FDA Approves New Weight Loss Drug, Belviq

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new weight loss drug, the first in the U.S. market in over 13 years.  The last weight loss drug, Orlistat (or generically Xenical), was approved in 1999 and worked by preventing the absorption of fats from the diet. On Wednesday the FDA approved the anti-obesity drug, Belviq (or generically lorcaserin).  Arena Pharmaceuticals attempted to have the drug approved in 2010, but scientists found tumors in animals taking the drug.  After some additional data was resubmitted, clinical studies in humans found the drug to be safe with no concern of tumors.  Typical side effects include depression, migraines, and memory lapses. It is expected to hit the market some time next year.

The FDA has approved the drug, Belviq, for weight loss. It is expected to hit the market in 2013. It is the first weight loss drug to be approved in the U.S. in over a decade.

With nearly 2/3 of the U.S. population being overweight or obese, the obesity epidemic in this country is staggering.  The drug allows doctors to prescribe a drug marketed for obese individuals (BMI of 30 or above) or overweight individuals (BMI of 27 or higher) who also present at least one comorbid condition related to obesity (such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol).  It is not meant to be used alone, however.  Patients should use the drug to supplement a healthy diet, regular exercise, and an active lifestyle.  Arena Pharmaceutical performed three randomized-control clinical trials consisting of over 8,000 participants  (diabetic and non-diabetic) lasting over 1-2 years.  Belviq showed moderate weight loss.  Patients lost an average of 3-3.7% of their starting weight over the course of a year.  Nearly 47% of diabetic patients lost an average of 5% of their starting weight, making it an effective weight loss tool for the FDA’s standards.  However, if individuals don’t see any significant weight loss in the first three months, it is unlikely that they will have beneficial results by continuing to stay on the drug.  The company is required by the FDA to conduct six more postmarketing studies to assess the drugs cardiovascular safety and the risk of stroke and heart attack.

How does the drug work?  The drug works by altering chemical signals in the brain that control appetite and hunger.  Belviq triggers the receptors for the neurotransmitter, Serotonin, which triggers feelings of fullness and satiety.  Taking Belviq can make a person feel fuller after eating smaller amounts of food, leading to a calorie deficit and eventual weight loss.  The drug works similar to the biochemical process that makes anti-depressants so effective – they prevent the reuptake of specific neurotransmitters.

Are weight loss drugs the answer to America’s obesity problems? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, however, this is the mentality of many people who are prescribed a weight loss drug.  Patients believe that this “magic pill” will suddenly melt the fat off their body and they can continue to eat and do whatever they want without putting in any work.  Therefore, the public needs to be educated on how to properly manage their weight with proper diet and exercise…and this is where dietitians come in! I also think diet pills can be beneficial for people who have been “yo-yo” dieting their whole life.  Individuals will try to lose weight for a short amount of time, and when they don’t see the results they want, they give up and go back to their old habits.  By “failing” at their weight loss goals, the lose their confidence in their ability to shed the pounds.  I think this is where anti-obesity drugs can be the most effective.  For people who have lost their confidence, a drug may spark some weight loss.  When patients see such positive results, they will begin to gain back the self-efficacy needed to maintain sufficient weight loss.  Eventually (and hopefully) people will learn to wean off the drug and be able to maintain their weight on their own…not to mention properly manage comorbid conditions like diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and high blood pressure.

For more information on Belviq, check out the FDA report at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm309993.htm.


Healthy Foods in the Frozen Section

Next week, Emily and I will be presenting the first of six “Lunch and Learn” wellness series, where employees eat their lunch in a classroom while we teach them about various health topics.  The “Lunch and Learn” series is part of a corporate wellness initiative for the employees at the Davis College at WVU.  The objective of the healthy lunch series is to encourage healthy living and healthy eating at work.  There is currently not a very consistent corporate wellness program at the Davis College, so we are working to develop more wellness initiatives for the employees.

The six “Lunch and Learn Series” and some general topic to be discussed are:

  1. Living Well in Morgantown…Eating Well While Working On Campus – This is the lesson Emily and I will be giving next Friday!
    1. What is Wellness
    2. How to pack a healthy lunch
    3. The “5-20” Rule when looking at a nutrition facts label – For fat, sodium, and cholesterol you want sources that contain less than 5% of your DV.  And for carbs, fiber, and vitamins and minerals you want sources that contain 20% or more than your DV.
    4. Pack this, not that
    5. Eat this, not that – Vending machine
    6. Eating at restaurants—pass out dining guide
  2.  Exercising in Morgantown
    1. Gyms in Morgantown – Membership information, locations, etc.
    2. Rail Trail
    3. Walking Map of Downtown/Evansdale Campus – Walking routes, miles, calories burned, etc.
    4. Local Race Information –   5ks, Color Run in Pittsburg, Relay for Life
    5. Sign up for walking buddies?
  3. Stress Management/Sleeping Well
    1. Benefits of getting enough sleep
    2. Tips for sleeping well
    3. How stress can harm your body
    4. Different stress-management technique –  Meditation, yoga
    5. CD of calming music?
  4. Healthy Eating During the Holidays (Oct, Nov, Dec)
    1. Halloween
    2. Thanksgiving
    3. Christmas
    4. New Year’s Eve
  5. Eating for Heart Health (February = Heart Health Month)
    1. Heart Disease Info
    2. Calculate your Risk Factor, Worksheet
    3. “10 Foods for Heart Health”
    4. Behaviors to Avoid
    5. Recipe ideas?
  6. Eat Your Best, Look Your Best
    1. What you eat affects how you look
    2. Hair health- vitamins & minerals
    3. Nail health- vitamins & minerals
    4. Skin health- vitamins & minerals
    5. Importance of drinking water
    6. “10 foods that will make you look your best” handout

In order to promote our lesson, we will be posting flyers around the Agricultural Sciences Building and inviting several of our professors and advisors. Take a look at the flyer I made!

Click:  brown bag lunch series flyer

Because the overall theme of our lesson is “Eating Well While Working On Campus”, the topics we will be discussing are the 5-20% Rule, vending machines, sugary drinks, fast food restaurants, and frozen food entrees.  We have been working on developing a nutrition guide for the vending machines that are located in the Ag Sciences Bldg.  The vending machine guide gives a red, yellow, or green light corresponding to a snack or drink item.  The red, yellow, and green lights are designated based on calorie and fat content. Red items should be consumed never or rarely, yellow items should be consumed sometimes, and green items are always a go!

I have also been developing a handout with a list of healthy frozen food entrees that employees can easily throw in the microwave for lunch.  The handout includes tips and guidelines for choosing healthy frozen foods, the benefits of frozen foods, and separates frozen foods into chicken, beef, fish, pizza, and pasta categories.  The handout is not completely finished yet, but take a look at the rough draft I have so far!

Click:  Frozen Foods For Lunch Handout

Another handout that we are in the process of making is an “Eat This, Not That – Fast Food In Morgantown Edition”.  This handout is going to include several restaurants and fast food places on both Evansdale and Downtown campuses that employees typically go to for their lunch break.  This is going to be a small booklet that participants can flip through to see the top 3 healthiest options and the 1 option they should totally avoid at each location.  The guide is meant to give tips and be a quick reference guide when eating out for a healthy and delicious lunch off campus.

More to come on the “Lunch and Learn” lesson next week as Emily and I develop a PowerPoint presentation as well as the “Eat This, Not That” guide!

What’s the “beef” on beef?!

Researchers at The Pennsylvania State University studied the effects of including lean beef in a heart healthy diet.  The Beef In an Optimal Lean Diet Study (BOLD) , published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the effects of varying amounts of lean beef on the blood lipids and lipoproteins on 36 mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women.  The participants consumed 4 different diets for 5 weeks each (with one week compliance breaks in between diets).  The four different diets were:

1.)  Healthy American Diet (HAD) – The control diet that reflected a typical American diet comprised higher in fat. Comprised mostly of full-fat cheese and dairy, more oil and butter, and refined grains.

2.)  Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) – The “gold standard” for a heart healthy diet consisted mainly of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and the primary protein source came from white meat and plant sources.

3.)  Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD) – Similar to the DASH diet, but the main protein source came from 4 oz/day of lean beef.

4.)  Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet Plus (BOLD+) – Similar to the BOLD diet, but with higher amounts of lean beef of around 5.4 oz/day.

The full nutrient breakdown of each diet is explained in the table below. Diet adherence was monitored by daily and weekly food questionnaires, which found 93% compliance to the diets.

The results of the study found that LDL and total cholesterol was significantly lower in the DASH, BOLD, and BOLD+ diets compared to the HAD (P<0.05).  Compared to the HAD, LDL cholesterol (or the “bad” cholesterol) was significantly decreased by 5.5%, 4.7%, and 4.4% by the DASH, BOLD, and BOLD+ diets, respectively.  Also compared to the HAD, total cholesterol was decreased by 3.8%, 3.8%, and 4.6% by the DASH, BOLD, and BOLD+ diets, respectively. Unfortunately, HDL cholesterol (or the “good” cholesterol), was also lowered significantly by the test diets compared to the HAD (refer to the graph below). There were also no significant differences between diets in terms of serum triglycerides, glucose, or insulin levels.

So what is the bottom line?  Including lean beef in a healthy diet can reduce the risk of heart disease.  A 3 oz. serving of lean beef (about the size of a deck of cards) has around 150 calories and is an excellent source of protein, zinc, vit. B12, vit. B6, niacin, and selenium.  The types of lean beef included in the BOLD and BOLD+ diets composed of Top Sirloin, Tenderloin, T-Bone steak, and 95% lean ground beef. However, don’t forget to follow a low saturated fat diet (<7% of calories from saturated fat) and to meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

One of the reasons I am posting about this particular study is because I was personally involved with the follow-up to the original BOLD study.  As a requirement for the Penn State Schreyer Honors College, I took part in the 1-year follow-up to the BOLD study for my undergraduate thesis.  I was responsible for contacting participants, scheduling appointments, weighing participants in, and analyzing the data.  If you want to read more, check out my undergrad thesis here!!

If you want to follow the same heart-healthy diet as the participants in the BOLD study, take a look atThe Healthy Beef Cookbook. Below is an example of a delicious and healthy recipe including Top Sirloin.


Healthy Snacking Lesson

Today was a really fun and chaotic day. This morning Emily and I taught our “Healthy Snacking” lesson to around fifteen 4th graders from The Shack Neighborhood House.  The lesson was taught in the WVU test kitchen (pictured below).  The kids sat in chairs in front of the demonstration table.  The demo table was a great way to teach the kids how to cook because it had an overhead mirror that was angled toward the audience (almost like we had our own cooking show!).  We started off the lesson by introducing ourselves and introducing the lesson as healthy snacks.

The WVU test kitchen has several “mini kitchens”, ovens, stoves, sinks, and cooking equipment.

The “students” sat in chairs in front of the demonstration table.

We first explained the MyPlate image and taught them that half of their plate should contain fruits and vegetables.  We then went through all the food groups of the MyPlate (fruits, veggies, grains, protein, and dairy) and asked if they could think of healthy snacks that belonged in each category.  The next thing we did was write the acronym S.N.A.C.K.S. on the chalkboard to remind them what healthy snacking means.

Smaller portions

Not in front of the TV (the kids were appalled by this!)
Am I really hungry?

Choose low-fat foods from the MyPlate

Kitchen is a good place to eat

Sit down, slow down, savor, and enjoy!

Emily and I teaching the kids about healthy snacks.

The next thing we did was begin to make the delicious salsa (recipe found here).  We showed them the different ingredients and asked if they knew what each of them were.  We asked for a few responsible volunteers to come to the demo table and help us chop up the tomatoes and green peppers.  We had to teach them the appropriate way to hold a knife and the proper way to chop the vegetables.  When all the ingredients were added to the salsa, it looked and tasted absolutely delicious.

I am showing a volunteer how to chop a tomato!


The yummy salsa the kids helped to make!

The next thing we did was teach the kids how to make their own chips out of whole grain tortillas.  All the kids had to first wash their hands.  Then they each had the chance to cut their own tortilla into chips, place them on baking sheets, spray cooking spray, and add salt, pepper, and chili powder.


Everyone got to cut their own whole-grain tortilla into chips.


While the tortilla chips were cooking in the oven, we organized the kids to play a “Guess that fruit or vegetable game”.  We split them into three teams and explained the rules of the game.  We placed 12 large brown bags throughout the room with a flap in the back of the bag.  The kids were unable to look in the bag, but had to take turns putting their hand in the bag and feeling the fruit or veggie.  They had to try to guess the most fruit/veggies correctly strictly by feeling them.  The kids had a lot of fun playing this game.  Some of the food items they guessed fairly sily, but some items really tricked them (like turnips, parsnips, and zucchini).

Finally the last part of the lesson was for the kids to each make their own fruit and cheese skewers.  Everyone got their own skewer and we encouraged them to choose fruits that were very colorful.  They could choose from apples, bananas, grapes, cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberries, and cheddar and mozzarella cheese.  I think this was probably the kids favorite part of the lesson because they got to eat their fruits and veggies right away, and some kids even went for seconds!

The kids had alot of fun making their fruit skewers!

Eating their fruit skewers, chips, and salsa.

Everyone got to take home some salsa to have their families try.

Overall the nutrition lesson went really well! It was a little chaotic controlling all the kids and some of the chips got a little burnt, but I think everyone had fun and learned a lot.  And don’t forget they got to take home a “Healthy Snacking” brochure .

Jenny Craig in America vs. France – Cultural norms make all the difference

In a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, “French Women Worry About Getting Fat, Too” , American dieting customs have moved from across the Atlantic and into Europe.  The article discusses how Nestle has established it’s Jenny Craig brand into one of the healthiest countries, France.  The fact that dieting plans, such as Jenny Craig, is being implemented in France is intriguing.  This is because France has an extremely low obesity rate (14.5%) and has the highest percentage of underweight people in Western Europe. However, the obesity rate has been on the rise. In fact, 15 years ago the obesity rate in France was only 8.5%.  Compared to America, these numbers are remarkable.  The obesity rate in America is around 35%. However, if you account for both overweight and obese individuals, this accounts for nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population.  So the question is: What is the French secret for staying thin? And how can Jenny Craig possibly be successful in a country that has such different culinary customs?

The “French model” of eating couldn’t be more opposite from the way Americans are used to eating.  First off, the French are very proud of their exquisite cuisine and cooking skills.  Whereas most Americans are used to eating convenient, processed foods that require as little time to prepare as possible.  Secondly, the French believe meals should be a communal and social experience. This is drastically different from the American way of individualistic eating and eating focused only on the “self”.  Maybe American’s shouldn’t be as concerned with what’s on the table and more focused on who is at the table.  I think this is a revolutionary and brilliant idea to help battle the obesity problem in the U.S.  People shouldnt’ be snacking mindlessly while watching TV, in front of a computer screen, or driving to work.  Meals should be a conscious experience employing all the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing) and stimulated with social interaction.

So what exactly is Jenny Craig?  Jenny Craig is a weight loss plan where clients receive frozen prepackaged meals delivered to their door or delivered to one of its many centers.  Meals are to be supplemented with fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. As the client gets closer and closer to their weight loss goal, the more non-Jenny Craig foods that can be incorporated into their diet.  Clients also meet individually with program consultants for education and support.  American consultants are required to be properly trained in the Jenny Craig mantra, whereas (interestingly) French consultants are required to be actual dietitians.  This is something I feel very strongly about. Maybe I am slightly biased because I am going to be a Registered Dietitian, but I think it is important for Jenny Craig consultants to have the proper nutrition education. (This would also offer up more jobs for RD’s!)

In France, however, it is not looked highly upon to be on a diet because, in theory, healthy foods and small portions should be a part of every day life (and not just a short-term answer).  French women who are on a diet tend to not mention it to anyone and instead just take smaller portions from the family style serving dish.  With this attitude towards dieting, it has been difficult for Jenny Craig to be successful in this country.

One of the most interesting cultural differences is the idea of snacking.   Americans are encouraged to eat six small meals a day, represented in the Jenny Craig program with “Anytime Bars”.  The French find the idea of snacking as preposterous and eat, at the most, three meals a day.  This stems from the French way of communal eating.  It makes sense…snacks are meant to be eaten by yourself and on the run. Something that the French simply don’t believe in.  Along the same lines, the French take on dessert consists mainly of fruit. Cakes, cookies, and other baked items are only for special occasions.

How has Jenny Craig attempted to carve its niche in French society? For one, the prepackaged meals offered in France are much more exquisite and tasty than the macaroni and cheese, cinnamon French toast, and chocolate cakes offered in the U.S.  Secondly, the packaging of the food is also more upscale.  The Jenny Craig meals in the U.S. are being delivered in cheap, white foam boxes while the French meals are served in a much more appealing and elegant patterned container (as shown below).

And lastly, the marketing scheme is being geared towards the French’s attitude and mindset toward life.  The French are traditionally very cynical and self-depricating, with one of the highest rates of depression throughout the country (based on medication usage).  Therefore, Jenny Craig has had to tweak its marketing plan towards a more pessimistic audience.  The French Jenny Craig website avoids slogans attempting to boost self-esteem, and instead focuses on more logical statements such as, “I did the Jenny Craig solution. It works!”

The food culture differences between the U.S. and France is completely fascinating.  Some people may be skeptical of the French’s approach to food.  However, when the statistics show the declining health of Americans are and the slimmer waist lines of the French, it’s pretty hard to ignore the facts.

For further reading on this topic, check out the book The French Don’t Diet Plan.

The 2012 Farm Bill – Passed by Senate Today, Moves to House

“Not Everyone Farms, But Everyone Eats.”

Today Congress passed the 2012 Farm Bill by a vote of 64 to 35.

But what exactly is the Farm Bill?

The United States Farm Bill turned into law in 1933 and signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt under the Agricultural Adjustment Act in order to provide subsidies and money to U.S. farmers in the midst of the Great Depression. Since then, the bill is reviewed by congress and renewed every five years. Currently, congress is negotiating the 2012 Farm Bill, as the current bill expires on September 30th. The 2008 Farm Bill consisted of 15 main areas:

  1. Commodity programs
  2. Conservation
  3. Trade
  4. Nutrition
  5. Credit
  6. Rural development 
  7. Research
  8. Forestry
  9. Energy
  10. Horticulture
  11. Livestock
  12. Crop insurance and disaster assistance
  13. Commodity futures
  14. Trade and tax provisions
  15. Miscellaneous

In 2008, the Farm Bill budget upped close to $300 billion. To put this immense figure into better perspective, this accounted for less than 1% of the total federal budget. The majority of the funds (about two-thirds) goes to public assistance programs, such as SNAP, with the remaining funds going towards agricultural subsidies, conservation, and crop insurance. Take a look at the figure below:

In 2008, the government spent less on commodities and more on domestic food assistance.  For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP or food stamps), which aids food costs for low-income families, has had increasing enrollment as well as increased funding.  In fact, SNAP benefits went up from $34.6 billion in 2008 to a staggering $64.7 billion in 2010. This is mostly due to the current economic recession.  In fact, 2010 marked the first time that SNAP spending represented greater than 10% of all grocery spending (figure below).  The 2012 Farm Bill will continue to support the SNAP program and will emphasize ways to identify fraud and abuse of the system in order to find savings within SNAP. SNAP will no longer allow eligibility to lottery winners or college students being financially supported by families who are not of low-income status.

SNAP Trends

The 2012 Farm Bill is expected to cut spending by $23 billion over the next ten years. The bill was passed today by the Senate and is now moving to a Republican-led House of Representatives.

Along the lines of federal subsidies, the 2012 Farm Bill will reduce funds for direct price supports and subsidies to farmers.  Instead more emphasis is being placed on farmer’s risk management tools such as crop insurance in the case of a natural disaster.  This is supposed to be the staple of the farming security net.

One aspect of the bill that I am excited about are more grants supporting research and promotion of specialty crops, support of farmers’ markets,  and programs to allow more accessibility to healthy foods in low income areas.

Another amendment to the bill was to require state labeling of genetically engineered foods. This amendment was voted down and not included in the bill. Which i completely disagree with the amendment being voted down, I think companies should be required to label genetically engineered food.

With the recent economic downturn, it seems like more federal assistance is needed to support low-income families who have been hit hard by these trying financial times.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem fair that farmer’s seem to be taking the brute of the repercussions with decreased subsidies, which in turn creates higher food prices for the rest of the country. While I admit I am still becoming more educated on the subject, these two conflicting issues seem to make the Farm Bill a type of “double-edged sword”. I don’t know, what do you think?



A Day At: The Shack Neighborhood House

It was a very fun day as a dietetic intern. Emily and I had the opportunity to spend the day as camp counselors at The Shack Neighborhood House, a local community youth center.  The Shack targets lower-income families and offers several programs for the community such as after school programs for kids, familly fun nights, tutoring, swimming lessons, Zumba, adult cooking classes, and a day camp for children from kindergarten through 6th grade.  Older kids are considered the “JV” (7th-12th grade) and are able to be camp volunteers.  The Shack has several play rooms, a craft room, a gym, a playground, an inground pool, and outdoor pavilion.

The mission statement of the Shack is: “To provide an inclusive, safe, and fun environment for learning and recreation. Programs strengthen families by nurturing children, youth, and community members of all ages in Monongalia County and the surrounding areas. Through our initiatives, The Shack fosters personal growth and self-confidence, and promotes social responsibility.”

The gym at The Shack.

Kids playing in the pool.

When I arrived in the morning, I was placed with the Kindergarten group consisting of about 10-12 boys and girls.  A typical morning at The Shack’s day camp is split up into three 45-minute activities.  During the first activity, the kindergarten group played outside in the playground. The playground has a jungle gym, slides, swings, sandbox, and seesaw.

Two kindergarteners playing on the seesaw.

During the second part of the morning, we went inside to the play room above the gym.  The play room was full of were dozens of board games, books, toys, cards, and a TV with videos.  I spent my time playing Connect 4 and making puzzles with the kids.

The third part of the morning was probably the most interesting and educational for me personally (coming from a nutrition background).  This is because the older kids at The Shack have been growing an herb garden, or what they call the “Sensory Garden”.

The “Sensory Garden” full of a variety of herbs.

The herb garden full of a variety of different herbs.

The younger kids were given a lesson about the sensory garden. During the lesson the kids learned what the five senses are, what type of herbs are being grown, and naming different fruits and vegetables.  They got to smell many herbs and spices, such as sage and garlic, and identify them based on their scent.  They had the chance to use their senses even more by actually going into the garden and feeling the different textures and smelling the different scents of the various herbs.

The kindergarteners using their sense of sight and scent to test the different herbs growing in the garden.

A boy exploring through the "Sensory Garden".

Each camper got to pick one leaf of basil from the plant and take it back inside where they added their basil to a premade salsa.  The instructor added cheese, black beans, some extra tomatoes, and the basil into the premade salsa to make a delicious dip.  Everyone then got to taste-test the creation and surprisingly a lot of the kids liked it (even the black beans!).

After tasting the salsa, it was then time for lunch.  At The Shack, all campers receive a hot lunch made by Shack employees in their small kitchen.  On the menu today was grilled cheese on wheat bread, french fries, pineapple slices, and low-fat chocolate milk.   I learned that a standard lunch must consist of a minimum of a 3/4 cup of fruits and vegetables.  I also learned the government is increasing the requirement for fruits and vegetables to 1.5 cups in public schools and placing an emphasis on whole grains (which is great).  However, I was surprised when most of the kids left a lot of the food on their plate.  I later found out the reason is because there is a concession stand that opens in the afternoon by the pool.  The concession stand is stocked-full of unhealthy snacks such as pizza, candy, soda, and ice cream.  Therefore, most of the kids seemed to rely on the unhealthy food at the concession stand instead of what they received for lunch.

The lunch menu for the entire month of June.

The purpose of spending the day at The Shack was to investigate the target audience for a nutrition lesson we will be giving to about 20 of the kids next week.  We wanted to see what the needs of the community were, what The Shack was actually like, to meet the kids, and to come up with ideas for the lesson. I had a really good time being a camp counselor for the day and playing with all the kids. I can’t wait to teach them our lesson on “Healthy Snacking” next week!

Tomato & Zucchini Pasta Recipe

Being a grad student can make it really difficult to cook healthy meals on a time crunch. Here is one of my favorite recipes that I made up and tend to throw together on a weekly basis.  Since I love, love, love pasta…this is my healthy “go-to” when I don’t have alot of time.

One of the main reasons I love this dish is because it’s nutrient-packed with load of health benefits. Here are just a few of the benefits from the ingredients…

  • Barilla PLUS pasta – 1 box has the equivalence of the fiber in 35 leaves of swiss chard, the protein in 11 eggs, and the ALA omega-3 in 6 oz of walnuts.
  • Olive Oil – Olive oil is contains a type of healthy fat called monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). MUFA’s have been shown to lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, normalize blood clotting, and may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control.
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes are excellent sources of potassium, Vit A, Vit C, Vit E, folic acid, and lycopene.  Lycopene is a carotenoid that has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and macular degeneration.
  • Zucchini – Zucchini is low in calories and high in fiber, making you feel fuller faster and aiding in digestion.  Zucchini is also high in the anti-oxidants, beta-carotene and Vit. C.
  • Chicken – Although some vegetarians may argue it’s health benefits, chicken is a good source of protein and niacin.  Niacin has been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-Alzheimer effects.
  • Garlic – Garlic may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels. Garlic may also be anti-microbial due to a substance called allicin, a sulphur compound produced when garlic is crushed or chopped. Vit C and selenium in garlic may also decrease the risk of cancers.


  • 2 small chicken breasts
  • 1 serving Barilla PLUS farfalle pasta, cooked according to box instructions
  • 4-5 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • ~1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Onion powder, basil, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper (to taste)
  • grated parmesan cheese (optional)


  1. Begin by placing the chicken in a greased pan over medium-high heat.  Cut chicken into bite-size cubes (appr. 1/2 inch).  Sprinkle onion powder, salt, and pepper.
  2. While the chicken is cooking, add olive oil in a small sauce pan and put over low heat.  Chop zucchini into bite-size pieces (appr 1/2 inch strips) and add to olive oil. Add minced garlic and onion powder, basil, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper (to taste).  Cook zucchini until tender.
  3. Cut grape tomatoes vertically into halves. When zucchini is halfway done cooking, add the tomatoes to the sauce pan.

      4.  Add olive oil, zucchini, and tomatoes to cooked pasta. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

      5.  Bon Appetit!


“Healthy Snacking” Brochure

I continued to work on the “Healthy Snacking” lesson that Emily and I will be teaching next week to about twenty 3rd and 4th graders from The Shack.  My main focus for the day was creating a handout or pamphlet for the children to take home and share with their parents.  The information I included in the handout is the recipes for the salsa and tortilla chips that the kids will be learning how to make during the lesson, healthy vs non-healthy snacking ideas, the benefits of choosing whole grain products, and the acronym for S.N.A.C.K.S.

S.N.A.C.K.S. stands for:

Smaller portions

Not in front of the TV

Am I really hungry?

Choose low-fat foods from MyPlate for snacks

Kitchen is a good place to eat

Sit down, slow down, savor, and enjoy!

Check out my “Healthy Snacking” Brochure . Let me know what you think!

Choosing Healthy Recipes for Community Nutrition Programs

Today Emily Todhunter and I continued to work on the community nutrition program at The Shack, which would be funded by a possible grant from Build A Bear.  The theme of the program is “Shop Smart, Cook Healthy, Eat Right”.  The “Cook Healthy” portion is going to consist of  cooking demonstration where children and parents can take part in cooking a healthy meal.  The recipes we chose for the cooking demo are chili con carne and baked potatoes for the adults and granola bars for the kids.  The theories behind choosing these dishes is that they are nutritious, easy to make, inexpensive, and last for a long time.  The program would include ingredients that were discussed during the first lesson, “Shop Smart”, which would be a grocery store tour.

We also worked on a targeted community nutrition activity for 3rd and 4th graders to be taught next week to around 20 children from The Shack.  This 90-minute lesson would be on “Healthy Snacking”.  During the lesson students will learn to make homemade salsa, whole-wheat chips, and fruit and cheese skewers.  The students will also play an “identify that fruit or vegetable game” in two teams. Kids will put their hands in the box/bag, try to figure out what fruit or vegetable is in there, and then run back to their team, where they will tell their team what they found, and write what they found (but doesn’t tell the other team!).  The team that figures out all the items correctly first, wins a prize.  The nutrition lesson will focus on balancing your snacks based on the MyPlate recommendations and how to choose a healthy snack.

Below are the recipes for the granola bars, chili con carne, and the salsa and tortilla chips.

Homemade Granola Bar Recipe

Ingredients for the granola bars. I can’t wait to try this recipe!


  • 1/2 c. honey or corn syrup (or a combination of both)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • 2 c. quick oats
  • 2 c. Rice Krispy cereal
  • 1/4 c. ground flax seed
  • 1 or 2 T. wheat germ (optional)
  • 1 c. total of your favorite mix-ins (chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, etc)


  • In a small sauce pan, mix honey (or corn syrup) and brown sugar.
  • Cook over medium-high heat until sugar is completely dissolved – stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat and quickly stir in peanut butter.
  • Mix the oats, cereal, flax seed, and optional wheat germ in a large bowl.
  • Pour honey mixture over dry ingredients — mix well.
  • Stir in chocolate chips, nuts, fruit, and any other “mix-ins”
  • Press mixture into a 9″ x 13″ pan that has been greased or lined with wax paper. {I find it works best when I put another piece of wax paper on top of the bars and press down with a measuring cup.}
  • Let cool and “firm up”
  • Cut into bars and store in an air-tight container. I cut mine into 24 bars that were about 1″ x 4″ {8 rows by 3 rows}. I used a pastry cutter/scraper because it cuts really straight lines — but a long knife would work just fine too.
  • And since I used chocolate chips, I figured it would be best to store our granola bars in the refrigerator so they don’t melt.

Source: http://www.simpleorganizedliving.com/2011/08/01/homemade-granola-bars-the-winning-recipe/

Chili Con Carne Recipe

Pictured: Chili Con Carne. To be served with baked potatoes. Healthy toppings for baked potatoes include: salsa, reduced-fat sour cream, greek yogurt, green onions, reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese, broccoli, sauteed mushrooms, red pepper flakes, chives…or just pour the chili on top!

Yield: 3 gal, Serving size: 1 cup

  • 10 lb Ground beef
  • 8 oz onions, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • Cook beef, onions, and garlic in a large pot until meat loses pink color
  • 2.5 qt diced tomatoes, canned
  • 2 qt tomato puree
  • 1 qt water
  • 3 oz chile powder
  • 1.5 Tbsp cumin, ground
  • 1 oz (1.5 Tbsp) salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 oz sugar, granulated
    • Mix tomato products, water, and seasonings. Add to beef. Cook until blended.
  • 9.5 lbs beans, pinto, kidney, or red, canned
    • Add beans to meat mixture. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add water if chili becomes too thick.

Source:  Food for Fifty (12th Edition) by Mary Molt

Tomato Salsa Recipe

Homemade tomato salsa with whole wheat tortilla chips is a healthy snack for children of all ages!

Makes 11 servings

  • 3 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped (3 cups)
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 8 medium green onions, sliced (1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno chili
  • 2-3 tablespoons lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in a bowl.

Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Tomato   Salsa Nutrition Facts 1   serving = ¼ cup
Calories 20
Total Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 125 mg
Total Carbohydrate 4 g
Dietary Fiber 1 g
Protein 1 g
Vitamin A 10% DV
Vitamin C 34% DV
Iron 2% DV

Source:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/homemade-tomato-salsa/6f57f14c-1284-44e1-97e5-224e0056ed71

Whole Wheat Tortilla Chips Recipe

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Cut whole wheat tortillas into wedges or strips.
  • Spray both sides of tortilla pieces with cooking spray.
  • Spread the pieces out on a single layer on a baking sheet.
  • Season with spices—pepper, ranch dressing mix, chili powder, garlic powder, etc!
  • Bake until golden brown & crisp, about 12-15 minutes.