The Great Pumpkin

November 24, 2008

halloween_pumpkinSince I can remember, I have always associated pumpkins with Halloween because each year, like many other families, my family would display a pumpkin on the front step of our house. It wasn’t until a few years ago, that I realized that pumpkins have benefits that go beyond traditional Halloween and Thanksgiving décor.

Not only are pumpkins delicious, they are packed with many healthful nutrients. The rich orange color that helps to identify pumpkins comes from beta-carotene, which converts into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is needed for normal vision, immunity, growth and reproduction.

Pumpkins are also rich sources of Vitamin C and Potassium. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects cells against damage, and reduces the risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Vitamin C also helps wounds to heal, fights infections, promotes healthy bones, teeth, gums and blood vessels, and aids in the absorption of iron.

Potassium maintains heartbeat and is important in many metabolic reactions. It can also help normalize blood pressure. A high potassium diet might also help prevent bone loss and kidney stones.

One cup of pumpkin contains only 30 calories, 0 grams fat, 0 mg cholesterol, and 0 mg sodium.

pumpkinseedsEven the little pumpkin seeds that most people tend to throw away are actually filled with nutrition. They are good sources of minerals- phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, vitamin K, and also protein. Pumpkin seeds have been shown to promote prostate health; protect men’s bones; have anti-inflammatory benefits in arthritis; and may help to lower cholesterol.

Thanksgiving is my favorite time to experiment with a variety of pumpkin recipes. Here are a few recipes that you can try at home to help you to get the health benefits of pumpkin:

Pumpkin Souppumpkin-soup1

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium apple, peeled and diced
2 cups fresh pumpkin, roasted and diced (see note) or canned pumpkin
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves
3 cups chicken broth, low-sodium
1 cup 1% milk

1 pinch each of salt and pepper

1.) In a stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onion, carrot, apple, roasted pumpkin, and sage in 2 tsp. of olive oil until all are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
2.) Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender. Return the puree to the stockpot, add the chicken broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the milk and simmer for 5 more minutes, lowering the heat if necessary so it does not boil. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
3.) Divide soup among 4 soup bowls and serve immediately.

NOTE: To roast pumpkin, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut whole pumpkin in half and then cut each half into several pieces. Discard seeds or reserve for another use. Place pumpkin on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until tender but not falling apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool, peel away skin, and dice.

Serving Size: 4

Pumpkin Raviolipumpkinravioli1

• 1 cup canned pumpkin
• 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
• 6 wonton wrappers
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup chicken broth
• 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• Chopped parsley


Combine pumpkin, Parmesan, ¼ teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Spoon about 2 teaspoons pumpkin mixture into center of each wonton wrapper. Moisten edges of dough with water; bring 2 opposite sides together to form a triangle, pinching edges to seal. Place ravioli into a large saucepan of boiling water with 1 teaspoon salt; cook 7 minutes and drain in a colander. Place chicken broth and butter in pan; bring to a boil. Add ravioli, tossing to coat. Sprinkle with parsley.
Yields: 6 servings (serving size: 4 ravioli).

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookiespumpkincookies


1 c. pumpkin
2 egg whites, whipped
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves
3 c. rolled oats
1 c. walnuts or chocolate chips


Spray baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine pumpkin and egg whites. In a separate bowl combine sugar, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, oats, and raisins. (Batter will be very dry at first.) Mix ingredients together just until moistened.

Drop cookies by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet, 2″ apart. You can leave the cookies in the shape of a ball (the baked cookie will still be a ball) or flatten them out with the bottom of a glass before baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

You can also try sprinkling some pumpkin seeds on to your cereal or salad, or eat them as a snack after roasting.

gaining-weightCan you remember back in January, after stepping on the scale, that you wished you hadn’t had that last piece of pie, the extra gravy, or that cup of eggnog? You were not alone! Studies show that the average American gains one to two pounds during the holiday season. Although that may not seem like a lot, each year adds up and can contribute to a lot of excess weight. But you can avoid this if you stay mindful of your eating this holiday season. Follow these simple tips for having a healthy holiday season, and come January, perhaps the only wish you’ll have is that you have a sweetheart on Valentine’s day!

1. Acknowledge that the holidays may not be the ideal time to try to lose weight. Try setting a more realistic goal to maintain weight.

2. Stay in-tune with your hunger. Don’t let the busyness and stressfulness of the holidays distract you from paying attention to your body’s internal cues. Let your physical hunger and satiety cues guide your decision to start and stop eating. Try to stick to your regular eating routine to avoid under and over eating.

3. Pay attention to self-talk, such as “I’ll skip breakfast and lunch today because I know I’ll make up for it later at the holiday dinner.” This way of thinking usually leads to overeating later. Start your day with a healthy breakfast which includes whole grains, fruit, dairy, and protein foods like eggs or peanut butter. Small snacks throughout the day can also help to avoid eating too much later.

holidaycandy4. Pay attention to your environment. If you notice that every year your office keeps treats around during the holidays, try planning ahead by bringing healthy snacks to work to avoid unnecessary indulgences. DO allow yourself to try a small amount of your favorite foods because you shouldn’t feel deprived.

5. Acknowledge your responses to food. Eat foods that you are know are both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. If you already know that you don’t like mindful-eatingthe taste of sweet potato pie, then, don’t eat it. Or, if you always look forward to your sweetness of your Grandmother’s double fudge brownies every year, then, don’t deprive yourself of it. Chances are that you’ll be happier and more satisfied because you chose to eat ONLY the foods that you know are pleasing to your body.

6. Acknowledge that there is no right or wrong way to eat during the holidays, but that everyone experiences food uniquely based on their own awareness.

latke7. Stay aware of the familial and cultural practices related to food. For example, during Hannukah, Jews traditionally eat potato latkes and other foods cooked in oil to remind them of the oil that burned for eight days. On Christmas Eve, my friends’ family, customarily drinks apple cider. Focusing on a food’s connection to family or cultural traditions, can help you to appreciate it’s meaning and helps take the focus off “good” “bad” eating.

8. Stay in the moment. When you choose to eat mindfully, you point your awareness to the whole experience of eating on a moment-by-moment basis. For example: Strive to choose foods that you know are pleasing for you in that moment, focus on the taste, smell, texture and appearance of the food in front of you; and check in with your hunger level before, during, and after eating.

wine9. If you like to celebrate the holidays with alcohol, try to stay mindful of how much you drink. The more alcohol you drink, the more difficult this will become. ☺ It’s a good idea to eat something before you drink alcohol because drinking on an empty stomach can lead to overeating and overdrinking.

10. Don’t forget to move! Even though it’s a busy time of year, the importance of runner1maintaining your exercise regimen is central to maintaining your pre-holiday health!!!

Body Love/Hate

November 12, 2008


Last week I worked with a client whom at a healthy weight (5’6” and 136#) declared herself as “overweight”. She has been struggling for months to lose 8# because then she’ll be “happier, healthier, and feel more comfortable in clothes”.

This week, I worked with a client who is clearly obese (5’4 and 226#) yet sees herself as “normal” weight. On an intellectual level, she is aware that her high weight, puts her at risk for many health issue (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease etc.), but, generally she reports satisfaction with her body.

This got me thinking about discrepancies in body image….

It has been known for years, that majority of American women are dissatisfied with their bodies. But, apparently, body image disturbances go beyond the U.S.

At the 2008 International Congress of Dietitian’s conference in Japan, I learned that there are also cultural discrepancies in body image. One study presented at the conference compared body image between Japanese and Vietnamese adolescents. The study measured height and weight of subjects and also asked about their body shape satisfaction. The results found that 60% of Japanese thought obese was unhealthy, while 85% Vietnamese thought that thinness was unhealthy. Also, most of the Japanese girls overestimated their body weight, were dissatisfied with their body shape, and wanted to lose weight. The Vietnamese girls had similar tendencies, but less severe. And, 38% of the Vietnamese girls even had the desire to gain weight. Japanese boys were mostly satisfied with their body shape, however, less than half Vietnamese boys wanted to be more muscular.

So, why do some individuals and some cultures have higher body dissatisfaction levels than others?

make-me-a-supermodel-jen-hunterFirst, in terms of culture, western societies tend to place more emphasis on physical appearance than non-western cultures. Also, in many non-western cultures, higher weight reflects greater wealth.

Western societies also have media such as television, movies, fashion magazines, and advertisements, which portray thin women as being beautiful and successful. They also portray male images like those of Arnold Schwarzenegger as being powerful, successful and desirable. These are images that we are taught to strive for in Western cultures.

On an individual level, we are all influenced by our family and peers in childhood. How we perceive and internalize messages from our parents and friends throughout childhood can affect our own perceptions of ourselves, and how we relate to food and weight. For example, a parent who has food or negative body image issues, will likely affect their child’s own thoughts about food and body image.

In addition, psychologists agree that body image is directly related to self-esteem. They believe that afear negative body image is more a sign of a psychological issue than one related to actual physical appearance. Those with low self-esteem tend to evaluate their self-worth based on their physical appearance, while those who have a greater self-esteem tend to evaluate themselves according to internal traits (intelligence, morality, emotionality). Therefore, since we all have varying levels of self-esteem, we would also have varying perceptions of ourselves.

Here are some guidelines (Adapted from BodyLove: Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, Rita Freeman, Ph.D.) that can help you work toward a positive body image:

1. Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry.
2 .Be realistic about the size you are likely to be based on your genetic and environmental history.
3. Exercise regularly in an enjoyable way, regardless of size.
4. Expect normal weekly and monthly changes in weight and shape
5. Work towards self- acceptance and self forgiveness- be gentle with yourself.
6. Ask for support and encouragement from friends and family when life is stressful.
7. Decide how you wish to spend your energy — pursuing the “perfect body image” or enjoying family, friends, school and, most importantly, life.


While knowledge of probiotics has been around since the early 20th century (See posts on 7/8/08 & 10/21/08) , it has only been until recently that we’ve learned about prebiotics, the synergistic companion of probiotics.

Prebiotics are defined as “food ingredients that promote the growth or activity of a limited number of bacterial species for the benefit of the host health”. In real synergy1terms, prebiotics are the “food” for beneficial bacteria. There are currently 3 criteria for a prebiotic effect:

1. Resistance to stomach acids, enzymes, or gut absorption

2. Fermentation (breakdown, metabolism) by intestinal microbes

3. Selective stimulation of the growth and/or activity of beneficial microorganisms in the gut.

When pre- and pro-biotics are taken together, they work synergistically to enhance the health promoting effects of probiotics.

Some prebiotics have also been shown to enhance calcium absorption and may boost the immune system and provide improved resistance against infections.

So, now you might be wondering…’ Where can I find prebiotics?’

wholegrainsPrebiotics are actually found naturally in a variety of foods. The major group of prebiotics in the US food supply is fructans. Fructans are a group of naturally occurring oligosaccharides, found in whole grains, onions, bananas, artichokes, garlic, honey, and leeks. Resistant starch is another category of prebiotics, and can be found it raw potatoes, unripe fruits (example: bananas), and foods fortified with resistant starch. Since the carbohydrate fibers in these foods are non-digestable, they remain in the digestive tract and stimulate growth of beneficial bacteria.

Some US companies that have food products containing prebiotics include Horizon Organic, Stonyfield Farms, Lifeway Foods, Kashi Company, Clif Bar, and Skinny Cow.



inulin-label4Look for ingredient terms on the food label, such as ‘inulin’, ‘chickory root’, ‘corn starch’, ‘modified corn starch’, and ‘maltodextrin’, which indicate presence of prebiotic-type fibers.

The bottom line: There is still much more research to be done on prebiotics, but, for now, I would encourage people to consume food products containing pre- and probiotics as part of a healthy diet. And, in order to optimize the possible digestive and immune enhancing health benefits of probiotics, take together with a prebiotic containing food.

Some products containing BOTH pre- and probiotics include Yoplait Yo-plus and Fiber-One yogurt, So Delicious yogurt, and Stonyfield farms yogurt.