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Holy toxic rice, Batman.

Monday, March 11th, 2013

  It has been a few months since Consumer Reports released a surprising study that found potentially dangerous levels of arsenic in domestic rice and rice products. Currently, rice is not held to enforced arsenic standards as exist for arsenic in water and so Consumer Reports, in their issue, called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act.  In response, the FDA has commissioned a study to determine if more stringent restrictions are needed.  Results from this study can be expected this year and early results have confirmed arsenic levels similar to those cited by Consumer Reports.

Of importance is the type of arsenic being found in these foods.  There are two forms of arsenic, organic and inorganic. Although there is health concern for each type, inorganic arsenic is considered the most harmful and is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization.  Long term exposure to Group 1 carcinogens are associated with higher rates of

The origin of rice appears to be a major factor in the amount of arsenic it contains.  Rice is grown in flooded areas and will absorb compounds from soil and water, including arsenic if it is present.  The majority
of rice grown in the United   States is grown in the south-central part of the country.  In this area, there are high levels of inorganic arsenic in the soil due to historically widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers on cotton farms.

Rice safety is especially important for anyone following a diet in which rice is a staple, such as the traditional Asian, Latin diet, or gluten-free diet.  At this time, the FDA does not suggest changing your consumption of rice but rather to expand your grain intake to include a wider variety of grains. Many health experts suggest otherwise. To err on the safe side until larger, widespread studies are conducted, follow these suggestions to lower your risk:

  • Limit weekly intake of rice to less than 1 cup for kids, less than 11 ½ cups for adults
  • Choose rice wisely.  Imported basmati and jasmine rice have been found to have lower arsenic levels than rice grown in the US.  If purchasing brown rice, choose rice grown in California or India which has also been shown to have lower levels of arsenic.
  • Cook and drain rice like pasta.  Cook rice in more water than usual and then drain off extra water when rice is done.
  • Rinse rice 4 to 6 times prior to cooking, provided your town’s water level is not high in arsenic.
  • Consider switching your child from rice milk and limit infant rice cereal to ¼ cup per day.

Calcium supplements

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

A recent study out of Sweden found that long term use of a calcium supplement was associated with a higher risk for heart disease in middle-aged women. No similar increased risk was seen among women who met their daily calcium needs from diet alone.  Previous research has also shown a link between calcium supplements and heart attacks – so what’s the deal, are calcium supplements doing more harm then good?

Like all things in nutrition, research studies should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.  Nutrition is a new science and we are far from understanding how best to feed ourselves.  Until further studies are conducted, the best strategy is to get calcium predominantly from your diet.  See below for a list of sources.  Obtaining your nutrients from the foods that naturally contain them are always your best bet. If a supplement is needed, such as for severe osteoporosis, reduce the dosage to the smallest level needed. 

 Dietary sources of calcium:

Dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese)

Soy products (soymilk, tofu, soybeans)

Dark green vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, bok choy, okra, collards)

Sardines, canned salmon (with bones)

Blackstrap molasses


Beans, chickpeas

Caffeine Buzz Kill

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

 Time was, a person looking for a caffeine buzz headed for a cup of coffee or can of soda.  These days, all kinds of things are being caffeinated. There are drinks such as Monster Energy Drink, concentrated drinks, such as 5 hour Energy Shot, and even inhalable caffeinated products, such as AeroShot.  Frito Lay, the makers of that carmelized popcorn with the toy inside, Cracker Jacks, recently released a new line of caffeinated snacks, called Cracker Jack’d. A popular product in this line is Perky Jerky, a caffeinated beef jerky.

 Is there really a need for these products by our body? The answer is no. Caffeine is a stimulant drug with an addictive quality that can vary greatly among people based upon genetic differences. In addition to being a stimulant, caffeine blocks a chemical that helps calm the brain. When this chemical is blocked, stress hormones increase. Increased stress hormones can increase insulin resistance and fat storage, suggesting a link to obesity and diabetes.  Caffeine also increases water loss from the body, increasing risk for dehydration.  Sleep deprivation is also linked to caffeine use – aren’t we all always looking for more sleep?

 These caffeinated products create the need for more caffeine, ensuring a quite profitable demand curve for manufacturers. Unfortunately, this “need” for a buzz is being created in younger and younger children. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, at least 75% of children surveyed consumed caffeine on a daily basis. Researchers at the University of Buffalo have been studying the effects of caffeine on adolescents and their studies have shown that teens, particularly teenage boys, can quickly become “addicted” to caffeine even after being exposed to it for a short period of time. They have found that it was not the marketing or taste of caffeinated products that drew teenagers in but the caffeine itself. Once exposed to caffeine, researchers found that teens were sometimes so motivated to get more that they resorted to behaviors including lying and stealing. 

 The Food and Drug Administration does not require the caffeine content to be stated on the package, raising concern about the total amount of caffeine being consumed daily, particularly with the new surge in caffeine-containing food products. Consumers, particularly children, are often unaware of how much caffeine they are ingesting. Consider the caffeine (in mg) in these few products:

 22 oz NOS High Performance Energy Drink: 357 mg

16 oz Monster Energy Drink: 160 mg

9.5 oz Starbucks Frappuccino: 115 mg

6 oz coffee: 80 mg

8.4 oz Amp energy drink: 74 mg

12 oz Mountain Dew: 54 mg

16 oz Snapple (peach): 42 mg

12 oz Coca-Cola: 35

8 oz hot cocoa: 9 mg

 Talk to your kids about caffeine.  Teach them that it is a drug with an addictive effect. If nothing else, talk to your teens about the dangers of drinking caffeinated alcoholic drinks, products which have resulted in numerous hospitalizations. And, while talking about all this, try not to do so while snuggling with your own cup of Starbucks.

Hit the sheets

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

 Research has identified a link between sleep and obesity, in which people that slept fewer hours each night tended to have higher weights.  Looking closer at this connection, researchers found that the body releases grehlin when it is tired.  Ghrelin is the hormone that makes us feel hunger.  Thus, it is suggested that when we are sleep deprived, we have a larger amount of grehlin traveling around our body, increasing our hunger and causing us to overeat.  This is a pretty significant finding, given the National Institute of Health reports that 80% if teens are getting less than the recommended 9 hours of sleep and that nearly 30% of adults report getting less than 6 hours of sleep.

Even if there wasn’t a link between sleep and overeating, adequate sleep is, in itself, very important for health.  Sleep experts offer these tips to help you hit the needed amount of z’s:

  1. Prioritize – There is never enough time for anything in life BUT priorities must be made. Consider bumping sleep up your priority list.  You may find that the extra sleep actually doesn’t effect what you accomplish during the day because you are able to feel better and function better with more sleep.
  2. Fix the environment – Remove TVs and other electronic devices from bedrooms. Create an ideal bedroom for sleep by making it dark, cool, and quiet.
  3. Manage stress to help your brain and body be relaxed enough for sleep
  4. Stick to a schedule – Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day to reinforce your body’s sleep-awake cycle. Do the same thing each night right before bed to create a bedtime ritual that lets it is time to wind down. However, if you find that you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing instead of stressing over falling asleep.
  5. Limit daytime naps and sleeping in places other than the bedroom
  6. Watch your diet – Going to bed hungry, overly full can make it difficult to nod off.  Likewise, caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  7. Increase daily physical activity



The Gift of Physical Fitness

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

 Children, on average, spend 6 hours each day in front a screen, be it a computer, television, hand-held device, or video game. That is waaaay above the recommended limit of 2 hours or less per day of screen time for kids above the age of 2 (the recommendation is no screen time for kids under the age of 2. Why the pooh-pooh on screen time?  For one, screen time has been linked to problems with behavior and aggression and the simultaneous visual and auditory stimulation provided by these screens may make it hard for your child to function in an environment with less stimulation, such as school.  Screen time should also be limited because it takes away from time that could be spent doing something active. 

If your family exchanges gifts in the coming holiday season, opt for ones that will help your child add more activity to their day. Here are a few ideas:

  • Sports gear such as footballs, soccer balls, lacrosse sticks, basketballs, goals, or cones
  • Snowshoes, sled, hockey gear, skates
  • Frisbee, jump rope, balance board, Wave board, scooter, pogo stick, Skip Bo, stomp rocket, hacky sack
  • Sport classes, gym membership, day passes (homemade ticket) to gym or local pool
  • Games such as Table Top Ping Pong, Twister, indoor bowling set, Hullabaloo, Elefun
  • Mini trampoline, floor keyboard
  • For those that just can’t seem to stay away from video games, at least purchase ones that require no contact between butt and sofa, such as Dance Dance Revolution

What other great gift ideas do you have for parents?


Weighing in on weight

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

  Weight, and more recently, the Body Mass Index (BMI) are widely used to assess or judge one’s health.  But do these really equal health? The answer is a resounding no.  For example, consider the following two scenarios – person A has recently stopping playing two hours of video games a day, become more active by walking to school, and goes to bed earlier to get a full 8 hours of sleep each night. Person A’s weight remains in the overweight category. Person B was classified as overweight but a twenty pound weight loss over the past six months has dropped her to a “healthy” weight.  She lost the weight by increasing her physical activity to 4 hours a day and making herself vomit after meals.  Who is healthier?

There are other indicators of health status, such as one’s relationship with food (the types of food eaten, how often, how much, and why), the amount of time spent sedentary or active during the day, the amount of sleep each night, and one’s stress level or mental health.  And yes, making healthier choices is these areas may change weight towards the “healthy” weight category.  But, the weight may not change despite the improved health status. Tying health to closely to weight or BMI can result in misconceptions.

Throw away your scale. Don’t judge yourself or others by weight or appearance. Encourage the use of other measures to determine health.  Help yourself and your children learn to assess themselves in other ways because health and happiness do not live at a certain number on a scale.

Pumpkin, Vitamin A Powerhouse

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

  Pumpkins are abundant this time of year, but more so for carving than as a main staple in the American diet.  The nutrients in pumpkin, not to mention its yummy flavor, are enough though to give pumpkin a try beyond the typical jack-o-lantern or pumpkin pie.  The bright orange color of the pumpkin is a dead giveaway for its high beta-carotene content.  Along with this antioxidant, pumpkins are also packed with potassium, iron, and fiber.

Purchase fresh pumpkins now while they are in season.  Sugar or “pie” pumpkins are a better choice for eating because they are smaller and sweeter than the ones commonly used for jack-o-lanterns.  Choose ones that are free from blemishes, firm, and heavy.  Store pumpkins in a cool, dry area such as a root cellar, basement or shed and they will last up to 2 months.

Now, how to begin bringing pumpkin to your table…Try roasting cubed pumpkin along with shallots, apples, and other root vegetables.  Or, roast alone and serve with salad greens, goat cheese, and a tangy vinaigrette.

For smooth, pureed pumpkin, you can purchase cans at the grocery (be sure to grab the can marked “100% pumpkin”, not the sweetened “pumpkin pie mix”) or make your own from a fresh pumpkin.  To make your own, try the following easy technique. First, cut off the top with the stem and remove inner goo.  Enlist your kids to help with this step!  Seeds can be washed and saved for roasting.  Place the hollowed out pumpkin upside down on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees until soft, approximately 45 minutes.  As the pumpkin cools, the tough outer skin will separate easily adn teh meat can be scraped out and mashed.

Pureed pumpkin meat can be used in place of oil in baked goods.  It can also be swirled into oatmeal with a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon.  Pureed pumpkin can also be used in soups, pasta, and rice dishes.  Do a quick internet search to find other recipes and if you find one you like, share it here!


Super duper Supertracker

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

 There are oodles of online sites and apps available nowadays for tracking diet and physical activity. Each has its own pros and cons.  One that I recommend to clients is the USDA’s Supertracker (  It is free, relatively user-friendly, visually appealing, and has some nice analysis features. After setting up a profile, the program will create personalized diet and activity goals.  As information is added during the day, you can track your progress towards these goals.  One of my favorite features is the identification of empty calories, or calories from added fats and/or sugars.  These calories are called empty because they are found in foods that provide little, if any, nutrients.  Being more aware of how many empty calories you are consuming and where these calories are coming from can help you improve the quality of your diet. My chief criticism about the Supertracker tool is that the food database can be lacking, forcing you to pick the closest food to the one actually eaten. Despite this, the Supertracker is worth a look.

Food safety is your friend

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

On September 22nd, there was a large peanut butter recall for Trader Joe’s brand Valencia peanut butter due to a possible link to salmonella illness. Since that time, the recall has grown to nut butter sold under 14 different brand names and stores nationwide. While the majority of recalled items and stores are not predominant in Vermont, there are a few products being voluntarily recalled, such as Newman’s O’s Peanut Butter Sandwich Crème Cookies, made by Newman’s Own Organics, that available in local grocery stores. The Food and Drug Administration has an ongoing list of recalled items on their website (  Check out the website periodically to stay up to date on this and future food recalls.

Getting your kids off their keister

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

 Take advantage of these fabulous fall days to get outside and get moving!  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends (how many times have you heard this??) at least 60 minutes of activity each day.  No one argues that it can require some effort and creativity to get in the full 60 minutes some days BUT the benefits and importance of staying active should push this up the priority list.  Setting limits on sedentary behavior, such as video games, computer, and television time can help open up more time for staying active.  Use reward charts to help motivate your children to do something active without nagging.  Be a good role model yourself and encourage your children to join in if they are able.  Remember, staying active doesn’t just mean going to the gym.  Play tag or monkey in the middle, kick around a soccer ball, find some youtube videos that can teach some new dance moves and get your groove on, squeeze in an after dinner family walk, bike or walk to the store instead of taking the car – get moving!