Gardening Can Keep You and Your Family Healthy!

By Joanne DeMarchi, MA, RD, IBCLC, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Backyards can be transformed into fruit and vegetable gardens in a few simple steps.  This is a great family activity that has long lasting results.  The food you grow in your backyard is nearly free, fresher than anything you buy at the farmers market and can be perpetual.  Since April is National Gardening month it is the perfect time to start planting!

First, find a place in your yard that gets good sun.  If there is only a small part of the yard that does, buy pots and plant into containers.  Next, decide what you want to plant.  Perhaps choose 2-3 vegetables and 1-2 fruits. One tradition to start is every Mother’s Day plant a fruit tree or other edible plant.  Over time it is wonderful to watch them grow and go into the yard when you need fresh berries, salad greens, a lemon or to pick a fresh orange!

Next, soil counts.  The healthier your soil the healthier and larger your produce yield.  Many gardens in southern California need nutrients added to their soil.  Best advice is to go to your local garden center and ask for expert help.  Another great way to improve your soil and the environment is starting a compost pile.  Compost adds healthy organic nutrients to your garden soil. To start a compost pile, watch this short video from the Sierra Club

Eating more fruits and vegetables (from your garden or in general) is one of the recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research.  In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals demonstrate anti-cancer effects.  Yet evidence suggests it is the synergy of compounds working together in the overall diet that offers the strongest cancer protection.  Therefore, choosing fruits and vegetables rather than supplements is recommended.  These bright, healthy, colorful foods contain phytochemicals and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene and folic acid.  

When planning meals, aim to fill at least 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans.  When fruit and vegetable intake goes up and replaces higher calorie, less nutrient dense foods, body weight improves.  Increased body fat increases the risk of seven cancers; esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, endometrium, kidney, postmenopausal breast and gallbladder.

If starting a backyard garden is too big of a plan, consider growing an herb garden.  No meal is complete without fresh herbs.  Most garden centers have herbs in small pots and finding a sunny window is all that is required.  Growing basil for your tomato and mozzarella salad or rosemary to sprinkle on fish and roasted sweet potatoes turns ordinary into extraordinary and you get all the credit!

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It’s National Nutrition Month – “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day”

By Kelsey Vaughn, RD, CHOC Children’s clinical dietitian

This March is the 40th anniversary of National Nutrition Month, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages you to “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.” The theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month asks you to take a look at how your meals compare to current MyPlate standards and emphasizes that it is possible for all people to make foods choices that promote optimal health. This month is the perfect time to reflect on how you can “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day”.

The MyPlate logo (pictured here) was launched in June 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture , replacing  the MyPyramid logo previously seen on  food labels. MyPlate is a more visual way of demonstrating what eating healthy can look like and encourages us to choose foods from a variety of food groups to promote a balanced diet.

Eating the MyPlate way ensures we will better meet our vitamin and mineral needs with our daily food choices and promotes caloric balance by emphasizing portion control. The following food groups make up MyPlate: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Fruits and Vegetables:
One quarter of MyPlate is portioned for fruits, and vegetables fill another quarter of the plate. Together, fruits and vegetables make up half the plate. Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients and are low in calories. By filling half our plate with these foods, we are able to get adequate amounts of the essential vitamins and minerals that help keep our skin, nails and hair healthy and our immune system strong while not going overboard on calories.

Grains take up the third quarter of MyPlate. Pasta, cereals, bread, tortillas and other grain products help us to further meet our nutrient and fiber needs. Fiber is important to digestive health, and MyPlate emphasizes choosing whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat bread that are rich in fiber for maximum health benefits.

The final quarter of the plate is reserved for protein.  Most Americans consume more than enough protein to meet their needs, so MyPlate emphasizes portion control by recommending only ¼ of our plate be filled with protein and allowing the remaining ¾ of our plate to be filled with other food groups. MyPlate encourages both lean animal proteins and plant sources of protein. Poultry, pork, fish, lean red meats, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are a few excellent protein sources.

The glass on the side of MyPlate represents a serving of dairy. Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are great sources of calcium, which is important for bone health.  Incorporate dairy into each meal of the day for adequate calcium intake.

We all have individual food preferences that are shaped by our family, culture, traditions and lifestyle. Despite our personal food preferences, we can all eat healthy, balanced meals each day by using the MyPlate guidelines. We don’t have to give up our favorite foods to eat healthy; ALL foods can fit into a healthy diet when consumed in moderation and in appropriate portion sizes.  Salad

Below are a few examples that highlight how a variety of foods can fit with MyPlate guidelines:

• Beans with rice and mixed vegetables (protein, grain, vegetable) , topped with cheese (dairy) and served with a side of mango (fruit)

• Small chicken breast (protein) served with large green salad topped with berries (vegetable, fruit) and served with a whole wheat roll (grain) and a glass of low-fat milk (dairy)

• Whole grain pasta with marinara sauce (with added vegetables such as mushrooms and onions) and lean ground beef (grain, vegetable, protein) served with green beans (vegetable) and low-fat cottage cheese topped with pineapple (dairy, fruit)

Take a look at how your plate compares with MyPlate recommendations this National Nutrition Month. Incorporate your preferred fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low fat dairy products at meal times so each meal can be a step toward better health!

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Get Back On Track With Oatmeal!

By Jan Skaar, RD, CSP, CNSC, CLE, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

After all the rich foods and sweets we may have indulged in over the holidays, it’s the perfect time to think about how we can get back on track to healthier eating habits.

January has long been considered national oatmeal month because we buy and eat more oatmeal during this month than any other time of the year! Oatmeal, in any form, is a whole grain, meaning it contains all three parts of the grain: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Refined grains have the bran and the germ removed in processing, which removes much of the fiber, iron and B vitamin content. Studies have shown multiple health benefits to diets higher in whole grains. Look for the 100% whole grain yellow stamp on the product label when choosing breads and grains. This stamp signifies that each serving contains at least 16gms of whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating half or more of your grains as whole grains or 3 servings of 100% whole grains per day (48gms).

Oats are more popular than ever and there are many different forms available. Steel cut oats, also called pinhead or Irish oats, are made by cutting the oat groats (the oat kernel with the hull removed) into tiny pieces with steel blades. It has a course texture, with a chewier result, and has a lower glycemic index than rolled oats. Scottish oats are ground into a meal, giving it a creamier texture. Steel cut and Scottish oats take the longest to cook, up to 30 minutes.

Rolled oats, or old-fashioned oats, are steamed and flattened between rollers. Quick-cooking oats are rolled oats that are pressed thinner and made into smaller pieces to allow quicker cooking. Instant oats are rolled thin, cooked and dried again, making them the quickest cooking. They also have added salt, sugar and flavorings. Oats are inherently gluten-free, however can be contaminated with wheat in processing, so look for gluten-free oat products if you need to eliminate gluten from your diet.

So whether you choose steel cut oats, rolled oats, quick cooking or instant, it makes good sense for your health and for your budget to start incorporating oatmeal as part of your regular diet. Here are 10 good reasons why:

1. Heart health-oats were the first specific whole grain recognized by the FDA to help reduce cholesterol. The FDA-approved health claim states that there is significant scientific agreement that 3 grams of soluble fiber from oatmeal daily as part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
2. Blood glucose control-diets high in whole grains help improve insulin sensitivity, decreasing the risk of type II diabetes.
3. Weight management-the soluble fiber in oatmeal absorbs water, forms a gel, delaying gastric emptying and increasing satiety, helping control over-eating.
4. Improved digestion-increased fiber intake can reduce constipation and the need for laxatives
5. Blood pressure control-studies have shown diets higher in soluble fiber helped reduce systolic and pulse pressure, decreasing the risk of CVD.
6. Decreased risk of some cancers-a diet high in fiber may reduce  the risk of colon, rectal and breast cancers.
7. Improved immunity-beta-glucans in soluble fiber have been shown to help boost the defenses of the immune system against bacteria and viruses.
8. Improved alertness and school performance-researchers at Tuft’s University studied results of tests given to school children comparing performance after a breakfast containing oatmeal, a breakfast containing refined cereals, or skipping breakfast. Test performance and memory were higher after eating the breakfast containing oatmeal.
9. You probably already have oatmeal in your cupboard!
10. Best nutritional value for the price! – at $0.16 per serving, in comparison to other common breakfast selections, we get more soluble fiber, and less fat, sodium and calories.

Although many of you may already enjoy jazzing up your morning hot oatmeal with a variety of fruit, nuts, spices and sweeteners, you may be someone who just doesn’t like the hot gooey form.  Try one the following recipes as an alternative and start reaping the benefits of oatmeal for the New Year!

Best Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes Ever!
1 heaping cup old-fashioned or rolled oats
1 1/4cup lowfat milk
1 cup wheat flour
1/4tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 TB brown sugar
2 whole eggs
2 TB safflower or sunflower oil
1 container (6oz) fresh (or frozen) blueberries

Soak rolled oats in milk for ~5min. Set aside. Combine remaining dry ingredients through brown sugar. Set aside. Whisk eggs and oil together then add to milk and oat mixture. Add in dry ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon. Fold in blueberries. Cook on hot griddle until lightly browned on both sides and cooked through. These freeze well and can be popped in the toaster for a quick breakfast. Blueberries make them sweet enough so you may not want any syrup! (You can also experiment with using 1-2 TB ground flax seed for a portion of the wheat flour).

Awesome Strawberry Oatmeal Smoothie       
1 cup light soy milk
½ cup old-fashioned or rolled oats
1 peeled sliced banana
14 frozen strawberries
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp granulated sugar

Place oats in a blender or food processor. Pulse until oatmeal is ground fine. Add soy milk, banana, strawberries until well blended. Add the vanilla and sugar if desired. Blend until smooth. Makes 2 servings. Makes a fast “out the door” breakfast for yourself or your teenager!

Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal Squares
2 cups rolled oats
1 ½ cups fat-free milk or soymilk
½ cup egg substitute or egg whites
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 TB melted butter or margarine
½  tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups chopped apple

Mix milk, brown sugar, egg substitute/whites, margarine and cinnamon together. In another bowl, combine oats and baking powder. Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl with the oats, add the apples and mix well. Spoon the mixture into a 8 x 8 inch pan coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes until top is firm and toothpick comes out clean in the center. Makes a tasty breakfast, snack or even a dessert (great served warm with ice cream!)

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Happy Holidays – Let the (Healthy) Feasting Begin!

By CHOC Children’s clinical nutritionists,  Katherine Phillips, MPH, RD, Rima Kandalaft, MS, RD, CSP and Caroline Steele, MS, RD, CSP, IBCLC.

Tis the season for spending time with family and friends, making memories, attending fabulous holiday parties…and for trying new foods! Yes, that’s right! Why not treat you and your loved ones (and your taste buds) to a food you have never tried. December is the perfect time to try something new and perhaps it will become a new holiday tradition. And what better way to decorate with red and green than by adding a variety of rich-colored fruits and vegetables to your holiday table?

Here are a few suggestions for some new and exciting foods to add to your holiday feast:

Chia Seeds: Originating in South America, chia was a staple in the diets of ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The tiny seeds of the chia plant can be eaten right out of the bag, sprinkled on hot cereal and used in baking. Similar to flaxseed, they are a high quality source of Omega 3 and fiber. And yes, that Chia pet you bought people for Christmas in the 1990s, was the same chia seed you can now add to your pantry! Check out the following website for some chia seed recipes:

Quinoa (Keen-wah): Quinoa is a grain-like crop that originated in the Andean Region of South America where it was domesticated for human consumption approximately 4,000 years ago. Quinoa is cooked similar to couscous and rice, but unlike these grains, quinoa contains essential amino acids and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus and iron.  Vegetables and seasonings can be added to quinoa to make a wide range of tasty dishes. Quinoa can also serve as a high-protein breakfast food when mixing with honey, berries, or almonds. Check out the following website for cooking with quinoa ideas:

Pomegranate: Although native to the Middle East region, pomegranate is also grown in many places around the world such as the Mediterranean, Africa, and even here in California. The pomegranate is about the size of a grapefruit and when open, contains small red edible seeds called arils, which deliver a sweet, slightly tangy taste. Pomegranate seeds are high in antioxidants, Vitamin C, potassium, fiber and low in calories. Sprinkle them on your salad, add them to your cranberry sauce, or mix them into a morning breakfast shake.  Check out the following website for more recipe ideas:

Edamame (e-da-ma-me): Edamame is a fancy name for young soy beans steamed in their pod. Popular in its native Asian cuisine, the little green lima bean-looking beans are packed with protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin C and iron. Edamame can be eaten alone (boiled or steamed with a touch of sea salt) or added to a variety of dishes for extra nutrition. Check out the following website for ways to add this fun healthy bean to your diet:

Consider trying these new recipes to get your red and green!

Holiday Cranberry-Kale Salad: 
½ cup  dried cranberries
8 cups  chopped kale
1 cup  cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted

PLACE cranberries in small bowl. Add enough boiling water to cover cranberries; let stand 10 min. or until softened.
DRAIN cranberries; place in large bowl. Add kale and tomatoes; mix lightly.
WHISK dressing, sugar and mustard. Add to salad; toss to coat.
TOP with nuts.
Makes 8 (1 cup) servings.  110 Calories, 5 g fat, and 2 g fiber per serving

Pomegranate, Green Bean, and Jicama Salad:
2 pomegranates
1 medium jicama
1 pound green bean, trimmed
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Roll one of the pomegranates, without cutting, on a work surface to burst interior seeds. When “popping” has stopped, carefully pierce fruit with a knife or ice pick and squeeze out juice. You need 1/4 cup. Peel and cut jicama into 1/4 inch-thick slices. Stack slices, 2 or 3 at a time, and cut into 1/4 inch-thick sticks. In a bowl, toss jicama with pomegranate juice. Cover and chill, tossing occasionally, 30 minutes to allow jicama to absorb some of the juice. Cut remaining pomegranate into sections, cutting from top to bottom. In a large bowl half filled with water, roll out the seeds with your fingers. Discard skin and membranes and strain.

Cook green beans in boiling salted water for two minutes, until just tender but still crisp. Transfer beans with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain beans in a colander.

Add beans, pomegranate seeds, parsley, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to jicama mixture. Toss to combine. Sprinkle with walnuts and serve.

Per Serving: 200 calories, 6g total fat, 12 g fiber

Consider making this holiday season a time to both enjoy some of your old favorites and start incorporating new items.  You never know what new food will be tomorrow’s “old favorite!”

Seasons Greetings and Seasons Eatings!

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Show Me the Veggies! It’s National Vegetarian Awareness Month!

October is National Vegetarian Month. Vanessa Chrisman, RD, CLE, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s, sheds some light on the vegeterian diet.

“I’m a flexitarian. I’m vegan. I’m pescaterian. I’m vegetarian – I eat chicken only. I’m on the see-food diet. I’m on the paleo diet. I’m on the raw food diet. I’m on the carb-lovers diet.” People describe their eating styles/diets in a variety of ways & new fad diets are popping up all the time. This month – we focus on the vegetarian diet since October is National Vegetarian Awareness Month. October 1st kicks off this theme as the official World Vegetarian Day.

So what exactly is a vegetarian? The most commonly known type is the lacto-ovo vegetarian. They exclude beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish or animal flesh of any kind from their diet but they do eat eggs & dairy products. Lacto-vegetarians exclude beef, pork, poultry, fish, seafood, & eggs but will consume dairy products. Ovo-vegetarians exclude beef, pork, poultry, fish, seafood, & dairy products but will eat eggs.

The strictest type of vegetarian is known as a vegan who avoids all types of animal flesh, fish, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, as well as animal by-products such as gelatin & honey. The key to any vegetarian diet is that it is plant-based (not flesh-based). A well-balanced vegetarian diet is typically rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.

Currently, it is estimated that over 400+ million people world-wide follow a vegetarian diet. People choose the vegetarian lifestyle for a variety of reasons. Some follow a vegetarian diet because they want to live longer healthier lives and/or they want to preserve the Earth’s natural resources. Others may choose the vegetarian lifestyle for spiritual reasons or because they love animals & are ethically opposed to eating them. The vegetarian diet used to be considered more of a fad, but more & more research has shown numerous health & environmental benefits from following a plant-based diet.

So – what are the health benefits? According to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, vegetarian diets are associated with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure levels, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower risk of hypertension, & lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians also tend to have lower body mass indexes (with lower obesity risk) & lower overall cancer rates. This is because a vegetarian diet is typically low in saturated fat & cholesterol, and is often higher in fiber, flavonoids, vitamin C & E, potassium, magnesium, carotenoids, & other antioxidants/phytochemicals. Many protective foods come from plants & can help prevent the onset of chronic diseases. It is important to consume a variety of different plant foods to get the full health benefits from this diet.

Interested in the vegetarian lifestyle? Here are some easy ways to incorporate more plant foods into your diet:

1) Go meat-free one day a week

2) Anack on dried fruits & nuts instead of candy

3) Make spaghetti using less meat (or soy meatballs) and add more veggies to the sauce

4) Grow a small veggie garden at home

5) Let your children pick out produce and help in the kitchen

6) Add grated carrot/zucchini/apple to muffin recipes

7) Replace meat in recipes with beans, tofu, lentils, or other meat alternatives

8) Be adventurous by trying new plant foods and new recipes! Make it a family affair.

Happy Vegetarian Awareness Month!

Some Helpful Websites:  or

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