Breakfast Is for Champions

Which is better for losing weight: eating breakfast or skipping it? There is no definitive answer, but many nutritionists and weight loss experts agree that eating a nutritious breakfast is a crucial part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit medical organization whose weight-loss program is based on solid research and clinical studies. Part of the Mayo Clinic Diet is making it a habit to eat a healthy breakfast as often as possible, which helps people lose weight and keep it off by

  • Reducing hunger later in the day.
  • Helping to promote healthy choices throughout the day.
  • Providing more energy for physical activity.

According to Mayo Clinic staff, the building blocks to a healthy breakfast include these foods:

  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Fruits and vegetables

With USConnect’s The Right Choice… for a Healthier You™ program, you can find nutritious breakfast choices like whole-grain oatmeal, nonfat yogurt, fresh produce, and even hard-boiled eggs. The Mayo Clinic’s research shows that people who regularly eat these types of breakfasts not only lose weight, but they also control their cholesterol and blood sugar, get more vitamins and minerals, and perform better at work.

If breakfast isn’t part of your usual morning routine, the Mayo Clinic has some recommendations to help you get into the healthy habit:

  1. Get into the habit by starting with something small and portable, then work your way up.
  2. Replace added sugar with the natural sweetness of fruit and spices like cinnamon.
  3. Prepare in advance and have healthy foods at-the-ready so you’re not adding to the morning rush.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to breakfast food; there’s no reason not to eat a turkey sandwich on whole wheat for breakfast.
  5. Make it portable so you can eat as you commute.
  6. Split your breakfast up into micro-meals if you don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning.
  7. Change slowly. As we discussed with setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, it’s easy to give up on a goal when you try to do too much at once. Start with a healthy breakfast once a week, and then move up from there.

This February, Love Your Heart!

A Heart-Healthy Roundup

This February, Love Your Heart!

February is the month when whole sections of stores turn red and fill up with heart-shaped treats: most of them edible, and most of them very unhealthy. This February, in addition to celebrating the people you love, why not also celebrate one of your most important organs: your heart! We’ve checked with the experts and gathered the best heart-healthy advice from two well-respected organizations when it comes to heart health: the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Clinic.

Let’s start with the American Heart Association, which has some basic guidelines to follow:

  • Use up at least as many calories as you take in.
  • Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
  • Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods.
  • As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations:
    • Eat a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars.
    • Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
    • Choose poultry and fish without skin.
    • Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
    • Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat in your diet.
    • Limit saturated fat and trans-fat, and replace them with the better fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
    • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
    • Choose foods with less sodium, and prepare foods with little or no salt.
    • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
    • Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.

The Cleveland Clinic has some specific recommendations for heart-healthy meals and snacks, including what nutrients they provide:

  • Eat fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and trout.
  • A handful of healthy nuts, such as almonds or walnuts will satisfy your hunger and help your heart.
  • Berries are chock full of heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber. Try blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, or raspberries in cereal or yogurt.
  • Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytoestrogens to boost heart health. Take them in ground or milled form to reap the greatest benefit.
  • Eat oatmeal: the comfort-food nutrient powerhouse.
  • Dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, are high in fiber, B-vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff. Veggie chili, anyone?
  • A 4-ounce glass of red wine (up to two for men and one for women per day) can help improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
  • Try marinated tofu in a stir-fry with fresh veggies for a heart-healthy lunch or dinner.
  • Red, yellow, and orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and acorn squash are packed with carotenoids, fiber, and vitamins to help your heart.
  • Popeye was right—spinach packs a punch! Use it in sandwiches and salads instead of lettuce.
  • Fruits such as oranges, cantaloupes, and papaya are rich in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
  • Tender, sweet asparagus is filled with mighty nutrients such as beta-carotene, folate, and fiber, and only provides 25 calories per cup, or 5 calories per large spear.
  • Tomatoes—even sun-dried varieties in winter months—provide lycopene, vitamin C, and alpha- and beta-carotene.
  • Dark chocolate is good for your heart health, but just be sure that it’s at least 70 percent cocoa.
  • Crisp, fresh broccoli florets dipped in hummus are a terrific heart-healthy snack with a whopping list of nutrients, including vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fiber.


How to Protect Yourself From the Flu

Flu 2018: How to Protect Yourself

Buckle up: this year’s influenza virus (flu) is a doozy. Every year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks how widespread the flu is in each state. And this year, for the first time in 13 years, flu activity is “widespread” across the entire continental United States; only Hawaii has escaped the 2017-2018 flu season.

This year’s flu features the H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus, which is more difficult to treat and deadlier to vulnerable populations, like infants and people over 65 years old. H3N2 is also much more difficult to prevent with the flu vaccine. The CDC reports that “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses,” with average vaccine efficiency of only 33 percent against H3N2 viruses, compared with 61 percent efficiency against H1N1, and 54 percent against Influenza B.

So does that mean you should just skip the flu vaccine? Absolutely not! Even if it’s only 33 percent effective, it will help you to reduce your chance of getting the flu by one third? If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, it’s not too late; flu seasons can often stretch into May, and the CDC is starting to see more strains of influenza B and H1N1 show up as well. So run, don’t walk, to your nearest pharmacy to get this vaccine.

Apart from getting the vaccine, the CDC also recommends these precautions to keep the germs at bay:

  • Avoid close contact.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Clean your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits.

You can also boost your immune systems with heathy choices from USConnect’s fresh meals, snacks, and beverages. Look for antioxidant-rich foods like spinach and blueberries, or vitamin C-rich citrus. Drink plenty of fluids; get plenty of rest, and hopefully you can avoid the flu when it comes knocking.

How S.M.A.R.T. Are Your Goals?

If you’re like 41 percent of Americans, you made a New Year’s resolution this year. And if you’re like 21 percent of Americans, your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight or eating healthier. Unfortunately, if you’re like 91 percent of Americans, you will not be successful in fulfilling your resolution.

What are SMART goals?

While there are many factors that contribute to a person’s success or failure in achieving his or her goals, one way to improve the chances of success is to change the goals themselves. Someone whose goal is to lose 50 pounds or to only eat salads for every meal is likely to be disappointed by his/her results. If your goals are unrealistic, you’re unlikely to be able to achieve them.

How are your goals? Are they SMART? Use this acronym to do a reality-check on your resolutions:


Although the idea of the SMART goal originated in business management in the early 1980s, it provides an excellent guide for nutrition and fitness resolutions. When you set your goals, ask yourself this question: are they SMART?

Specific: Instead of setting a general goal, such as, “I will eat more vegetables” or “I will eat more fiber,” be specific in what actions you will take: “I will eat five servings of vegetables a day” or “I will eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day.”

Measurable: Vague goals are easier to ignore. Make sure your goal is something you can measure and record your progress in accomplishing. If you want to get at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day, you can keep track of it, especially with fitness trackers.

Achievable: This is a big one for nutrition and fitness goals. If fresh food is not easily available at work, then it may be hard for you to eat vegetables three times a day. If you live in a very cold climate, it may not be feasible to walk outside every day, so you should find a way to exercise indoors.

Realistic: You need to know your own personality and how you react to challenges. Is it realistic for you to cut out sugar for 30 days, or is that something that will be too difficult? Would it be more realistic to cut down on sugar, like to 10 grams a day? Realistic goals are much easier to keep.

Time-bound: Set a time frame for your goal, like for the month of February or the first quarter of the year. Knowing that you have a start and end date will help you do what you need to do to meet your goal.


Soup’s On! Welcome to Winter!

The 21st of December was the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year. In some parts of the country, darkness falls before 4:00 p.m., and the thermometer rarely reaches above freezing.

As we covered in Darker Days, it’s much harder to eat healthily and stay fit during the shortest days of the season. Our bodies respond to the colder temperatures and lack of sunlight by trying to hibernate, driving us to eat more “comfort food” and sleep away the winter.

The cold weather and need for comfort during the winter often make us reach for soup. It’s warm and comforting, and it can be a filling meal. However, many soups are loaded with the very unhealthy ingredients we manage to avoid during the rest of the year. Our soup roundup can help you make the best choices while still feeling warm, full, and comforted.

Soup Guidelines

  1. Beware of sodium and monosodium glutamate (MSG). In an attempt to reduce fat and calories, many canned and boxed soups load up on salt and MSG. As part of our The Right Choice…for a Healthier You™ program, USConnect’s registered dietician recommends that an entire meal should contain no more than 575 milligrams of sodium: less if you have high blood pressure. Too much salt can leave you feeling bloated and even affect your kidneys. MSG can trigger migraines, especially in people who are not used to it.
  2. Be sensible about fat and calories. Read the label of your soup (or pay attention to the ingredients). If a soup has 280 calories and 12 grams of fat, it’s not a healthy meal. Soups that aim to reduce sodium often do so by adding extra fat and calories. Look for options with no saturated or trans fats and a total fat count of two grams.
  3. Protein lasts longer; to keep you going throughout the day, your soup should have at least five grams of protein. If it doesn’t, try adding a half-sandwich, a piece of chicken, or hard-boiled egg.
  4. Fiber fills you up. Look for soups with lots of legumes, like beans and peas, to help you feel full and satisfied. Split pea soup, chili, and black bean soup are all good, stick-to-your-ribs choices for cold days.

Want to try to make your own? Start with our Bone Broth tips!

When Life Gives You Lemons… or Oranges, or Grapefruit… or Clementines

Your definitive guide to citrus

By December, summer fruits are a distant memory: except for those shipped from South America. For closer-to-home fruit, ‘tis the season for citrus. During the winter, citrus fruit is grown extensively in Florida and California, so it’s widely available across the United States for several months.

When Life Gives You Lemons

We recognize citrus for its tough, bitter outer rind, its soft white inner layer, and its delicious, juicy, sweet/sour inside. Most citrus is very high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants called flavonoids, so it’s an excellent, healthy snack. Here’s the inside scoop on our favorite winter fruit.

Pomelo (citrus maxima) is the largest commonly available citrus fruit. One of the four original (non-hybridized) citrus fruits, the pomelo looks like—and tastes like—a large, sweet grapefruit, but it’s a little less bitter.

Grapefruit (citrus paradisi) is an accidental hybrid of the pomelo and the orange. It is actually higher in sugar than many other citrus fruits, but its high citric acid and ascorbic acid content can make it taste sour. Because of its high acid content, grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interfere with many medications, so check your medicine bottles before enjoying.

Orange (citrus × sinensis) is one of the easiest-to-find fruits, not only in the winter, but all year long. Naval oranges, with their thick skins and sweet taste, are most common, but look further to find blood oranges, Valencia, and Cara Cara varieties; they each have a different flavor, texture, and juice. Try a taste-test!

Mandarin (citrus reticulata) is actually a form of orange. Mandarins are smaller than many oranges, and their skin is often looser, so they’re easier to peel. Common mandarin breeds are clementines, tangerines, and satsumas. Of these, clementines are the easiest to find. Often sold in large bags or boxes, they are seedless and easy to peel, making them lunchbox favorites for adults and children alike.

Kumquat is the smallest citrus fruit: about the size of an acorn. Its skin is so soft that the fruit can be eaten whole, either fresh or candied.

Are You Ready for a Holiday Fitness Challenge?

Commit to a short daily fitness routine to help you stay healthier this holiday season.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, an endless succession of family dinners, office parties, and edible gifts can derail even the healthiest eaters. Combined with the colder weather, ‘tis the season to pack on the pounds like a Christmas goose.

Holiday Fitness Challenge

To counteract the seasonal splurges, why not try an office exercise challenge? For yourself or for a group of colleagues, these workplace exercises can be a fun way to keep fit.

Day One: Stairs

Once an hour, run up and down a flight of stairs at least once. Advanced/ambitious team members can do several flights each hour.

Day Two: Desk Pushups

Every two hours, stand up and place hands on desk, about shoulder-distance apart. With your arms straight, walk your feet backwards until your body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keeping your body straight, do 10 pushups.

Day Three: Superman/Banana

For core strength, you have to hit the floor, so you may want to bring a towel. First, lie face-down on the floor, with your arms above your head, pointing straight in front of you. Then lift your arms and legs a few inches off the floor; you’re Superman! Hold for 30 seconds, then rest. Flip onto your back, with your arms extended over your head. Carefully, making sure your lower back doesn’t arch; lift your arms and legs so that your body forms a wide V. You’re a banana! Hold for 30 seconds, then rest. Do three times during the day, and try to lengthen the time you hold each pose.

Day Four: Walking Challenge

This one works best if you’re doing a fitness challenge with a group. Once an hour, write a note—an encouraging quote, or a joke, or a bit of good-natured gossip—to a colleague. Walk to that person’s office in the most roundabout way possible.

Day Five: Wall Sits

Standing around waiting for the coffee to brew? Sit instead… against the wall. Wall sits work your legs and core, and they’re harder than they look. Stand straight, with your back against the wall. Slowly slide your back down the wall, bending your knees until they are at a 90-degree angle. Now hold it for as long as you can. For fun, get other colleagues to join you, and see who can hold it the longest. Get someone to take a picture; there’s your company photo! The company that stays fit together stays together!

Thinking About a Detox Fast or Cleanse? Read This First.

Not so Fast

Thanksgiving is over, and it’s hard to avoid looking for an easy way to reverse the damage from several days of overeating. You might be especially tempted by drastic quick-fix solutions like cleanses, detoxes, and even fasts. These terms are not synonymous, but they all require eliminating almost all solid food from your diet and replacing it with liquids like juice, tea, or even just water. The programs are all fairly short-term, but they are very extreme.

Before you do a detox fast

The idea behind detoxes—clearing the body of poisons, or toxins—is ancient; from sweat lodges to bloodletting to enemas, many cultures have embraced the practice of flushing bad substances from the body. While the practice died out in many Western cultures throughout the 20th century, it has come back with a vengeance in the 21st. When looking online or through magazines for healthy ways to lose weight, it’s impossible to avoid advertisements for 24-hour juice cleanses or pills to detoxify your liver.

Many cleanses and detoxes focus on the liver, since the liver’s job is to purify your body of toxins. Toxins in our bodies come from both within our bodies and without, and include environmental chemicals as well as “lifestyle toxins” like nicotine and alcohol. The liver “turns potentially harmful chemicals into water-soluble chemicals that can be sweated or excreted from the body.” Many products also focus on the colon—through liquid and high-fiber diets, or even through “colon-cleansing” enemas. These cleanses basically make you spend a lot of time in the bathroom until there’s not much left in your digestive tract.

While many celebrities and “celebrity medical personalities” may endorse these extreme fad diets and purges, most scientists and doctors agree that they bring no long-term benefits, and may actually cause harm. The hepatology (liver) department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine recommends against any products that claim to cleanse the liver, and they are not regulated by the FDA and may even lead to “drug-induced injury.” The Mayo Clinic warns against colon cleanses, noting that they can cause dehydration, bowel perforations, increase the risk of infection, as well as less serious side effects like cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. Above all, most doctors and nutrition specialists agree that any weight loss from a fast or cleanse will be short-lived and will be reversed as soon as you go back to eating normally.

So forget about the fast. Focus instead on healthy choices, like fresh foods with lots of fruit and vegetables. Your body is its own detox system, and if you let it do its job, all that turkey and stuffing bloat will be long gone by Christmas.

Setting up a Workplace Wellness Challenge

Get Fit As A Team!

Uh-oh! With the holidays lurking around the corner and the cold weather making people want to hunker down and eat comfort food, it can be especially difficult to focus on nutrition and fitness. HR departments can make a big difference by creating a health and fitness challenge to help keep employees focused on staying healthy during the holidays. Read on for some tips and tricks for setting up a wellness challenge that works.

Workplace Wellness Challenge

What is a workplace wellness challenge? It’s a fun, community-oriented activity where colleagues compete against each other in a friendly contest. It’s a way to hold each other accountable toward a shared goal of better health, and it can provide that extra boost to help people stay motivated—especially during the holiday season.

Most workplace challenges have users self-report their activities or results, as regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prevent companies from requiring this kind of information. However, wellness challenges work best when participants want to join, not when they’re forced to, so the regulations shouldn’t impact the success of the challenge.

Challenges can tackle any aspect of nutrition and fitness—from avoiding snacks to walking up the stairs every day. Technology can help with organization, communication, and tracking: for instance, people who use fitness trackers can easily connect and compare number of steps or miles covered. People who use the USConnectMe app can easily get access to nutritional data for all the food they purchase, making it easier to track data for calories, fat, protein, fiber, and important nutrients.

Challenges are also a good way to bond with coworkers while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Try organizing monthly healthy potluck lunches or group activities like walking around the building several times a day. Challenges can last a week, a month, or even longer. You may even hold a “pop-up” challenge for one day, challenging co-workers to go a whole day without eating any added sugar (for instance).

The point of wellness challenges is to have fun and stay healthy, not to win a large monetary prize. However, it’s nice to offer an incentive whenever possible. Team t-shirts are a great reminder of the group goal, and gift cards for healthy activities or food are always welcome. For more information, check out these resources from the Society for Human Resource Management, and start your challenge!

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!