Breakfast Cereal

Cereal: It is the “go-to” breakfast. Whether you pour a bowl at the table in the morning or dump some in a bag as you are running out the door, it is a pretty classic breakfast. In fact, grain-based breakfasts have been found to help people lose weight better than those who eat a traditional eggs, sausage, and toast breakfast.

Unfortunately, those grain-based cereals can be more like sugar-based cereal. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Coco Puffs, and Lucky Charms and even cereals like Kellogg’s Smart Start, Kashi, and Raisin Bran that are all marketed as “healthy” have heaps of sugar in them… sometimes more than a chocolate chip cookie!

I know that makes finding a healthy cereal very confusing, so here are my top 4 tips for choosing a healthy cereal to start your day with.

  1. It should have less than 10g of sugar per serving
  2. At least 3g of fiber per serving
  3. At least 5g of protein per serving
  4. The first ingredient should start with the word whole (ie. Whole wheat, whole grain, etc.)

If your cereal box doesn’t meet all 4 of these, put it back on the shelf and try another one of the other 500 cereals in the aisle. The one exception is protein. If your cereals falls a little short on protein, that is fine, but I would recommend having a side of eggs or low sugar Greek yogurt on the side.

I’ll also mention that portions are a big deal with cereal. The serving size is usually ¾ to 1 cup but we often dump 2-3x that in the bowl. Try measuring out your cereal for a few days. You might be shocked by how much you are actually eating.

Here is a list of some good cereal options:

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Whole Grains

Five weeks (holy cow-I can’t believe it has already been 5 weeks!) of my DI complete and I am finally getting into the swing of things. I have my daily routine down, feel a lot less overwhelmed, and still have time to explore Cleveland and spend a few hours at the grocery store ;).

The highlight of last week was working an outreach table at the outpatient pediatric clinic in the hospital. I spent the day educating patients about the importance of whole grains. I made a poster (which I don’t think I have done since high school), a handout, compiled some recipes, and played a whole grain game with some of the kids. Having quality conversations with some of the parents definitely made me feel like I was making a difference, but playing games with the kids continuously put a smile on my face throughout the day. And even better, not only did I have fun playing with them, they were also able to learn what whole grains were and be introduced to new food items to try! Win-Win!

Since I had the opportunity to teach so many people in the clinic about whole grains, I thought I would share the knowledge here.

Whole grainFirst off…What is a whole grain? You have probably heard of them, but do you really know what they are? A whole grain means that the product contains all three parts of the grain- the germ, endosperm, and bran. White or refined grains only contain the endosperm. The bran and germ are important because they have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats, whereas the endosperm is made mostly of starch.

Whole grains have also been found to prevent stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and constipation. I don’t know about you, but I think those reasons alone are enough to want some whole grains in my everyday meals.

Ok, now that I hopefully have convinced you to eat some whole grains, you have to find them at the store. This can be the tricky part. Lots of packages slap phrases like “100% wheat” and “multi-grain” across the front to pull you in, but these phrases do not mean it is a whole grain. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Check the ingredient list on the box. If a food is a whole grain, the very first word on the ingredient list will be “whole” (ie. Whole wheat flour, whole grain oats, etc.).
  • Words like “brown rice” “bulgur” “quinoa”, “oats” and “wheat berries” listed first in the ingredients also always mean it is a whole grain.
  • Even if the front of the box says “5g of whole grain”, check the ingredients. While it might have some whole grain, if it is not the first ingredient, then the majority of the product is a refined grain.

There are lots of other whole grains including bulgur, millet, farro, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, and rye, which are great for adding to soups and salads or as a side dish. Those sound a little foreign? Try oatmeal or whole grain cereal (like Cheerios) for breakfast. Air-popped popcorn and whole grain crackers (like Wheat Thins) are perfect whole grain snacks. Even using whole grain bread on your lunch sandwich is a step in the right direction.

Making the switch to whole grains can be hard, but small steps can make it easier. A good rule of thumb is the make at least half of the grains you eat each day whole grains. You can also use this as an opportunity to try some new foods!

Here are some pictures from my outreach in the clinic!

Lemon Chia Muffins

Two years in the books! I am not quite sure what I expected when I started blogging, but I never imagined that I would keep it up for this long (I honestly thought it might be one of those novelties that is cool at first but wears off). Either way, I have really enjoyed writing about my food and nutrition experiences.

Just like last year, I thought I would share healthy and lemony recipe to celebrate: Lemon Chia Muffins. Testing out this recipe was just a little more exciting than any other recipe I’ve made. Why, you ask? Because it was the very first thing I ever cooked/baked in my very own apartment! Technically my Blogiversary is August 1, but I was a little busy moving back to Cleveland. There are lots of “firsts” for me this month: first apartment, first day of my Dietetic Internship, and first day of grad school so I am sure I will have lots to share.

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Anyways, back to the muffins. They are packed with tons of nutrients that you wouldn’t find in your typical sugar-filled muffins. The whole wheat flour provides more protein, fiber, iron, and magnesium than white flour. That being said, baking with whole wheat flour makes cakes and muffins a lot more dense and chewy (I thought these tasted great with this texture but it is not your typical crumbly muffin). The chia seeds also pack in some fiber and the Greek yogurt adds protein and calcium.

Each muffin comes in at about 140 calories, only 1g of fat, and 6g of protein (that’s the same as 1-2 egg whites- but tastes much better!).

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Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad

Almost a month and a half into school and two weeks away from midterms, my semester seems to be on a high-speed train and I’m hanging on for dear life. Papers, test, my research job, and Dietetic Internship applications are leaving little time for cooking meals. Instead of trying out new recipes every week, I have been making lots of “salads”. No, I don’t mean lettuce and vegetables. I mean, taking anything I can find that sounds good throwing it in a bowl. Thankfully, the past year or two of working on my culinary skills has helped me figure out what tastes good together and all of my concoctions have turned out pretty well. One was so good that I am writing this post about it.

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I have still kept in the sprit of trying new things by buying a new fruit or vegetable each time I go to the store…my latest obsession: butternut squash (which is fitting with fall weather approaching). I used roasted butternut squash to make a quinoa salad with dried cranberries, spinach, chickpeas, and walnuts. I like to eat is warm, when the butternut squash is fresh out of the oven, but I have had it for lunch at room temperature and it is just as good.

This recipe packs in whole grains (quinoa), fiber (squash), healthy fats (walnuts), some protein (chickpeas) and lots of vitamins and minerals (spinach).

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Bread for Lunch?

This post is a little different. I wanted to share this little anecdote about how studying abroad has changed the way I describe healthy dietary patters- so here I go…

“The buns are in the oven”. This is what my host mom told me around 11:00am on my first day after arriving in Copenhagen. She explained that homemade buns (rundstykker) are a traditional Danish food- which are basically just big bread rolls. Each family has a unique recipe and the fluffier the buns, the better. Around 11:30am she asked me to help set the table. I put out plates, forks, knives along with the butter, jams, cheese, honey, and Nutella she pulled out of the fridge and cupboard. As the fresh buns came out of the oven just a few minutes later, my host parents, their three year old son, and I sat down at the dining room table for what I thought was a little, traditional mid-morning snack. My host mom cut the buns in half and passed them around the table until we each had a hot bun on our plate. We all helped ourselves to the toppings in the middle of the table easily spreading them as they melted over the warm crumbly surface. For the next hour or so, we sat around the table talking and getting to know each other. I had a total of one and a half buns, as I didn’t want to fill up on bread before lunch—even though they were delicious and I could have had many more. Over the course of the hour that we sat there, my host mom and dad had three or four buns each and continuously offered me more. When they finally finished cutting, spreading, and eating each bun and our conversation had come to a breaking point we cleared the table and washed the dishes. I went to my room to finish unpacking my luggage and take a nap to catch up on my jet lag. I was expecting a nice hot lunch to be ready when I woke up an hour later. Much to my surprise, I woke up from my nap with no food in sight. I didn’t want to ask my host parents when our next meal was because I was starting to get the feeling that lunch was the buns that we had had earlier. As the clock neared 3:00pm and my stomach started to grumble, I went in the kitchen and grabbed an apple to hold me over until dinner. Fast forward to the evening when I went to pack my lunch for Monday, my host mom suggested that I take some leftover buns with butter and cheese for lunch. It finally clicked! Apparently that meal of bread, butter, and cheese was actually a typical Danish lunch. I began to have a slight internal panic attack when I realized that I would be having a light, bread-filled, and protein-lacking lunch for an entire semester.

Among other things, getting used these light Danish lunches (which are almost always filled with bread) was has been a major food obstacles that I have had to overcome since coming to Denmark. Coming from living in a university apartment where I can buy and eat whatever I want (I try not to eat lots of processed food and simple sugars/grains), to not being able to choose what food is in the house and becoming accustomed to eating bread at every single meal has not been easy.

Now, almost two months into my new Danish eating habits, I actually have a newfound appreciation for the diet patterns. At first, it was difficult to overcome the uncomfortable feeling of eating mostly bread for lunch, but I have actually discovered that eating nut and seed filled rye bread actually fills me up quickly and keeps me full throughout the day. These rye breads with lots of nuts and seeds, which are very common in Denmark, have a lot more nutrients—including some protein—than most bread in the long American grocery store aisles. I have had to add an American touch by having peanut butter on my rye bread to make up for some of the protein and healthy fats I am lacking during lunch, but other than that, I have realized that the Danes actually are not crazy just having bread and some toppings for lunch. It has taken some getting use to but I now feel good about eating all of the wholesome grains in bread for lunch every day.

Eight weeks ago, when I realized I would be having bread for lunch everyday, I nearly had a panic attack. I would have never predicted that, today, I actually look forward to my rye bread sandwich everyday for lunch. As a nutrition major at school and an aspiring dietitian, it is fascinating to learn about the various eating patterns of people around the world. Throughout my education, I have always been taught that bread is full of empty calories and should not be the main part of any meal. Not only has living in Denmark given me new cultural experiences, but it has also changed how I look at diet choices of those in different counties and given me a fresh perspective on what healthy eating is defined as.

Study Abroad Update
It has been 3 days since returning from Riga, Helsinki, and Stockholm and had some really interesting (but some boring) lectures on health care. It is definitely interesting to see how cultural differences (such as Latvia’s conservative views on HIV/AIDS and family planning) can have such a large impact on the health care that is (or is not) provided to the citizens. Some unique food experiences on my trip included traditional Swedish meatballs (which were delicious) and reindeer (which was not so delicious)!

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Tomorrow will take me to Dublin, Ireland for the weekend as my next stop in this amazing adventure!

Black Bean Pasta

Pasta. It is a staple in many diets. I grew up eating buttered noodles and my love for pasta never really went away. Unfortunately, pasta is filled with tons on empty calories (calories that have little or no nutritional value). All of the simple carbohydrates that are quickly and easily digested make blood sugar spike and then drop. This is what causes you to be hungry an hour or two after a big bowl of spaghetti.

Black bean pasta have become my favorite alternatives to regular, nutrient poor pasta. The only two ingredients are black beans and water, meaning no crazy additives or chemical preservatives. They are high in protein and fiber packing in almost 50% of your daily value of fiber per serving.

Also, compared to an equal amount of regular white pasta, black bean pasta have less than half the amount of carbs. For people who are on a low carb diet or have diabetes, this makes black bean pasta a great option.

Black Bean Noodles

Aside for all the great nutrients in black bean pasta, guess what the best part is? They taste great! I even like the black bean pasta better than regular pasta. They are cooked the same way and can be enjoyed in the same ways too. My favorite is with a drizzle of olive oil and grilled vegetables.

I use the “Explore Asian” brand. They are a little hard to find but you can buy them on their website. I have also recently discovered edamame pasta by the same brand and am looking forward to trying them!

Copenhagen, here I come! + blood sugar

Three weeks into school and I am knee-deep in homework, reading, and tests, but today was a surprising break from the daily grind. As I sat in my human nutrition class learning how various types of fiber influence blood glucose levels, an email notification popped up on the side of my computer screen. I usually ignore my emails during class, but this one couldn’t wait. The subject read “DIS Spring 2016 Registration Information”, and I nearly jumped out of my seat.

I was accepted to study abroad at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen next semester!

It has been a stressful two weeks since they received my application, waiting to hear their decision. Every time my phone vibrated this week, I anxiously hoped that it would be the email with my admission decision. Finally the anticipation is over and the countdown until I leave begins (Only 126 days, but who is counting?).

With all of the excitement, I could barely comprehend what the professor lectured on, but I did catch a few things about fiber. In many of my recipe posts, I discuss how high fiber foods are good at keeping you satisfied for long periods of time, but fiber also has other benefits. The one we focused on in class today was fibers impact on blood sugar.

I’ll try to keep this simple, but here is how it works:

  1. Food is consumed and the sugars are absorbed from the digestive system into the blood (blood sugar goes up)
  2. Insulin binds to the sugar in the blood and brings it into the cells (blood sugar goes down)

Having consistently high blood sugar (from eating lots of sugary foods) causes lots of insulin production. Too much insulin all of the time can cause the cells to become desensitized to insulin. This is a form of diabetes because the insulin is not able to reduce blood sugar levels.

How do you prevent this from happening?

One option is fiber (especially soluble fiber)!! When consuming a high fiber diet, nutrient absorption is slowed down, which means there are lower amounts of sugar in the blood after eating a meal. This also means less insulin is needed to absorb the sugar.

So make sure you get your daily dose of 28-35 grams of fiber per day (the average American eats less than half of that). Keeping blood sugar low is the key to managing the insulin response and reducing your risk for diabetes!

Here are some good sources of soluble fiber:
Broccoli
Carrots
Beans
Peas
Sweet Potato
Apples
Plums
Berries

*Note that intake of fiber does not cure diabetes, nor does it allow you to eat unlimited sugar, it just allows your body to have a healthier response to high sugar foods.

P.S. Look out for posts about my study abroad adventure as we get closer to my departure!