Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Action Alert - 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act

It is not very often that I urge my readers to "do something now". However, I am urging all of you to send letters to your own elected officials in Washington now in order to impress upon them that more, much more, needs to be added to the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Reauthorization Act, first in terms of total funding and then for the inclusion of higher and uniform national nutrition school standards so that any increase in funding is actually spent on purchasing healthy foods for school lunches.

The Secretary of the USDA released a statement yesterday outlining his departmental goals and actions to improve school lunches and breakfasts. The full remarks are available to read here. There are many very good things included! However, as I mentioned, more is needed!

The easiest place I have found for you to contact your senators and representative (along with Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA) to provide your voice is at the website for Chef Ann Cooper, The Renegade Lunch Lady. It is a clear and easy to use web-based communication tool to send messages directly to your own senators and congressional representative. A succinct sample letter will be shown to you with clear instructions where you can add your own personal statement.

The simple message is to ask for an additional $1.00 per day per student, not the pennies per day per student currently proposed by President Obama. Let's put our money where our future is and needs to be! In addition, please request that uniform nutritional standards (at a high level) be set regarding food purchases so that all additional money is spent on foods shown to reduce obesity (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and increase nutrient intake (not empty calories).

I have sent my letter already (not the first time I have done so, just the most recent). Time is of the essence. Please do this today!

With approximately 1/3 of all our children currently overweight or obese and those who are ages 6-11 currently consuming ~50% of their daily calories as "empty calories", there is NO time to lose to turn around this epidemic of chronic disease rushing at us like an out of control freight train, bringing with it massive associated medical expenses, decreased quality of life (there is an amputation of the leg every 30 seconds in this country due to complications of type II diabetes, a totally preventable disease! - talk about decreased quality of life and downright misery), and pre-mature deaths.

For the future health, vitality, and national security of our country, we need to put our money up front where it will do the most good, and do it now. Please write today! Many thanks for your actions. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's in your hospital?

I'm old enough to remember when the hospital where I did my dietetic internship had cigarette machines. They were 'hidden', but a lot of staff knew where they were and used them. I still remember my shock at first seeing them and then seeing who used them! That was the mid-70's. I seriously doubt that any hospital or health care facility (at least in the US) has cigarette machines on the premises anymore.

So why do they still have vending machines that sell junk food? I have been in the ER of my own local major medical center several times over the past years, always viewing the food options available from vending machines with disinterest if not disdain. Disclosure - it has been 2 years since my last ER visit. I can hope there has been a change since then. However, an article published yesterday in the Columbia (MO) Tribune reports that other "health care" institutions also have clearly not made the connection between food and health, i.e. food and disease.

Health care in this country is still "disease care" and in fact is itself an "industry". In Michigan, our governor tries to put a positive spin on our miserable economy by pointing out that we do have one growth industry in the state, which is "health care". I about choked when I heard that!!! Question - Do we need to all get sick (and stay sick) to keep our economy growing, in order to provide jobs for our children to be able to stay and work in the State of Michigan? I certainly will not be part of that formula!

Our First Lady, Michelle Obama, is trying to change the big picture of the nutrition environment for families with children, first with her organic White House garden last year and now with her new "Let's Move!" campaign in order to break as quickly as possible this accelerating march toward childhood obesity, early onset chronic diseases with their exorbitant disease treatment costs, shortened life expectancy, decreased quality of life, and downright misery (there is an amputation due to type II diabetes - which is totally preventable! - every 30 seconds in this country).

Food is the nexus (connection, linkage) between health and disease. In any and every way possible, each of us (as health care professional and/or as citizens) needs to do our part to change this giant tapestry, this entangled web, of the food and nutrition environment from junk food to good food and then reach out to advocate to change the larger food and nutrition environment in order to focus our efforts on promoting health, i.e., prevention of disease not treatment of disease.

Start by looking in your local food shopping store for food to purchase that is grown locally and seasonally (yes, even during the cold, snowy months in Michigan). If it is not there, find the store manager and ask to have it available. Then keep asking each time you go to the store. Did you realize that spending just $10 per week on locally grown food keeps $37 million circulating in Michigan's economy instead of going out of state to who knows where? (This same concept can be applied to wherever my readers reside.)

Download and print out the Good Food Checklist for Dietitians on the left side of my blog (for some reason, the links to other two checklists are currently not available - I'll work on that later). I'll bet you'll be surprised and pleased to realize how much you are already doing, but this list will help you identify your best "next step" on the path to including more good food into your nutrition environment.

The next time you're in your medical center, cancer clinic, or cardiac cath lab (really, I hope you never need to go to any of those places!), look around at the easy food options and if what you see is junk food, please make a formal request for healthy options to be made available and affordable, too. (apples should cost far less than candy bars!). Ask to speak to a manager, and then ask for the name and address of the person who makes the decision about what is available. Follow up with a letter to that person, asking for a reply.

Enough spouting off from me. I'll end with two inspirational short quotes as "food for thought", and I hope as "food for action", too. :-)

“Eating is an agricultural act.”
~~ Wendell Berry, Farmer - Poet - Activist

“Don’t dig your grave with
your own knife and fork”
~~ English Proverb

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, February 15, 2010

Recovery is Prevention

Cancer survivors are at greater risk than the general population for multiple chronic (killer) diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, just for starters, in addition to new primary cancers and recurrence of the first cancer diagnosis. Many of these chronic diseases, new cancers, and cancer recurrences are caused or compounded by being overweight. Much is still to be understood why this happens, i.e., just exactly what is happening at a cellular level, but the fact is that most weight loss research programs have been done on other-wise healthy people.

So it is good news that researchers in the UK are starting a "Healthy Living" program to study weight loss programs in cancer survivors, using individualized nutritional advice and monitoring by a dietitian in addition to exercise regimes.

However, here comes your broken record again, please don't wait for this research project to be completed and published before you seek out the expertise of a Registered Dietitian (RD) to help you design an effective weight loss plan that is individualized to incorporate your specific health needs (both the chronic diseases you already have and those you are at risk of developing), food preferences and tolerances, and lifestyle. Waiting for more research is no different than the "old excuse" of saying "I'll quit smoking when a pack of cigarettes reaches "$_(fill in the blank)_______."

No matter where you are in terms of treatment (newly diagnosed, currently undergoing therapy, recently done with therapy or if you finished many years ago), I urge you to ask your oncologist or surgeon or primary care physician for a referral to an RD, particularly if you are done with treatments and also overweight. In an ideal world, the RD will also be a Certified Oncology Specialist (CSO) or studying toward that specialty certification, but many many RDs have the expertise needed to help you develop a comprehensive diet and lifestyle plan that will address all of your specific needs as a cancer survivor. Here is an article written for RDs for which I was interviewed regarding cancer survivor's comprehensive needs.

In addition to local referrals through your cancer center, RDs can be found at this website. Look for the box near the top of the left side of the screen that says "Find a Registered Dietitian". Speaking about "ideal worlds", I will also add that in an ideal world, any health care dollars spent by you to benefit from the expertise of an RD would be fully covered by a health insurance plan. Some will, some won't, but some will if pushed. So be persistent, submit the claim over and over. It often helps to be the squeaky wheel. Of course, I am really saying "don't wait".

Optimizing your cancer recovery is really focusing on prevention of all the diseases that are not only shortening life, costing us all a bundle, but perhaps most importantly, are diminishing quality of life.

I hope you take that first step to cultivating your life! Turn your cancer recovery into a quest for optimal health through prevention of further disease. Find an RD who will share your goals and help you optimize your life, step by step.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Bird in Hand, so to speak :-)

Our remodeling crew had a snow day today after an ~10 inch snowfall yesterday. After getting both our home and the farm plowed out and shoveled (my husband and I both felt like we needed naps by 10 AM!), we decided today would be a good day to head back out to the farm to do tedious work like stripping wallpaper and applying waterproofing stuff to the basement walls without being in the way of our crew of skilled craftsmen.

Taking a break, I looked out of the kitchen window to see for the second time a very large all white bird fly through the open area of the SW portion of our property. I "flew" to the other end of the house to look out the windows to see if I could get another view of this bird to make an ID. Nope - no luck again. I look for it every single time that Kaya and I walk the land, but so far, I have not made an ID. Whatever it is would be very exciting - it is clearly not one of the red-tail hawks that are common here, even at this time of year.

However, while zipping through the house to get a better view of my white mystery bird through the windows at the far west end of the house, I glanced out a south-facing window to see movement in a tree close by the house. So, after rapidly assessing that no big white mystery bird was going to pose for me to make an easy ID, I quickly ran back to the bedroom window facing south to see what the movement was and if it was still there (hope hope!).

Aha! five (5!! instead of one like I recently saw and posted about) male Eastern bluebirds, plain as day, and as beautiful as can be, close-up to see all their feathers and contrasting colors. They were alternating between posing and then dropping down out of sight to an area close to the house that could be seen from our walk-out basement, back to the tree, then flying farther out into the yard where I could now see a new puddle.

So I ran for my camera, ran downstairs to the basement, picked my way through all the construction stuff, glad the work crew was not there to shove aside!, told Dick about the excitement, then ran back up the stairs trying to get the best view of these moving targets (birds never sit still in contrast to plants!), realizing all the windows were filthy and/or had screens, oh no! any photos will be awful, back through construction zone trying for a better view trying not to trip on all this stuff, trying not to step on Kaya, trying to zoom in with the camera on the run, what an event! So what you see is "a bird in hand is worth two in the bush". My big white bird will just have to come back sometime when I am outside to see it, follow it, and get that ID, and someday I'll be outside with my camera to get better pix of our bluebirds, too. :-)

(Photo: 3 of the 5 male Eastern bluebirds outside our bedroom window; one at ~7 o'clock, 1 at ~8 o'clock, and the third one at ~10 o'clock, which is hard to see)

(Photo: zoom close-up to see one male Eastern bluebird sitting out by the more distant puddle where our sump pump was dumping water this afternoon)

(Photo: Construction zone in the basement I had to navigate to see the bluebirds at the puddle closest to the house. Note the great (!!) windows facing south that will be used for growing lots and lots of plants as soon as we move in.)

(Photo: Bedroom construction zone I had to navigate to see the bluebirds in the tree outside this window - this wallpaper (flying angels) will be coming down. Thankfully, it is only a border.)

(Photo: Living room/dining room construction zone - 4 walls of wallpaper and a very well stuck border (complete with mildew behind much of the border) in the process of coming down. Note: Kaya supervising on her pillow.)

(Photo: Garlic field under a snowy blanket.)

(Photo: the field to the SW of our house where twice I have seen the big white bird flying through, both times in the early afternoon, flying from east to west ~ 15 feet off the ground just this side of the shrub/second growth line.)

(Photo: Snowballs on the spruce tree - I wonder if today's high winds rounded off the snow on the branches from yesterday's snowfall.)

(Photo: Kaya - what's down there??!! I tried and tried to get a pix of her snowy nose and ears without success this time.)

(Photo: Kaya up to her knees and shoulders, as happy as can be. Tonight she'll probably pay for all this hard exertion with her lame back legs. I hope we don't have to carry her upstairs for bed.)

Actually I never did nap today, and now I am wondering if I'll need to be carried upstairs, too (just kidding!). :-) :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What's New? We are officially farmers!

No action on Groundhog Day at the two groundhog homes that I know of on our farm. We had a cloudy day with light snow but no evidence of groundhog emergence, at least based on the fact that no paw prints were visible outside the two holes that we saw groundhogs enter last fall, which our old dog Kaya regularly tries to investigate. So does that mean we'll have an early spring or 6 more weeks of winter? I'll let you know what actually happens!

(Photo: No pawprints seen around our groundhog hole on 2.2.10. I suppose it could have poked its head out without venturing out any further before backing up to return to hibernation.)

I did finally hear cardinals singing today for the first time this year, a few weeks later than I have heard them in the past, however, a clear sign that spring is on its way.

However, the BIG news is that as of today, February 4, 2010, my husband and I are officially signed up as new farmers with the USDA. Last year we registered at our Local Food Summit as "farmer wannabe's". This year we are registered as farmers for our upcoming 2nd Local Food Summit. Woo-hoo!!

So here are a few pix of what's going on at the farm right now. Repairs and remodeling are still in progress but it looks like everything should be finished by the end of March for us to start moving in during April. Another woo-hoo!

(Photo: Kaya with me on our regular walk about the property. I am always looking to see what I notice that is new. You may have noticed that very few of my pictures are taken with sunny skies. Because Michigan is almost completely surrounded by the beautiful and extraordinary Great Lakes, it is a very cloudy state during winter months.)

(Photo: Even a tree with no leaves can create a sheltered spot where less snow falls.)

(Photo: the fuzzy magnolia blossoms, not really any bigger than when I took a photo a month ago or so.)

(Photo: the bank of windows in our south-facing walk-out basement, which will be perfect for indoor growing next winter!)

Step, step, step - we're getting there! We're getting bids on a barn and a driveway over to the new barn location, making contacts regarding erection of a hoop house, signing up for various extension education and/or organic growers meetings in the upper Midwest, ordering seed for more green manuring of our land prior to planting more garlic next fall, learning what USDA programs we will qualify for and may wish to participate in, choosing paint colors, stripping wallpaper, still pulling out mouse nests from the house, etc, etc, etc.

There are not enough hours in the days, and we sleep very well at night. When we get impatient about all we want to do, and how we sometimes, even often, wish we were 10 (or 20!) years younger, kind friends remind us that it is the journey, not the destination, that counts. Thanks - we needed and appreciated that gentle reminder. We are fortunate. Step, step, step! :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Recipe - Vegetarian Lentil Paella

February is Heart Healthy Month (or something like that!), and as much as I usually focus on information related to cancer on this blog, it is a fact that many more women die of cardiovascular related diseases (like heart attack and stroke) than cancer. In fact CVD is responsible for over 40% of all deaths of American women. In addition, it behooves us to remember that women are six times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer (that is a very important message for breast cancer survivors, too), and heart disease kills more women over the age of 65 than all cancers combined.

It's thought that 80 percent of heart attacks and related events could be prevented by modifying behaviors -- like adopting a healthy diet. Thus it is reassuring to know that something we can do with our diet actually helps us reduce those risks.

Evidence keeps accumulating that a traditional Mediterranean diet can optimize health. The most recently published study (American Journal of Epidemiology, December 15, 2009) showed a 40% reduced risk of a first heart attack or other heart disease-related event. Past studies of varying sizes and designs have shown that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of death in people who've had a heart attack, curb the risk of stroke, and boost survival in people living with heart disease.

Specific components of a Mediterranean diet differ from region to region but, generally, the key features include high consumption of olive oil, plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain cereals, nuts and seeds. Fish is favored over other meat sources with a relatively low consumption of red meat (approximately one serving per month). Alcohol, especially red wine, and dairy products are used in moderation.

Here is a delicious and easy heart-healthy (and cancer-fighting, too!) recipe that incorporates nearly all of the components of a traditional Mediterranean diet.

Vegetarian Lentil Paella

2 large sweet peppers - chopped (red, orange, or yellow or combo)
2 medium onions - chopped (combination of varieties, ~ 1 cup chopped)
6 cloves garlic - peel and then mince
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup lentils (brown) - rinse and pick out any stones
1 cup long-grain brown rice (not instant)
4 cups broth (combination of vegetable and fish broth)
1/8 teaspoon saffron (may use 1/4 tsp. turmeric)
1 pint canned tomatoes
1 cup frozen (thaw ahead of time) peas
1 cup mixed olives (preferably pitted!)
chopped fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish

1) In Dutch oven or large cooking pot, sauté peppers, onions, garlic in olive oil until onions are tender.
2) Add lentils, rice, saffron, and broth to pepper mixture.
3) Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until both rice and lentils are cooked and liquid is absorbed.
4) Add tomatoes, olives. Heat through.
5) Add peas and cilantro. Heat through.
6) Add salt (if desired) to taste. I did not add any since the olives themselves already contribute a considerable sodium content to the dish.

This recipe makes 4 generous servings. Serve it with any other vegetable, a salad, and some whole grain bread (to make sure to sop every little drop of this delicious dish). A glass of red wine would make it a complete Mediterranean meal. :-)

Photo: Easy to make your own vegetable broth, using vegetable peelings and ends that have been saved in a ziploc bag in the freezer. I added some left-over fish broth to this broth, too. While this was simmering, I chopped the onions and garlic, emptied the dishwasher, swept the floor, and made a cup of green tea to drink.

Photo: Paella ingredients - All the vegetables are locally grown, either from our garden or other farmers. Organic sweet peppers are very hard to find in grocery stores and very expensive when they are available. They are SO easy to freeze during summer and fall to have available during the so-called "dark days".

Photo - Vegetarian Lentil Paella with Rice - a one-pot meal all ready to eat and enjoy. Add a few walnuts to a side apple and cabbage salad with a yogurt-based dressing plus a glass of red wine to drink and I think you would have all the components of a health promoting (and delicious) Mediterranean meal.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD