Cholesterol Awareness Month

Cholesterol Awareness Month

September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month. Understanding how to adjust cholesterol and fat in our diet can help to reduce the risks associated with heart disease.

What is Cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat found in all animal cells. This means both the animal-based foods we eat and our own bodies contain cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for many processes in our bodies, including hormones and vitamin D production. However, we only need a certain amount, and too much can cause problems. Diet and exercise play a key role in keeping our cholesterol levels “in-check.”

Good vs Bad Cholesterol

Cholesterol is often broken down into good and bad cholesterol categories.

  • HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein and is considered the good. Higher amounts of HDL can help bring fatty components in your blood back to your liver. The liver helps clear these fatty deposits from your body and can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. You can think of HDL as the helpful cholesterol. HDL can be increased by eating more heart-healthy fats. These are fats low in saturated fat, high in omega-3 and include olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fish.
  • LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein and is considered bad. LDL cholesterol does the opposite of HDL. It deposits these fatty deposits to your arteries. You can think of LDL as the lousy cholesterol. LDL can be lowered by reducing the amount of trans fats and saturated fats from the diet. We can also reduce LDL cholesterol by increasing the amount of fiber in our diet.
  • According to the CDC, desirable cholesterol values include:

Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL

LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL

HDL cholesterol: greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL

Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products for less saturated fat and cholesterol.
Photo credit: USDA SNAP

Cholesterol in Foods

Animal-based foods not only contain cholesterol, but are also high in saturated fat. Our bodies use saturated fats to make cholesterol, which can increase our LDL cholesterol. Limit your intake of these high-saturated fat foods:

  • Butter
  • High-fat dairy, such as cheese, whole-milk
  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty cuts of meat, hot dogs, bacon, and high-fat cold cuts
  • Animal fat, such as lard, tallow, duck fat
  • Fried foods
  • Baked goods and snack foods made with lard, butter, palm kernel, coconut oils, or trans-fat

How to Lower Your Cholesterol Intake

  • Opt for plant-based fats
    • Plant-oils have NO cholesterol!
    • They are a great substitution for cholesterol-containing fats such as butter. Not only do they replace cholesterol in your diet but they can also help lessen the absorption of cholesterol from other foods.
    • Healthy plant oils include olive, safflower, canola, flaxseed, and sesame oils
    • Avocados, walnuts, peanut butter, and other nut-butters are great options!
  • Select lean protein foods
    • Swap out ground beef for ground turkey or chicken
    • Replace grilled steak with grilled chicken or fish
    • Remove the extra fat cap on large cuts of meat
    • Opt for skinless options of poultry. Skin contains a significant amount of fat.
  • Choose low-fat dairy options
    • Reach for the low-fat or fat-free options for cheese, yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese.
    • This will reduce the amount of cholesterol you eat but still allow you to enjoy these foods.
  • Step-up your fiber game!
    • Just like plant-based oils, fiber can help reduce the amount of cholesterol you absorb from foods. Fiber creates a gel-like substance in your stomach and can whisk away cholesterol from being taken up into your blood.
    • Fiber is in so many delicious foods! High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, beans, and nuts.
    • To incorporate more fiber into your diet, try:
      • Going for a plant-based dinner once a week by including beans, tofu, or lentils instead of meat.
      • Making ½ your plate fruits and vegetables at mealtimes.
      • Swap refined grains for whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, faro, oatmeal, popcorn.

Replacing foods high in saturated fats with heart-healthy fats can be an effective way to improve your cholesterol levels. This can be as easy as using olive oil in place of butter. Try swapping whole milk in your cereal with 1% or skim milk. Never underestimate how even the smallest changes can make a big difference!

Guest contributor: Stephanie Hill, Master’s student and Dietetic Intern from Florida State University’s Department of Nutrition & Integrative Physiology.


4 ways to eat your way to lower cholesterol. Harvard Health. (2021, February 3).

What is cholesterol? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Heart Healthy Eating to Help Lower Cholesterol Levels. Cleveland Clinic.

Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Mayo Clinic.

LDL & HDL: Good & Bad Cholesterol. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Jan. 2020,

Youth Athletes – Fueling Your Superstar

Youth Athletes – Fueling Your Superstar

Healthy food choices

Healthy snacks fuel the athlete! Photo credit: Amy Mullins

When it comes to your kids, you’d do anything to help them succeed… in the classroom, in their relationships, in life. So, why not on the basketball court, soccer field, swimming pool, or whichever sport they’ve fallen in love with? They may have the best equipment, participate in extra training lessons, and put in 110% during every practice and event. But, is this enough? Is there something missing?

It’s no secret that your child is growing. In order to function in their sport, improve performance, and promote recovery, kids need food to help support the increased energy requirements. This ultimately means more planning and more groceries!

Follow these guidelines to fuel your superstar during the week, before the game/event, and after the game/event. 

Pre-Game Meal/Snack

Eat a good-sized meal at least three hours before the event. This gives the tummy time to process all the food to prepare it as fuel. Have a light balanced meal with some carbs and fats. These will sustain you throughout your exercise! Carbs and fats are both great fuel sources, and the fats digest slower to help keep you feeling full. Pick foods that digest well to avoid any nausea or upset stomach. Don’t forget to drink some water to start off hydrated!

  • Breakfast Ideas: fruit, lightly sautéed potatoes, scrambled eggs, or toast with nut butter or smashed avocado
  • Lunch Ideas: turkey or ham sandwich (avoid fatty cheeses and condiments), peanut butter and jelly, fruit, pretzels, or cereal
  • Snack 30 minutes before the event: peanut butter crackers, granola bars, fruit snacks, or goldfish crackers

During Practice and Games

For exercise lasting less than an hour, sip on some water to stay hydrated. For exercise lasting longer than an hour, a sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade will help replenish lost carbohydrates and electrolytes. For longer lasting activities or day trips, bring along some easy to eat snacks with lots of carbs, and some fats and proteins. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and granola bars are great options!

Post-Game Snack

After exercise, it’s important to recover, refuel, and re-hydrate. Protein will help our muscles recover while carbohydrates will help refuel for the next activity. Drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate! Good choices for quick, easy snacks include chocolate milk, peanut butter crackers, cheese sticks, bananas, apple slices with peanut butter, or smoothies with or without protein.

Dinner Plate After Practice and Games

  • Grains/Carbs: Should take up roughly 35% of the plate
  • Lean Protein: Should take up roughly 25% of the plate
  • Fruits and Veggies: Should take up roughly 40% of the plate
  • Hydration: Focus on replenishing lost electrolytes and fluid loss

 Components of a well-balanced meal include:

  • Meat & poultry – great protein sources for recovery. Pair it with a carb!
  • Whole grains, fruit, pasta, rice, potatoes – great carb sources to complement your protein. These will help replace the energy you burned during exercise.
  • Water, milk, and fruits will help replenish fluids lost during exercise.

Eating right not only on game day but throughout the week will do wonders for your child’s athletic performance. Not only that, it will set them up to be successful and healthy adults in the future!

Guest contributors: Patrick Burns and E. Jane Watts, Dietetic Interns from Florida State University’s Department of Food, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences

The use of trade names in this post is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. It is not a guarantee, warranty, or endorsement of the product.


Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Ellis, E. (2020). Hydrate Right.

American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, American College of Sports Medicine,

Rodriguez, N. R., Di Marco, N. M., & Langley, S. (2009). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 41(3), 709–731.


Vitamin D and Your Health

Vitamin D and Your Health

By Matthew Poland and Amy Mullins, MS, RDN

For Floridians, getting enough sunlight during the winter may not be an issue that frequently crosses our sun-kissed minds.  However, by spending winter vacation up north or by simply not spending the recommended 10-30 minutes per day outdoors, we could be putting ourselves at risk. In fact, it is estimated that between 20-80% of men and women from the US, Canada and Europe are vitamin D deficient, with rates as high as 45-100% of vitamin D deficiency in some places throughout Asia (1). Even though Florida seems to be as good as it gets for soaking in the sun, a 2005 study of residents of Miami found that between 38-40% were vitamin D deficient (2).

Vitamin D plays a much larger role in our health then we tend to realize. In addition to being a hormone responsible for regulation of bone metabolism, vitamin D has important functions in pregnancy, inflammation, cell growth, neurotransmitter production, immune and neuromuscular function, and glucose metabolism (3). Meanwhile, low vitamin D levels have been associated with increased risk for various diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and even an increased risk of mortality (1).

Go outside Photo Source: Matthew Poland

It is well known that sunlight exposure is the major source of vitamin D in our bodies, although some can be absorbed through our diet. However, as we spend less and less time outdoors, our risk of vitamin D deficiency steadily increases. On top of this, there are a variety of factors that can play a role in the ability of an individual to produce vitamin D including skin pigmentation, clothing, sunscreen, and of course where we live. In addition, a likely reason for such a high amount of Miami’s residents being vitamin D deficient is due to the smog levels of larger cities. Air pollution can absorb the UVB rays that our bodies convert into vitamin D, and prevent them from ever reaching us. Plus, in the wintertime, there is less sunlight to be had, which brings into play the next dangerous winter side effect: seasonal affective disorder, appropriately given the acronym, SAD.

While SAD may seem like a northern phenomenon, and it is with up to 9% of Alaska’s residents experiencing SAD compared to Florida’s 1%, it also involves the lack of sunlight during the winter (4). This lack of sunlight interferes with the body’s ability to regulate its circadian rhythm, the 24-hour internal clock that is typically synced with the light-dark cycles of our environment (4). Having shorter days and longer nights in winter is not unique to the north. With some Florida days offering only 10 hours of sunlight and indoor jobs that often consume 8 to 9 hours of our day, there is suddenly limited time to be in the sun (8). Vitamin D has been theorized to play a role in serotonin production, a neurotransmitter responsible for our feelings of well-being and happiness, and the insufficiency or deficiency of vitamin D has also been associated with clinical depressive symptoms (5). In summation, the lack of sunlight during the winter can create depressive symptoms and decreased absorption of vitamin D also leads to further depressive symptoms.

Although this self-perpetuating spiral of doom and gloom may be a bit of a downer, here are a few tips for getting through winter while keeping your vitamin D levels, circadian rhythm, and sanity in check:

  • Go outside! Unfortunately, the angle of the sun in the wintertime reduces the availability of ultraviolet sunlight.  It is important, however, to spend some time outdoors on sunnier days to allow for vitamin D synthesis, even if it’s not at optimal levels.(6).
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet consisting of a wide variety of foods. Although most foods don’t naturally contain vitamin D, wild-caught salmon and mushrooms being the exceptions, many foods like dairy are fortified with vitamin D (1). However, diet alone has been shown to be insufficient in providing vitamin D to children and adults in the US (7). If through food and sun, your vitamin D levels are not where they need to be, supplementation of around 1000 IUs per day can bring levels back to normal.
  • Always talk with your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplements. Have your vitamin D levels evaluated by your physician. Many people can go throughout life not knowing they are deficient in vitamin D until a broken bone necessitates testing.

So, with winter approaching, keep in mind the importance of being outside and eating well to feel your best as we roll into 2021!


Photo credit: Matthew Poland

Matthew Poland is a Graduate Student in the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University who is currently working on the Dietetic Internship to become a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN).


  1. Hossein-nezhad, A., & Holick, M. F. (2013). Vitamin D for health: a global perspective. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 88(7), 720–755.
  2. Levis S, Gomez A, Jimenez C, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and seasonal variation in an adult South Florida population. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90:1557–1562.
  3. Vitamin D – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2020, September 11). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from
  4. Melrose S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015, 178564.
  5. Kerr, D. C., Zava, D. T., Piper, W. T., Saturn, S. R., Frei, B., & Gombart, A. F. (2015). Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry research, 227(1), 46–51.
  6. Webb, A. R., Kline, L., & Holick, M. F. (1988). Influence of season and latitude on the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D3: exposure to winter sunlight in Boston and Edmonton will not promote vitamin D3 synthesis in human skin. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 67(2), 373–378.
  7. Moore, C., Murphy, M. M., Keast, D. R., & Holick, M. F. (2004). Vitamin D intake in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104(6), 980–983.
  8. Tallahassee, Florida, USA – Sunrise, Sunset, and Daylength, September 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2020, from
Air Fryers: A Great Addition to Any Kitchen

Air Fryers: A Great Addition to Any Kitchen

By Matthew Poland and Amy Mullins, MS, RDN

Air fryers have become quite popular over the past few years, touted as a healthier alternative to deep-frying foods, while replicating the crispiness we all love. As a frequent user of an air fryer, I find times where I will catch myself talking family’s or friend’s ears off about how much I love my air fryer and how they should invest in one, too. Here are 3 reasons why an air fryer makes a great tool for any kitchen:

Health, Texture and Taste

Air fryers crisp food without the fat and calories of deep-frying.
Photo source: Matthew Poland

In my opinion, the number one reason to purchase an air fryer is the ability to make healthy alternatives to classically unhealthy foods. Fried foods consistently are given a thumbs-down from dietitians and other health professionals because the process of deep-frying foods exponentially increases their calorie content due to the nature of submerging foods in oils. However, a large reason why fried foods are so appealing is because of their texture. Deep-frying a food, specifically a breaded food, produces a crunchy exterior and a moist interior we’ve come to love. This is where an air fryer shines. Air fryers use circulating hot air to produce a very similar texture and taste to deep-fried foods, but can use up to 99% less oil (or even no oil), reducing calories by 70-80%, without sacrificing much in flavor (1).

Now, with anything, moderation is key, and this is not a suggestion to have chicken fingers and homemade French fries every night, just because they can be made healthier in an air fryer. However, this is a recommendation to curb cravings of greasy, high-calorie fast food meals by making them at home in an air fryer. In addition, the texture created by an air fryer is a perfect way to expand your dietary pallet, which leads me to my second reason for getting an air fryer: trying new foods.

New Food Experiences

With many kids, as well as adults, eating vegetables is not a desirable activity. They may be aware of the health benefits of vegetables, but when it comes to getting a vegetable past their nose and mouth, it can be a different story. A variety of preparation methods for vegetables exists, from raw to steaming to boiling. However, outside of roasting vegetables, many of these methods soften the texture of the food, which is often not appetizing to many people. Air frying then becomes the perfect method to produce crunchy, appealing vegetables that may just change some minds on whether or not an individual “likes vegetables.”

But the opportunities to try new foods are certainly not limited to just vegetables. From wings, to chicken kebabs, to eggplant parmesan, to air fried green beans, a wide variety of recipes exists for the air fryer. Often times, these recipes can be just as fast, easy, and even more delicious than using a conventional oven. This leads into my final point: the operation and cost of an air fryer.

Operation and Cost

Another benefit to air fryers is their ability to cook foods more quickly than in conventional ovens (or deep-fryers for that matter!). Air fryers reach cooking temperatures much faster than ovens can, but their small size can limit how much food can be cooked at one time, depending on the model. After a meal, cleanup is quick and easy, requiring only a wipe-down if little oil was used and cleaning maintenance is done regularly. Fortunately, air fryers also do not give off the same whole-house-consuming smells that deep-frying foods do.

Many of what could be considered “middle-of-the-line” models come with pre-programmed options for a variety of popular food choices. With the push of one button, it will let you know when the food is finished! Lastly: the cost of air fryers, which are actually quite reasonably priced. From simple, non-programmable fryers starting at around $40, to very snazzy two-basket, dual-zone fryers at around $150, there are various options to fit your exact needs.

In my experience, the air fryer has deservedly earned a spot on my ever-busy kitchen counter. Though they may not be as versatile as a conventional oven, or as quick as a microwave often, I believe they provide significant upsides that most people can find useful. Even if I haven’t convinced you to immediately run out and buy yourself an air fryer, I hope you have gained some insight into why you can’t stop hearing about them.


Matthew Poland is a Graduate Student in the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University who is currently working on the Dietetic Internship to become a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN).



  1. Air-Frying: Is It As Healthy As You Think? (2020, August 19). Retrieved September 21, 2020, from
Avoid the Dangers of Dehydration this Summer

Avoid the Dangers of Dehydration this Summer

Stay hydrated this summer.

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than an ice-cold glass of water!  Water is an essential component to good health. In fact, it makes up 60% of your body’s weight and is involved in various metabolic processes throughout your body. Without it, you could not survive. As summer approaches, it is important to be mindful of the increasing temperatures outside since the chances for dehydration are much greater than other times of the year – especially if you are planning to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Dehydration happens when your body lacks enough water to carry out normal processes. It often occurs when you are expending more water (usually through sweat & exercise) than you are consuming, and is accelerated in warm humid climates. Dehydration is no joke, and can lead to serious medical complications such as heat stroke, heat stress, and even death. Common signs and symptoms that may indicate you are dehydrated include fatigue, headache, dry mouth, little to no urination, constipation, vomiting, muscle-weakness, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Most susceptible to heat stress and complications from dehydration include infants, older adults (65 & up), people who are overweight, and people who are excessive sweaters during physical activity. If you fall into any of those categories, try to be mindful about how much fluid you are consuming throughout the day.

How can you prevent dehydration?

While many people think they may be drinking enough, that is often not the case. Your own thirst mechanism isn’t always the best gauge to make sure you are properly hydrated. According to the National Academy of Medicine, women should consume an average of 9 ½ cups of water per day and men should be consuming 12 cups. For older adults over the age of 70, the rule of thumb is about 7 cups per day. That includes all fluids from water, coffee, and juices.

Keep in mind that needs may be different for each of us.  One simple way to check your hydration status is to look at the color of your urine. If the color of your urine is a light lemonade color, you are in the clear! However, if your urine color is a dark orange, you need to start drinking some fluids to get back to a hydrated state to avoid any health complications.

Additional ways to reach your fluid intake without refilling your water bottle

Did you know water makes up the largest component of many of the foods we eat? By adding some more fruits and vegetables to your diet such as watermelon, strawberries, melons, oranges, broccoli, bell peppers, and lettuces – you are not only increasing your fluid intake but getting your necessary vitamins and minerals as well!  According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people should be consuming an average of 2 cups of fruits and vegetables per day.

Other factors that can influence your hydration status

Alcohol – Alcohol acts as a diuretic – meaning it turns down a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH) which tells your kidneys to absorb/retain fluids.  In other words, drinking a lot of alcohol will make you expel more fluids from your body.  Make sure to drink extra water while enjoying alcoholic beverages to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Diet – Consuming a high-sodium diet is another cause of dehydration. Sodium is necessary in our diets, but only in very small amounts.  When we consume excessive amounts of sodium, this disrupts the body’s filtration system and the kidneys begin holding onto more and more water.  This leads to dehydration, bloating, edema, hypertension, and cardiovascular stress. Drinking extra water can help bring things back into balance and re-hydrate your thirsty cells!

Older Age – As we get older, thirst sensations decrease and risk for dehydration increases since older adults do not feel the need to drink as much. Additionally, many medications can influence fluid needs in the body.

Caffeine – Contrary to popular belief, caffeine does not dehydrate you. When you drink coffee, or other caffeinated beverages you are also consuming fluids. High fluid consumption leads to higher frequency of urination.

Learn to LOVE Water  

Water by itself can definitely get old if it isn’t your beverage of choice. There are plenty of ways to add flavor and sweetness to your drinks without packing in tons of extra calories and sugar. Fruit infusions are a very simple way to make a boring beverage much more delicious. Try some of these delightful, thirst-quenching recipes!

Raspberry Orange Mint

  • Water
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 orange sliced up
  • Mint leaves

Lemon Lime Thyme

  • Water
  • 1 lemon sliced
  • 1 lime sliced
  • 1 large sprig of fresh thyme

Blueberry Lemon Mint

  • Water
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 lemon sliced