Mindfulness: building a better relationship with your food

Food, nutrition, body image, and self-acceptance are intricately and sometimes complexly intertwined. Our busy lifestyles can blur our relationship with food. We are often so hurried that breakfast gets skipped or eaten on the way to work, lunch disappears in front of a computer screen, and we are lucky if dinner is at a real table.

Does this sound familiar to you? You’re not alone! We call this mindless eating. Mindless eating is that bag of chips that is gone before you know it, or that habit of eating in front of the TV; it is scrolling through your phone instead of tasting your food. Mindless eating is autopilot mode, without much conscious attention to the experience of eating.

The practice of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without getting attached to passing thoughts or judgments. Many people find it helpful to focus on their breath while practicing mindfulness, as a way to quiet their mind and let go of their internal dialogue. When your mind starts to wander, bring your attention to what your breath is doing. Bring your attention back to the present moment. You can practice mindfulness while you are waiting in line at the store, stuck in traffic, on a nature walk, or playing with your children.

In a nutshell, mindfulness is…

“observation with judgment suspended”.

Judgment helps to keep us safe and make informed decisions, however, if we are constantly judging the present experience, how can we enjoy the present experience?

Eating should be a pleasurable experience. Mindless eaters often do not get the maximum enjoyment out of their food, simply because they are distracted. In turn, this often leads to overeating and disregarding the body’s natural fullness cues. Beginning a mindful eating practice may help you develop a more healthy relationship with food, better identify hunger and fullness cues, and enjoy your food more.

Research shows that mindful eating…

  • Increases self-compassion and the ability to accept one’s body shape and size, and promotes lower self-criticism.
  • Reduces emotional eating
  • May help reduce binge eating episodes and behaviors

Sounds like a win-win, right? Here’s how to begin:

At your next meal, sit down at the table. Take 5 deep breaths before you begin eating. Check in with how you are feeling and rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10. Use all five senses to enjoy your meal, and put the fork down between each bite. Eat without distractions, and try to let go of any self-judgments that arise. Remember that mindfulness is a ‘practice’, not a perfect; it may be difficult at first, but stick with it to see how it affects your relationship with food and yourself. If a whole mindful meal is not in the cards for you, try to begin each meal with a mindful bite, to set the tone for your eating experience.

Below is a mindful eating exercise to get you started. Try it with a friend or family member to make it a little more fun!

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Department Update

Here at UHH, our clinical nutrition department has seen some changes! Take a minute to get familiar with our dietitians.

Laura Isaacson MS, RD, FAND, CD

Laura has been the director of Clinical Nutrition Services here at UHH since 2013. She has 17 years of experience, with previous experience in Neurosciences ICU at UW Health and NICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Laura is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and is President-Elect for the WI Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  When she’s not busy managing the department, providing nutrition care to residents at Bloomfield Nursing and Rehab, and seeing inpatients, Laura can be found riding her horses, hiking, and spending time with her husband and their two boys.

Sara Suardini MS, RD, CD

Sara has been a part of the UHH nutrition team since 2015. Sara has 7 years of experience, and has previously worked with the Bariatric Surgery Clinic in Denver, CO. Sara primarily works with the residents living at Bloomfield Nursing and Rehab. Sara has 4 children ages 5 and under(!), and we are fortunate to keep her on board after the birth of twin baby girls in January.



Nola Endres MS, RD, CNSC, CD

Nola joined our team in September of 2016, and we are truly lucky to have her! Nola is an expert in cardiothoracic surgery and heart failure, where she worked with UW Health for 30  years. She is additionally certified as a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician. Nola takes care of our residents at the Nursing and Rehab Center, sees outpatients, and counsels our Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab program participants. When not at UHH, Nola can be found crafting wool mittens and cheering on her 4 children.

Valerie Koschnick, Registration Eligible

Val started at UHH as a dietetic intern, and completed her internship early August. During her internship, she was recognized as the Dietetic Intern of the year, by the WI Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Val graduated from UW-Madison in 2014, and worked at UW Hospital for two years as a diet technician. Val will be providing nutrition education via community classes and care to our inpatients here at UHH as well as at Lafayette Co Memorial Hospital and residents at Lafayette Manor in Darlington. Val is also a 200-hour certified yoga teacher, and teaches adult & kids yoga classes at High Barre in Mineral Point.

Jaclyn Wilkinson RD, CDE, CD

Jackie will be our newest addition to the nutrition team, starting early October of this year. Until then, she will be busy loving the newest addition to her family, a baby boy born in July.

Jackie comes to UHH from Watertown Regional Medical Center, where she worked for 4 years as a Certified Diabetes Educator. Jackie plans to develop our diabetes education program, to better serve our community. We couldn’t be more excited to have her expertise on board!




Start the School Year off Right with Breakfast

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Studies show that kids who eat breakfast in the morning are more alert during the school day, have improved behavior, and perform better in the classroom. Unfortunately, many kids don’t eat breakfast before going to school, which means they be missing out on important nutrients. Breakfast is an important meal for your kids, so make sure they start the day off right!

Here are a few ideas to get your morning off on the right track:

  • Ask your kids what they’d like to eat. You don’t need to serve traditional breakfast foods in order to reap the benefits. If your kids have input into what is served, they will be more likely to eat it.
  • Get organized the night before. Set the table and put out a few boxes of cereal before you go to bed. This will make the morning run much more smoothly.
  • Skip late night snacking. Many kids aren’t hungry in the morning because they snack at night. Tell your kids that the kitchen is closed after dinner, and they will be much more likely to want to eat breakfast.
  • Start small. If your kids aren’t used to eating breakfast, it may take a while to develop this habit. Start with a small serving of yogurt of a piece of toast with peanut butter to make eating breakfast easier.
  • Set your alarm 10 minutes earlier. Many people skip breakfast because they simply don’t have time.
  • Keep breakfast simple. You don’t need to prepare a full meal with pancakes, eggs, and waffles. A bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and a piece of fruit will provide you kids with enough energy to start the day. Other good options are string cheese, berries, yogurt, mini bagels, and English muffins.
  • Dress and shower first, eat second. Give your kids the opportunity to fully wake up to start to feel hungry before starting to eat.
  • Pack your breakfast to go. Send you kids to school with a banana, granola bar, and a carton of milk. You can also check to see breakfast is an option at your child’s school.
  • Be a positive role model. Be sure to eat breakfast with your kids. Breakfast has important benefits for adults too, including weight management.

Help your kids to start the school year off on the right foot by including a nutritious breakfast in your daily routine.

Health Benefits of Pomegranate Seeds

Have you ever tried pomegranate seeds? The seeds in a pomegranate are also called arils, they are small and filled with juice on the inside. Pomegranate seeds are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and good source of fiber. Because they are a high in many vital nutrients they have many properties that have been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, arthritis, and risk for heart disease. They have also been shown to improve memory and exercise performance.

When picking out a pomegranate to purchase in the store choose one that is round, plump, and heavy for its size. Pomegranates are typically in season from late summer to early winter in North America. They can actually be stored in a cool dry area for 1 month or up to 2 months in the refrigerator.

Never tried pomegranate seeds before? There are a variety of ways you can add pomegranate seeds to your diet. They provide sweetness and a crunch to salads or can be used in cooking or baking. Give the recipes below a try and add a little extra sweetness to your diet!

Pomegranate & Popcorn


1 pomegranate

5 c popcorn, popped

Salt to taste



Remove the seeds from the pomegranate. Pop the popcorn in an air popper and salt the popcorn to taste. Add pomegranate seeds to the bowel and mix well. Serve immediately.

Spinach Pomegranate Salad


1 (10 oz) bag baby spinach leaves

¼ red onion, sliced thin

½ c walnut pieces

½ c crumbled feta cheese

1 pomegranate, peeled and seeds separated

4 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette



Place spinach in a salad bowl. Top with red onion, walnuts, and feta. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Cranberry Orange Muffins


2 c whole wheat flour

1/3 c sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 large egg

1 1/2 c orange juice

1/4 c unsweetened applesauce

1 c fresh cranberries


Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix sugar, egg, orange juice, and applesauce in a separate bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Once mixed, fold in cranberries. Using a measuring cup, portion into a regular or mini muffin pan. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on the top.

Light Sugar Cookies


1 c unsalted butter

1 c Truvia baking blend

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 c low fat sour cream

4 c flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt


Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl cream the butter and truvia baking blend until well mixed. Add the eggs and vanilla extract until well mixed. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well using an electric mixer.

Once all ingredients are combined and formed the dough, cover and let stand in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or up to 2-3 days).

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Roll out the dough on a flat surface and add flour as needed so the dough is not too sticky. Use cookie cutters of desired shapes and sizes to create your cookies. Bake in the oven for 8-9 minutes on a dark pan or 10-11 minutes on a light pan.

Allow cookies to cool and store in an airtight container.

Add a Little Spice

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Do you add oregano to your salad or sprinkle cinnamon on your cereal? Adding herbs and spices to your food is one of the easiest ways to enhance flavor without adding calories, sugar, sodium or fat. In addition to being delicious, these types of seasonings provide a variety of health benefits, including protection against diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Cinnamon is one of the most commonly used spices in the United States. If you have diabetes, as little as 1.5 teaspoons per day can help to control your blood sugar by enhancing your body’s response to insulin. Cinnamon is high in antioxidants, which can protect your body from developing cancer and heart disease. To incorporate cinnamon into your diet, try sprinkling it on top of oatmeal, Greek yogurt, coffee, or roasted vegetables.

Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used to reduce pain from arthritis and has been helpful in managing diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cystic fibrosis. Try to incorporate 2 teaspoons per day into your diet by sprinkling on top of lentils, egg salad, casseroles, or popcorn.

Garlic helps to fight off colds, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Add at least ½ clove to your diet each day to protect your blood vessels from oxidative stress and inflammation. Roast garlic cloves in your oven and serve with fresh bread or sprinkle chopped garlic on top of pasta, stir fry, pizza, tomato sauce, or chicken.

Oregano is packed with antioxidants and is an effective anti-bacterial agent. It has been shown to help to fight off intestinal bacteria. Add 1/8 teaspoon of this tasty spice to your salad or marinara sauce.

Ginger is known to help to settle an upset stomach, alleviate morning sickness, and can help to decrease inflammation and pain. Add ginger and honey to your tea, sprinkle on top of a stir fry, grate on top of cooked carrots, or mix it in with your favorite soup.

Newer studies are showing that dihydrocapsiate, a compound in chili peppers, can help to increase metabolism and enhance your body’s fat burring abilities. In general, foods that are spicier are more satisfying than bland foods, leading people to eat less. Try adding chopped chili peppers to soups, salsa, chili or egg dishes.

Whether you’re interested in boosting the flavor or your food or easing a medical ailment, try incorporating more herbs and spices into your meals. Even a small amount can provide health benefits.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

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Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are found chiefly in fish and fish oils, as well as some plant-based sources, such as nuts and vegetable oils. There are two types of Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, which are EPA (eicosapetaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaeonic acid), and one type found in plant-based sources, which is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, some studies have shown that increased blood levels of EPA and DHA may be linked to a reduction in irregular heartbeats and fatal heart disease.

Eat fish! Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Try to eat fish that is high in EPA and DHA two to three times a week, as this has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and related deaths. Fish that are among the best sources include anchovies, bluefish, herring, salmon, sardines, tuna, and lake trout. Not only are the omega-3 fatty acids that these fish provide heart healthy, they are important for brain and body function as well. In addition to being a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, fish is also an excellent source of protein and a source of vitamin D.

Include plant-based omega-3 sources! ALA, which is the form of omega-3 found in plants, has been shown to also reduce the risk of heart disease. ALA can be found in various oils, nuts, seeds and some beans. To incorporate sources of ALA into your diet, try using moderate amounts of vegetable oils, such as canola oil, walnut oil, or flaxseed oil, and add walnuts or ground flaxseed or chia seeds to your cereal, yogurt, salad, or smoothie. Nibbling on nuts or beans, like walnuts or edamame, as a snack is also a great way to incorporate ALA omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.

Although these unsaturated fatty acids are necessary for your health, it is important to recognize that foods containing high amounts of fat are also high in calories. Therefore, stick to appropriate serving sizes, such as 1 ounce of nuts and seeds or 3 ounces of fatty fish.

Try this delicious salmon recipe from Bon Appetit to add some omega-3 fatty acids to your diet!

Spiced Salmon Kebabs

2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ pounds skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 lemons, very thinly sliced into rounds
2 Tbsp olive oil
16 bamboo skewers soaked in water 1 hour

Preparation (25 minutes):
Prepare grill for medium heat. Mix oregano, sesame seeds, cumin, salt and red pepper flakes into a small bowl to combine; set spice mixture aside.

Beginning and ending with salmon, thread salmon and folded lemon slices onto 8 pairs of parallel skewers to make 8 kebabs total. Brush with oil and season with reserved spice mixture.

Grill, turning occasionally, until fish is opaque throughout, 5-8 minutes.

Serves 4
Nutrition information per serving: 390 calories, 22 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 3 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 44 g protein, 580 mg sodium

Eat Local!

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Eating locally grown foods has more benefits than one. Not only are these foods tasty, you are supporting local farmers and producers, being sustainable, supporting the local economy, and choosing healthy and nutritious options. Whether you make weekly trips to the local Farmers’ Market or choose restaurants and stores that carry local products, you are benefiting yourself and the community and environment.

            Locally grown food is more nutritious. Because it is local, there is a shorter amount of time between the farm and your table. This helps prevent the loss of nutrients during travel time if food has to travel long distances before it reaches you. Furthermore, imported food usually sits in distribution centers before it ends up in a store, meaning more time for the food to lose nutrients.

            Locally grown food looks and tastes better. Local food is picked at its peak of ripeness, while non-local food is often harvested early in order to account for the travel and distribution time. When shopping at a local market, many times the produce has been harvested within 24 hours of your purchase, which provides you with a flavorful and nutritious product.

            Locally grown food promotes a safer food supply. With less time between the harvest and your table, there are less steps of processing and handling in between, which results in a lesser chance of contamination. Food grown in distant locations has a greater chance of food safety issues during harvesting, washing, shipping, and distributing. Additionally, local growers can tell you how and where the food was grown or how it was produced, are not anonymous, and take their responsibility to the consumer seriously. You can also talk to your local farmers about their food safety practices.

Locally grown food benefits the environment. Not only does locally grown food need to travel less distance, but by purchasing locally, you help maintain farming and green or open space in your community.

Locally grown food supports the local economy and community. When you purchase locally, the money spent usually stays local, which means it can be reinvested into local businesses and services in your community.

By purchasing locally grown food, you engage with local farmers and gain a better understanding of the seasons, your land, and your food. You benefit yourself and your community while promoting a more sustainable environment. So next time you get the chance, head to your local Farmers’ Market to get some delicious and nutritious produce and food!

Healthy Summer Grilling

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The warm summer weather calls for less time in the kitchen and more time outside cooking on the grill. However, the way that grilled food is prepared can have an effect on how healthy it is. Here are some tips to ensure a tasty and healthy cookout.

Turn Down the Heat. When meat is cooked at scorching temperatures, it often chars, and this causes the development of cancer-causing substances called heterocyclic amines. In order to keep charring to a minimum, it is important to lower the temperature and increase the length of time that the food is cooked. Think: low and slow. Furthermore, another method that can reduce or prevent charring is flipping food frequently.

Trim the Fat. As your meat is cooking, the fat can drip onto the grill’s flame, which causes it to flare up. The flame and smoke that result from this flare up contain compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to cancer. To prevent this, trim the fat from your meat before cooking it, and remove the skin from chicken and fish. Additionally, in order to prevent flaring, cook outside the flame instead of directly over it.

            Marinate. To minimize the cancer-linked substances that can result from grilling, marinate the meat for at least half an hour before grilling it. Ingredients that are acidic, like vinegar, lemon juice, or orange juice are especially effective.

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies. Instead of animal proteins, try grilling fruits and vegetables for a different flavor. Fruits and vegetables are also less likely to form carcinogens at high temperatures, so not only are you cutting cancer-causing substances from your meal, but you are adding cancer-fighting phytochemicals as well. Grill a veggie or Portobello mushroom burger in place of a beef burger, or make kabobs out of tomatoes, onions, squash, and peppers. For a naturally sweet desert, grill pineapple, peaches, or nectarines.

Keep It Clean. Make sure to keep your food safe by discarding any unused marinade and using clean utensils and plates for the cooked food. It is also important to clean your grill and be sure that it has not come in contact with any lighter fluid or charcoal, which also hold harmful substances. When using the grill-cleaning brush, be sure that there are no loose bristles that can fall onto the grates and potentially stick to the food in your next barbeque.