Archive for April, 2012


Let’s face it………getting older is no picnic. Putting aside the fact that our bodies are fighting gravity, it seems, at times, that our brains are also engaged in some type of warfare just to remember. “Why did I come into the kitchen?”  “What’s the name of that contact?” “Where did I leave my keys?”

Have no fear. For cognitive improvement, all we need to do is exercise. Ok, I’m guilty: I think exercise cures everything. However, last weekend’s NY Times Magazine featured several articles on the brain and one focused on the benefits of exercise.

I found this fascinating. A team of researchers studied mice. They broke them into 4 groups and set up their cages (really their lifestyles) quite differently. They let the mice live in these distinct environments for several months and performed cognitive tests on the mice both before and after. They found that the only thing that  improved the mice’s cognition was the running wheel. Simply put, the exercised mice had healthier brains.

Scientists aren’t quite sure how exercise does this but this research suggests that something does happen to the brain on a molecular level.

I guess we need to be just like those mice on the running wheel!

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Couscous with Apples, Cranberries, and Herbs



1 cup of uncooked couscous

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 ½ T chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 t chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 medium green apple, diced

½ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted (see note below*)


2 T apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ t salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 T olive oil


Cook the couscous according to the directions.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth.

Transfer the cooked couscous to a large bowl and set aside. Add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, apple, dried cranberries, and almonds.

Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous and toss to coat evenly.

*To toast the almonds, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before using.

(Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis’s recipe)

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You decide it’s time to lose weight. You cut back calories. The scale goes down! You then add a bit of exercise and between the two, you lose 1-2 lbs per week, week in and week out. You feel AMAZING. And then it happens: You hit a plateau. The scale is stuck and nothing is moving. Why did this happen?

Think about a big car v a small car. The big car needs more fuel. Our bodies are just like cars: The bigger we are, the more fuel we need to run. While we think exercise burns a lot of calories, most of our energy needs come from running our bodies (heart beating, blood circulating, food digesting, brain thinking, etc). When you lose weight, you become a smaller car, which means you need less fuel to run. So even though you’ve made a caloric deficit from the start, you now have to find a way to cut back a bit more. Depressing, I know.

You can do this by changing your exercise routine. If you’re not doing enough cardio, add some more. If you’re not weight training, start. If you exercise but aren’t active enough, try and increase your activity level. You might also need to tweak your diet and see if you can cut back a bit, too. Before you know it, the scale will start to move again.

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I am very fortunate in that I know a lot of strong, smart women, who I would describe as stoic. They juggle, multitask, and keep plugging along, sometimes under great adversity, without much complaining. It’s very admirable. However, there is one time where we have to put stoic aside and just give in: when we could be having a heart attack.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. However,  women don’t have heart attack symptoms like men do. It would be great if we suddenly had crushing chest pain, shortness of breath, profuse sweating and radiating pain down our left arm—just like we see men having heart attacks on TV or in films. Then we would know that this was, indeed, a HEART ATTACK.

But that’s not the case with many women. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about a study where 71% of women had no chest pain at all. Instead, they had flu-like symptoms—they felt fatigued with pain in their jaw or in their shoulder blades. There could also be indigestion, nausea and lightheadedness with little exertion.

So, if you suddenly feel lousy and don’t know how you’re feeling, just get checked. Screw stoic. Worst case scenario? You were wrong and everything is ok! I don’ t think that’s really all that bad, do you?

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Spanish Chicken and Rice


¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 t salt, divided

½ t pepper

4 bone-in, skinless chicken breast halves or chicken thighs

olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped yellow or red pepper

2 garlic clove, minced

1 5-ounce jar of  pimentos, drained and sliced

1 cup uncooked rice

2 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 t ground turmeric

½ t chili powder


Combine flour, ½ t of salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Add chicken and shake until well coated.

Drizzle some olive oil in a skillet and heat. Add chicken and brown over medium heat—about 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken; set aside and cover with foil.

In the same skillet, sauté the onion, yellow/red pepper and garlic until tender, about 3-4 minutes. (You might need to drizzle more olive oil in the pan.)  Add pimientos and rice. Reduce heat; cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the broth, turmeric, chili powder and remaining salt; bring to a boil.

Pour into an ungreased 2-qt. baking dish; top with chicken. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until chicken juices run clear and the rice is tender.

(Adapted from a recipe found from

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We’ve heard often the term “essential fatty acids” or “essential amino acids” but what does the word “essential” really mean? Before I studied nutrition, I thought essential simply meant “important”.  It doesn’t. Essential means that our bodies do not make it so we have to take it in the nutrient through our diets. So, essential fatty acids, such as omega 3’s and omega 6’s, are not produced by the body, which is why we need to eat sources of these (or take supplements) in order to gain the benefits.

The same holds true with amino acids. There are 12 non-essential amino acids. Our bodies make these. (I, of course, always thought that these weren’t as important. Not true.) However, we need to take in 8 essential amino acids in order for this to happen.  This is why vegetarians and vegans have to be careful–if they don’t take in the 8 essential amnio acids, the body then can’t make the 12 non-essential ones.

So, the next time you hear the word “essential” buzzing around, you will now know what it really means.

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When doing nutrition consulting, often people show me what they’re eating and ask “is that healthy”? Here’s how I figure it out.

If it comes from the ground, it’s healthy. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are all healthy. So are lean cuts of meat, poultry, fish and seafood. All of these foods are unprocessed. The tricky part comes when I’m looking at a BOX of something.

To me, processed foods can be viewed as on a spectrum of “healthy”. The first place to look is the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance—the ingredients that are used in the greatest quantities are first, followed, in descending order, by the other ingredients used in smaller amounts. That first ingredient is important. When looking at the ingredients, think about this:

  • Usually, the shorter the list the better.
  • Healthy to me is when you can recognize all the ingredients. I know what honey is but what is trisodium phosphate and what is it doing in my cereal?
  • Look out for the word “enriched”. You will often see this on bread labels. 100% whole wheat flour has vitamins, minerals and fiber. Enriched flour was stripped of these and then added back in. Stick with the 100% whole wheat.

There are products out there that, to me, are “fake healthy”. The first thing that comes to my mind are the Fiber One products.  Don’t get me wrong……….I enjoy Fiber One cereals. However, along with the fiber comes a long list of ingredients, many of which, I can’t recognize. Still, compared to sugary breakfast cereals, this is pretty healthy. However, when compared to the multigrain, oatbran, high fiber cereal that I get at Whole Foods (that has a short, recognizable ingredient list) it doesn’t seem as healthy.

Clearly,  “healthy” is a relative term. Think about this next time you put processed foods in your shopping cart. All “high fiber” crackers are not created equally. Ditto for cereal, bread, snack foods, ice-cream, canned foods, dry rice mixes and salad dressings. The list goes on and on so pay attention.

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