Fit in fun on Friday!

Posted October 30th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Exercise Tips, Fit In Fitness Friday, Uncategorized

It’s Halloween weekend, so while you are enjoying treats, make sure you fit in fitness to offset any extra calories you may enjoy this holiday!

Halloween is the perfect time to enjoy dancing as a way to burn calories and have fun. Try “the monster mash” or other Halloween tunes and dance while you party! If you plan to trick or treat, enjoy a few extra laps around the neighborhood without stopping at every house for a treat! Instead, take the opportunity to enjoy the fall weather and take in the eerie sights and sounds of Halloween as you walk through a park, neighborhood or local trail.

Read today’s News-Press column: High fructose corn syrup is bad for body

Posted October 27th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

It is common to hear advertisements about products containing high fructose corn syrup instead of regular white sugar. So what is the difference, and which is a better nutritional choice?

Let’s begin by defining high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is a highly processed sweetener. It is extracted from corn and highly processed to increase its fructose content and make it sweeter.

Because it is sweeter and less expensive than regular sugar, it is found more often than sugar in cereals, soda and even energy bars. It is very hard to avoid consuming it because it is put in so much food.

While high fructose corn syrup is a processed sweetener, pure white sugar is a natural substance that has not been processed or chemically derived.

Sugar and high fructose corn syrup can be damaging to our bodies. Excessive use over time can lead to obesity, liver damage and even heart disease. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are often linked to stomach, colon and breast cancer studies. Both are found to raise insulin levels and decrease growth hormone.

In addition, research shows that a diet high in sugar can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of diseases and premature death.

The differences between table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are minimal. Neither sugar nor high fructose corn syrup offer any nutritional value. Instead, you are gaining empty calories while increasing your risk for obesity and related disease. To that end, sugar should be limited to approximately 40 grams of sugar a day, which is the equivalent of approximately three and a half tablespoons.

For those looking for a sweet alternative, new natural, organic sugar substitutes are gaining popularity. Early studies are proving Stevia and Xylitol as safe and beneficial options.

Stevia is a very sweet herb from South America that is available in powder and liquid form at health food stores. The main benefit is that it is calorie-free, which means it has no effect on our bodies’ production of insulin. The only complaint is that it may be a little bitter-tasting for some people.

The other natural alternative is called Xylitol. Xylitol is a natural substance found in fibrous vegetables and fruits. Xylitol looks, feels and tastes like sugar but instead of being harmful, it is shown to increase the activity of white blood cells involved in fighting infection, thus helping to build immunity. In its crystalline form, it can replace sugar in cooking, baking, and as a sweetener for beverages.

Unlike many artificial sweeteners, it leaves no unpleasant aftertaste. Used in combination with Stevia, it makes for an ideal sugar replacement.

Sugar and high fructose corn syrup can be harmful when used excessively. By reading food labels and restricting intake of sweeteners, we can limit our risk of obesity and related health conditions while improving our overall diet and well-being.

- Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition Therapy in Fort Myers. Contact her at or

Planning for Halloween: Trick Or Treat with these nutrition tips

Posted October 26th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Meal Monday

For parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and many others, Halloween week if filled with more treats than tricks. Here are some helpful hints that will help you avoid belly aches while still having fun!

  • Make sure you and your child eat a nutritious meal before parties and trick or treating. If you fill up with a healthy meal, you and your children will be less likely to eat too much candy along the way or when you get home.
  • Limit sugar intake. While the day may be filled with parties and trick or treating, try to avoid unnecessary sugar that day. Forgo the juice boxes or sugary cereals so that they can enjoy a few treats without overindulging.
  • Try non-candy options. Instead of giving out candy, consider apples, pretzels or other snacks. Small toys, such as temporary tattoos, stickers, crayons or coins can be enjoyed by children just as much, if not more than candy. Kids will enjoy the surprise and parents will appreciate a break from the candy!
  • Set limits, but enjoy! If you monitor your child’s intake and set limits rather than restrict it all together, your child can enjoy the fun of Halloween without arguments or tummy aches.
  • Ration leftover candy or toss it out. Save some candy to enjoy over the coming weeks or toss out candy that won’t be eaten.
  • Have your child brush and floss his teeth thoroughly before going to bed. While this should be part of your evening ritual, it’s especially important to brush well after eating candy.

Fit in fun on Friday: Get outside!

Posted October 23rd, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Exercise Tips, Fit In Fitness Friday

Happy Friday!  It’s time to plan your family fitness activity for the weekend. Here are a few tips that are perfect for this time of year:

  • Visit a nature center and enjoy a hike.
  • Enjoy a canoe or kayak trip.
  • Go camping where you can pitch a tent, gather firewood, fish, bike, and walk.
  • Visit a local farm where you can pick your own strawberries, peaches and apples.

Remember to keep your family active to enjoy a healthy lifestyle!

Read today’s News-Press column: Diet pills, supplements may cause side effects

Posted October 20th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

Consumers looking for a quick fix for losing weight are often tempted by fad diets including pills and supplements. While these may seem appealing, there are no shortcuts to weight loss. With diet pills and supplements available by prescription and over-the-counter, consumers should understand the products and potential side effects and weigh the advantages against the possible dangers.

Diet pills and supplements are designed to suppress the appetite so you will consume fewer calories. However, as you reduce your caloric intake, your metabolism also slows down. As your metabolism slows, the amount of weight you lose also slows down.

This is why it is common for people to lose only a certain amount of weight while taking diet pills alone. It is not a long-term solution, and the side effects can be serious.

Headaches, nausea and insomnia are some of the more common side effects of diet pills and supplements. Through the Food and Drug Administration, consumers have reported elevated blood pressure due to the over-consumption of diet pills.

In some serious cases, diet pills cause heart attacks and can be responsible for heart failure.

When considering diet pills or supplements, consumers should check the label for approval of the FDA. Diet pills can be habit-forming and abuse of these drugs may lead to dependence.

Before taking any prescription or non-prescription diet pill, you should find out if they are habit-forming and what signs you should look out for to alert you to this problem.

Discuss your weight loss strategy with your physician or a registered dietitian, who can help you set goals and create a long-term weight loss plan that is safe and effective. By making lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, nutrition changes and regular health checkups, you can greatly increase your weight loss success.

- Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition Therapy in Fort Myers. Contact her at or

Do you know your BMI? Take the BMI test.

Posted October 19th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Exercise Tips

A good way to check whether you are within a healthy weight range is to calculate your  ”body mass index” (BMI).  BMI is a fairly good indicator of a person’s body fat based on height and weight. It is also used to assess your risk of certain weight-related health conditions.

A BMI calculator can help you determine your status. Click here to take the BMI test:

  • If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the “underweight” range.
  • If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, it falls within the “normal” or healthy weight range.
  • If your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9, it falls within the “overweight” range.
  • If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the “obese” range.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an online calculator to provide BMI and the corresponding BMI weight status category. Use their calculator for adults, 20 years old and older. For children and teens, 2 through 19 years old, use the BMI Calculator for Children and Teens.

Fit in fitness Friday: Take a yoga class

Posted October 16th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Fit In Fitness Friday

Take the family to a yoga class. Many local gyms and community centers offer weekend yoga classes designed to help increase muscular strength and reduce tension and stress. Yoga has a low potential for injury, is non-competitive, has spiritual and psychological benefits and a 5,000 year track record. The 84 basic yoga positions, or asanas, range from simple bending and twisting to pretzel-like contortions reserved for the most advanced practitioners.

Yoga instructors suggest that yoga be studied with an experienced teacher rather than learned from a manual. Also note that yoga teachers in general are unlicensed and unregulated. Find an experienced teacher affiliated with a reputable yoga organization.

If you can’t get to a class, there are plenty of good yoga videos at your local library. Use books to supplement your training.

Read today’s News-Press Column: Become familiar with restaurant menus to keep diet on track

Posted October 13th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

While dining out and dieting may seem like a contradiction in terms, both can be accomplished with some planning and willpower. By focusing more on the company you are with and less on the food, you can create a more enjoyable experience.

The best way to dine out without ruining your diet is to plan ahead and become familiar with the menu. Once you have an idea of what you might order, you can better plan your daily calorie count to accommodate your choices. Most restaurants today provide menus and calorie information on their Web sites.

A few examples are:

Bob Evans:
Olive Garden:
Outback Steakhouse:
Red Lobster:

In order to make the best decisions while dining out, please refer to the following as some helpful comparisons that allow you to choose delicious foods without adding extra calories and fat.

By planning ahead, reviewing your menu choices and staying within your allotted calorie intake, you can make good choices and stay within your diet.

- Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition Therapy in Fort Myers. Contact her at or

Meal Monday: Tips for eating before exercise

Posted October 12th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Meal Monday

Knowing how much and when to eat before exercise can help make the most of your workout. Coordinate your meals and snacks to help maximize your exercise routine.

Eat small meals three to four hours before exercise. Snacks should be eaten 30 to 60 minutes before exercise. Be sure to eat a light snack after vigorous exercise to help your body recover. As always, drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.

Avoid eating snacks that are high in sugar. Some healthy ideas include the following:

  • Apple or banana slices and peanut butter
  • Baked potato with cheese melted on top
  • Carrot and celery sticks with dressing
  • Cottage cheese with fresh or canned fruit
  • Dry cereal with dried fruit
  • Energy bars or granola bars
  • Granola with low fat milk and a banana
  • Instant oatmeal made with low fat milk and dried fruit
  • Crackers and hummus (garbanzo bean dip)
  • Pudding and graham crackers
  • Yogurt and canned fruit
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Fruit smoothies
  • Whole grain bagel with peanut butter or yogurt
  • Whole grain cheese and crackers

Fit in fun on Friday!

Posted October 9th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Fit In Fitness Friday

While mom and dad may be tempted to leave the kids at home or in the gym daycare during workouts, family fitness can bring families closer together while reinforcing the importance of exercise.

Fall is the season for charity walk-a-thons, a great activity for the entire family. Community walk-a-thons are a great opoprtunity to participate for a good cause. Strollers and young walkers are usually welcome. For families with older children or grandchildren, more competitive 3K or 5K events are also available. Check out your local charities for upcoming events and get the whole family involved in exercising for a cause!