Nutrition Expert and Registered and Licensed Dietitian

Becky Hand earned a bachelor's degree in food, nutrition and dietetics from Marian College and a master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. Becky has more than 25 years of nutrition experience in hospital and community settings. She is passionate about improving the health and wellness of people in her rural community as well as the lives of people throughout the world. Becky is involved in numerous food, nutrition and health education activities. A licensed and registered dietitian with a certificate in weight management from the American Dietetic Association, she also teaches weight-management classes for children and adults, conducts cooking classes and food demonstrations, and assists school districts in implementing wellness policies.

Whether Becky is talking to schoolchildren, a scout troop, college students, high school athletes, a women's club, church group, or corporate America, she wants her nutrition messages to be practical, easy to apply and fun! She utilizes humor and hands-on activities to involve the audience in her presentations and assists them in setting realistic goals and action plans.

More from Becky:

The Spark Solution: A Complete Two-Week Diet Program to Fast-Track Weight Loss and Total Body HealthSparkPeople's Ultimate Grilling Guide: 75 Hearty, Healthy Recipes You Can Really Sink Your Teeth IntoThe 8-Week Diabetes Weight Loss Challenge from SparkPeople

Read More of Becky's Blogs:

You Asked: Do Drinks Like Coffee, Tea or Diet Soda Count toward My Daily Water Quota?

A few decades ago, Americans consumed less than 10% of their daily calories in the form of drinks, but today we get 21% of our calories from beverages. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that's 420 calories a day in the form of drinks!
When you're trying to lose weight, you have fewer calories in your "budget" each day, which means you need to make all of them count. Those "empty" calories from sugary beverages are an easy place to cut back.
That said, one of the most common questions new SparkPeople members have is "Do drinks like coffee, tea or diet soda count toward my daily water quota?"
SparkPeople recommends eight to twelve cups of water daily, but for some people, drinking that much water can be difficult. Fruit juices, milk, teas and decaf coffee also count, as do flavored (unsweetened) waters, carbonated water, and water with fruit or herbs. So, yes, you can drink beverages other than water to meet your hydration needs, but there are a few things to consider before you start sipping.
Caffeinated beverages can actually increase your need for more water and dehydrate the body (caffeine is a diuretic) so a lot of caffeinated coffee or soda will not quench your thirst.
Artificially sweetened drinks, including diet sodas, can also count toward your quota. However, we recommend no more than four servings (32 ounces) of artificially sweetened beverages daily.
If you struggle to control your sweet tooth, you might want to avoid diet drinks. Preliminary studies suggest that high intakes of artificial sweeteners might affect appetite control (i.e. by eating more sweet foods—artificially sweetened or not—you crave more of them). Individuals who want to use artificial sweeteners should do so within the context of a sensible weight-management program that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise.
My personal opinion, particularly for people trying to lose weight, is to drink plain water whenever possible. I feel it helps to cleanse the body when weight loss and fat breakdown is occurring. I also know that it helps to keep the hands and mouth busy, to reduce the urge to snack. This is a form of behavior modification that can help break old habits (such as mindless eating) and replace them with ones (drinking water when boredom hits). Most people report feeling better when they consume at least a few glasses of plain old H2O each day. If you're going to consume caffeinated beverages or diet drinks, consume as much or more water to balance them out.
Other caloric beverages, such as juice, sports drinks, and milk, can be part of a healthy diet. SparkPeople uses the guidelines set by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which were developed by the Beverage Guidance Panel in 2006. The experts on that panel stressed that a healthy diet should NOT rely on fluids to provide calorie or nutrient needs, and that water is necessary for metabolism and normal physiological function. In fact, water is the only fluid that the body truly needs.

Posted 8/7/2012  12:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 75 comments   135,357 views

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You Asked: Do I Really Need to Drink 8 Cups of Water Each Day for Health and Weight Loss?

You've probably heard from lots of sources (including SparkPeople) that adults should drink eight (8-ounce) cups of water each day. But you might be surprised to know that there is no scientific evidence that supports this general advice. In fact, most experts aren't even sure exactly where that recommendation came from. One source of this myth might be a 1945 article from the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences, which noted that a "suitable allowance" of water for adults is 2.5 liters a day, although much of that already comes from water in the foods that you eat.
So why does SparkPeople emphasize water drinking? Here are a few reasons:

Posted 6/12/2012  12:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 43 comments   66,705 views

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What Is the Difference Between Simple and Complex Carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates are composed of one or two sugar units that are broken down and digested quickly, which can leave you feeling tired, hungry, and craving more sugar shortly after you’ve eaten. Recent research has shown that certain simple carbohydrate foods can cause extreme surges in blood sugar levels, which also increases insulin release. This can elevate appetite and the risk of excess fat storage.
Simple carbs are mainly added sugars, which have very little nutritional value. They are considered "empty" calories. Types of simple carbs are soda, sweet breakfast cereals, candies, high fructose corn syrup, and more. Fruit is also considered a simple carb, but it is a naturally occurring sugar that is packed with many nutrients.
Complex carbohydrates (also referred to as starch) are made up of multiple sugar units and are found in both natural (brown rice) and refined (white rice) forms. They are structurally more complex and take longer to be broken down and digested, which allows you to feel full longer and gives you lasting energy. Complex carbohydrate foods have been shown to enter the blood stream gradually and trigger only a moderate rise in insulin levels, which stabilizes appetite and results in fewer carbohydrates that are stored as fat.
Choosing the right foods isn't always as simple as choosing complex carbohydrates over simple ones. Case in point: White bread is highly processed but is a complex carbohydrate, and many fruits, which are wholesome and natural, are simple carbohydrates. Certain foods that contain complex carbohydrates, such as white potatoes, quickly raise blood sugar levels, while some foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as whole fruit, raise blood sugar levels more slowly.
So which should you choose?

Posted 6/6/2012  12:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 36 comments   110,145 views

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'Of Course It's True--I Read It on the Internet!'

A few weeks ago, I was asked to talk to an eighth-grade health class about food and nutrition.  During the school day, there were five periods of eighth grade health; each class contained about 25 students.  I have worked with this age group before and was well aware of the diverse reactions I would encounter among typical 13 and 14 year olds.  I knew that some would be very much interested in the topic, some would be defensive and defiant, others rude, and some just ''too cool'' to comment.  But off I went, with my plastic food models, portion plates and sugar test tubes.
However, the reactions I experienced throughout the day were not what I expected. To make my point, here are just a few examples. (Trust me; the full list is much longer.)

Posted 5/24/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 31 comments   19,053 views

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A Dietitian's Take on 5-Hour Energy Drinks

(Photo credit: Flickr)

The break room was set up with my presentation displayed on the large white wall, handouts neatly stacked on a corner table.  The alarm sounded and 100 assembly line workers hustled into the room.  They each grabbed a packed lunch, found a seat, and prepared to devour their meal along with the ''lunch and learn'' topic of the day.  Exactly 22 minutes later, they were all out the door and back to work.  This scenario took place five times throughout the day to assure that all shifts received the same information. 

These are not the folks who live a sedentary nine to five lifestyle, pushing pencils and attached to a computer screen.  Rather, these folks are working very early mornings and graveyard shifts…lifting, toting, screwing, wiring, welding, and painting.  This work forces the body to develop an unnatural alarm clock, accompanied by many missed family functions and numerous stress-related health complications.  These folks are trying to make ends meet, feed the family, and pray daily that their line doesn’t get moved out of the country. 

As I talked with these men and women about feeding their families healthy foods, the question that surfaced again and again each and every shift was: ''Hey Becky, What do you think about the 5-Hour Energy Drink?''

Posted 5/10/2012  2:00:00 PM By: Becky Hand : 95 comments   150,565 views

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Does Red Meat Really Cause Cancer?

For the record, let me just state that I am currently sitting in my kitchen, writing this blog, and watching the Simmental cows and calves graze on lush, green pasture land outside my deck window.  Yes, many of those calves will end up as retail cuts of beef.  Yes, I eat beef.  Yes, I am a farm girl, and have been since my birth over 50 years ago. So I was somewhat concerned that red meat (beef, pork and lamb) has been recently cited as a major risk factor in increased death due to diseases such as heart disease and cancer.  But before you throw up your hands in frustration and start shaking your finger at the food police, read on.

Posted 4/26/2012  2:00:00 PM By: Becky Hand : 51 comments   34,649 views

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Georgia on My Mind: How a Dietitian Stays Healthy on the Go

Georgia was on my mind recently when I attended a nutrition convention with about 250 other Registered Dietitians in lovely Savannah, Georgia.  While I was surrounded by southern comfort foods, hospitality and charm, thank heavens SparkPeople was also on my mind to keep me on target.

Posted 4/12/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 31 comments   20,065 views

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Why You Should Drag Your Reluctant Teen to the Dinner Table

I have a teenage son.  He is your typical high-schooler; he has his driving permit, participates in some school sports, and plays in the high school band.  He is striving for complete independence from his parents, yet is secretly still glad to have mom and dad around most of the time.  He often hangs out with his friends in my basement, playing pool, air-hockey, and euchre.  My husband and I have nick-named them the ''basement boys.''
So a few weeks ago, three of the ''basement boys'' decided to arrive on my front doorstep at 4:30 pm.  Their plan was to capture my son, eat at the local pizza place and then head to the basketball game.  I, on the other hand, had a better idea and invited them to stay for dinner and then go to the game.  Luckily, I had prepared a large pot of soup and had enough to feed the crew.  They agreed to stay for our evening meal. 

Posted 3/22/2012  2:00:00 PM By: Becky Hand : 23 comments   17,732 views

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Mess with My Clock, Mess with My Mood

Wrist watch…reset.  Alarm clock…check.  Oven and microwave…done and done.  This Saturday, just prior to going to bed, you will find me buzzing around my home and bumping up each clock by one hour to spring forward into Daylight Saving Time.
YUCK!  I really hate this time of year when I lose one hour of sleep.  It seems so harmless--one little hour, just 60 minutes.  Then why the heck does it take about 2 weeks for my body to eventually adjust?  I am one of those people with a very strong, internal alarm clock.  Messing with the timing of my machine really hampers my performance for days.  I find myself to be more irritable and cranky, drowsy, moody, unproductive and my creativity comes to a screeching halt.  Call me crazy…but I also find that I am hungrier for days following this sudden switch in time. 

Posted 3/8/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 53 comments   22,985 views

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Don't Tax My Sugar

I’ve had sugar on the brain for the past few weeks.  For one, I have been testing some lower-sugar dessert recipes for my hospital’s patient menu. Then, my husband came home from work and said that one of his employees said he heard that sugar is just as addictive as heroin and cocaine. “What’s up with that?” he asked. 
Well, what’s up with that, for those of you who don’t know, is that recent studies have shown that sugar poses dangers to health (such as chronic disease and premature death) that justifies controlling them like alcohol and tobacco products.
I don’t think anyone would argue with the authors that many people consume an excessive amount of sugar every day—up to 500 calories or 30 teaspoons of the sweet stuff.  In fact, sugar consumption has tripled over the last 50 years.  Foods with added sugars can be abused and are connected to high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and liver damage. 

However, is it the government's place to step in?

Posted 2/23/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 113 comments   20,288 views

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Do You Like Me? Circle: Yes or No

Some time ago, I received a phone call from a frantic mother asking for fun and healthy treats to bring to her child’s Valentine’s celebration at school. She needed these snacks to taste great while also obeying the school district’s wellness policy. What healthy substitute could she serve to convey the spirit of Valentine’s Day while pleasing all those sugar-loving taste buds?

I let out a sigh as I experienced a quick flash-back to 1970 and thoughts of Terry, my fourth-grade crush. Anyone in my age bracket will remember the days when each child had to bring a shoebox to school to decorate with red construction paper hearts, paper doilies, and lots of glitter. This decorated box became your mailbox for all the valentines you would receive from your classmates. About two weeks before the big event, a letter was sent home from the teacher containing the name of every child in the classroom and parents were instructed to make sure that a valentine was provided for each child on the list so that no feelings would be hurt. Of course, these were also the days of "hand-made" valentines; no mass-produced, store-purchased valentines allowed. This project took days to complete as creativity and perfect penmanship were at an all-time high. A perfect valentine had to be created for each classmate to convey your true intent. Mixed messages could turn into mayhem in a classroom already charged with excessive energy and excitement.

These days, some schools do not even allow Valentine's celebrations since they cut into valuable classroom time. Other districts allow an hour of fun, but the foods distributed during party time must comply with wellness policy guidelines. I have assisted several school districts with wellness plan development, so I know a thing or two about making smart substitutions for sugary Valentine’s treats.

I have put together a list of three easy-to-make, healthy treats for your child’s Valentine’s party-- the same three treats that I suggested to the mother on the phone years ago. They were a hit with her child’s class, and hopefully you will find one to brighten up your child’s Valentine’s Day celebration as well. Remember, check with your child’s teacher about what food allergies are present in the classroom before bringing in anything edible.

Posted 2/9/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Becky Hand : 27 comments   17,554 views

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