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.

HR Focus: National Physical Fitness and Sports Month #GetActive

Do you or your colleagues need a boost to get moving this spring? The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition has you covered! Operating with the Twitter hashtag #moveinmay, the President’s Council is promoting May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, complete with a playbook on how to get moving and stay active.

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month in May is not a new event; it has actually been observed since 1983, when President Reagan urged “individuals and families to use this occasion to renew their commitments to make regular physical activity an integral part of their lives.” In 2017, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is still going strong with a slew of programs and activities to encourage healthy, active lifestyles.

In the last three decades, technology has changed our lives, both for better and for worse. On the one hand (literally), the accessibility of technology has given many Americans a screen addiction, making us virtual slaves to virtual reality. However, technology has also positively transformed some aspects of physical fitness, especially in the area of tracking and recording, as well as accessing helpful information and interactive guidance.

In addition to the many commercial activity trackers and tracking apps available, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+), an eight-week program to help people get a jump-start on their fitness goals. With a focus on healthy eating and activity levels, PALA+ lets participants keep track of their progress toward their targets. For adults, the physical activity goal involves having 150 active minutes and five active days per week. Nutrition goals include these :

  • Vegetables: Log at least 3 vegetables per week.
  • Fruit: Log at least 3 whole fruits per week.
  • Grains: Log at least 3 whole grain foods per week.
  • Dairy: Log at least 3 low-fat or fat-free dairy items per week.
  • Protein Foods: Log at least 3 lean protein foods or seafood items per week.

Those who complete the PALA+ challenge can download an award certificate from This ready-made challenge is a great way to bring colleagues together to work toward a healthier lifestyle, so they can get out there and #moveinmay!

Sports Drinks: Necessary Evil or Just Evil?

Go to any youth sporting event, and you’ll be blinded by the display of brightly-colored sports drinks. You can usually see a similar array at your local gym and, increasingly, in your office vending machine. But are these drinks really appropriate for an office setting?

In the United States, the sports drink industry was born at the University of Florida (UF) in 1965. The Gator football coach noticed that many of the team’s players lost weight, suffered from heat stroke, and didn’t urinate during games and practices. The director of the UF College of Medicine’s renal and electrolyte division knew that when the players perspired during practice, they were losing not just fluids, but also valuable electrolytes: minerals in the body that regulate important functions like hydration, muscle function, and pH level. The doctors and coaches teamed up to create a substance that would replace the fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes that the players lost on the field. They started with a simple solution of water, sugar, and salt, but it apparently tasted so bad that it was undrinkable. According to legend, the wife of the lead doctor recommended adding lemon juice to the concoction, and Gatorade was born.

Since Gatorade’s humble beginnings on a UF football field, sports drinks have grown into a billion-dollar industry. Nationally, people are getting the message that soda, both diet and regular, is very unhealthy. Soft drink sales continue to decline, but the consumption of sports drinks continues to rise every year. In 2014, per-capita sports drink consumption was 4.5 gallons in the United States!

However, replacing soft drinks with sports drinks does not provide a healthier alternative despite the marketing of sports drinks as being part of an active lifestyle. What many people fail to realize is that sports drinks are formulated specifically for people exercising for more than an hour and/or people exercising in extremely hot weather. Otherwise, there is no need to fill the body with the extra sugars and salt of sports drinks. In fact, the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) warns that the added sugars of beverages account for almost half (47%) of all added sugars consumed by the U.S. population. When in doubt, reach for a water: your body will thank you.


Mean Protein: An EGG-cellent Choice

Easter has come and gone, but many of us are still finishing up the hard-boiled eggs that the Easter Bunny left. Given this season of rebirth and renewal, it’s a great time to check in on the incredible, edible egg.

Egg-cellent Nutrition

Eggs have been called “the perfect protein.” Going back to prehistoric times, most animal protein required finding, killing, and preparing meat, but gathering eggs just required foraging from inattentive fowl.

Today, a large chicken egg contains six grams of high-quality protein and high levels of iron, lutein, and choline. Eggs contain zero grams of carbohydrates and sugars, and although they do contain five grams of fat and 187 milligrams of cholesterol, multiple studies have found that there is no link between eating an egg a day and the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Types of Eggs

From a nutritional perspective, there is no difference between brown eggs, white eggs, free-range eggs, cage-free eggs, cruelty-free eggs, or any other kinds of hen eggs. The color of the egg depends on the breed of the hen, and while the size of the egg will have an impact on the nutrition content (e.g., a tiny quail’s egg will have less of everything than a giant duck’s egg), there is effectively no nutritional difference among different types of eggs.

Basic Eggs

  • Hard-boiled eggs are an easy, portable, protein-rich snack. Place eggs in a pot of cold water, and bring water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, remove pot from heat and let stand for 9-15 minutes, depending on the size of the egg and how “hard” you like it. Cooking eggs for less time results in slightly soft, bright orange yolks that can be spread on a cracker or bread. Cooking eggs longer will result in a paler yellow, almost greenish yolk with a crumbly texture. For best results, put eggs in cold water (to keep them from continuing to cook) and peel immediately. Fun fact: older eggs are easier to peel than fresher ones.
  • Soft-boiled eggs take much less time to prepare than hard-boiled eggs, but they’re not nearly as portable. For runny, soft-boiled eggs, cook as above, but remove eggs from water after 4-6 minutes. Soft-boiled eggs don’t need to be peeled; you can eat them right out of the shell with a spoon, or lop off the top of the egg and pour it over a salad of brightly colored vegetables. As discussed in our post on food pairings, the fat from the egg helps your body absorb the healthy carotenoids from the vegetables.
  • Scrambled eggs are not particularly interesting by themselves, but they lend themselves to countless variations and additions (to be explored in a future post). For basic scrambled eggs, crack eggs into a bowl and mix well with a whisk or fork until the white and yolk are well combined. Whisk in two tablespoons of milk per two eggs. Pour mixture into a hot nonstick pan (optional: heat butter or oil in the pan first), and using a rubber spatula, lift and fold the eggs until they form a pebbly consistency. Remove from heat immediately when they are cooked to your desired dryness, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Fried eggs are your better basic diner order. Put a teaspoon of oil or butter in the bottom of a hot, non-stick pan and break eggs carefully into the pan. With the heat on low, watch the yolk carefully as it changes from a dark, translucent orange to a light, opaque yellow. For sunny-side-up eggs, take eggs out of pan immediately. For over-easy, flip the eggs and cook for another 60 to 90 seconds. As fried eggs require butter or oil, they are a less healthy choice. However, try throwing a fried egg onto a bed of dark leafy greens—like spinach.



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.