Trail mix – the go-to slump zapper

Trail mixThat slump at 3pm every day? Means your body needs more calories, well, and maybe less sugar and caffeine and maybe eating a decent breakfast and lunch but those are a whole other blog post.

Afraid of nuts? Think they are full of fat and calories and don’t really serve you well other than increasing the number on the scale? Think again.

Nuts have staying power against hunger due to the role of protein and unsaturated fat, the kind of fat that protects your heart from disease by lowering the bad kind of cholesterol implicated in heart disease. Omega-3 fats, another healthy fat, are also in many nuts – their role is to keep the rhythm of your heart steady to prevent heard attacks.

Fiber, as well as fat, keeps you full and is known to lower cholesterol and prevent diabetes. Some nuts have plant sterols, the substances margarine companies use in products like Benecol to lower your cholesterol. Vitamin E in nuts helps keep the lumen, that hollow inside, wide open so nutrients can flow freely to your body and l-arginine keeps your blood vessels more elastic and flexible. All in all, nuts sound pretty damn impressive to me.

Here’s a recipe to get you started on creating your own heart healthy, slump zapper snacks. If you want this for breakfast instead, add 1 cup of your favorite dry cereal (aim for <10 g sugar and >5 g fiber per serving), douse with your milk choice and feel the vibe!!

Classic Trail Mix

  • 1 c. unsalted roasted almonds
  • 1 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c. raisins
  • 1/2 c. toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 c. toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 c. dark chocolate chips

Mix all together and store in 8 individual Ziploc bags.

Makes 8-1/2 cup servings: 313 calories, 8 g protein, 21 g fat, 5 g fiber.


Veggies for breakfast?

Breakfast veggiesI challenged a client.  He’s worked supremely hard, improved his cholesterol and blood pressure by outstanding standards, but still is pre-diabetic. He heroically gave up a convenient and tasty McDonald’s sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich for a packet of oatmeal and a banana. Yet, that combination added to his blood sugar problem because oatmeal and fruit enter the blood system too quickly and annoy the hormone insulin. I challenged him to think outside the status quo and add more vegetables and protein to his breakfast.

Later, it dawned on me that if I challenged him to do it, I should accept the same challenge. Two things caught my attention – the Sauce Lady and pressed tofu.

Sensible food prep means you have a fully stocked pantry and fridge. From there, you concoct a meal. First, locally sourced pressed tofu is a time saver in that I don’t have to cover a block of tofu with a towel and precariously perch my cast iron skillet on top of it for half an hour. 30 minutes that I don’t have in the morning. Simply open package, dice up a 3 oz piece, and you have a serving.

Next, take a nose dive into exploring the crisper. There I found a zucchini, grape tomatoes, spinach, shallot, garlic, and an ear of corn neatly tucked in together. Perfect. Heat extra virgin olive oil (first cold expeller pressed and yes, it matters) in pan, add shallot and garlic. Add tofu. 2-3 minutes later, add chopped zucchini, grape tomatoes and corn. Just as it’s all seamlessly forming a glaze and wafting a tantalizing aroma, add in baby spinach leaves until wilted.

Double OMG. Meet Sauce Lady aka Joni Marie Newman, vegan cookbook author. OK, a week or so ago, I made one of her sauces. Creamy Cilantro Pepita Pesto Sauce. She says it’s great over pasta, rice, on pizza or sandwiches. She totally forgot to say it adds the power to the punch for a tofu veggie breakfast dish!

Tofu veggie breakfastNow, don’t judge me on how this dish looks after I stir in the sauce – a sauce that starts with 5 cups romaine lettuce, a bunch of cilantro, a jalapeno – more veggies, right? Plus this dish packs added protein from the soft silken tofu that forms its base. What more does a body need than carbs from the veggies and protein from tofu to do a body good, reach peak energy levels and stabilize blood sugar? Oh, and the flavor? Kick-ass. Lively and vibrant. Makes me want more.

I did it. I challenged. I achieved. And boy, was it good. I’m not sure my client is ready for this yet. But I did send him the pictures and he bought the cookbook. Live by example.


Is agave nectar better for you than sugar?

Agave nectarAgave nectar climbs the popularity charts with health conscious consumers as a “natural,” kosher, and vegan sugar substitute. However, it’s important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration and US Department of Agriculture have yet to formally define the term “natural.” Agave nectar is from Mexican blue agave plants, and in its natural state is a thin liquid. By the time you buy it, the base of the agave plant has been cooked in a pressure cooker to get the inner liquid moving, then chopped up and filtered into a ‘syrup-like’ liquid before it’s bottled. It goes through processing similar to other sugars.

While one teaspoon of agave has 21 calories—about the same calories as other sweeteners, like honey (21 calories) and table sugar (15 calories)—its advantage is a lower glycemic index (GI). The lower the GI, the slower the body absorbs the carbohydrates in the sugar, which results in fewer spikes in blood sugar levels.

Sugars have varying antioxidant activity, which may be useful in reducing oxidative damage that leads to chronic diseases. Among sugars tested, blackstrap molasses has the highest antioxidant activity; brown sugar, maple syrup and honey show moderate activity, and agave nectar come in at the bottom, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The bottom line is that agave nectar is no healthier than sugar, honey or HFCS, and all added sugars should be limited in the diet.


Sugar GI
Agave nectar 15 low
Fructose 25 low
Brown rice syrup 25 low
Honey 50 high
Maple syrup 54 high
Blackstrap molasses 55 high
Table sugar 65 high
High fructose corn syrup 68 high



Article published in Environmental Nutrition, Aug 2014.






Coconut Oil, Behind the Hype

Coconut OilCoconut oil is one of the hottest foods on the market, but is it as healthy as the hype promises? Let’s explore the evidence on this tropical nut.

The news is out! Coconut oil is hailed as the next super food hero in a jar, promising everything from weight loss to protection against Alzheimer’s disease. While coconut oil has been used as part of the traditional diet in some Asian countries for years, the proof supporting the list of health benefits attributed to its use is not strong.

Coconut’s saturated fat. Coconut oil is 92 percent saturated fat. For over 70 years, research established a connection between saturated fat and heart disease risk. It’s thought saturated fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which in turn creates inflammation in the body that leads to heart disease. However, a recent literature review (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010) suggested that saturated fat might not be a villain in heart disease risk, feeding the debate over whether coconut oil is harmful for your health.

This hypothesis of saturated fat and heart risk could stem from the fact that Americans mostly eat saturated fat found in butter, meats, eggs and dairy products, which contribute to inflammation. Thus, it seems natural to conclude that all saturated fats are bad. Though coconut oil is high in saturated fats, it contains a very high percentage of a fat known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Some experts claim the benefits of MCTs may outweigh the risk of saturated fat in coconut. Saturated fat is often stored as body fat, while MCTs are quickly metabolized by the liver and used for energy. Though excess calories the body doesn’t use for energy are stored as fat.

Barry Sears, PhD, a lipids (fats) scientist formerly of Boston University School of Medicine and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that coconut oil’s high level of saturated fats and MCTs are not such a good thing. “Two disadvantages are this rapid uptake by the liver. MCTs have a slight blood sugar-lowering effect that may lead to people struggling to manage their blood sugar, especially for athletes and people with diabetes. Then there’s the saturated fat content’s pro-inflammatory quality that cannot be ignored. Inflammation from the LDL is the bad boy of heart disease,” says Sears.

Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, Chair, Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, says, “While coconut oil raises LDL, it boosts HDL cholesterol, the ‘good’ kind, better than other fats. Research so far, though, is limited, so we still don’t know how it affects heart disease. The ability to boost HDL makes it ‘less bad’, yet it’s not the best choice of fat overall for heart health, as any fat that raises LDL should be limited.”

Coconut’s potential health benefits. Few weight loss studies using coconut oil show that it can help promote weight loss when compared with other oils. However, one study (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2008) showed a modest increase in weight lost with those using MCT compared to olive oil. Keep in mind that this research was conducted on MCT oil, not coconut oil, which also contains high levels of saturated fat. Thus far, coconut oil has limited evidence for weight loss.

As for easing Alzheimer’s symptoms? One potential link may be ketones—a source of energy for the brain that has been linked with improved quality of life for some Alzheimer’s sufferers. It just so happens that when the body metabolizes coconut oil, ketones are produced. Still, there’s no direct proof to date that coconut oil provides brain benefits.

Best advice on coconut oil. We do need to include fat as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle. The goal is to get the right amount of the right kind of fat. Coconut oil appears to be better than saturated animal fats, such as butter and fatty meats, and trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils, but not as good vegetable oils, which are rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as such as first cold-expeller pressed extra virgin olive oil.

At present, many experts in the field concur that until we have more studies, you should use coconut oil sparingly, as in flavoring Asian and Thai dishes, and the occasional piecrust, biscuits or cupcakes. Follow these healthy fat guidelines:

  • Use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and salad dressings.
  • Eat oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, at least two times a week.
  • Toss omega-3 rich walnuts and flaxseeds onto salads.
  • Serve omega-3 fortified eggs for breakfast.

Fat Comparison

Fat (per 1 Tbsp) Saturated
unsaturated (g)
unsaturated (g)
Beef Fat 6.4 5.4 0.5
Butter 7.2 3.3 0.5
Canola Oil 0.9 8.2 4.1
Coconut Oil 11.8 0.8 0.2
Corn Oil 1.7 3.3 8.0
Flaxseed Oil 1.3 2.5 10.2
Lard (pork fat) 5.0 5.8 1.4
Margarine (stick)* 1.6 4.2 2.4
Olive Oil 1.8 10.0 1.2
Palm Kernel Oil 11.1 1.6 0.2
Palm Oil 6.7 5.0 1.2
Safflower Oil 0.8 10.2 2.0
Sesame Oil 1.9 5.4 5.6
Soybean Oil 2.0 3.2 7.8
Sunflower Oil 1.4 2.7 8.9

Source: USDA’ *May vary depending on brand

Published in Environmental Nutrition.


Tips for staying hydrated

Water glassDrinking water is a challenge for many, even in summer when we’re typically thirstiest. What you reach for depends on what you like. Have you considered municipal tap water? It’s cheap, typically purified so clean, and it’s fat-, sugar-, and cholesterol-free. Bonus? It’s easy to find.

Still not sold? OK, let’s talk about other ways to fluid-up your body.

  • Coffee and tea, even caffeinated, are fluid. They count. They just may be more calorie-dense if you add sugar and creamer.
  • Sugar-free and flavored beverages, and tonic and seltzer waters, add a pop of flavor if plain tap water is boring.
  • Food! Has. Water. Especially fruits, vegetables, soups and juices. Dive into watermelons, mangos and berries and start some meals with soup.
  • Lastly, for sweet taste, frozen fruit pops and other sugar-free treats count! So does Jell-O – it’s liquid at room temp.
  • Whether water or something else, remind yourself to drink often. Keep smaller water bottles handy. At the gym, I see gallon-sized milk jugs filled with water. That intimidates me! Use refillable bottles that hold no more than 16 oz and keep in your gym bag, car door, desk and kitchen counter. Refill often!

How much? For starters, how much fluid did you lose today? Did you breathe, sweat, exercise, or pee or poop? That’s how most of us lose water.

Ah, good ole 8×8 a Day (8 8-oz glasses), the general rule forever. It’s easy to remember. You’re safe if you consume 1 quart of fluid for every 50 lbs of your body weight (1 quart = 2 of your 16-oz bottles!). Pregnant and breast-feeding Mamas need more fluid – 10-13 cups/day more. 

You’ll know you’re drinking enough if you’re inconvenienced by bathroom trips!


Diana’s Public Service Announcement: DO NOT DRINK OUT OF A GARDEN HOSE or a commercial plastic bottle left in a hot car! Bacteria thrive inside the hoses and plastic bottles when it’s hot out.