Dietitian: Start with small changes to your diet

January 7, 2015

My PlateAfter a month of holiday eating and indulging, it’s no surprise that “losing weight” is the most common New Year’s resolution for Americans in 2015.

We’ve all been tempted to follow a diet plan that looks simple when you read it online – cutting out all sugar and “white” carbs, drinking green smoothies, not eating after 7 p.m.

Then we discover how impossible it is to turn down a piece of birthday cake, or to wake up before dawn to chug liquefied kale and stir a pot of steel-cut oats.

But don’t give up on your healthy-eating goals just because you couldn’t stick to a trendy diet. Eating healthier shouldn’t be difficult or restrictive, says Rachael Wall, a nutrition and health specialist for Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach in eastern Iowa.

Instead, making small changes is the key to success, whether you’re trying to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle, Wall explains.

“A lot of people don’t know where to get started. We are bombarded with information, and it’s hard to sort through what’s fact and what’s fiction,” Wall says. “So I encourage people to start small. You don’t have to overhaul your entire diet to be healthy.”

For a healthy-eating strategy that you can stick with, think about the positive, or what you can add to your diet, Wall says.

Adding more fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. Wall encourages Iowans to follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines.

MyPlate recommends filling one-half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with lean protein and one-quarter with whole grains, plus a low-fat dairy serving. (Visit for more information and recipe ideas.)

“Because fruits and vegetables are higher in fiber and concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are beneficial for us, we may not be as hungry for the potato chips and ice cream or whatever it may be. It’s not that we can’t eat those things, but in moderation,” Wall says.

Healthy eating also doesn’t have to break your budget. Wall recommends checking out the “Spend Smart Eat Smart” website by ISU Extension and Outreach to find simple, inexpensive and healthy recipes.

ISU Extension staff tests all the recipes on the website to make sure the meals are easy to prepare. Wall says one of her favorite new recipes on the site is butternut squash enchiladas, a tasty dish to add more veggies on your dinner plate.

And while a few so-called diet gurus promote “organic” foods as healthier, research has shown that organic foods aren’t any more nutritious or safer than foods raised conventionally, Wall notes.

“It’s really a personal preference option,” Wall says. “If someone wants to choose organic and spend a little more, that’s their personal preference. But from a food safety and nutritional standpoint, one isn’t superior over another.”

Dr. Ruth MacDonald, chair and professor of Iowa State University’s Food Science and Human Nutrition department, also explains the differences between organic and conventional foods on the Best Food Facts website.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Senior Features Writer.

“Lose Weight Instantly!”

May 2, 2014

Online-Medical-Advice1The headline grabbed my attention; a “new study” featured in the New York Times shows living at higher altitudes helps you lose weight.  Well, Sisyphus, don’t pack your bags for Colorado just yet.  Soon enough another ‘study’ will send that weight loss plan rolling back down the hill to failure.

There are so many ‘studies’ out there when it comes to our health, it does feel like we’re eternally pushing a boulder uphill, never reaching the top.  That’s because too many ‘weight loss’ plans aren’t sustainable for the way we live today.  Even worse, we tend to believe the most ridiculous health claims (hello, Jenny McCarthy?) simply because the messenger looks good, is influential, or is a celebrity.  We listen when these ‘quasi-experts’ claim that juice cleanses, avoiding meat, avoiding carbs, fat, dairy or diet soda, etc. is the answer.

The latest to enter the fray is a former Australian TV star, now an author and a self-appointed health advocate, Sarah Wilson.  “I quit sugar for life and you can too!” says Wilson, who recently appeared on the Today Show to prove her point while making a sugar-free dessert.

Wilson says by ridding her diet of all sugar (high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, beet sugar and processed foods that have sugar) she not only lost weight, but her wrinkles, insomnia, muscle and joint stiffness, acid reflux and acne disappeared.  I’m certainly not advocating for sugar, but she lost me with this claim: “One hundred years ago we ate eggs for breakfast, meat at lunch, vegetables prepared simply, fruit as a treat and drank our milk whole. One hundred years ago type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cholesterol issues were a much less significant problem.”

Sarah, you just pulled a ‘Jenny’ (McCarthy).  Doctors, historians and anyone who had a loved one who lived ‘back in the day’ knows that’s wrong.  The average lifespan 100 years ago was just 52 years for men and 56 for women.  Most died from influenza, gastrointestinal infections, and ‘yes’ heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases.  Don’t forget polio!  Today, the average lifespan is 79.

Food preparation and farming was a hardship 100 years ago, too.  Choices were few and the labor of putting a meal on the table was no ‘picnic.’  My late grandmother talked about spending all day in a sweltering farmhouse kitchen making bread from scratch, plucking chickens, pickling vegetables, canning fruit, pulling weeds in the garden, hanging laundry, raising children, doing dishes, sewing and starting all over again at dawn.  It was tiresome, unheralded, but expected work for life on the farm in the ‘good ole days.’ Our Grandmothers and great-grandmothers didn’t complain.  Or blog about it.  That’s just the way it was.

When nostalgia honors our ancestors and traditions, it’s one thing.  But to counsel others to shun innovation, progress and science of today’s farming, that’s just plain ignorant.  Innovations are good; they brought sanitizing-cycle dishwashers, modern vaccinations and cell phones.  Innovation brought us renewable energy, GPS planters and improved conservation on today’s farms.  I wish the Sarah Wilson’s of the world could see the wisdom of innovation and how the lifestyle they advocate only takes away choices, while adding guilt. Who needs that?  Besides, didn’t you read the latest study?  Guilt causes slumped shoulders.

By Laurie Johns. Laurie is the public relations manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Resolve to make healthy choices in 2014

December 31, 2013

New-Year-graphic1   Is it just me, or have you noticed that as soon the ball drops in Times Square to usher in the New Year, weight-loss commercials flood our TV screens.

During the holiday season, I’ve been bombarded with press releases from “experts” selling their diet books or plans. It seems like the low-fat and no-carb diets are so last year, as people have realized the diets are hard to stick with. Nowadays, the newest diet trends are clean eating, where you avoid all processed foods, and juicing.

If you haven’t heard of juicing yet, you will soon. It’s the latest craze on the East and West Coasts, where juice bars are popping up as quickly as frozen yogurt shops have here in the Midwest.

People who “juice” buy a pricy supply of fresh-pressed juice (or buy an expensive at-home juicing machine) and then consume nothing but juice for three to seven days, supposedly to “cleanse” the body and promote rapid weight loss.

Admittedly, the harsh truth is that a lot of us are carrying a few more pounds than we should. Iowa is ranked as the 12th most obese state in the nation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. About two-thirds of Iowa’s population is considered obese.

And being overweight puts us at greater risk for chronic health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, that are not only costly to treat, but reduce our overall quality of life.

Hy-Vee-salad-prep1Yet that doesn’t mean going to extremes, like consuming an all-juice diet, is a lasting solution.

A few years back, I met a wellness coach who helped several Farm Bureau members in northeast Iowa lose weight and get healthy. I still remember her no-nonsense advice.

She told me, straight up, that losing weight – and keeping the weight off – isn’t easy. It isn’t about one-month or one-week diet plans; it’s about making healthier choices every day.

walking-archives1-One of her clients lost more than 15 pounds by making simple changes in her lifestyle, such as ordering the grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad in the drive-thru; drinking more water instead of soda; and reserving just 10 minutes of her day, if that’s all the time she had, to walking on the treadmill.

So instead of trendy diets, stick with commonsense advice. Try to fit more activity in your day, and follow the MyPlate guidelines recommended by dieticians. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, plus one serving of lean protein, one serving of whole grains and low-fat milk or dairy.

Let’s all resolve to take better care of ourselves in 2014, if only so we can stay healthy for our family and loved

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Here’s the latest: diet advice isn’t all that new

September 22, 2011

“Americans eat too much fat and sweets and do not get enough exercise.”

That’s the conclusion reached by the nation’s leading nutrition scientist – but it wasn’t made last week, last month or even last year. While the observation looks like it could have come straight from one of today’s many health-focused magazines and websites, it was actually made by W.O. Atwater in the 1890s, according to an exhibit called “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?” at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

While perusing the exhibit, which traces the government’s role in food production and consumption, it struck me that we’re still dealing with many of the same issues that our ancestors faced over the course of the last century. The displays chronicle efforts to improve food safety, advice for quick and nutritious meals and campaigns encouraging more production of certain foods to overcome short-term supply shortages.

I was particularly fascinated by Atwater’s pioneering research on nutrition issues, especially considering the federal government’s renewed interest in the topic. He developed methods to quantify the energy value (calories) in different types of food, and also studied the amount of calories burned in different activities such as reading, ironing and riding a stationary bicycle.

A guide produced in the 1920s listed 100-calorie portions of various types of food, ranging from meat and potatoes to candy and sugar. I guess those 100-calorie snack packs that have popped up on grocery store shelves that past few years weren’t such an original concept after all.

Some of the displays also made me chuckle – like a poster advertising “Vitamin Donuts” that was sent for approval to the government’s food administration during World War II. I’m sure they would have been a hit with my kids, but common sense tells you that even donuts fortified with thiamine aren’t the foundation for a healthy diet.

In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, exhibition curator Alice Kamps said the displays provide insight into the evolution of our understanding of nutrition and the ways it has shaped the foods we eat over time.

“As science revealed new insights about the nutritional value of different foods, our approach to food became more scientific,” she said. “With the benefit of hindsight, we can see where particular ideas about nutrition were overblown or simply inaccurate. We might consider this before we make drastic changes in our diet based on the latest scientific discoveries.”

For me, it became apparent that America’s quest for a balanced diet has been going on for more than a century. While recommendations may change over time, the best advice today really isn’t any different now than it was before Henry Ford produced the first Model T or we spent our evenings camped out in front of the TV or surfing the internet –eat less junk food and exercise more. I’m sure Mr. Atwater would agree.

Written by Tom Block
Tom is news coordinator for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Hot new diet: Common sense

July 19, 2011

There’s nothing like getting a fresh look at your world, through the eyes of visiting relatives.  In my case, some cousins from Australia have given me a lot to ‘chew on’ (so to speak) when it comes to our relationship with food.  Or rather, who we blame for our ‘super-sized’ waistlines.

I recently went to lunch at a popular West Des Moines chain restaurant last weekend with the Aussie cousins in tow.  They ordered raspberry tea and my daughter and I followed suit.   They were amazed at the size of the glasses and the fact that before the ice even got to melt, the harried server was coming ‘round to refill’.  In Melbourne, where Mandy and Ellie live, the glasses are half that size and there are no ‘free refills’.
Right away, the server brought out bread: huge, thick, white slabs of it.  A bowlful of butter was included on the platter, arranged in a pyramid.  More surprised looks.  “This is free?”

We ordered appetizers; I thought the bruschetta sounded great.  We all split a huge salad.  My order arrived first, as big as a football.  “Good heavens, Laurie, if you can eat all that, we’ll give you a prize!” they laughed.

About that time, a family of four very large people came to the next table.  Right away they ordered appetizers, entrees and asked up-front if the restaurant served milk shakes.   That’s when 18-year-old Ellie, a college freshman in Melbourne who is studying to be a dietician, whispered, “In Melbourne, you don’t see such large servings, or people!”

I leaned in and confessed that here, we’ve gotten used to over-sized buffets and massive menu choices, so it’s not uncommon to see so many folks struggling with their weight.  I also told them that’s why the exercise industry is a multi-billion dollar empire; people are grasping for straws.  In fact, I told them we even have exercise gurus who claim high fructose corn syrup and Iowa corn farmers are to blame. (That last bit made the Aussies laugh even harder than the arrival of my football ‘appetizer.’)

Well, something is going on; the obesity rate has DOUBLED in Iowa the last 15 years.  We are now the 20th fattest state:

It didn’t used to be like this.  Our grandparents didn’t have to worry about outliving their children because of obesity-related illnesses  Maybe it’s because they walked more, worked harder and had fewer conveniences or entertainment gizmos that kept them seated for hours on end.  There were four TV channels and no internet; no one sat in front of a box all night (especially not to watch a show about morbidly overweight people struggling to lose weight!)  Restaurants were a treat and the servings were modest.   Ironically, it’s much the same today for our Aussie cousins.  Maybe they’re on to something…

We’ve heard that we need to exercise every day, but saying it and doing it are two different things.    And really, that’s just half the story.
Clearly we need to eat less…less of everything!   We also need to spend less time looking for scapegoats (like farmers) to blame, and more time making a lifestyle change.   Skip the appetizers, make water your ‘refill’ and get up from your desk job once an hour and at least walk to the water fountain.  If you can, take the stairs, not the elevator.  But, no matter what you do, lifestyle change needs to start with a long, hard look in the mirror.    And remember, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”—Maya Angelou

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Ode to Twinkies

November 10, 2010

The Food Police have just been smacked on the side of the head with their own ‘Anti High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)’ billy club. Dr. Mark Haub, associate professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, is making national headlines with his so-called ‘Twinkie Diet’. Specifically, Haub lost 27 pounds in two months by eating only Twinkies, candy bars, sugared soda and other junk.

Although Haub says he wasn’t completely serious when he started this class research project two months ago, his results are getting serious media coverage because they may prove it’s not WHAT you eat, but how many CALORIES you eat that matters in weight loss.

Haub also proved that losing weight reaps health benefits because his ‘bad’ cholesterol, or LDL, went down 20 percent and his ‘good’ cholesterol, or HDL, went up 20 percent. He even dropped the level of blood fats in his body (triglycerides) by 39 percent.

Haub says he put the weight loss project together for his class to disprove the Food Police myths that refined grains and corn sugars are the cause of obesity. “The new USDA guidelines ( call for a big reduction in refined grains, asserting they are contributors to the nation’s growing obesity rates,” says Haub. “But, I take issue with that. I know nutrition is important, but so is caloric intake and expenditure.” Haub says we’re a fat nation because we eat too much; period.

Haub’s ‘Twinkie Diet’ limited his daily calorie intake to less than 1800 calories and included a multi-vitamin, protein shake and a handful of vegetables. (He said he ate the vegetables at home in front of his kids because he didn’t want to set a bad example to his six- and three-year-olds). The pounds melted away.

Tongue-in-cheek aside, Haub knows the ‘Twinkie Diet’ isn’t nutritious, but he wasn’t trying to prove what’s nutritious or what’s not. He also says he wasn’t paid by Hostess or any other food company to do this project, nor did he get grant money; he was simply trying to prove that if we want to lose weight, we’re better off paying attention to the calories on our food labels than scouring the fine print for ‘HFCS’ or words like ‘refined grains’, or ‘processed’. We’re a nation of fat people and pointing the fingers at HFCS, corn farmers or farm subsidies isn’t going to bring us a trim waistline:

If what we take OUT of our diets isn’t as important as how much we put IN our mouths, how about a second helping of common sense? That, and a walk around the block, would do us all a world of good.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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