Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tidbit: What's your BMI?

Your doctor knows your number; your insurance company might know your number. But do you know what your BMI is, and why you should care?

A BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a number derived from your height and weight. A BMI of 20-24.9 is considered normal weight, 25-29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 or above is considered obesity. If you are curious, go here to figure your BMI at the National Institutes of Health web site. They have a number of links for helping you work on a healthier weight, too.

Insurance companies in this area are starting to key in on participants’ BMI, and are offering those with a BMI of 30 or above various weight loss programs, such as Weight Watchers and a pedometer program. The incentive to do either of these is lower co-pays for insurance-covered benefits.

So why does a BMI of 30 or more matter? Because that’s the point that a person is more likely to have trouble with blood pressure, blood sugar, heart disease, joint pain, etc.

Even though the BMI is an indicator of potential health issues, there are problems with using BMI as the only indicator. For example, a person who is very fit yet very muscular (such as athletes and those with very physical jobs) may have a BMI of 30, yet have no health problems.  To get a true fitness and health reading, you would need to have your waist-to-hip measurement, your percent body fat, oxygen capacity, and other measures taken. For now, we are stuck with being graded by our BMI.

If you have a BMI of over 30 and would like to get going on a pedometer program on your own, here is a place to learn more, from the people at

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What’s for Dinner: Mayocoba bean and ham soup

I really must have beans on the brain lately. Either that, or the weather has been too chilly here and beans fit the mood.

Ever heard of Mayocoba beans? Me either. According to Cook’s Thesaurus, they are called Peruvian, Canary or Perruano beans, and can be substituted for pinto beans and vice versa. My friend Fran Carlson of Carlson-Arbogast Farms in Howard City, Michigan grows them.

I got a sample of dry Mayocoba beans from the Michigan Bean Commission booth at a conference last year (a small perk for the dietitian attendees). I had not done anything with the beans yet, and it was time. I had a ham bone left over from Easter dinner in my freezer, but no specific recipe, so I decided to wing it.

I like to do the traditional long soak method for dry beans (8 hours overnight in the refrigerator) as I find the beans are easier to digest than when using the “quick” methods. (Click here for soaking methods and bean cooking tips).

Mayocoba bean and ham soup

1 pound mayocoba dry beans, soaked overnight, then rinsed
8 cups water (about) for cooking 
1 ham bone with bits of ham attached (there was less than 1 cup of ham chunks)
3-4 stalks celery, chopped (use the leaves, too)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2-3 large potatoes, cubed (I used red skinned with yellow flesh)
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
1 28-ounce can diced, (stewed) tomatoes
Salt to taste (I used 1 teaspoon)
Dried Thyme to taste (I used 1 teaspoon)

Put soaked beans in large stock pot and add water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer for about 2 hours. Add ham bone and simmer 30-45 minutes more. Remove bone, set aside. Meanwhile, add celery, onion, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, salt and thyme; simmer 30 minutes. Trim ham from ham bone (if there is any) and add chopped bits of ham to soup. Serve.

Makes about 8-10 servings (depending on amount of water added). Nutritional information per serving: 294 calories, 15 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 54 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams fiber, 7 milligrams cholesterol, 650 milligrams sodium.

Food safety note: Bean soup, once heated, retains heat longer than many other foods.  You will want to cool the soup down within two hours to prevent food poisoning bacteria from multiplying and making you sick; putting the big pot in the refrigerator won’t do the trick (it will be in the “danger zone” for hours). I like to split the pot of soup into several small pans or bowls before refrigerating to give the soup a chance to cool quickly.  

This time, I put one-third of the soup in a stainless steel 8 by 13 inch baking pan, and the rest of the pot went into a sink full of ice (see photo). I stirred the soup on and off for about one-half hour, and the soup sitting in the ice bath cooled down nicely so I could safely refrigerate it.

p.s  My “wing it” bean soup recipe was a winner (my husband declared it a “10” on his bean soup scale). There was no need to freeze the extra, because he liked it so much it became his lunch a few days this week.

Click here for lots of bean recipes from the Michigan Bean Commission, in case you have beans on the brain, too.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tidbit: Top 10 Tips for microwave oven users

In years past, if you bought a microwave oven from an appliance store,  you could take advantage of microwave cooking classes. Nowadays, people pick up a microwave oven at big box stores, and you are on your own! (Open the box, plug it in and go.)

If you truly don’t know much about how to use your microwave oven to it’s full capacity, get your product manual out and start practicing! If you’ve lost your manual, a computer search will locate lessons via web sites and You Tube. Here are some microwave cooking basics from Linda Larsen at 

I bet that most people guess their way through cooking or heating up a food item, punching a few numbers and hoping for the best.   And because it seems so intuitive,  maybe you feel you don’t need to know more. Well, here are my top 10 tips for microwave cooking do’s and don’ts:
  1. Use only “microwave safe” containers for heating and cooking; this means glass, ceramic, and plastics that are clearly marked “microwave safe”. Do not use leftover margarine, butter, cottage cheese containers or foam dishes that are meant for storing the original cold items and maybe leftovers from the restaurant.  These types of cold containers could melt and chemicals could migrate into your food during reheating in the microwave. Transfer leftovers to an OK cooking container or a plate before heating.
  2. Do not use plastic storage bags to heat items in the microwave, unless they are clearly intended for heating (the “steamer” bags are OK).
  3. Safe for microwave use: Wax paper, oven cooking bags, parchment paper and white (non-printed) microwave paper towels.
  4. Not safe for microwave use: Brown grocery bags, newspaper, metal, or foil.
  5. Microwave heating is very uneven. If a recipe calls for stirring a food half-way through cooking, turning a food over, or letting the food sit after cooking, follow those directions to help distribute the heat.
  6. Microwave ovens are not ideal for cooking meat due to the uneven cooking. Some parts may get over cooked and toughened, while other parts barely get cooked. This is both a food safety and quality issue.
  7. It is OK to thaw meat, chicken or fish in a microwave, but only when you are going to be cooking the item IMMEDIATELY afterward. Because of the uneven heating, the meat will be in the danger zone for bacterial growth if you forget and leave it in the microwave a few hours.
  8. Don’t heat bread or rolls in the microwave. This is not a food safety issue, it is a quality issue. If you have ever tried this, you know the bread can turn out rock hard and not usable. Better to toast or gently warm bread in an oven.
  9. Do use your microwave as a quick and easy way to toast nuts.  (How-to from Alice Henneman MS RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension).
  10. You can use your microwave to dry fresh herbs, but look at these guidelines from Purdue University Extension so you don’t ruin them in the process.

 For more reading on microwave cooking safety:

Happy microwaving! Please let me know if I forgot to address anything.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Q & A: Getting more veggies in

 Q.            I’m not a big fan of vegetables, but I know I’m supposed to have more.  Our  yearly work health assessment said that I am not getting enough vegetables, and that would be something I should work on. Are there any ways to sneak more vegetables in? Can the fruit/vegetable juices such as V-8 Splash count as some of my vegetables? C.C. Holland, MI

A.            There are a number of reasons to increase your portions of vegetables, including:
  • Vegetables can make you feel more full with lighter calories.
  • They can help reduce blood cholesterol levels.
  • They won’t hurt your blood sugar.
  • They contain lots of phytochemicals that are known to benefit human health. 

            For people who don’t think of themselves as vegetable eaters, I usually have them look at a list of the non-starchy vegetables, and circle the ones they do like.  Chances are they like a few more than they think. Not everyone likes every vegetable (I like most all vegetables, but I haven’t found a reliable tasty way to fix eggplant  yet, other than the high-calorie version of eggplant parmesan.)

            Once you know the vegetables you are willing to eat, the answer is to eat more of them! You like green beans? Have one cup instead of just one-half cup. You like carrots? Throw some extra slices into your homemade soup. And so on.

            I usually do not promote juices or juice blends as a way to get more vegetables, because they are lacking the beneficial fiber (that helps cholesterol and helps make you feel full). But hey, I do run into total non-vegetable eaters once in awhile,  and juice is probably a little better than nothing.

            The photo above is an example of one way to increase your vegetable intake; by adding more veggies to canned soups.
            For my example, I started with one 19-ounce can of Campbell’s Chunky beef barley soup, added a 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes, and 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables.  This combo was heated and split with my husband.

By having soup this way instead of each having a can of soup and calling it good, we each got an extra three servings of vegetables and bumped the fiber up to 13 grams per serving instead of 8. If you need to watch sodium, I suggest getting the “Healthy Request” version of the soup (half the sodium) and a lower sodium canned diced tomatoes.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tidbit: Salt-free herb blends

A client at the Diabetes Center where I work was telling me about the new McCormick herb blend called "Perfect Pinch". She says she likes it better than Mrs. Dash (another salt-free herb and spice blend). She said that when using Mrs. Dash, she finds she needs to use a little salt too. She found that this new seasoning did not require extra salt to taste "just right".

I really enjoy herb blends and probably have more in my cupboard than I can hope to use, but I had to go pick up this new blend to give it a try. I remembered Mrs. B told me she prefers the "original" version, so I picked up an original (for chicken), and a savory all-purpose version.

Oops. The joke is on me. I guess the Original version needs to say "salt free", because in the one I bought, the first ingredient listed (in teeny tiny 6 or 7 point type) is salt (I wondered why it tasted salty!)  Yes, there is such a thing as Original Salt Free seasoning according to the web site, but my store was out of it.

Bottom line: If you are seeking herb blends, don't assume that they are salt-free; double-check the ingredient list.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's for Dinner: Aunt Pat's Spaghetti with Lots of Vegetables

Finished dish

I got to taste this great spaghetti sauce variation while visiting Aunt Pat and Uncle Bud in Oklahoma a couple of years ago. Pat is a super cook, and when I saw this interesting combo of ingredients she had put together, I just had to have the recipe.

This probably won’t appeal to those who like things plain and simple, but if you have a sense of adventure, you should give it a try! I’m a big fan of adding extra vegetables to plainer dishes.

Sautéed  vegetables

Recipe: Aunt Pat’s Lots of Vegetables Spaghetti

(Note: You are welcome to add and subtract ingredients as your tastebuds desire; this is what I used. Pat says she always uses black olives, but won’t add the green ones unless she knows her company likes them.)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow summer squash, diced
1 medium zucchini squash, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, cubed
1/2 red bell pepper, cubed (you can add yellow or orange peppers, too)
1/2 medium mild onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound sliced mushrooms (I used baby Portobello)
10-15 black olives, sliced
10-15 green olives, sliced
Herbs to taste: Basil, dill weed, thyme, oregano, tarragon (I used a 1/2 teaspoon of each of these dried herbs)
1 28-32 ounce jar favorite spaghetti sauce (I use Classico tomato and basil)
1 pound lean ground beef (Aunt Pat makes her own meatballs to go with this, but I don’t have that recipe yet)
1 pound thin spaghetti, cooked according to package (I used whole grain this time)

In a large non-stick pan, sauté  the squash, peppers, onion, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil until almost done; add olives and keep warm. At the same time in a different pan, brown the ground beef and drain it well (I put it on paper towels to degrease it); add ground beef crumbles to spaghetti sauce in separate sauce pan and simmer while vegetables are getting done. Add herbs close to serving time.  Cook spaghetti and drain.
Divide cooked spaghetti into 4 to 6 bowls. Next, add tomato and meat sauce, then top with sautéed vegetables.
Nutritional information per one serving (for one-sixth of recipe): 553 calories, 33 grams protein, 15 grams fat, 65 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams fiber, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 697 milligrams sodium.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Q&A: After surgery meals

Q.            My father just had open heart surgery. (His aortic valve was replaced and the mitral valve was repaired. Plus he had a hole in his heart.)  He is 81 years old so this has been a HUGE undertaking for him; he is only in his second week of recovery.
            My sister and I have taken on the job of preparing his meals for him and mom daily. My dad not only has had heart surgery but is diabetic, too. He is asking for all the wrong things to eat which I know are bad for him (Hardees Steak biscuits , etc).
            Another dilemma to consider is that while in the hospital.....they pulled all his teeth. He has sore, tender gums and eating is difficult as he can’t chew much yet.
            Can you advise me on proper foods that I can fix him that is cardiac and diabetic safe for him but has flavor? Any other tips such as salt? Butter?  I have no clue as to the dos and don’ts in this process. MF North Carolina

A.            It sounds like there are lots of  issues with your father’s health, but first and foremost, he needs nourishment to help him heal from his surgeries (including the teeth extractions).   For now, make it easy on yourself and give your dad soft but nutritious foods. Some foods to try are custard, yogurt, cooked cereal, scrambled eggs (3-4 eggs a week is OK even with heart issues), pudding, yogurt, applesauce, other canned fruit, etc. You could even offer him something like Carnation breakfast essentials (mixed with milk, high in protein), or Boost or Ensure to help get some protein in.
            After he has more strength and his gums are good and healed, then see if he and your mom are willing to meet with a registered dietitian at your local hospital for more specific food advice (your dad's physician can refer you to one). The hospital where he had surgery likely has a cardiac rehab dietitian who can direct all of you to more heart healthy and diabetes-friendly food options. Your dad may not take advice from you, but may be willing to listen to a professional. If he does not want to go, then that is his choice, but at least you will have tried to do the right thing for him.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Tidbit: Phone App for Carb Counters

 The free Calorie King phone app is just the thing for people who are actively watching calories, carbs and other nutrients. It’s handy for looking up food values on the fly; there’s less need to guess the carbohydrate content of a restaurant food item, especially if  you have diabetes and are matching insulin to the carbohydrate grams eaten at meals and snacks.

I teach carb counting for diabetes, and I use the Calorie King app to look up foods at various restaurants just for fun and to add to my general knowledge. (Pretty sad to call that a fun thing, huh? Plus, I am a bad guesser when it comes to portion sizes and amount of calories and carb; I need to measure things with measuring cups, measuring spoons or a digital scale, just like I teach my patients).

Here are some foods I recently looked up: Tim Horton’s apple fritter donut (49 grams carb), Panera’s bowl of black bean soup and whole grain baguette (29 grams carb,  36 grams carb), and McDonald’s mango pineapple fruit smoothie (small is 54 grams carb, large is 81).

What if you don’t have a smart phone? The 2012 Calorie King Calorie, Fat and Carbohydrate Counter book is available for around $9; it looks small but has a nice selection of restaurants and other foods listed. As the title implies, the book lists calories, fat and carbohydrate; the app gives an expanded nutrient list in case you are interested in protein, sodium and other nutrients. Plus the app is updated fairly frequently.