Is It Time for a Little Spring Cleaning?

Spring cleaning is a popular worldwide tradition. Why spring? While the roots of this tradition are unclear, some suggest that European winters are responsible. In the days before central HVAC systems, Europeans barred their homes against the cold by shutting windows tightly and lighting fires all winter long. By the end of such a winter, houses were stuffy, musty, and dirty from all the soot from the fires. Spring was a good time to open the windows, air out the house, and clean out the winter’s dirt.

 

Spring Cleaning for your lifeThe way we live—and clean—has changed, but the tradition of spring cleaning remains. Many people take this time of year to take stock, declutter, and deep clean their homes and workplaces. Is now a good time for you to do the same? Here are some ways to do your own spring cleaning.

  1. Spring clean your diet: You don’t have to go whole hog with the Whole30 in order to eat more cleanly. “Eating clean” doesn’t mean eating without making a mess, or washing your food before you eat it; it means limiting processed foods and eating more whole foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
  2. Spring clean your exercise routine: Try something different to spice up your physical fitness. Walk to work once a week, work out with a virtual trainer, or try a cardio dance class. The break in routine will help you burn more calories and maybe have some fun!
  3. Spring clean your workspace: How many Post-it® notes are stuck to your computer? How many unread emails are in your inbox? How many folders can you see on your desk, or tools left out in your workspace? If the answer is more than five, then set aside some time this spring to do a big clean of both your physical and your virtual workspaces to enjoy a nicer environment and increased productivity.
  4. Actually spring clean your home: Even if you don’t have dust from sooty coal fires all over your home, spring is a great time to donate old clothes and furniture, take old taxes to a professional shredder, and clear the cobwebs from the corners. Read more here to do a really deep spring clean.

 

April Is National Walk to Work Month

National Walk to Work day was during the first week of April… when most of the Eastern Seaboard saw rain, snow, and record low temperatures. Since spring appears to be on a delay this year, let’s extend this celebration for the rest of the month—and enjoy the health benefits that walking brings.

National Walk to Work Month

It should be no surprise that walking gets its own national holiday. Walking has many proven benefits, including these, according to the Arthritis Foundation:

  • Improved circulation
  • Better bone density
  • Extended life expectancy
  • Improved mood
  • Weight loss
  • Stronger muscles
  • Better sleep
  • Joint support
  • Better lung function
  • Improved memory retention and lowered risk of Alzheimer’s

You may not be able to actually walk to work, whether because of distance, safety, or  the amount you have to carry. However, for National Walk to Work Day, Week, or Month, you can walk at work. Aim for 30 minutes a day; that may seem like too long a break to take, but how about six breaks of five minutes each? This has the added benefit of improving your concentration and staving off the back pain that results from excessive sitting.  Add an alarm to your smartphone or computer to remind you to walk, or set your fitness tracker to vibrate a reminder.

If you have to hold a meeting with only one or two co-workers, why not have it while walking around the building a few times? Or build time into your lunch break to walk before and after eating; it will improve your digestion as well as your after-lunch productivity. To make sure you are set up to walk at work, leave a pair of good walking shoes at your desk, so you’re always ready to get some steps.

The goal of National Walk to Work Day is to encourage people to make walking a habit: not just for one day, but every day. Let this April be the month you start a lifetime of walking.

 

Ingredient Du Jour: Probiotics

Have you had your probiotics today? That’s an increasingly common question, and with many probiotic products to choose from, it’s increasingly easy to answer “yes.”

probotics

But what are probiotics? The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits,” with the two most common strains being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within each of these strains, many different types of bacteria can make up the specific probiotic product.

Probiotics (the term means “for life”) occur naturally in many foods: specifically, those that have been fermented with bacteria. Yogurt contains probiotics, as does kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut. With its recent rise in popularity, probiotics are also now available as a supplement or as an additive to many foods.

The Claims

Like every trendy food, probiotics’ champions—especially those that sell them—credit them with doing everything but slicing bread. Here are the “top ten probiotic benefits,” according to one naturopath:

  1. Improves digestive health
  2. Decreases antibiotic resistance
  3. May improve mental illness
  4. Boosts immunity and reduces inflammation
  5. Promotes healthy skin
  6. Protects from food allergies
  7. May treat serious diseases in infants
  8. Lowers blood pressure
  9. Treats diabetes
  10. May improve nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

The Science

Your gut naturally contains thousands of species of good bacteria that work together to keep your body functioning well. Ingesting more probiotics in food or supplements may or may not help to improve your digestive health or any other bodily function. The University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health indicates that the strongest evidence is for probiotics helping with intestinal distress, especially that associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or antibiotic use. Data is still limited in terms of verifying most of the other claims for probiotics’ usefulness. The NIH warns, “Although some probiotics have shown promise in research studies, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most health conditions is lacking,” and “Some experts have cautioned that the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of its proposed uses and benefits.”

If you are in good health, probiotics will not hurt your gut, and they may even help, but the jury is still out on that.

 

 

Coffee 201: How Much Do You Know About Coffee?

Last year, we covered the basics with Coffee 101. Now, let’s take a deeper dive into America’s favorite hot (or cold!) beverage.

How much do you know about coffee

Decaffeination

While some people can’t imagine drinking coffee without the caffeine, others just like the flavor and enjoy drinking it decaffeinated. And as this blog has covered, people who have trouble getting at least seven hours of sleep should avoid or reduce caffeine, especially within six hours of their bedtimes. According to experts, caffeine occurs naturally in coffee beans, and roasters remove it from green, unroasted coffee beans, either with solvents (like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate) or without. The solvent-free decaffeination method, also called the Swiss water method, takes longer but may maintain more of the bean’s original flavor. Note that even decaf coffee is not 100 percent caffeine-free; a study out of the University of Florida found that even coffees labeled as decaffeinated contained small amounts of caffeine.

Brew styles

  • The most common brewing method, both in offices and homes, is automatic drip. An automatic drip coffeemaker heats water to the boiling point and then slowly drips it over ground coffee beans. It is convenient, but it may make a weaker brew than some other methods.
  • For a stronger, more flavorful brew, try a French press. A French press requires a bit more manual labor: pouring boiling water into a pot of grounds, letting it brew, and then pressing the grounds down to leave only coffee. Because there’s no filter, the flavor is stronger (and some say better).
  • For the ultimate in convenience and customization, it’s hard to beat single-serve coffeemakers. First popularized by Keurig, single-serve coffee machines pour hot water through a pod—or “k-cup”—to create a variety of hot beverages, including coffee, tea, and cocoa. Coffee from single-serve machines tends to be weaker because it doesn’t steep or brew for very long. However, the flip side of the short brew time… is the short brew time; your coffee is ready in less than a minute, as opposed to the 10 minutes required for automatic and French press coffee. Single-serve machines are also a great choice for small offices where different team members have differing tastes in hot beverages; instead of brewing whole pots of coffee that may go to waste, single-serve machines allow everyone to brew his/her own drink to order.
  • For all the flavor without the bitterness, try cold brewing your coffee this summer. Like a slow-motion French press, cold brewing involves steeping ground coffee in cold water for 24 hours or more, then filtering out the grounds.

 

Thirsty for more? Check out USConnect’s full line of Route 66 custom-roasted coffees!

Are Taking Vitamins or Supplements Enough to Live Healthy?

To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Feeling blue? Try some St. John’s Wort. Getting a cold? Pop some echinacea. Even cancer has proponents of natural supplements.

To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Although exact numbers range from $11.7 billion to $36.7 billion, the size of the U.S. dietary supplement market is massive… and growing daily. Marketing dietary supplements is nothing new; the first snake-oil salesmen had plenty of customers among workers on the transcontinental railroad. But with internet ads and marketing on social media, the industry has exploded.

Supplements have their champions—those who think supplements can do anything from curing cancer to cleansing your colon—and their detractors—those who think supplements are useless at best and harmful at worst. As usual, the truth is somewhere in-between.

An important fact to understand about supplements is that although marketers often sell them as substitutes for medication, they are not subject to nearly the same scrutiny and testing as prescription or over-the-counter medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not need to approve dietary supplements or even the claims that marketers make for their efficacy. The FDA does not test dietary supplements, so when you read a supplement’s claim and its ingredients, you’re relying on the manufacturer’s “honor system.” However, the New York Attorney General conducted a study on four major retailers of dietary supplements and found that 79 percent of them did not even contain the herb or supplement advertised or that it contained contaminants.

With the caveat emptor warning, experts say that some dietary supplements can be helpful, as long as people recognize that they are supplements to a healthy diet and lifestyle, not a replacement. The Mayo Clinic suggests that certain groups of people—those over 50, those who don’t eat a balanced diet, and those who have special dietary needs—can benefit from supplements. It’s important to keep up-to-date on the research around supplements, like studies that show that some supplements may actually be harmful. One Mayo Clinic doctor notes, “Any product that’s strong enough to provide a potential benefit to the body can also be strong enough to cause harm.”

If you’re considering supplements, start by talking to your doctor about which she/he recommends and how they might interact with other medications. You can also do your own research by contacting the manufacturer and doing your research on the following websites:

 

 

How’s Your Sleep Hygiene?

We’ve all heard about the importance of food hygiene, as well as personal hygiene, dental hygiene, and even workplace hygiene. But sleep hygiene? What does sleep have to do with keeping things clean and healthy? It turns out that sleep hygiene is related to health: to the healthy practices that lead to a good night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”

How’s Your Sleep Hygiene?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 35 percent of adults in the United States suffer from “short sleep duration,” that is, fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. Further CDC reports show that short sleep duration “impairs [the] ability to perform daily tasks,” and that “Chronic sleep deprivation also has a cumulative effect on mental and physical well-being and can exacerbate chronic diseases.” Are you among the over one-third of Americans who do not get enough sleep? Read on to learn how the experts suggest you improve your sleep hygiene for a better night’s rest.

According to Harvard Medical School and others here and here, there are many concrete steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene:

  1. Reduce caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.  Alcohol may seem to make you sleepy, but it actually decreases your sleep quality.
  2. Create a sleep-friendly environment. You can do this by limiting light, noise, and the chance of interruptions. Keep TVs, computers, and work out of the bedroom to keep it a place for sleep. If you must have a phone or tablet, make sure it has a blue light filter or night mode, as studies have shown that the blue light from screens can disrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle.
  3. Create a pre-sleep routine to prepare your body for sleep. If you have insomnia or have difficulty falling asleep, try these methods from the National Institutes of Health.
  4. Try to sleep only when you’re ready to sleep. If you’re lying in bed for over 20 minutes, get out of bed and read a book or do something relaxing before trying again to get back to sleep.
  5. Connect your body to the sun’s rising and setting to achieve a more natural rhythm.
  6. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Try to get up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  7. Avoid naps, or take them as early as possible during the day.
  8. Eat and drink earlier, reducing intake before bed.
  9. Exercise earlier,too, to keep your body physiology read for sleep.
  10. Be consistent with all of these before writing them off. If your sleep hygiene is impeccable, but you’re still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about possible medical conditions that may be affecting your sleep.

 

 

Whole30: Savior or Silly?

One of the decade’s most popular diets is the Whole30: a 30-day elimination diet that claims that cutting certain foods from your diet can help with energy levels, aches and pains, weight loss, skin issues, digestive ailments, and seasonal allergies. In short, it claims, “This will change your life.”

Whole30: Savior or Silly?

What can you eat on the Whole30 diet? For 30 days, “eat [only] moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats, and herbs, spices, and seasonings.” What can’t you eat? The Whole30 program is very restrictive. For 30 days, you must cut out all of the following:

  • Sugar, both real and fake. This includes honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol, etc.
  • Alcohol, including any used for cooking.
  • Grains: not only no wheat-based bread or crackers, but also no rice, barley, quinoa, spelt, chia, bulgur, and all those other healthy whole grains.
  • Legumes, including all beans, peas, peanuts, and soy, which sneaks into many commercially-available foods.
  • Dairy, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites, which can occur naturally or be added to many foods.
  • Any baked goods or “treats,” even if they contain approved ingredients.

As you can read here, here, and here, views on Whole30 are extremely mixed. It is fairly similar to the paleo diet, which scientists have pretty thoroughly disproven. A panel of experts for U.S. News and World Report ranked Whole30 as #37 out of 40 diets, citing its overly restrictive rules and its lack of scientific support. One nutritionist fact-checked Whole30’s claims about the harmful effects of substances like MSG, carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites.  Using data from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organizations, and others, he found that most of Whole30’s statements on these substances are misleading, mostly false, or false.

Despite the lack of scientific support for most of its claims, Whole30’s many defenders swear that they’ve lost weight, that they feel better, and that the diet has helped them make healthy, long-term changes. There are few dietitians who would disagree that most people should cut down on their processed food intake, not to mention their sugars and carbs. The Whole30 can help you make some short-term changes; nothing in the diet is likely to hurt you, and it just might help.

Diversity in the Workplace: Observing Lent

February 14 in 2018 was not only Valentine’s Day, but it was also Ash Wednesday, the day in the Christian tradition that signals the beginning of Lent. Representing the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness, Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday that is a time of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice: sacrifice that many Christians observe by eliminating meat for the duration of Lent, especially on Fridays.

Observing Lent

From a food-service perspective, it’s important to provide a greater variety of non-meat options during Lent. In particular, many observant Christians eat significantly more fish during Lent than any other time in the year. According to Gordon Food Service:

  • 26 percent of consumers say they observe Lent.
  • 20 percent of adults say they eat more seafood during Lent.
  • 41 percent say they eat fish instead of meat on Fridays.
  • Seafood sales can surge more than 20 percent during Lent.
  • On Fridays, seafood sales can surge up to 50 percent (as compared to non-Lent Fridays).

Lent is actually responsible for one of McDonald’s most iconic menu items: the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. The Filet-O-Fish was the 1962 brainchild of an early McDonald’s franchisee, Lou Groen, in Cincinnati who saw sales plummet during Lent in an area that was 87 percent Catholic at the time. Despite McDonald’s founder Roy Kroc’s misgivings, Groen introduced the Filet-O-Fish on Good Friday, and it was an instant hit. The Filet-O-Fish remains a Lent menu special to this day, with many people dubbing this the “Filet-O-Fish season.”

To increase your Lenten offerings, fried fish and shrimp are always popular choices. However, since many people are also seeking a more healthful diet, it’s a good idea to offer some baked, steamed, and grilled options as well. Services like USConnect’s fresh food vending or Bistro To Go!™ micro markets offer choices like tuna sandwiches or wraps, smoked salmon, or shrimp salad. Options like these can help people stay healthy and observe Lent at the same time.

Which Non-Fresh Foods Have the Most Nutrients?

Non-Fresh: Which is Best?

When Fresh Produce Is Hard to Find, Which Foods Have the Most Nutrients?

Non-Fresh: Which is Best?

The days may be getting longer, but unless you live well south of the 35th parallel, you’re still several months away from being able to access most fresh fruits and vegetables. Inquiring minds want to know: when fresh produce is not readily available, what’s the best way to get the half-your-plate per meal of fruits and veggies that the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy Promotion recommends? The answer, ironically, may be to stay away from the fresh produce aisle.

It turns out that as soon as produce is harvested, it starts to lose its nutrients. Modern food storage and transport methods often make fruit and vegetables look like they’re still fresh, when in fact, their bright colors and firm skin are the result of wax coating and cold storage. The produce itself may be as much as three months old, with the best of its nutrients long gone.

A study out of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, found that “Losses of nutrients during fresh storage may be more substantial than consumers realize. Depending on the commodity, freezing and canning processes may [better] preserve nutrient value.” This study and others prompted the Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® initiative (in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control) to recommend that “All Forms of Fruits and Vegetables Matter,” including frozen and canned.

It is the enzymes in fruit and vegetables that cause their nutrient loss, as well as the loss of color and flavor. To halt this process, the enzymes need to be “deactivated.” One way to do this is to blanch—quickly boil and then douse in ice water—and then freeze them. This is how most commercial frozen food companies package their vegetables, and since they do this process right after harvesting the food, most nutrients remain in the food. To help further maintain the integrity of the food, most frozen food companies quick-freeze their vegetables, which slows the rate of deterioration that can occur, even in the freezer.

Canned fruit and vegetables, too, often contain more nutrients than less-than-fresh fresh produce. Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® offers five key facts about canned produce:

  1. Canned food offers sound nutrition to help people achieve nutrient needs.
  2. Canned food offers comparable nutrition to fresh and frozen.
  3. You can enjoy canned food while watching sodium intake.
  4. Canned foods are minimally processed.
  5. Steel cans are among the safest forms of food packaging.

 

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.