigue. Fluids are as important as food in preparing for a long ride. Prepare by drinking enough water the day before the ride (evidenced by pale colored urine) and sipping on a 16-oz sports drink the hour before going out.

Foods and Fluids during Long Rides

Dehydration is the leading cause of fatigue for the endurance athlete. Staying well-hydrated during a long ride is essential for having a good ride. A general rule of thumb is 20 ounces of fluid for every hour, ideally ingested in small frequent intervals for better absorption and utilization by the body (about 5 to 8 ounces every 15 minutes). Electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are lost in sweat and essential to maintain proper water balance in your tissues. Therefore, consider carrying two bottles, one with water and one containing an electrolyte solution. For rides longer than 4 hours or in very hot or humid weather, cyclists need to plan to include additional sodium and potassium-containing foods during the ride, such as bananas, tomato juice, pretzels, salted nuts or broth.

If your ride will include some high intensity riding, strenuous hill climbing, or will be more than 90 minutes, then you will also need to fuel with additional glucose during the ride. When glycogen stores get low you “hit the wall” and consequently run out of energy. For this reason, it is beneficial to consume easily digestible carbohydrates from a variety of sources, such as sports drinks, bananas, energy gels, etc. and see what works best for you. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 50 grams of carbohydrate for a 150-lb cyclist each hour (again in small, frequent intervals). Unfortunately, some novice riders limit their consumption of carbohydrate calories during exercise for fear that a sports drink or carbohydrate gel “contains too much sugar” or “will cancel out the calories burned from training.” A study completed at Colorado State University demonstrated that this approach actually backfires. Researchers discovered that subjects who restricted carbohydrate intake during exercise ended up consuming more calories the rest of the day than subjects who ingested carbohydrate during activity (Melby et al., 2002).

Some basic tips for carrying and consuming fuel while riding:

  • Be sure your fuel will hold up to weather conditions, such as heat and humidity.
  • Partially open any small packages for easy access.
  • On unsupported rides, carry snacks in a jersey or jacket with multiple easy-to-reach pockets.
  • Portion your hourly food into separate baggies and consume one bag per hour.
  • Carry powdered sports drinks and reconstitute when you have access to water

Restore, Replace and Repair from Your Long Ride

The goals of recovery nutrition are to: 1) Restore fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat during a long ride, 2) Replace glycogen stores (muscle fuel) depleted during activity, and 3) Repair muscle tissue broken down from high intensity activity.

Rehydration is vital to recovery following a long ride. Ideally, you have replenished water (sweat) lost during your ride. However, when you get off your bike, continue to drink water or a sports drink to quench your thirst or until urine is pale.

Within 30 to 60 minutes, have a snack that includes carbohydrates (to replace glycogen) and protein (to repair muscle tissue). Aim for a 3 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, i.e. 60 grams of carbohydrate along with 20 grams of protein. Examples of good recovery snacks include low-fat chocolate milk; fruit and yogurt smoothie; graham crackers with peanut butter and low-fat milk; apple or banana with nut butter and low-fat milk.  Finally, follow-up with a healthy meal that includes a balance of protein-rich meats, vegetables and whole grains that will continue to restore, replace and repair those essential nutrients lost during activity so you will be ready to ride again soon.

1 Comment

You are a Gift!

shutterstock_giftAs a dietitian, I meet people everyday who feel inadequate…about the way they look; that they don’t eat right; they don’t exercise the way they “should”; and consequently, aren’t a good enough mom, wife, daughter, etc.

My job description is to provide medical nutrition therapy to individuals. With a professional background helping people who struggle with eating disorders, I’ve learned first hand there really so much more to this complicated world of nutrition than the type or amount of carbs, fat and protein a person needs. Yes, my job is to help people navigate the toxic food environment we live in to prevent disease and live happy and healthy. But, more often, some of the work I do really is about challenging a toxic culture of perfectionism and black-and-white thinking around the issues of food, eating and weight.

To the notion that there is an “ideal model” of health and nutrition, I recently came across this passage in an old college book of mine, called “Priceless People”. This anonymous writing, titled “Unwrapping Gifts” is truly priceless and reminds us that we (and those we treat) are much more than the wrapping.

Unwrapping Gifts by Anonymous

People are gifts which are sent to us…wrapped.  Some are wrapped very beautifully. They are very attractive when we first see them. Some come in ordinary wrapping paper. Others have been mishandled in the mail. Once in awhile, there is a special delivery. Some persons are gifts which come very loosely wrapped, others very tightly.

But the wrapping is not the gift. It’s so easy to make this mistake.

Sometimes the gift is very easy to open up. Sometimes we need others to help. Is it because they are afraid? Maybe they have been opened up before and thrown away.

You are a person. So you are a gift, too. A gift to yourself, first of all. You have been given to yourself. Have you ever really looked inside the wrappings? Maybe you’ve never really seen the wonderful gift that you are. Could such a gift be anything but beautiful?

And you are a gift to other people. Are you willing to give yourself to others? Do others have to be contented with the wrappings? Never permitted to enjoy – you – the gift?