How to Minimize the Damage on Thanksgiving

Lighten Up!

Traditionally, people have thought of Thanksgiving as a chance to overeat: to stuff ourselves as full as the turkey we just consumed.

How to lighten up Thanksgiving recipes

While Thanksgiving can still remain a time to share some favorite foods around the table with family, it doesn’t have to be a complete disaster to the diet. Some simple adaptations to common recipes can minimize the damage; maybe you can even stay awake long enough to watch the game!

Adaptation #1: Mashed Potatoes

For a lot of people, Thanksgiving starts and ends with mashed potatoes. Rich, creamy, and satisfying, they’re the perfect vehicle for gravy and the perfect food to set the foundation for our postprandial food coma. Traditional mashed potatoes can come in at 250 calories and nine grams of fat per serving, so it’s a good place to do a makeover. Make them healthier by substituting a higher fiber vegetable for some of the potatoes: cauliflower, parsnips, and turnips are good choices. Replace heavy cream and butter with low-fat milk and light sour cream or nonfat Greek yogurt. To replace the lost flavor, try add-ins like roasted garlic, caramelized onions, or a little grated cheese.

Adaptation #2: Sweet Potato Casserole

Your grandmother’s sweet potato casserole recipe probably calls for canned yams in syrup, pats of butter, and a topping of marshmallows. While this gooey treat may have the joy of nostalgia, it’s a truckload of sugar (almost 40 grams!) before you even get to dessert. Lighten it up by enjoying the natural sweetness of the yams by roasting them in the oven. Toss cubed sweet potatoes in coconut oil and sprinkle with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Spread them on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes, until the cubes are soft and form a crisp, caramelized crust.

Adaptation #3: Green Bean Casserole

Think: with all the rich food on Thanksgiving, do you really need your green vegetable to be doused with a can of creamy condensed soup? This yummy Thanksgiving staple, which as a green vegetable dish should be one of the healthier ones at the table, actually clocks in at over 275 calories, 21 grams of fat, and a whopping 10 grams of saturated fat. If tradition dictates that you must have a green bean casserole at the table, check out these five tips on making it healthier (hint: start by ditching the canned soup). Even better, keep your green beans healthy by simplifying this dish: sauté fresh or flash-frozen green beans with a little minced shallot and olive oil, or pan-roast them with garlic. The touch of bright freshness will serve as a great counterpoint to the rest of the rich, heavy dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at USConnect!

Myths and Facts Everyone Should Know About Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, so for today’s post, we want to dispel some myths—and share some facts—about this oft-misunderstood disease.

myths and facts about diabetes

Myth #1: Diabetes is a single disease

Fact: The term “diabetes” actually encompasses several different illnesses: type 1, type 2, gestational, and pre-diabetes. Type 1 and type 2 are the two main types of diabetes, and they both affect the way the body regulates its blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) with the hormone insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas. Gestational diabetes (a temporary disease that sometimes begins during a woman’s 24th week of pregnancy) and prediabetes (when the body’s blood sugar is higher than normal but not yet high enough for a type 2 diagnosis) are both types of type 2 diabetes in that they affect how the body uses insulin, not how the pancreas creates it.

Myth #2: Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have the same treatment.

Fact: With type 1 diabetes (T1D), the body doesn’t make enough insulin, while with type 2, the body doesn’t use insulin properly (also known as insulin resistance). Consequently, people with T1D need to inject insulin into their bodies, either with a pump that’s attached to their body or with shots throughout the day and night. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, can be managed with diet and exercise, or sometimes with medication.

Myth #3: People get diabetes from overeating or from eating too much sugar.

Fact: While poor diet and lack of exercise are indeed risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, several other factors, like genetics, come into play. Lots of people live very unhealthy lifestyles without ever developing diabetes, while others eat healthily and exercise regularly and still get it. There is no lifestyle component to developing T1D; it develops most often in childhood (it is often called “juvenile diabetes”) and seems to develop as a result of some combination of genetics and viral exposure.

Myth #4: People with diabetes can’t eat any sugars or starches.

Fact: People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can certainly eat some sugars and starches (carbohydrates, which are turned to sugar in the blood). However, they need to watch their sugar and starch consumption and potentially counteract it with insulin. USConnect’s The Right Choice for a Heathier You™ program helps people see detailed nutritional information so they can make informed choices about what they eat.

 

Got Milk… Or Non-Dairy Alternatives?

Milk! It’s seemingly the most basic of commodities: a straightforward product that has remained more or less unchanged for the past century.

Milk and non-dairy alternatives

However, milk is far from the simple drink you might remember from your childhood. For reasons ranging from dietary preference to medical necessity, many people choose non-dairy alternatives to milk. Let’s see how an eight-ounce glass of each stacks up:

Cow’s milk (1% fat). This is what most westerners think of when they think of milk. Cow’s milk is high in protein (8.2 grams) and calcium (31 percent of the recommended daily value) and relatively low in fat (2.4 grams), although it has a fairly high calorie count (102). It is an inexpensive commodity, but many people—approximately 65 percent worldwide—have trouble digesting the lactose that is an intrinsic part of milk’s make-up, making it inaccessible to them.

Unsweetened Almond Milk. A go-to for many vegans (people who eat no animal products at all), unsweetened almond milk is much lower in calories (30-50) than cow’s milk. However, it still has 2 to 2.5 grams of fat, and at only one gram of protein, it doesn’t come close to the muscle-building power of cow’s milk. Many almond milks are fortified with calcium and supply 30 to 45 percent of the recommended daily value (RDV) of this mineral. One other factor about almond milk: production is very hard on the environment, requiring over a gallon of water for each almond grown. That’s a lot of water to create a gallon of almond milk!

Unsweetened Coconut Milk. Many people prefer coconut milk for its higher fat content (4.5 to 5 grams), which gives it a creamier texture than many nut milks. It has 40 to 80 calories, but zero grams of protein, so you’ll have to look elsewhere to provide this crucial nutrient. Like almond milk, it’s usually fortified with calcium to supply 30 to 45 percent RDV. It’s a good option for people with nut allergies or those who don’t like the slightly nutty flavor of nut milks.

Low-Fat Plain Soy Milk. A good choice for vegans who want to improve their protein intake, soy milk contains 4 to 6 grams of protein (or even more) and 20 to 45 percent RDV of calcium. It has 1.5 to 2 grams of fat and in many ways has a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk. With soy milk, as with other non-dairy milks, it’s crucial to look at the ingredients and nutritional information; many or most varieties have added sugar to improve taste. Another concern is that 94 percent of soybeans are genetically modified in the United States and will likely have absorbed glyphosate from the pesticides sprayed during growth. For this product, it might make sense to look for organic or non-GMO options.

All nutrition information is from Consumer Reports’ “Choosing the Right Milk for You.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

How Should Food Service Providers Respond?

It’s finally fall, and as you watch the leaves turn yellow and orange, you may also notice the rest of the country turning pink. That’s because it’s October, when the country observes National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

breast cancer awareness month

The first National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was in 1985: the result of a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical company that is now AstraZeneca. The goal, as the name of the program states, was to raise awareness about breast cancer and to encourage women to get mammograms.

In the three-plus decades since its inception, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has grown into a mammoth industry, with many companies turning their products pink for the duration. The success of the awareness program has spawned a slew of critics—many asking if the goal is still to raise awareness or if it’s really to raise profits. This puts foodservice providers in a bit of a bind. Ignoring National Breast Cancer Awareness Month might come across as callous, but slapping a pink ribbon onto everything might seem like a cynical play for extra revenue. Luckily, a few guidelines can keep your company from making a costly misstep.

For starters, make sure to avoid pinkwashing. Pinkwashing (like greenwashing) is cloaking a product in feel-good cause marketing without doing anything meaningful for that cause: for instance, labeling food with pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, but not actually donating any money to organizations that do breast cancer research or support women with breast cancer.

Even worse than a meaningless pink ribbon, however, is putting a pink ribbon on something that actually has links to breast cancer. This was the case in 2014, when breast cancer nonprofit giant Susan G. Komen for the Cure partnered with drilling company Baker Hughes on pink “Drill Bits for the Cure.” Baker Hughes drill bits are used for fracking, which has been linked to cancer-causing chemicals. The partnership was a public relations nightmare for all parties involved and for the breast cancer awareness movement. More germane to foodservices companies is the similar PR brouhaha when Susan G. Komen partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on “Buckets for the Cure,” promising a massive donation to Komen. However, a high-fat diet has also been linked to a higher risk of breast and other cancers, so KFC came under a lot of heat for cynical pandering.

If you’re looking to support breast cancer organizations through foodservice products, start by deciding where you want to donate money. Charity Navigator is a good resource for figuring out how much of your donation will actually go to funding breast cancer research and treatment. Then, choose products to connect to your donation. Because of cancer’s link to unhealthy lifestyles, choose products that are low in fat, salt, and sugar. Finally, market your partnership, and make sure to be transparent about how and where you are donating.

 

 

It’s Fall, so Pumpkin Spice Everything!

Fall’s favorite flavor is back!

Pumpkin Spice

The first day of fall was last week; have you had your pumpkin spice today? Ever since Starbucks debuted its now-iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte drink in 2003, #pumpkinspice has started to trend on social media in August and continued to rise throughout the fall. Starbucks’ drink even has its own Twitter handle—@TheRealPSL—and a whopping 115 thousand followers.

Starbucks has done well with its Pumpkin Spice Latte; the store has sold over 200 million of the drinks in the past decade, with approximately $100 million in revenue just from Pumpkin Spice Lattes in 2015. Starbucks’ success has spurred countless copycats; it’s a rare coffee shop that doesn’t offer a pumpkin spice drink in the fall, and pumpkin spice-flavored coffee drinks and accoutrements are widely available at grocery stores in the fall.

Of course, the pumpkin spice trend has now spread far beyond coffee. Some pumpkin spice flavors seem like an obvious fit: baked goods, breakfast cereal, and even tea are popular pumpkin-spiced items. Other items like pretzels, wine, and kale chips don’t obviously lend themselves to pumpkin spice flavor. According to ratings service Nielsen, pumpkin-flavored items have brought in $414 million in the US between July 2016 and July 2017.

Why does pumpkin spice have such a strong hold on American culture? The answer may lie in the past. Pumpkins are native to North America and were a staple of colonial life. Some historians suggest that the current pumpkin spice craze represents a nostalgic yearning for an earlier, simpler agrarian life. The spices in pumpkin spice—nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves—are the spices of pumpkin pie, the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert.

Like many coffee drinks, Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes come with a hefty dose of sugar and fat: 12 grams and 14 grams respectively in a Grande with 2 percent milk and whipped cream. That’s more sugar that you’d find in a 12-ounce can of Coke, and about one-third  of your healthy fat intake for the day. Luckily, you can tone those numbers down by requesting skim milk and skipping the whipped cream. Or make your own with simple ingredients like pureed pumpkin, vanilla, and a jar of pumpkin pie spice. No matter what, you have plenty of pumpkin spice options to get you through the season.

Is Infused Water a Healthier Way to Sip?

For decades, it has been common practice for fancy restaurants to serve water with an elegant slice of lemon. Club soda and seltzer water are both usually served with a slice of lemon or lime. But these practices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting produce in water. Read on to learn about the infused water trend: the pros and cons, the myths and truths, and even a few recipes for those who want to try it at home.

Is Infused Water  a Healthier Way to Sip?

Infused water is simply water (tap, filtered, or bottled) in which someone has soaked fruit, vegetables, or herbs. As with many fads, enthusiasts of infused water claim that it can do everything but bake bread. Some proponents claim that infused water can do these things:

  • Prevent disease
  • Aid weight loss
  • Boost metabolism
  • Improve digestion
  • Increase nutrient intake
  • Detoxify the body
  • Improve mood
  • Clear up complexion

While there may be some truth to these claims, the fact is that most of these benefits actually just come from drinking water! With the exception of increasing nutrient intake (which is unlikely, due to the small actual amount of nutrients that are in infused water), all of the claims in favor of infused water are just basic benefits of staying hydrated.

That being said, for people who don’t like the taste of plain water, or who have trouble remembering to drink their daily eight glasses of water, there’s nothing wrong with drinking infused water. And if it replaces sweet fruit juices or sodas, so much the better! Some infused waters are available in bottles, but it’s also easy to make your own. Simply place your chosen fruit, vegetables, or herbs in a glass or pitcher of water and put in the fridge. You can use a cheesecloth bag to easily remove the infusers after a few hours, or simply strain the water over a fine mesh colander. Here are some popular combinations:

  • Lemon and lavender
  • Berry blend
  • Blackberry and mint
  • Cucumber and cilantro
  • Apple and cinnamon
  • Pear and nutmeg
  • Orange and rosemary
  • Sweet peppers
  • Basil and ginger

Two words of caution: teeth and bacteria. In terms of dental care, the acids from citrus fruits can erode the enamel on your teeth, so be careful to swap citrus water for other flavors periodically. And as for bacteria, common sense dictates that leaving fruit water out for several days will lead to the growth of bacteria. Make sure to keep infused water in the refrigerator until you need it, and discard after a few days.

How Well Do You Know Your Coffee?

Coffee 101

How Well Do You Know Your Coffee?

Columbian Arabica. Sumatra Dark Roast. Blond French Vanilla. The names of coffees can be mighty confusing, and that’s before you even get to the brewing! If you’ve ever wondered what all those coffee terms mean, here’s your coffee primer.

What is Coffee? The coffee we drink comes from the beans—or seeds—of the coffee cherry. Since coffee trees grow best in cool temperatures but rich, tropical soil, most coffee comes from the mountains of regions in the “bean belt,” which stretches roughly from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. Coffee farmers and producers harvest the coffee cherries, strip the fruit, and dry the seeds. The product is now “green coffee,” which coffee roasters buy as a commodity.

Species of Beans: There are actually only two varieties of coffee bean: arabica and robusta. Arabica beans, which have lower acidity and a more delicate flavor, are far more common: If you’re brewing coffee at home or ordering it at a high-end café, it almost certainly came from arabica beans.

Arabica beans must be grown at higher elevations and lower temperatures, and are also more labor-intensive to grow. Robusta, on the other hand, has a stronger, more acidic flavor and also has more caffeine. It can be grown at lower elevations and is sold at a lower price. You are more likely to find robusta beans in instant coffee or other lower-cost products.

Geographical Origin:  Among arabica beans, there are hundreds of unique origins relating both to geographic region and bean processing. Broadly, the main coffee-producing regions are South and Central America, Southeast Asia, and Africa and the Middle East. South and Central America’s coffees tend to be mild and medium-bodied, making them popular in the United States. Colombia’s mountainous terrain, in particular, makes it one of the world’s foremost coffee producers.  African and Indonesian coffees, on the other hand, tend to be fuller-bodied, with earthier flavors.

Roasting: Green coffee beans need to go through one more important step before they can be brewed and consumed: roasting. Roasting involves cooking the beans at a low temperature to reduce acidity and release sugars. Roasted beans can range from light brown to almost black in color, depending on the length and temperature of roasting.

Light roast coffees are known by names like Blond Roast or New England Style. Contrary to popular belief, lighter roasts actually have higher acidity than darker roasts, since roasting removes acids from the beans. Lighter roasts also have more caffeine, and because there’s less roasting flavor, they give a clearer taste of the green bean profile.

Medium roasts, which are most common in the United States, have names like Breakfast Blend, Full City, or Regular Roast. If you order a coffee in a restaurant, you will probably get a medium roast. Dark roast beans appear very dark brown and shiny, as the roasting process has released more of the oils from the seed. These coffees, with names like French Roast, Viennese Coffee, and Espresso have a sweet, caramelized flavor—sometimes with a burnt taste as well.

Stay tuned for Coffee 102, where we’ll discuss flavor additives, brewing styles, and more.

Is BPA-Free the Way to Be?

Look at any food packaging, especially in the foodservice industry, and you’re likely to see a lot of plastic. There are many good reasons for the prevalence of plastics; plastics carry bpa-freemuch less weight than aluminum or glass, and plastic packaging can prevent up to 1.7 pounds of food waste for each pound of plastics.

However, plastic packaging brings some significant chemical impacts.  Among these, some of the most troubling come from a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which influence the endocrine system and alter hormonal functions. Cheap, lightweight, and shatterproof, Bisphenol A (BPA) used to be one of the most commonly used plastics for food packaging, appearing in everything from plastic pouches to water bottles to the linings of some canned food. Unfortunately, BPA is one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals; in 2008, the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction found that there is “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”

The US Food and Drug Administration still classifies BPA as safe at its current human exposure level. Nonetheless, pressure from consumers and consumer protection groups has spurred food storage companies to drastically reduce their use of the chemical. This is particularly true for products aimed at infants and young children, like infant formula packaging, baby bottles, and toddler sippy cups, but even many general use products now carry the label “BPA-Free.” In the foodservice industry, both Rubbermaid and Cambro offer BPA-free options.

Unfortunately, just replacing BPA does not appear to have solved the problem of endocrine-disrupting chemicals leaching into food. Scientists currently focus on chemicals having estrogenic activity—activity that mimics, increases, or decreases the body’s naturally-occurring estrogen with synthetic hormones. So while eliminating BPA is a good start and can help raise employee awareness of the dangers of chemical contamination, it is not a panacea. Study after study shows that most plastic products leach estrogenic chemicals into the food and drinks we consume.

Some simple steps can further reduce risks, both for foodservice companies and the customers they serve. Keeping plastics away from heat—boiling water, microwaves, and sunlight—is crucial, as heat accelerates the leaching process. In foodservice kitchens, make sure to heat food only in glass or metal containers, and in office kitchens, offer alternatives for employees to heat their own food. Keep bottled water out of hot cars and sunlight, and educate employees about the potential dangers of keeping food or liquid in plastic for too long.  As always, knowledge is power!

 

 

HR Focus: Virtual Fitness

What is the participation rate for your wellness program? Unless your company is one of the rare ones with over 65 percent involvement, technology may help to engage more employees. Specifically, virtual fitness training may provide the convenience and cost-effectiveness that has been missing until now.

The Convenience of Virtual Fitness

Fitness training is one of the many activities that has changed with the advent of the internet. Whereas meeting with a trainer once necessitated physically going to a gym or fitness studio, the internet has enabled real-time audio and video communication between trainers and clients. Virtual trainers work remotely with their clients, creating customized workouts and providing encouragement and guidance.

The benefits of virtual training are significant:

  • Customized workouts to meet clients’ fitness goals
  • Costs that are drastically reduced from those of in-person fitness training
  • Increased flexibility for clients who can work out at their own pace and in the time and place of their choosing

These benefits are especially important in the realm of wellness programs, where they can increase participation and decrease costs to the company. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that lack of awareness and inconvenience were the two most commonly stated reasons why employees do not participate in available wellness programs, with lack of employer support also playing a strong role. Survey respondents also cited a desire for programs to be personalized to them, not one-size-fits-all.

In many ways, virtual training seems like a panacea for many problems of wellness program participation. However, more HR professionals know that there’s no such thing as a magic bullet. Virtual training programs are only as good as their trainers, and like in the real world, not all trainers are equally qualified. This makes online training especially risky, since meeting virtually could make it easier for trainers to fake their credentials. Also, fitness training might sometimes require in-person communication for trainers to help clients improve their form on certain exercises where poor form might cause injuries. This is especially true for beginners, who are likely to need more in-person support.

If your wellness program numbers need a boost, investigate whether virtual trainers may help your employees take control and improve their health.

 

 

 

Foods That Appear Good for You… But Aren’t: Part Two

At USConnect®, we want to help people reach their health goals. That’s why we offer so many fresh food options and our dietician-managed The Right Choice … for a Healthier You™ program. That’s also why we use this blog to dispel some health myths, like the idea that diet soda is healthy, or that anything with vegetables is good for you. This post is a follow-up to our last Foods that Appear Good for You… But Aren’t article, where we help you avoid some common “health food” traps.

Foods that appear to be healthy but aren't

Trick Food #1: Bottled Salad Dressing

Raw vegetables: healthy. Most bottled salad dressings: not so much. To make lettuce and other vegetables more palatable, most salad dressings rely on trans-fats, sugar, and artificial flavors. Further, prepared or restaurant salads are often drenched in the stuff, turning a potentially healthy meal into a nutritional disaster. One popular restaurant’s kale salad has 600 calories and a whopping 40 grams of sugar!

Trick Food #2: Margarine

For decades, marketers promoted margarine as a healthier option than butter because it contains less saturated fat, which some studies associated with higher risk of heart disease. More recent studies, however, suggest that trans fats, not saturated fats, are the culprit. Margarine is often laden with refined oils and trans fats, making it a less healthy option. Your best bet? Use butter sparingly, and don’t assume that margarine is a healthier option.

Trick Food #3: Instant Oatmeal

Oatmeal may seem like a hearty, healthy breakfast, and it certainly can be. The rule, as with most packaged foods, is to read the nutritional information carefully. A popular instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal package, for instance, contains 12 grams of sugars, but only three grams of fiber and four grams of protein. To really keep you going until lunch, a bowl of oatmeal should have at least four grams of fiber and five grams of protein. And since the American Heart Association recommends that men eat no more than 36 grams and women eat no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, try to cut your breakfast sugar intake to below six grams.