Vegging Out After Vegging Out

Note: This post originally appeared March 24, 2014, on a blog that was a project for dietetics school. In order to consolidate my writings, I will be moving several posts from that site to this one. 

Last week, my husband and I took our crew on to sunny southern California. We had a great visit, but I am happy to be home and back in my routine. Even though we rented a house with a full kitchen (which I highly recommend for parents of young children), I ran into the same dietary problem that I have on most vacations—I ate very few vegetables, other than fries and the occasional salad.

Now that I am home, I have stocked up my fridge with produce and am ready to return to my normal, veggie-heavy routine.

Most people could stand to eat more vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control and the Harvard School of Public Health report that Americans eat an average of just three servings of fruits and vegetables per day; yet, a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day should be eating closer to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day (1, 2).

Veggie consumption has extra health benefits during pregnancy, including the following:

  • Moms who consume more fruits and veggies may be less likely to develop preeclampsia (3).

  • Veggies are high in fiber, which can help ward off pregnancy constipation (3).

  • Vegetables are full of vitamins and nutrients that help ensure your baby has what it needs to grow.

  • Veggies are good sources of antioxidants, which fight oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is associated with infertility (4, 5), miscarriage, preterm labor and low birth weight (5).

Pregnant or not, I crave fruit and never have trouble working it into my daily diet. Though I like many vegetables, I really have to make an effort sometimes (and especially when pregnancy-induced nausea sets in) to work them into my diet. Here are some of my favorite ways to load up on vegetables at all times of the day.

Breakfast:

  • Veggie hash! I chop up, season and sauté vegetables, then throw a couple of scrambled eggs on top. My favorite combos include shredded sweet potatoes with turkey sausage, pepper and cinnamon, or shredded Brussels sprouts with onions, salt and pepper.

  • For breakfast on the run, I like smoothies with almond milk, bananas, almond butter and a couple of handfuls of spinach (you won’t taste it, I promise!)

Lunch:

  • I love topping a baked sweet potato with protein and other fixings. Leftover taco meat is great with lettuce, cheese and salsa, and I am trying this Thai-chicken stuffed potato recipe for lunch today!

Dinner:

  • Replace all or some of your pasta noodles with cooked, shredded spaghetti squash.

  • Start each dinner with a veggie soup or salad

Snacks:

  • Nibble on carrots with a tablespoon of almond butter, or on chopped veggies with guacamole or hummus.

Sources:

1. Grimm, K. A., H. M. Blanck, K. S. Scanlon, L. V. Moore, L. M. Grummer-Strawn, and J. L. Foltz. "State-Specific Trends in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Adults --- United States, 2000--2009." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

2. Harvard School of Public Health. "Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day." The Nutrition Source. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

3. Brown, Judith E., and Janet S. Isaacs. Nutrition through the Life Cycle. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, CENGAGE Learning, 2011. Print.

4. Agarwal, Ashok, Sajal Gupta, and Rakesh Sharma. "Oxidative Stress and Its Implications in Female Infertility – a Clinician's Perspective." Reproductive BioMedicine Online 11.5 (2005): 641-50. Print.

5. Al-Gubory, Kaïs H., Paul A. Fowler, and Catherine Garrel. "The Roles of Cellular Reactive Oxygen Species, Oxidative Stress and Antioxidants in Pregnancy Outcomes." The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 42.10 (2010): 1634-650. Print.

Pinkerton LeBrain Exposes Predatory Medical Journal Practices

Recently, some classmates and I were chatting about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' controversial decision to partner with Kraft on the Kids Eat Right campaign. Several of us noted that public perception is critical to our field, when a fellow student posted an interesting chart of how Americans gain nutrition information.

Overwhelmingly, the American public learns about nutrition through the mass media. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that the top five sources of nutrition information for Americans are television (67%), magazines (41%), internet (40%), newspapers (21%), and doctors (16%). Only one percent of survey respondents consulted a dietitian with questions about nutrition.

Of course, not all medical news reported by mass media is of high quality. 

As Fast Company reports, a researcher at Harvard shed some light on how shoddy nutrition advice circulates among the masses. Mark Shrime, a physician and PhD candidate in health policy, was frustrated by frequent research solicitations from open-access medical journals. These journals guarantee they will publish his studies, as long as he pays them $500.

Concerned about the ethical implications of this practice, Shrime put some of the journals to the test. He used a random text generator to create an article called "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? The Surgical and Neoplastic Role of Cacao in Breakfast Cereals" (authors: Pinkerton LeBrain and Orson G. Welles). He submitted the article to 37 journals in two weeks. At press time, 17 of 37 had agreed to publish it pending receipt of his $500 fee. Several even praised his innovative research methods. 

The idea that 17 medical journals would publish a fake research study in exchange for money is disturbing. As Fast Company points out, it can be very difficult to determine from a journal title whether it is a trustworthy source of health information. Even health professionals may have difficulty determining whether these are trustworthy publications.

Further, if a researcher with $500 and a random text generator can get published, then what is to stop any quack from publishing in these journals? And if a journalist gets a hold of a questionable study from one of these journals, writes an article, and posts it to his social media...a health craze is born out of potentially faulty science.

In other words, predatory journals such as these may play a role in the way you eat.

So what's a person with a nutrition question to do? The dietetics student in me hopes she would direct her questions to a physician or a dietitian. But we live in the information age, and sometimes we just want immediate gratification (as anyone who has ever diagnosed herself with a rare and serious illness during a 2 a.m. WebMD session knows).

If you love scouring the internet for nutrition headlines, The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers five tips for evaluating nutrition news. In addition to investigating sources of nutrition information, you should question nutrition articles that make extravagant claims (i.e., "Lose 25 pounds in one week!") or that advocate for the removal of major food groups without strong peer-reviewed evidence. 

So how about you? Where do you get your information about how to eat?