Nutrition Blog

Each month, I.L. Creations' registered dietitians create our Wellness Newsletter discussing a different nutrition or wellness topic. You may subscribe to this at the registered dietitian's table during your cafe's monthly wellness visit or by clicking the link below to our Home page.  Here on the blog, we continue the conversation by posting relevant, entertaining, and useful food and nutrition information. 

Please look through our previous posts below to see what topics you may have missed. If you would like to see a topic in the future, let us know!

Check out the Home page to subscribe for free to our monthly Wellness Newsletter.
Check out the Recipes page to see recipes from previous newsletters, registered dietitian cafe visits, and our registered dietitian's family favorites.

Meal Planning for Heart Health

posted Mar 2, 2020, 6:07 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Mar 3, 2020, 6:22 AM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT


Do you eat on the run? Or always struggling to cook something healthy for yourself or loved ones? The kind of meals you typically eat will translate to how healthy your heart is.  But chances are if you are eating on the fly, “meal planning” hasn’t been your priority.

It sometimes takes you going to a health checkup and being prescribed medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes before you start making meal planning a priority.   High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are all risk factors for heart disease.   Meal planning can put you on a path to healthy eating so you can reduce the need for medication and, most importantly, get you feeling and looking your best. 

Why plan your meals?  Planning your meals allows you to avoid eating unhealthy meals on the run.  It also lets you eat healthy foods and promote the reversal and prevention of heart disease.

Where to start?  Use the MyPlate as a guide to planning healthy meals.  MyPlate  will give you a visual on the types of food to include each day.

Items you will need to create a meal plan:

1.       Meal Planner Worksheet (Click here for a sample meal planner)

2.       Favorite recipe sources (websites or cookbooks)

3.       MyPlate graphic art  

Let’s get started on creating a heart-healthy weekly meal plan. 

1.  First, know the key nutrients (healthy ingredients) needed for a healthy heart.   Stock your refrigerator and pantry with foods that contain these essential nutrients to ensure you have the ingredients on hand to plan healthy meals.  The following are some of the best features of these foods: 

v  More Potassium:  Potassium-rich foods lower blood pressure naturally and healthy blood pressure promotes a healthy heart.  Potatoes, bananas, and avocados are rich in potassium; also, almond butter.

v  Less Sodium:  Too much sodium in your foods can increase your blood pressure and cause unhealthy arteries.   Aim to plan meals that contain fresh foods versus canned. If using canned, then buy sodium-free or low-sodium varieties.   Fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are better than packaged deli meats.    

v  Include healthy fats:  Swap out the saturated fats for protective fats such as olive oil, avocados, walnuts, and salmon, which contain omega 3’s.   Consuming foods that are high in unhealthy fats can cause weight gain and clogged arteries.  Olive oil and avocados contain omega3’s, which reduce inflammation in the body and can lower your cholesterol.  Consider using plant-based spreads instead of butter, reduced-fat cheese for casseroles and reduced-fat Greek yogurts.

v  Lean proteins (plant-based).  Animal protein foods tend to be higher in saturated fats.  Choose leaner varieties such as skinless chicken or turkey.  Red meats tend to be more inflammatory, so stick with eating poultry and fish more often.  Plant-based proteins such as beans and nut butters are healthy staples to have as well, to create veggie burgers, stews and for use in sandwiches.   Aim to eat 2 servings of fish each week (total of 6 to 8 ounces) and have beans 2 or 3 times a week.

v  High in fiber:  Foods high in soluble fiber help lower the bad cholesterol.   Adding oatmeal or beans to your meal plan are just a few examples of high fiber foods.  

2.   Heart-healthy ingredient swaps: Review the ingredients in your favorite recipes and swap out the unhealthy ingredients for healthy ingredients in these recipes.   Check out websites that may offer healthier versions of your favorite recipes.  Here are few suggested favorite recipe sites:   (1)ILC ; (2) American Heart Association;  and (3) USDA Choose MyPlate

3.   Write down the daily recipe names on the Meal Planner worksheet.  Aim to plan at least 5 days’ worth of meals from the recipes.  This will be a typical work week where we are prone to eat on the fly.   

Here are a few meal planning ideas to get you started:




Power oatmeal: Oatmeal topped with ½ cup banana, blueberries and walnuts, then add soy or 1% milk.

Heart-healthy omelet.  Use one egg and two egg whites, add mushrooms, spinach, onions, asparagus, or kale with reduced-fat 2% shredded cheese.

Greek yogurt parfait. Plain Fage 0% Greek yogurt, then layer blueberries and walnuts.

Reduce the amount of meat in your sandwich or wraps.  Add more vegetables (cucumbers, sliced bell peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens). Use collard greens or butter lettuce as wraps instead of bread.

Vegetable Mediterranean bowl (avocado, ¾ cup cauliflower rice, 1/3 cup of brown rice, olives, cherry tomatoes, 1 tbs of feta cheese), then drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.

Aim to have plant-based meals.

Black bean salad with avocado. Click here for recipe.

Vegetable Curry. Click here for recipe.


All meals have a side salad topped with strawberries and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. Steamed vegetable of your choice.


4.  Generate a weekly grocery list:  Using the ingredients needed for the recipes, audit your refrigerator and pantry and write down what you need to make the recipes for the week.   

5.  Meal prep.  Plan an hour before the work week starts to prep the ingredients you need for the meals you planned.  Chop vegetables in advance so you can grab and make fresh meals.  Or plan ahead meals that you can refrigerate or freeze.

v  Turkey meatballs can be stored in freezer bags, so you can thaw for dinner during a busy work week.   

v  Brown rice can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days to be used in recipes. 

v  Bake extra chicken to make chicken salad for wraps or salad toppers.

v  Make muffins rather than purchase protein bars.

For more tips on meal planning and prepping, attend ILC’s Healthy Living meeting at the Washington DC USDA South Building, Cafeteria Conference Room, on Wednesday, March 11th at 11:30 am to 12:30pm or follow us on Facebook and check out our website each month at

For questions on this article, please contact


New Year's Solution to Achieving Your Resolutions

posted Jan 31, 2020, 2:18 PM by Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD

The beginning of a new year is often an exciting time. For many individuals, it is a time to set resolutions for the New Year. Some involve changing priorities or habits relating to family, friends, finances, hobbies and so on. The most common resolutions fall under the category of health and wellness. These changes may involve food, being active, getting better sleep, stress management or beginning mediation practices, just to name a few. However, each year many media outlets report that most resolutions fail and typically fail within the first few months of the year. Fortunately, we’ve got a solution that will help you achieve your resolutions in this New Year.


Before we get into the solution, you might be wondering, “Why do New Year’s resolutions fail for so many people”? In reality, there are many different answers to this question. However, here are three common reasons for why New Year’s resolutions don’t last:


1)  Unrealistic Expectations:

Resolutions can be both exciting and challenging. However, a dose of reality does need to be explored early on. Most resolutions will require an element of behavior change and it’s important to be realistic with your goals from the beginning to set yourself up for success.


2)  No Plan of Action:

You may have heard the well-known phrase by Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” In its simplest terms, a plan needs to be created and put in place in order to help an individual reach their goals. With no plans for action, it becomes incredibly difficult to make long-term changes.


3)  Society’s Expectations:

Many times people make New Year’s resolutions based on what society is telling them to do. Maybe it’s a hot new trend, fad diet or something that has gone viral just a few months prior. It’s important to recognize that the resolutions that you are setting are changes that you actually want to see in yourself.


Now we are ready to create our resolutions. It is imperative that each resolution (if there is more than one) is created using the SMART outline. SMART is simply an acronym that has been around since the 1980s. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound. Let's walk through each one below:


·         Specific: Any resolution should be clear, concise and concrete. Ask yourself “What do I want to achieve?”


·         Measurable: You need to have a way to measure your progress and behaviors in some form. This can be accomplished through data collection via an app, photos, journals or notes. This is how you will know when you’ve reached your goal.

·         Achievable: A goal needs to be attainable and realistic. No doubt, an element of challenge and stretching your abilities is important, with the end goal still in sight.

·         Relevant: When coming up with resolutions, it’s important to ask “Why does this goal matter to me?” Also consider the question “Am I choosing this goal for the right reasons?” Both questions play a huge role in either your success or falling short of your goals down the road.

·         Time-Bound: Each resolution should have a target date or deadline for completion. This helps to accomplish smaller goals that build onto long-term goals.   

Once you have written your defined SMART goal, it’s important to track your goal progress. Consider the action steps that you will need to take in order to achieve your resolution/s. Keeping a list is an easy way to do so. Along the way, you will likely encounter both obstacles and may need additional support to keep you on track. Don’t be afraid to ask for help during these times. Lastly, celebrate the milestones. Many goals are often long-term resolutions and celebrating small victories can keep you motivated on the journey. Utilizing the SMART outline, you can achieve any resolutions all year long.

Strategies for Maintaining Healthy Habits During and After the Holiday Season

posted Jan 6, 2020, 1:26 PM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Jan 10, 2020, 10:52 AM ]

By: Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT

The holiday season can cause many to abandon their healthy lifestyle routines due to excess jolly times, stress or sadness.  Here are five simple steps to help you maintain healthy habits all year long no matter the emotions you are experiencing.

1.     Healthier substitutions: Create a healthier display of foods by substituting healthier ingredients in your favorite recipes or by bringing in healthier holiday treats to work.

v Hummus dips, and instead

of pita chips, try veggie sticks such as jicama (which contains inulin and can lower blood sugar), sugar snap peas, tri-color sliced bell peppers and carrots.

v Pumpkin mousse parfait or use pumpkin mousse recipe as a dip and serve with sliced apples, jicama, and ginger 

                 snaps. Click Pumpkin Mousse Parfait for pumpkin mousse recipe.

vGreek yogurt Spinach dip with whole grain pita chips and vegetable sticks.

vVegetable-based dishes, for example, instead of green bean casserole.  Try steaming fresh green beans then sautéing yellow onions, mushrooms with olive oil. Toss sautéed mushroom and onion mixture over steamed green beans.

vFor work gatherings, instead of the candy and cookie basket, try a fruit basket with interspersed dark chocolates.


2.    Don’t skip meals before a party.   Have a light snack that contains a healthy carbohydrate and protein, along with an 8-ounce glass of water. This pre-party snack practice will help stave off hunger so you can scan the buffet table objectively.

v Sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon paired, with one tablespoon of peanut butter or half of cup of Greek yogurt.   

v Low-fat cottage cheese (4oz) with pears. 

3.     Don’t drink your calories.  Stay hydrated with water or unsweetened beverages to avoid drinking your calories:  Whether you are drinking alcohol or holiday punch, these drinks can pack on the calories.  Cut calories in half by trying these tips:

v Alternate drinking 8 ounces of water for every calorie-laden drink (wine, beer, eggnog, punch, sodas) consumed.  

v Always have sparkling water or water in your hand to avoid being offered high-calorie drinks.

v Dilute the drinks (wine or punch) with half sparkling water for a festive spritzer drink.

v Opt for smaller-size cups to drink wine, punch or sodas. 

4.       Portion control with serving size control.   "Half it and have it."  Serve yourself smaller portion sizes for snacks and meals.  

v Allow yourself  no more than two (1/2 cup) starches, such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, macaroni on your plate..

v For appetizers, opt for more fruits and vegetable appetizers paired with low-fat, high-fiber, high-protein foods such as bean dips or Greek yogurt dips.  

5.       Stay active.  Whether you are vacationing or will be on a staycation for the holidays, be sure to continue to have an exercise routine.   Staying active will help you stay motivated and help keep you healthy.

v Start the day off by hitting the gym for a spin class, yoga class or jog outside.  

v Walk after holiday meals.

        v Help clean kitchen.

Remember, not every approach works for everyone, so find what works for you.  Most importantly, enjoy the essence of the season by being at peace with yourself so you can be at ease with your food choices. 

By making healthy eating and exercise habits a way of life and you will be successful in maintaining your weight over the holidays and all year-long without stress..


Get To Know Your Carbohydrates

posted Nov 27, 2019, 1:04 PM by Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD   [ updated Dec 12, 2019, 1:22 PM ]

*The American Diabetes Association has graciously granted us permission to share this information.

Carbohydrates or “carbs” get a lot of attention in the media these days. Depending on the day and the new diet fad, you may be wondering if you should even eat them at all. The truth is that foods are made up of three main things: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. You need all of these to stay healthy, but the amounts that each person needs or chooses to eat may be very different. When choosing carbohydrates, you want carbs that give you the most bang for your buck in terms of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Processed foods found at the grocery and convenience stores tend to be higher in carbohydrates while very low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. By choosing less processed carb foods and watching how much you eat can make a big difference in your blood sugar levels and overall health. Carbs come in many different forms, but we’re going to focus on the top three: starch, sugar and fiber.




Foods high in starch include:


  • Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, lima beans and potatoes
  • Dried beans, lentils and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas, and split peas
  • Grains like oats, barley, rice, wheat, and others.
  • Whole grains are just that, the whole plant that has been harvested and dried with little processing. They provide fiber as well as essential vitamins including B and E and other minerals needed for optimal health.


Refined grains are processed to remove the most healthful parts including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Laws were passed in the U.S. many years ago to ensure that essential vitamins and minerals be added back in during processing as a result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies leading to diseases in children and adults.




Sugar is another source of carbohydrate. There are two main types of sugars:

  • Naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk or fruit
  • Added sugars that are added during processing, such as fruit canned in heavy syrup, sugar added to make a cookie, and table sugar to name a few.

Sugar has many different names. Examples of common names are table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, beet sugar, cane sugar, confectioner's sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, turbinado, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar and sugar cane.



Fiber is found in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and pulses (dried beans, peas and lentils). Fiber is like your body’s natural scrub brush, passing through your digestive tract carrying a lot of bad stuff out with it. Unfortunately, there is very little fiber in animal products such as milk, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish.

For optimal health, adults need to eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. Most Americans do not consume nearly enough fiber in their diet, so while it is wise to aim for this goal, any increase in fiber in your diet can be helpful. Most of us only get about half of what is recommended on a daily basis.

Eating foods higher in fiber can improve your digestion, lower your blood sugar, and reduce your risk of heart disease.


Good sources of dietary fiber include:

  • Beans and legumes. Think black beans, kidney beans, pintos, chick peas (garbanzos), white beans, and lentils
  • Fruits and vegetables (for example, apples, celery and beans) and those with edible seeds (for example, berries)


Whole grains such as:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole grain cereals like old fashioned or steel cut oats
  • Whole grain breads (To be a good source of fiber, one slice of bread should have at least three grams of fiber. Another good indication: look for breads where the first ingredient is a whole grain. For example, whole wheat or oats.) Many grain products now have "double fiber" with extra fiber added.
  • Nuts — try different kinds. Peanuts, walnuts, and almonds are a good source of fiber and healthy fat, but watch portion sizes, because they also contain a lot of calories in a small amount.


You can find foods that are naturally high in fiber that are labeled as “excellent source,” meaning they contain more than 5 grams of fiber; while foods labeled as “good source” contain at least 2.5 grams of fiber.


It is best to get your fiber from food rather than taking a supplement, but if that is not possible, a supplement can help. Please discuss with your primary care physician before beginning a supplement regimen.

If you haven’t been eating a lot of foods high in fiber on a daily basis, it’s important that you increase your intake slowly. Even though they are good for you, it can take time for your body to adjust. A sudden increase in eating foods high in fiber (especially foods with added fiber or when using supplements) can cause gas, bloating, or constipation. Be sure you are drinking enough water too, because fiber needs water to move through your body!

Get to Know Carbs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2019, from

Budget-Wise Healthy Eating

posted Oct 17, 2019, 6:39 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Oct 17, 2019, 12:09 PM ]

By:  Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, LDN, E-RYT

Do you sometimes feel like you struggle to eat healthy during a hectic work schedule, due to lack of time? Or do you feel that eating healthy meals on a consistent basis is just too expensive? 

Dining out and fast food tend to appeal to many people who are juggling work and family for both reasons: convenience and cost. Fast food deals are cheap, quick and make people feel like they’re saving money but, in the long term, can be expensive and lead to chronic health conditions.  These will cost you more than you bargained for!  According to a report by the USDA, in 2018, consumers spent 50 percent more on eating out than in 2009.

The aim of this blog is not to convince you to make everything homemade in your already-busy lifestyle. Rather, the purpose is to help you find creative ways to eat healthier on a budget, whether you’re eating out or cooking at home.

Here are the top 5 steps you can take for cost-saving healthy eating:

1) Use leftovers and stock your refrigerator with healthy inexpensive staples: Audit your pantry and your refrigerator and make a grocery list, this prevents you from overbuying. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with pre-washed leafy greens and pre-cut vegetables so that you will use them versus tossing them out later in the week due to spoilage.  Also have on hand whole grain breads, brown rice, and beans which are very inexpensive and nutritious.  Buy quinoa and lentils which cook in 15 minutes and are packed with nutrients. 
         Make meals that can be reused in other recipes. Make baked chicken for dinner and make chicken salad with the leftover chicken.

2) Use Coupons: Don't throw out that flyer in your mailbox or newspaper, you could be throwing out cash.  Often times local grocery stores will mail out coupons or have inserts in the newspaper.            Many stores also have "cost saving cards" you can sign up for to save on your purchases.  

3) Dining out savings: Ask for water and skip the appetizers, this not only saves money but it saves calories. Half it and have it.  Ask for a "to go box" ahead of time and put half the large portion sizes the restaurants serve you in the "to go box" and have for lunch the next day.

4) Use canned and frozen vegetables:  If you feel like, at the end of the week, your fresh vegetables have rotted, then frozen and canned vegetables and fruits are fine to use. Make sure to buy the ones with no added sugar or sodium.  These are inexpensive and have a longer shelf life.  These canned and frozen vegetables can be tossed into  pastas or rice dishes to make them more nutritious.

5) Pack your lunch:  Going out to eat can add up.  $7 to $10 dollars is the average cost to eat out at lunch.  When you do the math, this can be up to $80 dollars a month just at lunch time.  Then add dinner to the mix, and you could be spending $160.00 a month just on eating out.

6) Safe at your IL Creations café Happy Hour:  At most IL Creations café  all hot buffet items are half-priced.  Take advantage of having a late lunch so that you can work out after work
Eating on a budget takes discipline but can be achieved.  Saving money on dining out can be very rewarding for your health and your finances.   

For more ways to eat well on a budget, check out resources on the and stop by and talk to ILCreations’ Dietitians at select ILC cafes.

Supplements: What You Need To Know

posted Sep 19, 2019, 2:10 PM by Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD   [ updated Sep 19, 2019, 2:10 PM ]

Have you ever noticed that the supplement aisle in the grocery store looks more like a candy aisle? There are so many options, colors and sizes, it seems harmless right? Plus, if the word “natural” is on the label that makes it safe, or so we thought. The FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. Many supplements can have side effects that may harm individuals if they are not careful. We’re going to walk through the basics of supplements and a few things to keep in mind the next time you find yourself shopping for supplements.

A dietary supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health, includes a group comprised of vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes and probiotics. They come in a variety of forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, drinks and energy bars. Any product that is labeled as a dietary supplement will carry a Supplement Facts panel, which lists the contents, amount of active ingredients per serving and other additional ingredients. A serving size is suggested by the manufacturer. However, the amount you take may be different, as determined by your health care provider.

The most commonly consumed dietary supplement in the United States is a multivitamin/mineral (MVM) supplement. These account for roughly 1/6 of all purchases of dietary supplements. Surprisingly, there is no standard or regulatory definition available for an MVM supplement. Many MVMs are available in retail stores and online outlets and are sold relating to certain characteristics (i.e. age, gender, pregnancy, etc.). According to the NIH, taking a basic MVM should pose no safety risks to healthy people, providing the MVM contains the recommended intakes of vitamins and minerals. However, it is strongly suggested to check with a healthcare provider before starting an MVM supplement, as some medical conditions or other prescription medications may interfere with the MVMs' efficacy.

So you might be wondering, “How do I know which dietary supplements should I be taking?” It is critical to speak to your primary healthcare providers before beginning any type of supplement regimen. Healthcare providers, including physicians, pharmacists and registered dietitians, are the best resource when it comes to dietary supplements. Traditionally, a healthcare provider will opt for a variety of tests to obtain a better picture of your current health status. Additionally, healthcare providers take into count important factors, such as diet, lifestyle habits, environmental factors and medication usage. Supplements can be costly and harmful to your health for individuals with certain medical conditions, so it is not recommended to self-diagnose. These products are intended to supplement the diet so the intake dosage is extremely important. A healthcare provider can offer the best options for which supplements to take and which ones to avoid.

Multivitamin/mineral Supplements-Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2015, July 8). Retrieved from

Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. (2011, June 17). Retrieved from

What’s in Your Food? Navigating the ingredients on a food label for a healthier you!

posted Aug 20, 2019, 6:52 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, LDN E-RYT

Do you truly know what’s in your packaged food, beverage or supplement? Whether it’s convenience foods or processed power shakes of the latest health craze, reading the food label is vital to your health.  This is especially true if you are consuming protein bars, powders or energy drinks daily, which potentially could exceed the amounts the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes as a safe threshold. 

The FDA upgraded the food label to help consumers make more informed food choices.  The bolder and bigger print on a nutrition facts label makes it easier to know the amount of calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates we are eating, per serving size listed.  However, the ingredients in a particular food, which are in the “fine print” on the label, are not so bold or clear and can potentially be the root cause of headaches, acid reflux, joint pain and even worsen existing health conditions, like diabetes.  The FDA does regulate the safety of the ingredients in foods, but some individuals may experience sensitivities if they consume in excess.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these ingredients listed in the fine print of a food label.

Ingredients are listed in order of weight, from the highest to lowest amount of a particular ingredient.  For example, if “Olive oil mayo” lists soybean oil as the first ingredient, then the mayo contains more soybean oil than olive oil in it.   This is important if you have a soy allergy or have to limit soy due to interactions with medication, such as for a thyroid condition.

Identifying the keywords for sugar, fat, sodium and potential allergens in the ingredients can help stave away common physical complaints.  For example, if you consistently have digestive problems such as stomach bloat, constipation, diarrhea, or indigestion, this could be remedied by limiting the amount of hidden sugar alcohols, dairy and gluten in certain foods.

Let’s take a look at some of the keywords to help us identify added sugars, fats and sodium.

HIDDEN SUGARS  Based on the link between excess consumption of sugar and heart disease as well as diabetesthe American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (24-25 grams) of added sugar for women, and no more than 9 teaspoons (36 -38 grams) of added sugar for men.  To put this in perspective, a 24 oz Regular Coke has 65 grams of sugar (16 teaspoons) of added sugar!  Sugar contains calories and increases blood sugar, which can lead to weight gain and diabetes.

Keywords to find sugar under ingredients:  Words ending in “ose” like fructose, maltose, sucrose, dextrose, as well as other names: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, malt barley, honey, molasses, agave nectar, cane juice, and fruit juice.

Potential Health Risks:  Excessive sugar can raise your blood sugar after consumption, regardless if it’s natural or processed.  Consistently high blood sugar in the body can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and diabetes.

 Sugar Substitutes have zero to small amounts of calories and don’t raise blood sugar, however, over consumption can affect long-term health.

Keywords to find sugar substitutes are: Sugar alcohols (mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol); artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and more natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit.  

Potential Health Risk: Having high amounts of sugar alcohols can lead to digestive problems.  High consumption of aspartame has been linked to headaches and inflammation in the body.1  Sucralose has been linked to diminished good bacteria in the gut.2  Poor gut health has been linked to a weakened immune system.  In fact, sugar substitutes are much sweeter than sugar and can sometimes increase your sweet cravings, which can lead to overeating. 

Try this to sweeten:  Sweetened beverage or foods with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg or fresh fruit purees, such as apple sauce, bananas or prunes.  Look for stevia and monk fruit that do not have added “sucralose or dextrose” to sweeten your beverages and foods.   Lower your sweet tooth by opting for less sugar in recipes.

HIDDEN FATS:  Trans fats do not have to be listed in the food label if the food has less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving size, even if the product still contains trans-fat.  

Keyword to find the trans fats:  Partially hydrogenated oil, shortening, margarine. 

Potential Health Risks: This is an example of an ingredient that was FDA-approved as safe, but was subsequently taken off the approved list due to links with insulin resistance, heart disease, even cancer.

Try this to increase good fats:  Olive oil, avocado in recipes that call for fat.  Coconut oil has been shown to increase good HDL and lower triglycerides.

HIDDEN SODIUM:    Excess consumption of sodium in our diet can lead to high blood pressure and can cause us to retain water, which leads to swelling.  The amount of total sodium should be listed on the food label in the number of milligrams per serving.   Limit your sodium to 2,300 mg or 1,500 mg if you are over the age of 50 or have elevated blood pressure.  

Keywords in the ingredients:  sodium nitrates, sodium chloride, triphosphate sodium, sodium benzoate, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).  

Potential Health Risks:  Some individuals may have sensitivities to MSG and can experience headaches.  Individuals on blood pressure medication can also have adverse effects.

Try this to flavor foods:  Instead of using salt to add flavor, try fresh herbs and spices to enhance the taste of foods.  Morton’s lite salt is good because it does contain potassium which can lower blood pressure.  Be cautious with certain blood pressure medication.

Take Away Message

The best practice is to make recipes from fresh ingredients and eat less processed foods.  The take away for eating processed foods is that in small doses, sugar alcohols, sweeteners and even sodium ingredients can be safe for most individuals.  If you experience physical discomfort after eating, make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to identify if dietary reasons are the cause of your discomfort.  Find a Dietitian at . For more information on how the FDA regulates food safety, log on to


1. American Heart Association 

2. Corrigendum for "Revisiting the safety of aspartame" by Arbind Kumar Choudhary and Etheresia Pretorius Nutrition Reviews. 2017; 75(9): 718-730. Nutr Rev. 2018. Schiffman SS, Nagle HT.

3. “Assessing the in vivo data  on  low/no-calorie sweeteners and the gut microbiota”by Schiffman, Nage HT. Food Chem Toxicol. 2019 Jul 24:110692.  Food Chem Toxicology.

Reducing Your Consumption of Processed Foods at Home

posted Jul 12, 2019, 10:49 AM by Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD

It’s Friday night and you open your freezer to see what to have for dinner. You find a pizza, chicken strips, peas and carrots and salmon, along with a bag of frozen berries that you use each morning for your daily smoothie. At first glance, some of these food items sound pretty healthy right? Salmon? Berries? Peas and Carrots? While some of these options could be healthy, the truth lies in what has been added to these foods before they made it to your freezer and how much processing they have undergone. What is a processed food you might ask? Let’s explore this buzz word that has been popping up in the news lately.

A processed food, according to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, is any food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged, or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. Foods that we consume every day might be considered minimally processed, heavily processed, or somewhere in between. Let’s walk through some common foods and understand how processed a food might actually be.

Stages of Processed Food:

-        Minimally Processed: Convenience or prepped items in the produce section, such as sliced peppers & onions, bagged leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc.) and bowls of cut cantaloupe and honeydew melon.

-        Processed at the Peak of Freshness and/or Nutritional Quality: Fresh Meat, Poultry or Fish, Frozen Fruits & Vegetables, Canned Tomatoes, Meats or Fish, Grains including Pasta, Rice and Breads.

-        Processed as Flavoring Agents: Seasoning Blends, Spices, Extracts, Oils, Sauces, Gravies, Dressings, Baking Mixes.

-        Ready-to-Eat Foods: Cereals, Granola Bars, Dairy Items, Deli Meats, Crackers, Baked Goods, etc.

-        Heavily Processed Foods: Pre-made meals including microwavable meals, frozen pizza and fried foods.

After reading this list, it may have become clear that some of the foods that you are eating on a regular basis are actually more processed as you once thought. The good news is that we’ve got some easy tips to help you reduce the amount of processed foods in your home without going bananas (no pun intended J).

Tips to Try at Home:

1)    Buy Fresh & Prep at Home: Take advantage of buying whole fruits and vegetables in season for not only quality, but optimal nutrition and lower prices. Then, prep the items at home you’ll need for the week. Got vegetables for a stir-fry or zucchini noodles for a pasta dish? Slice, dice and spiralize these vegetables at home. They will not only taste better, because you prepped them fresh before serving, but you will also save some money in your wallet.

2)    Check the Labels on Canned & Frozen Foods: Many canned or frozen food items are indeed healthy options to include in a balanced lifestyle. For frozen items, choose options that have no added salt, sauces or sugar. For canned foods, look for foods that are packed in water and/or state “Low-Sodium” on the can. Can’t find these options at the grocery store? Try draining the excess water or oil and rinse if possible, such as canned beans or canned tuna.

3)    Beware of Hidden Ingredients: Have you ever tried to read the ingredient list on a packaged loaf of bread and found yourself scratching your head trying to pronounce the ingredients? Breads and baked goods are notorious for having added ingredients used to enhance flavor and/or preserve the shelf life. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient or know what an ingredient is, there’s a high chance that it’s heavily processed. Choose breads and baked goods with a shorter ingredient list and ingredients that you are familiar with. Even better, try making some of your favorites at home, where you can control what goes into the final product. 

4)    Enjoy heavily processed foods less often: Most individuals we’ve met have one or two foods that they can’t live without. Often times, these foods are heavily processed in one way or another. Instead of cutting out these foods cold turkey, which might cause you to binge on them, enjoy these food options a little less often. Got a special occasion or family gathering? Enjoy your favorite dish (Macaroni & Cheese, Fried Chicken, Banana Cream Pie, etc.) at those special times and really savor the flavors. Eating smaller portions can also help to cut back on the consumption of processed foods.       


Wolfram, T. (2019, February 11). Processed Foods: What's OK and What to Avoid. Retrieved June 21, 2019, from

Nutrition for Youthfulness at Any Age

posted Jun 13, 2019, 12:15 PM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Jun 17, 2019, 8:02 AM ]

Ever wonder why some people look younger as the years go by, while others seem to be aging at a rapid rate?  Sure, genetics plays a role, but what you consume physically and mentally on a daily basis is a big determinant of how well you will look and feel 5 or 10 years from now.  Consuming the right foods, beverages and lifestyle practices can keep you looking and feeling younger with each passing birthday.  New age aging is in your control more than ever, with the right approach, you can live longer, happier and more youthful with each passing year.

What happens when we age?

Years of exposure to contaminants in the air we breathe, ultraviolet rays from the sun we absorb and excess sugar, protein, fat and artificial ingredients from foods and beverages we digest can produce free radicals in the body and start us on the path to aging-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. Before we get diagnosed with health problems, nutritional imbalances can start to show in the skin, hair and internal organs, as well as damage the cellular functions we need to conserve our youthfulness. 

By: Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, LDN, E-RYT

Our bodies are efficient in detoxifying in the early years of life, however, as we advance in years the body’s ability to absorb and detoxify nutrients becomes less efficient.  This happens because of diminished hormones, digestive enzymes that help with repairing and regenerating the cells.   Therefore, the unhealthier eating and lifestyle practices we adopt, we generate more free radicals, which in turn accelerate aging.  

 What about diets that promote anti-aging?

Diets, to name few, vegan, ketogenic and intermittent fasting, have been reported to have beneficial effects in staving off age-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer as well as slow the development Alzheimer’s disease. However, the restrictive nature of these diets may have some emotional and mental consequences that could lead to yoyo dieting.  This is because in vegan diets, it’s hard to get B12 which is a supplement that, if deficient can lead to neurological impairment, and lack of energy.  Ketogenic diets remove the rich antioxidant and high fiber foods such as citrus fruits, whole grains, and beans from your plan, and in intermittent fasting, you deprive your brain of nutrients for about 8 to 12 hours a day.

Research shows that your body shifts into ketosis for fuel at least on Keto and Intermittent fasting, but you have to endure many physical and emotional symptoms first.  The flu-like symptoms caused by very low blood sugar, the headaches, and sleeplessness, can start to leave you feeling tired and anxious in the first stage of keto and intermittent fasting.  Additionally, ketogenic and intermittent fasting diets have the potential to deplete our bodies of nutrients that are essential for good health.  For long-term results, these diets may have their benefits in making the body more insulin sensitive, but these diets can be very hard to adhere to.  However, for short-term success may be worth exploring safely with an experienced Registered Dietitian who specializes in therapeutic ketosis plans.

It is important to note that ketosis in a ketogenic diet is not the same as ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition in persons with diabetes, specifically, Type 1 diabetes.   

Power foods that ensure youthfully aging:

 Properties of foods we eat can boost the immune system, repair and build the body.  Nutrition habits that incorporate anti-aging foods will not only extend lifespan but help you to look and feel better and live longer.  Below is a list of a variety of foods to eat every day.    

Foods that contain or are precursors to anti-aging nutrients.

Anti-Aging Nutrients

Recipe Idea

Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach

Vitamin A:

Retinal the active ingredient in anti-wrinkle creams is derived from vitamin A.

Smoothies: ½ cup sweet potato or shredded carrots, soy milk, and cinnamon, with ice. Blend well.

Kale, spinach, strawberries, blueberries, grapefruit, mandarins, blackberries, raspberries

Vitamin C: Boost immune system and is needed for the generation of collagen which is a vital protein for youthful skin and body.

Kale spinach salad with strawberries.

Nuts and seeds:  almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds

Vitamin E: Protect against free radicals. Free radicals can destroy healthy cells and accelerate aging.

Trail mix with almonds, peanuts and sunflower seed.

Legumes, spinach, broccoli

 Folic Acid: Lowers bad cholesterol, protects brain cells and arteries.

Steamed broccoli is a quick easy side dish.

Clams, nutritional yeast, beef, salmon, haddock, tuna, trout, yogurt, fortified cereals

Vitamin B12: As we age, vitamin B12 is not easily absorbed.  Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis.

Grilled salmon salad for easy dinner.

Soybeans, soymilk, edamame, tofu

Phytoestrogens: Precursors to estrogen in the body.   As we age, estrogen levels drop.  Adding soy to meals may be beneficial to hormonal balance.

Tofu pesto salad.  See ILC recipes. Access through the ILC website.

 Ground Flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, canola oil

salmon, Herring,

Omega-3’s (ALA, EPA, and DHA)

Good for healthy skin, brain and heart health.

Grapes, red wine, fresh pomegranate

Stilbenoids (Resveratrol and Pterostilbene) a group of flavonoids that are strong antioxidants.

Frozen grapes make a cool summer-time snack.

Spices: ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper

Bioactive compounds rich in antioxidants that fight oxidative stress in the brain and body. Boost the immune system and fight cancer.

Grate some ginger in your green tea or water.  Season dishes with cayenne instead of pepper.


Attitude and aging

Adopt a youthful attitude to keep you young as you advance in years.  Identify what your belief system is about what your age number means.  How you identify with your age number can be a driving force on the habits that you take on with each passing year.   The “I’m too old to do that workout” or “be the weight I was when I was 25” is not based on fact, but based on a mindset. Changing your mindset changes you how you age.   So, set your mind on adopting healthy eating and lifestyle habits to help you look and feel your best, no matter the age.


1.        Diabetes. 2015 May;64(5):1576-90. Calorie Restriction Prevents Metabolic Aging Caused by Abnormal SIRT1 Function in Adipose Tissues. doi: 10.2337/db14-1180. Epub 2014 Dec 4


3.       BMJ 2018;361:k2139Forouhi NG, Krauss RM, Taubes G et al. Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance.  doi: 10.1136/bmj.k2139 

Spring Into Fitness!

posted May 10, 2019, 11:26 AM by Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD

By: Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD, Pn1

May is National Fitness Month and what better time of the year to add a little spring to your step!

Did you know that only one in five adults get enough exercise to maintain good health? Sedentary and busy lifestyles have caused many Americans to put exercise on the back burner. The surprising truth is that there are numerous benefits to incorporating fitness activities as part of our daily life. Below are a few of the positive benefits of being active on a regular basis:

·         Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety
·         Improved cognition, including memory and attention
·         Reduced risk for chronic health conditions
·         Increased levels of energy
·         Improved relaxation and sleep quality


According to the American Heart Association, adults are recommended to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. At first glance, these numbers may appear daunting. Fortunately, we’ve got some tips on how small changes on a daily basis can increase your physical activity throughout the week and make a difference for your long-term health.

Incorporate Short Walks

Walking is free, easy and can be done just about anywhere, even in place. If you primarily work at a desk for your job, try taking a brisk walk for five or ten minutes a few times a day. Catching up with a colleague or grabbing a mid-day coffee are easy ways to incorporate a short walk in your day.

Get Active with Household Tasks

Many common household tasks can count toward your weekly activity goals. If you like to be outdoors, try gardening, raking leaves, lawn mowing or washing the car. If you prefer the indoors, try sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, washing the dog or making the beds. A little time each day really adds up at the end the week.

Find a Fitness Buddy

Sometimes life gets in the way and it can be hard to stay on track with our fitness goals. Having a family member, friend or colleague keep you accountable can help you reach your goals. They are here to support and cheer you on, but also someone to assist when times get tough.

Please be advised that before starting any fitness plan, it is recommended to discuss your health and fitness goals with your healthcare provider, especially for individuals with chronic health conditions or disabilities.

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. (2018, April 18). Retrieved May 9, 2019, from

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