Archive for December, 2010

Beat the Bug

Posted: December 29, 2010 by amygilman in Nutrition Conversations

Take charge with this flu season and fight back with healthy eating and immune fighting nutrients.  Check out this week’s article at the website.  All articles are written by Registered Dietitians.


Diabetes and New Year’s Eve

Posted: December 27, 2010 by amygilman in Nutrition Q & Amy

I am a Nutrition Editor at, a website designed to help people with diabetes.  Here is a question I recently received:


“I have recently been diagnosed with diabetes and my wife has pre-diabetes. New Year’s Eve we always have a large celebration with cocktails and lots of food. We are growing weary of the party this year given my new diagnosis. Any tips on how we can still enjoy the party?”


I understand your anxiety and weariness about celebrating New Year’s Eve. Here are a few ideas to make it a cheerful and enjoyable one. This is a great time to review the past year’s accomplishments and joys and to set new goals for the upcoming year. Managing diabetes is a great goal and does not have to be put on hold for New Year’s Eve.

Try incorporating a new tradition into your celebration. For example, find a healthy recipe for an hors d’oeuvre. Fill most of your plate with your healthy dish and then take small samples of other food. Check your local grocery store for healthy cooking magazines or cookbooks, or do a Google search if you need recipe ideas.

Drink plenty of water. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially before the celebration begins. It will make you feel fuller and may help prevent eating or drinking too much. For example, if you usually average about 6 glasses of water per day, try drinking 8 glasses the day of the party.

Alcohol with food. Drinking alcohol without eating may cause hypoglycemia and can last for 8-12 hours after the last drink. If you are going to drink, do so in moderation and definitely consume food with your drink. Alcohol is probably not the best choice of drink for people with diabetes. However, it IS New Year’s Eve and it’s a night that is usually centered around alcohol, so I feel I should mention it (just trying to be realistic).  I will list the guidelines just so we are all on the same page.  By definition, moderation is 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.

As for dessert? Enjoy a sliver of your favorite dessert. The key to New Year’s Eve is going to be portion control for you and your wife. Try taking larger portions of vegetables and smaller portions of higher fat/higher carbohydrate meals.

Timing. Many people eat small meals throughout the day, spaced apart by 2-3 hours. A suggestion might be to stick to this routine at the party. Eat a small meal when you get there, mingle about, and then come back a few hours later for another small meal. This will help keep your blood sugar stabilized.

Exercise. Of course I have to mention exercise.  Get plenty of activity in the day of the party.  Exercise helps lower blood glucose levels by moving it out of the blood and into the muscles.  It also helps to boost your mood and your confidence so you can go to the party and be ready to take control of what you put in your body.

Thank you for the question. I wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

Diabetes and Holiday Sweets

Posted: December 20, 2010 by The Vegetarian Barbarian in Nutrition Q & Amy

I am a Nutrition Editor at, a website designed to help people with diabetes.  Here is a question I recently received:


I have diabetes and this time of year is the toughest for me.  It seems holiday treats/sweets are everywhere tempting me!  Is it ok to indulge a little?  If not, how can I build up enough will power to avoid holiday sweets?”


Treats and sweets are very tempting, I agree.  Everyone has a food weakness of some kind.  Everyone likes to indulge a little.  And to add to that tempting treat staring you in the eyes, if you’re like me, you may experience feelings of guilt saying no to the host. Some people find it disrespectful when you turn their food down.  Perhaps they have been preparing the indulgence for hours or days and now you tell them “no” you can’t have it.  Doesn’t make a very merry scenario for anyone.

There is hope for this time of year. It comes down to one word:  Planning, planning, planning (ok maybe three words).  Does it sound like a lot of work? Maybe.  But you get the reward of having sweets, while staying happy and healthy.    Here are my planning tips.  Keep a journal of your foods, plan your day out, drink plenty of fluids, mingle about, and enjoy.  Let’s go over these tips in more detail:

JOURNAL:  Start a food journal if you haven’t started one already.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant.  My journal is simple.  I eat about 5 small meals a day.  I write the time I ate and a quick estimate of the serving sizes (e.g.; ¾ c cereal, 1/4c fresh fruit, etc).  Then at the end of the day I tally what I ate (e.g.; # of carbohydrates, # of non-starchy vegetables, # of fruits, etc).  I scribble all of this in a notebook and it’s fast and simple and it keeps me on track.   It’s amazing how a simple task like this can make a huge difference when you actually see on paper what you are consuming.  Don’t forget to journal things that many people forget to count, such as “tasting” food while cooking or quick snacks.  These can add up (especially when people are “tasting” a full serving size of their dish).  There are plenty of resources on line to keep track of your food intake (such as or many people use phone apps.  For me, it is fastest to write it down.  You may find a phone app to be the easiest.  Find the resource that works best for you.

PLANNING:  Ok, you have your journal.  Now plan your day out.  Days that I have to be up really early (4:15am) I will plan and portion my meals the night before. If I wake up at a more reasonable hour, I like to plan and portion my meals in the morning before work.  I will pack a lunch and snacks and make sure that I have enough food to be able to eat a small meal every 3-4 hours.  If you don’t have time to pack your food for the day, have an idea in mind as to where you are going to be for the day and where you can get healthy meals/snacks.  For example, if you are going to the cafeteria at work for lunch, look at the menu for the day and pick a healthy option.

Always eat before a function.  For a weekday office luncheon, eat one of your small snacks before the luncheon (i.e.; yogurt and 1oz of nuts) and order something healthy and light like a salad at the luncheon.  Plan your carbohydrates out so that you can have half of a portion of your favorite indulgence for dessert.

FLUIDS:  For a weekend-evening party, eat sensible throughout the day and drink plenty of water.  This will help you fell fuller longer and it’s good for you.

MINGLE:  When you get to the party, mingle for a while and then go for your indulgence.  It’s a party, so make it your number one priority to catch up with people rather than having food being the main event.  Make sure you have a portion of your indulgence that fits with your carbohydrate needs for that meal.  For example if you are allowed 60g of carbohydrates for dinner, incorporate your indulgence without going over that amount.  Here is an exchange list from the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association to help you calculate how many carbohydrates are in items such as sweets and desserts:

Brownie, small unfrosted 1 ¼ inch square, 7/8 inch high (about 1oz) 1 carbohydrate (15g) + 1 fat
Angel food cake, unfrosted 1/12 of cake (about 2oz) 2 carbohydrates (30g)
Cake, frosted 2-inch square (about 2oz) 2 carbohydrates (30g)  + 1 fat
Cake, unfrosted 2-inch square (about 2oz) 1 carbohydrate (15g)  + 1 fat
Cookies, chocolate chip 2 cookies (2 /14 inches across) 1 carbohydrate (15g) + 2 fat
Cupcake, frosted 1 small (about 1 ¾oz) 2 carbohydrates (15g) + 1-1 ½  fats
Pie, commercially prepared fruit, 2 crusts 1/5 of 8-inch pie 3 carbohydrates (45g)  + 2 fats
Sweet roll or Danish 1 (2 ½oz) 2 carbohydrates (30g) + 2 fats

*NOTE – From the example above for a 60g carbohydrate meal – if you had your heart set on having a piece of pie, you would only consume 15g of carbohydrates at dinner (because the pie slice is 45g carbohydrates).  Desserts that only count as one carbohydrate, allows you to have a larger dinner with 45 grams of carbohydrates which may be more satisfying.

The main goal is to try to eat a healthy meal plan during the week and enjoy your tasty favorite treat/sweet at the holiday party.  A healthy meal plan includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and water.  Be active throughout the holidays.  Exercise helps to lower blood sugar. (different types of exercise and how to get started if you’re not on a plan already  is whole other blog).

In summary, the answer to your question is: yes it is ok to “indulge a little”, just be sensible and no, I do not believe in “will power”, I believe the trick to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is “planning.”

Enjoy all foods this holiday season, just don’t overdo it.  Happy Holidays!

Thank you for the question.  I enjoyed the opportunity to spread holiday indulgence success tips.

Pregnancy: Eating for Two but Pooping For None… Help!

Posted: December 18, 2010 by The Vegetarian Barbarian in Nutrition Q & Amy

Today we have a question about pregnancy and constipation.  Ah, the wonders of motherhood.  Here is the question:

“I am pregnant and having a terrible problem with constipation.  Is there some kind of food or something that I can eat every day that would help this situation?”

I can offer you a definitive maybe.

Constipation is very common for pregnant women.  Maybe that makes you feel better about the situation?  Let me explain the reasons why this might be happening to you and offer some suggestions to get things moving along.

5 Reasons the Pipes Get Clogged

  1. Hormonal Changes (Progesterone)
  2. Dietary Habits* (e.g. Inadequate Fiber)
  3. Diet/Nutritional Supplements
  4. Fluid Intake
  5. Stress

Let’s break down each one of these topics:

Hormonal Changes

As you have likely learned in either your own reading or in pregnancy classes, Progesterone is an important hormone that must be produced by the ovary for the first 8 weeks of pregnancy.  From the 9th week on, the placenta takes over its production.  Why is it important (in case you missed that class day)?  Well, Progesterone provides safe maintenance of pregnancy.   Without it, a pregnancy will fail.  Right, so it’s really important that we have it and… it causes constipation.  That’s a great deal, right? Progesterone levels in your body increase dramatically during the duration of the pregnancy which helps to relax the uterine muscle allowing your baby to grow.  This also decreases the movement of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract for the mother and causes constipation.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic food to compensate for this; I just wanted to give you some facts to help you understand what is happening in the body.

Dietary Habits:

Now we can talk about food fixes.  Pregnant or not we all know the jokes about eating lots of fiber.  Eating foods high in fiber is recommended because fiber grabs a bunch of stuff from the intestine and ships it out of the GI tract, which increases fecal volume (opposite of constipation).  In quick summation of the pertinent facts: fiber in, poop out.  I can get into a lengthy blog about fiber, but I will save that for another day.  The Cliff Notes version of fiber is that there are two types; insoluble and soluble.  I will only talk about insoluble here because that is the one that will help with constipation. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole wheat/whole grain breads, bran cereal, vegetables, and fruits.  See the table below for specifics:


Foods with at Least 4 g Fiber per Serving
Food Group Choose
Grains ⅓ – ½ cup high-fiber cereals. Check Nutrition Facts labels and choose products with 4 g dietary fiber or more per serving
Dried beans and peas ½ cup cooked red beans, kidney beans, large lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, white beans, lentils, or black-eyed peas
Vegetables 1 artichoke (cooked)
Fruits ½ cup blackberries or raspberries 4 prunes (dried


Foods with 1g to 3g Fiber per Serving
Food Group Choose
Grains 1 bagel (3.5-inch diameter)

1 slice whole wheat, cracked wheat, pumpernickel, or rye


2-inch square cornbread

4 whole wheat crackers

1 bran, blueberry, cornmeal, or English muffin

½ cup cereal with 1-3 g fiber per serving (check dietary

fiber on the product’s Nutrition Facts label)

2 Tablespoons bran, rice, or wheat cereal

2 Tablespoons wheat germ or whole wheat flour

Vegetables ½ cup bean sprouts (raw)

½ cup beets (diced, canned)

½ cup broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cabbage  (cooked)

½ cup carrots

½ cup cauliflower

½ cup corn

½ cup eggplant

½ cup okra (boiled)

½ cup potatoes (baked or mashed)

½ cup spinach, kale, or turnip greens (cooked)

½ cup squash—winter, summer, or zucchini (cooked)

½ cup sweet potatoes or yams

½ cup tomatoes (canned)

Fruits 1 apple (3-inch diameter) or ½ cup applesauce

½ cup apricots (canned)

1 banana

½ cup cherries (canned or fresh)

½ cup cranberries (fresh)

3 dates (whole)

2 medium figs (fresh)

½ cup fruit cocktail (canned)

½ grapefruit

1 kiwi fruit

1 orange (2½-inch diameter)

1 peach (fresh) or ½ cup peaches (canned)

1 pear (fresh) or ½ cup pears (canned)

1 plum (2-inch diameter)

¼ cup raisins

½ cup strawberries (fresh)

1 tangerine

Other 2 Tablespoons almonds or peanuts

1 cup popcorn (popped)

The general recommendation for pregnant women is to get about 28g of fiber per day.  I would suggest spreading your fiber intake throughout the day and not dumping all 28g into your system at once.

Diet/Nutritional Supplements:

Many women run the risk of being iron deficient.  Pregnant or not you may need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement to correct for this deficiency and to reduce the risk of becoming anemic.  What’s that mean exactly?  Well, your body creates new red blood cells every day and iron helps build “strong” blood.  Additionally, iron enriched blood carries oxygen more efficiently to all parts of the body.  If you are oxygen deprived you may feel tired, weak, and generally cranky.  While pregnant, your baby is depending on you to give them iron for brain function.  Unfortunately, a possible side-effect of iron supplementation is (you guessed it) constipation.  I suggest speaking with your health care provider for further instruction and detail.

Fluid Intake:

Dehydration and constipation not only rhyme – they’re related!

We should all drink eight to ten glasses of fluid (mainly water) daily.  This can fluctuate due to many factors.  Just like anything else, your needs are determined by your circumstances.  A body’s size, environmental conditions, and average daily fluid intake all need to be analyzed to accurately determine correct proper hydration.  I wouldn’t suggest a drastic or sudden change either.  For example, if your average fluid intake is one glass a day, I would gradually increase it over time (by a cup or two per week) to get to 10 glasses per day.  Give your body time to adjust.


I’m stressed out that you’re constipated during your pregnancy; I can only imagine how you feel!

Stress may play a factor with pregnancy.  A physically active pregnancy may help reduce stress and may help speed things along in the GI tract.  Take a walk or try other low-intensity exercises.

Eat and drink well and you just might be saved from yourself.

The general rule of thumb for a healthy diet is when you look at your plate, does it have half a plate (50%) of vegetables, quarter of a plate (25%) of a lean protein, and another quarter plate (25%) of grain?  Think about your eating habits.  I’ll touch on this again in more detail… at another blogging date.

For now, let’s see if we can get your bowels movin’ and a groovin’ by fixing some of the common factors listed above!

In rare cases, constipation may be caused by something more severe.  If you follow most of what I’ve covered and feel it is something beyond what was discussed, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Thank you for the question.  I appreciate the opportunity to share my bowel knowledge with you.

*Other symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea/vomiting may decrease appetite and decrease your fiber intake which may also affect constipation.



Carbohydrate Choices

Posted: December 10, 2010 by The Vegetarian Barbarian in Nutrition Q & Amy

I am a Nutrition Editor at, a website designed to help people with diabetes.  Here is a question I recently received:


“I am very confused. I have been told to have 3-4 carbohydrate choices at each meal. Could you help me figure out what one of these carbohydrates equates to? Is it one gram of carbohydrate or one item containing carbohydrate? Please help!”


Nowadays, trying to understand carbohydrates can be difficult.  First, let’s change some of the wording being used to help clarify things.  You should consume 3-4 servings of carbohydrates per meal.  One serving of “carbs” generally equates to 15 grams.  So, you’ve been advised to consume 45 – 60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal (3 x 15g or 4 x 15g = 45g or 60g).  If that is clearer to you then we can discuss how to get to those numbers with some samples.

Here is a sample lunch for you which would contain roughly 60g carbohydrates:

Tuna Sandwich (2 Slices of Bread):     2 x 15g = 30g carbs

1 Medium Apple:                              1 x 15g = 15 g carbs

Sugar-Free Hot Chocolate:                1 x 15g = 15 g carb

Total: 60g carbs

Essentially, you are “carb counting”.  You could simply modify the above sample by removing one piece of bread to obtain the lower limit (45g) of carbohydrates for your meal.  Checking your blood sugar levels before and after each meal will let you know if you have eaten too many carbohydrates compared to your insulin level.  If you are high then you would likely need to have one less slice of bread, as an example.

Here are three tips to help you learn the basics of counting carbohydrates:

Tip 1: Learn Your Foods First

First, know your total carbohydrate allotment for the day (a dietitian can help you determine this). It sounds like you may have already completed this step.  Next, write down a meal plan with the foods you typically eat.  Learn the amount of carbs in the foods you eat most often.  You don’t need to know about carbohydrates in ALL foods to start.

Tip 2: Ballpark Carbohydrates First

Carbohydrates are found in many foods, such as grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, and table sugar.  It is important to count all carbohydrates regardless of their source.  It is also easier to learn that a serving of vegetables contains 5g of carbs than remembering the exact amount of say spinach versus asparagus.

The following is a general guide that shows the amount of carbohydrate in each food category:

Food Category Carbohydrate (grams) per serving
Starch: breads, cereals, grains, starchy vegetables (i.e.; corn, butternut squash), crackers, beans, peas, and lentils 15
Fruits 15
Milk 12
Sweets, desserts 15
Non-starchy vegetables (i.e.; broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts) 5
Meat and Meat Substitutes

  • Lean
  • Medium-fat
  • High-fat
  • Plant based proteins


Alcohol Varies

Tip 3: Remember That Serving Sizes Are Measured

Nutritional Panels on the back of packaged foods give serving sizes.  A bottle of flavored tea may be enough to satisfy your thirst but it may also contain 2.5 servings (and hence 2.5x the amount of carbs you think you just drank).  Unless you are measuring your foods it is difficult to know if that bowl of cereal you just ate was 1, 1.5 or 1.75 servings.  For example, if a serving size of your cereal is ½ cup (e.g. 25g carbs) and you consume 1 cup, you would double the number of carbs listed on the Nutritional Panel (e.g. 50g carbs).   Measuring cups and a digital kitchen scale can be useful at home.  Over time, some people become good at estimating portion sizes.  This is an invaluable skill when eating out.

Some tricks for training your eyes to estimate serving sizes are:

  • A fist or a baseball is equivalent to 1 cup
  • 3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish = a deck of cards
  • One tortilla = a small salad plate (seven-inch)
  • One small baked potato = a computer mouse
  • One teaspoon of margarine or butter = a thumb tip
  • One medium apple or orange = a baseball
  • One muffin = a large egg
  • One pancake or waffle = a four-inch cd
  • One-half bagel = the width of a large coffee-to-go lid

I’m all for enjoying a great meal but I recommend doing it a portion at a time!  It’s the Holidays after all and we all love the tasty treats lying around.  We can avoid overindulging and still enjoy a great meal.  If this is troublesome for you then I would recommend snacking on some healthy foods before heading out (an apple and a TBSP of peanut butter).   This type of snack is filling enough to help you not overeat at the upcoming festivities.

Thank you for the question.  I appreciate the opportunity to provide this information to you.

Childhood Obesity Prevention

Posted: December 10, 2010 by The Vegetarian Barbarian in Nutrition Conversations

Child Nutrition Bill passes House. On the way to the President for signature! Check out this statement from the American Dietetic Association (ADA):  Child Nutrition Bill