Meal planning is a useful tool to have in your healthy lifestyle toolbox. It consists of writing down meal options to assist in grocery shopping and weekly food preparation.
Meal planning can help increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables in our diets and reduce intake of added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
How to Start Meal Planning:
Choose a guide to help organize your meals
Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry for items to incorporate in your weekly plan
Get inspired and make a menu
Feeling overwhelmed? Start by selecting a protein (like peanut butter, eggs, beans, or chicken); grain (like oatmeal, whole wheat tortilla, or quinoa); and fruit or vegetable.
Time to grocery shop
Gordon, Barbara. 3 Strategies for Successful Meal Planning. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Reviewed August 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022.
U.S. Department of Agricultural and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Accessed October 2022.
By Taylor Klein, MGH Dietetic Intern
If you’re a parent, picky eating can make mealtime a struggle. Read on to learn how to take some pressure off you (as the provider) and your child (as the eater). The secret? Remembering those distinct roles.
As a parent, aim to decide what, when, and where food is served. Children decide whether and how much to eat.
The benefits to this include:
Allowing your child to choose how much of each food to eat creates a safe environment for them to try new things. Evidence shows that exposure of any kind to a new food (seeing, touching, smelling) can increase the likelihood that children of all ages will try it, even if it takes up to 20 exposures!
The key is to stay consistent with pressure-free feeding. It’s as simple as reassuring wary eaters with “you don’t have to eat it” alongside micro portions (think: one bite size) to limit food waste. If they don’t eat the new food, count it as an exposure. If they do eat the new food, you can always offer more. Try to include at least one food at meals that everyone likes.
The best part about all of this? Mealtime can become a space to connect, instead of a battleground.
Carruth BR, Ziegler PJ, Gordon A, Barr SI. Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers' decisions about offering a new food. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104(1 Suppl 1):s57-64.
Dazeley P, Houston-Price C. Exposure to foods' non-taste sensory properties. A nursery intervention to increase children's willingness to try fruit and vegetables. Appetite. 2015; 84:1-6.
Raise a Healthy Child Who Is a Joy to Feed. Ellyn Satter Institute. Accessed August 2022.
By Grace Cesarini, MA, CHES, MGH Dietetic Intern
The American food supply is considered quite safe, but it’s not without flaws: about 1 in 6 Americans is impacted by foodborne illness or “food poisoning” every year, which can include gastrointestinal upset, dehydration, and, in rare cases, lead to hospitalization or death.
Many foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, most commonly Salmonella and Campylobacter. These bacteria grow rapidly in a temperature range known as the “Danger Zone” (40 to 140℉).
Though food poisoning is often associated with meat, illness-producing microbes such as Bacillus cereus can also grow in improperly stored starches such as rice, beans, and pasta. Read on to learn how to protect yourself.
To Keep Food Out of the Danger Zone:
To Safely Eat Leftovers:
McDowell RH, Sands EM, Friedman H. Bacillus Cereus. StatPearls Publishing. Sept 16, 2021.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People 2020. Accessed July 7 2022.
Tack DM, Ray L, Griffin PM, et al. Preliminary Incidence and Trends of Infections with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food — Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, 10 U.S. Sites, 2016–2019. CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69(17):6.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Keep Food Safe! Food Safety Basics | Food Safety and Inspection Service. Updated December 20, 2016. Accessed July 2022.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Leftovers and Food Safety. Updated July 31, 2020. Accessed July 2022.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Safe Minimal Internal Temperatures. Published August 2017. Accessed July 2022.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. What You Need to Know about Foodborne Illnesses. February 17, 2022. Accessed July 2022.
By Avery Lorio, MGH Dietetic Intern
It’s no secret that some of the most delicious fruits and vegetables are currently being harvested across the country. In Massachusetts, beets are in season from June through September. Though often underappreciated, they are a nutritious and colorful addition to this summer’s bounty.
Research suggests this antioxidant and nutrient-rich vegetable has compounds that may reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease. (Beets may play a role in decreasing the risk of cancer and heart disease.) They also contain protective pigments called betalains that give them their deep red and yellow color.
The Leaves are Edible Too
Beetroot leaves contain a variety of nutrients and can easily be chopped up and added to a fresh summer salad or sautéed, like spinach.
New to beets? Try this lemon beet hummus.
To find locally grown beets (and other produce) this summer, here are a few Boston-area markets:
Thursdays from 1:30 PM - 6:30 PM
June 2 - November 17, 2022
Tuesdays and Fridays from 11AM - 6 PM
May 13 - November 22, 2022
Wednesday 12 - 6 PM
May 18 - November 23, 2022
Check here for other farmers' markets throughout Massachusetts.
Brookline Farmers Market. Brookline Farmers Market. Accessed June 2022.
Ceclu, L and N Oana-Viorela. Red Beetroot: Composition and Health Effects - A Review. Journal of Nutritional Medicine and Diet Care. 2020;5(2).
Clifford T, Howatson G, West D, and E Stevenson. The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2015;7(4): 2801-2822.
Laucharoen, S. A Guide to Farmers’ Markets Around Boston. Boston.com. Accessed June 2022.
Massachusetts Grown Produce Availability Chart. Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources. Accessed June 2022.
By Sabrina Grovom, MGH Dietetic Intern
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults consume about 30 grams of total fiber daily – at least 5 to 10 grams of that should come from soluble fiber sources. Soluble fiber can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Soluble fiber lowers LDL cholesterol by forming a gel during digestion, which helps to trap and remove cholesterol from the body lowering blood levels. High levels of LDL cholesterol can accumulate along your vessel walls, this is called plaque and makes it harder for your body to pump blood to your organs.
Soluble fiber also causes food to move more slowly through the digestive tract. This supports a gradual release of sugar into our blood and helps to reduce blood sugar spikes.
Include More Soluble Fiber in your Diet:
Everyday foods can help you meet recommendations - the above example provides 8 grams soluble fiber.
Abutair AS, Naser IA, Hamed AT. Soluble fibers from psyllium improve glycemic response and body weight among diabetes type 2 patients (randomized control trial). Nutrition Journal. 2016;15(1): 86.
Li, BW, Andrews KW, Pehrsson PR. Individual sugars, soluble, and insoluble dietary fiber contents of 70 high consumption foods. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 2002;15: 715-723.
Tosh SM, Bordenave N. Emerging science on benefits of whole grain oat and barley and their soluble dietary fibers for heart health, glycemic response, and gut microbiota. Nutrition Reviews. 2020;78(1): 13-20.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nutritional goals for age-sex groups. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 2020; 9:101.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. National Institutes of Health. 2005; 27.
By Sophie Walton, MS, MGH Dietetic Intern
There is pretty much an app for everything now. With booming research relating diet to health outcomes, nutrition-focused apps promise users a more detailed sense of their health through self-monitoring.
We know that nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. Diet recommendations should always be individualized. It’s important to understand that nutrition apps work similarly. What might be a great tool for one person may not be helpful to another.
The good news is there are a variety of options available. Some guide users in tracking macro– and micronutrients while others prompt users to track emotions related to food choices instead of calories. There are even apps specific to conditions such as eating disorders, diabetes, or pregnancy.
For data-driven, nutrient-focused folks: try Cronometer
For those seeking understanding around emotional eating patterns: try Am I Hungry?
For visual learners, curious about mindful eating without calorie emphasis: try Ate Food Journal
For those interested in support for disordered eating: try Rise Up and Recover (recommended as an adjunct to professional treatment)
Research indicates that while most nutrition apps can provide the user with data, they may lack the education and individualized considerations needed to promote true understanding and long-term improvement. If you’re interested in trying an app, it’s helpful to work with a dietitian (RD). The combination of an RD’s education and the app’s consistency is likely to be more beneficial than using an app alone.
Interested in meeting with an RD? Call the MGH outpatient nutrition department at 617-726-2779 to learn more.
Brown J, Franco-Arellano B, Froome H, Siddiqi A, Mahmood A, Arcand J. The Content, Quality, and Behavior Change Techniques in Nutrition-Themed Mobile Apps for Children in Canada: App Review and Evaluation Study. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2022;10(2):e31537.
Choi J, Chung C, Woo H. Diet-Related Mobile Apps to Promote Healthy Eating and Proper Nutrition: A Content Analysis and Quality Assessment. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(7):3496.
König L, Attig C, Franke T, Renner B. Barriers to and Facilitators for Using Nutrition Apps: Systematic Review and Conceptual Framework. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2021;9(6):e20037.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. American Adults are Choosing Healthier Foods, Consuming Healthier Diets. Published 2014. Accessed April 24, 2022.
van Dijk M, Koster M, Oostingh E, Willemsen S, Steegers E, Steegers-Theunissen R. A Mobile App Lifestyle Intervention to Improve Healthy Nutrition in Women Before and During Early Pregnancy: Single-Center Randomized Controlled Trial. J Med Internet Res. 2020;22(5):e15773.
Więckowska-Rusek K, Danel J, Deja G. The Usefulness of the Nutrition Apps in Self-control of Diabetes Mellitus – The Review of Literature and Own Experience. Pediatric Endocrinology Diabetes and Metabolism. 2022;28(1):75-80.
By Tara Greenwood, MGH Dietetic Intern
Sugar substitutes, also referred to as artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners, are now found in a variety of food products and beverages. For years, there has been buzz around the benefits and adverse health effects of sugar alternatives like aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), and sucralose (Splenda).
Let’s zoom in on one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners, sucralose (Splenda). Sucralose is made from sugar and is chemically altered to be 600x sweeter than sugar with very few calories. Splenda has gained popularity because you can cook with it and it has less of an aftertaste compared to many of its competitors.
The effects of sucralose on our bodies, particularly related to blood sugar and weight management, are constantly evolving. The artificial sweetener may also impact the bacteria in our gut (our microbiome). So, here’s what we know thus far.
In short, we still have much to learn.
It seems that consumption of sucralose (Splenda), does not bare significant risks to our health. That said, questions also remain about its benefit, particularly as a weight loss strategy. Since foods containing artificial sweeteners may also replace healthier options, it may be best to limit intake when possible.
Ahmad SY, Friel JK and DS Mackay. Effect of Sucralose and Aspartame on Glucose Metabolism and Gut Hormones. Nutrition Reviews. 2020; 78(9): 725–746.
Bueno-Hernández, N et al. Chronic Sucralose Consumption Induces Elevation of Serum Insulin in Young Healthy Adults: A Randomized, Double Blind, Controlled Trial. Nutr J. 2020; 19(32).
Cheon E, Reister EJ, Hunter SR and RD Mattes. Finding the Sweet Spot: Measurement, Modification, and Application of Sweet Hedonics in Humans. Advances in Nutrition. 2021; 12(6): 2358–2371.
Honorio, AR, Soares, AF, Nunes de Lima, CD and AA Lima Tribst. Passion Fruit Nectar Sweetened with Stevia and Sucralose: Is Perception Affected by the Regular Consumption of Sweeteners or Diabetes? International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. 2021; 25: 100404.
Méndez-García LA, et al. Ten-Week Sucralose Consumption Induces Gut Dysbiosis and Altered Glucose and Insulin Levels in Healthy Young Adults. Microorganisms. 2022; 10(2):434.
Yunker, A, Alves J and S Luo. Obesity and Sex-related Associations with Differential Effects of Sucralose vs Sucrose on Appetite and Reward Processing. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2126313
By Rachel Sentchuk, MGH Dietetic Intern
Food fermentation has been practiced for thousands of years to preserve food past the growing season. Beyond the nutritional benefits of having more provisions available, the process of fermentation itself likely supported our ancestors’ health – and may offer us benefits too.
Research suggests consumption of fermented foods increases gut microbiome diversity, which is associated with healthy gut function and lower levels of circulating inflammatory compounds that can be markers of chronic disease.
It is still unclear if this benefit is caused by the microbes present in fermented foods or if the fermented foods are feeding protective bacteria found in our intestines. Including fermented foods can also provide important nutrients, like calcium, and may help the body better absorb these necessary compounds.
Fermented foods include yogurt, aged cheeses, miso, and fermented vegetables. Examples of fermented vegetables are items like kimchi and lacto-fermented sauerkraut found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (not the canned shelf-stable variety).
For optimal benefit, try adding kimchi or kraut to cold dishes like sandwiches, tacos, grain or pasta salads, or as a vegetable side at meals. Because these microbes are heat-sensitive, adding fermented vegetables to hot dishes may reduce gut diversity potential, but still offers flavor and nutrients.
Dimidi E, Cox SR, Rossi M, Whelan K. Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1806.
Marco, ML, Sanders, ME, Gänzle, M, Arrieta, MC, Cotter, PD, De Vuyst, L, Hill, C, Holzapfel, W, Lebeer, S, Merenstein, D, Reid, G, Wolfe, BE, & Hutkins, R. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) Consensus Statement on Fermented Foods. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2021; 18: 196-208.
Valdes, AM, Walter, J, Segal, E, & Spector, TD. Role of the Gut Microbiota in Nutrition and Health. BMJ. 2018; 361:k2179.
Wastyk, HC, et al. Gut-Microbiota-Targeted Diets Modulate Human Immune Status. Cell. 2021;184(16):4137-4153
By Lauren Kirby, Dietetic Intern
It’s the holiday season! Cue the seasonal parties and increased stress. Many may find themselves reaching for one alcoholic drink too many during this time of year. In fact, a quarter of the profits from spirits come from the period between Thanksgiving and the new year.
But what impact might this have on our health?
Research has shown that heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of developing over 200 medical conditions including liver disease and cancer. It also increases risk of stroke and can raise blood pressure.
The recommended intake for alcohol is no more than two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women per day. Alcoholic beverages supply calories but very little nutritional value, so moderation is important for overall health.
If you choose to drink during this holiday season, here are some tips on how to sip smarter:
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 . Food and Nutrition Service United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed November 29, 2021.
Editorial Staff. Holiday binge drinking: Statistics & data. American Addiction Centers. Published April 7, 2020. Accessed November 29, 2021.
O’Keefe JH, Bhatti SK, Bajwa A, DiNicolantonio JJ, Lavie CJ. Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health: The dose makes the poison…or the remedy. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2014;89(3):382-393.
Poppitt S. Beverage Consumption: Are alcoholic and sugary drinks tipping the balance towards overweight and obesity? Nutrients. 2015;7(8):6700-6718.
By Lola Horton, MGH Dietetic Intern
MGH Cranberries make a guest appearance at holiday tables, but tend to be forgotten as soon as the season passes. However, the benefits of these nutrient-dense fruits make cranberries worth eating year-round.
Cranberries are rich in plant-compounds known as flavonoids, which not only give the fruit its signature red color, but also may promote cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation in the body.
Studies have shown that regularly consuming cranberries (and cranberry juice) helps to manage cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow, all of which are beneficial for heart health. Additionally, research suggests the active plant compounds in cranberries fight oxidative damage in the body and may help to reduce inflammation.
Find yourself with leftover cranberries after Thanksgiving? Eat them or freeze them for future use.
Here are some ways to include more cranberries into your diet:
Chew B, Mathison B, Kimble L, et al. Chronic consumption of a low calorie, high polyphenol cranberry beverage attenuates inflammation and improves glucoregulation and HDL cholesterol in healthy overweight humans: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Nutr. 2019;58(3):1223-1235
McKay DL, Blumberg JB. Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Nutr Rev. 2007;65(11):490-502.
Novotny JA, Baer DJ, Khoo C, Gebauer SK, Charron CS. Cranberry juice consumption lowers markers of cardiometabolic risk, including blood pressure and circulating C-reactive protein, triglyceride, and glucose concentrations in adults. J Nutr. 2015;145(6):1185-1193.
Ruel G, Pomerleau S, Couture P, Lemieux S, Lamarche B, Couillard C. Favourable impact of low-calorie cranberry juice consumption on plasma HDL-cholesterol concentrations in men. Br J Nutr. 2006;96(2):357-364.
Ruel G, Pomerleau S, Couture P, Lemieux S, Lamarche B, Couillard C. Low-calorie cranberry juice supplementation reduces plasma oxidized LDL and cell adhesion molecule concentrations in men. Br J Nutr. 2008;99(2):352-359.
By Morgan Dunn, MS, MGH Dietetic Intern