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.

 

 

 

HR Focus: August Is National Water Quality Month

As summer’s hottest month heats up, the country celebrates National Water Quality Month. This month is a time to educate individuals and companies about steps they can take to protect the country’s sources of fresh water.

national water quality month

State, federal, and local regulations govern the wastewater that companies can dump directly into water supplies. These regulations do not provide perfect protection—witness the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan river—but they prevent companies from deliberately disposing of their waste products into the water.

The more insidious impact, however, comes from the way that people add chemicals to the water supply without even knowing it. This happens through rainwater runoff, when water from rain storms collects in storm drains, bringing with it all the chemicals on buildings and sidewalks that it has encountered along the way. These storm drains then empty into water supplies—still carrying environmental pollutants.

Cities—and the companies that are located there—generate five times more rainwater runoff than forests or fields. The rain washes pollutants like oil, antifreeze, pet waste, fertilizers, and pesticides right into the water supply. To avoid contributing to poor water quality, follow Clean Water Action’s fact sheet:

  1. Don’t use antibacterial soaps or cleaning products.
  2. Don’t put anything except water down storm drains.
  3. Avoid using pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
  4. Choose nontoxic household products whenever possible.

Sometimes water pollution is visible, like in the case of toxic algal blooms. More often, however, poor water quality is not visible to the naked eye. To make sure your office water supply is safe, check where your water comes from with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s “Surf Your Watershed” tool, and buy a water quality testing kit. These standards from the General Services Administration provide good guidelines on making sure your water supply is safe.

Operations Focus: Cold Chain Logistics

Unlike trendy superfoods (chia, seaweed, or coconut water, anyone?), the movement toward increased consumption of fresh food—and rejection of packaged, processed products—looks like it’s here to stay. As we’ve been reporting for the past three years, millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000) are the primary drivers of this shift toward fresh, but people across generations and cultures are jumping on this wagon. This greater emphasis on freshness is evident in fast food chains, grocery stores, and workplaces, especially those with micro markets like USConnect’s Bistro To Go!®.

Cold chain logistics

The increased demand for fresh food has far-reaching implications for foodservice operations. The logistics of transporting and stocking fresh food is much more complicated than that of packaged foods with shorter shelf lives. This handy chart shows the shelf life of many common foods; note that while some fresh foods, like cheese, yogurt, and apples, can last up to a month in a refrigerator, other common workplace meals like lunch meat last only a week.

With the high perishability of many fresh food items, optimized cold chain logistics are of the utmost importance. “Cold chain logistics” entails the packing, storage, and transportation of temperature-sensitive products along a temperature-controlled supply chain. One logistics expert notes: “The cold chain is thus a science, a technology, and a process. It is a science since it requires the understanding of the chemical and biological processes linked with perishability. It is a technology since it relies on physical means to insure appropriate temperature conditions along the supply chain. It is a process since a series of tasks must be performed to prepare, store, transport and monitor temperature sensitive products.”

To offer consumers longer shelf lives for their fresh foods, transportation speed is of the essence, and storage time needs to be minimal. This is creating a “paradigm shift” in the logistics business, with providers changing their business models to meet consumer demand. “Reefers”(refrigerated trucks) are becoming more and more common; the next one you see may be delivering your next fresh meal, so let it through!

 

 

Productivity and Nutrition: Making the Connection

It’s not exactly breaking news: nutrition is one of the major factors that impacts employee productivity. One of the seminal works on the topic comes from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which published a study in 2005 linking nutrition to workers’ health and productivity. The report, which took a global perspective on both developing and developed countries, found that poor nutrition can reduce employee productivity up to 20 percent. Both malnutrition and obesity can drastically affect workers’ ability to come to work and perform effectively.

Productivity and Nutrition

More recently, a report from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace found that British companies lose an average  of 27.5 days of productive time per employee per year due to health-related absenteeism and presenteeism. Presenteeism, according to the Harvard Business Review, is when employees show up to work but are not functioning at their optimal levels. Presenteeism is insidious, because unlike absenteeism, it is difficult to detect and even harder to track. Nonetheless, research suggests that it may cost companies up to 10 times more than absenteeism.

Wellness programs may be the answer. Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Brigham Young University, and the Center for Health Research at Healthways suggests that employees who eat healthily and exercise regularly have a 27 percent lower absentee rate and 11 percent higher rate of job productivity than their obese colleagues.

Although companies can’t force employees to maintain healthier lifestyles, they can make it much easier for them to do so. Offering discounts at health clubs and creating pre-, post-, and mid-work exercise groups are great ways to encourage physical activity. And providing healthy food options and detailed nutritional information helps employees make good eating choices. That’s why USConnect’s The Right Choice…For a Healthier You™ program gives employees the information and options they need to make good nutritional decisions.

Employee productivity comes down to the choices of each employee, but armed with the right research and some great food choices, HR departments can improve productivity across the board.

 

 

 

The Healthy (and Not-So-Healthy) Summer Drinks – Smoothies!

Real Smooth, Smoothie

As summer heats up, many people reach for cool, refreshing fruit smoothies thinking they’re drinking something as healthy as pure fruit. And in some cases, this is true; some smoothies are, indeed, very good for you. Others, unfortunately, are not as beneficial. Here’s our guide to the best and worst options for drinkable fruit.

The Healthy (and Not-So-Healthy) Summer Drinks - Smoothies!

Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware)

At fast food restaurants and coffee shops across the country, menus offer fruit smoothies as a convenient, healthy alternative to other drink meals. However, a smoothie isn’t healthy just by virtue of being a smoothie. Convenient? Yes. Healthy? not so much. Many store- and restaurant-made smoothies actually contain more fat than a Big Mac and more sugar than four Snickers bars.

And the picture is not much prettier at the supermarket, where many choices contain little of the protein, fiber, and vitamins that should make smoothies a healthy option. In fact, Naked Juice, one of the leading supermarket juice and smoothie brands, has been in trouble more than once for falsely claiming the health benefits of its products. In 2013, Naked Juice’s parent company, PepsiCo, agreed to pay a $9 million settlement in a class action lawsuit. In 2016, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) again sued PepsiCo, alleging that its healthy-sounding drinks like “Kale Blazer” actually contain mainly high-sugar apple juice.

Convenient and Healthy Options

If you’re looking for a convenient, healthy way to drink your fruits and veggies, the news is not all bad. Many store-made and bottled juices are as healthy as they claim to be; the key is to always read the label so you know what you’re ingesting. A good smoothie should contain a significant amount of vitamins and fiber, and preferably protein to prevent hunger pains from hitting too soon. It should contain minimal sugar and very little fat. Check out some of the healthiest options here and here.

Best Option: Make Your Own

When it comes to smoothies, it’s all about the ingredients. You can create your own, mixing and matching fruits, vegetables, proteins, nuts, and seeds:

  • Acai
  • Almond milk
  • Apples
  • Avocado
  • Banana, peeled and frozen
  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut flakes
  • Coconut water
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Ground ginger root
  • Ground turmeric
  • Hemp seeds
  • Honey
  • Kale leaves
  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein powder
  • Raspberries
  • Raw cacao powder
  • Rolled oats
  • Spinach
  • Spirulina
  • Strawberries

Tips for Beating the Heat This Summer!

Exercising in Hot Weather

The southeast’s mild climate makes it possible to exercise outside year-round. Now that winter’s cold and spring’s rains are gone, summer and the warm weather is enticing people outside in droves. However, that warm sun that loosens your muscles and feels so good on your skin can actually be doing serious damage. Heat and sun can be as dangerous as cold and ice when it comes to exercising outdoors, so read on for tips on how to beat the heat.

Tips for Beating the Heat This Summer!

  1. It’s all about the timing. In the winter, lunchtime is an excellent time to take a walk, run, or ride a bike outside. In the summer, not so much. The sun is at its zenith at noon—making it the worst time of day for being outside. If possible, avoid the sun’s rays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. With summer’s longer days, prework and postwork are the best times for exercising outside.
  2. It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity. The high humidity of the southern summer climate can raise the heat index, making a hot day feel even hotter. The Mayo Clinic warns that exercising in the heat can raise your core body temperature, resulting in heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. If you experience headaches, lightheadedness, confusion, nausea, or muscle cramps, stop exercising immediately and take steps to cool your core temperature. On extremely hot days, you might do better to exercise in the gym or to even run up and down the stairs in the office.
  3. Despite (or because of) the humidity, don’t forget to hydrate. Exercising in hot weather produces extra sweat, which makes it more important than ever to stay hydrated. As discussed in our post on sports drinks, water is usually the best form of hydration. For prolonged exercise in hot weather, however, the electrolytes and sugar in sports drinks may provide important replenishment for your system.
  4. Stay protected. When you head outside to exercise, don’t forget to protect your skin from the sun. Even during non-peak hours or cloudy weather, harmful UVA rays can still cause sun damage and skin cancer. Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and when feasible, cover your skin with lightweight, breathable fabric.

 

HR Focus: Taste a Rainbow of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month. What better time to taste a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables?

A rainbow of fruits and vegetables flavor!

June marks the start of the height of fresh produce season in the United States, so it’s no wonder that June is when we celebrate Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. For human resource professionals, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal, state, and local organizations provide a bounty of materials to promote healthy produce in the workplace. These include the following:

With all the fresh choices available at USConnect’s Bistro to Go!™ micro markets, and with the nutritional recommendations from The Right Choice for a Healthier You™, HR professionals can build company-wide celebrations of National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. For instance, employees could participate in a recipe contest, with a potluck lunch where everyone gets to try each other’s recipes. Or, employees can use the USDA’s SuperTracker to keep track of how many fruit and vegetables they eat, and self-report to see who can reach their nutrition goal first.

To really celebrate National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, lead a group in creating a rainbow of produce:

  • Red: Apples, strawberries, raspberries, red peppers, tomatoes
  • Orange: Carrots, orange peppers, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes
  • Yellow: Pineapple, papaya, yellow pepper, squash
  • Green: Spinach, green beans, peas, broccoli
  • Blue: Blueberries
  • Purple: Beets, plums, purple sweet potatoes, eggplant

What Are the Best and Worst Snacks for the Office?

In the nutrition community, “snacking” used to be a dirty word: a bad habit that many clients needed to break. Today, the jury is still out on whether eating many smaller meals a day is better or worse than eating three larger ones. However, as with most nutrition “rules,” what you eat is more important than when you eat.

What Are the Best and Worst Snacks for the Office?

When in doubt, read the nutrition label and look for foods that give you good nutritional balance. Aim for more foods that are high in protein and fiber and fewer foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar.  And always look for the apple logo indicating The Right Choice… for a Healthier You® option.

Full Speed Ahead: eat these snacks without guilt!

  • Reduced fat cheese provides an important protein boost, as well as calcium and often vitamin D.
  • Hummus (bean dip) with veggies like carrots and peppers contains fiber and protein, and the veggies provide beta-carotene.
  • Berries contain health-boosting anti-oxidants along with a burst of energy from natural sugars.
  • Nonfat Greek yogurt packs a protein punch and helps your gut with healthy probiotics.
  • Nonfat cottage cheese is low in calories but high in protein and calcium.

Proceed with Caution: these snacks are fine in moderation, but don’t overdo it.

  • Nuts have a high fat content, but it’s “good fat,” and the protein gives a good boost to get you through the day. Look for nuts (like pistachios) that are still in the shell ; this will help prevent mindless eating.
  • Dried fruit can be a delicious alternative to candy, but it can still contain more sugar than you want to consume during the day. Make sure to check the sugar content on the nutrition label, as all dried fruits are not created equal!
  • Popcorn is a whole grain, making it better for you than snacks made with refined white flour. Some snack popcorns are also low-fat and low-salt, making them a relatively healthy snack. However, make sure to watch your portion control, and check the label to make sure that the fat and salt levels aren’t too high.

Roadblock: avoid these snacks when possible.

  • Potato and corn chips usually get their delicious addictiveness from the fat and salt they contain. If you must indulge, look for baked varieties and those with reduced sodium. The intrinsic portion control from vending machine snack bags can help you enjoy these treats in moderation.
  • Sugary candy offers no nutritional benefits: just a quick burst of energy followed by a sugar crash. Dark chocolate can give you that sugar with some additional anti-oxidants to books your health.