What The Folate?

Are you pregnant? Are you thinking about getting pregnant? One of the first questions you should ask yourself is WTF (What The Folate)?


Why is folate important during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a complicated and demanding process that requires key nutrients to develop a healthy baby. Folate is a critical nutrient during pregnancy. Low folate levels can lead to neural tube defects and decreased red blood cell function in the baby. Adequate folate prior to conception and during the first 28 days of pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk for neural tube defects which can occur in the brain, spine and spinal cord. Want to learn more about NTDs? Visit the March of Dimes for up to date information.


What is folate?

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin also known as folacin or B9. It is naturally found in fruit, vegetables, grains and other foods. Rich sources include beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, romaine lettuce, avocado, broccoli, mango and oranges just to name a few. Did you know that most women in the world have low folate levels?


Folate in Food

Can I get all the folate I need from Food? Yes and no. The answer is complicated and has to do with the bioavailability of folate, essentially the amount you can absorb from food. Folate is bound in a chemical structure within your food and your body has to go through many steps before it can absorb the folate. Many different things can interrupt this process which leads to mixed absorption rates of folate from folate rich food. So, while black eyed peas maybe high in folate the amount we can actually use is somewhat limited. Over consumption of folate rich foods will not lead to folate toxicity in the body.


How Much Folic Acid Do I Need?

During the preconception period (3 months before conceiving) and pregnancy it is recommended that all women consume a balanced diet comprised of whole foods and supplement with 600 micrograms of folic acid each day. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate used in supplements and fortified foods. In the 1980s, the United States government started fortifying cereals, breads, juice with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. It is possible to consume too much folic acid. The Institute of Medicine recommends the intake of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods be limited to 1,000 micrograms per day.



If you are planning to conceive or are pregnant, add a folic acid supplement and include more folate in your diet! Check out these pregnancy healthy recipes that are rich in folate, iron and calcium.


Beet, Goat Cheese and Avocado Salad

  • Beets and avocado are great sources of folate and fiber, add ¼ cup of sunflower seeds to bulk the folate content of this salad


Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

  • Just 1 cup of Brussel sprouts meets 25% of our daily folate needs


Hoppin’ John

  • If you serve this black eyed pea dish with polenta and a green salad you will knock the folate out of the park


Shaved Asparagus Salad with Buttered Almonds

  • Just 1 cup of cooked asparagus has  262mcg of folate, add almonds and you have almost met your needs for the day

In Health,

Sherrill Collins, MS, RDN



  1. Micronutrient Information Center: Folate http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/folate

Exercise During Pregnancy

preg exercise 1

One of the most common questions we receive from newly pregnant women is “can I exercise during pregnancy?”, the answer for most is an emphatic yes! Consistent exercise has many positive impacts on health, both during and after pregnancy. Pregnancy is great motivation to change our habits for the better; use this pregnancy to create a sustainable exercise routine that will benefit you in the postpartum period as well.


Exercise has a long list of benefits including: improved mood, energy and muscle tone! Just 30 minutes a day will improve blood sugar and help with blood pressure. Exercise also helps with appropriate hunger cues and is a fantastic form of stress relief. Cravings are often a result of stress and boredom. Exercise gets you moving, acts as a release for negative energy and keeps you away from the kitchen. The piece de resistance is movement’s impact on constipation; simple daily exercise helps the large intestine move waste out of the body.

preg exercise 4

During pregnancy, the body undergoes several changes that will affect the way you feel during certain activities. Pregnancy hormones relax ligaments which cause increased joint mobility, your center of gravity changes and some women report feeling clumsy. Use the knowledge of how your body changes during pregnancy to shape your routine. Each week, month and trimester you will notice changes in your body that will affect your exercise routine, so evolve the routine to meet your needs. You may start out jogging in the first trimester and finish the third spending time in the pool.


Establish a routine that matches your abilities. If you are new to exercise, start with a simple activity like walking or swimming. If you already have an established exercise regimen, continue but listen to your body and make changes as needed. This is not the time to undergo a drastic training change. Do not get a wild idea to sign up for a marathon or triathlon! If you take classes or work with a trainer, make sure to take the instructor aside and let them know you are pregnant. Many activities are safe during pregnancy but may require modification. There is not a standard recommendation for heart rate levels during exercise. Our providers generally recommend you keep your heart rate under 160 beats per minute.

preg exercise 7 snow shoe

Safety is key. It is important to avoid activities where there is a risk of fall, collision, or sudden movements. Some activities that are commonly avoided during pregnancy include outdoor biking (try indoor cycling instead), contact sports, ice skating, downhill skiing, sledding, horseback riding and 4-wheeler travel. If you have questions, ask your provider. We hope to inspire women to keep moving but it is important to assess an activity for safety during pregnancy before beginning.


The body has many ways to communicate that an activity may not work for you. If you experience vaginal bleeding, dizzyness, chest pain, headache, contractions, calf pain/swelling, fluid leakage, or decreased fetal movement; contact your provider immediately.

preg exercise 3

What kind of movement do Alaskan women enjoy during pregnancy?

Warmer Weather

  • Hiking
  • Walking/Running
  • Lake swimming
  • Yoga in the Park


Colder Weather

  • Swimming; there are many pools in South Central Alaska
  • Water Walking; checkout the lazy river walk open to adults only at H2Oasis
  • Outdoor walking; don’t forget your ice cleats and maybe even poles
  • Indoor Walking; try 1 of the many gyms in town or the Anchorage Dome
  • Hiking with or without snow shoes depending on the snow load

preg exercise 6


preg exercise 5

Movement is meant to be fun, join a group or create a date with friends! Aim for 30-45 minutes of moderate activity each day. If you have questions about safety, discuss them with your provider.


In Health,

Sherrill Collins, MS, RDN


The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, FAQ0119. Frequently Asked Questions: Exercise During Pregnancy. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy


Exercise During Pregnancy: Myth vs Fact. Colette Bouchez, WebMD Feature. http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/exercise-during-pregnancy-myth-vs-fact

Kids in the Kitchen

kids cooking

We learn from the environment we grow in, parents model behavior that children are constantly emulating. If we cook, children observe the act, but if we engage our kids in the process they gain more than a tasty meal, they start to build life skills. The food we prepare at home is almost always healthier than items we pickup at delis, drive thrus and restaurants. Give your kids a headstart in life by teaching them to cook. It is never too early to start!



Wearing your kiddo (if appropriate, depending on the meal) or placing them in a safe seat with a good view of the kitchen which allows for an up close experience. Something like stir fry offers a variety of colors, textures, smells, flavors and sounds as we quickly throw together a nourishing meal for the family. I really like Nom Nom Paleo’s Garbage Stir Fry , the options are limitless!

garbage stir fry



Toddlers love to help! I invested in a kid friendly knife for my son and we haven’t looked back. On any given day, I have a helper in the kitchen to chop vegetables and fruit. A fun meal/snack to make with toddlers is a smoothie! Our household favorite is mango, kale and coconut, checkout this recipe at Eating Well . Each morning I pull down the blender and we layer ingredients. I often ask which veggies he would like to add and we come up with some pretty interesting combinations (I redirect if the selection would cause a negative outcome).

Mango kale smoothie


4, 5, 6 and Beyond

As kids grow, their contribution and the recipes can become more complex. Special equipment is helpful, like a guard for the box grater, a spiralizer, garlic presser, meat tenderizer, melon baller, apple slice, etc. Curious Chef has a variety of kid-friendly recipes including Cauliflower Fried “Rice”, a very popular dish at our house (we like to add pineapple).



Fun for Everyone

Incorporating kids in the kitchen is fun! Expand their food time beyond meals, host cooking themed parties and playdates. The classic decorate your own cupcake is easy, but I like to travel a slightly healthier path, anybody been to a mozzarella party? Mozzarella is fun! Checkout 30 minutes mozzarella and How To Make Mozzarella with your Kids . This is a very hands on process with a final step similar to taffy. I recommend trying it with some adult friends first to gain a better understanding of the process.

mozzarella pull


Garden parties are another fun option in the summer, make pesto (my Alaska garden is not basil friendly without a lot of effort on my part, but I often use carrot tops, kale, spinach and broccoli) to top your burgers, add some baked garden fries and fresh apple sauce !

pesto    THE-CRISPIEST-Oven-Baked-Matchstick-Fries-with-Garlic-Simple-fast-and-SO-ridiculously-crispy-and-delicious-vegan-glutenfree1    apple sauce


To finish off strong, let me highlight some delish, healthy dessert options that little hands can help with! In the land of ice cream, frozen yogurt, popsicles and the like, I present homemade go-gurts and yogurt buttons! Looking for something warm and aromatic during the cold Alaskan winter months, try baked apples. And my highlights wouldn’t be complete without a cookie recipe, try these 1-pot coconut no bake cookies.

DIY-Homemade-Go-gurt-like-Yogurt-Sticks-far-1579-680x1024    yogurt buttons    EASY-Vegan-GF-Coconut-No-Bake-Cookies-vegan-glutenfree-minimalistbaker


Play with your food! Play with your kids! Play with food and your kids! Cooking with children instills confidence, creativity and a beautiful life skill. Post pictures of your creations on the AWC FaceBook page. If you are looking for more recipes to make with your kids or liven up your current repertoire, checkout my pins on the AWC Pinterest board.


In Health,

Sherrill Collins, MS, RDN

Magical Black Beans

black bean turtle plant

Black beans have been a pantry staple for at least 7,000 years! Related to the famous kidney bean, black beans have several monikers including turtle beans and frijoles negros. Does your family eat these magical legumes?

black beans

Black beans, and beans in general, are nutrition rock stars! They contain ample amounts of fiber and protein which slows digestion, aids in blood sugar regulation and supports the heart. On a micro-level, these black beauties are a fabulous source of folate (hello pregnant moms and those looking to conceive), phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Did you know, blacks beans are also a fantastic source of antioxidants including anthocyanins and flavonoids? And, they are a great source of prebiotics (the other half of the probiotic equation), the resistant starch in beans helps provide the substrate needed for the happy bacteria in our gut (if probiotics are the flowers growing in your garden, then prebiotics are the dirt and nutrients needed to grow the flowers). Recent research links regular bean consumption (as little as 1/2 cup per day) to reduced risk for many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, obesity, stroke and inflammatory diseases.

black bean plant

But, the million dollar question is: how do we improve the digestion of beans? There are many tricks to help decrease the gas associated with beans. Start by introducing beans slowly, try ½ cup on your salad or in soup a few times per week and increase from there. Soaking beans and discarding the water can reduce tannins, phytates and raffinose. Raffinose is related to flatulence, soaking beans can remove over a third of this substance. Add spices! Spices can act as a digestive aid: India is famous for adding ginger and turmeric to legume rich dishes and East Asian countries often add kombu, a fiberous seaweed, during the cooking process.

ginger kombu turmeric

Did I mention that they are cheap! On a budget, but trying to include powerhouse foods? Check this out:

1# dry black beans ($1.79 at a local Anchorage store) = 5 cups cooked beans (equivalent of 3 cans)

So, how do you take advantage of this cost savings? Cook dry beans! Challenged by the idea? Start with a slow cooker recipe that requires very little effort on your part! Café Johnstonia has created a straight forward recipe (more like a tutorial for those lacking in bean cooking experience). As mentioned above, 1lb of dry beans will yield 5 cups of cooked beans. You can freeze the extra! Package and freeze in appropriate portions, I like 2 cups per bag. Frozen beans keep for approximately three months. And the cheap, humble black bean just keeps on giving…


Now then, on to the best part – my favorite black bean recipes:


This Sweet Potato Black Bean Burger from the Minimalist Baker is super easy and fast! I freeze the extra and throw them on my lunch time salad at work.

black bean lime avocado salad

Shake up the standard lunch/dinner side salad and play with this easy Avocado-Lime Black Bean Salad from Oh She Glows.

black bean brownies

For the sweet tooth in the family, black beans are still a hit, experiment with Black Bean Brownies from Chocolate Covered Katie.


Black beans are inexpensive, nutrient dense, tasty bundles just waiting to make a daily appearance on your plate. Go on, give them a try! And don’t forget, share your favorite black bean recipes with us.

In Health,

Sherrill Collins, MS, RDN, LD

Moo-ve Over Milk: Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

calcium foods

How much calcium do you consume? The recommended daily allowance for adult women 19-50 years old is 1,000mg/day, including pregnant women. If you consume dairy, 2-3 servings per day should meet your needs. But, what if you don’t consume dairy?

calcium garden

Did you know that salmon, sardines and sesame seeds all contain calcium? Checkout the calcium content chart below.

Food Serving Calcium (mg)
Tofu ½ cup 434
Sesame Seeds ¼ cup 351
Sardines, canned with bones 3 ounces 325
Almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, fortified 8 ounces 300
Edamame (cooked) 1 cup 261
Spinach (cooked) 1 cup 245
Salmon, canned with bones 3 ounces 180
Oatmeal, fortified 1 packet 140
Almonds ¼ cup 92
Sesame Seeds 1 tablespoon 88
White Beans (cooked) ½ cup 81
Bok choy (cooked) ½ cup 79
Tahini 1 tablespoon 64
Kale (cooked) ½ cup 47

The thing to remember is that nutrients are not isolated in their actions, they do not work alone in our body to perform the necessary functions to help us thrive. Calcium for example, needs vitamin D for proper absorption and use. Vitamin D is a common deficiency in Alaska due to limited sun exposure and diet. Foods considered rich in Vitamin D include tuna, salmon, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and foods fortified with vitamin D like orange juice and cereals,. Consuming a diet of real foods with a focus on variety, will often provide what we need to maximize the nutrients we consume.

A Day in the Life of Calcium Rich, Dairy-Free Food!

Breakfast: Overnight Oats made with oatmeal, almond milk, almonds and berries.

overnight oats

Lunch: White Bean, Kale and Butternut Squash Soup is one of my favorites! This dish comes together in just under 30 minutes. I like to make a pot of this (or any kind of soup) on the weekend to use as a lunch option throughout the week.

calcium kale, white bean soup

Dinner: Nori Wrapped Wasabi Salmon (or Tofu)  is a spicy, savory present to yourself. This dish works well with both salmon and tofu, serve with a side of bok choy.

calcium nori wrapped salmon

Salads: Dress those vibrant veggies with a little Goddess Dressing made with tahini.

calcium goddess dressing

Snacks: Try a little steamed edamame with tamari, almonds, white bean dip or salmon patties.

In Health,

Sherrill Collins, MS, RD, LD

Three Minute Breakfast


The morning flies by in a blur, no time to spare, what am I supposed to eat? Does this sound familiar? Do you find yourself munching on a sugary granola bar or hitting the coffee cart and adding on a bagel or cookie? Give me three minutes as you clean up dinner and I will have you ready to face the day with a nourishing breakfast.

Get your timer ready!

Ready, set, GO!

overnight oats

  1. Clean pint jar with lid
  2. Add:
    1. ½ cup oats (steel cut or rolled)
    2. 1 cup of milk, almond milk, soymilk, coconut milk, etc.
    3. 1tbsp chia seeds
    4. 1tbsp hemp seeds
    5. 1tsp honey
  3. Stir or Shake
  4. Add ½ cup berries
  5. Screw on lid
  6. Place in refrigerator for 8+ hours
  7. As you dash around your house in the morning, swing by the kitchen and grab your jar, don’t forget a spoon!
  8. Enjoy cold, or heat in the microwave for 30-60 seconds

Nutrition Facts (using unsweetened almond milk): 364 calories, 12g protein, 50g carb, 12g fiber

Welcome to overnight oats! This is not rocket science, nor a new concept, but a valuable breakfast tool that can vary with the seasons and your taste buds. Look to Pinterest and various cooking blogs for more overnight oat recipes or click on the images in this post to visit some of my favorites blogs.

In Health,

Sherrill Collins, MS, RDN, LD

8 Simple & Easy Ways To Improve Your Health With Nutrition This Spring

good habits

Changing habits can be a slow and arduous process, particularly when it comes to food. Improving your nutrition can seem daunting, especially if you feel like there are many, many improvements to make. So, start small, make your changes sustainable and permanent. Using the list below, slowly make one change per week, each week maintain the changes already made and add a new one.

  1. Start your day with a piece of fruit.apricots
    • For fruit with the best flavor and price, consider the season (see chart). Fruit traditionally harvested in the spring includes cherries, lemons, navel oranges, rhubarb, strawberries, apricots, blackberries and blueberries.
  2. Add healthy fat each day. Healthy fat in the diet provides a sense of lasting fullness, energy and adds flavor to meals.

    healthy fats

    • Include avocado, nuts, seeds and olives in salads and veggie side dishes.
    • Make your own trail mix with a variety of nuts and unsweetened coconut flakes, checkout these 21 recipes .
    • Bust the crockpot out for an easy red or yellow Thai curry using coconut milk. The house will smell amazing when you get home from work!
    • Be adventurous, try your hand at Chovocado (chocolate + avocado) pudding.
  3. Eat probiotic rich, fermented food every day. Fermented foods are rich in enzymes, improve digestion, increase vitamin content of foods and they help restore good bacteria in the gut.

    fermented foods

    • Look for plain yogurt with live probiotic cultures, add your own fruit or a touch of honey to avoid tons of added sugar and dyes.
    • Add unpasteurized sauerkraut to salads, sandwiches and burgers. Sauerkraut makes an excellent condiment, much like mustard or mayonnaise, offering a high note to a meal.
    • Stir a teaspoon of miso into warm broth and enjoy as tea, morning, noon or night. This light soup is nourishing and calming. If you are trying to avoid GMO foods, purchase organic miso paste.
    • Drink your bacteria! Try kombucha, kefir and water kefir. All 3 are easy to make at home or they can be purchased in the natural food section of most markets.
    • Looking for recipes to make your own probiotic foods? Checkout Cultures for Health for a lively blog and recipe collection.
  4. Drink a cup of tea. Teas contain a variety ofphytonutrients that are beneficial to our health. Explore red, white, black, herbal and fruit teas.

    types of tea

    • You can always travel the traditional route, steeping your tea in hot water.
    • Or, you can create an infusion, add tea to cold water and let sit for 30 minutes or all day.
    • I love blueberry tea in my water bottle, a delicious change from plain water.
  5. Eat 2-3 servings of leafy greens during the week. Popeye suffered through the green slime in a can to get stronger, but these days people are exploring a variety of tasty green recipes for all the nutrients they contain. Leafy greens are a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, folate, calcium and iron!leafy greens
    • Reach beyond the spinach:
      • Chard – red, green, rainbow
      • Collards
      • Beet greens
      • Kale – dinosaur, red, green curly leaf
      • Arugula
      • Mustard greens
      • Turnip greens
      • Lettuces
  6. Replace 1 sugar-laden dessert or snack each day with fruit, dark chocolate, dates or figs. Added sugar in our diet accounts for several hundred calories per day, calories that have zero nutritional benefit. Checkout your food labels, read the ingredient list and observe the grams of sugar per serving. Did you know 4g of sugar = 1 teaspoon?


7.  Include a quality protein at all meals and snacks. Protein helps balance blood sugar, decreases sugar cravings and creates a sense of fullness that will last until your next meal.

  • Hummus, Black bean dip
  • Smoked salmon, Beef jerky
  • Nuts, Seeds
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • All meat, fish and poultry

8. Water your garden. Drink 3L of water each day. Find a vessel that you enjoy holding and drinking from. Add elements that increase your intake, items like ice cubes, straws or sippy lids. Keep water on you at all times and sip throughout the day.


Grow your changes slowly. Look for new ideas to add to the list.

In Health,

Sherrill Collins, MS, RDN, LD