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!

Myths and Facts Everyone Should Know About Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

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

myths and facts about diabetes

Myth #1: Diabetes is a single disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Got Milk… Or Non-Dairy Alternatives?

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

Milk and non-dairy alternatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

How Should Food Service Providers Respond?

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

breast cancer awareness month

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

It’s Fall, so Pumpkin Spice Everything!

Fall’s favorite flavor is back!

Pumpkin Spice

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

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

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

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

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