Use Nutrition Month to get back on track

162322018I know National Nutrition Month is coming up in March, and I want to use the occasion to jump-start my resolution to eat better this year. But I’ve done this kind of thing before and I’m out of new ideas. Where can I find some good ones?

This is a great plan. It’s not unusual for New Year’s resolutions to wane by now. But using National Nutrition Month to revive your resolve is a shrewd move: There will likely be an abundance of nutrition-related information out there for the taking, and you’re bound to find new ways to get back on track.

You can take the bull by the horns and search out ideas yourself. A great place to start is the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). As the sponsor of National Nutrition Month, the organization offers a dozen two-page tipsheets on a variety of topics at

Here are just a few pointers from some of the tipsheets:

  • To reach a goal of eating 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day, try adding sliced pineapple, apple, peppers, cucumber and tomato to your sandwiches. (Find more ideas in the tipsheet “20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits and Vegetables.”)
  • For a kid-friendly healthy snack, peel a banana, dip it in yogurt, roll it in crushed cereal and freeze it. (More in “25 Healthy Snacks for Kids.”)
  • Add some variety to your salad by adding corn, peas, sugar snap peas, water chesnuts or a variety of other vegetables. (More in “Color Your Plate with Salad.”)
  • Trying to lose weight? Slow down: It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that your body is getting food. Don’t wait until you feel full before you stop eating. (More in “Eating Right for a Healthy Weight.”)
  • On days when you’re planning a dinner out, plan ahead. Have a light breakfast and lunch. (More in “Healthy Eating on the Run: A Month of Tips.”)
  • If you’re tired of the same old breakfast options, make your own morning sandwich with a toasted whole-grain English muffin with lean ham and low-fat Swiss cheese. (More in “Power Up with Breakfast.”)
  • Give Nutrition Facts labels a fresh eye. Look at the “% Daily Value” column. Aim high (20 percent or more) in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and aim low (5 percent or less) for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. (More in “Shop Smart — Get the Facts on Food Labels.”)

My advice? Download all 12 tipsheets and use them for inspiration throughout the month.


Protein guidance can be confusing

161863082How much protein should I eat every day?

Determining how much protein an adult should consume each day might seem confusing. According to the Institute of Medicine, which sets nutrition recommendations, a healthy adult should consume anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of total calories in protein per day. That’s a big range. The average American diet amounts to about 15 percent protein, or about 75 grams a day for those on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet.

Additionally, the Institute of Medicine advises that adults should eat a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (or 0.37 grams per pound) of ideal body weight. For a person whose ideal weight is 160 pounds, for example, that would be a minimum of about 60 grams of protein.

Paying attention to both pieces of guidance is important — particularly if you’re severely restricting calories for weight loss. If you’re eating, say, 1,200 calories a day, and you’re keeping your protein to the minimum of 10 percent of total calories, you’d only be consuming 30 grams of protein a day (each gram of protein has 4 calories). That’s not nearly enough for most adults. You’ll want to eat a higher percentage of protein and trim back one or both of the other macronutrients, carbohydrates and fat.

Note that when you make shifts in one macronutrient, it affects the percentages you’re consuming in the whole diet. Total fat should be limited to 30 percent of total calories, with most coming from healthier unsaturated types. For carbohydrates, the recommended range is 45 to 65 percent of total calories, with half coming from healthier whole grains. A minimum intake of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day is necessary for normal brain function.

For protein, the best choices include meats with relatively little fat, including lean beef, pork and poultry; fish, including salmon, trout and other choices high in omega-3 fatty acids; and beans, peas, soy products and unsalted nuts. For more detail, see the advice for protein in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans at

If you’re trying to lose weight, you might have noticed that many mainstream diet plans recommend a higher proportion of dietary protein. And it’s true that protein helps with satiety, that feeling of fullness after eating. So, if you’re stuck in your attempt at losing weight, you might consider bumping up your lean protein intake while reducing carbohydrates, as long as you stay in the overall guidelines. That said, a 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing different regimens showed restricting calories overall was the key to weight loss, not where the calories come from.


If food is recalled, find out details

161763964What’s the best thing to do when you hear a food that you’ve recently purchased is being recalled?

First, find out why the product is being recalled. If it’s due to an undeclared food allergen, for example, and no one in your household suffers from that allergy, you don’t have to worry about it.

However, if the recall is due to concern about foodborne illness and you haven’t yet eaten the product, you have two options. You can return the product to the store and ask for a refund, or you can throw it away. If you decide to dispose of it, do it in a way so you’re sure it won’t be consumed by anyone else. Also: It’s not a good idea to feed the recalled food to pets. They can get sick from the food just like you can.

If you’ve already consumed the product and feel ill, check your symptoms with those listed in the recall alert. For example, a recent recall of ground beef from Michigan due to concerns about Salmonella contamination listed symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 12 to 72 hours after consuming the product.

If it appears that your illness may be due to the recalled product, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends:

  • Preserve the evidence. If you still have some of the food available, wrap it securely, mark it clearly with “DANGER” and put it in the freezer. If possible, save all the packaging materials, including cans or cartons. Write down when the product was consumed and when the symptoms started. If you have identical unopened products, save them but mark them so no one else will consume them.
  • Seek treatment as necessary. If your symptoms get severe or persist, contact your doctor or other health professional. That’s especially important if you’re at high risk for foodborne illness. High-risk groups include children, older adults and anyone dealing with a weakened immune system due to another illness, including conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease or organ transplant patients, or when taking certain medications.
  • Call your local health department.
  • If the suspect product is meat, poultry or eggs and you still have its packaging, contact the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.

To find out about food recalls, check the website It contains information about recalls and alerts about foods regulated by both the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. There, you can also sign up for alerts about current food recalls.

Don’t overindulge on wine, chocolate

160374805With Valentine’s Day approaching, can you tell me more about the health benefits of chocolate and red wine?

First, a word of caution: Don’t let positive news about foods and beverages that you enjoy give you an excuse to go on a bender. While there is some promising research on dark chocolate and red wine, overindulging on them would undermine the possibility of reaping benefits.

With that said, you might want to take a look at a Chow Line column from last year, “Jury still out on chocolate’s benefits,” online at The bottom line: Flavonoids in very dark chocolate may improve the function of blood vessels, but the sugar and saturated fat it contains could cause other problems for the cardiovascular system. So, enjoy dark chocolate, but do so in moderation.

The same can be said of red wine. Scientists have known for years that consuming alchohol in moderation appears to be associated with 25 to 40 percent less risk of heart attack, ischemic stroke (the type caused by a blood clot), peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death and death from all cardiovascular causes.

“In moderation” means no more than two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. And “a drink” equates to 12 to 14 grams of alcohol — what you get from 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.

Many people believe red wine offers additional health benefits over other types of alcohol, but research says that’s an iffy proposition.

Much attention has focused on a polyphenol in red wine called resveratrol, which comes from the skins of grapes. Since red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine is, red wine contains more resveratrol. And some research indicates resveratrol could reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and possibly offer other benefits. But other studies find no additional benefits of red wine over other types of alcohol. And besides, you can also get resveratrol from eating grapes (with skins, of course) or drinking grape juice.

Experts agree that too much alcohol is never a good thing. In addition to the damage it can cause the heart and liver, and the increased risk of cancer associated with too much alcohol, there’s that little problem of empty calories: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced the results of a study that showed U.S. adults consume an average of almost 100 calories per day from alcoholic beverages. That can add up to extra pounds very quickly.

Don’t let all this put a damper on your Valentine’s Day. You can still enjoy red wine and dark chocolate. As with almost everything in nutrition, though, just don’t overindulge.