Ketogenic Diets Q & A

by Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN


What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a high fat, very low-carb diet that has been used in children with epilepsy to help control seizures. Recently, it has become a trendy weight loss diet.

How does it work?
Eating a high fat/low carb diet puts the body in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic adaptation that has allowed humans to survive on ketones as fuel instead of its regular glucose. Ketones are the result of fat breaking down and can provide energy for the brain when glucose is scarce. Being in a state of ketosis also diminishes cravings and hunger sensations, so it could lead to an overall reduction in food intake.

What foods are allowed on the ketogenic diet?
–       Fats and Oils – Butter, Lard, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, etc
–       Meat and Poultry
–       Seafood
–       Full fat dairy
–       Nuts and Seeds
–       Certain non-starchy vegetables
–       Beverages – Water, broth, coffee, tea, unsweetened coconut and almond milk

What should are not permitted on the ketogenic diet?
It’s recommended that only 5-10% of calories come from carbohydrates, which depending on calorie intake generally means fewer than 30g of carbohydrates a day. This means sugar, fruit, high sugar and high starch vegetables, and grains should be eliminated or eaten in very small quantities.

Will I lose weight?
Probably. Anyone who follows an elimination diet (whether they eliminate gluten/dairy/fat/carbs etc.) will likely lose weight because they also are reducing calories. You also may feel less hungry as ketosis diminishes hunger sensation, so overeating tends not to be a problem

Will I keep the weight off?
Probably not. The ketogenic diet is a difficult, and arguably ‘unhealthy’, diet (due to the reduced fiber and vitamin/mineral content) that is not recommended for the long term. The best ‘diet’ is the one you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life.

What are some pros and cons of the ketogenic diet?


– Probable short-term weight loss
– Diminished feelings of hunger
– Allowed to eat high-fat foods


– Difficult to adhere to long-term (which leads to weight regain)
– Low fiber
– Risk of nutrient insufficiencies
– Side effects such as bad smelling breath, low energy, headaches and constipation
– Elevated LDL cholesterol


Bottom Line:
The ketogenic diet is not recommended for long-term use (unless it is being used as medical nutrition therapy for an individual with epilepsy). It is likely safe for short-term use for weight loss, but it is recommended to incorporate fruits and whole grains back into the diet once a weight maintenance plan is in place. While following a ketogenic diet, take a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains adequate B vitamins and magnesium.



Can Extremely Fat-Restricted or High-Fat Diets be Effective — and Safe — for Weight Loss?

by Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN

‘Tis the season for travel, end-of-year deadlines, festive get-togethers… and for colds and flu. If you or your family are under the weather, or you want to preempt any illness by giving your immune system some reinforcement, read on!

Part of the body’s “microbiota,” probiotics (the “good” bacteria) and prebiotics (the “good” bacteria promoters) are mostly known for promoting good digestion, but they also play vital roles in supporting the strength of your immune system [1]. Approximately 80% of your immune system is in your GI system, and these help replenish your stores of healthy gut bacteria, inhibit growth of unfriendly bacteria, and can also help reduce inflammation.

Probiotics and prebiotics are best utilized in food form (as opposed to supplements) and, fortunately for us, are found in many common ingredients – some of which we may already have stocked at home.

Probiotics are found in:

·         Yogurt (look for packages labeled “Contains Live/Active Cultures”)

·         Buttermilk

·         Aged cheeses

·         Fermented beverages, like kefir and kombucha

·         Fermented foods, like miso, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut

·         Soy beverages

Prebiotics are found in:

·         Bananas, apples and berries

·         Onions, leeks and garlic

·         Potatoes

·         Asparagus

·         Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)

·         Dark leafy greens, like dandelion greens, spinach, collards, kale and chard

·         Tomatoes

·         Soybeans and lentils

·         Pistachios and flaxseed

·         Cocoa

·         Rolled oats/oatmeal

·         Whole grains and whole grain flours, including wheat, rye, barley and buckwheat

Food forms of probiotics and prebiotics are further maximized when enjoyed in combination with one another. For example, a bowl of oatmeal topped with banana and a dollop of yogurt; a stir fry with garlic, asparagus, edamame and tempeh; or a homemade pizza on whole wheat crust or a whole grain pita bread with tomato sauce, artichokes, red onion, black olives and Parmesan cheese!

Most of the foods and beverages rich in probiotic and prebiotics are also loaded with many other nutrients important in the fight against infection and illness, like vitamins A and C, folate, zinc, fiber, and plenty of potent antioxidant phytochemicals. In addition, these friendly bacteria help improve our body’s ability to utilize these beneficial nutrients, providing an even bigger immunity bump.

Better still is that pro- and prebiotics have also been linked to improvements in treatment or prevention of a variety of other health issues [2], including IBS (particularly reducing abdominal pain, gas and bloating), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, infections of the urinary tract, and potentially type 2 diabetes [3], bladder cancer recurrence, and eczema in children.

This cold and flu season, and all year round, add a wide variety of probiotic- and prebiotic-rich foods and beverages to your daily diet to help support a strong, healthy immune system and ward off illness. Be well!


1. Giorgetti G, Brandimarte G, Fabiocchi F, et al. Interactions between Innate Immunity, Microbiota, and Probiotics. Jour Immun Res. 2015;2015:501361. doi:10.1155/2015/501361.

2. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. (2014) The Benefits of Probiotic Bacteria. Retrieved from Updated 7 June 2017. Accessed 30 November 2017.

3. Bakalar, N. (24 November 2014) Yogurt May Lower Diabetes Risk. The New York Times Well Blog. Retrieved from Accessed 30 November 2017.

Top 10 Q & A about Sugar and Sugar Substitutes

by Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN

1) What’s considered added vs. natural sugar? Added = white or brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, molasses or syrup and products made with these foods. Natural = sugars found in fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose)

2) How much added sugar are we consuming? The average American consumes 20 tablespoons of added sugar a day. YIKES! About half that is coming from Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs).

3) How much added sugar should we consume? Depends who you ask. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 6 teaspoons for women, or 100 calories a day and 9 teaspoons for men or 150 calories a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 2015 recommends 10% of total calories or less while the World Health Organization is the most stringent at 5% of total calories or less. One thing we can all agree on – less is better!

4) Do we NEED sugar? No. We do need blood glucose, which comes from complex carbohydrates in our diet. But we could survive without any dietary sugar!

5) Does sugar cause obesity? No one food alone causes obesity. Consumption of sugary foods and drinks correlates with a higher calorie diet overall, which contributes to weight gain.

6) Does sugar cause health issues? Sugar consumption is correlated with weight gain, and weight gain is a risk factor for many diseases. So, it certainly may increase risk for disease. Interestingly, separate from weight, sugar consumption is also associated with the following diseases: high blood lipids and insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and visceral adiposity. Even in those with a healthy BMI, sugar consumption can increase risk of these diseases.

7) What sugar substitutes are available? Aspartame (Equal), Acesulfame-K (Sweet One), Neotame, Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), Sucralose (Splenda), Stevia (Truvia), Sugar alcohols (end with -ol, like xylitol or sorbitol)

8) What does the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say? From the AND’s Position Paper: “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes, as well as individual health goals and personal preference. A preference for sweet taste is innate and sweeteners can increase the pleasure of eating.”

9) Do sugar substitutes cause cancer? Currently, the research points to no. From the National Cancer Institute: “Researchers have conducted studies on the safety of sugar substitutes saccharin cyclamate, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and neotame and found no evidence that they cause cancer in humans. 
All of these artificial sweeteners, except for cyclamate, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the United States.”

10) Are there any valid concerns with sugar substitutes? Yes, a growing body of research points to sugar substitutes leading to health issues in animal studies. Some of these issues include: increased food consumption, lower post-prandial thermogenesis, increased weight gain, greater percent body fat, decreased glucose tolerance, greater fasting glucose and hyperinsulinemia.

So, while they may be SAFE for consumption, they may not exactly be healthful.

By Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN


Pop quiz. . the average American gains how much weight during the holidays?

a) 1-2lbs

b) 3-5lbs

c) 5-8lbs

d) None

(scroll down for answer)







a) 1-2lbs. Most studies estimate that adults gain 1-2lbs, on average, between Thanksgiving and New Years. Not THAT bad, right? Well, if these couple pounds don’t come off every year, we’re looking at a 10-20lb weight gain each decade.

Instead of waiting until January to start your resolution of weight loss, why not go into the holidays with a goal of weight maintenance? If you maintain your weight through New Years, you’re at least 1-2lbs ahead of the curve. Here are some ways to avoid unnecessary weight gain this time of year.


1) Plan Ahead

o Before the party, think about…Situations that may trigger you to eat? How will you limit your exposure to food? Are there gatherings/parties you do not mind skipping?

2) Eat Before the Party

o Never arrive hungry to a gathering

o Saving up calories always backfires, it also gives you “permission” to overeat

o Keep choices healthy throughout the day

3) Control your Food Environment

o Your proximity to food can impact how much you eat

o Sit next to someone you feel eats healthfully and slowly

4) Bring Your Own Dish or Dessert

o Bring 1-2 healthy dishes you know you can eat

5) Practice Portion Control

o Use an appetizer plate or fill your plate only ½ or ¾ full

o Choose mostly protein, vegetables and 1 “fun” dish (eat this last)

6) Eat Mindfully

o Make your meal last at least 20 minutes and savor your food

o Put your fork down between bites. Make sure you’re sitting.

7) Stay Busy

o Volunteer to help clean up as soon as you are done

o Get started on another activity – gifts, games, dancing!

8) Splurge Strategically

o Splurge wisely at the end of your meal. You’re most likely no longer hungry, this is just to “get a taste”

o Tiny-size your sweet treat. Each bite is about 100 calories!

9) Practice saying “No, thank you”.

10) Stay positive and keep things in perspective.

o Even the most disciplined eaters deviate from their eating plan on occasion, don’t beat yourself up

o Get back on track right away (at the next meal)

Remember – weight maintenance during the holidays should be considered a success!


Sources & Resources

By Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN

The average American does not meet many of the recommendations outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Regarding fruit and vegetables, recent research shows that while overall intake has increased since 1970, daily totals still fall short [1]. As a result of this under-consumption, roughly 40% of the US population does not consume enough potassium, fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, D or E, and folate [2].

Convenient and inexpensive canned fruit and vegetables (as well as canned beans, lentils and seafood) can help us come closer, and hopefully meet, these goals.

In a study looking at the eating habits of more than 40,000 American adults and children, those whose diets contained canned varieties of fruit and vegetables (in comparison to those whose diets did not) had greater overall intake of fruit, vegetables and key nutrients [3]. And for the roughly 11.5 million Americans who live in low-income areas more than one mile from a supermarket [4], canned products offer a long shelf-life and good nutrition for a low cost.

What makes canned fruit and vegetables so good?

Canned shortly after picking produce at the peak of ripeness ensures best fresh flavor and texture, and maximum nutritional retention. The process of canning actually helps enhance the nutrient profile of certain foods, such as canned tomatoes, which contain significantly higher amounts of the heart-healthy phytochemical lycopene than fresh tomatoes.

But canned goods are ‘processed’ – aren’t we told to avoid processed foods?

The practice of ‘processing’ foods ranges from minimal to heavy processing. Canned green beans, for example, are processed to lock in freshness and nutrient quality. Even the versions with one or two additional ingredient ‘additives’ are considered “basic processed.” To compare, fresh green beans at farm stand or supermarket are “unprocessed,” and those that have only been washed and packaged in a bag or container for convenience are “minimally processed.”

In general, canned versions of fruit and vegetables are on the low end of the ‘processing’ continuum, and should absolutely be thought of as a convenient, inexpensive and nutritious part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Should I be concerned about the additives in some canned fruit and vegetables, or the can itself?

Among the common one or two additional ingredients mentioned above is salt – in canned vegetables at least – and some contain upwards of 300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving. The Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation is no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day, or no more than 1,500 mg for those with hypertension or heart disease. (May be lower for individuals on other sodium-restricted diets, such as those with kidney disease.) Always look for cans labeled “Reduced/Low Sodium” or “No Salt/Sodium Added,” and rinse in a colander under cool water before using.

Sugar is another addition, particularly to fruits, and can be as much as 6 grams per 1/2-cup serving! Look for cans of fruit labeled “No Sugar Added” or “Packed in Water.” If you can only find “Packed in Lite Syrup” or “Packed in Heavy Syrup,” do as you would with the vegetables and rinse the fruit in a colander under cool water before using.

Citric acid or calcium chloride are two other additives you may come across in canned fruit and vegetables. Both are considered safe to consume and are used in very small amounts with the purpose of preserving color and texture, respectively.

If you’re concerned about BPA (bisphenol A), there are now quite a few brands of BPA-free canned goods. Alternatively, fruit and vegetables in cardboard containers as opposed to cans are naturally BPA-free. (Read more about BPA in this Food & Nutrition Magazine article.)

· Fuel with Canned Foods, Canned Food Alliance
· Canned Food: What to Watch For, University of Minnesota Extension
· Attached infographic: Shop the Canned Food Aisle

1. Bentley J. (3 July 2017) Retrieved from: USDA Economic Research Service. Accessed 5 November 2017.
2. USDA. (2015) Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. Retrieved from: Accessed 5 November 2017.
3. Freedman MR, Fulgoni V. Canned Vegetable and Fruit Consumption Is Associated with Changes in Nutrient Intake and Higher Diet Quality in Children and Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010. Jour of Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Jun;116(6):940-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.10.013. Epub 2015 Nov 24.
4. USDA Economic Research Service. (2009) Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences. Report to Congress. Retrieved from: Accessed 4 November 2017.


Q & A: All About Plant Based Diets

by Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN

1)    What’s the difference between vegan, vegetarian and plant based?
Vegan diets – eliminate all animal products from the diet including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy. Strict vegans also avoid honey as well as avoid leather and other animal byproducts.
Vegetarian diets – include eggs and dairy but avoid meat, poultry and seafood.
Whole Foods Plant Based – Similar to vegan but more emphasis on whole foods rather than processed. For example, French fries and soy-rizo are technically vegan, but because they are highly processed, they would not be encouraged on a plant-based diet. This term definitely emphasizes the health aspects of food rather than sheer avoidance of animal products.

2)    Why would someone eat this way? Vegan and vegetarian diets historically were for animal rights or environmental concerns. Recently, there’s been a push for plant-based diets as an effective health tool for the prevention of chronic disease.

3)    It seems too restrictive! Plant based diets, by definition, cut out a lot of major foods that we eat here in the U.S. Rather than focusing on what a plant based diet doesn’t include, think about all the foods it does include – all fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes! When compared to the MyPlate recommendations, a plant-based diet actually isn’t that different.

4)    Will I get enough protein? If eating adequate calories, it’s almost impossible to be protein deficient on a plant-based diet. Just like on a regular diet, try to include a source of protein at each meal (i.e. soy milk at breakfast, lentils at lunch and tofu at dinner). Remember that there are small amounts of protein in all vegetables and whole grains, so protein doesn’t only have to come from the Legumes group.

5)    How about calcium? Iron? B12?
Most vegans do not reach the DRI for calcium. Luckily, almost all plant-based milks are fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Some plant based foods like kale and collard greens actually have very high bioavailability of calcium.  Aim to have 3 servings of high calcium foods a day (fortified plant based milk, tofu, fortified OJ, kale, soy beans).
Believe it or not, vegetarians actually consume as much iron, or slightly more than, omnivores. In western cultures, vegetarians and non-vegetarians have similar hemoglobin values and other measures of iron status. When consuming large amounts of non-heme iron, the body adapts and absorbs more of it, which helps overall iron status. There is less research on iron status of vegans vs. vegetarians, so this might be something to keep an eye on for those who are strict vegans. Include sources of non-heme iron and be sure to ask your doctor to test iron levels annually rather than jumping straight to a supplement.
A lot of vegan foods are fortified with B12 (cereals, milks), but it’s recommended for strict vegans to take a B12 supplement. The DRI is 2.4mcg/day for adults, and as usual, look for the USP label for high quality vitamins. I usually recommend a high dose of B12 once or twice a week (i.e. 1000mcg twice a week).

6)    My loved one needs help meal planning. I don’t eat this way and am at a loss! Have no fear – refer to the following resources. Better yet, challenge yourself to a 100% plant-based week of eating! There’s no better way to learn about a diet than to follow it yourself. Here are some great recipe pages to get started.,,

1)    AND Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets
2)    Top 50 Vegan Blogs
3)    Protecting Bone Health Among Vegans
4)    Counseling Vegan Clients

By Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN

People who frequently cook at home – for themselves or for their families – consume fewer calories. Not only is planning meals and cooking at home healthier, it also costs less, creates less stress around mealtimes. Furthermore, time together in the kitchen and around the table is for building relationships, reconnecting at the end (or beginning or middle) of a day, and to help teach kids about food and nutrition.

Research has shown that 11-14 homemade meals per week can cut diabetes risk by as much as 13%, in comparison to six or fewer homemade meals per week [1]. Another positive observation from a different study is that home cooks tended to consume fewer calories on average, even when dining out [2].

Meal planning is an important part of eating more home-prepared meals. But for these and many additional good things that can be said about meal planning and eating more homemade meals, I’m regularly confronted with: “Where do I begin?” or “How can I do it when I juggle so many other things?” or even “Why bother?”

So, in light of the upcoming National Family Meals Month in September, we will look at the basic elements of meal planning and how to make it a success.

Why plan meals?

  • To provide wholesome, balanced meals for yourself/your family.
    – Planning and shopping ahead allows you to offer fresh, nutritious ingredients made using preparation methods you feel good about.
  • To decrease stress and save time.
    – Having a set plan eliminates last-minute scramble through the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards on the heels of a long day, or at the start of one, which relieves tension and gives you more time to enjoy other things you and your family love. (And also minimizes that mindless munching we often succumb to during that hunt!)
  • To keep the food budget in check.
    – Without a plan you’re more likely to purchase unnecessary ingredients that attract your attention in the store, or unnecessary ingredients that ultimately go to waste.
    – A study from the Natural Resource Defense Council found that each month Americans trash roughly 33 pounds of food, averaging about $40.
    – Wandering time is also when marketers earn their salaries: According to the Food Marketing Institute, you spend $2 for every minute you are in the grocery store.
    – A commitment to meals made at home — even if only 1-2x/week to start — spares the cash (and calories) that come with regular dining out or ordering in. Shopping “seasonally” further decreases costs, as fresh local produce is often less expensive when in season and abundant.
  • To promote stronger family ties and long-lasting healthy habits.
    – By involving the whole family in meal planning, shopping, prep, and/or cooking, you not only take advantage of extra help but inherently get to spend more time together.
    – These activities also provide opportunities to be a good role model to impressionable little eaters, instilling positive habits and attitudes that will last a lifetime!

How to begin?
Adopting meal planning as a regular healthy habit for you and your family comes down to a few basic steps. Like any new routine or habit, it’s best to start small. My recommendation is to plan only one week at a time.

  1. Take inventory of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer to see what you do and do not need.
  2. Write/type up a realistic plan of the week’s meals and/or snacks, adding clipped, printed out or links to the recipes you’ll use for ease – snag ideas from these free online menu-creating tools on Cooking Light + Eating Well.
  3. Use your plan to create a grocery list so you have everything you need to prepare the week’s recipes – then stash the list in a place you’ll remember it — in a wallet, purse, car, reusable shopping tote, tacked on the fridge, in Google Keep (free for both Android + Apple) or etc.
  4. Stick to your list to save headaches, time and money at the store!
  5. Most important: BE FLEXIBLE, because life happens – pick up the meal plan on the next day if a wrench is thrown in your original plans.

Meal planning is a routine that becomes easier with practice, and will absolutely eliminate some of the stress from shopping, cooking and at mealtimes – whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a snack. This one simple weekly habit is a delicious investment in your health and the health of your family.

Bonus Tips:

Plan once to eat twice. Purposely repeat ingredients throughout the week, and make extras for supper to include in the next day’s meals or snacks!
Farmers’ markets are plentiful this time of year, and a great activity for the whole family.
Don’t go into full blinders mode when shopping – keep an eye out for non-perishable staple items on sale that you could stock up on (if you have room at home), as well as for less expensive seasonal fruit and veg. There are overlooked gems on those “bargain produce” tables!
And finally, please don’t worry about aiming for perfection – no one but Martha Stewart is Martha Stewart. Besides, she has a whole staff on hire!



Family Food Pinterest boards for recipe ideas
Pinch Your Pennies: Ten Tips for Eating Right without Breaking the Bank, Family Food Blog
Save More at the Grocery Store, Eat Right
Family Dinners in a Flash, Eat Right
Cook Once, Eat Safely Throughout the Week, Eat Right
The Most Important Meal of the Day: The Family Dinner, Forbes
The Family Dinner Project – a national endeavor providing resources and an online community to promote family bonding at the table
75+ ideas for quick pantry meals, the kitchn


Zong, G; Eisenberg, DM; Hu, FB; Sun, Q. Consumption of Meals Prepared at Home and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: An Analysis of Two Prospective Cohort Studies. PLOS Medicine. 2016 Jul 5.
Wolfson, JA; Bleich, SN. Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Public Health Nutr. 2015 Jun;18(8):1397-406. doi: 10.1017/S1368980014001943. Epub 2014 Nov 17.

By Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN


Sleep deprivation extends far beyond lack of energy. From depressed mood and decreased cognitive ability, inadequate pillow time can also limit the immune system’s ability to fight off colds and infections, impair judgment and memory, and put a damper on sex drive.
A recent study found that weekday sleep debt may be linked to worse metabolic health, including lower HDL cholesterol levels, impaired glucose metabolism, elevated levels of C-reactive protein or CRP (a marker for inflammation), and impaired thyroid function [1]. This research, and many others [2], also show that fewer hours of sleep is associated with overeating, poor food choices, and weight gain.

Several of the reasons why less sleep can equate to weight gain are:

* less energy and therefore less physical activity;
* increased levels of the hunger hormone (ghrelin) plus decreased levels of the hormone that signals satiety/fullness (leptin) [3];
* increased levels of endocannabinoids – hormones that promote eating for pleasure, or so-called ‘hedonic eating’ – that triggers a preference for high-fat and sugary foods [4];
* increased levels of the stress hormone (cortisol) that shifts the body into energy conservation mode, which can contribute to weight gain over time (additionally, researchers find that stress may cause people to eat more than usual and choose junk food instead of healthier options [5]);
* consuming more calories overall in a day, even if foods consumed are healthy [1], simply due to the fact that amount of awake time is extended, meaning more time to eat.

Of course every person is different, and the “correct” duration of sleep is unique to each of us, a recent UK study of more than 1,600 adults found that people who sleep fewer than 7 hours nightly are more likely to have an overweight or obese BMI when compared to individuals who get 7 or more hours of sleep. In general, a good recommendation is to aim for a solid 7 to 9 hours every night. (A full nine hours is the sweet spot for me!)

Tips to Get Your ZZZs + Improve Sleep Quality

Power up during the day. Physical activity during the day, promotes better, more restful sleep at night.

* According to a national health survey from the CDC, 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (the minimum weekly recommendation for all adults from the Dietary Guidelines of Americans 2015-2020) led to a 65% improvement in sleep quality of responders [6].
* However, working out right before bed increases adrenaline and brain activity, and can make it difficult to get to sleep. If you typically don’t unwind well before hitting the sack, give yourself a buffer of 2 to 3 hours between your workout and bed time.
Power down at night.
After a full day – particularly stressful or just run-on-the-mill routine – taking time to unplug and relax so you not only fall asleep more easily, but also prevent a “too active” brain from waking you up in the middle of the night.

* Research shows that exposure to bright screens (e.g., televisions, phones, computers, tablets) increases brain activity, and also delays the body’s natural trigger to release the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin when in a dark environment. About 1 hour before bed time, switch off or put away your screen devices and if you can, dim the lights a bit.
* Create a relaxed environment with peaceful background noise.
* Other techniques to help you relax and calm down for a quicker trip to dreamland is guided meditation (either at night or during the day), and the 4-7-8 breathing exercise.
* One kind-of-exception to the rule is employing an app to track your sleep habits.

Maximize melatonin. Certain foods are natural sources of melatonin, and certain nutrients help our bodies promote its utilization, for yet more (delicious) ways to help improve sleep quality.

* Melatonin is found in tart cherries (and their juice), oranges, pineapple, oatmeal and walnuts.
* Additionally, magnesium and vitamin B6 help the body produce and release melatonin – look to almonds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), spinach, lentils and dark chocolate for magnesium; chickpeas, bananas, fish and fortified cereal for a boost of vitamin B6.

Avoid stimulants and disruptive foods. There are also foods that interfere with the body’s ability to fall and stay asleep. While every person responds differently, a few culprits commonly to blame for sleep disruption:

* Caffeine is a natural stimulant, and some individuals are very susceptible to its effects; others not as much. I, for one, have trouble falling asleep if even a small amount passes my lips after noon – see what works for you.
* Research suggests that while alcohol may increase drowsiness, it also suppresses entry into the rapid eye movement (REM) – a sleep pattern crucial for a restful night’s sleep.
* Eating a full meal close to bedtime, particularly one containing high-fat and high-protein foods that require more from your body to digest, may contribute to restlessness for some. Some experts recommend a “front-loading” of calories in a day, putting a curfew on the kitchen 2, 3 or even 4 hours before going to bed. (Bonus: This focus on earlier eating not only benefits weight loss efforts, but may also be linked to decreased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension [7].)

The main takeaway from all of this is that sleep is integral to the human body, and getting enough quality shut-eye may help improve your mental, emotional and physical well-being. More than an increased risk of impaired judgment and feelings of sluggishness, people often make poor food choices when sleep deprived, which can lead to weight gain and obesity; not to mention an increased risk of a variety of mild to serious health issues.
Implement or focus more on some of the tips above, and set yourself up for 7 to 9 hours of snoozeland success. Pleasant dreaming!


1. Potter GDM, Cade JE, Hardie LJ. Longer sleep is associated with lower BMI and favorable metabolic profiles in UK adults: Findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. PLoS ONE. 2017; 12(7): e0182195.
2. Patel SR, Hu FB. Short sleep duration and weight gain: a systematic review. Obesity. 2008; 16:643–653. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.118.
3. Quan S. “Too little sleep and too much weight: a dangerous duo.” Harvard Health Publications. Updated 29 October 2015. ‪‬. Accessed 10 August 2017.
4. Sample I. “Lack of sleep alters brain chemicals to bring on cannabis-style ‘munchies’.” The Guardian: Neuroscience. 29 February 2016. ‪‬. Accessed 10 August 2017.
5. Liu Y, Song Y, Koopmann J, Wang M, Chang CH, Shi J. Eating Your Feelings? Testing a Model of Employees’ Work-Related Stressors, Sleep Quality, and Unhealthy Eating. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2017; DOI: 10.1037/apl0000209.
6. Oregon State University. “Physical activity impacts overall quality of sleep.” Science Daily. 23 November 2011. ‪‬. Accessed 10 August 2017.
7. Jakubowicz D, Barnea M, Wainstein J, Froy O. High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity. 2013; 21: ‪2504–2512‬. doi:10.1002/oby.20460.

By Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN


According to some recent studies, yes!

In a study on meal timing and weight loss, participants who reported eating their main meal earlier in the day (before 3:00pm) actually lost more weight than those who reported eating their main meal later in the day (after 3:00pm). Energy intake, dietary composition, estimated energy expenditure, appetite hormones and sleep duration was similar between both groups. But the late-eaters did report having smaller breakfasts or skipped breakfast more often than the early-eaters.

Another study found similar results – participants were randomized into two groups, each received 1400 calories a day, but one group received a 700 calorie breakfast and 200 calorie dinner, while the other group received the opposite. Both groups received a lunch that was 500 calories. The 700-calorie breakfast group showed greater weight loss and waist circumference reduction as well as greater reductions in triglycerides and blood sugar levels. Interestingly, the larger breakfast group also reported higher satiety with the meal plan than the small breakfast group.

Why, despite controlling for calorie intake, did the early-eaters experience better outcomes than the late-eaters? This may have to do with circadian rhythms, a topic that’s getting a lot of attention recently. Circadian rhythms are “physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in the environment.” Because of circadian rhythms, many of our metabolic processes operate at different rates over the course of a 24-hour period. For example:

Insulin sensitivity is highest in the morning and midday and decreases throughout the afternoon and evening

Triglycerides are often highest at night

Thermogenesis is lowest at night and highest in the morning

These metabolic shifts help explain why eating later in the day makes it harder to lose weight, and why shift workers or nighttime eaters suffer higher rates of obesity and related health issues. This could also help explain why breakfast eaters overall have healthier weights than breakfast skippers.

The Take-Away: If you are trying to lose weight despite following a low calorie diet, switch up the timing. Try to front load calories and eat larger breakfasts and lunches, but smaller dinners.

by Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN

As of now, the research tells us that yes, the consumption of soy foods is associated with health benefits, including but not limited to:

·       reduced risk of breast cancer

·       risk of recurrence of breast cancer

·       decreased LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides

·       reduced blood pressure

·       decreased risk of heart disease

According to the United Soybean Board, 81% of consumers view soy as healthy, which means about 19%, or 1 in 5 people view soy as unhealthy or neutral.

What’s in soy?

Soy is a higher-fat legume that contains about 27% carbohydrate, 33% protein and 40% fat. It is a complete protein and is easily digested.

Doesn’t soy contain phytoestrogens?

Soy contains both phytoestrogens and anti-phytoestrogens. What this means, is that soy contains a chemical structure that looks a lot like human estrogen. This fact has led people to fear that the consumption of soy can affect estrogen levels in humans, thus making them at higher risk for estrogen sensitive diseases like breast cancer. We now know that this is not true. These compounds sometimes act like estrogen in the body, but other times they exhibit effects that are opposite to estrogen.

From the American Institute for Cancer research Website:

Because soy contains estrogen-like compounds, there was fear that soy may raise risk of hormone-related cancers. Evidence shows this is not true.

A good comparison is the sterols in animal vs. plant foods. Cholesterol in animal foods is very chemically similar to phytosterols in plant foods, but as we all know, they exhibit very different effects in the body. Just because a molecule is similar, does not mean it will produce the same results in the body.

How much soy do I need to reap the health benefits?

Dr. Messina, recommends 2-4 servings per day or about 25g or soy protein a day, while the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a moderate amount of soy per day, which is 1-2 servings. 1 serving = 1 cup soy milk, ½ cup edamame, or 1/3 cup tofu.

How about soy and thyroid health?

Soy can interfere with absorption of thyroid medication (as does calcium, iron, dairy, etc.), so the recommendation is to separate levothyroxine from soy by about 4 hours. Whether soy itself can interfere with thyroid function, or even contribute to hypothyroidism, is a hotly debated topic. Dr. Messina’s research purports that soy is not currently contraindicated in the hypothyroid patient, nor should it impact the thyroid health of healthy individuals. I would love to see any articles for or against soy and thyroid health!

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) website is a good resource to provide you with the latest research.

Practical ways to increase soy in diet:

·       Try unsweetened soy milk instead of cow’s milk or almond milk

·       Snack on edamame or add a handful to salads

·       Try tofu scramble instead of scrambled eggs



1)    To Soy or Not to Soy: Effects of Soybeans on Breast Cancer, Menopause and Heart Disease

2)    Top Five Soy Myths