Are You Vitamin D Deficient?

An interesting sociological experiment is to start typing something into Google, and then watch how Google auto-fills your query based on its most popular queries. For instance, typing, “definition of…” yields questions like “definition of democracy,” “definition of fascism,” and “definition of racism.” Seeing the search engine’s most popular searches provides a window into our collective concerns of the moment.

Are You Vitamin D Deficient-

Those who follow nutrition trends will not be surprised, then, that the most popular query when typing “vitamin…” into Google is “Vitamin D.” Ever since a 2008 article in the Molecular Journal of Medicine described responses to the “Vitamin D deficiency pandemic,” a lack of Vitamin D has been blamed for everything from cancer to mood disorders. Doctors and naturopaths have rushed to prescribe Vitamin D supplements, advising dosages as much as four times higher than the recommended daily allowance (RDA), especially for people over 70.

Vitamin D is indeed crucial for overall health. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium, making it an important part of the body’s fight against osteoporosis and weakening of bones. Extreme Vitamin D deficiency in children causes rickets, which causes serious and sometimes irreversible lack of bone growth and density. According to the Mayo Clinic, Vitamin D sufficiency has been scientifically proven to help prevent the following conditions:

  • Kidney disease (causing low phosphate levels)
  • Osteomalacia (bone softening in adults)
  • Psoriasis (disorder causing skin redness and irritation)
  • Rickets (bone weakening in children)
  • Thyroid conditions

Less conclusively, but still suggestively, Vitamin D sufficiency has also been tied to

  • Cavity prevention
  • Fall prevention in elders
  • Relief for muscle pain and weakness
  • Help for mood disorders
  • Increased mental performance

A fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin D is produced by humans naturally when their skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. However, with modern understanding about the dangers of overexposure to the sun’s rays, people have been severely limiting their skin’s exposure to the sun, which has resulted in a reduction of Vitamin D production in their bodies.

To replace this natural source of Vitamin D, many people have turned to nutritional supplements. However, recent studies have shown that Vitamin D supplements, taken on their own, do not improve musculoskeletal outcomes. Instead, reach for one of the few foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D: fatty fish like salmon or swordfish, beef liver, or egg yolk. Or, since these foods can be hard to come by, especially during the day, try a Vitamin D-fortified product, like most milk and many brands of cereal and orange juice.



Diversity in the Workplace: What Foods Are “Kosher for Passover?”

Every spring, millions of Jews around the world celebrate Passover, the commemoration of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Passover is an eight-day, home-based holiday, where families and friends gather to retell the story of the Jews’ slavery in Egypt and their escape to freedom. Observant Jews eat only “Kosher for Passover” foods for the full eight days of the holiday.

Diversity in the Workplace: What Foods Are “Kosher for Passover?”

So, what does “Kosher for Passover” mean? According to the story of Exodus, the Pharaoh allowed Jews to leave Egypt, but only if they departed right away. That meant that the women cooking bread for the journey couldn’t wait for the dough to rise; they had to bake it right away—leaving it unleavened. To remember this escape from bondage, observant Jews eat no chametz (leavened bread) for eight days.

According to, chametz  is “any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and ‘rise.’ In practice, just about anything made from these grains—other than Passover matzah, which is carefully controlled to avoid leavening—is to be considered chametz. This includes flour (even before it is mixed with water), cake, cookies, pasta, breads, and items that have chametz as an ingredient (like malt).” The most common non-chametz food item is matzah, a flat unleavened bread.

From a foodservice standpoint, an office that wants to support its observant Jews can start by making sure that nutritional information is readily available for all the food it provides. A simple ingredient check can let people know if a food product contains any chametz (similar to how nutritional information provides important choices for people with food allergies or people watching their salt, fat, or sugar intake). Note that chametz includes most pasta, cookies, crackers, and even beer!

Foodservice managers who want to go a step further and supply “Kosher for Passover” foods need to look for packaged foods that have been certified “Kosher for Passover” by a Rabbi who is trained in the intricacies of Kosher food preparation. Note that there is a difference between the designation for “Kosher” and “Kosher for Passover.” Kosher foods prohibit certain ingredients (pork, shellfish) and require a complete separation of dairy and meat products. “Kosher for Passover” foods, however, include those prohibitions in addition to the prohibition of chametz.

Being culturally sensitive to observant Jews doesn’t need to mean supplying fully “Kosher for Passover” meals and snacks. Many foods are naturally appropriate, especially produce, meat, and dairy products.

And remember, Passover is closely tied to the Christian holiday of Easter. It is thought that the Last Supper was actually a Passover Seder, and like Easter, Passover celebrates eternal themes of rebirth and renewal.

Happy April Fools’ Day from USConnect!

April 1, 2017

USConnect is pleased to announce special nutritional trends and guidelines, especially for April Fools’ Day.

  1. Salt, Fat, and Sugar are the new Quinoa, Kale, and Goji Berries: Toss out those kale salads and make room for the latest health food trend: bacon doughnuts! In a stunning reversal, the people playing nutritionists on infomercials have declared that fatty, salty, and sugary foods are the healthiest foods of all. Super-sized bags of potato chips, multi-pack snack cakes, and deep-fried fast foods are all excellent sources of these three food groups. But for one-stop shopping for fat, salt, and sugar, look no further than the bacon doughnut: three food groups rolled into one!
  1. The More Stress, the Better: Despite years of research citing stress as a major contributor to heart disease, stroke, and obesity, new studies now suggest that stress is actually healthy! People who aren’t stressed enough may risk facial fatigue from too much smiling, or muscle tiredness from too much exercise. Beware, and get more stress today!
  1. Sitting on Couch Now Good for You: According to many experts who spend a lot of time sitting on couches, sitting on couches is now considered to be the healthiest possible behavior. In related studies, playing video games was found to be excellent for brain development, especially for young children. New guidelines recommend spending at least eight hours per day on the couch, preferably watching some sort of screen.
  1. No Nutritional Information is Good Nutritional Information: Bucking widespread cultural trends, one group of nutrition experts is now suggesting that leaving all nutritional information off labels is the best way to go. “Everyone likes getting a surprise now and then,” said a spokesman, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We think that when people understand the nutritional components of their food, it takes the fun out of the meal. Where’s the mystery? Let’s remove that nutritional information and bring some pizzazz back to mealtime.”

Happy April Fools’ Day! USConnect’s regular blog, filled with informative stories about nutritional and workplace trends, will be back next week.

March into Good Nutrition for National Nutrition Month®

New Year’s resolutions? That’s so old hat. March is National Nutrition Month®, and it’s a great time to recommit to a healthier lifestyle.

Use National Nutrition Month to commit to a healthier lifestyle!

National Nutrition Month®, which started in 1973 as National Nutrition Week, is a nutrition education and information campaign of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieticians. This year, the theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” and it encourages everyone to make healthier food choices. Even small changes, made consistently, can have a big effect.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dieticians provides a robust toolkit on how to celebrate and promote National Nutrition Month®; it includes ways to get people involved with special events, banners, and educational materials. It even includes games like this timeline of fad diets. Along with such gems as the Baby Food Diet (14 jars a day), the Banana Diet (self-explanatory), and the Cabbage Soup Diet (the main side effect was flatulence), you’ll notice that similar fads tend to reappear again and again. For instance, 1985 saw the Caveman Diet which bears a striking resemblance to the Paleolithic Diet that is so popular today.

Most of all, National Nutrition Month® is about making healthy choices. It aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Not sure where to start? Check out which offers tracking tools, tip sheets, and even customized healthy eating checklists.

National Nutrition Month® is a perfect fit with USConnect’s program: The Right Choice … for a Healthier You™. The Right Choice … for a Healthier You™ is managed by USConnect’s staff dietician and offers nutritional guidelines for fresh food products on each vending machine′s touch screen. Benefits managers and others can use National Nutrition Month® to promote workplace health by making sure employees are aware of these healthy guidelines.






Update: Millennials’ Meals

“The Millennials are coming! The Millennials are coming!”

What are millennials eating in the office

This is the cry that has been reverberating around human resources departments for the past decade. Currently, the workforce is predominantly composed of three groups:

  • The Baby Boom Generation (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1966 and 1980)
  • The Millennial Generation (born after 1980)

For the past several decades, Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers have dominated the workforce. But in 2015, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, Millennials surpassed both Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers in the workforce for the first time. This is a trend that will only increase as more Millennials enter the workforce and more Gen-Xers and Boomers leave it.

The implications of Millennials’ rise are significant and widespread, from healthcare to management to foodservice choices. This blog has already discussed Millennials’ preference for fresh foods, as well as some more general HR trends for Millennials. As USConnect keeps tabs on the most up-to-date trends among Millennials and other workers, we share them here. Some current trends include these:

  • Office and workplace design that allows for flexibility encourages collaboration. Break rooms, in particular, should reflect the fact that work is rarely a 9-to-5 endeavor and that employees may use these spaces for important “water-cooler” discussion that improves productivity.
  • Food perks. Some think that free food is less important than a collaborative environment or opportunity for improvement. Others, however, point to a study that found that 67 percent of Millennials would feel more valued at work if food perks were increased.
  • Social responsibility. Millennials value working at an organization that makes a positive difference in the world, and that value extends to the food brands they buy. A study by the National Marketing Institute found that Millennials are more likely to buy brands that are transparent about their sustainability and charitable giving, with 65 percent recognizing the Fair Trade Certified label.



Small Effort, Big Benefit

How many hours per day do you spend sitting at your desk? As previously discussed in our post about standing desks, working Americans spend an average of six to 10 hours a day in a seated position, usually in front of a computer. In fact, whether they work or not, most Americans are quite sedentary; they spend most of their time sitting, and they walk fewer than 5,000 steps per day.


The sitting aspect seems to be particularly troublesome for people’s health. Research has shown that long periods of sitting, even for those who also exercise frequently, can have serious negative health impacts, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, dementia, heart disease, and a higher risk of dying.

Given the conflicting priorities of work, family, and other commitments, most Americans (80 percent) have trouble meeting the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendations for exercise and activity: at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week for a total of 150 minutes per week. As the AHA notes; however, something is always better than nothing. If you can’t do a full 30 minutes, make it 15. If you can’t do it five days a week, do it three.

A recent study even suggests small intervals—two minutes per hour—of light activity can improve overall health. The study followed 3,243 participants for three years and found that just two minutes per hour of light-intensity activity, like walking, made a significant difference in the participants’ long-term health, including a 33% lower risk of death.

Reducing sitting time can also have some immediate positive effects, like shaking off lethargy and avoiding back pain. When a person sits for an extended time, most of his/her weight rests on his/her sacrum. Over time, this compresses the vertebrae and leads to pain and discomfort. Similarly, most desk chairs keep users’ hips flexed at an angle of 90 degrees or less. After hours of sitting like this, the hip flexors can shorten temporarily; this can lead to low back pain. Getting up for a two-minute walk can let those bones and muscles relax and recuperate, and the increased blood flow can improve mood and alertness. It’s a win-win!



How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

Sustainability Focus: Recycling

Modern materials recycling—converting paper, metal, and plastics into reusable materials—got its start in the 1970s, along with the rise of modern environmentalism. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, and in 1976, Massachusetts received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pilot a curbside collection program for mixed materials collection. By 1992, there were 5,404 curbside recycling programs, and by 2017, these programs—most of which offer single-stream recycling—are nearly ubiquitous in municipal areas.

How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

The aim of recycling programs has always been to recycle more: to divert more waste from landfills. To that end, recycling companies have focused on making it easier to recycle common materials. The accessibility of recycling receptacles makes it just as easy to recycle materials as it is to throw them in a regular trash can (one that sends waste to a landfill rather than a recycling center). Now, the act of recycling paper, metal, and plastic has become a habit for many people.

The EPA recommends that everyone “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” These three commandments are ordered hierarchically; you should first reduce the amount of resources you use—then reuse whatever you can. When all else fails, recycle what you can. Recycling is certainly an important component of being environmentally responsible. However, recycling should not be an end in itself; it should be seen as a means to the end of reusing materials. Running recycling programs is expensive; for-profit materials management companies make their profit by selling the feedstocks—recycled materials—that result from the recycling process.

But the economics of recycling are changing dramatically, especially in the area of plastics. Plastics make up a larger percentage of the waste stream than ever, due to technological advances in the manufacturing process. However, many of these new plastics, especially flexible plastic films and pouches, are not recyclable. They contaminate the waste stream and make it more expensive for materials processors to create high-quality feedstocks. At the same time, global financial trends, like lower oil prices and a slower Chinese economy, are reducing demand for plastic feedstocks. This is creating an economic “perfect storm,” in which recycling companies are having trouble staying in the black.

How can your office recycling program help? Make sure employees understand what is recyclable and what isn’t, especially when it comes to lightweight plastics and films. Provide recycling receptacles with signs showing best practices. Consider adding a composting program if possible. And remember, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!



How to Avoid Getting Sick at Work

‘Tis the season for the flu, not to mention the common cold, the annual norovirus outbreak, and some kind of respiratory bug that has people laid up for over a week. Whole departments are getting decimated for weeks at a time, and you may be wondering: how can I avoid getting sick at work?

How to Avoid Getting Sick at Work

Office spaces can be Petri dishes for the cultivation of viruses. Open-plan spaces, in particular, make it easy for germs to spread. A 2014 MIT study found that coughs and sneezes create a “multiphase, turbulent buoyant cloud,” which allows germ-laden droplets to travel up to 200 times farther than was previously thought. When someone in a cubicle sneezes, a coworker in a cubicle 30 feet away may be the recipient of those germs.

Even in more traditional office spaces, any surface that gets touched frequently is probably a hotbed of germs. Door handles, copier controls, elevator buttons: these surfaces get touched thousands of times a day, often by people harboring viruses or bacteria. Microbiologist Chuck Gerba found cold and flu viruses on about one-third of office surfaces, with the germiest object being the phone.

Despite all the germs that are probably floating around your office, there’s no need to invest in a Haz-Mat suit. Some simple precautions can help significantly reduce your likelihood of getting sick.

  1. Viruses and bacteria are transmitted through your mouth, eyes, and nose, usually from your hands, once you’ve touched a germy surface. If you can avoid touching your face at all, you’ll keep the germs out of your system.
  2. It may be hard to keep from scratching your nose or rubbing your eyes. That’s why it’s crucial to wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. If soap and water are not available, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol can quickly reduce the number of microbes on the skin. Note, however, that you should avoid antibacterial soap. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in 2016 that antibacterial agents like triclosan show no evidence of preventing illness, and they may even contribute to antibiotic resistance.
  3. Clean frequently touched surfaces at least once a day with a bleach- or alcohol-based product.
  4. Take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, and get the most nutrition from your food.
  5. Stay home! If you’re starting to feel unwell or even just run-down, take a day off! If you can avoid getting sick, you’ll be more productive in the long run.

Logistics Focus: Sustainable Transportation

When you bite into your sandwich at lunch today, ask yourself: “How far did this food have to travel to get to my desk?” With today’s global logistics, the answer could be more complex than you might think, with some types of food being transported thousands of miles before they are eaten. And consumers—especially millennials—are increasingly concerned with the sustainability of the food they eat.

Sustainable Transportation

Aside from the health benefits associated with sustainable food choices, making food transportation more sustainable can have an impact on the environment and on world hunger. According to The World Bank:

  • Up to 50% of harvest is wasted between farm and fork—the moment we actually consume food.
  • Transport-related emissions account for about 15% of overall greenhouse gas emissions. And 60% of those emissions are coming from road transport.
  • Logistics costs affect small farmers disproportionally (up to 23% of their total costs).

To help companies make their supply chains greener, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the SmartWay program in 2004. The program, which is completely voluntary, has helped its partners save over 7 billion gallons of fuel, lower fuel costs by $24.9 billion, and reduce carbon emissions by 72.8 million metric tons. SmartWay, which is a public-private partnership among the EPA, state and local governments, and the transportation industry, accomplishes several things:

  • It provides a comprehensive and well-recognized system for tracking, documenting, and sharing information about fuel use and freight emissions across supply chains.
  • It helps companies identify and select more efficient freight carriers, transport modes, equipment, and operational strategies to improve supply chain sustainability and lower costs from goods movement.
  • It supports global energy security and offsets environmental risk for companies and countries.
  • It reduces freight transportation-related climate change and air pollutant emissions by accelerating the use of advanced fuel-saving technologies.

Look for the SmartWay logo to know that your food is being transported according to the best available efficiency technology and carbon data.


What Exactly Is the New Superfood Teff?

Ingredient Du Jour: Teff

What Exactly is the New Superfood Teff?

Anyone who has ever tried Ethiopian food has likely eaten injera, the spongy sourdough flatbread that serves as a plate, utensil, and food at the same time. For millennia, people from Ethiopia and other eastern African countries have made this nutritious bread from teff, a tiny grain that has been gaining traction in the United States as the next big superfood.

Whether your family has been eating teff for generations, or you’re trying it for the first time, teff does seem to have significant health benefits, including these:

Teff is tiny—the size of a poppy seed. Its small size has been a boon to semi-nomadic eastern African farmers because a handful can sow a whole field. It can thrive in both droughts and flooded soils, and at elevations up to 3,000 meters. Its versatility and quick growing time (sprouting in 36 hours and ready to harvest in 12 weeks) have contributed to its outsized role in eastern African diets; in Ethiopia alone, it accounts for about 15 percent of all calories consumed.

In the United States, interest in teff has rocketed in recent years. However, until recently, Ethiopia has had a ban on exporting teff, so most of the teff that US consumers use comes from other places, including Idaho, India, and Australia. And many people are using teff in new and exciting ways:  in pancakes, as porridge, and when ground, as a replacement for wheat flour.

Ready to try teff? Check out these recipes, and look for it as an ingredient in items marked as The Right Choice … for a Healthier You™, USConnect’s nutritional guideline program.