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March is National Nutrition Month

March 30, 2018

Bre Lynch, Registered Dietitian at MMP
Photo by Sharyn Peavey Photography
March is National Nutrition Month and Let’s Go! teamed up with Maine Medical Partners to celebrate! We’re on Facebook all month long to answer your nutrition questions. As a mom to two boys, Bre Lynch, Registered Dietitian at Maine Medical Partners, wants to help families keep their energy up through good nutrition. Answers to your questions can be found below and will be updated weekly.


Tips for Your Best Spring!

Are we finally seeing the end of this long winter and glimpses into spring?! I think so! I was so giddy waiting for the bus with my 5 year old this morning, breathing in those smells of spring! I started making a mental list of things I should do in the next few weeks to make sure myself, and my family, will have the best spring! Here are some ideas

  1. Eat seasonally and locally (when you can)
    While Maine has a short growing season, there are some veggies to keep an eye out for once the warmer weather hits. Things like greens, lettuce, garlic scapes, pea greens, and rhubarb are all delicious! My personal Maine favorite is fiddleheads!! If you've never tried them, you've got to add it to your spring list! Not sure how to cook them? Check out MMP's Pinterest page for some ideas. Have you been considering buying a share at a CSA (community supported agriculture)? Maybe this year is the year you give it a try! It's so much fun to pick up your box and see what veggies and fruit may be included. This year I'm even adding a Flower CSA into the mix, there are few things that make me happier than fresh cut flowers on the table. If you aren't sure if there are any CSAs near you, you can go to and click on directories, it lists all the available CSAs by county.
  2. Drink more water!
    I hear it so often in clinic, people just don't tend to drink enough water over the winter months. Consider buying yourself a new glass water bottle or making a goal of keeping a pitcher in the fridge so it's nice and cold. Adding things like cucumber, lime, or lemons may make you and the family more inclined to grab it when you open the fridge. Curious about how much water you need? I tell my patients, if you're thirsty it's too late! You should be drinking enough water than your body never has to tell you it's parched!
  3. Get outside!
    Maine has so much natural beauty, start early this year making plans to get out and explore! If you're looking for some new places, has tons of ideas and lists of places to go! If traveling to new places is tough, just getting out for a quick walk around the block in your neighborhood will give you a mood boost! Maybe you can start a garden this year? Even a small raised bed may be just the motivation you need to get outdoors and help you feel energized to take on whatever this spring throws your way!

I’ve been thinking about cooking with quinoa, but don’t know much about it. What should I know?

If the starch on your dinner plate is a nightly rotation of pasta or rice, it may be time for to switch things up! Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wah”, is actually a seed that is gluten free, high in protein and fiber, and is a good source of B vitamins and other micronutrients. It has a wonderful nutty taste, and is similar in size and texture to couscous. Quinoa has been rising in popularity due to its versatility and health benefits. It has all 9 essential amino acids, making it a great choice for someone who follows a vegetarian lifestyle.

Quinoa should be soaked before using, if you aren’t buying a prepackaged type (a box with quinoa and a flavor packet, for example). To do this, just pour 1 cup of dry quinoa into 2 cups of water and let soak. Drain before cooking according to the instructions. The reason to do this is because quinoa naturally has a bitter coating on the seed, to deter birds from eating. Soaking helps remove that bitterness.

Aside from substituting it for your rice at night, you can add it to burgers or chili, mix up a quinoa salad or put it on top of greens for lunch. Quinoa can also be used at breakfast time, mix it up with some dried fruit, milk, cinnamon, and honey!

What are some low calorie, low sugar, low carb breakfast ideas?

When most people think of traditional breakfast foods, things like french toast and syrup, bacon and eggs, or if you’re from up north, maybe some ployes with butter and sugar all come to mind….. these are all decidedly NOT low carb or low cal! If you’re working on a low carb lifestyle, the options you have will mainly fall in the healthy proteins and veggie categories. It’s important to get enough to eat in the morning though, so the focus should really be on finding some healthy protein paired with a limited amount of healthy carb. Some ideas are below, feel free to adjust according to your own likes and dislikes!

  • Peanut butter and jelly smoothie: handful of ice, ¼ cup frozen raspberries, ½ frozen banana (need this for texture!), 1T peanut butter powder, raw spinach if you’d like, fill to top with unsweetened almond milk and blend.
  • 2 egg white omelet with 2% cheddar and wilted spinach, topped with salsa
  • 1 cup Plain yogurt (greek if you like the thicker texture) with 1tsp cashew butter and a handful of nuts and seeds.
  • ½ cup low fat cottage cheese with fruit of your choice, and 1 pc of whole grain toast.

You don’t need to shy away from using whole eggs either, there are healthy fats inside those yolks, and they will keep you full for longer if you eat the whole thing! And if you’ve tried plain yogurt and it’s just not sweet enough for you, try adding 1 tsp of local maple syrup. Don’t have any local maple syrup on hand? You’re in luck, this weekend is Maine Maple Sunday! While maple syrup has the same number of calories per teaspoon as sugar, a little goes a long way!

Is Kombucha just a trend, or something I should consider more seriously?

Kombucha is a fermented tea that has a sweet, vinegary taste with just a little bit of naturally occurring fizz. It’s made with a few key ingredients: black (or green) tea, sugar, and scoby. Scoby is culture of bacteria and yeast that eats up the sugar and ferments the tea. There is so much online about the benefits of kombucha, but the reality is that there haven’t been any human studies to show that these benefits are real and until there are, we can’t say that it’s going to help you lose weight or aid in digestion or increase your energy levels. What I can say is that kombucha tends to have a good amount of probiotics and if you check out the question I answered last week, there is some potential! If you’re looking for a low calorie, fizzy drink, give it a try. It may not solve all your health woes, but if you sip on a lime coconut kombucha and close your eyes, it’s almost like you’re on a tropical island instead of waist deep in snow.

How do I get my selective eater (age 3) to eat the meal I prepare for the family? I want to get away from making multiple meals.

Feeding a 3 year old….. seems easy, right? You make dinner, cut it up, put it on their little divided plate and they eat it… except when they don’t. Ages 2-5 are typically when you see a child going through a “picky” phase. When you used to have an adventurous eater, now you’re stuck with a kid who requests mac and cheese and nuggets only. Here are some key tips to get you through this phase (and trust me, for the vast majority of kiddos, it’s just a phase!):

  1. Eat meals together, at a table (any will do!), with no distractions. Turn off all screens and implement a no electronics at the table rule, this includes the adults! Just like adults, kids should focus on the food they are eating, how it tastes, what they like or don’t like, if they are full or still hungry, and all of this is tough if Paw Patrol is on.
  2. Make sure there is something on their plate they like. Maybe tonight you’re hoping to try a new recipe, but think there’s no way your 3 year old will eat it. Make the recipe! But make sure there’s a side you know they love, so that when they look at their plate, they don’t just see new foods but something they know they will eat. This will relieve anxiety from them (“mom wants me to eat this, but I don’t want to") and anxiety from you (“there is nothing she will eat, she’s going to go hungry”) Plus, even if she doesn’t try it tonight, she’ll see everyone else eating it and maybe next time will be the time she’ll surprise you and give it a try!
  3. Make meals stress free. Throw out the old mantra that they have to eat everything on their plate before they can leave the table. For those of us who were told that as kids, does that bring up warm and fuzzy feelings about vegetables (let’s be honest, it’s always the veggies)? Or do we think, “I hated green beans then and I still hate them now!” Telling kids they have to eat everything served, or clean their plates, only creates stress between the kids and the adults in their lives. Put all parts of the meal on the plate, give them the expectation of trying it, show them you eat it, and if they still refuse, then maybe they will try next time. Stress around food only equals negative feelings towards that food, and if the goal is to get your kiddo to eat a healthy meal, than we want them to leave with a positive feeling!

What is your favorite oil to cook with, and why?

I have a number of cooking oils in my pantry. My go to is Extra virgin olive oil. It is high in monounsaturated fats, which are the heart healthy kind! We use it to sauté at medium heat, or drizzle over veggies with some salt and pepper to roast them. I also have vegetable oil that I use to bake with. If you have a favorite baked good recipe that calls for oil, try using half vegetable and the other half unsweetened applesauce. I do this when I make my mom's world famous banana bread and no one realizes it's actually healthy! If you're looking for an oil to fry or stir fry with at high heat, make sure to use an oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable oil or sesame oil. I get lots of questions these days about coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature and has more saturated fat than butter. There is no evidence that coconut oil is in some way healthier than olive oil, so while very tasty, I would recommend using sparingly in your cooking.

What are some snack ideas my kids will love to eat, but will also provide the nutrition they need?

When planning out your kids snacks for the week, think about balance! All too often, kid’s snacks tend to be all about the carbs (fruit snacks, goldfish, chips) and are totally missing the healthy protein and fats that keep our kids full and satisfied until the next meal. Some of the old school basics are great, like apple and peanut butter or whole grain crackers and a cheese stick. Looking to expand your family's palate? How about some edamame pods? Or, try bringing your kids to the grocery store with you and letting them pick out ingredients for a homemade trail mix, a nut/seed, unsweetened dried fruit, and maybe some dark chocolate chips! Other ideas? Lemon hummus with mini cucumbers, frozen Maine blueberries with plain yogurt and a drizzle of local maple syrup.

Can you explain what probiotics are, and if they can help keep me healthy during cold & flu season?

Probiotics are live, active microorganisms that can positively change the microbiome (the microorganisms in a particular part of our body) of our gut. The gut microbiome is where all good and bad microorganisms live in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

There are many types of probiotics, such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and streptococcus. Probiotics are found naturally in some fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kefir. You might also see probiotics advertised in places you wouldn't expect, like flavored water, burritos, and chocolate bars! Although a lot of research is still going into probiotics, what we know so far is that if you are suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or if you or your child has diarrhea caused by antibiotics, than a probiotic supplement is probably for you! If you are looking to boost your immunity this cold and flu season, the evidence isn't certain that probiotics will help. If you'd like to give it a try anyway and the foods listed aren't your favorite, go ahead and try a probiotic supplement. Look for a product with at least 1 billion - 5 billion CFU (colony forming units) and with the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) seal. Products with multiple types of probiotics are also best, but don't go over the 5 billion, you may have some negative GI side effects!

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