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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007; 1:00 PM

Confused about nutrition? Wondering how to fit in more physical activity? Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. Ask Sally Squires, nationally syndicated Lean Plate Club columnist for the Washington Post, about eating smart and moving more every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Sally draws upon her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University to preside over the lively Lean Plate Club web chat. Whether you're trying to reach a healthier weight or simply maintain it, you'll find plenty of tips and strategies.

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Share your own food finds, creative workouts and secrets for healthy, great tasting meals. We'll cheer your successes and help with your setbacks. (None of this, of course, is a substitute for medical advice.) E-mail Sally, author of the newly published Secrets of the Lean Plate Club (St. Martin's Press) at leanplateclub@washpost.com.

Or just sign up for the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. The Lean Plate Club column appears Tuesdays in the Washington Post Health section and is nationally syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Find other Lean Plate Club members at www.frappr.com/leanplateclub.

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Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. We're talking fish today as well as plenty of other topics.

The Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter should be in your electronic in-boxes right now. In today's edition, find an item about naps and what they may do for your blood pressure. Also, find links to recipes for Hopi Vegetable Stew, Cree Bean Salad, 30 Slow Cooker recipes, a healthier version of Turkey Pot Pie and a healthier version of enchiladas. Also, a link to a recipe for Chicken and Vegetables with Creamy Mustard Herb Sauce. Yum.

If you'd like to subscribe to this free, weekly service--and 275,000 Lean Plate Club members already do just that--simply go to our home-page at www.leanplateclub.com and subscribe.

Also, on Saturday, I'll be in St. Petersburg, Fla. for the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading. I'm speaking from 3:15 to 4 p.m. and will be signing copies of Secrets of the Lean Plate Club after that. Hope to meet some of you there.

And on Thursday night, I'll be at Temple Rodef Shalom in Fall Church, Va. Look forward to meeting some of you there too.

Now on to the chat!

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Walking for Charity: My best friend and I recently participated in the Aids Walk and the Breast Cancer walk. Although we both do regular workouts, we stepped up our walking routines (hers to include a longer distance; mine from just walking to walking/running) to help build our stamina. As a result, I've gone from a size 10 to a size 8 pant and she lost 3 pounds in just two weeks. Not only did we contribute monetarily to 2 very worthy causes, we both got a little healthier, ramped up our workouts, and had a great time on the walks. We plan to participate in more charity events and hope to one day compete in an actual race.

Sally Squires: Way to go! That's a win-win-win for all of you. Companionship, workouts and helping a worthwhile cause. Plus that drop in dress sizes. Maybe that makes it a win-win-win-win! Any way, congratulations! (And for those who have not yet read today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, I included links to some charity events.)

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Hi Sally, I am submitting my question early. I love to bake as a stress-reliever. I have been trying to figure out healthy substitutes to use when baking. I read that you can substitute 1 cup of butter with 1/2 cup applesauce and 1/2 cup canola oil. My question is, is the oil better for you than the butter? I'm not sure if canola oil is healthy or not, and if it is "worse" for you than butter? I am trying out a recipe for sweet potato cookies and everything in the recipe seems healthy except for the butter, and I would like to tweak it a little so that it matches my dietary requirements. Thanks!!

Sally Squires: Butter contains saturated fat, an unhealthy fat that can help raise blood cholesterol levels. So while canola oil also is a fat, it's a healthier fat, made up of polyunsaturated and a little monounsaturated fats. These varieties are less likely to send your blood cholesterol higher. Of course, canola oil as well as olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, etc. are fats. So they contain 9 calories per gram just like butter.

But by substituting applesauce and canola oil, you've not only cut the fat in this recipe in half, but added in healthier varieties of fat. So that's all a good thing. Enjoy.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Hi Sally - I appreciate the advice about fish - I am trying to eat it at least twice a week (I love it anyway). I am, however, having trouble finding anything other than tilapia which is not an overfished species! (My husband dislikes tilapia and won't eat it.) The Monterrey Bay Aquarium published a helpful regional guide to fish-buying to encourage people to buy species of fish that aren't being overfished, but I find both at the market and at restaurants, those are really hard to come by! Does anyone know of local stores or vendors who stock more of those fish in abundant supply? (I know that Hook, in Georgetown, makes an effort on their menu, but I can't afford to eat there regularly.)

Sally Squires: I'm going to post your question to see what others out there have found. Also, don't forget that canned salmon, anchovies, pickled herring and sardines are cost-effective options that are high in omega-3s, are generally on the low end of the scale for methyl mercury and are not too terrible on the environment.

And let me take this chance to also say that if you happen to fish for your own seafood--or enjoy eating fish that has been caught by sport fisherman--it's a wise idea to find out where it was caught and then to check local state or EPA advisories for contamination.

Hope this helps. And who wants to weigh in about other sources of healthier fish that also aren't too hard on the environment?

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Adrift with fish: I looked at the chart linked to your article today -- is there a more comprehensive chart you could point us to? I understand the list was a most popular; however, I eat a much wider variety (flounder, monkfish, mackerel, all manner of shellfish) and was wondering generally how to work in those fish. Thanks

Sally Squires: I'm sure that there are many charts available. This is one that we put together late last year and re-checked before publishing this year. So our list isn't more comprehensive than this.

You might check the USDA Web site for individual fish for omega-3 counts. And for those who want to get pregnant or are pregnant, King mackerel is on the list of fish to avoid. Regular mackerel, which are smaller, may be an option. But be sure that you know what you're getting.

Hope this helps.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello,

I'm pregnant and a vegetarian. I really don't want to eat fish so I'm trying to eat ground flax seeds and Omega 3's from other sources. How much Omega 3s should I be eating? And what other vegetarian sources of Omega 3s are out there (besides walnuts, I think, and fortified foods)? Can I make it add up to enough, compared to if I was to eat a piece of fish?

Sally Squires: First congratulations on your expanding family. That's very exciting. Second, no, you don't have to eat fish to get omega-3s, but they're a very rich source of these healthy fats. A couple of years ago, I wrote a package of stories that we'll try to post links to in a minute. One was headlined: No Fish on Your Dish? No Problem.

Also check out something called Keep It Managed (KIM) developed by a retired federal researcher named William Lands. This free database takes a little time to learn, but it ranks food according to omega-3 and omega-6 content.

Not to get too complicated here nutritionally, but there's good evidence that eating too much omega-6s, swamps out the omega-3s in your diet. A lot of processed foods, soy and even canola oil are rich in omega-6s. So if you don't eat fish, paying attention to this ratio may be particularly important for you.

You might also look for margarine and other foods that now come fortified with omega-3s. And if you are vegetarian, but not vegan, you might consider eggs that are fortified with omega-3s as well as fish oil supplements.

Hope that helps. Thanks.

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washingtonpost.com: The Omega Principle (Post, Aug. 19, 2003)

Sally Squires: As promised...

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Southern Maryland: In light of the recommendations for women of childbearing years to limit their intake of tuna fish, shouldn't parents of teenage girls do the same and seriously limit our teenage daughters intake? We use to eat tuna fish regularly and now have it maybe six times a year versus once a week. My logic if a 20-year-old women should be limiting their intake of tuna a 15-year-old teenage girl doesn't need to be eating tuna. Please give me your thoughts. Thank you!!

Sally Squires: The federal recommendations to limit Albacore tuna are clearly aimed at women of childbearing ages who wish to become pregnant, as well as for younger children, generally 12 and younger, and for expectant mothers and those breastfeeding.

So that 15 year old is really not included in the advisory (unless she happens to be pregnant.) But here's where eating a variety of fish--don't forget those anchovies and sardines, although they may not be everyone's favorites--to hedge your bets without going really high on the methyl mercury scale.

Hope that helps. Thanks.

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Rehoboth Beach: Follow up on sugar -- are the natural sugars found in say fresh fruits better or worse than added sugars, say in Rasin bran? To be considered a "low sugar" product -- how low is that? Just where do we draw the line?

Sally Squires: At the molecular level, all sugars eventually break down to pretty much the same building blocks. I'll have to double-check after the chat, but I don't recall a specific FDA definition for low sugar.

So what seems to matter is foods with added sugar. Fruit (unless it's packed in syrup or sprinkled with sugar) contains naturally occurring sugars. Mostly fructose. And of course, it comes with many more naturally occurring ingredients from fiber to vitamins and phytonutrients. Raisin bran has dried fruit--that's a more concentrated in sugar because the water is missing--and it may have a little added sugar too, depending on the brand of cereal. But it also comes with whole grain flakes and that's a good thing too.

So both are pretty good choices.

Where do we draw the line? It's good to read the label and go for products lower in sugar. But this method is also imperfect. Case in point: dairy products. They have naturally occurring lactose--another sugar that doesn't raise blood sugar levels and isn't sweet tasting the way that sucrose or fructose are.

So bottom line: eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, some dairy, some lean meat, fish and poultry, some healthy nuts, etc. Skip as much of the processed fare as possible.

Whew! That was long winded! Hope it helps. Thanks for asking.

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DC Mom: It's nap time here, so I finally get a moment of peace and quiet, and a sink full of dishes. I was recently told by an internist that moms should do core exercises rather than focus on weight training to loss postpartum pounds. What are core exercises, what parts of the body use them? Are these like crunches? Is there a Web site that shows how to do these exercises? How many minutes a day should I do to start (completely healed, just out of shape)?

washingtonpost.com: There are demonstrations here from washingtonpost.com and sparkpeople.com.

Sally Squires: Both core exercises and weight training are excellent ideas. (And for post partum moms, be sure to check with your obstetrician before beginning these or any other activities after giving birth.)

Core exercise tone the muscles from roughly your chest or upper abdominal area to roughly the tops of your thighs. Those of us who live very sedentary lives, tend to have flabby cores, which is what helps makes stomachs spill out (as well as plenty of underlying fat, of course) and ruins posture. Loss of core tone also explains that hunch that you often see in people as they grow older.

Strong core muscles can also help protect the back. So need I say more. (And as for weight training, that's great for toning muscles throughout the body.)

The link included with this message includes some core exercises to help get you started.

Good luck with your efforts. Hope you'll let us know how it goes. And by the way, a physical therapist once told me that it doesn't take the same effort to tone and strengthen core muscles as it does your arm triceps. So you can see improvement in core muscles a lot faster than other muscles.

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vegetarian Omega 3s: Silk makes a soymilk with added Omega 3s (including DHA), and there are also vegetarian DHA supplements. They're made from algae oil. That's where the fish get their Omega 3s from, after all. I buy them online, though some vegetarian-friendly stores sell them. And I'm not affiliated with any company.

Sally Squires: Great suggestion! Thanks very much. Others out there?

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London U.K. (by way of Philadelphia): Does it matter where the fish comes from? Here in London, I can get, for example, farmed salmon from Scotland, Norway, Chile, and Alaska. Obviously, there are plenty of other examples, but those are just ones that come to mind immediately as I saw them today (and oh how I love the requirement that food show its point of origin over here!). Is there some way of determining if that fish from country X - or, perhaps more appropriately, body of water X - is less likely to be high in "bad things" than that fish from country/body of water Y?

Sally Squires: There probably is, but it may take a little digging. There's been some concern, for example, about contaminated fish in the Baltic Sea. In the Midwest, the Great Lakes have struggled with contamination with PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls)--a different problem than methyl mercury. So from time to time, various regions struggle with this problem.

You might check the European Union Web site, as well as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization for advisories. And there's also the UK's Food Standards Agency. We'll try to post some links in a minute. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Sally...Are crock pots the same as slow cookers?

Sally Squires: Yes, I believe that the two are used pretty interchangeably. Thanks.

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Enzymes inquiry: I am trying really hard to read the labels on cheese because I don't' want to buy processed cheese, and frankly, none of them are labeled processed. I figured the fewest ingredients, the better. But what are enzymes? Do I want this in my cheese?

What is the best way to pick a non-processed cheese in the refrigerated section, as the store brands (Giant, Safeway) bars of cheese are cheapest. And lastly, is shredded cheese processed?

Sally Squires: This does get confusing, doesn't it? Shredded cheese is not necessarily processed--although it may be.

So how do you tell processed cheese? Well, you're right that in a sense, all cheese is by its nature processed. And many of those enzymes listed on the label are what helps turn the milk into cheese.

American cheese is a more processed cheese. Ditto for Laughing Cow. Cheeze Whiz is also more processed than say, Cheddar, Brie, Camembert, Blue Cheese, Stilton, Romano, Swiss cheese, etc.

Hope that helps. Thanks for weighing in.

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washingtonpost.com: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Sally Squires: As promised...

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Vegetarians and fish oil: Sally, it's not a very useful recommendation when you tell vegetarians to take fish oil capsules or eat eggs fortified with Omega-3 FAs. A vegetarian for moral reasons would not eat supplements made from animal bodies, like fish oil, and many of the fortified eggs are produced by chickens who eat ground fish, which makes them no longer vegetarian. And vegans don't eat eggs of any kind, and probably would avoid the potentially animal-derived glycerin and gelatin in supplement casings.

Flax oil is also a good source of Omega-3 FAs, and comes in vegetarian-friendly capsules, as well as oil form. Ground flaxseeds are good, too, but can be a potent laxative and need to be eaten in moderation. The soluble fiber in the seeds can also hinder the absorption of medication taken at the same time.

Sally Squires: I understand what you are saying, but there are also gradations of vegetarians. And ovo-lacto vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products.

Flaxseed oil does provide some healthy omega-3s as do nuts. But the kind that they provide are not identical to the long-chain omega-3s found in seafood. That doesn't mean that they're not a good choice, just that they may not provide all the same benefits.

Thanks for chiming in.

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washingtonpost.com: Food Standards Agency (www.food.gov.uk)

Sally Squires: As promised...

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Germantown md -- zero fat Fish chowder: Sometimes it's hard to know what to do with frozen blocks of filets. Here's my recipe for the Sole chowder I am having for lunch today at my desk:

. 2 lbs of Fish filets (sole) frozen, defrost and cut into 1 inch cubes.

. 5-7 potatoes, cut into halves (don't cut up small)

. 1/2 large head of cauliflower, cleaned and cut into small cubes

. 12 baby carrots cut up

. 4 stalks celery, clean, cut into small pieces

. 1/2 large yellow onion, cut into small fine pieces

. 2 cups of cut corn or peas

. 1 can of chicken broth, 3 cups of water

Spices: Curry, tumeric, garlic powder, onion power and dry parsley flakes, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes if desired.

Use a LARGE crock pot and place in the following order: onions, fish, celery, carrots, corn, peas, and cauliflower. Be sure to put the potatoes in LAST. Put in spices and then use liquids to wash them down into the crock pot. Simmer on high setting for 5-6 hours. To thicken the soup, take the potatoes out and puree them in a blender. Stir potato puree back into the pot. Bring back to a bubble.

You can serve this and then store the remainder in 2 cup deli containers for quick microwaveable lunches.

Notice there is no fatty oils and the cauliflower substitutes for the potato chunks in the chowder, and the potato puree thickens the chowder without milk, flour, or cream. YUM

Sally Squires: Yum indeed. This sounds great! I can see serving it with a crusty, hot slice of whole wheat bread and a nice, fresh salad. What a great meal. Thanks!

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Washington DC: I'm pregnant and was pretty sick when taking a pre-natal vitamin with Omega-3s. I switched my vitamin 2 days ago and am feeling better but am looking for other sources of Omega-3s. I read that it's important to get the DHA form of Omega-3s, the kind that comes from fish (not the kind that comes from flaxseed). I would prefer to eat flaxseed -- can you clarify?

Sally Squires: Yes, but get ready for a little high school chemistry review. Bottom line: it has to do with molecular chains. The omega-3s found in flax seed are a shorter chain than those found in fish. They're both good. But the shorter version may not be as good at what it does as the longer version.

As for getting sick, it could be the omega-3s in your prenatal vitamins. It could also be your stage of pregnancy. Talk with you doctor. Often times, nausea does subside particularly in the second and third trimesters.

And by the way, congratulations to you too on the new addition to your family!

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Houston: Until recently I ate fish rather than beef, chicken or pork. I use to eat fish at least three times a week, often daily.

About four years ago I stopped eating tuna fish and then gradually I have eliminated all foreign fish from my diet except for Norwegian sardines. I no longer eat farmed fish and now I eat only fresh fish caught wild in USA and I eat that no more than three times a month.

I still prefer fish but I am afraid of the toxins and the methods used to preserve fish after it is caught as well as the procedures used to farm fish.

Sally Squires: Farmed fish is another controversial topic. Proponents say that it's can be a good alternative to over fishing the oceans. Critics say that the runoff can pollute the oceans and kill wild fish.

There's some suggestion, by the way, that farmed fish may actually be higher in omega-3s than wild fish. Experts have told me that's because wild fish are leaner since they swim a lot more. Farmed fish can be a bit fatter since they are confined to "ponds" or fish "cages." And some farmed fish have coloring added to their feed to give them a better look at the market.

But Harvard researchers have reported fairly recently on the heart benefits of fish whether farmed or wild. The key thing, according to the American Heart Association, is to eat fish about twice a week. Or find other equivalents as you are trying to do. Thanks for chiming in.

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pot pie: How could I turn that turkey pot pie into a veggie pot pie?

Sally Squires: You might substitute tofurky for the turkey. Or you substitute a soy based meat substitute that has a chicken or turkey flavor. Morning Star and Boca are two that make products that might work. You could also try just using some tofu in place of the turkey. Or skipping the turkey substitutes altogether and add more veggies.

Hope you'll let it know how it all turns out. Thanks!

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protein ideas: My kids are vegetarian and while they are great about eating lentils, they aren't big on beans. We don't eat too much fish at home. What are some other great protein sources for veggie kids (milk and eggs ok).

Sally Squires: Milk and eggs are two great sources. Cheese would be another option. So is yogurt. If your kids like lentils, they might also like split peas. And I've recently gotten some black lentils--very tiny, very good, a bit like wild rice, although they are a different nutritional family--at Trader Joe's. They also cooked quite fast.

Chili might be an option for your kids. You can make your own with meat substitutes such as that mentioned earlier from Morning Star Farms or Boca Burgers. And while you're at it, check out the frozen food section for other types of meatless burgers and nuggets. There are a lot.

Also tofu in stir fry would be good for boosting protein. And nuts would be another protein option for your kids. There are even things like almond milk that you could use to flavor foods and for drinks.

Hope that helps. Happy eating.

By the way Meatless Monday might be a good resource for you. Also check out the Vegetarian Resource Group and Vegetarian Times. All are on the Web.

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Anonymous: Just a comment from an avid fisherman re: mercury. It is said that certain parts of the fish itself are more likely to contain mercury. Locally these would include striped bass, sea trout and bluefish. Generally, concentrations of mercury, if any, would most likely be found near the top and bottom of the fish (as it would swim) and also near the middle lateral line if these are darkly colored. Therefore, cleaned fillets with those portions cut out are likely to contain little or no mercury. Thanks for your column.

Sally Squires: Thank you for weighing in.

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salad dressing: Quick question before you wrap up. I want to start eating more salads, and would like to make my own dressings. How can I make a miso dressing or one made with tahini? Trying to try lots of good flavors.

Sally Squires: Hmm. You might mix rice vinegar and a little peanut oil with that miso for an Asian flavored salad dressing. Tahini might be good with some yogurt and perhaps a little cilantro and lemon or lime.

Also, check out the huge array of vinegars and oils. Walnut oil is delicious and goes quite well with Balsamic vinegar. Also I've got raspberry vinegar, orange muscat champagne vinegar, grapefruit vinegar and more on my shelves. And different oils--canola, olive, safflower, rapeseed oils--will give you plenty of flavor. You might also try some bean purees to add "creaminess." White beans are particularly good for this purpose.

Hope you'll share some of your new recipes with us! Thanks.

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St. Louis, Missouri: Getting active - For me, the key was finding a supportive community. In the past 18 months I've found two great ones that have helped me go from formerly fit, stressed out working mom to the best fitness level of my life at age 42. First, I got involved with a fantastic Boot Camp group at the YMCA. It's not a class, it's almost a club - a sorority that does squat thrusts. The women have become great friends and a great source of ongoing inspiration. Seven months after beginning running (after a many year hiatus)at YMCA I completed a half marathon in April. That led me to fantastic fitness community No. 2 -- Team in Training. Through 5 months of Team in Training prep for the Chicago Marathon (I finished, in 90 degree heat!) I've made friends of all ages and athletic abilities who continue to support each other and plan group runs. They say obesity is "contagious" if you are surrounded by others who are living unhealthy lifestyles. The converse is also true. Surround yourself with a supportive, health-conscious community and you find yourself adopting all sorts of new healthy habits. Good luck!

Sally Squires: What an inspiring example of how to slow, but surely get more active. And what a great note to end on! Thanks very much!

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San Diego: Hi...I'm writing what may just be the weirdest question you've been asked in quite some time. Are there any problems with eating uncooked couscous? I threw some into a salad on a whim and it tasted great! Is it a lot harder to digest this way or is this okay?

Sally Squires: If it didn't bother your digestion, I can't think of any reason not to cook couscous, San Diego. You might also try the whole grain variety for even more fiber. Thanks for chiming in.

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Vegetarian Omega-3's: The brand Spectrum (with whom I am not affiliated) makes a large line of Flaxseed Oil products. I take their Flax Oil capsules and use their cold-pressed Flax Oil in my own salad dressings, but they also make salad dressings and mayonnaise with flax oil as one of the main ingredients, providing a high amount of Omega-3 FAs. They also sell flaxseeds in whole or ground form (great for sprinkling into oatmeal or yogurt). And they are geared toward vegetarians and even vegans (some products). You can find some Spectrum products at My Organic Markets (I would start looking at the big one in Rockville).

Sally Squires: Thanks for that tip!

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Colorado: Hi Sally - I need some suggestions on how to eat more fruit during the local "off" season. I eat a lot during the summer when it is fresh and tasty. Our CSA just ended for the year, and I am dreading grocery store produce. We also want to try to keep eating quasi-local and organic. I think that means sticking to food grown in the US, so the imported off season fruit isn't really an option.

I want to get to the point where fruit is the first thing I reach for all year, but this time of year gets tough. We eat lots of vegetables with meals. I just can't convince myself to grab an apple instead of a cracker after work every day.

Sally Squires: As one who also loves fresh fruit--and enjoys crackers too--I can understand your dilemma. But apples are in high season now so you can find some pretty tasting varieties. One trick: add a tiny slice of cheese or peanut butter. Then slowly decrease that cheese or peanut butter and you may find, as I did, that you don't really need it.

Dried fruit would be another option for you. Same for frozen fruit. You could freeze your own local fruit or can it if you're willing to invest some time.

And while I understand your concern about eating raspberries flown from the Southern hemisphere--think of the jet fuel involved in that one--you can probably find a lot of fruit and vegetables from California that will not be as detrimental to the environment.

Canned fruit and vegetables are other options. Just choose produce that has very little added sugar or added sodium.

And you might consider a small hot house garden for lettuce during the winter. It can be surprisingly easy to grow in containers. Hope that helps.

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Berryville, Va.: What is the mercury level in canned jack mackerel?

I see recommendations to eat high omega fish at least twice a week for cardiovascular health.

Is there a upper limit to how much high omega/low mercury fish like sardines should be eaten?

Sally Squires: As I recall mackerel falls in the medium mercury range. But King Mackerel, which is high in methyl mercury, should be avoided by pregnant and lactating women as well as by women who want to become pregnant, according to the FDA/EPA.

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Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great chat. Winners today are omega-3s (for the silk with DHA suggestion); Anonymous (the fisherman or fisherwoman); Germantown and St. Louis. Please send your name and U.S. Postal address to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please put winner in the subject line for faster handling.

Until next week, eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club! And hope to see some of you on Thursday in Falls Church and on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Florida at 3:15 p.m. at the Festival of Reading!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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