Food safety tips during and after a power outage

Many of us in Florida are dealing with power outages this hurricane season and that means our refrigerated and freezer items are at risk for developing bacteria.  The question that immediately comes up is, is it safe to eat? Perhaps it’s time for a refresher on a few food safety tips:

  1. Cold (refrigerated) foods should be kept at or below 40ºF. Your appliance will have a temperature setting to tell you where it’s at, but try to avoid opening it as much as possible so you don’t let the cool air out. A closed refrigerator that is full should keep the food cold enough for about four hours.  Once the temp drops below 40ºF, you have a two hour window before the food becomes an ideal environment to grow bacteria.
    • Hopefully you’ve stocked up on ice and coolers to start putting your important items in. Personally, I suggest consuming high risk items prior to reaching above 40º such as eggs, mayonnaise and mayonnaise based products such as tuna/potato/chicken salad and any leftovers.
    • Fruits and vegetables will last much longer than two hours and many are shelf stable, so don’t worry too much about these. An exception would be berries and grapes that tend to spoil quickly. Eat those first.
  2. Frozen items should be kept at or below 0ºF. Again, your freezer should tell you this, but don’t open it more than you have to. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
    • It is best to keep the items close together so they keep each other cold. Once it rises above 0ºF, watch it as many of those items will be okay if cooked before reaching above 40ºF. Unfortunately if they go over that 40ºF past two hours, especially frozen meats, it’s time to throw them out. It’s just not worth the risk of getting sick.
    • Remember, you can put some of your refrigerated items in the freezer to keep them under their 40ºF for a longer period of time and you may be able to save them.
    • Having extra ice packs, even dry ice if you can get some, full tupperware of frozen water, and full frozen ice trays stocked in your freezer can help keep the food at ideal temperatures for as long as possible.
  3. Hopefully you stocked up on nonperishables. If you didn’t, there will likely be a next time and might as well plan sooner than later. These are some of my favorites:
    • Quest protein bars
    • Starbucks light double shots (gotta have coffee)
    • Trail mix or mixed nuts or any kind of nuts are great
    • Peanut butter or any kind of nut butter
    • Triscuits (for spreading nut butter on – better than just plain ol’ bread to me)
    • Bananas
    • Tangerines
    • Tomatoes (I could eat these like apples!)
    • Apples
    • Beef jerky
    • Pre-seasoned tuna pouches
    • 3 ounce chicken cans
    • Cracklin oat bran cereal (or granola is good too!)
    • Animal crackers (okay, not most nutritional, but gotta have a crunchy snack!)
    • Dried fruit (I got mini raisin boxes, mangos, and apricots this go around)
    • Pita bread
    • Avocados
    • 1 gallon water per person per day
  4. A sample menu for you using only shelf stable food:
    • Breakfast:
      • Quest bar + tangerine
      • Pita bread with peanut butter and banana sandwich
      • Cracklin oat bran + 1/4 cup dried fruit
      • All to include Starbucks light double shot of course!
    • Lunch/Dinner:
      • Tuna pouch + sliced tomato + 8 triscuits
      • Pita bread + sliced avocado + canned chicken + 10 animal crackers
      • Peanut butter spread on 8 triscuits + mini raisin box
      • Pita bread with peanut butter and banana sandwich + 1/4 cup trail mix
    • Snack tips:
      • No stress eating! This is a stressful time, but it’s not going to make you feel better. I’ve written lots of posts on this in the past explaining why.
      • Stick to the rule of eating every three hours as much as you can. Your meals are possibly going to be smaller, however, so eat to hunger if necessary. High protein, shelf stable snacks include: nuts, trail mix, beef jerky, canned chicken, and tuna pouches. When the power goes out, cheese sticks and yogurt are great to eat up first. I also recommend hard boiling your eggs beforehand so you have snacks and breakfast items to eat while they are still in the correct temperature zones. Remember, you are probably going to have to throw out these highly perishable items anyway- cook them while you can!
  5. What do you do when the power comes back on?
    • Do not, I repeat, do not rely on odor and appearance to determine if a food is safe to eat. You gotta rely on temperatures. Trust me when I say, a food borne illness in the aftermath of a hurricane is not something you want to be dealing with.
    • Throw anything out that has reached above 40ºF for longer than two hours. Period. Especially meats that started to defrost and any frozen items that no longer have ice crystals.
    • If a food has been determined safe to eat and is perishable, such as eggs, meat, etc – be sure to cook it all the way. No rare steak or sunny side up eggs just to be sure.
    • Lastly, when in doubt, just throw it out. You can always replace the food later. Be safe!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Back to school tips for a healthy family (and your sanity!)

This is a crazy time of year. Lazy days of summer are over and routines are back in full force. I relish the summer because of slow mornings and relaxed evenings without homework. Movie nights any night we want, lunch at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and leisurely mid-week breakfasts are over.

I once read that August is kinda like the Sunday of the year. It represents a new start and recommitment to improving what hasn’t worked in the previous months. Some of you may have children transitioning into middle or high school this year and if you’re like me, you might have a child just entering the school world. Change is here! But that doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re drowning in after school sports schedules, reading logs, and math homework that you live on pizza and fast food for the next 9 months.

Tips for maintaining sanity and a healthy family during the school year:

  1. Pre-make freezer meals. These can be precooked or not. I’ve done both. If you decide to precook I recommend making enough for at least two meals – one for that evening and one to freeze. It’s much easier to make two at once while you already have the stuff out. Raw meats can be put in large freezer bags with chopped veggies and sauces then frozen for later cooking (baked, pressure or slow cooked.)
  2. Plan ahead. Duh. You’ll have a routine. You’re gonna know when football practice is and when the games are. There’s gonna be late nights that cooking isn’t going to happen. Will those nights be the night you save Monday’s leftovers for? Or the night you decide your family will eat out? It’s okay to eat out 1-2 times a week. It’s not okay to just decide you’re gonna be a fast food family every night during the week.
  3. Plan quick meals. Thirty minute meals sound great. But let’s face it, sometimes that’s too long when it’s late and you’ve got starving kids whining at you. Some of my favorite fifteen minute meals to make include: cheese omelets with fruit and whole wheat toast, deli sandwiches and salad, salad (using pre-made salad bags) with pre-cooked chicken, deli meat, or canned tuna, etc. Nothing wrong with a protein shake or protein bar and yogurt/fruit either. Not all kids will enjoy that last option so I may boil them a hot dog and add raw veggies with ranch if that’s what I go for. Just be flexible! Meals are probably not always going to be your traditional family style meat and two sides.
  4. Establish a bed time and routine. I’ve been guilty in the past about not doing this. You know what happens? There isn’t one and every night turns into a circus, ending with sweat and tears. (I’m not talking about my kids!)  If you don’t want this to happen, decide now when bed time will be and then reverse engineer. That’s will determine what time dinner is going to be. It’s not always going to work out perfectly, but establishing this will make life much easier for you and help you make decisions about what responsibilities and activities you participate later on in the school year.
  5. Take a good multivitamin. Yes, I’m advising your whole family do this. It’s important to fill in the nutritional gaps with a high quality vitamin. This can really help with immunity, focus, and sleep quality. Germs and common childhood illnesses are frequent throughout the school year! Lessen your chances with this simple step. I’d love to tell you if you eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains that you’ll be set. But I’m not that confident in today’s food supply or our ability to consistently eat a perfect diet in today’s busy lifestyle. If you would like recommendations for brands, feel free to contact me. Not all are created equal.
  6. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. And make them convenient to eat. This means they are cut up, washed, and stored in clear containers in the front of the refrigerator. Consider storing apples, oranges, and bananas in a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. Research shows that this really increases the chances they will be consumed by your family first and more often throughout the week. These will make for much healthier after school snacks over the bag of chips in the pantry! We eat what’s convenient.
  7. If you plan to pre-pack lunches, try to make them for 2-3 days ahead of time. Again, when you’ve got the stuff out already, it saves time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches last up to three days without going soggy. I’ve tested it myself. And be okay with allowing your kids to eat at school some of the time. I learned a while ago that it’s not healthy for me to be up all hours losing sleep in the kitchen trying to pack everyone the perfect lunch.
  8. Grocery shop once a week. Pick a day and time you’re gonna do it consistently. If possible, not a weekend day in the afternoon. This is the busiest and most stressful time and it will take you the longest. Make a list before you go and get it done. No food in the kitchen = no meals made at home. Some grocery stores are now offering curb side pick up. Do your shopping online, they get it together for you, and you just pick it up at the door. Genius! I have a previous post  if you need help with budgeting.
  9. Eat breakfast. As moms, we are pretty good about making sure our children eat a healthy breakfast before rushing off to school. And then we get to work or go on about our day and never get beyond the cup of coffee for ourselves. Don’t do that. Everyone needs breakfast to maintain a healthy weight, perform better, focus throughout the day, and to prevent unhealthy snacking. While you’re making your children breakfast, take the extra two minutes to make yourself one too. If that’s really a no go, consider a meal replacement. I offer insights and suggestions here. Popular kid’s breakfast options include peanut butter on waffles, peanut butter and jelly (I like uncrustables for a fast fix), oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, cereal and milk with strawberries or bananas, cheese omelet with fruit, cinnamon raisin toast and a banana, yogurt and cheerios, hard boiled eggs and toast.
  10. Be flexible. The biggest reason people fail at their health goals is because they get stuck in the mentality that their plans needs to be perfect. As soon as something unexpected happens (a child failed their test, you get asked to volunteer for the halloween party, you get a flat tire on the way to school, etc), they throw in the towel. I call this “Plan A,” perfectionism, which really only happens 5% of the time. Plan B is your reality, so flexibility is key because these things are going to come up, 90% of the time. That’s just life. What’s the other 5%? Plan C….reserved for those days when you’re probably gonna stay home, order a pizza, and call it a day. Luckily they only happen occasionally!

    Most important thing is, you make a plan, allow for flexibility, fall off course sometimes, and consistently get back on track. 

Good luck this year, I wish you a year of success and fun filled memories!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

The real reason to go vegan (hint: it’s not because meat causes cancer)

I want to start with a disclaimer, I don’t have Netflix. I know. But I rarely watch tv these days and when I do, it’s in the form of a Friday night animated movie with my kids. You’ll understand in a minute why this matters to the topic of vegan diets.

But first, let’s clarify what a vegan diet really is. It’s not the same thing as going vegetarian which is simply cutting out some or all animal products. Vegans are hard core. They don’t eat animal containing products of any kind including beef, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, honey and any products containing such ingredients (i.e. whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.) Most vegans I have known rely on whole, plant based foods to compose their diets. The bulk of their diet comes from nuts, seeds, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, potatoes, and occasional dairy substitutes. They typically do not consume processed meat substitutes (that would be a flexitarian), processed junk food, added oils, and sugary drinks/sweets. These are health conscious people that often care about the environment too.

A certain movie on Netflix has been circulating recently about how healthy vegan diets are, suggesting if you follow them, you won’t get cancer, Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. And highlights how unhealthy eating meat, poultry, processed meat, even fish, and all forms of dairy is. Cancer in a patty with melted diabetes on top, shall we?

As a reader of my stuff, you probably know by now, I have an opinion. But you should also know my opinions are based on quality evidence. I’ve read a thorough review of the movie but my post really isn’t to bash the movie. What I’d prefer to do is shed some light on the real reason you’d want to consider following a vegan diet instead of a bunch of bias and poorly backed reasons of why you shouldn’t eat meat. In the world of nutrition and scientific research, there are very little absolutes. When it comes down to it, nobody really has the answer. If they did, they would be extremely wealthy and these diseases that have become such epidemics would be eradicated by now. One little movie just doesn’t have the miracle answer. Sorry.

So let’s outline some great reasons why a vegan diet would be a great option, sprinkled with a few reasons why it might not be a fit for you:

  1. Vegan diets are nutritious: this really is a no brainer. They are naturally higher in fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemical than the typical western diet (aka standard American diet aka SAD). The fat content is also more unsaturated since there is no allowance for the primary sources it comes from like butter, beef, processed goods and poultry skin. However, there are going to be a few nutrients that will present a challenge and concerted effort to obtain adequate amounts is required. Vitamin B-12 to start with because the best source in the SAD comes from eggs and animal products. There is a product that you may have never heard of unless you circulate in the vegan communities called nutritional yeast, which can be fortified with B-12 (think parmesan cheese). Most solid vegans I know take daily sublingual supplements or bi-weekly injections. Really no way of getting around that one, a B12 deficiency can lead to all kinds of issues including permanent neurological damage, so don’t mess with it. Next ones are vitamin D, calcium, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These three power house nutrients typically come from canned seafood and dairy products, both off the vegan menu. If flax seed, flax seed oil, and walnuts are a regular part of the diet, omega 3 fatty acids should not be a problem. And there are always vegan omega 3 supplements. It should be noted that the vegan supplements are not as bioavailable as the fish supplements, however. Some green leafy vegetables will provide plenty of calcium if eaten regularly especially kale, broccoli, and watercress. Almonds are also a great source of calcium all things considered. Plant-based dairy alternatives can be a good option too if fortified with vitamin D, B12, and calcium. I talk more about them in this recent post.
  2. There is possibility that vegans are at lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The research isn’t clear, folks. The movie which shall remain anonymous, gave studies, which to the average person unfamiliar with how research works, might sound compelling, if not downright terrifying. But much of what they cited was based off of dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires. I did some of my own digging, that’s what I found too here, here, and here. As a dietitian, I’ve completed both myself and obtained thousands of dietary recalls. Can you give me an account of everything you’ve eaten for the past seven days including snacks, drinks, and meals? How about a month? I can’t either. That’s what they are basing their research on and then saying the amount of meat these people ate is linked to their cause of cancer. You can’t buy that. I will note, if these people are professing to be vegans and in two of the studies I linked to, the subjects are seventh day adventists as well, I’m guessing the researchers are taking their word that they don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or consume animal products. So over the 6 and 8 year follow up period these two studies took place, these people never messed up. Not once. Not ever. I’ll let you decide how likely that is. And how truthful people are about that. Especially when it comes to their religion.
  3. You could be thinner. True. Could be. I’m a weight loss expert. I’ve been working with people on weight loss for over ten years. I’ve never been able to adequately help someone lose weight without reducing their carbohydrate intake and increasing their protein intake. Quite opposite of a vegan diet. But certainly, the carbohydrate choices I recommend are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/legumes. Really, I’m tired of of the 100-calorie snack packs and 1-point snack cakes filling up the grocery aisles advertised as weight loss foods. They aren’t. And they aren’t part of a vegan diet, that’s a win.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking is number one. My mission is to help you lose weight effectively and for good. I don’t buy for one second that eating a piece of bacon or any processed meat is like smoking five cigarettes. This study compared various types of cancer risks relative to habits like smoking history, processed meat, and red meat intake. However, they based their conclusions on food frequency questionnaires and did not take into account BMI or family history of cancer (although they gathered the information.) They did survey close to 500,000 individuals. So I will give it to them that they have numbers on their side. If you’ve ever talked to me about processed meat, you know I don’t like nitrites and nitrates because I do believe that there is strong evidence that they are linked to cancer and there are too many great nitrite-free options to risk it. But that doesn’t mean eliminate them altogether nor does that make a strong case to go vegan. In fact, this study found a reduction in all cause mortality when individuals replaced red meat with unprocessed white meat (chicken, fish, etc). But again, they obtained their evidence from questionnaires. So who really knows.

So far, maybe I haven’t given much compelling reason to go all out vegan. I’m really not anti-vegan at all. In fact, I’ve considered it myself but I live with two meat-lovers  and one-dairy lover so I prefer to keep the peace for now. At first glance, there is some compelling evidence that it’s the miracle diet we’ve been looking for. But then again, other diets are out there showing similar promises. Fact is, we don’t know enough about any of them and I’m not sure if we ever will. I don’t know anyone that has gained weight, could blame their cancer, heart disease, or diabetes on following a vegan diet. Quite opposite in all of the personal encounters I’ve experienced myself. If it’s something you are considering, have a plan, allow for a little flexibility, and incorporate supplements if necessary.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 reasons why people are following a dairy-free diet

If you aren’t avoiding dairy like the plague, you probably know someone who does. If you don’t, you may have heard that it’s best to choose the full fat versions over the fat free or low fat. And what about those hormones? Should you choose organic? A dairy alternative?

What’s what? Why are they avoiding it? And should you? Let’s start with two of the biggest, most glaring reasons why someone would want to avoid dairy:

1. Lactose intolerance. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 65% of adults in the U.S. suffer from this – ya know, that bloated, uncomfortable gassy feeling that sends you to the bathroom after you’ve drinking a glass of milk or just eaten a bowl of ice cream?. It’s not an allergy, but just simply the body’s inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk, because it lacks the necessary enzyme, lactase, to break it down. It’s actually rare before the age of two. Milk is a big no no here, but often this includes cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, and yogurt in large quantities. Those who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, or Diverticulosis will more than likely also have lactose intolerance. Many lactose-free options have been developed over the years such as Lactaid milk and my personal favorite, Fair Life ultra filtered high protein milk which now has available options to include DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Milk allergy: this is more than just an intolerance to the lactose enzyme. Understand that an allergy is very different in that it is defined as a damaging immune response by the body to a substance. There is no tolerating even a yogurt or lactose free option if they want to avoid hives, anaphylaxis, or whatever it is that their body does in response to milk protein.

If you don’t fall into the above two categories, you may want to explore some of the other reasons with me to find out why people have sworn off dairy before you decide if you are joining the bandwagon or not:

1. Dairy is an acne-trigger: TRUE. Some research does, in fact show that high intakes of dairy are linked to moderate to severe acne in teenagers and young women due to the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) found in milk. The IGF-1 is the primary mediator for the growth hormone and is present in pregnant milk-producing cows. I believe this hormone and others is to blame for why many people are so nervous about consuming cow’s milk and have made the switch to one of the many alternatives available on the market today. Read on.

2. It contains harmful hormones: FALSE. As with with above, the word hormone gets people nervous and thus, there has been lots of public concern over the synthetic hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), that leaks (in miniscule amounts) into our dairy products from pregnant cows. What exactly is it and why is it used? Simply put, it helps the cows produce more milk, i.e. increases efficiency and productivity for their ahem, job. In fact, it’s been studied extensively in it’s twenty years in use and in this most recent review of those many studies, has been concluded totally safe. You have likely seen organic rbST-free milk and yogurt options available in your local grocery store and assumed they were better. From what I have researched, these are in response to market demand, not necessarily safety concerns. If I find out any differently, I will tell you. Promise. If you are still concerned, you have those available to choose from and certainly, if you are acne prone, go for them.

3. Dairy has been linked to certain types of cancer: FALSE except for possibly prostate, which remains inconclusive. In a 2015 analysis of 22 prospective cohort studies (1,566,940 participants), they concluded dairy was associated with a decrease in breast cancer incidence. And again, a study published last month (June 2017), they indicated after analyzing the results of 13 different studies (493,415 participants and 7453 cases) that increased calcium intake coming from diet and supplements was associated with a decreased risk of ovarian cancer. In another review, published at the end of last year, they concluded that cow’s milk is indeed associated with a reduced risk of colorectal, bladder, and gastric cancer as well but neutral for ovarian, pancreatic, and lung. With that many participants and cases, they make a strong argument. The jury remains out for prostate as there has been evidence that dairy raises the risk of prostate cancer, particularly because of the presence of the IGF-1 hormone. Stay clear if you’re a male and have a strong family history for now….in my opinion. It’ cancer, after all.

4. It raises diabetes risk: FALSE. In a 2016 analysis that included 22 cohort studies comprising of 579,832 individuals and 43,118 Type 2 diabetes cases, total dairy consumption, particularly from low-fat yogurt was associated with a reduced risk. Although another study found no difference using full fat yogurt, suggesting the benefits came from the fact that yogurt is rich in probiotics and the fat content is not as important. Lots of human subjects here, that’s what I like to see in results.

  • 5. It causes inflammation: TRUE, maybe. Looking at 78 studies, it really was a toss-up. This review concluded that dairy products, especially fermented ones, like yogurt, are anti-inflammatory. However, for people who have a known dairy allergy, it is definitely pro-inflammatory. Makes sense, that’s kinda what an allergic response is. As far as what it was that caused the dairy to be inflammatory, they did find more of an association with the dairy products highest in saturated fat.

6. It’s fattening and raises risk of heart disease: FALSE. In the same review, they discussed how in actuality, full fat dairy products raise HDL levels (a good thing). Although whole milk dairy products do tend to increase LDL cholesterol as well, understand that there are two types – small particle and large particle. The small, dense particle size are the ones that are more susceptible to oxidation and artery wall build-up, whereas the large are not. Dairy products have more of the large particles. That’s good. A recent meta-analysis of thirteen studies published in December of last year concluded plainly that :

Higher dairy fat exposure is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

7. It was never meant for humans, only baby calves. Personally, I find this to be a weak argument. One could argue that the only milk meant for humans is breast milk. However, many of us, myself included, enjoy soy milk, almond milk, and many of the other non-dairy novelties on a regular basis. The NHANES pubished in 2010 reported that indeed, children aged 2-4 and 5-10 did have higher BMIs when drinking higher quantities of milk (higher BMI was not necessarily equivalent to obesity). However, these results were used for the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans to encourage milk consumption among children since a higher BMI (not necessarily obese) for a child is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is well known that calcium and vitamin D intake are linked to bone health and that milk is an excellent source of these vital nutrients. We also know that bone mass is developed during childhood and adolescence.

One might argue that calcium and vitamin D are also available from the many dairy alternatives such as almond, rice, soy, and coconut milk, and often in higher quantities. In this study, however, they found that our bodies absorb about 25% less of the calcium most brands of soy milk add to their product compared to cow’s milk. In other words, you need to drink about 12 ounces of soy milk to get the same amount of calcium you would get from an 8 ounce glass of cow’s milk. Another review pointed out that we simply don’t know the amount our bodies can absorb from all of the nutrient-fortified plant-based milk options to say whether or not it’s the same as drinking cow’s milk. Either way, no one can deny our children are consuming energy dense, but not necessarily nutrient dense diets and that’s a problem. Cow’s milk is the only product I know of that is consistently high in protein, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D while low in food additives including added sugars that is widely offered to children in their critical growth years.

Hear me out. If you read my blogs, I understand that some of you read holistic health sites as do I. And much of what I’ve said in this post goes against what you’ve probably read or heard. But I do not believe in living in fear, I believe in what it is evidence when it comes to this stuff. I dig as much as my time allows to avoid any potential bias and present the facts to you. If you have any personal experiences that differ and you need to remain committed to a dairy free diet, there are acceptable options to get your calcium from, including some you may haven’t even thought of yet like kale, broccoli, and canned salmon. If you need probiotics and extra supplementation, I have recommendations that I fully trust and use myself that I would feel confident in sharing with you. Feel free me to contact me if you’d like to discuss it more.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here. We have an upcoming fitness challenge that’s going to be lots of fun!

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Do you know what high fructose corn syrup really is?

Believe it or not, there is a large degree of controversy in the health community as to whether or not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) any different than consuming sugar, honey, or any of the other sweeteners humans have consumed for decades prior to the 1970s when it was first introduced on the market.

Let’s start off with defining what this evil thing is, HFCS, anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, probably all bad things. But do you know what it really is (besides an evil liquid sweet substance that makes you fat especially your liver, inflames everything in your body, and will likely give you a heart attack in the next 5 years)? Defined, it is derived from corn starch which has been broken down into corn syrup to which enzymes have been added to change some of the glucose to fructose, making the product

sweeter than regular corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is 100% glucose whereas HFCS now has a large portion or fructose. According to the FDA, HFCS 42 (as in 42% fructose) is mainly used in processed foods, cereals, baked goods, and some beverages. HFCS 55 (as in 55% fructose) is used primarily in soft drinks. Make sense?

Why is it used? Because it’s cheap. It comes from an abundance and renewable source in the agricultural industry – corn. It’s also stable in acidic environments and beverages, making it very easy to use in products. Being that it’s liquid, it’s also easy to pump from delivery vehicles to mixing and storage tanks.

So why the controversy? It’s cheap, it’s easy, seems to be near identical to table sugar, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose – the substance all other sweeteners are compared to. So why all the media hype? One of the biggest spotlights it has been deemed a demon for is the obesity epidemic. I’ve done as thorough research review and as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t convince them, conf

use them.”And that’s largely where I’m at -sort of.

Here’s why. The vast majority of the studies I read concluded that HFCS is no more to harmful to our health than consuming regular table sugar is. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, it just means it’s not worse for you than eating added sugars in general. That makes a lot of sense to me because I already know that eating added sugar does more harm that good. What didn’t make sense to me was that some of these articles, like this one from the NIH, while compelling, were funded by Pepsi Co International, Coca Cola, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods, Corn Refiners Association, and Weight Watchers. The conclusion was “based on high quality evidence from randomized controlled tria

ls (RCT), systematic reviews and meta-analyses of cohort studies that singling out added sugars as unique culprits for metabolically based diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease appears inconsistent with modern, high quality evidence and is very unlikely to yield health benefits.” In case you forgot, Weight Watchers has a large product line if one and two point cakes, muffins, and other yummy sweet treats to keep you on track with your point count.

And this review, who’s final statement was “it does not appear to be practical to base dietary guidance on selecting or avoiding these specific types of sweeteners,” was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s just hard for me to see beyond the possibility of hidden agendas w

hen companies who have a lot to lose are dumping their money into statements telling the public th

at what they are doing is perfectly safe.

I did find some unbiased research out there though. As of 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that there indeed is evidence that it may have a special connection to the rising obesity rates, particularly because of the overconsumption of sweetened sodas. The conclusion that started this whole controversy was that “the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and gout is also increased with the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

But why would this be? For starters, with the cheap source of sweeteners, the average soda size grew from sixteen ounce bottles to twenty. Even more so, this sugary substance is addicting. W

hen we get a taste of it, we want more. Sweetness is an acquired taste. Ever met a one year old who’s never had candy or cookies? I have and they could care less about it. I met a holistic nutrition doctor once that has two children between the ages of five and ten who have never had sugar of any kind before….and they didn’t want it. In contrast, I’ve met a two year old who’s tasted candy and they will go through great lengths to get it (like pulling up chairs, climbing furniture, hiding behind furniture with said candy, screaming, crying…not that this was my kid or anything.)

In a more recent study in 2013, they concluded similar results (along with increased risk of fatty liver disease) with more astounding statistics – between 1950 and 2000 the soda consumption increased from 10 gallons per year to over 50 gallons per year and from 120 pounds of sugar in 1994 to over 160 pounds of sugar in the 21 st century.

Additionally, fructose can be a nightmare if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. For about one third of sufferers, fructose malabsorption or intolerance may exacerbate symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Fructose is naturally found in honey and fruits. But we eat it on the daily in sugary drinks and processed foods – trying to eliminate it can be a challenge. Same goes for those with a corn allergy. It’s becomes a second job to avoid HFCS since it’s now in not only sodas but crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, granola bars, and yogurt.

Lastly, I’ve talked about the hunger regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin before. There is evidence to suggest that HFCS inhibits insulin secretion thus, the leptin isn’t produced to promote satiety after a meal or a snack full of HFCS. As far as I have found, ghrelin (the hunger producing hormo

ne) isn’t increased, but who cares when you get no full signal while you’re chowing down on a box of doughnuts?

Bottom line: eat it, as with table sugar and all added sugars, in moderation. It is unclear if HFCS is the cause of the rising obesity epidemic and all of the related health issues we are experienc

ing in ourselves and our families, but it is crystal clear that there is a correlation.

What is moderation though? Well, I didn’t find much out there. I know less than 160 pounds per year, but that doesn’t tell me a whole lot. To give you an idea, one 12 ounce can of soda has 40 grams. So consider a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminate sweetened beverages. Start there and limit the sweets to special occasions and holidays.

 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Dieting hacks: optical illusions & outta sight, outta mind

A lot of what we eat, sizes we choose, and amounts we serve ourselves are just an illusion. What do I mean by this?

Studies have shown that the most popular drink serving size is medium. However, “medium” is varies from restaurant to restaurant. For example, did you know Starbucks has a “short” size? It’s true. But they don’t advertise it because if they did, they know they would sell mostly “tall” drinks instead of “grande” which in most people’s eyes is considered their “medium” size. Why? Because they advertise tall-grande-venti. If they advertised short-tall-grande, we would all want tall. Interesting, huh?

To drive home this point, the first time I went to my local movie theater, I got a medium soda. However, what they considered medium was about 42 ounces!!! I took my kids yesterday and remembered this, so I ordered a “small” 32 ounces. Still gigantic, but imagine how many people are ordering the 42 ounce sodas simply because of the “medium” label? In a gas station, we call those “big gulps.”

I haven’t been to a bar in a long time….make that about 8 years (about the age of my oldest plus 9 months.) But in study found that experienced bartenders will pour about 20% more alcohol into a short glass versus the same size tall glass if not pre-measured while the average person will pour around 30% more. You think restaurants and bars have more tall glasses because of this? Of course they do! Or at least they are required to use their jiggers! Try this concept with your children for fun: show them 1/2 cup candy in a tall glass and a short glass (clear, see through) and give them a choice. They will choose the tall glass even though its the same amount. Why? Because the tall, slender glass looks like more candy.

How can you apply the optical illusion concept to your life?

  1. Use smaller bowls, plates, and cups so that it appears as if you are eating more than you are. As referenced in my last post, those portions will get lost in large plates and it’s been proven over and over, you will eat more if you eat on large serving dishes.
  2. Divide your snacks into smaller portions. The same researcher mentioned above, found that using visual indicators significantly reduces the amount that we eat. Check out this study where just adding a different color every seventh or fourteenth chip resulted in a 250 calorie difference!! It really can be that easy, folks! This is why single serving and 100 calorie packs are so effective! Get yourself some snack-sized plastic baggies and pre-portion out your snacks or before you sit down to watch television with a bag of chips, put a handful in a bowl first so you can see what you are eating. Do not rely on estimates when you are eating directly from the bag. Take that extra step if you are serious about losing weight.
  3. Make it inconvenient to overeat and put foods you should be limiting out of sight. Remove the candy dish off your desk and put it somewhere you can’t see it (like, in the trash. No really, in the pantry). Get the bag of chips off the top of your refrigerator and put it behind closed cabinet doors. Store your leftovers in an opaque container, in the back of your refrigerator (I don’t care if you forget about them, that’s the kind of the point!) And please, stop storing that ice cream in the freezer in case your grandkids come visit! It’s not good for them, either!
  4. Keep healthy foods convenient and visible. Store fresh fruits and vegetables in clear containers, in the front of your refrigerator, already cut up and ready to eat. Purchase cheese sticks already portioned out and make sure they aren’t buried under stuff in the deli drawer. Boil eggs in advance and peel them so that they are ready for a snack when you’re hungry, again stored in a clear container where you can see them. Replace the cookie jar on the counter with a bowl of fresh fruit. Put some single serve trail mix packages on top of your fridge in place of the chips. Need proof this stuff works? Here’s another study for you on how out of sight, out of mind reduces over-eating- office workers ate 5.6 more chocolates each day when dishes were visible but inconvenient, and 2.9 more chocolates when dishes were convenient but not visible. I’m suggesting you do both (make the food inconvenient and invisible), but according to this study, it’s the visibility that really counts.

Even if you pick one or two of these hacks to try, I think you will see some results in your life. Let me know in the comments what you try and how it’s helping you. Remember, it’s not willpower, it’s skill-power. I’m going to keep emphasizing that point because I want you to understand that you have the power within yourself to see the results that you desire.

P.S. Love to eat out but not sure how to fit it in with your health and wellness goals? Get these tips  sent to your inbox and master the dieting hacks even when you’re at restaurants!

P.P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Part 1: Food additives, are they safe?

MSG, GMO, HFCS, and on and on and on. I dunno about you, but it’s really confusing to eat healthy these days because it seems there is always someone around the corner saying what once was thought to be a health food is now going to disrupt my hormones, upset my gut health, or wreak havoc on my immune system. I thought it was just an apple?

Seriously, when I was growing up my dad always told me those kept the doctor away. And so far for him, they have…..but he’s also from the generation that doesn’t go to the doctor. Not unless there’s a limb hanging off. (That’s another topic, because I don’t necessarily support that mindset, we’ve had a few scares with him over the years.)

So which is it? What do you need to look for? I know if I’m confused and I’m a Dietitian, others must be too. And unfortunately in my research on this topic, our food supply ain’t what it used to be. With growing food trends to make more, make more that lasts longer, and feed the masses from far away places, we need to be aware of what’s in our foods and what we are comfortable feeding ourselves and our families. There are many and I won’t be able to cover them all in this post, but I’ll start with a few today:

  • Sodium nitrites and nitrates: if you have EVER talked to me about eating processed meat of any kind, I’ve likely told you to take the extra second and find some without this ingredient. This includes your bacon, deli meat, hot dogs (should you choose to indulge), sausage and any canned or cured meats like vienna sausage. They are added to these foods to enhance the color and acts as a preservative. If you’ve ever had a nitrite/nitrate free slice of bacon or deli turkey slice, you would NOT taste the difference. But you would be ridding yourself of the cancer-causing effects. We now know that there is a very strong link to digestive cancer and this food preservative. Here is what the American Institute of Cancer Research says: “Research shows that any amount of processed meat eaten regularly increases the risk of both stomach and colorectal cancers. Why risk it when there are other options easily available?
  • Carrageenan: it’s extracted from red seaweed and used in a wide variety of applications in the food industry as a thickening, gelling, stabilizing and suspending agent in water and milk systems. So you are going to find it mostly in dairy products including liquid coffee creamer, cottage cheese, yogurt, soy milk, almond milk, processed cheese, chocolate milk, ice cream, frosting mix, and infant formulas. According to numerous research studies, it’s linked to various harmful effects in the gastrointestinal system including cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcers and ulcerative colitis.) The article linked is a review of multiple animal studies – note I don’t always take these types of studies seriously because we’re people and our bodies are very different from rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, and monkeys. But here’s the deal – the results were profound. In just one example, they noted that 100% of guinea pigs given 2% degraded carrageenan as liquid for 20–30 days had colonic ulcerations and  75% of the animals developed > 200 ulcers. When guinea pigs were given 1% undegraded carrageenan as liquid for 20–30 days, 80% developed colonic ulcerations. The review concluded:
• Degraded carrageenan is a known carcinogen in animal models
• Undegraded carrageenan is a known co-carcinogen in animal models of carcinogenesis• In animal models, both degraded and undegraded carrageenan have been associated with development of intestinal ulcerations that resemble ulcerative colitis
• Hydrolysis such as may occur by exposure to gastric acid in the human stomach can lead to the depolymerization of undegraded carrageenan and the availability of degraded carrageenan
• Food-grade carrageenan may be contaminated with low molecular weight, degraded carrageenan that may arise during food processing
• The use of a viscosity measurement to characterize a carrageenan sample is insufficient because the presence of a small number of large molecules (and undegraded carrageenan may have molecular weight in the millions) may obscure a significant low molecular weight fraction.

Personally, my soy milk is carrageenan free. I’m sure it creeps up in my diet elsewhere but when I can, I will be avoiding it.

  • Potassium Bromate: used as a flour enhancer – it increases the volume of bread and produces a fine crumb structure. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to form innocuous bromide during the baking process. The problem is that bromate itself is a known carcinogen in animals and if tiny amounts remain in the end product, it poses a risk to those who eat it. I dunno about you, but I’m getting pretty upset about the amount of known cancer-causing additives in our food products, even if “tiny” and in animals. Especially since many of them, including bromate have been banned everywhere else except in the United States (bromate is also allowed in Japan although most manufacturers have voluntary stopped using it.) Just a side note, if you live in California, you are less likely to consume it because a cancer warning is required on the label when they use it. I will mention many of the brands we are familiar with, like Pepperidge Farm, Arnolds, Entenmann’s and several large supermarket chains have switched to non-bromate bread more than a decade ago, but there are still several products on the market you should be aware of that still use it. For the most updated list I could find on the internet, click here.  If you aren’t sure, read the ingredients list and look for “potassium bromate” or “bromated flour.”

I’m gonna stop here for now because frankly, it takes quite a bit of research on my part to give you sound advice on what’s going on out there. I’m not about instilling the fear in you so you don’t want to eat anything and I know that the world of nutrition can be quite dramatic sometimes. Get on google for a few minutes and you will want to start your own garden and wonder if you have what it takes to milk a cow.

I am going to continue with this in future posts and I would love to hear from you. If there are any food additives or preservatives that you have been wondering about – safety, etc., please contact me or comment on this post.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Help! My family won’t agree on the same meal!

So many of us can relate. I know I can.

My husband eats just about anything.

My 7 year old son will, too. But it requires lots of coaxing and positive reinforcement before he will even try it. And still, there are foods he won’t touch. Normal “no touch zone” kid foods – onions, peppers, zucchini, squash, and oddly enough- potatoes (unless they’re french fries.) He loves black olives though, go figure.

Let’s talk about my 4 year old. When he was a baby, he couldn’t get enough. I had to feed him eight ounces of baby food three times a day. He ate it all, pureed turkey included. I was optimistic. Until we introduced table food. You know that saying “they’ll eat when they’re hungry?” It’s not true for this guy. He would rather starve than eat a food that didn’t look right, smell right, or taste right to him. He rarely gets to the “taste right”  stage if it didn’t “smell right.” The kid smells frozen waffles and has the nose of a hound dog on the hunt. I can name about ten foods he will rotate and another ten he likes on occasion.

And for me? Well, I’m not a big meat eater. I’m not fond of leftovers once they’ve been sitting in the freezer for months on end. But other than that, I’ll eat it if I could get the rest of the family to agree. And therein lies the problem. The problem many of you have voiced. In attempts to solve the mystery for myself and to help a fellow momma out, I’ve come up with a few tips (and recipes) to prevent the insanity we all know as dinner.

  1. Set the same time and day to plan your meals for each week. Make it a family meeting. If your husband is like mine and doesn’t care, then at least involve your children. This doesn’t mean you are going to get everyone on the same page for every meal. However, it does mean you are more likely to get everyone on to agree to try each meal. There won’t be any surprises when you set brussel sprouts on the table this Tuesday night because they knew it was coming.
  2. Make easily modified meals rather than two or three separate meals. You probably didn’t have a special meal prepared for you just because you didn’t like what was cooked. I don’t remember ever, not once getting a choice for dinner as a child. If I didn’t want to be hungry, I ate. The only preference that mattered was my dad’s. That’s who my mother cooked for. My parents have been married for 34 years. That tells me something important. For example, we have stir fry meals quite often. My four year old is not going to touch a mixed dish like that. However, he loves rice with butter mixed in. He gets the rice, we get the stir fry on the rice. Same with pasta. He gets butter pasta while the rest of us get a more interesting pasta dish with vegetables and meat sauce. I always offer him the rest on his plate. Why? Because it takes a minimum of seven offerings before you can say your child truly doesn’t like a food item. SEVEN. I can say this with 100% accuracy that it’s been true for my oldest child who now eats cabbage when the first time he literally gagged it down. Remember we are teaching them important rules about nutrition in these early years. I know if my children had a choice, it would be pop-tarts, french fries, and candy all day long.
  3. Opt in for a farm bag co-op. For a low price, you can have farm fresh fruits and vegetables delivered right to your doorstep every week. Usually you do not choose what you get because you truly get whatever is freshly grown in season. I cannot tell you how exciting this is for my children. Often, we get items no one in the family has tried before and it becomes a sweet family experience. Plus, there is something about eating fresh and ripe that just makes fruits and vegetables taste better. Your kids will notice.
  4. Involve them in the cooking process. I know it can be aggravating because they are messy, they do things slower, and you have to take extra steps to make sure they don’t cut a finger off or burn themselves. But if you want your children to eat, let them be a part of the process. The pride they feel in something they created is often enough to get them to at least try it and when they try it, they may go ahead and eat it.
  5. Don’t stress if they’ve tried it, but didn’t eat it. Remember when your parents made you clean your plate? One of the most difficult habits for an overweight adult to break is to not leave food on their plate, regardless of hunger. I assure you, the world hunger problems will still exist regardless if you leave food on your plate. There are organizations you can donate to if you want to make a real difference. We need to be okay with food left on the plate. Children are very good at gaging their hunger and satiety cues, let them do it.

This is hard stuff, I know. But you’ve got enough stress in your life. Dinner shouldn’t be one of them. One day we will all look back on these times as the best in our lives and wonder where it all went. Enjoy your family, their differences and all!

Need more ideas from moms like yourself? Ask to join Jillian’s free online community by clicking here.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD

 

How to fail at weight loss in 4 easy steps

“I’ve been working really hard at this! Why I haven’t I lost weight?!”

I hear this question all the time. There isn’t just one answer to this seemingly simple question. But I’m going to attempt to offer some insight here that may help many of you out.

Here we go, how to fail at weight loss:

  1. Go the the gym. And nothing else. You’re burning more calories right? Wrong. Going to the gym doesn’t give you a license to sit the rest of the day. And definitely not one to continue eating as usual. Losing weight is 80% diet and 20% physical activity. You simply can not lose weight and continue with your afternoon sweet fix, sweet tea at dinner, Friday night pizza and wings, and coffee with extra whip cream every morning. At best, you can expect to burn an extra 200-300  calories at the gym, the equivalent of one slice of pizza, a small McDonalds fry, or 1-2 cookies. Depressing, I know.
  2. Skip meals. Sounds counterintuitive. Skipping meals means eating less calories, right? Wrong. Think of your body as a car that needs fuel to keep going. What fuel is to a car, calories are to the human body. Without it, we are like a car that has run out of gas or otherwise, a metabolism that simply cannot move. When you go more than five hours without eating, this signals the body’s metabolism to slow the heck down and conserve, rather than use, energy. You’re like a parked car. And guess what? Next time you eat, not only are you ready to eat the table, your body is in storage mode and now is going to store MORE calories at the meal than it would have if you were eating more frequently. You know “those skinny people” that seem to be eating all. day. long. And you probably hate them for it? This is why. They keep their metabolisms going 100 miles per hour. You can do the same, just not with junk food, ok?
  3. Continue to use food for comfort. This one sounds like a no brainer, but it is the number one reason I see people struggle to see ANY results at all in their weight loss goals. If this is your M.O. you gotta address it before you even think about anything else. Sure, food is readily available and as I mentioned in my previous post, create a fantastic dopamine response (aka feel good) in the brain, but it’s never going to help you lose weight if used as comfort. I’ve written lots around this topic and suggestions for overcoming it in previous posts. But remember this: let food be about food and your emotions be about emotions. Food was never supposed to be centered around your emotions.
  4. Don’t go grocery shopping. When working with a new client, one of the first questions I ask is “how often do you go to the grocery store?” And the second one is “do you make a list?” That can tell me a lot about their meal planning habits. News flash: fresh fruit, vegetables, greek yogurt, and grilled chicken won’t magically appear in your refrigerator. The old cliche “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail” applies here. Someone has to purchase this heathy food, prepare it, and get it in front of you, preferably on a kitchen table. Not on a coffee table in front of the television or on a desk in front of the computer. Again, food is about food – to be eaten in the setting of a meal at a table, not eaten all over the place.

There are lots more reasons why people fail like expecting massive results too quickly, trying to change their whole lives overnight, refusal to make important changes, genetics or just a history of significant dieting in general. I will plan to address these in future posts. But for now, I implore you to take an honest review of your own habits and decide to change what’s holding you back.

If you need some help and are interested in a free 30 minute telephone wellness consult, contact me here and I will get back to you in the next 48 hours to schedule an appointment with you.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD

Are you scared to try new foods?

I’m not talking about octopus on crackers, fried crickets, or organs. But I am talking about trying new healthy foods, maybe exotic fruits and vegetables, foods you’ve written off as a child and assumed you don’t like as an adult. And even foods you just made a decision not to like because they are “health foods.”

We can be so “judgy” can’t we? Truth is, our food habits and preferences were formed early in life based on cultural and social factors. Often based upon what part of the world were were raised in, who cooked for us, our socioeconomic status, and whether or not we were forced to clean our plates.

I’ll just use myself as an example. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned cooking rice was worth the effort. I had never tried anything other than instant rice growing up and assumed any other way was just too difficult and took too long. Now my eyes have been opened to a whole world of possibilities and varieties!

In this video, I’ve given you some examples of simple, but healthful foods I’ve tried over the past couple of years and why. None of them require a trip to the nearest health food store or an increase in my grocery budget. Just a willingness to try new things.

That’s what my challenge is for you starting today. Take me up on it. Open your palate to possibilities of new tastes and experiences while nourishing your body, even during the holidays. Even if only this one time each day. To begin, just follow my instagram account over at The Oil RD and you will find today’s first food to try. Tag a friend because these things are always so much better with company. Post a picture on your own account with what you’ve come up with that incorporates the food of the day and tag it with the #LikeAnRD hashtag of the day.

See you over on instagram!