April 8, 2014

I Lost a Patient Today

A lot of nutrition-things have happened lately.  I went to a national Public Policy Workshop for nutrition in Washington DC.  I attended our Spring Assembly for Illinois State Dietetics.  I hosted a Vegetarian Dietetic Practice Group exhibit booth there.  I participated in an Illinois State Leadership Retreat, preparing for my Presidency in Chicago next year.  In the midst of all this excitement and forward momentum, something else happened....one of my patients died. 

I don't talk about my patients often on this blog; I like to keep their lives completely private.  I am proud to say I'm in cancer-care and see a lot of great, happy things but I also lose people on occasion.  This person I lost was one of my favorite patients and I had a close relationship with her family as well.  I was always struck by her desire to change her diet and follow my advice in hopes she would get better and be cured from her disease.  Even though she lacked social support at times and the things I was asking her to do (cut out sugar!) were foreign at first, she persevered every day and was thankful that these changes to her lifestyle made her feel better and got her through treatment more comfortably.  I always respected her tenacity and she really proved that anyone can change their diet at any age if they really want to.  I believe, and hope, that the changes I helped her make gave her more quality time with her family.

Colleagues at work also share their experiences with cancer care

Unfortunately, cancer won this battle and I learned my patient went into hospice at home.  I asked her family if I could visit and they invited me in.  I visited her at her house and got a beautiful picture of the life she had lived.  She did recognize me when I got there and reached out to hold my hand like she did so often, when she was well, at the clinic.  Her grip was so strong even when she was only hours away from passing.  I got an email that she passed away the next day surrounded by family.  I'll be forever grateful that I got to spend that time with her before she transitioned out of this life.  

Another one of my patients told me recently that she is thankful that she got cancer because she's happier now than she ever has been before.  She told me she is happy every day that she's alive and so grateful for every interaction.  She told me that people stop her all the time to tell her she looks vibrant.  My patients are such an example of beauty and love that they also teach me to be thankful for every day I have with all of you!  Keep these wonderful people in mind as you move forward, practicing gratitude for your time with friends and family.  Also, know that you can make any choice you want - a choice for health and vitality despite any barrier in your way.  I see it happen every day.   

March 10, 2014

Three Vegetarian Myths You Should Know!


This post is inspired by three people:  the dinner companion who called a salad “Rabbit Food”, a drug rep who I offered a taste of my cooking and told me:  “I guess I’ll try it, I’ll try about anything!” as if vegan food could be on Fear Factory, and the friend who told me that she made a vegetarian dish and was surprised it was “filling”.   Don't get me wrong - I respect people of all diets but I feel that eating veggie is sometimes viewed in a negative way and I'd like to shed some light on common myths associated with the diet. 


  1. Vegetarian Cuisine leaves you hungry:
Fat and protein are satiating and so is fiber, so including these components in a meal will create a satisfying experience, whether you feature meat or not.  An interesting article came out last year in the Washington Post  which suggests that humans enjoy the flavor of meat due to the combination of fat and umami flavor.  Umami is the “fifth taste” and described as savory (vs. sweet, salty, sour, bitter).  Most people would feel hungry if they only ate a green salad without dressing – boring!  Add in a protein source like beans or tofu and a fat source like olive oil or flax dressing and you’re getting the same type of profile you would from a meat dish plus extra vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.   When you eat a plant-based diet, you often fill up on fiber already, so add in some delicious seasonings and a fat plus a protein source for optimal balance and satiety.  Vegetarians certainly do not walk around hungry all day just because they don’t eat meat.

  1. Long-term Vegetarianism or Veganism is unhealthy or dangerous:
I tell folks all the time, if you are a vegetarian, you need to eat vegetables!   Any diet could potentially be unhealthy if unbalanced.  An all carb and cheese diet isn’t going to cut it….teen vegetarians are notorious for this.  To get access to vital nutrients, you need a mix of complex carbohydrates, protein sources, fats, fruits and lots of veggies.  There are so many studies linking a plant-based diet to increased longevity and health, the idea that they are unhealthy or unsustainable is definitely a myth.  Per a review of the literature in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:  “There is convincing evidence that vegetarians have lower rates of coronary heart disease, largely explained by low LDL cholesterol, probable lower rates of hypertension and diabetes mellitus, and lower prevalence of obesity. Overall, their cancer rates appear to be moderately lower than others living in the same communities, and life expectancy appears to be greater.” 

  1. You need more protein than a veggie diet can give:
There’s this old myth that needs to die about protein combinations from a book written in 1971 by a sociologist.  (Side note, she has since retracted her suggestion about protein combining, but the information lives on).   You’ve undoubtedly heard it before: meat is a “whole” protein source and plants (except soy) are missing key amino acids so you need to combine plants during each meal to make the protein complete.  If this were true, I’m sure humans would never have survived this long and the fact is that our bodies are very smart about putting together the proteins we eat over time as they gather all the building blocks needed to function.   If you’re aiming for 50-60 grams of protein per day, consider the following:

Tofu: ½ cup=20 grams
Kidney beans: 1 cup = 13 grams
     Almonds: ¼ cup=5 grams
     Quinoa (cooked): 1 cup=8 grams
     Lentils (cooked):  1 cup=18 grams

My favorite, favorite thing to discuss with patients when myth-busting protein is to present all the incredible vegan athletes in the world.  I just followed a vegan body builder on Twitter: Big Nelly (@AlphaD307).   He is super buff and very nice.  I provide articles to patients on vegan athletes including a raw vegan Olympain , vegan ironman, and vegan ultra marathon runner.  It's incredible what your body can do fueled by plants alone. 


March 3, 2014

National Nutrition Month: Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right

March is National Nutrition Month with Registered Dietitian Day right in the middle on Wednesday the 12th.  Each year, the Academy picks a theme and 2014 encourages us all to "Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right".

Originating in March 1973 the shorter event, "National Nutrition Week" became extended to a month-long observance in 1980 to support a growing public interest in nutrition.  Past themes haven't meant as much to me as the one this year.  Whether it's "100% Fad Free" (2007), Eat Right! (2009), or "Get Your Plate in Shape" (2012), National Nutrition Month (NNM) is designed to educate the public on healthy eating. 

Unfortunately, to many people, healthy eating means boring, tasteless, or deprivation.  I see this subjectively with my patients all the time as they gawk at giving up their fatty, fried or sugary foods in favor of fresh, whole options.  Objectively, research shows the same.  A 2013 study about external factors influencing taste found that "the perception of taste and flavor can be greatly biased by extrinsic cues, or the information about a food that comes from outside of the food itself, such as package designs, brands, prices.."  In other words, if I tell you a food is healthy, you might associate that with yucky.... 

In honor of NNM and this profession I love so much, I'm making a list of my top 10 favorite healthy foods.  See one of my favorite handouts from the Academy attached below on ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables every day as you Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right!

Ginger's Top 10 Favorite Foods

1.  Cruciferous veggies (cauliflower!  broccoli!  cabbage!)
2.  Berries of all types
3.  Spices:  cumin, red pepper flakes, black pepper, curry powder
4.  Fish
5.  Jalapenos
6.  Kale and spinach 
7.  Black and pinto beans
8.  Peaches and plums
9.  Tomatoes
10. Tofu